Category: The Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God, Part VIII

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The End of All Things:  Revelation 21-22

Chapter 21 in Revelation begins with a vision of the new heaven and the new earth John sees after the final judgment described in the previous chapter, when death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. (Revelation 21:1)

Again, like other images in Revelation, this detail about the sea’s not existing should not be taken literally, although in a new Heaven and a new Earth there may indeed be no more water, as some teachers of Revelation have suggested, even though there is a “River of Life” flowing through the city.

I believe that the sea in verse one refers symbolically to humanity, which no longer exists on the earth, for all of the unredeemed rebellious people have been sent to the lake of fire, and all of the redeemed are seen as the “New Jerusalem.”  

The sea also symbolizes humanity in Chapter 13 of Revelation, where we see two “beasts,” one rising out of the sea and the other rising out of the earth.  The first is described specifically as devoted to speaking blasphemies against God and persecuting the Church.

And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 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 thebook of life of the Lamb who has been slain. (Revelation 13:6-8)

The city called the “New Jerusalem” in Revelation 21 is also depicted as the bride in the following passage:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

The speaker in the next few verses is clearly Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, or the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. He is the First and the Last, and the Beginning and the End!

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:5-8)

This symbolic connection between the New Jerusalem and the Bride of Christ is emphasized further in the next passage, for “one of the angels says to John, Come and see the Bride” (21:9), yet the vision John then sees is the holy city, the New Jerusalem:

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. (Revelation 21:10-11)

 

What follows is an extensive and elaborate description of this magnificent city, including the dimensions, descriptions of the city gates, and the ornate composition of the walls and streets.

We need to be certain not to interpret these details literally, as though they describe a physical city, however.  Instead, the details are all symbolic, beginning with the picture of the “Lamb” and the temple.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:22-27)

Even the word “Lamb” is a symbol representing Jesus Christ who is described as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), a description which links Jesus to the lambs of the temple sacrifices of the Old Covenant that were sacrificed for the sins of the people.  Even these lambs were a pre-figured representation of the ultimate sacrifice for sin that Christ completed on the cross of His crucifixion, as described by Peter:

  • He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (I Peter 2:24)
  • For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, (I Peter 3:18-19)

In addition, unlike what I was taught as a teenager, the New Jerusalem is not a physical place where all the saints will live, but instead consists of all of Christ’s saints, those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and are built up as “living stones,” as the Apostle Peter relates:

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, aprecious corner stoneAnd he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (I Peter 2:4-6)

Further, John writes this about the Temple that is in the midst of the New Jerusalem, indicating that the Temple is an overall representation of the Church of Christ:

And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only thosewhose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)

The Water and the Tree of Life

What follows in the next chapter, Revelation 22, is a description of the river of the water of life and the tree of life in the middle of the New Jerusalem, once again the symbolic representation of the Church, the Bride of Christ:

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)
This passage alludes back to the story of the fall of humankind in the Book of Genesis, where the tree of life first appears in the Scriptures.  If you will recall, God told Adam that the Earth was cursed because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and the couple was banished so they would no longer have access to the Tree of Life.
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. (Geness 3:22-24)
Thus, as the passage relates, there will no longer be a curse on the land, and the light will appear not from the sun, moon, and stars, but from the Lord God.

The Final Messages in Revelation

Finally, in Revelation 22:6-21, we read the final messages at the end of John’s visions:

  •  “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” (22:7)
  • “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. (22:10)
  • Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.” (22:11)
  • “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. (22:12)
  • I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (22:13)
  • “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (22:16)
  • The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (22:17)
  • He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” (22:20)

Some of these messages seem confounding and confusing, for they seem to be saying that the Lord is coming soon and Christ’s coming is near, in spite of the clear fact Jesus did not come soon.  Even the early apostles and the Apostle Paul implied that Christ’s coming was near.  

However, either His appearing has been delayed for two-thousand years or the Lord’s purposes have a deeper intent than we might suppose and understand.

