The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part V

The Fifth Vision: 14-16

All In Seven Years?

One of the most persistent ideas about the End Times in the Church today is that many Revelation Bible teachers believe that the different outpourings of God’s wrath are successive, rather than describing the same events in different ways or from various perspectives.

I trust that you have seen in these articles so far that this is not the case.  Each cycle covers portions of the period between Christ’s birth and resurrection, followed by periods of tribulation as a result of persecution, culminating in the return of Christ to bring His Church/Bride home to heaven, along with the end of the world.

Although we are currently looking at John’s Fifth Vision, one other problem needs to be addressed.  

Many End-Time Bible teachers believe that a seven-year period of time, usually labeled the “Great Tribulation,” is predicted in Daniel Chapter 9.  And this period of seven years is the same amount of time all of the plagues, wars, beasts, judgments and horrible events in the Book of Revelation will supposedly appear and occur.

This teaching is based on a false interpretation of the prophecy found in Daniel, where the Angel Gabriel brings an answer to Daniel’s prayer of repentance for the people of Israel.  Here is Gabriel’s message:

Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. (Daniel 9:24)

What follows, then, is a description of how and when these events will take place:

So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. (Daniel 9:25)

These two verses show that from the issuing of the decree by Cyrus, the Prince of Persia (the successor to Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon) to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem there would be 69 weeks of years, “seven weeks and sixty-two weeks,”or 483 years (69 x 7 = 483).

Thus, 483 years after the decree is issued, the Messiah will appear and then be “cut off”:

Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. (Daniel 9:26)

This means that after the 483 years, the Messiah will begin His ministry on earth.  The Messiah will then be “cut off and have nothing,” sometime during the final seven-year period, or the 70th week.  This happened when Jesus was crucified after about three and a half years.

Then, the “prince who is to come” will bring about the destruction of Jerusalem once again, along with the Temple.

Not only Daniel, but also Jesus predicted during His earthly ministry that the Temple would again be destroyed.   

And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.” (Luke 21:5-6)

Consequently, Jesus implied also that all sacrifices and grain offerings in the Temple would cease, for the Temple would be destroyed, for He was the Messiah who would cause sacrifices to cease.

This is how Gabriel’s message to Daniel is stated: 

And he [i.e. Jesus] will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week [i.e. 3 1/2 years]  he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” (Daniel 9:27)

Therefore, Jesus the Messiah was indeed “cut off” in the middle of the final “week,” or seven years, for He was crucified after three and a half years.  Then after his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus the sinless Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for sin, caused all sacrifices to cease.

The common understanding is that there needs to be a new temple built and sacrifices resumed in order for the “prince who is to come” can cut off sacrifices and grain offerings, a condition that denigrates Christ’s ultimate sacrifice as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  

The Apostle Paul raged against this kind of teaching, opposing those who wanted Christians to continue to follow the laws of Moses, which would include sacrifices.  

In the sixth century B.C. during the Babylonian captivity, the sacrifices ceased until the Temple was rebuilt about seventy years later. The sacrifices continued until AD 70 when Titus and the Roman army sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. Since then, the sacrifices have not been offered because the temple has not been rebuilt.

This means that there is no 2,000-year gap between the 69th and 70th weeks of Gabriel’s message to Daniel, and no other prophecy predicts a mere seven-week tribulation period.  Instead, Jesus told His disciples that “in the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).  

This is how the Apostle Paul describes the tribulation to the Church in Rome:

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:5-11)

I have written two articles on this problem, posted September 1, 2014, but if you would like to see them again, click here and copy/paste to your web browser: 

  • http://biblicalmysteriescom.ipage.com/2014/09/01/grammatical-misreadings/
  • http://biblicalmysteriescom.ipage.com/2014/09/01/imposed-meanings/

 

The Bowls of Wrath

The Fifth Vision John sees focuses directly on the judgments of God against those on Earth who have refused to turn to the Lord of Mercy in repentance.

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. (15:1)

John then sees a picture in Heaven of those who have been victorious on Earth as they have taken their stand against the temptations of sin:

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. (Revelation 15:2)

John then sees this gathering of victorious people with harps in their hands, singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. John sees seven angels carrying golden bowls filled with the wrath of God:

After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, 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. 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. 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. (Revelation 15:5-8)

The Bowls of Wrath

Chapter 16 begins, therefore, with the seven angels holding Bowls of Wrath. They are told by a loud voice from Heaven this message:

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. (Revelation 16:1)

The rest of this chapter continues with the descriptions of the bowls of wrath being poured out upon the Earth.  The first six bowls are poured, including the following plagues:

  • The first angel pours his bowl and it brings a loathsome and malignant sore upon the people who worship the beast and carry his image on their foreheads.
  • The next angel pours the second bowl, and the sea becomes blood.
  • Then the third angel pours out blood into the rivers and springs of water and cries out that God is righteous, “for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it” (16:6).
  • The fourth angel pours his bowl onto the sun, and it began to scorch the sons of men until they cried out blasphemies, yet still would not repent.
  • The fifth angel pours his bowl of wrath on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom becomes darkened. They cried out in pain because of their sores, and though they blasphemed God, they would not repent.
  • The sixth angel pours out his bowl on the River Euphrates, yet it became dry, leaving a clear path for the armies of the kings of the east.

Now there is a brief pause between the sixth and the seventh bowls to reveal the gathering of the nations in a place called Armageddon, or Har-Magedon in Hebrew.

