Revelation of Jesus Christ
The apostle John received the Revelation from Jesus Christ to show His servants what will soon take place. We know that the Revelation is primarily about the last days because its content is extensively connected to the events of the last days.
John says the Revelation is about “what must soon take place,” and he uses the word “soon” eight times in the Revelation to describe the events of the last days and the “soon” return of Christ.
Correctly interpreting the book of Revelation presents a formidable challenge to students of the Bible and can only be managed when the scriptural references and biblical patterns are understood. A good example of a scriptural pattern is seen in the Olivet Discourse. In the Olivet Discourse Jesus moves back and forth in time as he describes the events of the last days. This pattern requires the student to pay close attention to the details of what Jesus is describing. Both the Olivet Discourse and Revelation are descriptions of the last days and Jesus Christ gave both. While the interpretation of Revelation is challenging it is important to remember that it was given to the followers of Christ to understand and apply to our lives.
To ensure we are mindful of what He is showing us, Jesus provides a special blessing for those who read, hear and take to heart the words of Revelation. There is no other book of Scripture that carries such a promise. Christ may have provided this additional incentive to encourage our efforts, knowing that the book requires careful study. However, it is more likely that this blessing is an indication of the importance of the Revelation for the Church.
The goal of our study of Revelation is to provide insight into the events of the last days, not to explain every detail of the prophecy.
As the book of Revelation opens, John is instructed to write what he sees and send it to seven churches in Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Then he is told the mystery relating to the seven churches which we see here in these verses.
The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches (Revelation 1:20).
We see in verse 13 that Jesus is among the churches and exercising authority over the seven angels of the churches.
… among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. … In his right hand he held seven stars, (Revelation 1:13, 16)
That “the angels” are in the right hand of Jesus is an indication of His authority over the Church. As Jesus is at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, the seven angels are in Christ’s right hand. Notice, also, that when John writes the letters they are addressed to the seven angels of the churches, not the seven churches in Asia. Therefore, we should conclude from what is written that the letters are written to the whole Church, not just these seven specific churches.
With regard to Christ’s responsibility and authority over the Church, we have been told, in Hebrews 4:14, that Jesus is our “high priest.” From the Old Testament we also understand that it is the high priest’s responsibility to care for the temple, including the lampstands.
We also know that Christ cares for the whole Church not just seven churches. So what is meant by the reference to seven churches? Here as in other places in Scripture the number “seven” represents completeness which means that the “seven” angels care for all of Christ’s Church, which is the Body of Christ.
Therefore, not only was the Revelation written for the seven churches in Asia but also for the whole Church from the time of Christ’s departure until His return. This is born out as we read the letters and find the timeless and spiritual nature of their message. Their message can be read with understanding and application by the households of God as well as by its individual members. Let’s look and see what Christ says to the angels of the churches as He cares for the Church and prepares her for the last days.
Revelation 2 and 3 - Letters to the angels of the churches
Jesus instructs those who are watching and waiting for His return to persevere in the faith. He reminds us that we are to remain spiritually alert and not to be distracted by the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth. We must turn from sin and be obedient to Him or we will not see the day approaching.
Only hold on to what you have until I come. To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— (Revelation 2:25, 26)
Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you (Revelation 3:3).
Jesus uses the expression, “I will come like a thief,” here regarding His coming. The apostle Paul also used the same expression in describing the coming of Jesus Christ on the Day of the Lord. In each case the expression “will come like a thief” is used to emphasize the need for spiritual alertness and watchfulness on the part of the followers of Christ. Remember how Paul contrasted the believers to the people of the world when he said, that day would not surprise them like a thief.
As we learned earlier the warning to be spiritually alert is repeated often throughout Scripture. Revelation is no exception. Jesus encourages us to patiently endure.
Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth (Revelation 3:10).
This time of trial and testing that is coming on the whole world is most likely the Great Tribulation, when the Antichrist will reign over the whole world.
Some people have been told this verse indicates that the Church will be removed from the earth before the Great Tribulation. When we test this theory by the Word we find it does not stand the test of Scripture. For example, the Holy Spirit consistently instructs believers, in the Word of God, that they must be prepared to face tribulation and persecution. Therefore, to assume that believers are removed from the earth before the Great Tribulation is contradictory to what is written in the Word.
Once again we will find that the Greek will help us correctly understand what the Lord is saying in this verse and what He is not saying. Let’s examine the Greek in this text as we read it again.
Since you have kept [tereo] my command to endure patiently, I will also keep [tereo] you from [ek] the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth (Revelation 3:10).
These are two definitions for the Greek word tereo.
· Tereo means to guard (from loss or injury by keeping the eye upon, to keep unmarried): -hold fast, keep (-er), (ob-, pre-, re) serve, watch.1
· Tereo means to attend to carefully, take care of, to guard, to keep one in that state in which he is.2
As we see there is no indication of removal in either of these definitions. On the contrary tereo actually means to guard or watch over a person, in his or her current state.
The other pertinent Greek word in this text is ek. Ek is a very common Greek word and is used over 800 times in the New Testament. It is translated 25 different ways in the King James Version of the Bible including: among, at, because of, by, from, of, on, out of, and with.3
We have already seen that tereo can mean kept within the sphere of. When tereo and ek are used together they still mean to keep or to guard within the sphere of.
However, the best way to determine the true meaning of this verse is to have Scripture interpret Scripture. Since these two Greek words are common in the New Testament, how can we accomplish this with certainty? In this case we are indeed fortunate. As it turns out there is only one other place in the entire New Testament where tereo and ek are used together and the apostle John is also the writer. John also used this combination of words - tereo ek - to record Jesus’ prayer for the disciples. Let’s see how John uses tereo ek in this verse.
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect [tereo] them from [ek] the evil one (John 17:15).
Not only does John’s usage clearly show the intended meaning of tereo ek, but, Jesus’ prayer actually states that the believers will be protected from Satan as they remain in the world. This idea is further confirmed in Revelation 7:3, when we see the servants of God being sealed for protection, before the seven trumpets are sounded. Then we see that those sealed are protected from the locusts of the fifth trumpet (Revelation 9:4).
There is still one more passage of Scripture which will help us correctly understand the use of tereo. Paul used tereo when indicating that the Church would be kept spiritually until the Lord’s return. Once again the meaning of tereo means to protect within the sphere of, not removal.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept [tereo] blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Therefore, letting Scripture interpret Scripture, we find that in Revelation 3:10 the believers will be protected as they go through the Great Tribulation. Therefore, while some people tell us that Revelation 3:10 gives support for a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, the Word of God provides none!