Perhaps both interpretations may be correct, however, for the Apostle Peter addresses both possibilities about the delay in the Lord’s coming.  Considering that God is timeless, above the restrictions of the linear nature of time’s progress, only two days have passed!

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (II Peter 3:8)

In addition, the Lord will delay His coming until every stone has been added to the Temple, every person has been added to the Body of Christ:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9)

And finally, Peter says, the Lord will appear suddenly, without warning, much the same way a thief might secretly break into a home when least expected.  

Christ is not a thief, of course, but Peter’s analogy is significant.  As in the parable of the Ten Virgins, we need to be ready, no matter how long it takes, for He could appear at any moment:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (II Peter 3:10)

A Word of Warning

John  adds a final note of his own to his book, warning that some may try to add or take away from the words, and perhaps even the meanings, of the signs and symbols of these marvelously revealed visions.

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

Unfortunately, some of the most dedicated teachers of Revelation have made the errors John mentions, either by adding their own interpretations to the visions or taking away parts of the visions. 

I heard recently a description of these kinds of interpretations as follows:

It’s like looking into a well and seeing one’s own reflection.  

Thus, some well-meaning teachers only see from their own solipsistic perspectives, rather than finding the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to understand the mysteries of Revelation.  This means, for example, that the locusts in the Book of Revelation are not helicopters with guided missiles, and the 144,000 saints are not members of a religious cult that only appeared in the twentieth century.

The Kingdom of God, Part VII

The Seventh Vision: Revelation 20

John’s Seventh Vision begins and ends in Chapter 20.  The previous six visions generally begin with an angelic messenger, but this messenger is different, for he holds a key. He is not given a key, for it is one He owns and has Himself obtained. He owns the key!

Jesus told Peter that “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).  And we have already seen in the first chapter of Revelation the following verses when John saw the glorified Jesus Christ:
When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.  (Revelation 1:17-18)

Jesus Overcame Satan

Even before His victory on the cross, Jesus claimed to be the one who had come to bind the devil:  Luke 11:21

If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? So they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are undisturbed. But when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied and distributes his plunder. He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters. (Luke 11:18-22)

Before His resurrection and not long before Christ’s ascension to the right hand of God, the truths of His impending victory were clearly stated to the disciples and future apostles, though they did not understand completely.  In John’s Gospel, for example, Jesus prayed saying,

“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (John 12:27-28)

Some in the crowd thought that an angel had spoken to Him, others that they had heard thunder, but Jesus makes clear what they had heard:

Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”(John 12:30-32)

And because the warfare in the spiritual realm is difficult to comprehend, Jesus promised the coming of the “Helper,” the Holy Spirit, who would not only enlighten the saints but also bring about the enforcement of the judgment of the prince of this world:

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. (John 16:7-11)

Later, the Apostle Paul wrote about Christ’s victory over Satan’s powers:

He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. (Colossians 2:13-15)

In the Book of Hebrews, we find that even though we live in the physical world with bones, sinews, and blood, we no longer need to fear the devil, who once held the power of death over us, for Jesus became a man with the same kind of physical body as ours to liberate us from him who once held us captive through the threats of death:

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The Apostle John declared in his third letter that Jesus came to  “destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8).  And this understanding is confirmed in the vision John sees in his revelations.

What John Saw

Much confusion has arisen over the Church’s understanding of John’s vision in these final chapters, but we must realize that the many mysteries in Revelation are given to the whole Church, and the interpretations of these signs and symbols must relate to the whole Body of Christ.  Therefore, the good news of this revelation is not just for those living in what we call the “End Times.”

The “angel” in the following passage is actually Christ Jesus, for the word angel means “messenger,” and unlike the other messengers who are given a key, this messenger has a key already.

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.  (Revelation 20:1-3)

During this period of one-thousand years the saints of God are given authority to go forth into all the nations to share the good news of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice and overcoming resurrection, but as we have seen in the other six visions, persecution is always the result.

