A Run Through Revelation
Approximately one fifth of the Scriptures are prophetic, so it is important to study prophecy. We are going to begin our study with an overview of the book of Revelation. The reason we are doing this is to give that bird's eye view of the whole book. As we get into the details it is very easy at times to lose sight of where we are and to lose the forest to the trees. In a book like Revelation we can spend so much time looking at the details on the trees that we forget the overall perspective.
Why should we study Revelation, aside from the fact that it is just another book in the Bible? It is a special book in the Bible because it comes with a promise of blessing—Revelation 1:3, "Blessed is he who reads, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand." There is an implied warning here. Jesus is coming at any moment. This is called the doctrine of the imminency, that Jesus may come back today, tomorrow, and the question is, are we ready? It is not just a matter of reading and hearing, it implies study and understanding all of the details of the text and also heeding. That is, putting into application the things that we learn from the study of the book of Revelation. It isn't just a matter of what is going to happen in the future, but obviously John under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit realizes that even though this is talking about events that may take place ten years from now, a hundred years from now, or even 2000 years later, it still had application for every believer right now. Not only does Revelation come with the promise of blessing but it also comes with a promise of cursing. This is one of the reasons that there was some debate over its inclusion in the canon of Scripture at the very early stage. Most people included it in the canon but some raised a question because Revelation 22:19 reads, "And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." So there is a promise of blessing for reading and studying it and a curse for mishandling it. So obviously the Holy Spirit states that this is a book of serious significance.
The book as a whole is arranged according to the wording of Revelation 1:19, "Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter." It gives us the internal structure of the book. We outline the book according to these three elements: "The things which you have seen," i.e. at the end of chapter one the Lord Jesus Christ is talking about what John has already seen and the things that are described in the first chapter of the book; "the things which are," i.e. present tense, Revelation chapters 2 & 3 which cover the seven letters to the seven churches. That is real time information for Christians throughout the present church age, In fact the word "church" is used 19 times in chapters one through three and it isn't used again until chapter nineteen. That is one of the evidences that the church does not go through the period known as the Tribulation; "the things which shall be hereafter," chapters 4-22.
There are, as we will see, three different ways that some of the prophecy has been interpreted in history. Some people think it has already been fulfilled, that all of this symbolism and imagery in Revelation is simply code words for events that took place prior to the fall of the temple and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Therefore in their view it had to have been written before 70 AD. However Revelation was not written until 96 AD, after the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, and the fifth cycle of discipline on the nation of Israel. That is called the Preterist view, that all of this has already happened. Another way in which prophecy is interpreted is called historicism. Just think of these three views as past, present and future. Past tense is Preterist, it has all happened; present tense is that you can just sort of lay the present church age over chapters 4-19 and figure out where we are in the time frame. Many groups take this historicist view of Revelation. Then there is the futurist interpretation, the interpretation that we hold to. That is, that these events in chapters 4-22 are all in the future, they have not taken place yet; they will take place after the Rapture of the church.
In chapter one we have the glorified Christ: "the things which you have seen. In chapters two through three we have the seven churches of the church age: "the things which are." Then the majority of the book deals with the future events: "the things which shall take place." Here we are going to focus on the Tribulation. In chapters 4-19 is a description of the events of the Tribulation. It goes back and forth. You have to understand the structure. John gives an overview, and then in the next couple of chapters he will come back and fill in the details; so he moves back and forth, it is not written in a step by step chronological approach like we are used to. He also shifts the scene from heaven to earth. Chapters four and five are in heaven. Chapter six comes back to the earth and goes through various stages. So we have to know where the scene is taking place. Chapter nineteen describes the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the defeat of the Antichrist, the false prophet and Satan, and the establishment then of the Millennial kingdom, the Messianic kingdom promised in the Old Testament which is covered in chapter 20. That ends with the great white throne judgment, and then we have the eternal state describes in the last two chapters, Revelation chapters 21 & 22.
The writing of the book takes place in 95 AD when the apostle John is exiled by Domitian to the Isle of Patmos during one of the first more universal persecutions of the church. The date of the writing of Revelation is an important issue and we will look at that in brief as we get into the study of the book. But this is given to the apostle John. There have been a few other people who have been candidates for the authorship of Revelation but it is the apostle John. At this time he is the sole surviving disciples. He was the youngest of the disciples and the closest to the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is the one who is given this unique insight into the future plan in the history of mankind. We know that it took place at the end of the century in 95 AD because of one particular quote by Iranaeus, a famous church father who wrote about 170 AD and who wrote, "We will not however incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist." Even then they recognized you can't identify who the Antichrist is because he won't be revealed until after the Rapture. "For if it were necessary that his name should be revealed in this present time it would have been announced by who held the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since but almost in our day towards the end of Domitian's reign." So this helps us to identify the date as 95 AD. This is one argument against the Preterist interpretation.