Revelation 4 - Vision of the throne in heaven
After the letters to the angels of the seven churches, John describes his vision of God’s heavenly throne.
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it… Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders (Revelation 4:1-4).
John was not the first person to receive a vision of the heavenly throne. Several times in the Old Testament we are told of the heavenly throne. Also, in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, Paul tells of a time when he was caught up to heaven. Paul heard things that he was not permitted to reveal. But John was caught up to heaven for the express purpose of revealing to the Church what he saw. He describes the throne of God surrounded by the 24 elders and the four living creatures.
There are several other references to the heavenly throne and the heavenly host in the Scripture. Here are a couple of examples,
The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will (Psalm 103:19-21).
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, (Luke 2:13)
The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures are part of the heavenly host. Notice when the twenty-four elders make proclamations, they refer to the saints of God as a group distinct from themselves. Read these examples to see how they refer to the saints as “they,” “their” and “them.”
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being (Revelation 4:11).
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth (Revelation 5:10).
This supports the idea that there is a heavenly host which has existed and continues to exist in heaven. We know from what is written that the Father has His throne in heaven and the Son will have His throne on earth. For example,
At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the LORD, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the LORD (Jeremiah 3:17).
To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne (Revelation 3:21).
Revelation 5 - The seven sealed scroll
As John is viewing the heavenly throne he tells us about the scroll with seven seals that is in the right hand of God.
Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" … Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals" (Revelation 5:1-5)
The contents of the scroll must be extremely important because when John believes that no one is found who is worthy to open it he weeps and weeps until he is told by one of the elders that Christ is able to open the scroll and reveal its contents.
Revelation 6 – Opening of the first six seals
As the seals of the scroll are opened, John sees a sequence of events that will affect earth in the last days. As the first four seals are opened they reveal four horses and their riders. When each seal is opened the rider and horse are told to “Come!” John then describes what happens on the earth as each has its effect. There appears to be some connection between the heavenly scene of the horses and riders coming forth and the earthly consequences. However, based on what is written it is impossible to understand how these things are connected. The significance of these horses and riders has been debated and speculated about for centuries and it is unlikely that we can resolve this mystery in our study.
This prophecy like various others is most likely given to us so we will see the sovereign hand of God in its fulfillment, not so we can predict the future. However, as we consider these things we would be remiss if we didn’t review the Scripture which appears to be related to these events.
First, as we review the scriptural record we find that the Jewish people referred to Pharaoh and his army as “the horse and its rider,” as we see written in Exodus 15.
Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: "I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name. Pharaoh's chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea (Exodus 15:1-4).
The horse represented the people - the army of Egypt - and the rider - Pharaoh - their leader. If this analogy holds true in the Revelation vision it could mean that the horses will represent certain countries and the riders their leaders.
In the prophecies of Zechariah we also find horses of different colors described in connection with the things that are taking place on earth. Perhaps we may gain insight from these prophecies as we consider the four horses of Revelation. When Zachariah inquired regarding the horses he saw in his vision, this is what he was told.
‘They are the ones the LORD has sent to go throughout the earth.’ And they reported to the angel of the LORD, who was standing among the myrtle trees, ‘We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace’ (Zechariah 1:10).
There is another vision in which Zechariah describes horses of four colors. The colors of these four horses may even match the four colors of the four horses in Revelation. These horses are said to be the four spirits of heaven which go out to the four points of the earth.
The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled-- all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel answered me, ‘These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south’ (Zechariah 6:2-6).
There is still another aspect to consider as we attempt to determine the meaning of the four horses and their riders. When will they ride? As we consider this question, we can’t help but notice the similarities between the first four seals and what Jesus called the beginning of the birth pains in the Olivet Discourse. In both cases Jesus is the one describing what will take place in the last days. Let’s compare the two passages to see the similarities.
Nation rise against nation
and kingdom against kingdom
Peace will be taken from the earth
and men will slay each other
There will be famines and
earth quakes in various places
A quart of wheat for a days wages and killing by sword, famine, plague
You will be persecuted and
killed because of me and
many will turn from the faith
Those slain were told to wait until … their fellow servants which were to be killed was completed
The end will come
The day of their wrath has come
Both of these passages seem to take us from the beginning of the birth pains up to the very end of the age.
So, when do the birth pains begin in relation to Daniel’s 70th Week? Do they begin before the 70th Week, as the Antichrist is rising to power? Do the birth pains begin at the beginning of the seven years when the Antichrist confirms the covenant? Or do the birth pains begin in the middle of the seven years when the Antichrist is revealed? If we can answer these questions from what is stated in the Scripture we will know when the birth pains begin and the first seals are opened. If not, we must wait until the prophecies are fulfilled, in the future.
Now, let’s look as the seals are opened.
I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest (Revelation 6:2).
Some have interpreted the rider on the white horse to be Christ and a representation of the victory of the gospel. This appears to be out of place when considering the context of the four horses and their riders. Also, when we compare this rider and white horse with Christ and the white horse in Revelation 19, we find the timing of their appearances is different.
While there are passages in Scripture which seem to identify the first rider as the Antichrist, the passages are only inferences and do not clearly reveal his identity. Therefore, we must wait until the prophecies are fulfilled before we can know for certain the identity of the first rider, if indeed we will ever know the riders identity. Remember the riders like their horses may signify the four spirits of heaven and may not be earthly beings at all. To understand the meaning and the timing of these first seals and the beginning of the birth pains we will most likely have to wait for their fulfillment.
The idea that many Bible prophecies will require their fulfillment to reveal their truth was also the position of Sir Isaac Newton. This is what he said in his book Observations Upon The Prophecies of Daniel, And The Apocalypse of St. John.
“The folly of interpreters has been, to foretell times and things by this prophesy, as if God designed to make them prophets. By this rashness they have not only exposed themselves, but have brought the prophecy also into contempt. The design of God was much otherwise. He gave this and prophecies of the Old Testament, not to gratify men’s curiosities by enabling then to foreknow things, but that after they were fulfilled they might be interpreted by the event, and his own Providence, ”4
While we cannot decipher everything that the book of Revelation foretells, we should also remember that the Revelation was given to show the servants of God the things which would soon come to pass. Therefore, we will press on to understand the truth, trusting that God will reveal what He intends.
Following the white horse and its rider, a red horse and its rider are given power to take peace from the earth.