Armageddon

John sees three unclean spirits coming out of the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet that are like frogs.  These spirits go out to the kings of the earth to gather them together for “the Great Day of God,” the final judgement of God against those who refuse to repent:

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.” 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. 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. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. 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. (Revelation 16:17-20)

Thus, the question is not, “What is Babylon?” or “Who is the Beast?” Instead, what should concern us and the Church of all ages is what these terms represent.  

So many have labeled them in twenty-first-century people or places, but they have been represented throughout history in countless different ways.  

 

How Do We Interpret Such Mysteries?

Imagine living in the time of the Apostle John in the first century after the Book of Revelation was written. Whom do you believe is the “Beast: or the “Harlot”?  What does “Babylon” represent?  

Or perhaps you are living during the reign of Nero in Rome, or even Hitler in Germany in the 1940s.  

Is Barrack Obama the Antichrist? Some have declared him to be the one John wrote about in Revelation. Should we try to fit these historical figures into John’s apocalyptic visions, only to be wrong when years pass?  

Today, one site (http://www.christconnection.net/id7.html) declares that Alexander the Great is the Antichrist who will supposedly rise from the dead. Other sites say the Pope is the Antichrist. Wait, I thought Henry Kissinger was the Antichrist!  Oh, no!  

Today, we are told that the “Mystery  of Babylon” (which we will study next in Revelation 17) is Rome, or Jerusalem, or even America, depending on the interpretations of the various Bible teachers. And these places are interpreted literally, not as representations of spiritual significance applicable to all Christians.

Shouldn’t these teachings be modified in case the link doesn’t work out in the light of history, as has happened so often in the past?  

Again, this is the danger of trying to be too specific in terms of identifying the actual persons or places in Revelation and linking them with present-day people or cities.  

On the other hand, if I were alive in the first or second centuries hearing that the Beast arising out of the sea is an evil person living in the 21st century, I’m not sure I would take the warnings of repentance and the consequences of not doing so too seriously.  

Thus, we need to focus our spiritual attention on the meanings of these visions, not trying to take them literally or applying them to specific contemporary people or places. If we are wrong, we will only bring reproach on the Church and Christ Jesus.

Nor should we be focusing on the “signs of the times” to declare that the European Common Market is the Beast with seven heads and ten horns found in Revelation 13 and 17.  It’s been years since I have even heard that term “Common Market” used, but when I was a teenager that was what we were told was the prime indicator of the Antichrist’s coming kingdom.

In the next article, we will consider John’s Sixth Vision beginning in Revelation Chapter 17.

 

The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part IV

jesus-with-a-sharp-sickle-in-his-hand

The Fourth Vision (Chapters 12-14)

Rightly Dividing the Book of Revelation

First a few suggestions for reading and studying the Book of Revelation.  I’ve already written that John’s Apocalypse is a book of signs and symbols. Consequently, it should not be read literally.  

When we see a beast arising out of the sea in Revelation, it does not refer to the  creature living in Loch Ness or to the whale in Moby Dick.  And we know that the creatures in Jurassic Park and other films are not real, even though they look realistic.

In addition, however, realizing that there are many mysteries and secret meanings in the Revelation, persecution from world governments and false religions is a primary theme John is asked to write down.  Therefore, the book is written in a kind of code that may only be broken by using the whole Word of God as a key.  

Those not familiar with the Scriptures will be totally confused by the strange beasts and descriptions of the plagues, for example, but we who have read about the story of the Exodus of Moses or the visions of Daniel have access to the secrets God wants to reveal to His people.

Finally, one more suggestion: We should not become focused on every detail in John’s vision, trying to find direct links comparing what is written with current events or people in history.

Instead, finding meaning is much like seeing a painting by Picasso, trying to understand all of the colors, lines, and distorted features of the portraits.  Picasso needs to be understood wholistically, not focusing on any particular unusual feature in a painting.  Clearly, Picasso was not trying to be realistic in his paintings, but instead only suggesting his ideas through images that convey his ideas.

The following painting, for example, makes more sense when we know it is of a weeping woman. 

However, we do not need to understand Picasso’s every intention to see what the artist is doing overall.  We either like the painting or we don’t, and I have to say that I prefer the works of other artists much more than those of Picasso!  

Thus, we need to see the Book of Revelation as a whole, in context with the rest of the Scriptures, relying on the Holy Spirit for guidance.  

For example, we will see the sickles in Chapter 14 in context with Christ’s Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, a good example of determining meanings in the whole body of God’s Word, for in many ways, the Book of Revelation is equally disturbing in terms of the images and symbols John writes about.  

 

Another Vision

Beginning in Chapter 12, therefore, we again see one more perspective of God’s plan to redeem the world and set free all who will call upon His name in faith. This Fourth Vision begins the cycle of the whole plan of redemption, although some of the seven visions do not contain the entire tableau, as we will see in future articles.  

This Fourth Vision begins with the story of Christ’s first coming:

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; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.  (Revelation 12:1-2)

Most teachers and scholars in the Church believe that this woman represents the true Israel, the crown of twelve stars standing for the twelve tribes.  John’s vision relates to Joseph’s dream in Genesis:

Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” (Genesis 37:9-10)

Clearly, Jacob (whose name is later changed to Israel) interprets Joseph’s dream in the following way: The “sun” represents Israel, the “moon” represents Rachel, and the “eleven stars” represent Jacob’s eleven sons (besides Joseph). (See also Genesis 35:9-10.)

Some Bible bloggers believe this number cannot represent the Church, for it only consists of Jews.  However, the New Testament clearly declares that the Jews and the Gentiles both make up the True Church in Heaven.  See my articles on “The New Covenant with Israel” concerning the joining together of Jews and Gentiles:

The Birth of the Savior

In John’s vision, therefore, the woman, who represents the faithful people of Israel, is pregnant, or “with child,” and she is ready to give birth to the One who will redeem the world out of the control of Satan.