First, the saints are given authority, the same authority Jesus claimed and delegated in Matthew 28:18-19, when He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”

This authority is represented in Revelation 20 verse 4 in the words “thrones” and “judgment”:

Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. (Revelation 20:4)

When the Gospel goes forth, however, persecution is always the result, revealed in the following verses:

And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)

The vision continues with the description of the “first resurrection” from the dead, what happens when all who give their lives completely to the Lord Jesus are “reborn” of the spirit, as Jesus related to Nicodemus in the third chapter of the Gospel of John.

The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.  (Revelation 20:4-6)

This summation reveals that all who are in Christ Jesus shall not die but have eternal life with Him.  When does this life begin?  Not when our physical bodies die, for to be absent from the body, merely means to be present with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:8). Therefore, when we are reborn, we experience the “first resurrection.”

The Thousand Years Explained

Even when Jesus ascended into Heaven, the disciples continued looking into the sky to see when He was coming back, but the angel told them they had work to do first

And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

The Apostle Peter, even in the first few years after Christ’s resurrection explained why the Lord’s second coming had not yet occurred:

But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (II Peter 3:7-9)

On the other hand, as we shall soon see in Revelation 22, the Lord Jesus said,

And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy. Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. (Revelation 22:10-12)

I come quickly, Jesus said, and He compared His coming to a “thief in the night,” which means it will come suddenly when we don’t expect it.

The First Resurrection

This first resurrection is best understood by seeing what the rest of the Scriptures reveal.  The Apostle Paul, for example, writes that we have been raised together with Christ and seated with Him on His throne:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

And in his Letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote that all the saints have not only died and been buried, but also raised up with Christ,

having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Colossians 2:12-13

In a parallel passage in Romans, Paul describes how we have been baptized as a symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection so that we might reign with Him:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:3-7)

Since we have died and been buried with Christ, as well as resurrected in the first resurrection, this is how we are to live our lives:

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

We must set our minds where they exist in truth, seated with Christ in the Heavenlies.  Since Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world,”  we must not try to sit on our thrones in this earthly existence, only in the Heavenlies in the spirit.

The Final Judgment 

As in previous visions, specifically the one described in Revelation 16, the final judgment of Satan, his legions, and all on earth who continue in rebellion now occurs.

Just as the persecution of the saints begins when the Gospel goes forth, the time of judgment appears at the end of the visions John sees, this time a final judgment on those who continue to follow Satan, as well as Satan himself with his legions:

When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.  (Revelation 20:7-10)

The Great White Throne

In the final verses in Revelation Chapter 20, we read about the Great White Throne on which the One sits who will judge all of the dead based on their works and deeds in their lives. Clearly there has been a resurrection, for the scene John sees includes those who have died:

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. (Revelation 20:13)

The “lake of fire” is reserved for those whose names are not written in the Book of Life, and even death and Hades are thrown into the fire as well:

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14-15)

In the last article in this series, we will continue to examine the final two chapters of this marvelously mysterious book.  I pray that your understanding has been enlightened!  As John wrote, “Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”

 

 

 

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The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part VI

The Sixth Vision: Chapters 17-19

The Sixth Vision John describes in the Book of Revelation begins in Chapter 17 and continues through Chapter 19. This vision shows only the end of the cyclical tableau of seven visions John is shown. Rather than beginning with the first coming of Christ and revealing the warnings and judgments of the Gospel’s being sent to the world, however, this vision focuses on the end result of the judgments of God against Babylon.

Please understand that our purpose is not to dissect the text and try to understand every symbolic meaning and metaphoric element. Instead, it is more productive to get a comprehensive overview of the entire book to see how it relates not only to the Church today, but also to the Church of the whole Body of Christ that has come before us.

Two overriding metaphors are used in this vision to reveal the ultimate purposes of God.  Two women and two cities appear: first, the Bride of Christ, the Church, and the Harlot, Mystery Babylon; second, two cities also are in evidence, the New Jerusalem and Babylon. Just as the figure of the harlot and the virgin are seen as contrasting opposites, the Book of Revelation also speaks of two contrasting cities: Babylon and New Jerusalem.