When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come!’ Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword (Revelation 6:3, 4).
Prior to the red horse and its rider the world may be in relative peace. Relative because there will always be wars and rumors of wars. However, once the red horse comes on the scene, war and killing will become worldwide. This rider is given a large sword, a term often used in Scripture to symbolize military power. Notice its use here in Isaiah.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).
Following the red horse and its rider come a black horse and its rider. This horse and rider bring what would seem to be the inevitable result of the worldwide wars. The wars will have caused incredible devastation to the world’s ecology and food production resulting in severe shortages. These food shortages will make today’s food production and distribution problems pale in comparison.
When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine’ (Revelation 6:5, 6)!
The fourth seal is the last in the series of horses and riders. The rider on the pale horse appears to bring either a natural conclusion of the previous three horses or be a consummation of the first three. The image presented is not new, God used the sword, famine and plague to chastise and warn Israel to repent and turn back to God. Here, God may once again, be employing the sword, famine, plague and wild beasts in the last days for the same purpose. In this vision we see that the rider’s influence is over one quarter of the earth.
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth (Revelation 6:7, 8).
So that we have a perspective of this concept of “sword, famine, plague and wild beast” let’s see how God employed these in the past. The writing of Jeremiah and Ezekiel may help us understand how these things will be used by God in the last days leading up to the return of Christ.
Then the LORD said to me, ‘Do not pray for the well-being of this people. ... Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.’ But I said, Ah, Sovereign LORD, the prophets keep telling them, 'You will not see the sword or suffer famine. Indeed, I will give you lasting peace in this place.' Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them” (Jeremiah 14:11-14).
Or if I send a plague into that land and pour out my wrath upon it through bloodshed, killing its men and their animals. For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: How much worse will it be when I send against Jerusalem my four dreadful judgments--sword and famine and wild beasts and plague--to kill its men and their animals! Yet there will be some survivors (Ezekiel 14:19-22).
If we continue to follow Jesus’ outline in the Olivet Discourse for understanding the book of Revelation, then we would expect to see more indications of the Great Tribulation. According to Jesus, in Matthew 24, this severe persecution will cause many to turn away from the faith as they consider death or life under the Antichrist.
Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people (Matthew 24:9-11).
Just as expected, we find the same thing revealed in the Revelation as we saw previously in the Olivet Discourse, the death and martyrdom of the saints.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed (Revelation 6:9-11).
The opening of the fifth seal reveals the saints who have died because of their testimony and the Word of God. These probably are the saints who have died through the age up to this time. They almost certainly include some who have already been martyred during the Great Tribulation. However, they cannot be all the saints martyred during the Great Tribulation because there are still others that will be killed as they had been. They are told to wait until their full number has been completed.
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand’ (Revelation 6:12-17)?
Just as Jesus had stated, in Matthew 24:29, the sun, moon and stars will be darkened before the coming of the Son of Man. When these signs begin to occur the people of the world will know that the judgment and wrath of God are at hand. These signs in the heavens and on the earth will indicate the imminent return of the Son of Man. The passage stops just short of Christ’s return and the Day of the Lord.
At this point, if the text followed in chronological order, we would expect to see the appearance of the Son of Man in the clouds next. However, that is not what happens, the progression abruptly stops, and we are given a view of something that has occurred earlier. This is a common pattern in biblical prophecy to move back and forth covering the same ground again. Jesus did this in the Olivet Discourse when He brought us up to the end of the age, in verse 14. Then, in verse 15, He takes us back and provides details regarding the abomination that causes desolation and the Great Tribulation. Then once again He brings us to the end of the age in verse 31. What we are observing here in the Revelation is the same pattern. The prophecy moves back and forth; first revealing a sequence of events and then going back to provide additional details.
Our awareness of this characteristic of biblical prophecy will help us avoid the errors caused by trying to interpret Revelation as strictly chronological.
This brings us to the end of Revelation chapter 6, and the Lord has brought us up to the last day at the very close of the Great Tribulation. In keeping with the biblical pattern, the prophecy now moves back to the start of the Great Tribulation.
Revelation 7 – Spiritual Israel is sealed
John relays the vision of what will take place just before the angels sound their trumpets.
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: ‘Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God’ (Revelation 7:1-3).
The four angels are told not to harm the land or the sea or the trees until the servants of God are sealed. Then, in Revelation 8, we see that destruction will fall on the earth and the sea as the first four angels sound their trumpets. When angels begin to sound their trumpets, the land and the sea will experience the fury of Satan. Satan’s fury will commence when he is thrown down to earth, exactly as written here.
Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short" (Revelation 12:12).
However, before Satan is cast down to the earth we see that the servants of God have already been sealed. The seal of God provides spiritual protection, guarding them during the time of trial that is coming on the whole world. We will see an example of this protection when the locusts – demons - are released from the Abyss at the fifth trumpet, Revelation 9:4. The locusts are not able to harm God’s servants because they were sealed before the Great Tribulation.
Who are these servants of God, who are sealed? Are they the Church of Jesus Christ (spiritual Israel, all believers Jewish and non-Jewish) or are they the representatives of national Israel?
Some believe this group is national Israel because twelve tribes are named. However, this does not fit with what is written. For example, if the 144,000 is the Jewish remnant, who come to the knowledge of the Lord only at the very end of the age, then who are those who are protected as they resist the Antichrist during the Great Tribulation? Those who resist the Antichrist and hold to the testimony of Jesus Christ are the Church who have been sealed by God.5 Who then are the 144,000 servants of God?
In order to correctly interpret this passage we need to understand the new covenant made by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. In the opening chapters of Revelation, John contrasts national Jews with spiritual Jews - the Body of Christ:
I know your afflictions and your poverty-- yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan (Revelation 2:9).
I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars-- I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you (Revelation 3:9).
These passages contrast national Israel and the law with spiritual Israel and the new covenant made by the blood of Christ. God has revealed through the apostles, that the new covenant that He made in His blood is with His people, spiritual Israel, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Once God worked through the Jewish people, but now under the new covenant, God works through all believers. These next passages make this truth abundantly clear.
... a man is a [spiritual] Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code (Romans 2:29).
This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:6).
