Revelation is a vastly complicated book with a ton of variant interpretations. In fact, if you want to come up with a crackpot idea, you can probably find something to spin in revelation to justify your idea. It is a book that is prone to misinterpretation. So, as we dive into it, I want you to know how I'm going to approach the book.
First – my basic approach is this: Jesus wins. This book is to be a book of comfort, reminding folks that Jesus is Risen and Victorious even in the midst of all the craziness of life. Anything and everything in the book should end up driving to Christ's Victory, and if our reading of it doesn't move to Christ Victorious (and the faithful sharing in His victory), we're reading it wrong.
while many people have tried to sort out Revelation into some sort of
timeline, I think that misses the point. I will contend (and I'll
explain this contention more and more as we go through the book) that
Revelation is not a chronological book, but rather it is a “seasonal”
book, or a book that looks at the patterns and repetitions that have
gone on throughout creation in the life of the Church. This is
actually a more Jewish/Ancient way of thinking than the Western time
clock and time line approach we have. Hebrew, especially, loves its
patterns, its cycles. The book of Judges, for example, is nothing
but a repeating pattern of Israel forgetting God, getting into
trouble, calling out for rescue, and then being rescued – and it
isn't in chronological order. Revelation plays with that idea of
pattern, of season. (In the Concordia Commentary series, Dr.
Brighton argues that Revelation is mainly describing the Church after
the Ascension, but I think it is describing things from the
beginning. Either way, we agree on the cycles – just not on how
far back they go. At least that's where I am now – who knows, by
the time we get to Revelation 14 or 15, I might have shifted and
started to agree more with Brighton. This is a work in progress.)
And I think this is done in an interesting way. Think of movie theater, with one John Wayne movie playing on the screen. And then they project another John Wayne flick on it. And another. And there are fights and bad guys and it's all crazy... but in the end it resolves and there's John Wayne, victorious. (Yes, I picked this image for Pam) That is what Revelation does – it shows the chaotic history of the world all resolving in Christ. Or maybe you might think of a musical piece, where there is one theme, and then another added, and another, and they are all going on and over each other and louder and more chaos until there is just a perfect, wonderful resolution – almost like “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles. And that resolution is Christ Jesus, Crucified and Risen. And instead of necessarily trying to pick out and analyze each scene from each film or each note – we'll just ride to the climax and crescendo and enjoy it.
Part 1 –
Revelation 1:1-8 – The Set Up
Revelation 1:1-3 - The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His servants that which must swiftly happen, which was 'signed'1 through an angel that He sent to His servant John, (2) who witnessed the word of God and bears the witness of Jesus Christ according to everything that he saw. (3) Blessed is the one who makes the words of this prophecy known again2, and blessed are those who hear and keep all that is written in it, for the time3 is near.
Here we have the “introduction” to the letter of Revelation, and it's an odd one. There's no wonderful greeting, no typical address that one would expect in a Greek letter. Instead, there is just the announcement that this is a “revelation” - an “Apocalypse”. Things may start to get strange.
However, there is a proper order to the things, even if it's not the one we expect. In fact, this introduction is a masterpiece of “order”. The Father sends the Son, and the Son speaks to John through an angel, and John listens to the Son's message via the angel, and the preacher proclaims what John has said, and the hearer is lined up smack dab where he needs to be. And everything is in order – lined up right as it should be. (This is actually the image of order in the Church in the early Church.) You also have the “sign” of this – just like in John's Gospel Jesus' “miracles” are properly called signs. They are evidences and proofs of who Jesus is, they let you know what is going on even though it's confusing to the rest of the world. Everything is in order and lined up in Jesus.
It's important to note this right off the bat. Revelation is a confusing book written in a confusing time. Everything is all over the place in the world, and the vision itself seems to swirl and move around. In spite of all the chaos we might see, chaos unleashed by sin and the Fall (If you wish, we can discuss how Genesis 1-2 is almost a hymn to order and Genesis 3 is the arrival of Chaos) – this is actually orderly, according to God's plan and purpose. God is utterly in control – and when you are lined up focusing upon Christ and His Word and the right preaching of His Word, no matter what you have going on around you and in you, you will be right where you need to be. And God will bring you and put you where you need to be again and again through the proclamation of the Word. That's the set up, that's the promise of this introduction.
Also, I want to note something with that word for “time” in verse 3. That is not the word for chronological time (that would be Chronos), but rather it's the idea of a season, or a moment. If I say, “It's time to plant the corn” I don't mean that it is 8:42 on a Tuesday morning – I mean the time is right for that. It's the season, the time, the right day. The point in that repeating pattern of the ordered universe where you plant is approaching again – just like it did last year and just like it will next year. Might be early or might be late, but the time comes. That's the idea of time here – and that's the idea that runs throughout the book.
Revelation 1:4-8 – John to the seven churches in Asia4 - Grace to you and peace from the One who is and was and is coming, and from the seven spirits which are before the throne, (5) and from Jesus Christ – the Witness, the Faithful, the Firstborn of the Dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who has loved us and has freed us our sin by His blood, (6) and made kings, priests unto His God and Father, to Him be glory and rulership5 forever and ever. Amen.
6Behold, he is coming with the clouds,
and see Him every eye shall,
even those who pierced him,
and they will beat their breast in all nations because of Him. Yes, Amen!
Here we get the typical introduction or address to a letter. Think of how you address a formal letter – you put your name and address up in the corner, and then you write “to whom it may concern” or whatever. This is the equivalent of that. And then you have a giving of grace and peace, which is standard... but then it goes a bit odd. “Seven” starts showing up, over and over again.
So, I will claim that Revelation a book of patterns, playing off of the patterns found in Scripture. So, what does “seven” mean in the Scriptures? Seven ends up being the number of perfection, completion. It's the seven days of creation – it's God's got everything well in hand and under control and man hasn't messed it up. It's the number of freedom, for every seven years you set your slaves free (Exodus 21:2) and after 7 cycles of 7 years you have the Jubliee (Leviticus 25). It's forgiving your brother not just seven times but seventy time seven times unto a massive Jubilee.
So while John is writing to seven specific churches, in so doing what he writes applies to all churches – and you'll fit into this pattern somehow. And it's all good – everything is in order – the seven churches are here on earth and yet they are in the Spirit before the throne (more on “in the Spirit” in Rev 1:10) – the Church on earth and all the company of heaven joined in worship. Everything is profoundly okay and profoundly beyond just what we normally see here.
And then you have the description of Jesus – who Is and Was and is Coming – past and present and future all wrapped up together. It doesn't matter where in the timeline, where in Chronos you go, what part of the season you are at – Christ is there for you, for your good, and He is with you, and He gives you grace and peace. Again, it is all good in Him, for He has won us salvation.
And this is so wondrous that John breaks out into song.
Or at least poetry. Verse 7 is poetic – and when I come across
poetry in the text, I'll try to translate it poetically. I'll be a
bit looser, I'll try to keep the word order (because Greek poetry
loved to play with word order) – but translating poetry as good
poetry is hard. And John has this poetic image of the last day, but
then it goes back to Christ, who is and was and is coming, because it
all ends and moves and reaches its completion in Him. And knowing
that, we're ready for the story.
Part 2 – Revelation 1:9-3:22 – The Seven Letters
Revelation 1:9-16 – I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation9 and in the kingdom and waiting10 in Jesus, happened to be on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the witness of Jesus. (10) I happened to be in the spirit on the LORD's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet (11) saying, “That which you see write in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Epheseus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
And I turned to see the voice which was speaking to me, and turning I saw seven golden lampstands, (13) and in the middle of the lampstands One like a son of man clothed in a full robe11 and encircled around his chest with a golden sash. (14) And on His head the hairs were white - wool white, snow white – and His eyes were like a flame of fire (15) and his feet were like bronze that has just come out of a furnace, and His voice was like the voice of a raging flood12. (16) And He had in His right hand seven stars and from His mouth a keen double-edged13 sword came, and His face was like the sun shining in its power.
So, John gives us the setting for the story. First,
there's John. And who is John? He describes himself not with titles
of power or authority, but rather as our brother and our partner in
the tribulation. This is important. John isn't elevating himself or
playing up his importance (even though he's an Apostle). Rather,
we're in the same boat as John. And that's not a pretty boat –
it's tribulation. John is in exile, but you, dear Christian, face
the same tribulation in your own life in this world. If you are in
the sinful world, you are part of the tribulation, whether you are in
Patmos in 95AD or ancient Israel or in Herscher in the 21st
Well, John's on Patmos one Sunday, and he's “in the Spirit” meaning he's at church, at worship. And then things get... strange. He hears a voice telling him to write letters to seven churches and John turns around and sees... what?
Well, John sees Jesus, but this is a weird Jesus, isn't
it? I mean, we don't tend to have a stained glass window that looks
like this, right? Here's how I think you can understand what John
sees – He sees all the appearances of Jesus from the entire Old
Testament played out at the same time, all overlapped and on Jesus
all at the same time. Let's consider some of these images.
First, the lampstands. This is Church stuff – this is old Jewish Menorah up to our candles by the altar. This is the place of worship – and in midst of that place of worship is a Voice – is Christ. Christ in the midst of His Church – for wherever two or three are gathered, there is He is. And He is “like a son of man” - which shows up all over the place in the Old Testament for the Messiah – He is God yet come as a Man to win salvation and redemption. And His robe is full, and it's a sash worn by one at Peace, not a warrior (if you fight, you gird your loins – you wrap up your robe around your waist so you can run). And His hair is white like a lamb, like snow (think of Isaiah 1:18), and his eyes are like the Burning Bush from Exodus, and He looks like He just stepped out of the fiery furnace from when He was there with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendnego from Daniel 3, and His voice is the flood, the Red Sea, and the whole church is in His hands and from His mouth His Word of Law and Gospel, threat and promise coming forth, and it's the transfiguration, it's the Light of Light right there in front of John. It's the Scriptural images and “theophanies” (the Old Testament “appearances of God”) all there at one time all rolled up together.
Do you get a sense of the rush of images. Imagine taking the whole of the Old Testament and the Gospels just condensing them and trying to describe it. That's what John sees. He sees the Word of God incarnate in all His Word-ness. And it is an overwhelming, as we hear next.
Revelation 1:17-20 – And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man, and He put His right hand on me saying, “Fear not! I AM the First and the Last, (18) the Living [One], and I died but, behold, I Live forever, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (19) Write therefore that which you see and that which is and that which is to happen after this. (20) The mystery14 of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand and the seven golden lampstands – the seven stars are the “angels”15 of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
First things first – and this is key for understanding the entire book. The first words out of Jesus' mouth when John actually sees Him are, “Fear Not!” The purpose of Christ's revelation in this book is not to terrify or frighten, but to remove fear. And how is fear removed? Well, the next thing Jesus says is “I AM” - and if you noted, I capitalized “AM” because this phrase is the Greek way of translating the Divine Name from Hebrew. Way back in Exodus, the LORD identified Himself as “I AM” - the One who is. And Hebrew completely stopped using the 1st person being verb in their language. Even in modern Hebrew, you literally never say “I am”. And in Greek you don't need to say “I am” with two words – you can either just say “I” or just say “am” - you don't need both. Jesus uses both, and this is intentional – and this is something John recorded throughout His Gospel. Do not fear – Jesus is true God and He is here.