The first chapter is the prologue, and this introduces us to the divine author who is the Lord Jesus Christ, and the human author who is John. The title is given in verse one, it is "The revelation of Jesus Christ." Notice that it is not the revelations of Jesus Christ, plural, it is singular. It is a singular revelation. This book, sometimes known as the apocalypse, is written to unveil. The word "revelation" in the Greek is APOKALUPSIS [a)pokaluyij] which means to unveil. It is the revealing of Jesus Christ; it is the revelation of His second coming, His appearance on the earth as the King of kings and Lord of lords, to establish His kingdom, so this book is about His revelation at the second coming and all of the events and circumstances surrounding it.
Why is it that we should study this book? First of all because it encourages believers in the midst of opposition and persecution that God controls history. The second reason is that is challenges believers with the goal of the Christian life, not merely to find happiness and meaning in this life, not simply to grow to spiritual maturity, but that this life is indeed a preparation for a future rule and reign responsibility with the Lord Jesus Christ in the kingdom. Therefore this adds tremendous weight to the significance of the Christian's life today. Thirdly, it is to provide information to the Tribulation believers so that they might persevere during those unimaginably dark days. And fourth, it provides us with a model for the worship of the Lamb, the Lamb who was slain for our sins, the Lamb of God who will return in victory as the King of kings and Lord of lords to rule forever and ever. This revelation was given to John the apostle and he was close to ninety years of age at the time that this took place.
"…and he sent and signified it by his angel to his servant John." Sixty-seven times in this epistle we have a reference to angels, out of approximately 170 references in the entire New Testament. So angels are very important in this epistle and angels seem to mediate revelation. Notice that Jesus Christ appears to John but there are also angels associated with the giving of the inspiration. When the Mosaic law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai there is no mention of angels in Exodus. But in the New Testament, in Hebrews, it talks about the fact that angels mediated the covenant to Moses, so angels are involved in the background.
Then we have a blessing for those who read, study and heed. That is, apply the principles of the book, verse 3. There is a greeting from John to the seven churches which are in Asia, and then as we go through we will see that there is an emphasis on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is emphasized numerous times, there are over 25 different titles for the Lord Jesus Christ in this book. Over and over again we have the emphasis on Jesus Christ as the one who died for our sins.
In verse 6, "And has made us kings and priests to God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." This is that long-term view; this is why we were saved, for the future rule and reign responsibility with the Lord Jesus Christ in the future.
Verse 7, "Behold, he [the Lord Jesus Christ] comes with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also who pierced him [the Jews, Zech. 12:13]: and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn because of him. Even so, Amen."
The focus here is on His return, His revelation, His appearance at the second coming. At the beginning of this vision John is given the commission to relay information: seven letters to seven churches. He sees the Lord Jesus Christ standing in the midst of seven lampstands, v.13. He is pictured as the Son of Man, emphasis on His humanity. This indicates a different view of the Lord Jesus Christ. This isn't the Jesus of Nazareth he walked with during the period of the incarnation but He has a new appearance, and this appearance of being white indicates judgment and the exercise of judicial rule, which is what we see at the culmination of Revelation. Jesus returns and He will judge mankind.
Verse 16 tells us there were seven starts and these represent these seven churches. Verse 20, "The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which you saw are the seven churches." Who are these angels? Each of these letters are addressed to these seven churches.
There is an attempt to lay these churches out as a sort of a map of what happens in the church age, that each church represents the characteristics of a period of time in the church age. We do not think that is true. What these churches represent is trends and cycles of behavior that will take place again and again in various churches throughout the church age, so each one has different characteristics.
The first church was at Ephesus and they are praised for a number of things—because of their emphasis on truth, on doctrine, but unfortunately there is a negative: they have lost their first love. This is characteristic of many churches. After they have been around a while they become institutionalized. They go through the motions. They show up for Bible class three, four, five times a week and take notes and have stacks of doctrinal notebooks, but they have lost their first love Doctrine in the life is no longer a priority, they just go through the motions.
The second church is a persecuted church. It has no negatives stated about it, it is the church at Smyrna. There are only positive things and they are encouraged because they are going through persecution, and they are promised that if they are faithful until death, 2:10, "I will give you a crown of life."
The third church is the church in Pergamos. This is a worldly church characterized by compromise. There is much said that is negative and they are challenged to repent (change their thinking) and to advance in their spiritual life. They are promised that if they overcome they will receive reward in terms of hidden manna to eat, a white stone, and a stone with a new name written on it.