For it is we [the Church] who are the circumcision [Israel], we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh - (Philippians 3:3)
Therefore, there is no doubt that spiritual Israel is made up of all who believe in Jesus Christ, Jewish and non-Jewish. With this understanding of the new covenant in Christ Jesus, we can plainly see that the 144,000 servants of God represent spiritual Israel, the true Church. We also find additional support for this position in Revelation 14, when John says the 144,000 are with Christ on Mount Zion. When Christ is on Mount Zion, as we have previously seen, the Kingdom has come and the whole Church, the Bride of Christ, is with Him. This is further confirmation that the 144,000 represent all believers.
Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads (Revelation 14:1).
This confirms that the 144,000 are the Church because they are described using characteristics which exclusively belong to the Church. Let’s see how John describes the Church. Bold added for emphasis.
These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb (Revelation 14:4).
We find that Paul and James use these same characteristics in describing the Church. Paul says the Church is a “pure” virgin bride who will be presented to Christ. James tells us that the Church is a kind of “firstfruits” of all God has created.
I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you [the Church] as a pure virgin to him (2 Corinthians 11:2).
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we [the Church] might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created (James 1:18).
Therefore, based on what is written we can see that the 144,000 servants of God represent the Church. For the Church is spiritual Israel, “pure” and undefiled a kind of “firstfruits” of all He created.
Then after the 144,000 had been sealed John saw “a great multitude” in heaven, as he describes here.
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. … And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9,14).
John is told that these are the martyred saints who have come out of the Great Tribulation. They are before the throne in heaven, not yet before the throne on earth. We know they are in heaven because when John addresses one of the heavenly elders, the elder tells John what is about to happen. The elder says the Lamb “will spread His tent over them,” “will lead them to springs of living water” and “will wipe away every tear from their eye.” Each of these statements indicates things that will happen when Christ establishes His Kingdom.
Therefore, in this vision we first saw the Church on earth sealed before the Great Tribulation. Then at the end of the Great Tribulation we see the great multitude readied in heaven for the return of Christ and the resurrection of believers. Once again we are poised at the very end of the age. So, what happens next?
Revelation 8 – The scroll is opened
What is about to happen is the most important event in John's heavenly vision, the opening of the seventh seal. The opening of the seventh seal will allow the contents of the scroll to be revealed.
When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (Revelation 8:1).
The contents of the scroll are so extremely important that in the midst of these magnificent events everything in heaven stops and there is silence for about a half-hour. A half-hour of silence in heaven at this point would seem like an eternity. Earlier, in Revelation 5, John wept and wept because he thought no one was found worthy to open the scroll. The contents of the scroll are of such great importance, that all creation is waiting for its contents to be revealed. Perhaps, this verse in Romans, captures the importance.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed (Romans 8:19).
No one but Christ Himself is worthy and able to open the scroll and reveal who are the “sons of God,” the Church and spiritual Israel. Let’s take a look at what is written as we consider the possibility that the scroll is actually the Book of Life.
First, let’s consult the original languages for insight. The Hebrew word sepher6 and the Greek word biblos7 are each translated interchangeably in the Scripture as “scroll” and “book”. Therefore, it is equally correct to refer to the “Book of Life” as the “Scroll of Life.” Let’s look at an example from the prophecies of Daniel.
But at that time your people-- everyone whose name is found written in the book [sepher] -- will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words [dabar] of the scroll [sepher] until the time of the end (Daniel 12:1-4).
Not only is sepher used interchangeably for “scroll” and “book” in Daniel 12, but dabar can also be translated as “names.” 8 Therefore, if we consider the context of this passage in Daniel 12:4 we see it can also make sense to translate it as - But you Daniel, close up and seal the names of the book until the time of the end.
While, this is merely a theory it could explain the significance placed on the scroll in the right hand of Him who sits on the throne. It is a theory which is impossible to substantiate by Scripture and should not be considered more than a theory. We all long to know the names that are written in the Book of Life which Christ will reveal on the Day of the Lord. And since we already have the prophecies of Daniel and the book of Revelation to reveal the events of the last days, it seems likely that something else may be contained in the scroll. The contents of the scroll have not been revealed to us, so there is nothing that allows us to confirm whether or not this is the Book of Life.
Summary of the seven seals
Let’s review what John saw in the vision of the seals. The events of the first four seals seem to correspond to events that Jesus described as the birth pains in the Olivet Discourse. The fifth seal brings us to the martyrdom of the saints which we know will be unprecedented during the Great Tribulation. The sixth seal reveals the signs in the heavens and on the earth that take place just prior to the coming of the Son of Man at the end of the age. Then just before the seventh seal is opened, we are taken back to the beginning of the Great Tribulation and shown the sealing of the servants of God. After the Great Tribulation, the great multitude is readied and the seventh seal of the scroll is opened.
As we prepare to examine the seven trumpets of Revelation it would be helpful for us to have a basic understanding of the seven Jewish feasts. God commanded Israel, in Leviticus 23, to observe seven feasts. God gave Israel the feasts to show them what was to come at the appointed times. In fact feast in Hebrew means appointed time. When the Messiah (Christ) came during His First Advent He fulfilled four of the seven feasts as prescribed by God. For example, When Christ made His sacrifice on the cross of Calvary, He fulfilled in Himself the feast of Passover. Then when Jesus was resurrected from the dead He fulfilled the feast of First Fruits. After His ascension into heaven, when He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell the Church, He fulfilled the feast of Pentecost. Therefore, Christ has already fulfilled the first four feasts, as appointed by God.
The three remaining feasts are harvest feasts and have yet to be fulfilled by Christ. We will see as we study Revelation that Christ at His Second Coming will fulfill the three harvest feasts. Below is a brief outline of the seven feasts, which God has given to show us what is to happen at the appointed time.
Church is Redeemed
Church is Cleansed
Christ is Raised
Holy Spirit is Given
Church is Gathered
Church is Judged
The next feast to be fulfilled at God’s appointed time is the Feast of Trumpets. Let’s examine what is written regarding the fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets.
The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water-- the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter. The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night (Revelation 8:7-12).
As we read what will happen during the sounding of the first four trumpets, we observe that they primarily affect the earth and the sea. This appears be a time of tremendous turmoil in the world and great destruction of the earth, the sea and the environment. This destruction in the earth and sea seems connected to a subsequent passage, in Revelation 12, when the archangel Michael throws Satan to earth.
And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him (Revelation 12:7-9).
The reason these two passages seem connected is because when Satan is thrown down to the earth, he immediately brings destruction on the earth and sea.
Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short. (Revelation 12:12).
There will be great destruction to the earth and the sea, as described in the first four trumpets, when Michael throws Satan down to the earth. Following the destruction on the earth and the sea (Revelation 8), there will be destruction and persecution, affecting mankind.