Then John sees another sign in Heaven, a great dragon who waits for the child to be delivered so it may devour the child and destroy God’s plans:

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. 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. (Revelation 12:3-4)

In fact, Satan indeed conspired to kill Jesus, the promised Son of God and Messiah, by using King Herod, who ended up committing mass murder of children to rid his kingdom of a potential rival for his throne.

The dragon in Revelation, therefore, represents Lucifer, or Satan, who brought down many angels with him. (Revelation 12:4).

 

Lucifer’s Fall

Ezekiel’s prophecies of this event depict not just the King of Tyre, but also Lucifer, for the prophet relates that Lucifer was in Eden (Ezekiel 28:14); he was the “anointed cherub” God placed on the Holy Mountain (14); he was “blameless” in his ways until unrighteousness and sin were found in him (15); and he was cast as profane from the mountain of God (16).  And according to many Bible teachers, when Lucifer fell, he took one-third of the angels with him.

What follows next in Revelation depicts in just one verse the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension to Heaven of Christ Jesus, the promised Messiah:

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. (Revelation 12:5)

 

Michael Again Wages War

Once again, however, we find that when the Gospel goes forth into the world, persecution follows, and this is what happens to the woman, or the true Israel, who has become the True Church, the Bride of Christ: “Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God (12:6).

Michael the Archangel also appears in John’s vision, along with Michael’s fellow angelic warriors,  waging war with the dragon.  This dragon is, a symbol of Satan and his demonic angels, for this symbolism is explicitly revealed by John in the following passage:

And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. 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. (Revelation 12:7-9)

John then hears the voice of victory in Heaven:

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. 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. (Revelation 12:10-11)
The battle that raged in the Heavens, however, is not finished, for it is then waged on earth.  The dragon, or Satan, attempts to persecute the woman who gave birth to the child, but she was protected, able to fly to the wilderness (12:13-15).  Therefore, the dragon turns his persecutions against the Church, or the “children” of the woman:
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. (Revelation 12:17)

 

The First Beast

The story continues, showing how the dragon, or Satan, stood on the sand of the seashore awaiting a “beast” coming out of the sea. This beast is a representation of worldly powers, authorities, and rulers in the form of various beasts and animals:

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 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.  (Revelation 13:1-2; see also Daniel 7)

These beasts symbolize the governments and rulers of the world, and they are much the same as those beasts arising out of the sea in the 7th Chapter of Daniel.  These governments also seek to persecute the Church:

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. 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. (Revelation 13:7-8)

 

Another Beast

Then in John’s vision another beast arises out of the sea, one that represents the false religions of the world, yet a beast that still supports and functions under the authority of the first beast:

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. 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. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. 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. (Revelation 13:11-14)

This beast is like a lamb, but it speaks with the voice of a dragon. Thus, this beast speaks the words of the dragon, but it is deceptive, operating like a benign religion while exercising the authority of the first beast.  Thus, this second beast is a picture of the counterfeit church, an alternative to the True Church of Jesus Christ.

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. (Revelation 13:18)

The number 666 represented here in Revelation is a bit difficult for modern readers to understand, but it was common to use letters of the alphabet not just to form written words but also to represent numbers, hence the numeric system we had to learn in elementary school:  Roman Numerals. 

This conversion of letters to numbers system is called a “gematria,” and was commonly used in the Early Church as a code to identify various people who were persecuting the Church without naming them directly and, thus, inviting increased persecution.

John says, however, that the one “who has understanding” can calculate the “number of the beast,” so applying this name to someone two thousand years later seems unwise.  The Emperor Nero, however, seems to be a likely candidate, not only because of the “gematria,” the numbers in his name adding up to 666, but also his extreme persecution of Christians, an important theme in John’s book. Thus, Nero is a symbol for future world leaders used by Satan to persecute the Church.

 

The 144,000 on Mount Zion

Finally, nearing the end of this Fourth Vision, we see a picture of the resurrected Church:

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. (Revelation 14:1)

The Mount Zion John sees in Heaven is not the same Mount Zion in geographical Jerusalem, nor will it be in future visions in Revelation.  Mount Zion in geographical Jerusalem is where King David claimed the fortress from the Jebusites, making it his palace and the site of the future Temple.

In the New Testament, however, Zion takes on additional symbolic and spiritual significance as the name of the city of the Living God.  First of all, Peter says that Jesus Christ is the “Cornerstone for the foundation,” described in Isaiah’s prophecy.

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stoneAnd he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone,”  (I Peter 2:4-7)

As Peter describes it, Christian believers are part of the Temple, as living stones built upon the foundation of Christ the Cornerstone.

And as the writer to the Hebrews describes it, Christians “have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind” (Hebrews 12:18).  Instead, he writes, you have come to the true Mount Zion in Heaven:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven. (Hebrews 12:22-23)

Although, much has been proposed about who the 144,000 are, therefore, it is clear that they are those who have been sanctified and set apart unto God through Jesus Christ, and are a part of the Mount Zion in Heaven, the New Jerusalem.  These Christians are able to sing a “new song” and have the name of Jesus and His Father God on their foreheads. They also have been purified and have lived chaste lives:

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. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless. (Revelation 14:3-5)

Their number, 144,000, is a combination of several significant symbolic numbers:  3 x 4 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10.  Thus, the total number of 144,000 is made up of combinations and multiples of the prominent symbolic numbers in the Scriptures and represent the True Church in Heaven.