The fourth church is another corrupt church, the church at Thyatira, and there are some negative things said about it. Again, they have compromised, they have allowed false teaching to come in and there is an emphasis on false teaching by which they have been seduced. The false doctrine involved also sexual immorality and eating things sacrificed to idols. And they are challenged also to repent, i.e. to change their thinking about truth and about its relation to application.
The fifth church, again, is all negative. There is nothing positive said about the church in Sardis. They had compromised doctrine, they had lost their first love, and they are challenged to repent because soon the Lord will return and they need to be prepared for the future.
The sixth church is the church in Philadelphia. Nothing negative is said about this church, they are positive and they too are promised that if they overcome there will be various rewards. They have a special blessing for their obedience.
Then we come to the seventh and last church which is the church of the Laodiceans, and they are lukewarm. Lukewarm means they become useless because they go through the motions, they have church, but there is no reality of doctrine in their life. They are challenged to repent and to let the Lord become part of their operation. Then in 3:20 there is the call to fellowship: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."
So Revelation chapters 2 & 3 covers the seven churches. There is a pattern there, a cycle there, that is demonstrated in these letters, and that is that there is a continual growth or decline and there is increasing apostasy as we move through these seven letters. This characterizes different stages of degeneracy or positive growth in churches throughout the church age.
Starting in chapter four we get to our prophecy section. Chapters 4-22 all deal with prophecy, so we have to have an overview of God's prophetic plan. We live in the church age which is a distinct age marked by a distinct ministry of God the Holy Spirit. The church is different from Israel. God has made literal promises to the Jews given in unconditional covenants such as the Abrahamic covenant, the land covenant, the Davidic covenant and the New covenant. These promises will be literally fulfilled to Israel in the future, but God has temporarily set aside the Jews and now He is working through the church which is composed of both Jewish believers and Gentile believers. The ethnic background and relationship to Israel is not relevant. In the church there is neither Jew nor Greek, the apostle Paul says. So the church age is a unique age where God is preparing His bride for the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who die during the church age who are unbelievers go to a temporary place of torments in Hades. Those who die as believers are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord, and they receive a resurrection body at the Rapture of the church. The church age ends with the Rapture when Jesus Christ returns for His bride in the clouds. Following the Rapture of the church there will be a period on the earth of unprecedented horror. This period last for seven years and is divided into two sections, the first period of three and a half years and a second period of three and a half years. The first period is relatively calm compared to the last period which is called the time when the wrath of God is poured out on the earth. In heaven we have the judgment seat of Christ where all believers are evaluated and prepared for their ruling and reigning responsibilities in heaven, and then they become the bride of Christ. There is the marriage supper of the Lamb and then we will return with the Lord. The church is the bride of Christ and we will return with the Lord at the second coming. There will be a judgment at the end of the Tribulation when those who are Tribulation saints and were martyred will receive their resurrection bodies. The Tribulation saints who survive will go into the Millennial kingdom. Those who are unbelievers at the end of the Tribulation will be judged and sent to Hades. The Lord Jesus Christ returns and establishes His 1000-year kingdom known as the Millennium. That ends with another judgment, the great white throne judgment where all unbelievers are sent to the lake of fire. Then the present heavens and the present earth are burned up and destroyed and a new heavens and new earth are created. That is described in Revelation chapters 21 & 22.
As we go through this section we have to be aware of a change of scenery, otherwise we will get confused. John begins in chapters 4 & 5 with a look at what is taking place in heaven at the beginning of the Tribulation. Then in chapter 6 the focus shifts to what is happening on the earth. In chapter seven the text goes back to heaven again. Chapters eight and nine are back on the earth. Chapter ten is in heaven. Chapter 11:1-14 is on the earth; 11:15 through 12:12 shifts back to heaven. From 12:13 through chapter 14 is back on the earth. Chapter 15 is in heaven. Chapters 16-18 is describing the fall of Babylon, the great kingdom of Satan that has been established under the Antichrist during the Tribulation. Chapter 19:1-16 is back in heaven. Then the Lord comes forth from heaven with His armies, which we will be part of, and He returns to the earth in 19:17 and to the end of chapter 20 focuses on the perfect earth. So we have to look at the scene and ask, where are we?
The other thing that goes on is that John will start off with an overview and then he comes back after a chapter or two chapters and starts to deal with specific details that he has already covered in terms of the overview. So we need to be aware of this shift back and forth.