Revelation 9 – The demons released
As we continue with John’s visions we should remember that John was in the Spirit. Which may indicate that some of what John saw are spiritual things only visible in the Spirit and not visible in the flesh.
The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads (Revelation 9:1-4).
What John sees during the time of the trumpets may at least in part represent supernatural activity occurring in the world during the Great Tribulation. When the fifth trumpet is sounded a star is seen which had fallen to the earth. This star may be Satan, who we know at this point during the Great Tribulation, has already been cast down to earth by Michael. If this is correct then Satan will be given the key to the Abyss and will release what appears to be an army of demons which will torment the people of the earth. When these demons come up out of the Abyss they have as their leader an angel whose name means destroyer.
They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon (Revelation 9:11).
We also know from what is written in chapter 9 that the Abyss is located on the earth and, therefore, the angel of the Abyss comes out of the earth. This information will help us understand where the False Prophet comes from in Revelation 13, because, we are told the False Prophet comes out of the earth.
After the demons are released the sixth trumpet sounds and 200,000,000 troops gather from the great river Euphrates in the east; this may be part of what the Scripture refers to as the gathering of the nations in preparation for the final battle of Armageddon.
We are also told in chapter 9 that even after all this devastation, those who remain in the world will not repent and turn to God.
The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood--idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts (Revelation 9:20, 21).
We should also note that in Scripture there are two principle uses of the trumpet, one is to sound a warning and the other is to call the assembly of God’s people. It appears from what is written that the first six trumpets in Revelation are warnings of God’s coming judgment. The sixth trumpet appears to be the last call to repent, since the seventh (and last) trumpet signals the resurrection and gathering of all believers at the beginning of Christ’s reign on earth. Following the sixth trumpet – but, before the seventh – John tells us,
But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets (Revelation 10:7).
Revelation 11 – Two witnesses and the last trumpet
Here as John is told to measure the temple he is given two identical periods of time, “42 months” and “1,260 days.” Each of these periods equals three-and-a-half years, in the Jewish prophetic calendar.
I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, "Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth" (Revelation 11:1-3).
By now we should recognize this three-and-a-half year period as the Great Tribulation. During the Great Tribulation, Gentiles (unbelievers) will have possession of the holy city, Jerusalem. Also, during this period the two witnesses of God will exercise great power as they prophesy and testify of the Lord. One of these is almost certainly Elijah, as we see written in Malachi.
See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes (Malachi 4:5).
The other is most likely Moses. These are the two lamp stands that stand before the Lord, just as they stood before the Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration.
There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus (Matthew 17:2, 3).
At the end of the Great Tribulation when they have finished their testimony, the beast - known as the False Prophet - will overpower and kill them. But after three-and-a-half days the breath of life will enter into them and they will be called up to heaven in a cloud. Then John tells us there will be a great earthquake in Jerusalem which will kill 7,000 people. The survivors of the earthquake will give glory to God. Now, if all the survivors give glory to God, this may be the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy as written in Matthew.
For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Matthew 24:39)
If the remnant of Jewish people recognizes Jesus as Lord, then this may trigger His return and the Day of the Lord. Since we know when Christ returns all believers will be resurrected, we would expect to see the last trumpet sound at this point.
The last trumpet
Just as we expected, when the seventh and last trumpet sounds in Revelation 11:15 we see the Kingdom come and the resurrection of the saints. Let’s read this carefully to see all that will take place at the last trumpet.
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.’ And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: ‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great--and for destroying those who destroy the earth’ (Revelation 11:15-18)
When the last trumpet sounds:
1. Jesus begins His reign over the Kingdom of God on earth.
2. The resurrection of the saints occurs.
3. The saints are judged and they receive their reward.
4. The wrath of God is poured out on unbelievers.
Once again it appears that the vision stops at the return of Christ and then goes back to give us additional details which will help us understand what is going to happen in the last days.
A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman [Israel] clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon [Satan] with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads [Fourth Beast Kingdom]. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child [Christ], who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne (Revelation 12:1-5).
Israel is the woman with the twelve stars on her head. The twelve stars represent the 12 tribes of Israel as described in Genesis 37:9. We also know this is Israel because she gives birth to Christ who came from the Jewish people, Israel. We also know that Satan attempted to kill the Christ child, when Herod had all the young male children in Bethlehem killed. Finally, we see that Christ is caught up to heaven as He was in His ascension into heaven at the end of His First Advent.
Next we see how Satan loses his place in heaven.
The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days [3 ½ years]. And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down-- that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan (Revelation 12:6-9).
Satan then pursues Israel, but God protects her for three-and-a-half years of the Great Tribulation. When Satan cannot destroy all of Israel he will make war against the saints, those who hold to the testimony of Jesus.
In this chapter, John describes the rise of the first beast (known as the Antichrist) and of the second beast (known as the False Prophet).
And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns (Revelation 13:1).
The first beast is said to have ten horns and seven heads which connects this prophecy to Daniel’s prophecy of the fourth beast kingdom that will rise to world power in the last days. As we saw in Daniel the Antichrist will come to power out of the fourth beast kingdom. Again, let’s see how Daniel describes his rise to power.
The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings (Daniel 7:23, 24).
John tells us several things about the Antichrist. He will be very successful in war because the whole world says, who can make war against him? John also reveals that the Antichrist will be killed, but his fatal wound will be miraculously healed. At the peak of his career he will go into the temple of God and declare himself to be God. Then he will make war against the saints and conquer them during the three-and-a-half years of the Great Tribulation. His dominion will be so complete that everyone, whose name is not found written in the Book of Life, will worship the Antichrist.
Then, John describes a second beast that comes out of the earth. We may recall, at the fifth trumpet, the angel from the Abyss whose name means destroyer also comes out of the earth. This second beast appears to assist the Antichrist in carrying out Satan’s plan to destroy the people of God. The second beast is the False Prophet who is also identified later in Revelation chapters 16, 19 and 20.
The False Prophet we are told will perform great signs and wonders to deceive the whole world. He will even cause fire to come down from the sky to earth in full view of men and will force everyone - from the national leaders to the common man - to worship the Antichrist and take his mark. Anyone who does not have the mark will not be able to buy or sell anything, or make any type of financial transaction. All those who refuse the mark are to be killed. The mark of the first beast is associated to the identity of the Antichrist and is connected to the number 666.