We look at that and nod, but we forget how utterly salvific that language is. Since Genesis 3 human beings freaked out in the presence of God. If the LORD came for you, it probably meant you were dead – this is why John falls as dead. And that's the right and wise to do – the LORD kills sinners... but He also raises them. There is death and resurrection – dying and then living. And Jesus is in charge of this, and it is for your benefit.
Then we have the instruction to write the letters to seven churches in Asia Minor. So let's consider what's going on here. (On the next page there will be a map to give us some context.) John had been living in Ephesus, which was the major port town and hub of the area. And for at least two decades, closer to three, he had been the sole surviving Apostle. So basically everyone in the area (and to a lesser extent the rest of the Mediterranean) would come to Ephesus and see John. John was literally much more important than the Papacy in Rome, or even the later places in Church History that become vitally important, like Antioch or Alexandria. And while other places had been used to being post-apostolic for a generation, Asia wasn't. They had John – and now they don't. So these seven letters are given to be letters to the Churches there and their “angels” - their messengers – or in other words, their pastor.
So what these letters will do is go out to the biggest churches in the area, and they will deal with issues that end up being commonly faced by the entire area. Whatever situation you yourself were in at your Church, you could probably tie in to what is being described in these churches. Chapters 2 and 3 are the seven letters, so let's look at them.
Revelation 2:1-7 – To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: This is what the One who has the rule of the seven stars in His right hand, who wanders amongst the seven lampstands of gold says. (2) I think on16 your works, your labors, your endurance17, and that you are not able to bear the wicked, how you have tested those people calling themselves apostles and aren't, and you found them fakes18. (3) You have endurance, you bear up for My Name's sake, and you have not fainted. (4) But I am against you, for your first love you have dismissed.19 (5) Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and your first works do again! And if not, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place, should you not repent. (6) But you have this, that you hate the works of the Nicolatians, which I also hate. (7) He who has ears, let him hear that which the Spirit says to the churches. To the victor I will give them the tree of life to eat of, which is in the paradise of God.
Many things seem to be going well in Ephesus. They are hard working, and they keep at their labors, and they endure – they haven't given up. They are zealous to spot out false teachers and they refuse to listen to them. However, Jesus uses an interesting word up front. He says that He “thinks on” - He literally has an “idea” about all these things that they have done. In Greek there are two types of knowledge – there is the one that means you are directly involved and experiencing (gnosis) and there is one that expresses that you have an idea – you know but from mere observation or having heard of something. I'd guess this usage comes up here (and throughout the seven letters) because that word “gnosis” became the by-word for all sorts of Heresies that we end up calling “Gnosticism” today. It's like there's a pivot away from that word. That, or the point is that these actions are ones where they are pulling away from Christ and more off on their own – I'm not exactly sure here – but it's the standard intro in all these letters.
However, while the folks there are zealous against heresy, there is a problem. They have forgotten forgiveness. Verse 4 is a beautiful play on words. That word “dismissed” is a common forgiveness word – it means to send away, to remove. This is the word “forgive” in the Lord's Prayer – the tresspasses are no longer on us, they are sent away – as far as the east is from the west. And what's the problem in Ephesus – they've sent away love. They've given up on forgiveness.
Yes, zeal for doing good is important. Yes, it's important to oppose wicked teachers and cults. The Nicolatians were bad, bad folks. The common understanding is that Nicolas was one of the first seven deacons from Acts 6, but as time passed he basically started allowing for open and wild sexual escapades, with later followers incorporating the various forms of fertility worship that was around, figuring that the body doesn't really matter, but rather just being Spiritual. That's bad – that needs to be opposed – but not in such a way that you throw out forgiveness. If you forget forgiveness, you are no more a church than the Nicolatians are.
This is an important thing to remember, especially as we enter upon more libertine times in our culture and there are denominations that are becoming not merely more and more open to sexual deviancy but actually praising it. The danger for us is that we can over-react against this error and throw ourselves into the opposite ditch – defining ourselves by our own purity and righteousness. When that happens, we are no longer defining ourselves by Christ and His own righteousness, but rather according to our own works. That's not living in Christ and His forgiveness. Where there is no forgiveness, there the Church doesn't exist – and this is true both when you stop treating sin as something that needs forgiveness (like the Nicolatians and so many liberals today) or when you refuse to forgive in fear of encouraging or condoning sin.
Revelation 2:8-11 – And to the angel of the Church in Smyrna write: This is what He who is the First and the Last, the One who died and lived says. (9) I think on your tribulation and your poverty20 (but you are rich), and the blasphemy against you from those who say they are Jews but actually are a synagogue of Satan. (10) Do not fear that which you are about to suffer.21 For behold, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison so as to test you, and you will have tribulation for ten days. [Let you] Be faithful22 unto death and I will give you the crown of life. (11) He who has ears let him hear what the Spirit speaks to the churches. The ones who are victors23 will never24 be wronged25 by the second death.
Bad times are coming for Smyrna. They are in the midst of tribulation – which is trouble that is foisted upon you by another. Things are getting stirred up by the Jewish folks in town. And there's a lot of language here that seems to us to be incredibly harsh. However, lets understand what is going on. In John 16:2 Jesus notes that the day is coming when the disciples will be “put out of the synagogues.” Remember that Judaism was a legally protected religion in the Roman Empire, and they were exempt from many of the pagan rites and requirements. They were basically the only legal monotheistic religion. When Jewish folks point to Christians and say, “they are not Jews, they are not part of our synagogue” that opened up the Christians to persecution.
This is what is going to happen in Smyrna. And it also looks like there are financial powerplays at work as well (since they are poor). It's going to be a grave matter of injustice. However, Jesus notes a few things. First – they are being blasphemed. We don't generally think of Christians as being blasphemed, but they are baptized. They are tied to Christ – and the blasphemy against Jesus is washing up on them. And Satan and the Devil are at work, and things will be bad, and the Devil will try to break you by this tribulation. Jesus is blunt.
But then there is a beautiful phrase. That phrase “be faithful” is a command, but it's not a command with the normal being verb. It's the verb that means be-become-happen... the same verb that is used in “Genesis” - as in “Let there be....” This isn't let there be, it's let you be. This is a Word of God that creates the faithfulness that they will need – Jesus gives the faith and then he gives the crown.
And at the very end there's a nice little interplay. Often that last line gets translated as “will never be hurt by the second death”, but the word there actually is to suffer injustice. Now, if you are suffering injustice you are being hurt, so that's a fine translation, but do you see the whole flow of the letter. Over and over the Symrneans are being treated unjustly and abused, even to the point of being imprisoned and possibly death – this is actually victory. You'll not face injustice in the life to come, you'll not be wrongly imprisoned by God in hell – instead you will have life because you are already rich in Christ.
Revelation 2:12-17 – And to the angel of the Church in Pergamum write: This is what the One having the sharp, two-edged sword says. (13) I think on where you set down your home26, where the throne of Satan is, yet you hold fast27 to My name, and do not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas My faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan sets his home. (14) But I have against you a few things – that you have there some who hold fast to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast28 a stumbling block29 before the children of Israel, so that they might eat idol-sacrificed food and engage in pornographic acts. (15) Likewise you have some of you who hold fast to the teaching of the Nicolatians. (16) Therefore repent! If not, I will come swiftly to you and wage war against them with the sword of My mouth. (17) He who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Church. To the victor I will give of the hidden manna, and I will give a white [election] pebble30, and upon this pebble is a new name written which no one knows except the one who receives it.
Pergamum was a place where, in addition to many pagan shrines, there was a strong imperial cult. While Christians would debate and argue with the general pagans, it was the Imperial Cult that would lead to persecution. If there was a sacrifice to the Genius of the Emperor, you HAD to sacrifice or else. So these were apparently going on in Pergamum relatively often – and the Church there wasn't caving. That's a good thing. However, while they didn't cave, they did let things go a bit loosy-goosey. We've already heard about the Nicolatians elsewhere, but here you have this reference to Balaam. Balaam was a prophet who basically let his prophecy be sold to King Balak – at the King's request he was going to prophecy (falsely) against the Israelites – and then you have the donkey stopping him, and so on and so forth. So Balaam becomes the emblem of people who cozy-up to the rich and powerful and join in the reindeer games that they have no business playing in. The warning is that if these folks don't stop – the sword will come (say, what did the Balaam's donkey see that Balaam hadn't?).
But there is a positive image to go alongside of all this. If you eschew the political powers that be, that doesn't mean you are left bereft of anything good. There is the reference to “hidden manna” - which played off the idea that when the Messiah would come there would be feasting (and also is tied to the Lord's Supper). Moreover there is the idea of the white pebble. This is a technical word in Greek, and it involves voting and invitations. When you voted, you wrote the name of whom you were voting for onto a pebble (or picked a pebble with the name) and dropped it in the bucket. Or, if it were a up/down vote on a person, a white pebble was approval but a black pebble was censure. Also, if you were invited to a feast, your admission “ticket” would be a pebble with your name on it. So this term deals with election and with invitation and the whole point of all this imagery is that you don't miss out on any power or parties for being a Christian – you are part of the eternal feast with the Messiah, which is far better than any party in Pergamum, so remember that.
Revelation 2:18-29 – And to the angel of the Church in Thyatira write: This is what the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and who has feed like burnished bronze says. (19) I think on your works, your love, your faith, your righteousness, and your endurance, and how your latter works are greater than your first. (20) But this I have against you, that you put up with31 that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and seduces My servants unto pornographic acts and to eat idol-sacrificed food. (21) I have given her time so that she might repent, but she does not want to repent of her works. (22) Behold! I cast her into [a sick] bed32, and those who were commuting adultery with her I throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works. (23) And her children I will kill with death, and all the churches will know that I AM the One who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.
(24) But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan (as they call it), I do not cast upon you any other burden. (25) But keep holding fast to what you have already until I come. (26) And the Victor, the one who clings until the end to My works, I will give him authority over the nations, (27) and he will rule them with an iron rod, as when the potter's vessels are shattered, (28) just as I received from My Father, and I will give to him the morning star. (29) The one having ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.
Here Jesus presents Himself as one having power and might – a reminder of His great strength and deliverance. This is the type of image you get in Daniel. And why does Jesus show forth His power and might? Because some of the folks in Thyatira are in need of what folks in Oklahoma would call a “come to Jesus meeting.” Because while by in large the congregation has held up pretty well and been steady Eddie – some of them have fallen off the deep end and hard.
We are introduced to a gal named Jezebel here – and we actually don't know if this is this person's real name. It probably isn't – it's probably a reference to queen Jezebel from 1 Kings. And what was Jezebel famous for? Well, this Jezebel is doing the same stuff – basically running a sex cult on the side. This sounds utterly strange to us – but it shouldn't. First of all, there are plenty of sex scandals in the Church even to this day. But more than that, remember that the Church is always tempted to act like the society around them (we see this even today with rock concert churches, etc) – and the pagans loved their sex cults. That's what Ba'al worship was back in the day, and even a lot of the neo-pagan stuff today leans that way. (At the risk of an overstatement – all pagan religions become either sex cults or death cults – or both.) And the veneer that was plastered over this was that this was a way to understand the “deep things” of Satan and thus how to resist temptation.