The scene begins in chapter four: "After these things," that is, after the church age. Chapter 4:1, 2 describes the Rapture of the church. Chapter four focuses on the worship of God the Father; chapter five focuses on the worship of God the Son, the Lamb. In chapter 4 we have the third great subject. The first was the prologue in chapter 1, the second was the message to the churches in chapters 2 & 3, in chapter 4 we have the problem. There is a great conflict, a tremendous tension in heaven that John becomes aware of. He comes before the throne of God; he describes the throne of God and all of its magnificence. In verse 3 he describes those who surround the throne. Beginning in verse 4 are the 24 thrones and the 24 elders. Verse 5, "And from the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices." This is the energy center of the universe and the command central.
Before the throne, v. 6, is a sea of glass, and this shows the isolation of God the Father. There are all of these creatures out before Him and there is this magnificent throne-room scene. John describes these creatures and they are described as the burning ones, i.e. the seraphs of Isaiah chapter 6. But there is a problem. They come forth with this scroll which is written on on the inside and outside. The scroll here is a legal document, the title deed to the earth. In the ancient world the writing on a scroll that was rolled up would not be observable, so that would be private correspondence. The writing on the outside would be public correspondence that anyone could read. Then it would be sealed and on this title deed described in Revelation chapter five there are seven seals along the scroll. And the question here: "Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals? And all of the heavenly hosts are distraught and concerned because no one is found who is worthy. They are so distraught that John catches this and in verse 4 he begins to weep much. He is crying intensely, the Greek is very strong here. One of the elders comes to him and says, "Stop it." There is no reason to weep: "Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof." So the shift is now to the Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, pictured as the Lion of God. But when He appears in verse 6 we see a different image. "And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth." What was in the midst of these creatures earlier? It was the throne of God the Father. So what we see here is a picture of the Lamb of God in His deity at the throne of heaven. This is an emphasis in chapter five on the deity of Jesus Christ, and at that point He comes forward and takes the scroll and all of the heavenly host breaks forth into praise, verse 9: "You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and have made us to our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth." This is similar to what they sang in praise to God the Father in 4:11. This shows us that, according to Revelation chapter five, the Lord Jesus Christ is viewed as being fully God. The Lamb is considered worthy in verse 12 and seven things are said about Him. The focus in Revelation is on the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, not on the details of judgment. It is on His glory and the fact that He is worthy to receive honor and blessing and glory and power forever and ever.
The process of judgment then begins in chapter six. If we want to understand Revelation it is very simple at this point. There are three series of divine judgments. The first series are called the seal judgments, those seven seals on that scroll that the Lamb takes. With the breaking of these seals there is another series of divine judgments. When we come to the seventh seal, that seventh seal contains the next series of judgments which are the seven trumpet judgments. At the seventh trumpet judgment it is opened and it contains seven bowl judgments.
Chapters six and seven focus now on what is taking place on the earth. All of these horse judgments take place in the first half of the Tribulation. The first seal judgment is the white horse judgment. The color of the horses come from the Old Testament. We recognize that Revelation is filled with symbols, with images, but we can't just guess at what those images stand for, we have to study the Old Testament. These images are all rooted in the Old Testament. For example, the color of these horses are rooted in Zechariah chapter six, verses 3 and following. The first seal judgment is the Antichrist as he goers forth to conquer. The second seal judgment is when peace is taken from the earth and there is war, and a tremendous number of people are killed in this warfare. A great sword, which symbolizes the power of death, is given to the Antichrist. Then in the third seal as a result of this war there is a tremendous famine on the earth. In the fourth seal there is widespread death upon the earth, and here we learn that a quarter of the earth's population is killed at this fourth seal judgment. So if we have a population of 6-billion on the earth today it means that one and a half billion people lose their life. Then the fifth seal involves martyrdom, and this involves those who trust Christ after the Tribulation begins and they are executed for their faith in Christ. There are many thousands of believers who will be executed for their faith in Christ during the Tribulation. There will be millions who are saved during the Tribulation but there will be hundreds of thousands who will be martyred for their faith. The sixth seal judgment involves geophysical disturbances. The earth is shaking. There are massive earthquakes as a result of these divine catastrophes and even more are killed. We are told in 6:16 that the people are so afraid that they call on "the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb." So this is the wrath of the Lamb and is one reason the church isn't there: the church is the bride of Christ. This is the wrath of the Lamb upon the earth for their disobedience and rejection of His saving work.