This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666 (Revelation 13:18).
Many people have spent a great deal of time and energy trying to determine the identity of the Antichrist by inventing various ways of calculating his number. However, as we have seen in our study, if we have a scriptural question our first recourse should always be to search the Scripture for the answer. This passage even provides a clue to where we may find the answer. It says, “[t]his calls for wisdom,” and where is wisdom obtained? The Bible reveals that wisdom comes from God - “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God” (James 1:5). Therefore, let us turn to the Scripture and ask God to show us how to identify the Antichrist.
Remember when we were studying 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, Paul told us the man of lawlessness would be revealed when he goes into the temple and declares himself to be God. Therefore, Paul is saying the Antichrist will be revealed at the abomination that causes desolation. Now, we may suspect that this world leader is the Antichrist before the abomination that causes desolation, but we will not be certain until the abomination that causes desolation. At that time, Paul says, we will know the identity of the Antichrist. So, what is the significance of the number 666 in Revelation?
The Scripture says, “[e]very matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”8 Paul is one witness and he writes that the Antichrist will be revealed at the abomination that causes desolation. Isaiah is the second witness and he wrote of the same event. He describes what will happen in the temple in Jerusalem when the Antichrist declares that he is God. Now, let’s read how Isaiah describes what happens next.
Hear that uproar from the city, hear that noise from the temple! It is the sound of the LORD repaying his enemies all they deserve (Isaiah 66:6).
According to Isaiah, this will happen in Jerusalem at the time of the abomination that causes desolation. The Antichrist and his armies will have surrounded the holy city9 and the Antichrist has come to the Jewish temple. Then he will cause the sacrifice and offering to cease and he will set up the abomination that causes desolation.10 When he performs this detestable act, it is very likely that the Jewish priests will become infuriated and resist him and his army. Jesus told us this would be a time of unprecedented tribulation and persecution, worse than anything since the beginning of creation. Anyone who does not accept and submit to the Antichrist will be slaughtered during the Great Tribulation.11 The “uproar from the city” and the “noise from the temple!” will be the sound of the Great Tribulation. As we can see Isaiah 66:6 describes what will happen in Jerusalem and the temple at the time the Antichrist is revealed. Therefore, 66:6 of Isaiah points us to the identity of the Antichrist and when his identity will be known.
John also provided another clue when he said, “the number of the beast, is man's number.” The system of numbers used to identify the chapters and verses in the Bible where placed there by man after the Bible was canonized, they are not part of the original text. Therefore the 66:6 of Isaiah, is man’s number and the biblical answer to the Revelation mystery of the number 666. Isaiah 66:6 reveals when the Antichrist will be known.
Revelation 14 – The angels proclaim to the world
Once again the vision changes and moves to the end of the age when the Kingdom of God has come. John sees Christ standing on Mount Zion (in Jerusalem) with the Bride of Christ.
Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads (Revelation 14:1).
The elect of God (His Bride) are standing with Christ on Mount Zion. They are undefiled and pure; the redeemed of the earth, purchased from among men as firstfruits to God and Christ. This scene takes place following the resurrection of believers and Christ’s return to earth.
Then once again the vision moves back, to sometime before the coming of Christ. Based on the content of these three proclamations they are most likely made sometime during the Great Tribulation. John records three proclamations to those who live on the earth, to every nation, tribe, language and people. John says,
Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth--to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Revelation 14:6, 7).
Jesus told us, in Matthew 24:14, “this gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Just as Jesus said, the first angel proclaims the gospel to the whole world. After the Gospel is proclaimed, two other angels follow.
A second angel followed and said, ‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.’ A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name’ (Revelation 14:8-11)
Based on the content of these proclamations they most likely will take place sometime during the Great Tribulation. First, we know that they all take place before the end of the age and the return of Christ (Matthew 24:14). Second, the beast and his mark do not occur until after the Antichrist is revealed at the abomination that causes desolation. Finally, we are told that Mystery Babylon the Great has been destroyed. Therefore, we can place these angelic announcements sometime during the Great Tribulation.
Following these proclamations the saints are encouraged to endure to the death for their reward will follow them.
This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them’ (Revelation 14:12, 13)
This call to remain faithful to the end is repeated throughout the Gospel whenever we read of the last days. Jesus also told us that we would be called upon to give our lives for Him and the Gospel. The Lord gave these instructions which are recorded five times in the three gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul (Mark 8:35, 36)?
The reason for our patient endurance is revealed in the next vision. John sees the Son of Man coming on the clouds in great glory as the “harvest” is described.
I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one "like a son of man" with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, ‘Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, ‘Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth's vine, because its grapes are ripe.’ The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God's wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses' bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia (Revelation 14:14-20).
John not only witnesses the “harvest” when the Son of Man comes on the clouds, he also witnesses the judgment and defeat of His enemies at the battle of Armageddon.
After the believers have been gathered to the Lord, John tells us of the preparations for the pouring out of the seven bowls of God’s judgment and wrath. The seven golden bowls of God’s wrath are given to the seven angels to punish the unbelievers and the disobedient.
The wrath of God being poured out after the believers have been removed is a spiritual principle which God has repeated throughout Scripture. He demonstrated it when Lot left Sodom before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah12 and when Noah entered the ark before the flood. In Paul’s writing he encouraged us on several occasions to wait for Christ who would rescue us from the wrath of God. In his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul says,
and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-- Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
We also notice in Revelation that there are no saints mentioned on the earth after the last trumpet sounds. Though the saints suffer the trials of the Great Tribulation, they are not subjected to God’s wrath – having already been gathered to the Lord at the “harvest”.
Then John hears the command to pour out the bowls of God’s wrath on the earth. Let’s see how he describes the wrath of God being poured out.
Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go, pour out the seven bowls of God's wrath on the earth.’ The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died. The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the altar respond: ‘Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.’ The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done. The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. (Revelation 16:1-12).
During God’s wrath the judgments poured out on the earth and on all those who have the mark of the beast. We must always remember; never take the mark of the beast. We have been warned ahead of time. For those who think that because they were once saved they should be able to take the mark with impunity, read and understand the Scripture!
The next two chapters of Revelation give us some very important information regarding Mystery Babylon the Great. Mystery Babylon the Great, as we will see in this vision, is a key player in the events of the last days. In the next two chapters we will examine the characteristics which describe the woman called Mystery Babylon the Great. Because of the key role she plays in the world and her relationship to the fourth beast kingdom, it will be critical that we be able to identify her. Let’s see how she is described.