But Jesus has a certain sense of humor or irony about sin and punishment. Since this Jezebel was seducing folks into her bed, Jesus will cast her into to bed – but with illness. You like to go to bed, alright, I'll put you in bed, Jezebel. And the folks who were playing around – you want to know the deep things of Satan, I'll let Satan play with you rather harshly – how do you like the m apples? And the contrast that is given is that those who remain faithful will reign, that they will not be broken by the world but they will rule over and share in Christ's victory over the world. While evil is now to be endured, there will come a time when it is defeated.
Revelation 3:1-6 – And to the angel of the Church in Sardis write: This is what the one having the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars says. I think on your works, that you are said33 to be alive, but you are dead. (2) Be watchful, and strengthen up the remaining, which are about to die, for I have not found your works to be overflowing before My God. (3) Remember what you have received and heard – keep it and repent. If you will not keep watch, I will come like a thief, and you will not know the hour when I will. (4) But you have a few names in Sardis which have not soiled their garments, and they will walk around34 with me in white, for they are worthy.(5) The ones who are victors will be be covered35 with white garments, and I will never blot out their name from the book of life, and I will confess their name before the face of My Father and before the the faces of His angels. (6) The one having ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.
Sardis is in a bad shape. They have kept up appearances, but in reality many of them have lost the faith. Things are dying. The solution – the call to be watchful. This is reminiscent of Matthew 25 and the wise and foolish virgins. Their attention, their focus upon Christ and the Gospel has wavered, and they've cut themselves off from forgiveness. So the call goes out to pay attention to Christ and His Word and to cling to it again – because it is His Word of life that gives the white garment and makes it white as snow, etc. This also plays off of Matthew 10 where there is the focus on confessing Christ before men and He will confess you before His Father in heaven. Yet even with things going poorly, there still is a remnant that is faithful remaining in Sardis, and they are still cared for by Christ.
Revelation 3:7-13 – And to the angel of the Church in Philadelphia write: This is what the Holy One, the True One, the One having the key of David, who opens and no one shuts, and closes and no one opens, says: (8) I think on your works – behold I have given you an open door, which no one is able to shut – you have little power, yet you have kept my word and not denied My name. (9) Behold, I will give those of the synagogue of Satan, those saying that they are Jews and are not but rather are false, behold I will make them come and worship36 before your feet, and they will know that I have loved you. (10) As you have kept My word with endurance, I too will keep you from the hour of trial which is about to come upon the whole world37 and all those who set down their home upon the earth. (11) I am coming swiftly. Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may take the crown from you. (12) I will make the victors pillars in the temple of My God, and he will never depart from it, and I will upon Him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from heaven from My God, and My new Name. (13) The one having ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.
The idea of a key is a common one in the Scriptures – in fact, it's the image that is used of the authority to forgive sins (or to bind sins upon the unrepentant). And the folks of Philadelphia are weak and they are getting kicked, especially by the Jewish community. However, they have clung to Jesus, the Word of God and the Key of David, and what will happen? Jesus will bring some of their tormentors to faith, and they will worship together. The mockers will cease their mocking and instead seek to learn of Christ from them. And there's a beautiful little interplay – no one will take their “Crown” - which is the word “Stephanos” or Stephen. Say, where does the name Stephen come up in the New Testament? They won't be stoning Stephen in Philadelphia – they will hear and believe. And the true temple of God, the true Jerusalem will be revealed, and folks will be baptized and believe and have new life. Why? Because folks are focused upon the Word instead of their own power – and that's just what the Word of God does.
Revelation 3:14-22 – And to the angel of the Church in Laodicea write: This is what the Amen, the Witness, the Faithful One, and the Turth, the Beginning of God's creation says: (15) I think on your works, how you are neither chilled nor hot. I'd rather that you were chilled or boiled. (16) Thus, since you are lukewarm and not chilled or hot, I will vomit38 you from my mouth. (17) For you say, “I am rich and I have been filled and I have no needs,” and you have no idea that you are wretched and miserable39 and poor and blind and naked. (18) I suggest that you buy from Me gold tested in fire so that you may be rich, and white garments that you may be covered (and that the shame of your nakedness might not be revealed), and anoint your eyes with paste so that you may see. (19) As many as I love I lecture40 and I “school”41 - therefore be zealous and repent. (20) Behold I stand at the door and I knock. Whenever someone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come on in to him and dine with him and he with Me. (21) To the one who victors I will give him to sit with me on My throne, even as I have victored and sat with My Father on His throne. (22) The one having ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.
My favorite sermon at the Seminary began with Dr. Timothy Quill walking into the pulpit and saying, “Lukewarm Christians make Jesus want to vomit.” And it went on from there. And that really is the point of this passage. The people in Laodicea are just... blah. They aren't hot and worked up, they aren't cold and ready to be worked upon. They aren't piping hot coffee or iced coffee – they are room temperature. And why are they so indifferent? Because they are falsely comfortable. They don't see their lack, nor do they see the riches of what they have in Christ.
So Jesus is going to lecture them – and the word is going to shake them up. Jesus is going to show them reality, He is going to teach them. And if anyone hears what He teaches – they will get to eat. Note how we move to feasting – no more throwing up lukewarm stuff. Instead the heavenly feast and sitting on eternal thrones and the like.
So those are the Seven Churches and where they are at. And I would say that their situations are “typical” - they are the types of situations that any congregation might find themselves in. They are emblematic of what the Church faces and will face until Christ comes again. Persecution and false doctrine and the allure of wealth and power and sometimes quiet faithfulness. And yet, all the Churches are to hear all of what it said. Situations can change. And now there is the Revelation for all of them.
Part 3 – The Heavenly Sanctuary and Divine Throne (Chapters 4 and 5)
Revelation 4:1-6a – After this I looked, and behold a door was opened in heaven, a the first voice that I heard was like a trumpet talking with me saying, “Come up here, and I will point out42 that which is necessary to happen43 behind44 this. (2) Immediately I was in the spirit, and behold, a throne was set down in heaven, and upon the throne Someone was sitting, (3) and the Sitting One looked like a gem of Jasper and Sardine/Carnelian, and there was a rainbow45 encircling the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. (4) And encircling the throne were 24 other thrones, and upon the thrones were 24 presbyters46 sitting being covered in white garments, and upon their heads were crowns of gold. (5) and from the throne shot lightings and the voices of thunder, and seven lamps were burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God, (6a) and before the throne was a sea of glass, like crystal...
Having written the seven letters to the seven Churches, John then ends up getting a vision of the reality of the presence of God – of “heaven” - and I will say that this is “heaven” if we understand heaven not as some other place way off there, but heaven is the presence of God. Heaven is wherever Jesus is. And this shows up in the vision, because the seven churches who just got the letters are there – the seven lamps are there before the throne. And the image itself is like that of a church – we today don't recognize what John is describing as a Church – but it is. Today we think of the Church has having in front an altar – that's the front – but back in the day in front of the altar there would be a chair. In fact, if you go to a “cathedral” there will be a chair up front – that's what a cathera is – a chair. And that is the bishop's chair, where he presides from. And assisting the bishop would be priests (called Presbyters in NT parlance) surrounding him.
So John was at Church on Patmos, and he gets a vision and is instructed to write to the seven churches, and then he looks up and he sees THE CHURCH and he is there and the seven churches are there. And the words describing this have a pace to them, they come out like a torrent. And this is why I think it's important to note how I translate the end of verse 1 - “what is necessary to happen behind this.” The phrase is “meta tauta” - which can mean “after this” (as at the beginning of verse 1) implying temporal passage, but meta can also mean to be with, or behind. And this is how I end up reading this vision – it's stuff that is “Meta” - as in the often unseen reality that is going on behind things, rather than following after them temporally.
And what is the great reality going on behind the simple, humdrum reality that John sees in his every day life? The Church of God – full and complete. You have the throne of God, and around the throne you have 24 Presbyters. And what is 24? It is 12 and 12 – it's the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles – it is the Old Testament Church and the New Testament Church both combined, both in reality the same thing. And yes, John is an Apostle, so he sees himself – but wait – there's more, and it's still coming out in a rush.
Revelation 4:6b-11 – And in the midst of the throne and around the throne were four living creatures47 having eyes in front and behind, (7) and the first living creature was like a lion, and the second living creature was like a young bull, and the third had the face of a man, and the fourth was like an eagle in flight. (8) And the four living creatures, each of them had six wings encircling them, and they were full of eyes, and they never stopped for both day and night they were saying, “Holy! Holy! Holy! LORD God Almighty, the One who was and is and is coming! (9) And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and 'thanksgiving'48 to the One seated upon the throne, to the One who Lives to the ages of ages, (10) fall down the 24 presbyters before the One that sits on the throne and they worship the One who lives to the ages of ages, and they cast their crowns before the throne saying, (11) “Worthy are You, LORD and our God, to receive the Glory and the Honor and the Power, for You created all things, and through Your Will they are and were created.”
Again, we have a picture of worship. The four living creatures are what Ezekiel sees – they are angels, cherubs – the beings that surround the throne. They are what Isaiah hears in Isaiah 6. And basically they've got every corner covered (think about the four corners of the globe – as we even say) and they see in every direction – and the angels who have the whole world covered praise God. The four living creatures sometimes get tied into the Gospel writers (as there are four of them) – and there is a tie because they are proclaiming eternally what God has done. But again, this is taking up a giant amount of overlap from the Old Testament and New and all combined in one big vision of united worship.
I think it is important for us today to remember this unity between old and new. Age has somewhat jaded the Church, to where we think of Israel being so long ago, so old, so distant from us. In fact, when I did a “Church History” study, I started it at Acts. That's not quite accurate. The Church starts in the Garden, and Adam and Noah and Abraham and David and Isaiah are are part and parcel of the very same Christian (catholic) and Apostolic Church that we are part of. Everything, Old or New, drives to the worship of the One True God.
Revelation 5:1-5 – And I saw in the right hand of the One seated upon the throne a Book49 written both inside and outside, having been sealed with seven seals. (2) And I saw a strong angel preaching50 in a great voice, “Who is worthy to open the Book and to loosen the seals?” (3) And no one was able in heaven or on earth nor under the earth to open the Book or to look upon it. (4) And I wept much because no one worthy was found to open the book or to look upon it. (5) And of the the elders said to me, “Do not cry. Behold! Victored has the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Key of David, to open the Book and its seven scrolls!”
We are people of the Word. The Word of God is paramount to how we live and operate. And here we see the Book, the Bible – the full and complete and everything that is needed Word. And it's sealed, it's shut. And no one on earth is worthy enough to open it and understand it. But there is One – Christ Jesus the LORD. And you get classic titles – the Lion of Judah, the Key of David (that shows up in O Come, O Come Emmanuel) – and He is worthy and able to open the Word of God. To make the Word, the plan of salvation accessible.
You cannot understand the Scriptures apart from Jesus. This is one of the main points of the Gospel – that Jesus takes the Word and reveals what it truly is, reveals the plan of salvation. How many times does Jesus come across people who don't understand the Scriptures? Luke 24:44-47 drives home this point. Unless Jesus reveals to you that the Scriptures are all about Him and how He wins salvation, you won't understand. Whenever there is any understanding in the Scriptures, that is something that is worked in us by God, not a result of our own wisdom, understanding, or worth. And it's fascinating that John weeps here – and the weeping is over the reality that the Word seemingly would never be understood – in the midst of this vision John understands that the scriptures being not understood would be an unimaginable tragedy. But Jesus is the key that opens the Scripture. Hence, if someone is dealing with the Scriptures and they don't end up talking about Jesus – you can know quickly that they are off base.