The Harlot in Proverbs

John first compares Babylon to a “harlot,” and typical of a woman who sleeps with many men in exchange for money, this “woman” personifies spiritual corruption and contrasts with the purity of the other woman in the Book of Revelation, the Bride of Christ, or the Church.

The book of Proverbs portrays a harlot as a seductress to the vulnerable young man, seeking to lead him astray from wisdom and understanding. She uses the cover of darkness and the temptations of love and sexual pleasure to lead a young person to depart from wise behaviors.

Above all, the harlot in Proverbs is an advocate for false wisdom, a wisdom that leads to destruction rather than blessing. Spiritually, the harlot offers false wisdom as a means of obtaining wealth and power.

Lucifer’s deception in the Garden of Eden was that Adam and Eve  would not die as a result of disobedience, but they would become “like God,” knowing good and evil, and hence become the masters of their own destiny.

This deception has become the basis for all false religions, including atheism and agnosticism, as well as the false religions of both the past and the present, particularly occultism and sorcery.

Harlots in Isaiah and Jeremiah

The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah both referred to Israel, Judah, or Jerusalem as a harlot or an unfaithful woman who commits adultery, for she was judged faithless and filled with selfish unrighteousness and even murder.

How the faithful city has become a harlot,
She who was full of justice!
Righteousness once lodged in her,
But now murderers. (Isaiah 1:21)

Then the Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king, “Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. I thought, ‘After she has done all these things she will return to Me’; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. Because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 3:6-10)

Babylon, the Harlot

Since the Bride in Revelation is a clear portrayal of the Church of Christ Jesus, numerous attempts have been made to identify the harlot in Revelation as representing some religions such as Catholicism or Islam, for example.

Unfortunately, many expositors of John’s Book of Revelation typically interpret the mysteries too narrowly, according to their own perspectives, rather than understanding that Revelation was written for the whole Church of all ages.

In this case, therefore, the vision is interpreted by the angel speaking to John himself. Although the angel declares that the  harlot is  a mystery, the angel provides the meaning of the mystery:

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

The angel further explains the mystery of the woman, saying,

The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.  (Revelation 17:18)

This interpretive key, along with the name of the harlot, tells us that Babylon is related not only to the stories of ancient Babylon in the Book of Daniel, but also to the story of Babel’s tower in Genesis 11:1-9:

 Mystery Babylon

In the original Hebrew texts, the names for “Babel” and “Babylon” were the same, essentially “Bbl,” since no vowels were used.  We can conclude, therefore, that the two cities were the same.  Thus, the Hebrew word translated “Babylon” is bâbel, which is the same word used in the book of Genesis that refers to the tower of Babel.

Using this story as a backdrop, therefore, we see that Mystery Babylon in Revelation represents the great city of historical Babylon, a city that symbolically depicts the attempts of humans to be equal with God and to elevate themselves to the sphere of divine beings.  They had swallowed the lie that they would be like gods, and their hope was manifested by building a tower they believed would reach into heaven.

Thus, Mystery Babylon in Revelation represents both a city and a harlot of false religion, one that supposedly helps humans find the divine from within themselves, rather than finding justification and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

The Tower of Babel

After the flood of Noah, the city of Babel was ruled by Nimrod, under whose leadership the tower was built.  Despite God’s desire that the people separate and inhabit the whole earth, Nimrod collected the people to himself, even building a ziggurat, or tower, to negate the possibility of a future flood in defiance of any future judgment of a flood from God.

Nimrod was the son of Cush, the grandson of Ham, and great-grandson of Noah.  Genesis describes him  as “a mighty one in the earth” and “a mighty hunter before the Lord” (Genesis 10:8-9).

Here is the story of the Tower of Babel as it is found in Genesis:

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

An interesting article by biblical archaeologist Dr. David P. Livingston attempts to show that Nimrod was a fierce opponent of Yahweh.  Livingston proposes that Nimrod is not the man’s true name, which was a derogatory pseudonym, but that he was the one named Gilgamesh in the ancient epic.