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries." Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. This title was written on her forehead: MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. Then the angel said to me: "Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns (Revelation 17:1-7).
Here, we observe what appears to be a very wealthy and powerful city-state or nation who is identified as “the prostitute,” “the woman” and “Mystery Babylon the Great.” In verse one she is observed sitting on the many waters.
Then the angel said to me, "The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. (Revelation 17:15).
From this we learn that Mystery Babylon in some way dominates the peoples, multitudes, nations and languages of the world. The expressions in this passage “sits on” and “sitting on” signify a position of dominance or influence. We are not told if this position of dominance is economic, military or political in nature. However, it is probably all three.
The beast on which she is sitting is the fourth beast kingdom that is described in Daniel’s prophecies. Daniel prophesied about this beast kingdom and how it came to have seven heads and ten horns. He also revealed that the Antichrist would rise to world dominance from this kingdom. Here is how it was explained to Daniel.
The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings (Daniel 7:24).
When Daniel received the explanation of his vision he was told the fourth beast kingdom would begin with ten kings or rulers. Then another king would arise from among them and overcome three of the original kings, leaving the fourth beast kingdom with seven heads. So, from that time the fourth beast kingdom will have seven heads and ten horns. Therefore, the beast referred to, in Revelation 17, is the fourth beast kingdom which Daniel saw in his vision. It is out of this fourth beast kingdom that the Antichrist will rise to world dominance.
Therefore, as we watch the picture develop in Revelation 17, we first see that “Mystery Babylon the Great” dominates the whole world. This superpower influences the world through its military, economic and political strength. However, “Mystery Babylon the Great” will ultimately be destroyed by what appears to be a conspiracy of the fourth beast kingdom. Let’s see how John describes this,
The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God's words are fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth (Revelation 17:16-18).
John is saying that the Antichrist and his kingdom, with its seven heads and ten horns will hate Mystery Babylon. This is an incredible prophecy of how the Antichrist and his fourth beast kingdom will destroy Mystery Babylon and then dominate the entire earth. The seven heads and ten horns will be unified in their purpose and they will give their power to the Antichrist. The Antichrist will use his power to destroy Mystery Babylon the Great by fire. We will learn more of this destruction by fire when we read Revelation 18.
The vision that John had of the fourth beast kingdom destroying Mystery Babylon the Great appears to be similar to another prophecy which Daniel wrote. Let’s read this passage to see how this comes about.
The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place. He will show no regard for the gods of his fathers or for the one desired by women, nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above them all. Instead of them, he will honor a god of fortresses; a god unknown to his fathers he will honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. He will attack the mightiest fortresses with the help of a foreign god and will greatly honor those who acknowledge him. He will make them rulers over many people and will distribute the land at a price (Daniel 11:36-39).
When we compare John’s and Daniel’s prophecies we come away with a picture of how this fourth kingdom develops and the Antichrist comes to power. Daniel writes that the king - the Antichrist - will successfully “attack the mightiest fortresses” with foreign help. Apparently, the Antichrist will also receive outside help in his conspiracy to destroy “Mystery Babylon the Great”.
Christians and Bible students over the centuries have tried to determine the identity of “Mystery Babylon the Great”. Let’s first review the characteristics we find in chapter 17 before we move on to chapter 18.
Characteristics of “Mystery Babylon the Great”:
1. She sits on peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.
2. The world is intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.
3. She sits on the beast that has seven heads and ten horns.
4. She was drunk with the blood of the saints.
5. John was greatly astonished when he saw her.
6. The beast and the ten horns will hate her.
7. The beast will bring her to ruin and burn her with fire.
8. She is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.
As with all biblical prophecy, each of these characteristics will be fulfilled by “Mystery Babylon the Great”. If we put all of these characteristics together here is the picture that seems to appear. “Mystery Babylon the Great” is a great city, probably part of a very powerful nation. She has power and influence over the peoples of the world and also the fourth beast kingdom of the Antichrist. The whole world desires what she has which could be her way of life, her wealth and her power. In some way she is responsible for the death of people who would be considered the saints of God. She is probably a country who professes a faith in the true God but she has committed adultery by being unfaithful to the God she professes. The Antichrist and the fourth beast kingdom will hate her and destroy her with fire. With this in mind let’s read Revelation 18 to see what else we can learn about this last days superpower.
Revelation 18 – Mystery Babylon the Great
In this chapter John provides a rich and descriptive picture of “Mystery Babylon the Great”. With the amount of detail provided we should have little difficulty identifying “Mystery Babylon the Great” when she appears on the world scene. Once again let’s look at the characteristics which are attributed to her.
For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries." … Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself (Revelation 18:3, 7).
The two of her main characteristics are her adulterous behavior and her excessive consumption. John actually lists many of the things she buys when describing her excessive consumption. Apparently, she consumes much of what the world produces because the “merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.” “Mystery Babylon the Great” apparently is a nation on the sea or surrounded by the sea because she receives what she consumes by sea, for we are told that “every sea captain, …who earn their living from the sea,” will weep and mourn when “Mystery Babylon is destroyed”.
Once again, the references to “her adulteries” may indicate that she is a country that proclaims a faith in the true God but has not remained faithful. In Scripture, God referred to Israel’s unfaithfulness in terms of adultery when she, who knew the one true God, abandoned Him for false gods and other forms of idolatry. Let’s observe how God referred to Israel in this prophecy from Jeremiah.
I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries (Jeremiah 3:8).
Therefore, “Mystery Babylon the Great” is a rich superpower that professes a faith in the true God but is really full of unbelief and disobedience. Again, John reveals that the final outcome of this wealthy superpower is destruction by fire in one day and one hour. Her destruction is both swift and complete.
Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her. ... In one hour your doom has come! … When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, 'Was there ever a city like this great city (Revelation 18:8, 10 and 18)?
The destruction of “Mystery Babylon the Great” will apparently pave the way for the Antichrist and his fourth beast kingdom to rise to world dominance. “Mystery Babylon the Great,” who had dominated the world and the fourth beast kingdom, will be defeated never to rise again. When “Mystery Babylon the Great” is out of the way the fourth beast kingdom and the Antichrist will be elevated to the position of superpower and world dominance, a position they will maintain until the end.
When the Antichrist and his kingdom destroy “Mystery Babylon the Great”, the world will certainly say, "Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?"13
Revelation 19 – the coming of the Lord
Once again the vision changes and we see what appears to be the final preparations before the coming of the Lord.