 

Final Judgment

In the final part of the Fourth Vision, we see three angels proclaiming the final judgment on the followers and worshipers of the Beast, those who have a mark on their hand or their forehead. Here are the words of the three angels:

  • Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. (v. 7)
  • 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.” (v. 8)
  • “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  (v. 9-10)
We find two bodies of people in the final part of John’s Fourth Vision, therefore: First, the True Church, or the 144,000, those with a mark on their forehead with the names of Jesus and His Father;  and second, those who worship the beast and hold to the false religion of spiritual Babylon.  
Finally, the vision ends with two angels carrying sickles, reaping the “harvest of the earth” in judgment.  The people of God are reaped to enter their final place in Heaven, while those who have worshiped the beast are reaped and, like the “tares” in Christ’s teaching, are doomed to fire and brimstone.

Tares Among Wheat

This part of  John’s vision in Revelation is a reflection of Christ’s “Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.”  

Tares are very similar in appearance to wheat, but they appear first in the ground and steal nutrients from the soil.  They entwine themselves around the wheat so they cannot be removed without destroying the wheat crop as well.  

The tares mature faster than wheat, however, so they may be cut first and destroyed, allowing the wheat to grow to maturity.  

Here is Christ’s parable, along with the interpretation He gives the disciples.  Notice the parallels with the vision John sees in Revelation 14:

Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves *said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he *said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Then Jesus is asked to explain the parable:

Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Thus, the Fourth Vision repeats the cycle, beginning with the coming of Jesus, continuing with the spread of the Gospel and the subsequent persecutions by the two beasts, and concluding with the final judgment.
 

The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part III

 
 

The Third Vision (Chapters 8-11)

How A Scroll Is Read

The Apostle John now begins the next vision he saw, the third.
First of all, this is a good time, perhaps, to realize that the chapter and verse designations that appear in modern translations of the Scriptures are not a part of the original documents.  Modern editors have placed these in the text to assist us in finding our places.
 
Nor are the headings that are used to separate the portions part of the original texts.  This means that we readers must be careful not to be influenced by these demarcations, for they are not always accurate, not just in Revelation but also in the entire Bible.
 
For example, the third seal in John’s second vision from Chapter 6 (verses 5-8) is described in the New American Standard Bible’s headings as “Famine,” yet in our analysis we saw that the wheat, oil, barley, and wine are present and available. However, they are only scarce to those who have no money to pay for them: “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”
 
     A denarius is roughly equivalent to only a day’s wages, and the money is scarce because of persecution, a persecution that arises for those who do not align with the principles and teachings of the ruling political and religious leaders.
     Second, from the context of the first two verses, we understand that there is a transition between them.  
When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. (8:1-2)
(Even the heavenly hosts need a half an hour break, it appears!)
     This “pause” may be demonstrating how the scroll with the seven seals opened by the Lamb in the Second Vision was made.  As the scroll is unrolled and read, and each vision is revealed, pages come to the next seal that needs to be broken, where the narrative pauses, also signifying the end of each vision John sees.
 

The Trumpets

At the beginning of John’s Third Vision, an angel appears with a golden censer and much incense.  This incense is added to the prayers of all the saints that have been collected and placed on the golden altar before the throne of God (Revelation 8:3). It’s clear what the incense symbolizes, therefore:  the prayers of the Saints.

This angel, who I believe is a type of Jesus our High Priest, is also a reflection of what the Jewish High Priest did every year on the Day of Atonement, as Moses instructed Aaron:

Then Aaron . . .  shall take a firepan full of coals of fire from upon the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bring it inside the veil. He shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony, otherwise he will die. (Leviticus 16:11-13)

On the Day of Atonement, therefore, the high priest enacted in type a pattern of the ceremony the angel in John’s vision performs.

And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. 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. (Revelation 8:4-5)

This passage also makes clear the results of the incense that arises before the Throne of God. The thunder, lightning, and earthquakes that result are the responses of a Holy God to the intercessions and prayers of His people.

The Seven Angels

The seven angels in the vision then prepare to blow their horns. This ceremony has also been anticipated by the Jewish festivals, or feasts, celebrated every year.

The Feast of Trumpets, or Rosh Hashanah, celebrates the Jewish New Year.  It begins with the blowing of rams’ horns, the “shofar,” calling God’s people together to confess their sins and repent. It is a solemn day of repentance and being reminded of God’s judgment against sin:

The Jewish Talmud states that three books have recorded the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of an intermediate class. The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life and they are sealed “to live.” The intermediate class are allowed a respite of ten days, until Yom Kippur, to reflect, repent and become righteous; the wicked are “blotted out of the book of the living forever.” (multiple online sources)

Ten days later on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur,  the shofars again sounded to declare a day of judgment. Some descriptions in the Jewish Midrash, or commentaries, even depict God as sitting upon a throne, while books containing the deeds of all humanity are opened for review.  All the people then pass in front of Him for judgment:

For it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls. (Leviticus 16:30)

It was also a time of self-examination:

For nearly twenty-six hours—from several minutes before sunset on Tishrei to after nightfall on Tishrei—we “afflict our souls”: we abstain from food and drink, do not wash or anoint our bodies, do not wear leather footwear, and abstain from marital relations. (Multiple sources)

Thus, these trumpets, or shofar, in Revelation had tremendous significance with these Jewish feasts 

 

The Shofar

The Trumpets blown by the angels in this part of Revelation are made of the horns of rams and called a shofar.  Unlike the musical sound of silver trumpets, these shofars produced loud blasts that sent out warnings or an alarm of impending attack or war. They represent in Revelation, therefore, the warnings of God’s judgments coming upon the earth:

And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them. (Revelation 8:6)

These blasts from the shofars initiate the judgments of God over the physical universe, even including the sun, moon, and stars, described by the Apostle Paul as longing for the revealing of the sons of God and to be freed from the slavery of sin:

For  consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (Romans 8:18-22)

The first four shofars warn of judgments on the Earth that will lead to Christ’s coming, therefore, while the next three are called “woes” that signify the judgments brought upon those of the Earth who have rejected God. As Peter declares, the heavens will burn and the elements will all melt with heat. These warnings sound to declare the coming of Jesus Christ, bringing with Him the “new Heaven and new Earth”:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,  looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (II Peter 3:10-13)

The First Four Shofars Sound

The first shofar sounds, signaling the warnings that appear on the earth and in the heavens telling men to repent:

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. (Revelation 8:7)

The second shofar refers to “a great mountain burning with fire” an allusion to Jeremiah’s prophecy that describes the destruction of Babylon.

The second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood, and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed. (Revelation 8:8-9)

This “great mountain” alludes to the mountain Jeremiah prophesied about that refers to Babylon:

“But I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea for all their evil that they have done in Zion before your eyes,” declares the Lord.

“Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain,
Who destroys the whole earth,” declares the Lord,
“And I will stretch out My hand against you,
And roll you down from the crags,
And I will make you a burnt out mountain.
“They will not take from you even a stone for a corner
Nor a stone for foundations,
But you will be desolate forever,” declares the Lord.  (Jeremiah 51:24-26)

Many Bible teachers have speculated on what this Babylon represents, including the idea that it is the Roman Catholic Church, among religions, and the Unites States of America, among nation-states.  
     Again, I believe that this kind of speculation is unfruitful, for John’s visions are relevant to the Church of all ages, as it says in Chapter 22:7:  “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”  And John is told not to seal up the book, for the “time is near” (22:10).
     We will see more about the destruction of Babylon in future chapters of Revelation, but for now, we must conclude that this Babylon is not a nation, but a symbol called “mystery Babylon,” described in Revelation 17.
 
The third angel sounds (verse 10), and the prophecy describes a star that falls from Heaven upon earth. The star’s name is “Wormwood,” which is a bitterness that permeates the waters on Earth:
The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters. The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter. (Revelation 8:10)
The fourth angel sounds his shofar, which signifies how one-third of the sun, moon, and stars are darkened:
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. (Revelation 8:12)
What follows are the soundings of the next three shofars, but first we see an eagle flying above sending a message to all the inhabitants of the Earth:
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!”
This eagle, perhaps, is a symbol of swift judgment descending suddenly from the heavens, the mighties of birds of prey executing judgment on the unwary.

The Three “Woes”

The Fifth through the Seventh trumpets are called “woes,” and they depict the judgments that fall upon those on Earth who do not repent or turn to God:
“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!” (Revelation 8:13)
  

The Fifth Shofar

When the fifth Angel blows the shofar, locusts come upon the Earth.  These locusts mirror the locusts in the plagues of Egypt in the time of Moses.  They represent the consequences of  rebellion against God’s will and Word.  These locusts torment men who do not repent.
Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. 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. (Revelation 9:3-4)
 

The Sixth Shofar

The sixth angel sounds the shofar, warning of the “Army from the East,” depicted as the “great river Euphrates,” the dividing line between Israel and Babylon:    
Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates. And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind. The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.  (Revelation 9:14-16)
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; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.  (9:20-21)
Clearly these warnings are insufficient to bring about repentance among humankind.
 
 

Another Interlude

Again, we have a pause (between the 6th and 7th trumpets) to reveal the condition of God’s people in the midst of persecution, as well as the impending appearance of Christ and the judgment of the rebellious.
 
First, in Chapter 10, we view the moment when John sees another angel who holds a “little book which was open” (Revelation 10:2) This encounter is  at least partially explained by Daniel’s encounter with Michael the Archangel, described as the “great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people” (Daniel 12:1).  
 
In Daniel’s prophecy, we read that when Michael arises at the end of time “there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (Daniel 12:1).  
And at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:1-3)
Daniel is further told, however, to “seal up” the book “until the end of time” (Daniel 12:3)
But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.”  (Daniel 12:4)

It seems, then, that the book in Daniel’s prophetic vision is the same book the angel holds in Revelation, and it is the same one that is given to John to eat.

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.” 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.”  (Revelation 10:8-9)

The story does not end here, however, for John is then told to prophesy again to “many peoples and nations and tongues and kings” (Revelation 10:11).  The words John eats will be sweet at first, for the news of Christ’s coming is good, but the prophecy is bitter in the end, for the final judgment is severe and final.
 
This final judgment will be sweet for those who are on the way to salvation, but it will be bitter for those who have refused to repent and turn to the lordship of Jesus Christ, who will judge all upon His return.  This will be the final “woe.”
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. 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.” (Revelation 11:17-18)

The Two Witnesses

The final part of this third vision describes what John sees concerning the two Witnesses, also called the “two olive trees and the two lamp stands that stand before the Lord of the earth” (Revelation 11:4). Who are these two Witnesses and what do they represent?

The Apostle Paul uses the example of the olive tree to describe the True Church which consists of both Jews and Gentiles (see Romans 11), and as we have seen, the lamp stands represent the Churches in the first of John’s visions in Revelation (see Chapters 1- 3).