First, what does the name Nimrod mean? It comes from the Hebrew verb marad, meaning “rebel.” Adding an “n” before the “m” it becomes an infinitive construct, “Nimrod.” (see Kautzsch 1910: 137 2b, also BDB 1962: 597). The meaning then is “The Rebel.” Thus “Nimrod” may not be the character’s name at all. It is more likely a derisive term of a type, a representative, of a system that is epitomized in rebellion against the Creator, the one true God. (See http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/nimrod.html)

Another legend concrning Nimrod is detailed by Josephus, the Jewish/Roman historian, who claimed that Nimrod’s city of Babel was constructed in defiance of Yahweh:

Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. . . . He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to reach. And that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nimrod)

Thus, the stories of Nimrod and Babel lead us to the image of “Mystery Babylon” in Revelation, particularly the associations with autocratic governments, rebellion against God, blasphemy, and religious occultism. Consequently, we are able to understand more fully the symbolic images of Babylon, as the great city and the harlot, in the vision that John sees in Revelation.

The Harlot Rides on a Beast

The angel in John’s vision relates that the citizens of this Mystery Babylon will wage war against the Lamb and those who are with Him, those called “chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).

The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. (Revelation 17:8)

This description is uniquely mysterious.  I suggest that it relates to a parallel story about Lucifer.

We understand that Satan became the prince of this Earth after Adam’s sin, for Adam gave him his authority over the earth.  The three temptations of Christ confirm this assumed authority, for Satan the tempter declares that he will give Jesus the kingdoms of this world in exchange for His worship (see Matthew 4:1-11).  Of course, Jesus does not succumb to the lies of the devil, choosing instead to use the sword of the spirit, the Word of God in opposition.

Satan was then ultimately defeated by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and the kingdoms of this world were indeed given over to the Messiah, who declared that “all power is given to me in Heaven and Earth (Matthew 28:18-20).  Though Satan fell “like lightning” from Heaven, he will arise from perdition for just a little while, only to be defeated again and finally imprisoned in Hell.  (We will study this in a future chapter of Revelation, specifically Chapter 20.)

Victory for the Lamb

Again in John’s vision, the sixth we have studied, there is a call for repentance and for all who are redeemed to come away from the spiritual domains of the Harlot:  

I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. (Revelation 18:4-5)

The kings and merchants of the earth will mourn over Babylon, the Harlot, for they will no longer be able to access her luxuries or sell their goods to her.

“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.” Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer. (18:20-21)

The destruction of Mystery Babylon, the Harlot, is decreed not only because of her corruption and rebellion, but also because of her persecution of the saints of the true Church of Christ:

And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.” (Revelation 18:24)

The Bride of Christ

I’m constantly amazed at how perfectly God’s plans merge together into an astounding harmony throughout the Scriptures.  For example, just as Eve was formed out of the side of the first Adam in Genesis 2, the Bride of Christ, the Church, was formed out of the side of the second Adam, Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:45).

The Body of Christ, or the Church, was formed, therefore, as a result of Christ’s willingness to give His life through crucifixion and even to take the penalty in Hell for our sin.  At the time of His death, out of His side flowed water and blood to give us life in Him.

In Chapter 19 of Revelation, therefore, we see the Bride of Christ, the Church, ready to be married to the Lamb, or Christ Jesus.

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.  Then he *said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” (Revelation 19:7-9)  

Our union with Christ as a marriage is a great mystery, wrote the Apostle Paul, for we are members of His body, having been formed from His resurrection. (Eph. 5:32).  We next see in Revelation, therefore, the second coming of Christ, not only to receive His Bride, but also to defeat finally the forces of Satan.

 Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, brightand clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Revelation 19:7-8)

Christ appears with His saints, also riding white horses, and the name written on His robe and on His thigh was “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

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. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.  From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16)

Forces of Satan Defeated

We then see the forces and powers of darkness defeated, represented by the beast and the false prophet, the symbols of religious and secular opposition to the Kingdom of God.