Revelation 5:6-10 – And I saw in the middle of the throne and the four living creatures and in the middle of the elders a Lamb standing51 as having been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent52 into all the earth. (7) And He came and took from the right hand of the One sitting upon the throne. (8) And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell on their faces before the Lamb, each of them having harps and golden vials53 full of the aromas54 of worship, which are the prayers of the saints. (9)And they sang a new ode saying:
Worthy are You to take the book
And to open its seals,
For you were slain and have redeemed to God blood Your Blood
[people] of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
made them to our God kings and priests,
And they shall reign upon the earth.
And Jesus shows up – and He is here the Lamb who was slain. But it is important to note that He is slain but standing – which doesn't happen. When you are slain, you fall down. Not Jesus – He is slain, but He stands again. And as John sees Jesus, He sees Jesus in heaven, but Jesus also directly connected – seeing, spiriting – the seven Churches that he had just written to – this profound connection between heaven and earth. Indeed, the central folks of heaven fall down, and there's worship – music and smell – but the smell is actually the prayers of God's people – again, heaven and earth connected in a way most wondrous.
A moment here to speak about “the Lamb.” The Lamb was the chief animal of sacrifice in the Old Testament. It was the sacred meal of the Passover (the feast of deliverance from sin and bondage) – it was used in the rites of Atonement. It would take up and bear the sins of the people. Salvific things happened with the Lamb – it spares Isaac's life and thus the life of all the people of Israel. But really, and this is key, all those lambs were just precursors and preparations for the Lamb, Christ Jesus, who is the worthy One to open up the Book.
Revelation 5:11-14 – And I looked, and heard the voice of many angels encircling the throne and the living creatures and the elders, and their number was myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, (12) saying with a great voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” (13) And all creatures which are in heaven and upon the earth and under the earth and in the sea and all that are in them, I heard them saying, “To the One seated upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and power to the ages of ages!” And the four living ones said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
“Worth” is an interesting thing, and perhaps we should speak to it now. Much of discussion in theology revolves around people trying to prove or establish their own worth. Or even the unworthiness of others. We want to assign a value, a measure of worth upon ourselves and everyone around us (where hopefully we are worth more than them). Revelation shoots down that game. It's not a matter of comparing our worth to the guy next to me, or increasing my own worthiness to where I can get to the next level of whatever. There is One who is worthy. Jesus. The Lamb. That's it. And all power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing are His. Period. And if you are to receive any of those things, it's not because of you and your worth – it will simply and only be a gift from the Lamb. It all centers around Christ Jesus.
This is really hard for us to accept, because it doesn't let us have any control. It doesn't provide a way for us to gain more control. It just... is. But it's actually good that it is this way. If things were up to me, I'd mess them up in the heartbeat. But as a spoiler alert – the Lamb who is worthy is going to do everything just as it needs to be done, and He'll do it for your good.
Part 4 – The Seven Seals – Revelation 6-8:5
And now we get to the really strange stuff. The next section of Revelation deals with the opening of the seals – the story of history playing out. And again, there is debate as to when this happens – is this speaking to the future of the end times, or is this the history of the world playing out from the perspective of eternity? I tend towards the latter, big view of history approach, and that's what we will consider. Of course, as there is nothing new under the sun, this also is a description of what we should expect until the end.
Revelation 6:1-8 – And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven scrolls, and I heard one of the four living creatures speaking with a voice as of thunder saying, “Come.” (2) And I saw, behold a white horse, and the one seated upon it had a bow, and he was given a crown, and he went forth victoring to victor (winning to win, conquering to conquer).
(3) And when He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.” (4) And there came another horse – fire red55 – and the one seated upon was given to take away peace from the earth, so that people should butcher56 each other, and he was given a great executioner's sword57.
when He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature
saying, “Come.” And I saw, behold, a black horse, and the one
sitting upon it had a pair of scales58
in his hands. (6) And I heard a voice from the midst of the four
living creatures saying, “A measure59
of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius,
but do no injustice to the oil and wine.
(7) And when He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” (8) And I saw, behold, a sickly-green60 horse, and the one sitting upon it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And authority was given to him over a fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword and with scarcity and with death and by the beasts of the earth.
So here we get the image of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Now, note – that isn't a title they are given in the Scriptures – it's just that literally in Revelation (Apocalypse in Greek) there are these four horsemen given. So let's ponder briefly what the idea of a horseman implies. These are warrior figures – they are mounted soldiers – and the idea is that they are stronger and faster than you. You might be able to out run a heavily armored infantry man (especially if you abandon all your stuff), but you can't outrun a horse. If you want a modern parallel – think of these as being four tanks or even jet fighters– if they into your town, you're in trouble and you're not getting away. So these are images of things that befall all the earth and that are inescapable.
So first we have the white horse and it's rider – a Conqueror. A “Victor”. While it's good to see a Victor if he's on your side, if he's defeating you, then it's not that great. And defeat comes, and in this life we get the tar kicked out of us. There are always earthly powers that mess us with. And the second is the Red horse – this is violence and bloodshed – war and violence rise up in every generation. The third is the Black Horse – often called famine. There are times there just isn't enough – the earth (that word for black is the color of loamy dirt) fails to produce, and we suffer. And then the final horse is the... well, we are used to saying “Pale” today – but we miss the connection. The color that is given is the color of fear and dread – one of the lines from Homer is “sickly green fear grabbed at their entrails.” And we (and the Romans) thought of fear making us turn pale – so that's what this is – the color draining from your face – because here is Death with its “pallor” (related to pale). And there's this seemingly randomly striking of death in a variety of ways.
This is what the reality of the fall looks like. And there's four of them – they cover the world (four ends up being a number about covering the world – we still call about every corner of the globe). Throughout the whole world these terrors and trials come. That is just the way it is.
One final note – it's fascinating translating this, because there is a repetitive pattern – but John doesn't keep the pattern. If you note, with the second horse there's no “I saw, behold”. If you were just writing a work of literature in the Ancient world, this would be a terrible mistake – you don't break the rhetoric like that. However, John's not writing or retorting – he's simply reacting in real time to what he sees. This has a really breathless, rushed feel to it, as though he doesn't have time to properly compose his thoughts.
Revelation 6:9-11 – And when He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the 'beings'61 of those who were butchered on account of the Word of God and on account of the witness62 they made. (10) And they cried with a great voice saying, “How long, O holy and true Despot63, until you judge and revenge our blood upon those who dwell upon the earth?” (11) And a white robe was given to each of them, and it was said unto them that they should rest for a little time, until their fellow servants and brothers were filled and completed by those who were to be killed as they were.
And with the fifth seal we shift to seeing the saints who were martyred. And where are they? They are under the altar – under the place of sacrifice. They are the people of the Church who are suffering under the Cross – and as they suffer they lament and cry out, “How Long!” Now, that phrase “how long” should connect us to the Psalms (consider Psalm 13) where that cry of “how long” is the cry of the saints. And this is the pattern of life in the world – the saints suffer. And we cry “how long?” And the answer is interesting. We are given a white robe – think on baptism and forgiveness – and we are told to be patient. Why? There are more saints to come. The point and purpose of God allowing us to endure this suffering, indeed, why He hasn't yet returned is precisely for our brothers and sisters in the faith yet to come. And while we often look for vengeance, God's first priority is to give forgiveness and salvation. This is the way of life in the world for us in the Church.
Revelation 6:12-17 – And I saw when He opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as hairy sackcloth, and the whole moon became as blood, (13) and the stars of the heavens fell upon the earth, like a fig tree throwing its unripe64 fruit to the ground having been shaken by a great wind, (14) and the heavens vanished like a scroll suddenly rolling back up, and every mountain and island was stirred65 from its place. (15) And the kings of the earth and the men of great standing and the military captains66 and the rich and the powerful and every slave and every freeman hid themselves in the caves and the rocks of the mountains, (16) saying to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall upon us and hide us from the face of the One seated upon the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, (17) for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
This is a fascinating section. These are the signs of the end that Jesus preaches about, and they are fantastically vivid. There's falling stars, but falling with a thump, and space itself is rolled up like an old projector screen going phhhpttttt and everything is mixed and pulled out of its place. The order of God's creation – all the efforts of the six days of creation – undone. And what is the reaction? Everyone on the earth freaks out – even the rich and the powerful. And remember, this is all language that Jesus Himself preached dealing with the end times – but there's a wonderful nuance and twist. They are afraid of the “wrath of the Lamb.” Now, just pause there for a moment – does that phrase make any sense? I could see being afraid of the wrath of a bull or a lion... but a lamb? This is the irony – they do not know the Lamb. Without faith and as sinful men, they know God only as a God of wrath and terror – they do not know Him as the One who is Crucified to win mercy and salvation
Revelation 7:1-8 – And with this67 I saw four angels standing upon the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, so that the wind would not breeze68 upon the earth or upon the sea or upon any tree. (2) And I saw another angel going up from the rising of the sun, having a seal of the living God, and he cried with a great voice to the four angels who had been given power to “wrong”69 the land and the sea, (3) saying, “Do no wrong to the earth or sea or the trees until we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.” (4) And I heard the number70 of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from each of the tribes of Israel.
from the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed.
from the tribe of Ruben 12,000,
from the tribe of Gad 12,000,
(6) from the tribe of Asher 12,000,
from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000,
from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000,
(7) from the tribe of Simeon 12,000,
from the tribe of Levi 12,000,
from the tribe of Issachar 12,000,
(8) from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000,
from the tribe of Joseph 12,000,
from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.
And here we have a major shift and change. There is this palpable sense of impending doom – as though the whole world has held its breath waiting for the destruction – then there's an interuption! It's not time for destruction yet – we have to make sure the “sealed” ones are safe. This itself is a profound idea – that God holds off divine judgment against the wicked so as to keep His loved ones from getting caught up (consider the parable of the wheat and tares).
And so we have the sealing of the 12 tribes of Israel. And the numbers here are wondrously symbolic. 144,000 is 12 x 12,000 – and 12,000 is 12 x 10^3. And yes, we get to do math because this is Math. Remember that in Hebrew, they don't do -er and -est to modify (like high, higher, highest) – they simply repeat something three times. “Holy, Holy, Holy” is a Hebrew way of saying “Holiest” - and the Holy-Holy-Holy One was seen by Isaiah where? In the Holy of Holies (or the holier place). And ten is the number of completion – we're a base ten counting system. So 12,000 is a way of saying the full and complete amount... and it's the full and complete amount from all the tribes.
Or is it? This listing differs from the way the 12 tribes inherited the land. In the land of Israel there was no tribe of Joseph – his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim each inherited and we accounted as a tribe. Also, Levi didn't inherit any land – they were the priests, and were to be spread throughout all Israel – yet they are on here. And the Tribe of Dan is left out. What's going on? First things first – unlike most lists, Judah is put first. This is the Tribe of the Messiah, the Kings, the Royal family. No other leaders are allowed – so Ephraim produced the false kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel that opposed the Davidic Kings – they have lost their name. Also, there will be right worship – so the tribe of Levi is back in, and Dan is out. Dan was the tribe notorious for idol worship – they were the worst of the Northern Kingdom. So what you have here is way of saying that the full number of Old Testament faithful are gathered and that things are restored and right amongst them.