Then in chapter seven we have a scene on the earth where 144,000 Jews are saved. This takes place at the beginning of the Tribulation. In chapter eight we have the prelude to the seventh seal. When the seventh seal is opened there is silence in heaven for about an hour. The angels are in awe of what is about to take place. They have never seen such horrendous judgments. There are the trumpets judgments where there is hail and fire upon the earth, and these trumpet judgments affect the earth by a third so that a third of the vegetation is destroyed in the first trumpet judgment. A third of the sea creatures die in the second trumpet judgment. A third of the fresh waters are destroyed and become bitter in the third trumpet judgment. In the fourth trumpet judgment the heavens are affected. A third of the sun is struck, a third of the moon, a third of the stars, so that it becomes darker on the face of the earth.
In chapter nine there is a tremendous demonic devastation that takes place. A star falls from heaven and is given the key to the bottomless pit where there is a demonic army that has been imprisoned. They are released. They look like bugs and they act like demons. People debate what they are but we believe it is a demonic army and they wreak havoc upon the earth. The sting of these demons on men brings tremendous torment, physical pain and sickness but they can't die, though they beg to die and have their life taken. We are told that the ruler of these demons is name in Hebrew Abaddon, and in the Greek Apollyon. It means destruction. Whatever is going on we don't want to be there, it is a time of unprecedented horror. Then in the sixth trumpet a third of mankind is killed. That means that half the earth's population by this point is gone. Then there is the release of a demonic army of 200-million that comes across the Euphrates.
In chapters twelve and thirteen we have a score card, a play bill. Who are the characters who characterize the Tribulation? If we look at this we understand who they are. There are seven key people during the period of the Tribulation. First of all there is the woman who gives birth to the male child. Obviously the male child is He who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron, a reference to Psalm 2:9. So the child is the Lord Jesus Christ. The woman, therefore, must be Israel. The dragon is the enemy of the woman. This is Satan. In 12:7, 8 we have the angelic warfare between Michael and his angels and Satan and his angels. They persecute the woman and her offspring, the Jews. Satan's great goal in the Tribulation is to destroy Israel and to wipe out every Jew before God can fulfill His literal promises to the Jews. This is why anti-Semitism is so wrong and why anybody who takes their stand against Israel wrong. This is part of what is going in in the Arab-Israeli conflict and the rise of radical Islam today is undergirding all of this with their hostility to Israel.
The last two key people are described in chapter thirteen. We have the first beast who comes out of the sea. This is the Antichrist and he is followed by the second beast who comes out of the earth, the false prophet who causes people to worship the beast and to put a mark upon their hand by which they can buy and sell, and it applies to the whole world. So that we read in vv. 16 and 17, "And he causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." The mark is related to the worship of the beast. People don't just get this mark by chance, it is related to worship of the beast.
Then we have the bowl judgments and they are described in chapter sixteen. This is the final stage of the Tribulation where there are boils brought upon every person that is left upon the earth. In the second bowl judgment the sea turns to blood. In the third bowl judgment the fresh waters turn to blood so that the water source on the earth is destroyed. In the fourth bowl judgment people are burned, scorched, because of the atmospheric problems and the heat from the sun. This leads to the fifth bowl judgment which brings darkness on the earth and people gnaw their tongues because of the pain brought on by this judgment. The sixth bowl judgment sees the Euphrates river dried up so that armies from the east can come and attack Israel, and this leads to the final battle, the campaign of Armageddon.
In chapters seventeen and eighteen is a description of the character of this final kingdom as Mystery Babylon the Great. In chapter nineteen the Lord comes back. In the first part of the chapter we have the view in heaven where there is praise and finally the Lord is going to come back and destroy the evil, destroy the Antichrist and his false prophet and Satan. Verse 14 the army that follows the Lord is the church. We become purified at the Rapture, we receive our rewards at the judgment seat of Christ and we are prepared to rule and reign with Him. (Our preparation comes now. It is how we live our life today) Satan is bound in the bottomless pit for 1000 years and Jesus Christ establishes His kingdom on the earth. After that 1000 years Satan is released for a brief period of time at the end of the Millennial kingdom where he leads a revolt against God. God destroys him at that point through fire and brimstone, his armies are wiped out, there is no great battle, and then there is the great white throne judgment. All the present heavens and the earth are then burned up, according to 2 Peter 3, and we have a new heaven and a new earth in chapter 21:1. These are described as having no need of a sun because of the brilliance of the glory of God. There is no darkness and no temple because God the Father and God the Son are present, and there is the river of life. There is the new Jerusalem on the earth and this is the beginning of eternity.
Then we come to a final blessing and warning in chapter 22:18-21, and the final warning is that Jesus says, "Behold, I come quickly." As these events begin to unfold they will happen very quickly. The warning to us is to be ready. It is an evangelistic message: Be ready in terms of salvation; and it is a message in terms of our Christian life: Be ready, because now is your training time to be ready to rule and reign with the Lord Jesus Christ.