And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. (Revelation 19:20-21)

Thus, the sixth vision ends with the destruction of the forces of Satan and the blessed union of Christ with His Bride.

 

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.

The Kingdom of God, Part III

Paul’s Kingdom Message to the Thessalonians

     Believing that they were defending Yahweh from heresies, many of the Jews in Thessalonica were incensed.  After hearing the preaching of Paul for three Sabbaths, many had believed the message and began following Paul’s message about the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  But the remaining Jews became extremely jealous and decided to attack Paul and his followers.  

     These Jews found some wicked men from the marketplace to help them implement their plans.  They engaged with these men and incited them to form a mob.  They surrounded the house of Jason, where Paul and his followers had been staying, seeking to bring them out to face the mob.

     When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of his friends before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”

     Thus, they stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things.  As a result, the new believers gathered together and agreed that they needed to send Paul, Timothy, and Luke away for their safety.  However, everywhere Paul went he preached the Kingdom of God and declared that Jesus Christ is King of the Kingdom.

 

 

A Place Prepared for Us

     The Apostle Paul fully declared that the Kingdom of God arrived when Jesus fulfilled His mission on Earth and when He ascended to His throne at the right hand of God (Ephesians), not in Jerusalem. The moment came when Satan, the accuser of the brethren was “cast down” out of Heaven.
     Notice why Paul says the “eyes of the heart” may be enlightened: 
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 all the result of Christ’s resurrection and coronation.  
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)
     What are the ramifications of these facts about Christ’s coronation?  It means that we do not await a coming kingdom, one whose King still needs to defeat His enemies.  All things have been put under His feet, and since we are part of His body, we also reign over the forces of darkness, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
     This position of power does not exactly fit the scenarios portrayed by the many Bible teachers today who diminish the scope and power of God’s Kingdom reigned over by Christ Jesus.

Our Place in Heaven

     Where will we be when we enter our eternal destiny, therefore? Will it be on Earth for one thousand years, waiting for the final judgment?
     Jesus made clear that our place will be to be with Him in Heaven with God the Father.  In fact, Jesus claimed that He was going to prepare a place for us in Heaven to be with Him:

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going. (John 14:1-3)

     The Apostle John in this passage also answers the question we have asked.  The term “in my Father’s house” refers to God’s residence in Heaven.  Yes, God is omnipresent, and the Scriptures reveal this pervasive existence:

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.  (Psalms 139:7-8)

     However, John the Apostle writes in his Book of Revelation about the scene he saw in his vision, a vision of Heaven and Heaven’s throne:

Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. (Revelation 4:2-4)

     Jesus also prayed that all of His followers would be with Him in glory, including the Gentiles:

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:20-24)

 

Paul’s Vision

     We know that after being caught up to the third Heaven to see inexplicable things, the Apostle Paul describes in his Letter to the Corinthians the place where we will be when we die:

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. (II Corinthians 5:1-3)
Paul continues to describe this place with Christ in the glory of Heaven, saying it will be our home as we await the final judgment day of the Lord:
Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (II Corinthians 5:6-10)

Our Destiny as the Bride of Christ

     Our place in Heaven is also revealed in the analogy, or “mystery,” that connects believers with Christ, just as a bride is linked to her bridegroom.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
According to the Old Testament, a bride who was found not to be a virgin was stoned to death:
But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you.  (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)
     However, despite the fact that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Christ the Bridegroom has assured that our purity, or “virginity,” has been restored as His bride:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Romans 5:8-9)
     We as the Bride of Christ do not await the wrath of God.  Instead of being stoned, we await Christ’s coming again to receive us unto Himself, so we can partake of the Wedding supper and enjoy the consummation of our marriage with Christ. Like the ten virgins, or bridesmaids, who went out to meet the Bridegroom with their lamps of oil, we will rejoice at His coming.
     The final event begins when the Bridegroom goes to meet His bride and brings her back to the home he has prepared. The figure of the bride waiting with her companions to hear the voice of the groom when he arrives at her house to consummate the marriage is portrayed in Christ’s parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).
     Thus, the consummation of the Age is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ when we, the Bride of Christ, wait to hear the shout of Jesus and his companions when He arrives. At this time, the faithful still on Earth will be found to be “pure virgins.”  
     The Apostle Paul refers to this moment in the following passage:
For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. (II Corinthians 11:2-3)
     The final stage in the Jewish weddings of Bible times was the wedding feast, and this celebration is depicted in the Book of Revelation:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he *said to me, “These are true words of God. (Revelation 19:7–9)
 Next Time:  The next and final article on this topic will examine the Book of Revelation’s teachings about the Second Coming, while discovering that this apocalyptic text was inspired and written for the Church of all ages, not just the End Times.
 