Concerning the Two Witnesses, In Deuteronomy, Chapter 19, Moses declared,

A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.  (19:15)

These Two Witnesses in Revelation, therefore, symbolize the perfect and complete testimony of the truth of God’s Word. Thus, the prophetic Word of God revealed through these two symbolic witnesses irrefutably condemns those who continue in rebellion against God and His Christ:

And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire. (Revelatin 11:5-6)

 

As powerful as they are, the prophecies of these two Witnesses are ultimately repudiated, however, by those in rebellion against God. As always happens, when the Word of God goes forth, persecution always follows:  

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. 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. (Revelation 11:7-8)

The “beast” in this passage represents the persecution that arises whenever the Word of God goes forth, a persecution that arises from worldly powers and authorities.

Thus, those who have rejected the Word of God through His Witnesses rejoice, for no longer do they have to hear the message of repentance.  But even though they lie dead in the street, the two Witnesses are soon raised again:

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. (Revelation 11:11)

After the two Witnesses ascend to Heaven, judgment appears on earth, followed by repentance:

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. (Revelation 11:13)

 

Seventh Shofar

When the Seventh Angel sounds the shofar, there is praise and worship in Heaven:  “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
     Thus, the Third Vision John saw in his visions begins with a unique perspective on God’s plan, the “Mystery of God’s Will,” for the people of God. It begins with the going forth of the Gospel, or Good News, but focuses on the persecution and judgment that arises when the powers of the enemy, the world powers, come against the True Church made up of both Jews and Gentiles who have been sealed on their foreheads.

Conclusion

     Please remember that this third vision in Revelation is a message that like a dream is sent in the language of signs and symbols. Thus, it must not be interpreted literally or understood necessarily in terms of current events.
     These visions were given by God through John to the Church of all ages, and it brings both the sweet taste of love and gratitude for God’s love and acceptance, as well as the bitterness of regret for those who ultimately reject this grace of God.
     Next we will study in Revelation the Fourth Vision John saw on the Island of Patmos, Chapters 12-14. 
 
 
 
 

 

The Kingdom of God: Revelation Part II

The Second Vision: Chapters 4-7

 The beginning of John’s Second Vision in Revelation is indicated by the following statement:

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.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. (Revelation 4:1-2)

     In his vision John sees Heaven.  The pattern for Heaven was seen by Moses in the Book of Exodus, when he was told to follow the pattern when building the Tabernacle the Jews used in the wilderness.

     This is a part of what John saw:

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; 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. (Revelation 4:5-6)

     The following scenes depict all that has unfolded since Christ’s first appearance on Earth as the human Son of God, His birth, resurrection, and ascension.  John sees a re-enactment of the scene when Christ appeared before God’s Throne in Heaven after His resurrection:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.  (Ephesians 1:18-23)

     John looks and sees a book with seven seals.  This book is not a prediction of the extreme tortures and judgments that will occur some day in the supposed seven-year tribulation period. Instead, John weeps greatly because no one is found who is worthy to open the book and break its seals (5:2), to bring to pass what God reveals as His solution to the problems of sinful captivity.  

     The book John sees, therefore, represents the unfolding of God’s will in redeeming humankind and the Earth from their bondage to Satan.  Only the perfectly sinless Son of God, a human without sin like a sacrificial lamb, could bring about this redemption.

     However, one of the elders around the throne of God tells John, “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.”  

     This passage alludes to the Word of the Lord given through Nathan the prophet in the Old Testament foretelling the coming of the King from the line of David, whose kingdom will have no end.  Speaking to King David, Nathan says,

When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  (II Samuel 7:12)

This descendant was Jesus.  Instead of a lion, therefore, John sees a Lamb “as if slain”:

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. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)

     Thus, the figure of the Lamb is clearly a depiction of the risen Jesus Christ, revealed as the antitype of the lamb of sacrifice in the Old Covenant.  

     The rest of the Second Vision concerns the breaking of the seals, for Jesus Christ is celebrated as the One who is found to be worthy.

     Unlike the picture posted at the beginning of this article, the book John saw was the kind of scroll that could only be read as it was unwound:

Unwinding was impossible, however, until each part of the scroll was loosed from the bondage of the previous seals in their order.  

     Also, to understand their significance, we must not look for future political events or historical figures, but patterns of what always happens when the Good News of the Kingdom goes forth into the world.

     Nor are the seals representative of future events necessarily, for they do not depict single events during the “Great Tribulation.” Instead, the Book of Revelation is meant to be a blessing to anyone who reads it, so the principles apply to the Church in every age, not just the Church of the End Times.  I doubt very much that those living in the Early Church period were overly concerned with what might happen in two thousand years, or might have been delighted to learn the name of the supposed Antichrist.

     What follows, then, are descriptions of what happens when Jesus Christ opens the seals, not just once for a specific time at the end of the age, but for all times during the Church Age until His second coming.

The First Seal:  

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.” 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.  (Revelation 6:1-2)

The rider on a white horse is not a false messiah, or the Antichrist, as some have suggested.  Instead, the rider has a crown who goes forth to conquer.  This is a picture of Jesus the King who, with His Church, goes forth into the world to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  

     To understand this image, we need to see that the white horse should be consistent with the white horse in the 19th Chapter:

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. (6:1-2)

Thus, the white horse represents the proclamation of the Gospel, the going forth of the message Jesus has commanded.  The Lamb, Jesus Christ, has been crowned, and He is going forth to conquer and make manifest the fact that all power is given to Him in Heaven and on Earth.  And we in the Church are part of His campaign, for He told us that since all power has been given to Him, we are to go forth into all the world in His name and spread the good news of His Kingdom (see Matthew 28:19-20).  We are not to conquer territory, for His Kingdom is not of this world.  