Revelation 7:9-12 – And with this I saw, and behold! A great crowd, which no one would be able to number, from every ethnicity and tribe and people and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, wrapped with white robes, and having palms in their hands, (10) and they were crying out with a lout voice saying, “The Salvation unto our God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb!” (11) And all the angels were standing around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell down before the throne on their aces and worshiped God, (12) saying, “Amen! The blessing and the glory and the wisdom and the thanksgiving and the honor and the power and the strength unto our God unto the ages of ages! Amen!
So John was able to hear some Math before, but now we are beyond math. This is the host arrayed in white – uncountable. So many you can't even try to keep it nice and orderly and clean. And it is Palm Sunday again, and the it is joy and celebration. And there's an interesting way that their praise is given. A thing or attribute – like Salvation or Power – is stated, and then it is said to belong to God. We echo this in “Glory be to Thee, O LORD” in our worship service. Everything is centered, everything is pinned upon God Almighty. And this is why I like “with this” instead of “after this” because here's the wonder. This is where you show up. You are there in that throng, and you say these things that are said right here. And we even say or sing them now sometimes in Church in worship. This is the picture of our Saturday night worship from eternity.
I hope you can get here some sense of overlap between heaven and earth here. This is actually a central theme or idea of Christian worship – that the divine service is where heaven and earth meet. We get this is part via the timeless words that are spoken, when we confess that we are worshiping with angels and archangels. However, much of church architecture is (or at least was) designed to help point to this mystery of heaven and earth meeting together in worship. (If you are interested about a nice lecturing tangent on Church architecture, we can go on one here.)
Revelation 7:13-17 – And I was asked by one of the elders, who said to me, “Who are these who have been wrapped in white robes and from where have they come?” (14) And I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, and they have plunged71 their robes and have whitened them in the blood of the Lamb. (15) On account of this they are before the throne of God and worship72 day and night in His dwelling place73, and the One sitting upon the throne shall dwell74 with them. (16) They will no longer hunger, nor will they thirst, nor will the sun fall upon them, nor any heat, (17) for the Lamb in the midst of the throne will shepherd them, and He will 'way' them to springs of living water, and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
John gets asked a question – and this is a scene that would be familiar to any student of the day. This is rabbinical training, this is confirmation class. You ask questions of the student to see how they answer. And John punts to the elder to explain what the crowd is. The Crowd is the Church of all times and all places. They are the Psalm 23 people and John 10 people who have the LORD as their Shepherd; they are the ones who have known Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – who causes springs of living water to well forth.
And this is all tied into worship. The reality that John sees here, that he had written in His Gospel, it is unfolded in worship. Plunging/washing and Blood – these are Churchy worshipy terms. And the description is that of a church service – the liturgy, the back and forth that we have already heard in Revelation so far – that's all worship language. And it is the presence of God to be with His people, which was the central point of worship in the Old Testament under Moses and in the New Testament with the Word and Sacraments. And this reality that we have now is shown to be more real and more true than we could possibly imagine – real and true before the Throne of God this moment and lasting unto eternity. Verses 15-17 are often treated as song, for they are profound and beautiful.
Revelation 8:1-5 - “And when He had opened the seventh seal, there was a hush in heaven for about half an hour. (2) And I saw seven angels who stand before the face of God, and seven trumpets were given to them. (3) And another angel came and stood upon the sacrificial altar having a frankincense censer of gold, and much incense was given to him so that He could give with with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden sacrificial altar before the throne. (4) And the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel in the presence of God. (5) And the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the sacrificial altar and he threw it upon the earth – and there were thunders, rumblings, flashes of lighting, and earthquakes.
This is more worship imagery that we don't quite get as much today. If I am being really persnicketty, I will hush people before service if they are in the sanctuary. The old custom was that things were silent before service so individual could pray quietly. And things are prepared – the angels have their trumpets to sound the notes of judgment, and the prayers are rising. This is the giant pause before everything begins.
As a note – we under utilize silence in worship. Part of this is just our day and age, for we live in a time of constant and continual racket. How many of us constantly have music or a TV on just for the background noise. We are a bit better about it in the country – but we like to have noise. We don't handle silence very well. But in worship silence was used as a time of pondering, of reflecting. The hymnal instructs a few places of silence – silence before confession, or in the midweek services a brief silence after the reading of the lessons. Silence terrifies us – so if I did that, we'd get nervous. But for the people there – this was “be still and know that I am the LORD” and everything is going to be profoundly alright.
Part 5 – The Second Scene: Seven Trumpets – Revelation 8:6-11
And now we get a reset. Revelation really likes to play around with numbers – and the most common number is “seven”. We had the seven letters to the seven Churches to start, and then once we get into John's heavenly vision there are seven different scenes, seven different views of the Church from eternity. And while I probably should have discussed this back at the start of Part 4, I'm going to do so now, because as we get to this section, we're really getting a reset. We are going to see the same thing we just saw but from a different angle, a different perspective.
Here are the seven scenes:
1st – Seven Seals – Rev 6:1-8:5
(focusing on people)
2nd – Seven Trumpets – Rev 8:6-11 (focusing on creation messed with)
3rd – The Unholy Trinity fight God – Rev 12-14 (Spiritual Warfare)
4th – Seven bowls of wrath – Rev 15-16 (Plagues and refusal to repent)
5th – The Prostitute and Babylon's defeat – Rev 17-19 (Defeat of Evil)
6th – The Final Judgment – Rev 20-21:8 (The Cross from Eternity)
7th – New Jerusalem the Bride and the Marriage feast – Rev 21:9-end (Rest!)
Each of these ends up looking at the story of Creation and Redemption from a different angle, and always highlighting Christ's victory for you. So, with that said, let's see the view of the impact of history upon creation from a heavenly perspective.
Revelation 8:6-13 – And the seven angels having the seven trumpets got ready to blow their trumpets. (7) And the first blew, and there was hail and fire mingled with blood, and it was thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned, and a third of the trees were burned, and a third of all the green grass burned.
(8) And the second angel blew, and something like a great burning mountain fell into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood, (9) and a third of the creatures of the sea died, and a third of the ships were ruined.
(10) And the third angel blew, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell upon a third of the rivers and upon the springs of water. (11) And the name of the star is Wormwood. And a third of the waters become wormwood, and many people died because the waters which had been made bitter.
And the fourth angel blew, and was smitted a third of the sun and a
third of the moon and a third of the stars, so that they would be
darkened a third, and a third of the day might be kept from shining,
and the night likewise.
(13) Then I saw, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell upon the earth at the sound of the remaining trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
And once again we get a strange image of destruction
befalling the earth. And it's a terrifying image of the divine order
of creation being undone – of creation itself falling apart.
Remember, the story of Creation is a story of order – of everything
being put in its place. And what we see is disorder unleashed,
leading to destruction. With the first, fire and ice and blood all
mingle together – and those three should be kept separate. Land
and sea are to be separated, but mountains crash in the sea and
there's blood again. Heaven and earth bang together, and water is
ruined and embittered. And even the heavens are messed with, the
lights dimmed. And this is a dreadful thing.
I'd contend that this is the fall depicted poetically. What happens when Adam and Eve sin? All of creation is shaken and shattered. Whereas the Seven Seals showed the history of the world in terms of personal interactions and the horrible things we do to each other, these seven trumpets go... bigger. This is creation itself. This is (as we will see) all things visible and invisible shaken. And this is the horrifying reality of what sin does, what it actually brings about. The rebellion of man wrecks havoc upon creation and fights against the good gifts God gives in His creation. And it causes trouble for all those who live upon the earth.
Revelation 9:1-6 – And the fifth angel blew, and I saw star having fallen from heaven to the earth, and the key of the pit75 of the abyss was given to him. (2) And he opened the pit, and arose smoke from the well like the smoke of a great furnace, and darkened was the sun and the air by the smoke of the pit. (3) And from the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and they were given authority76 like the power77 of scorpions upon the earth. (4) And it was commanded to them that they not do injustice to the grass of the earth nor all the green plants nor all the trees, but only the people who do not have the seal of God upon their foreheads. (5) They were given not to kill them, but to torture them for five months, and the their torture was like the torture of a scorpion whenever it stings someone. (6) And in those days people will seek death and they will not find it, and they will desire in their hearts to die and death will from them.
And here Satan shows up. He is the fallen star, the fallen angel – (a star was a poetic way to describe angels). And Satan gets a key – but this is the key to the Abyss, the pit. Hell, hades, the abode of demons. And the impact of hell is unleashed upon the earth – and the smoke is everywhere – but note something interesting. Even though Satan is a rebel against God and fights against God – he and his minions are still limited in what they can do. There is still Divine authority and protect here. The hell-smoke messes with everything, but the grass and the plants and trees are protected. As are the Christians – Satan cannot harm them (as we sing, “this world's prince my still scowl fierce as he will. He can harm us none, he's judged, the deed is done.) But for the rest, there is a description of torturing, of the stings of a scorpion. Little things but utterly painful, people wishing to die.
This is actually a
great depiction of how sin and wrath play out in the world.
Scripturally speaking, God's wrath isn't primarily Him smiting, but
rather letting people have their sinful way and then leaving them to
deal with the painful consequences. And that's the image here –
sin unleashes these troubles and those who live in sin get stung by
them over and over and over again – and life is turned into
something bitter and wretched. And hopefully folks learn from this
the folly of their ways.
As a closing note – there is something that I think is fascinating. One of the things that I like to harp on is that the word “authority” (exousia) when used in the Scriptures tends to be a forgiveness word. Consider – in Matthew 28 Jesus says that all authority has been given to Him – and then He talks about Baptizing people. Authority when used by Christ has strong forgiveness overtones. And here there is almost an anti-authority – that those who do not want the forgiveness flavored authority of Christ will get the devilish authority of Satan. We are not independent – we are always either under Christ or under Satan.
Revelation 9:7-13 – And the locusts looked like horses ready for battle, and upon their heads were crowns like78 gold, and their faces were as human faces, (8) and they have hair like women's hair, and their teeth like lion's teeth, (9) and they have breastplates like iron79 breastplates, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots of horses charging into battle. (100 And they have tails like scorpions80 with stings in the tails, and they had authority to do injustice to men for five months. (11) They have as king over them the angel of the abyss: his name in Hebrew is Abaddon81 and in Greek his name is Apollyon82. (12) The first woe has gone on. Behold, coming yet are two more with this!
Locusts were one of the 10 plagues of Egypt – they were a divine warning, a divine punishment. And what you have here with the depiction of these locusts rampaging upon the earth is a mysterious and bizarre thing. In some ways I tend to think that this is a description of all the wretched things that mankind does to itself – the sins of violence and sex and greed that we unleash upon each other. Others will argue that this is an emblem of demonic oppression – and I can't really gainsay that. Perhaps there is a highly moral point about Christians who keep their nose clean don't get caught up in this stuff as much (live by the sword, die by the sword), or perhaps it is pointing out that in reality there is a highly spiritual and demonic component to the wickedness we see in the world – a component that we modern folks tend to overlook.
Either way, there is something profound here. The
wickedness here unleashed may rage against God, but God is still in
control. Christianity is not a “Dualistic” religion. Dualistic
religions are those that have two great powers locked in combat – a
good god and a bad god. Not so the Christian faith – even as Satan
rebels, he still can only act within the limits God sets, and then
only as long as God permits. It's not a fight between equals –
it's a three year old “fighting” dad – which lasts only as long
as dad lets it. And since God is in control – there's a end.