 

The Kingdom of God, Part II

The Apostle Paul’s Kingdom Ministry

The primary theme of  the Acts of the Apostles is the story of the spread of the Gospel to the world.  The history of the Church begins with the ministry of Phillip to the Samaritans, even to an Ethiopian man (Acts 8).  

The story in Acts continues with the ministry of Saul of Tarsus, later the Apostle Paul, who began with the Jews scattered across the Macedonian lands, but also specifically ministering to the Gentiles in those lands.   

Paul’s history continues through Acts until the final chapter, when he is arrested in Jerusalem. Paul then appeals to Caesar as a Roman citizen.  Therefore, his appeal takes him on a journey to Rome, where he teaches and preaches first to the Jews:

When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. (Acts 28:23)

While in Rome, Paul also shared the Gospel with the Gentiles and “all who came to him” while he was held captive:
And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.  (Acts 28:30-31)
Thus, the Great Commission was given by King Jesus to bring believers of all ages and peoples into His Kingdom, a kingdom that began at His first coming and will continue to grow until He comes again.  

Christ Jesus is King

Writing to the Gentiles in Ephesus, Paul prays for enlightenment so they will know the fullness of God’s plan:
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. (Ephesians 1:18-19)
Paul then explains to the Ephesians the results of Christ’s ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension:
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 Hisbody, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:19-23)
Notice that Jesus is revealed as already seated at the right hand of God, above all authorities in both Heaven and Earth. It makes little sense, therefore, for Jesus to be crowned again in an earthly Jerusalem when He has already ascended the throne in the Heavenly Jerusalem, far above all powers in both Heaven and Earth.

Christ the Cornerstone

The Apostle Paul then shares with the Ephesians their place in God’s plan, a “mystery” that includes them with all the saints, both Jews and Gentiles, all as parts of the “holy temple,” another way the Kingdom of God is described in the Word of God:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Paul relates to the Ephesians the reasons why the mystery of the Kingdom of God was kept hidden:  It was to show how God’s wisdom has been revealed through the Church and has resulted in the complete reign of Christ as King:  
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8-10)
The mission of the Church continues, therefore, to demonstrate the wisdom of God’s plan even to these “rulers and authorities” in Heaven, and as believers we do it both from here and in the heavenly realms.  

The Riches of Christ

In the following chapter, Paul reiterates his previous points, again mentioning the “mystery” of God’s grace to the Gentiles:
By revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;  (Ephesians 3:3-5)
Paul explains his meaning in the next few verses:
To be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. (Ephesians 3:6-7)
Paul then explains his part in the revelation of this mystery:
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities inthe heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8-10)
Therefore, Jesus is the King who has already been crowned and is coming soon, not one who will be crowned when He appears in God’s time.

To Be Continued

We will examine this teaching about the Kingdom of God in Part III of this series, looking at two analogies, or metaphors, that describe the Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God: Part I

Probably the most common belief about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is that He will come to set up His Kingdom on Earth and reign from Jerusalem on a physical throne.

For this doctrine to be true, the entirety of the Scriptures needs to point to this same conclusion, so let’s see what the Word of God says about the Kingdom of God and God’s plan for the final age to come.