The Second Seal:

When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.” And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him. (Revelation 6:3-4)

    This passage is reminiscent of the passage in the first chapter of Zechariah, another story of a rider on the red horse, written in a similar apocalyptic style:  

I saw at night, and behold, a man was riding on a red horse, and he was standing among the myrtle trees which were in the ravine, with red, sorrel and white horses behind him. Then I said, “My lord, what are these?” And the angel who was speaking with me said to me, “I will show you what these are.” And the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered and said, “These are those whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.” So they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees and said, “We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth is peaceful and quiet.”

Clearly, this passage is figurative, not literal, but its emphasis is slightly different from the red horse in Revelation, for in that passage power is given to the rider to take peace from the Earth, and men begin slaying one another. Instead, the passage in Revelation depicts what happens when the Gospel is preached.  Immediately, the enemy responds with persecution, depicted as the rider on the red horse just as Jesus declared that in the world we will have persecution.

The Third Seal:  

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. 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.” (Revelation 6:5-6)

     This seal does not depict famine, necessarily, for there is plenty of food.  Only those who are able to purchase it may buy, however. This vision, therefore, depicts another form of persecution, for oil and wine are available if believers will only bow to the emperor or follow the dictates of the secular or state powers.  If not, they will lose their jobs or not be allowed to join the workers union. Thus, if they cannot work, they will have no money and no food.

The Fourth Seal:  

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:7-8)

     Death and Hades are named in this passage, written on an ashen-colored horses.  These names describe the continued persecution against the Church through martyrdom, as well as natural disasters, leading to death, all of which Christians must endure. 

The Fifth Seal:  

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; 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?”  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.  (Revelation 6:9-11)

     The opening of this seal depicts the martyrs of the saints seen under the altar.  They cry out saying, “How long, Oh Lord, will you refrain from judgment?” (6:10). The response to their cry is that they must wait until their number is complete.  Thus, God withholds judgment because of His mercy.  God is good if He punishes sin, but He is also longsuffering, withholding judgment until “whosoever will” may come.  

The Sixth Seal:

The kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:15-17)

     The opening of this seal reveals a terrible picture of rebellion against God and the punishments that fall upon the Earth as a result.  In the midst of the earthquakes and terror, men do not repent of their rebellion but only try to hide from God’s presence.  

 

A Pause

     What follows before the opening of the Sventh Seal is a pause, or interlude, that depicts the Church of Jesus Christ in glory, all of its members clothed in white robes and sealed as bondservants of the Lord. The Church is described using two pictures, or representations:

The 144,000

     Before the final judgment, four angels holding back the wrath say, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.” (v. 3)

     Therefore, the first picture of the Church appears as those who have been “sealed,” the 144,000, a symbolic number made up of other symbolic numbers (3 x 4 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10) and described in terms of the “tribes” of Israel.  

     These are not exactly the same tribes usually used to describe the Nation of Israel precisely, but instead the numbers come from, and represent, the True Israel made up of both Jews and Gentiles. See these past articles:

The New Covenant with Israel

The New Covenant with Israel

     To show that these are not simply the Tribes of Israel that are described under the Old Covenant, the tribes are mixed in order, and some are even deleted from the Old Testament record.  Thus, Reuben, Abraham’s firstborn, is not listed first, as was usual, but Judah is listed first instead, and Reuben is listed second.  Manasseh is listed, but his tribe does not appear in Genesis the 49th Chapter, where the other tribes are listed, while Ephraim was also a child of Joseph, but he is not listed. 

Therefore, this listing represents the True Israel (the perfect Church), consisting of those who have been sealed.

The Great Multitude:

     The next depiction of the True Church begins in Chapter 7, where John sees a “great multitude” that is uncountable, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues (v. 9).

     At this point, no better description of the True Church exists in Scripture, I believe, as long as the term “great tribulation” is not misinterpreted and described only in terms of seven years:

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 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. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”  (Revelation 7:13-17)

     Jesus said before His death and resurrection, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  

     The idea that the great tribulation only lasts seven years is based on a misreading of Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, which I have discussed in a previous article which disproves this teaching. (Click here to read:  Imposed Meanings)

The Seventh Seal: 

When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. (Revelation 8:1-2)

     John’s Second Vision in Revelation ends, appropriately enough, with the statement that there was “silence in Heaven.” This pause of a half an hour signals the beginning of John’s Third Vision.

Next Time:  

In the next article, we will continue to see how the Kingdom of God and His Christ are revealed in the Apocalypse, or Revelation, of John. 

 

The Kingdom of God: Revelation Part I

 

The Book of Revelation, written down by the Apostle John, has much to say about the Kingdom of God, but it is primarily this book, unfortunately, that is the basis of the teaching that the reign of Christ will only begin after the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This teaching says that Christ will be crowned to set up His throne in Jerusalem, where He will rule on Earth for one thousand years.

     The Book of Revelation was written to the whole Church, however, not just the Church that exists in what is termed “the later days.” What is written must make sense and pertain to the Church of all ages, for as John wrote,

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. (Revelation 1:3)

The book belongs to all who read it, for the time is near to them also, as Jesus said in John’s vision, “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book. . . .Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Revelation 22:7, 10).     