There are limits and lines that Satan and his minions cannot cross.
Things come to an end. Locusts die (after five months typically),
and the power of the demonic is not eternal. God remains in control,
even when it looks and is scary.
Revelation 9:13-21 – And the sixth angel blew, and I heard one voice from the four horns83 of the golden altar before God (14) saying to the sixth angel (the one who had the trumpet), “Loosen the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” (15) And released were the four angels who had been prepared for the hour and the day and the month and the year, to kill a third of mankind. (16) And the number of the army of horsemen was a myriad of two myriads (10,000 times 20,000) – I heard their number. (17) And thusly I saw the hours in the vision and those riding upon them – they had breastplates of fire and sapphire84 and brimstone, and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions, and from their mouths came fire and smoke and brimstone. (18) By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and by the smoke and by the brimstone coming from their mouths. (19) For the authority of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, by that is how they do injustice.
(20) And the rest of mankind, the ones not destroyed in these plagues, none of them repented of the works of their hands, that they should no longer worship demons or idols of gold or silver or bronze or stone or wood, which neither are able to see or hear nor walk, (21) nor did they repent of their murders nor of their sorcery85 nor of their pornographic acts nor of their thievery.
And now more divine retribution is unleashed. This would hearken back to the 10th plague in Egypt, where the angel of death strikes. And this is meant to be a horrific vision, something of doom and chaos. It's the horror of destruction. It's the full idea of fire and brimstone coming down – it's what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah – it's just bad. And it's been prepared. The Euphrates is one of the four rivers that watered the Garden of Eden – from the beginning this has been set up to deal with mankind should they become wicked – and the chicken comes home to roost. And the army is 200 million strong – and unimaginably vast army. The consequences of sin and its dread impact is unleashed upon the world in a most clear and dramatic way.
This should be enough of a clue to drive anyone to repentance – and yet, there is no repentance. This is I think something that we Christians need to be reminded of. We have been brought to repentance – we can see the negative spiritual impact of sin – “death and decay in all around I see” as the old hymn puts it. The fact that we can see sin for what it is and repent of it is a wonderful spiritual gift that we have been given by God. And apart from God's help, people really can't see sin for what it is. Even when hell is unleashed, people will go on blindly making excuses and keeping on doing what they want to keep on doing. And that's just the way it is – that's the reality of it. They know not what they do. And I say that because this is number 6 – the Friday of the week number. And it's agonizing to we who see – but this is how it is.
Revelation 10:1-7 – And I saw another Angel, strong, coming down from heaven encircled in clouds, and a rainbow was over His head, and His face was like the sun, and His feet were like pillars of fire, (2) and He had in His hands a little opened scroll. He put His right foot on the sea and His left upon the land, (3) and He cried out with a great voice, like a lion roaring. And when He cried, seven thunders spoke with with their voices. (4) And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up that which the seven thunders spoke, and do not write it.” (5) And the angel whom I saw standing upon the sea and the land raised his right and to heaven (6) and swore by the One Living to the ages of ages, Who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and all that is on it, and the sea and all that is in it, that there would be no more time, (7) but in the days of the trumpet of the seventh angel being sounded 'finished' would be the mystery of God, just as he had 'gospeled' to His servants the prophets.
Let's start here. Remember – this is 6 – this is Friday. In fact, I would argue that this is a depiction of Good Friday. This “Angel” is Christ – and I'll say this because He described precisely as Christ is – encircled in clouds, with a rainbow, a pillar of fire, able to walk on the sea. This is Jesus – the Lion of Judah. But the kicker and the key for all of this is in verse seven. The ESV translates that as “the mystery of God would be fulfilled” - but we can miss it. That word “finished” is the same word as what Jesus said upon the Cross in John's Gospel – It is Finished.
So consider this. Even as Satan is roaring, and even as all these demonic forces are running rampant upon the earth – Jesus just does His thing. They don't stop Him, they don't prevent Him. He goes forth and does His thing. And we don't see everything – not everything is revealed to us. John doesn't get to write everything he hears (remember, John's nickname was “son of thunder”) - but John writes what we need to know. The time is coming to a close, but that is okay for us, because the mystery, the wonder is this. In Christ, it is finished. It's all wrapped up in Him. Sin is done away with, death and destruction destroy, Satan defeated. He's got the whole world in His hands (or at His feet), and in Him it is all good. Really. It is. Nothing stops Him.
And this is the message that has been proclaimed through the Prophets and apostles – I translated that word there as “gospeled” because it is literally the verb form of evangelion – of the noun for Gospel. This good news is proclaimed forth – even as so many reject and refuse to repent and the world remains wicked and there's still evil. It doesn't stop Jesus from being Jesus for you. The book of life remains open in Christ, and your salvation remains secure.
Revelation 10:8-11 – And the voice that I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, “go and take the scroll that is opened in the hand of the Angel standing upon the sea and upon the earth.” (9) And I went to the Angel and said to Him, “Give me the little scroll.” And He said to me, “Take and eat this, and it will embitter your belly, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” (10) And I took the little scroll from the hand of the Angel, and I ate it, and in my mouth it was sweet as honey, and when I ate it, my belly was embittered. (11) And they said to me, “It is necessary for you to prophesy again about the many peoples and the nations and the tongues and kings.”
Sometimes Christianity is accused of being a simple, pie in the sky fairy tale. Here in Revelation, John knows in his gut that it is not – literally. The Word of God is at the same time sweet and bitter – it is both Law and Gospel. It is good news, but it also breaks our sinful hearts. And it has to be that way, and that is what has to be proclaimed, both Law and Gospel.
And I mean that literally – you cannot proclaim the Gospel without proclaiming the Law. Consider the following statement: “Jesus forgives your sins.” That is wondrous good news, that is sweet gospel. Yet, as a friend of my says, the Gospel has a backspin. “You are forgiven” implies that you have sins that need to be forgiven. And you can't eliminate that idea of sin, that Law, otherwise the Gospel is no longer the Gospel. This is why the preaching of mere “acceptance” that goes on in so many places today falls flat... because it's not forgiveness, and eventually there's something or someone every group won't accept, something the tolerant won't tolerate.
There is bitterness
and heartache associated with the Church. There is the personal
bitterness of seeing one's own sin – that breaking of our own heart
(a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise!). There
is the sorrow of rejection from others, where they reject God and us.
And this is hard – this is something that is bitter. But note
that this isn't something hidden, or something denied. It's part of
the deal straight from the jump in the Scriptures. This is true
here, this is true when Paul uses the Armor of God imagery (because
you don't wear armor for a picnic). There is strife. But what we
remember is that it's not a matter of “everything is great but then
God makes our lives lousy as Christians and we have to give up all
this stuff.” Rather, it's everything is evil and corrupt, and God
rescues us – even while we are impacted by evil, and indeed, by
being rescued understand more and more how evil things
Revelation 11:1-3 – And then was given to me a pen86 like a scepter87, and he was saying saying, “Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar and those worshiping in it. (2) And the court that is outside of the temple leave off and do not measure it, because it is given to the nations, and the holy city they will trample88 for 42 months. (3) And I will give to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1260 days covered in sackcloth.
Here we end up getting some highly symbolic language that plays off of times of oppression, both in the Old Testament and in recent (to John) history. First, this plays off of Ezekiel, where he is given the measurements of the New Temple – of course, he is given this in Babylon as the old temple lies in ruins. Second, more recently, Jerusalem was besieged for right around 42 months (which is half of 7 years, by the by), and then it was trampled by the Romans. Third, Antiochus Epiphanes ran roughshod over Jerusalem for the same time span from 167-164 BC (which is when the traditions of Hanukkah get started). And yet, all the while, in the midst of all these terrors and troubles and strifes, there still are prophets proclaiming repentance.
Revelation 11:4-8 – These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands which are standing before the LORD of the earth. (5) And if someone wants to do injustice to them, fire pours from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if someone should want to do injustice to them, thus it is necessary89 for them to die. (6) They have the authority to close heaven90, so that no rain may fall in the days of their prophesying, and they have authority upon the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every sort of plague, as often as they will. (7) And whenever they have finished their witnessing, the beast that rises from the abyss will make war with them and victor over them and kill them. (8) And their corpses will lay in the streets of that great city, which is spiritually91 called Sodom and Egypt, and where their LORD was crucified.
Alright – this again is playing off of the Old Testament, and through parts of it that we are not familiar with. Zechariah 4 has a vision that dovetails this – the olive trees are the preachers of the Word, the anointed of God. And what happens with the preachers? Well, those who resist the Word of God get burned with fire from their mouth (there's a reason for the term preaching fire and brimstone). And the prophets did many things – Elijah closed heaven (for 3 ½ years – like the 1260 days) and Moses brought plagues and all those sorts of things. And the prophets died and were murdered – Jesus laments that Jerusalem stones the prophets. And all this power of preaching and all this disdain of preaching wraps up and reaches its apex in Christ Jesus. The tragedy of Sodom and the wickedness of Egypt pales to the outrage of the Crucifixion.
Yet, that is where we are. Now. Much of this passage is present tense – this is still the reality. The Word of God still goes forth, and people still don't care for it, and they still make war upon the Church. And preachers are given to preach the law and even close up heaven. But even as we in our day see struggle – and in John's day they saw struggle up close and personal, this is nothing new. And as we shall see, the LORD is still in control.
Revelation 11:9-14 – And shall see will folks of every people and tribe and tounge and nation their corpses for three and a half days, and they will not allow92 their bodies to be buried. (10) And those dwelling upon the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and send gifts to each other, because those two prophets had tormented those dwelling upon the earth. (11) And after three and a half days a Spirit of Life from God went into them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. (12) And they heard a great voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in the clouds, and their enemies looked on. (13) And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell, and in the earthquake 7000 people were killed, and the rest became terrified gave glory to the God of heaven. (14) The second woe has passed. Behold, the third woe comes swiftly!
When death and harm falls upon the Church, folks rejoice. They celebrate. The Church torments the sinner – not necessarily in a literal Spanish Inquisition way, but sinful man cannot abide the preaching of the law. Does anyone today like it when the Church says that what they are doing is wrong? And so when the preaching of the Word is struck down, the world rejoices. There are people that are celebrating and rejoicing that the Church is in decline in this country. However, God is not the God of the dead but the God of the living. Death is always followed by Resurrection – Jesus is the pattern of what we will all follow. Wickedness only reigns for a time – then the resurrection, then the joys of the life of the world to come. The wickedness of the world cannot stop it.
In many ways, what I think this part of Chapter 11 is doing is in a very elegant way tying together the Old Testament and the Death and Resurrection of Jesus and the current life of the Church. It is the same thing – but Christ is our head, whether we are Old Testament folks or New Testament folks. In Christ, we have life, even if the world thinks it has won.
Part 6 – The Unholy Trinity Fight God (Chapters 12-14)
Here we enter another vision describing the way the world works. This is an epic vision of a fight, a contest. It is the image of Satan and falsehood and wickedness throwing itself against God and His church. It depicts the persistent spiritual warfare that is constantly going on until the end.
Revelation 12:1-6 – And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman wrapped in the sun, and the moon was beneath her feet, and upon her head was a crown of twelve stars, (2) and she was with child, and cries with the labor pains of giving birth. (3) And another sign appeared in heaven, and behold a great fiery dragon, having seven heads and ten horns and on his heads seven diadems, (4) and his tail dragged down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them upon the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was giving birth, so that when the child was born he could devour it. (5) She gave birth to a son, who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron, and her child was snatched to God and to His throne. (6) And she fled into the desert, where there was a place prepared for her by God, that she should be fed there 1260 days.