The Mystery of  The Kingdom 

Jesus said that His followers must enter the Kingdom of God like a child: “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (Mark 10:15).

Thus, a child’s simple faith and ability to enter into realms of wide imaginatione are parallel to the believer’s faith, the “evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), because the Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom.  It doesn’t come with “observation,” and flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom, just as the Apostle Paul wrote:

Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (I Corinthians 15:50)

Thus, the idea that the coming Kingdom is a physical one is illogical given the makeup of the Kingdom Jesus and the apostles proclaimed in the New Testament age.

 

The Kingdom of God Has Come Upon You

A number of passages that describe Christ’s earthly ministry reveal that His purpose was to demonstrate and reveal the Kingdom in His person and through His mighty miracles.  For example, He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Jesus also said, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:28)

This Kingdom, Jesus implied, will not begin in another two thousand years, but it actually began in the lifetime of those who were gathered there with Him in Jerusalem and the surrounding regions.  After His Transfiguration, for example, Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (see both Mark 1:9 and Luke 9:27).  

After His Transfiguration, for example, Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (see both Mark 1:9 and Luke 9:27).  

Such a statement must have raised great excitement among His followers, for they believed that the kingdom Jesus spoke about would be like the one King David ruled.  This is why, both before and after the Resurrection, they repeatedly asked Jesus,  “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:7). Even the Pharisees inquired of Jesus when He would restore the kingdom, although most likely they were trying to entrap Him (Luke 17:20).

After His resurrection, though, Jesus told his disciples, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”  (Acts 1:6-8) 

 

Jesus Proclaimed the Kingdom of God

Jesus operated in His ministry as though the Kingdom of God was already present, showing through His works that the kingdom had arrived: 

Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him.  (Luke 8:1)

And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. (Luke 9:2)  
But the crowds were aware of this and followed Him; and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing. (Luke 9:11).
In fact, Jesus declared that the Kingdom of God was not coming with signs to be seen, but that the Kingdom was right in their midst, or in their presence:
Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst”  (Luke 17:20-21).
Therefore, since the Kingdom “cometh not with observation” (KJV), the Church’s mandate was not to look for the beginnings of the Kingdom of God, but instead for the Kingdom to be populated, made up of people from every nation and language.
 

A Different Kingdom Than Was Expected

What the disciples of Jesus also did not realize was that the Kingdom would consist not only of the Jews, but also of gentile believers:

I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. (John 10:16).

Thus, after His resurrection and before His ascension to Heaven, Jesus gave His Great Commission, telling them to go into all the world and preach the good news:   
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) 
We may now see clearly, therefore, what the disciples did not, at least at first:  The Kingdom of God would include people from every part of the world, from every nation and tribe, and would consist of believers and disciples from all times until the end of the age.  It has taken much time for this mandate to be fulfilled, and the time continues to this day.

Believers Are Also Told to Wait

On the other hand, the Scriptures seemed to signify that the Kingdom had not yet come, as in the following passage:
While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. (Luke 19:11)
Thus, the disciples must have been confused; before the crucifixion, they were being led by their traditions and assumptions that because Jesus was travelling towards Jerusalem, He would soon assume the throne of an earthly kingdom, one they thought  would be similar to the Roman Empire and would take control over the Earth.  
Indeed, in the next few verses, Jesus even asked His disciples to appropriate a “colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat” (Luke 19:30) in order to ride into Jerusalem as the Messiah, as prophesied in Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  (Zechariah 9:9) 
Thus, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the crowds “took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (John 12:13).
However, Jesus cleared up this confusion after His resurrection, when he continued to teach about the Kingdom of God: 
To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”  Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.  (Luke 24:25-27)
Jesus then gave the disciples their commission to go into the whole world, sharing the Gospel and bringing with them all who would enter the Kingdom of God.
This same Great Commission continued with the Apostle Paul’s ministry, a mission which led him to preach the good news to both the Jews and the Gentiles.  We will analyze Paul’s mission as it relates to the Kingdom of God in Part II of this series.

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