     In addition, Revelation belongs to a particular genre, or “kind” of writing called apocalyptic literature.  Thus, the book as a whole contains content much like parts of the books of Daniel and Ezekiel that include such strange images, as in the following passage:

Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. Each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. (Ezekiel 1:5-7)

Therefore, Revelation is a book that was not intended to be taken literally, for it was “signified” to John, as the word “communicated” is best translated in the Authorized Version, “He sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John” (Revelation 1:1 KJV).  Thus, the visions John saw on the Island called Patmos were revealed to him in the form of signs and symbols, a waking vision.  

     For example, in the first chapter, Jesus is depicted as having a sword coming out of His mouth (Revelation 1:16).  We must not make the mistake of seeing this as a literal sword, however. Instead, it is a picture or representation of the “sword of the spirit,” the “Word of God” described by the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 6:17) and by the writer of the Book of Hebrews (4:12) 

     This example of the sword reveals that the mysteries in Revelation, the many images and symbols in the Book of Revelation, may be discovered and understood in the context of other parts of the Scriptures.

     In addition, this book must not be read and understood chronologically or linearly.  It is not a “history” of the Church through two thousand years and beyond, but instead it portrays a series of visions that show patterns that are relevant to the Church of all ages.  

     Again, John shows this relevance to the whole Church clearly in the final chapter of the book, where he says of the angelic messenger:

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. And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Revelation 22:6-7)

     Therefore, John’s visions are comprehensible only to those believers who have been given the Keys to the Kingdom of God, not to those who are “outside” trying to see inside.  

     The message of Revelation was also important in the Early Church period, for example, so that early Christians did not invite more persecution by revealing what some of the meanings were in difficult times.  Can you imagine what the Emperor Diocletian might have thought of John’s book if he had known its true and unveiled content?  

     Therefore, it is clear that the Scriptures as a whole are the keys that unlock the mysteries of the visions John saw.  We have been given the Bible as a kind of code book which holds the keys to unlocking the enigmas and obscure meanings of the text. These are mysteries that God wants to reveal to His people.

     Finally, the book of Revelation focuses on a revelation, or a “revealing,” of Jesus Himself and His Body, the Church, not just the horrors of a supposed tribulation and His second coming. Based on what this book describes, Christ’s work has been finished, just as He said on the cross, “It is finished.” Thus, there is nothing more to do except to finish, or complete, what has already been decreed.

 

 

An Outline of Revelation

     The book consists generally of seven visions in which the overall plan of God is revealed from seven different perspectives.  In varying degrees of specificity, we see both the entire picture, as well as different details, not necessarily with the same degree of specificity or in the same language.

Also, John sees his visions “in the Spirit,” not with the eyes of the flesh. Even what we see with our own eyes may be difficult to recall and write, but John is charged with writing what he sees in a spiritual vision, no easy task:

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.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. (Revelation 4:1-2)

     Each one of the seven visions portrays in different ways the story of the coming of Christ Jesus to redeem us from the Kingdom of Darkness, ruled over by Satan, followed by Christ’s victory over Satan, followed further by the coming of the Kingdom of God.  Christ’s reign on earth is then depicted and the final defeat of Satan is accomplished as the Gospel goes forth to the world and the Church is called to Heaven as the Bride of Christ.

     All of the visions John sees are also begun in different ways that show a transition to a new perspective.  Here are some examples:

  • First Vision (1-3): I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, “Write in a book what you see. . .”
  • Second Vision (4-7): After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven.
  • Third Vision (8-11):  When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
  • Fourth Vision (12-14): A great sign appeared in heaven. . .
  • Fifth Vision (15-16): Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues.
  • Sixth Vision (17-19):  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. . .” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness.
  • Seventh Vision (20-22): Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 

     Here, then, are descriptions of these seven visions with appropriate interpretations and explanations. These understandings are not my own entirely, but they are compilations of the teachings of many Bible scholars and teachers.  The teachings of Malcom Smith have been particularly enlightening and helpful.

 

First Vision: Chapters 1-3

     John’s first vision should not be read or understood literally, for it sets the parameters for the rest of the visions in the book.  First, the vision was communicated, or “signified,” through Christ’s messenger (1:1), and for our purposes in this study, John clearly states that we, the recipients, have been made to be a “Kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1:6)

     What are we looking for?  Significantly, when He appears, every eye will see Him, for He is not a thief, as some have portrayed Him, coming secretly to rescue His followers.  The word “thief” in Jesus’ teaching refers only to the suddenness of His coming, not to the idea that He will not be seen.

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.  (Revelation 1:7)

 

John’s Visions Should Not Be Interpreted Literally

     Two images immediately appear in the vision, the sharp sword out of Christ’s mouth (1:16) and the “Seven lampstands.”  These images are immediately interpreted by John for us as the seven churches addressed. Are these churches symbolic? 

     For example, do the seven churches represent the different “ages” of the church throughout history, as some have suggested?  Some have taught that the universal “Church” of today is represented by the final church addressed in Revelation, the church in Laodicea: “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (3:16).

     I do not believe that this teaching is correct, for these churches represent the different kinds of churches that have existed at any time in the church age since the ascension of Christ.  John makes clear, however, that those people Christ has redeemed with His blood are all part of the Kingdom of God 

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, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—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.  (Revelation 1:4-6)

And John’s vision also provides for us interpretations of what some of the symbols or images represent.  

He who overcomes, I will make him apillar 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.  (Revelation 3:120

     We understand, therefore, that the true spiritual Church is portrayed in Revelation not only as parts of a building, the Temple of God, but also as citizens of a city, the “New Jerusalem.”  Thus, our destiny is not to live in geographical Palestine but in a Heavenly city, a spiritual city not made with hands.

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. 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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

 

Next Time: The next article in this series will focus on John’s second vision and the breaking of the Seven Seals.

WordPress Themes