So here we get a picture of the history of the Church – from the beginning to the end. The Church is the woman with the twelve star crown – twelve tribes in the Old Testament and the twelve apostles in the New. And the life of the the Church is hard – but this shouldn't surprise us. Jesus gives us this sort of imagery in John 16 when He uses child birth as the image of a Christian's life in this world. And set against the woman is the great dragon – Satan. And what does Satan want to do? He wants to destroy the child (Jesus), but is unable to. Then the woman finds shelter in the desert away from the dragon.
John here is giving us a way of interpreting Scripture and the history of the world. What do we see all throughout the Old Testament? We see Satan trying to destroy the promise of the Messiah. This is something that is vital to reading the Old Testament – follow the promise of the Messiah. The promise must be protected, and the promise is often opposed. This is why you have God act mightily for Israel against Egypt, this is why you have all the woes and prophecies given in the Old Testament. The Messiah must be born, but Satan hounds the Church of the Old Testament all the way through.
Then you have the short depiction of the life of Christ – He is born and taken up to the throne. After that, the Church flees to the wilderness for the appointed time. We are still hounded by Satan, exiles, soujourners (I am but a stranger here), yet we are cared for by God. As much as it might seem that Satan roars and overpowers everything, still God is in control and preserves His Church.
Revelation 12:7-12 – And it happened that there was war in heaven, The Michael and His angels made war with the dragon. And the dragon fought back, and his angels with him, (8) but he had no strength, nor was any place found for them any longer in heaven. (9) And cast down was the great dragon, that original93 serpent, the one called the devil and Satan - the deceiver of the whole world – cast down was he upon the earth, and his angels with him were cast down. (10) And I heard a great voice in heaven saying, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ, for cast down is the Accuser94 of our brothers, who accuses them in the face of God day and night. (11) And they have victored over him through the blood of the lamb and through the word of their witness, and they have not loved their live even unto death. (12) On account of this rejoice, O heavens and all who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and sea, for the devil has come upon you in great fierceness, knowing95 that his season is short.
Here we see the heavenly reality of Satan's attack upon the Church. Satan is cast from heaven (and the demons with him) by Michael and His angels. Now, note, I capitalize “His” there, because I think Michael here refers to Jesus – not a separate entity named Michael. This is one of the great debates that rages happily amongst theologians – and to be flat out honest, we aren't sure. However, the name Michael is interesting – it is Hebrew for “One Who is Like God” - which sure sounds like Jesus to me. And when Satan is tossed out, we have the victory via the blood of the Lamb.
Either way, Satan is cast down from heaven, and he can no longer accuse you before God. This is one of the things we miss about the name “Satan” - which means accuser. Think of Satan as the prosecutor of the heavenly courts, bringing charges against sinful man. The prosecutor is in the court room – this is why they didn't think it odd in the slightest when Satan is up talking to God in the book of Job. Of course he is – he's the accuser and so he has to accuse. (Literally “Satan” means accuser.) But now, on account of Christ, the prosecutor is kicked out of heaven – the case is closed and dismissed. You are declared not guilty because of the blood of the lamb and the testimony given that you belong to Christ. The victory is won.
And Satan is ticked. And the earth feels it. His rage at his defeat is passed on to those upon the earth, and all the more so for he knows that the end is coming, but he doesn't know when, and so even in defeat he roars. But still, Satan is defeated, and we dwell in the place prepared for us.
Revelation 12:13-17 – And when the dragon saw that he was thrown upon the earth, he hounded96 the woman who had given birth to the Man. (14) But the woman was given two wings of the great eagle, so that she might fly into the wilderness to her own place, where she would be fed for a season and seasons and a half season, away from the face of the serpent. (15) And the serpent cast from his mouth towards the woman water like a river, so that he might make her swept away. (16) But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the flood which the dragon had cast from his mouth. (17) And the dragon was enraged at the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her seed, with those keep the commandments of God and having the testimony of Jesus.
And here we see the history of the world, of the Church. Satan in his rage roars against the Church, and he tries to destroy it. Yet, God always preserves His church. The gates of hell shall not prevail against it. However, the image here is interesting – in the wilderness east of Jerusalem there are what are called “Wadis” - or basically dry riverbeds. Rains are dangerous, because there are flash floods that form instant, powerful rivers that can sweep folks away – and because the way the ground is, it can't absorb the water. The image here is that of Satan trying to whip up his own flood in a place where that should work, but God's creation resisting Satan. It's a really neat image. And you've got the imagery of Elijah in the wilderness for three and a half years kept safe from wicked Jezebel and the like – it's playing off of what folks would know.
So if Satan can't get the Church, he tries to pick off members of the Church. And the description of folks in the Church is interesting. We know the commandments and we have the testimony, the witness of Christ. We have Law and Gospel. And that royally ticks Satan off. And so that is what Satan will try to fight against.
Revelation 13:1-4 – (And I97 stood on the sand of the sea) And I saw from the sea a beast rise up, having ten horns and seven heads, and upon its horns were ten diadems, and on its head were names of Blasphemy. (2)And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, and it's feet were like a bear's, and it's mouth was like a lion's mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. (3) And one of its heads was like it had been slaughtered to the point of death, but the deadly wound was healed, and and the whole of the land marveled at the beast, (4) and they worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast saying, “Who is like the beast, and who had power to fight with it?”
What we have here is a description of false religion, a copy-cat religion from Satan sent to displace the true faith. Historically speaking, most of the really old pagan religions had basically giant sea-monster gods – especially in Mesopotamia and the fertile crescent. This actually comes up in how Genesis 1 is written – note that the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep. It's an anti-sea creature worship point. It's Leviathan and Behemoth and all those really old stories that were old even in Old Testament times.
But it's not just that they are false gods – they ape, they mimic the true story of salvation. Scholars in the Enlightenment began to note how many similarities there were between Christianity and other religions, and so they “determined” that “clearly” Christianity is just a repackaging of these other stories. John here asserts the opposite – that Satan will stir up false faiths that are mockeries and fun-house-mirrors of the Christian faith. And that's because Satan is a liar, and if you are going to tell a lie, it has to be based off of but distorting the truth. If I were to say, “I saw Gerry eat 15 pounds of chocolate” that wouldn't be all that believable. If I were to say, “I saw Gerry golfing, and he got mad and whacked a golf ball out into the trees after he missed a put” - you might believe it (even though Gerry doesn't hit balls into the wood, he pulls them out). If you are going to distort the truth, you have to be somewhat close to the truth.
This is why I as a pastor am so critical of other Christian denominations and other teachers and the like. This is because Satan tries to twist the story of Christ and His salvation, and it's not normally with something that looks catastrophically different than Christianity, but rather simply presenting a Christless Christianity – where instead of the focus being on Jesus, there's some other hybrid thing in His place. There's some denial of Christ's Word or Christ's power. And we acknowledge that any teaching that contradicts the Word of God and Christ's salvation is, in a word, Satanic.
One other key point here is this. Note that this beast is wounded... but doesn't die. And the wounds go away. Contrast that with Jesus. He is wounded... and He dies. But then He rises, but even after He rises He still bears His wounds (see My hands, see My side). There's an important nuance here. Jesus doesn't say that you will never suffer, never die. He says that you will live even though you die. Satan and his false religions are all a vain effort to keep from dying. And people flock to it, fearing death – for the wages of sin is death.
Revelation 13:5-10 – And the beast was given a mouth speaking great and blasphemous things, and it was given authority for 42 months. (6) And it opened it's mouth to blaspheme against God, blaspheming His name and His “tenting”98 - the ones tenting in heaven. (7) And it was given to make war with the holy ones and victor over them, and it was given authority upon all tribes and peoples and tongues and nations. (8) And they worshiped it, all who reside upon the earth, everyone whose name has not been written in the book of the Life of the Lamb who was slain from before the foundation of the world. (9) If anyone has hears, let him hear! (10) If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes. If anyone by a sword is to be slain, he must be by the sword be slain. Here is the the endurance99 and faith of the saints.
And John here is blunt warning that Satan is going to have his false church have power and mess with folks. And what will this false church do? It will blaspheme the name of God – or in other words there will be heresies about God (Trinitarian heresies). It will blaspheme the dwelling, the incarnation of Jesus (Christological heresies). There will be blasphemy about those who are saved (soteriological heresies). And it will have lots of power (institutional heresies).
Many years ago it was suggested that I work up a class for the University of Oklahoma's religious studies department on the history of heresy. This passage is describing all the types and ways in which error has combated the church in history. People have denied who God is, who Jesus is, how salvation works, and built up institutions that have displaced Christ. (If you want, I can expand and given examples of each of these.) This is just how Satan works, how Satan attacks the Church. And things often go badly for the faithful. That's just the way it is – and if you are in a time or place where things go badly for you, so be it.
Revelation 13:11-18 – And I saw another beast rising from the earth, and it had two horns like a lamb, and it spoke like the Dragon. (12) And it does all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and it makes the earth and all its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. (13) And it does great signs, to make fire come down from heaven to the earth in front of the people. (14) And it seduces the inhabitants of the earth by the signs which it is given to do in the presence of the beast, telling the inhabitants of the earth to make an image of the beast that was wounded by the sword and lived. (15) And given to it was power to “spirit” the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would speak and that whoever would not worship the image of the beast would be killed. (16) And it made all, both small and great, rich and pour, free and slave, to be stamped100 on the right hand or forehead, (17) and that no one is able to buy or sell if he doesn't have the stamp, that is the name of the beast and the number of its name. (18) Here is wisdom: The one having know-how shall calculate the number of the beast – for it is the number of a man. And the number is 666.
Before we get to 666 and all the speculation there, let's look at this interesting section. This is some powerful stuff. There's a new fake high priest as it were, pointing people to the beast. And using power and coercion. This is why the early Lutherans said the Papacy (note – the institution of the Papacy, not any individual pope) was the anti-christ. Dominating control forcing false worship. And things look right – it looks like a Lamb and the idol is talking – in the old testament the point was that idols never talked and never heard but this one seems to do so. And wouldn't it just be better to go along to get along... this is the picture that is being painted.
Now, there are several ideas for what 666 might be (we can talk numbers before Arabic numerals and we can talk about slot machines), but I think this should be best understood as thinking of how Satan works more so than trying to pin this tail on one particular donkey. Satan loves to have a false worship – he loves to ape the things of the Church – false messiahs, false worship, false liturgies, false sacraments. But everything is reversed – instead of the “receive this and live” of the Church, it's a “do this or die”. This is why these all get wrapped up under the moniker of “anti-Christ” – because they are mirror images opposed to Christ and His truth.
Revelation 14:1-5 – And I looked, and behold! The Lamb standing upon Mount Zion, and with 144,000 having His name and the name of His Father written upon their foreheads. (2) and I heard a voice from heaven like the voice of many waters and like the voice of great thunder, and the voice which I heard was like harpers harping upon their harps. (3) and they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders, and no one was able to learn the song except the 144,000, the ones who had been purchased away from the earth. (4) These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who accompany the Lamb wherever He should go. They have been purchased away from men as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, (5) and in their mouths no lie is to be found: they are without blemish.