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready (Revelation 19:6, 7).
This is the second time the “great multitude” is mentioned in connection to the preparations being made for the Lord’s return, here and in Revelation 7:9. The “great multitude” is all the saints who have died in Christ. They are given fine linen, bright and clean, to wear as they are readied for the “harvest” which will occur at the return of Christ. Now the vision shifts to Christ.
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war (Revelation 19:11).
Christ is seen in heaven just before He returns to gather his Bride in preparation for the wedding supper on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.14
In the subsequent verses of Revelation 19, the Antichrist, the kings of the earth and their armies are gathered together for the great and final battle of Armageddon. The Antichrist and the False Prophet are captured and thrown into the lake of fire and then Christ will slaughter their armies, leaving them for the birds of the air.
After the capture of the two beasts and the defeat of their armies, Satan will be bound and thrown into the Abyss for “a thousand years.” Sealed in the Abyss He will be unable to deceive the nations for the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. Here is how Isaiah saw Satan’s defeat.
All your pomp has been brought down to the grave, along with the noise of your harps; maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you. How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit (Isaiah 14:11-15).
John then sees another vision and he describes the “first resurrection,” which is the resurrection of the righteous, of those who will reign with Christ for “a thousand years.”
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years (Revelation 20:4-6).
This passage provides important information to our study of the last days and the return of Christ. We are, now, told that the earthly reign of Christ, which has been prophesied throughout Scripture, will last “a thousand years.” We are also told that the saints, who take part in the “first resurrection,” are martyred during the Great Tribulation. We know they are killed after the Antichrist is revealed, because the beast, his image and his mark are all present. Therefore, the “first resurrection” takes place after the Great Tribulation.
In this passage John says the martyred saints of the Great Tribulation are part of the “first resurrection.” However, these martyred saints are not the only saints who are part of the “first resurrection” because we have already seen in Scripture that this is the time when all the saints will be resurrected. Recall the way Paul describes the resurrection.
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him (1 Corinthians 15:21-23).
John also tells us that the rest of the dead, those who have died and not taken part in the “first resurrection,” will be raised after “a thousand years.” Apparently, the rest of the dead are raised at a second resurrection. John sees that the rest of the dead are raised and judged at the “great white throne.”
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15)
It appears that the second resurrection includes all those who have died apart from Christ since the beginning of creation. This would include everyone who name is not found written in “the book of life.” They will be judged and thrown into the lake of fire with Satan, the Antichrist and the False Prophet. Where they will be tormented forever and ever.
What happens after the thousand-year reign of Christ has not been described extensively in Scripture. Therefore, it is difficult to say with certainty what exactly will happen. However, Paul provides insight when he tells us in 1 Corinthians 15, that Christ will reign until He has accomplished everything and then God will become the “all in all.” This is how Paul describes what will happen following the thousand years of Christ’s reign on earth.
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he ‘has put everything under his feet.’ Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:25-28).
Revelation 21 – New heaven and new earth
Once again, John tells of another vision which does not follow in chronological order. Instead of taking place after the Millennium this vision is of the “first resurrection” when Christ comes down to the earth with His Bride. There are several indications in the text that place this scene at the coming of Christ. Bold added for emphasis.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).
First, we know that at the return of Christ, He will gather His Bride and meet her in the air as He comes to earth to establish the Kingdom on earth. Therefore, when we see the “Bride” of Christ coming down, we know this takes place at Christ’s coming in glory.
Second, John tells us that at this time the “dwelling of God is with man” and He “will be with them.” Again, this also happens when Jesus returns, because when we are gathered to Him as described in 1 Thessalonians 4, it is written, “we will be with him forever.”
Third, John tells us “He will wipe away every tear,” and “[t]here will be no more death,” and “the old order of things has passed away.” Each of these things will have already taken place at the “first resurrection.” Therefore, everything we see happening in this vision will take place at the time of Christ’s return, not after the 1,000 years.
Finally, as John describes the New Jerusalem coming down as the Bride of Christ from heaven, the symbolism portrays the picture of the Bride of Christ coming down as she does at Christ’s coming. Therefore, once again, we can see that this event will actually take place at the beginning of the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, not after.
Revelation 22 – When the Lord comes
Continuing the same picture from Revelation 21, John now tells us how things will be when the Kingdom of God is established on the new earth. Bold added for emphasis.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:1-5).
“No longer will there be any curse” when the Lord restores everything at His return. Then John tells us that Christ’s servants “will see His face” which occurs when we meet Him in the air. Therefore, from the content of this entire vision we plainly see a picture of the coming of Christ and the Bride of Christ at the beginning of His reign on earth.
Now that the vision of the last days is complete, Jesus begins to close the Revelation with assurance that His coming is soon.
Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city (Revelation 22:12-14).
Note, that Jesus calls Himself “the First and the Last “ This is a title that The Lord God almighty uses for Himself when He says, “apart from me there is no God.”
This is what the LORD says-- Israel's King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: ‘I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God’ (Isaiah 44:6)
Once again, Jesus clearly claims to be God – just as He did throughout His earthly ministry. As the Word of God declares, Jesus the Christ is one with the Father and God Almighty. He created all things, and He will restore and establish all things just as He has declared in His Word. God has revealed His plan, His purpose and His character in His Word, and He warns us in these closing words that we are not to add to what He has written, we are not to take away from what He has written. Read for yourself the most severe warning in Scripture, against incorrectly handling the Word of Truth.
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book (Revelation 22:18, 19).
The biblical warning which instructs us not to add or take away from the Word of God was first written in the Old Testament.16 But, no place in Scripture is this warning stronger than it is here concerning Christ’s return. Therefore, everyone who preaches and teaches the Word of God would be wise to take note of the consequences for going beyond what is written.
Yes, I am coming soon (Revelation 22:20).
Richard H Perry
1 Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries – tereo, G5083
3 Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries – ek, G1537
4 Sir Isaac Newton, Observations Upon The Prophecies of Daniel, And The Apocalypse of St. John, 1733 – page 251
5 Revelation 12:17 and 14:12
6 Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries – sepher, H1697
7 Strong’s ibid – biblos, G976
8 Strong’s ibid – dabar, H1696
8 2 Corinthians 13:1
9 Luke 21:20
10 Daniel 9:27 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4
11 Matthew 24:21-22
12 Genesis 19
13 Revelation 13:4
14 Isaiah 25:6-8
16 Deuteronomy 4:2