Even while Satan rants and raves, and his false church
does all its stuff – the True Church remains. The Lamb is risen,
He stands on Zion, and the faithful have the name of the True God on
their foreheads. Over and against the falsehood of Satan, your
Baptism still holds. And as the Baptized we know we are beyond just
the humdrum of this world and of Satan's power, for we have been
purchased away from the world and away from mankind and won unto
Jesus Christ. Pure, innocent, and holy. Blameless before God –
for we are with the Lamb, and as He is, so are we before God.
This transition highlights much of the frustration I have with how Revelation is approached as a book. Just before this, we get the famous 666, which is mentioned really just in passing, almost as an aside. So many people get hung up there, not noticing the next verse. Behold! Look here – the Lamb is still victorious and the Church still sings the triumph song! In the face of all this wickedness, Jesus still wins. That's the point – and the only times that the powers of Satan are mentioned in this book are to show that while they are scary, Jesus still wins.
1Ἐσήμανεν – This is the verbal form of the word for “sign” - as in the signs that Jesus did in John's Gospel.
2Ἀναγινώσκων – Literally the one who “knows again” or “experiences again” - meaning the one who reads for others to hear.
3Καιρὸς – time, but meaning season as opposed to “clock time”.
4Ἀσίᾳ – The Roman province of “Asia” - today called Asia Minor – basically the coast of Turkey.
5Κράτος – Rule, power, dominion. It's the “cracy” of Democracy.
6This is a poetic section, so I will do my best to be poetic about it – I'm going to try to keep the word order even if I have to play a little loose with the grammar, because word order is important in Greek Poetry.
7ἐγώ εἰμι – I AM, used in John's Gospel over and over.
8ὁ παντοκράτωρ - Often translated as “Almighty” - as in the Creed – this means ruler of all, the all dominion-er.
9Θλίψει – This is the word for Tribulation, as in “THE TRIBULATION” that comes up later.
10Ὑπομονῇ – This literally means to remain under, or behind – it's not the word that gets translated as “left behind”.
11Ποδήρη – a “footer” - a robe that goes all the way down to the feet.
12ὑδάτων πολλῶν - literally “many waters” - but it's a flood, a raging flood.
13Δίστομος - two-stomos – meaning two edged, the word for “edge” and mouth are almost identical. Stomatos and Stomos.
14Μυστήριον – A mystery not in the sense of something to be solved, but a mystery in the sense of something that is too wondrous for us to comprehend so we simply take God's Word when He says what it is – like the Lord's Supper.
15Ἄγγελοι – literally “messengers” - which actually was a common New Testament term for a preacher.
16This is οἶδα – the weaker, ideal aspect of knowledge
17Ὑπομονήν - they remain under something – when the going gets tough, they keep on going. Same as “waiting” from 1:10.
18Ψευδεῖς – like the modern term “psuedo”.
19Ἀφῆκες – This is a common word for forgiving – you dismiss, send away, abandon someone's sin.
20Πτωχείαν – this is just a fantastic Greek word.
21Πάσχειν – to suffer, the word we get “The Passion” from.
22Γίνου – the word used in Genesis by God to create.
23Νικῶν – Nike is “victory” - and this is victoring. Often translated as conquering, but I like “victor” - obviously.
24Literally οὐ μὴ – which is a double negative for emphasis in Greek. “never” gets the idea, so will not-no way
25Ἀδικηθῇ - often translated as “hurt” - it means to suffer wrong, suffer injustice.
26Κατοικεῖς – This literally means to set down (kata) a house (oikos). Many translations give this “dwell”, which I like – except for the fact that this is written by John, and “dwell” gets used in John 1:14 for a different idea – that of the tabernacle and Christ with us. Different words.
27Κρατεῖς – This means power or strength, but it also means to grasp or hold on tightly. There's an interplay between the power of the world and the clinging to Christ in faith here.
28βαλὰκ βαλεῖν – This is just a really fun bit of word play in Hebrew and Greek.
29Σκάνδαλον – Scandalon. From which we get the word “scandal” - literally meaning something that trips people.
30Ψῆφον – This is a pebble used for voting or as an admission ticket to a feast.
31Ἀφεῖς – put up with, “suffer” as in “suffer the little children” - and almost the same thing as the word for forgive, but radically different.
32Κλίνην – cline, as in “recline”. Where you lay down – or in otherwords, bed. The implication here seems to be that he drives her to bed with illness, as opposed to the going to “bed” that she had been encouraging.
33Literally “named” - or given the name of life.
34Περιπατήσουσιν - To walk around, to wander – a description of living freely and securely in Christ. See Eph 2:10
35Περιβαλεῖται – literally “will have cast around them” - or to be clothed.
36Προσκυνήσουσιν – also the word for worship.
37Οἰκουμένης – the place where houses are – the world where people live as opposed to the “Cosmos”.
38Ἐμέσαι – like the emesis bags we keep around the house.
39Ἐλεεινὸς - literally “needing mercy” which is what miserable means – merciable.
40Ἐλέγχω – I rebuke, I have words with.
41Παιδεύω – literally to child them, to do what you do with a child to them. Discipline, chastise – teach. Or today, school them.
42Δείξω - This is often translated as “show” but it's a move active showing, it's a focusing attention word.
43Γενέσθαι - Related to the word “Genesis” - to be, to happen.
44Μετὰ – Meaning either “with” or after/behind. - Often interpreted temporally, I think this is meant to show what is overarching and behind the reality of what's going on to the churches – or in other words, it goes “Meta” as the kids say.
45Ἶρις – An Iris.
46Πρεσβυτέρους – Presbyters – literally “elders” - but the thing is, this is a clergy word. The Presbyters were the clergy who assisted the bishop.
47Ζῶα – living things... with the emphasis on LIVING.
48Εὐχαριστίαν - Eucharistia
49Βιβλίον – A book, from which we get the word “Bible” - meaning THE BOOK. However, this is often translated as a “scroll” because it seems to be describing a roll of paper rather than sheets bound, as we normally think of a book.
50kηρύσσοντα - κηρύσσω (kērussō ) means to preach, to proclaim, to herald, to cry out. This is the word that describes my job as a pastor.
51Ἑστηκὸς – this word for Standing is part of the word for resurrection – anastasis – again stand.
52Ἀπεσταλμένοι – Apostle-ing. This is the word for the Apostles... this is why we say that we are part of the One Christian and Apostolic church.
53Φιάλας – phials – from where we get the word vial. A small container – perhaps more bowl shaped than tubed shaped
54Θυμιαμάτων – this refers to incense, or the smell of the burnt offering that is a pleasing one of these – it smelled like church.
55Πυρρός – often translated as “red” but this is fire colored.
56Σφάξουσιν - this is violent death, gruesome battle.
57Μάχαιρα – This is a long, single edge sword – a slashing sword, really well suited for infantry.
58Ζυγὸν – Literally a yoke beam, but this was also the term for an old fashioned balance scale – like what Lady Justice holds in the famous statue.
59Χοῖνιξ – A dry measure – roughly a quart, or two pounds.
60Χλωρός – Chloros – from which we get “chlorophyl” - It means light green, or even yellow like light honey – it doesn't quite blend with how we tend to think of colors today. It was also the color associated with one's face turning pale – so hence pale tends to be the main translation today.
61Ψυχὰς – from which we get the word “Psyche”. Often translated today as “soul”, it's not actually the word in Greek used for the “immortal soul” (which would be πνεῦμα) – it's really the life, the essence of life. It's the Hebrew Nephesh. It's the sum of life and existence.
62Μαρτυρίαν – the word from which we get Marytr.
63Δεσπότης – Literally Despot – though often translated a Lord when referring to God. This is a powerful ruler who binds things up and what he says goes.
64Ὀλύνθους - out of season, unripe.
65Ἐκινήθησαν – Stirred. Think of what happens when you put chocolate chips into a batter and stir.
66Χιλίαρχοι – the commanders of 1000 troops – the rank above a centurion.
67This is “μετὰ τοῦτο” - normally translated “after this”, but I'm translating with “and with this” because Meta.
68Πνέῃ – Breeze, breathe, blow – this is a Spirit word.
69Ἀδικῆσαι – the same word that can mean to hurt, to wrong as was in Rev 2:11
70Ἀριθμὸν – The Arithmon... the Math.
71Ἔπλυναν – From “pluno”- meaning to plunge something in water – or of clothes, to wash them thoroughly.
72Λατρεύουσιν – from λατρεύω which means to minister, to worship, do to the liturgy (we get liturgy from the noun form of this word).
73Ναῶ – This can mean temple, but it's not the word that refers to the building where the priests work, but the shrine, the place where a God dwells.
74Σκηνώσει – Tent, dwell – this is the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” language.
75Φρέαρ – Pit, well, cistern. The deep hole in the ground that goes down to something.
76Ἔχουσιν – normally when used of Christ, this is a forgiveness word. Here, it is not.
77This is that word for authority again.
78Ὅμοιοι – Multiple times this is used – it's similar, it's like (as in homophone), but there's a lack of precision. John is struggling with this description.
79Note – Iron was not yet the common metal for armor – bronze was still quite common.
80- A Scorpio was a Roman artillery piece – basically a large torsion crossbow for arrows or rocks used in sieges.
81 Hebrew meaning “Perisher” or “Destroyer”
82This means “Destroying one” - a powerful word for destruction.
83Κεράτων – meaning horns or heads – we typically would say “corner” but the corners of an altar are properly called horns.
84Ὑακινθίνους – Hyacinthine, or Halcyon – deep blue – Sapphire blue
85Φαρμάκων - Pharmakion – from whence we get the word Pharmacy. Potion making.
86Κάλαμος - a Reed, also a writing instrument.
87Ῥάβδῳ – a Stick, but a royal stick, a wand, a scepter.
88Πατήσουσιν – to foot over, to step on.
89Δεῖ – a word in Greek denoting logical necessity – not a moral obligation but simply the way things have to be.
90Οὐρανόν – a word that means both heaven or the skys.
91Πνευματικῶς - sometimes this is translated symbolically, but the word is Spirit. This is not a symbol, but a figure of speech used by the Spirit that the faithful will understand.
92- ἀφίουσιν – literally this means permit, allow – but it is one of the classic words for forgiveness.
93Ἀρχαῖος – same word as archeology – it means the origin, source, start.
94Κατήγωρ – This is the same word we get category from. It literally means “to be against from the assembly” - and if you put things into categories, you pull them out of the whole and set them against each other. Beware of judging!
95Εἰδὼς - This is the “idea” form of knowing...
96Ἐδίωξεν – literally it means to pursue, but also can mean to persecute – so I think hounding works... it's a continued chasing that gives no rest.
97This is one of the more famous “typos” in Church history. Consider for a moment the different between “a” and “an” - not much. Well, the verb ἐστάθη is he stood, and the verb ἐστάθην (n) is I stood. And at some point, some in Church History, someone in the process of copying either added an n or dropped an n, and we don't really know. I tend to think the n got dropped, and this is John saying that he stood and then saw.
98Σκηνὴν – tenting, dwelling – as in the Word became flesh and DWELT among us.
99Ὑπομονὴ – this is the word that means remaining in place under Jesus.
100 χάραγμα - This is a stamp, an etching, an engraving. It normally is a mark of bondage, but it also tends to refer to how a graven image is made. It's a horrid parody – the chief of idols tries to turn us into idols ourselves.