Revelation

October 9, 2017

Revelation 2

  • Journal & Pray. Here are some tools to help you with the devotionals:
  • Read & Reflect

    • REVELATION 2:2-7
    • What are the three things that Jesus tells the Ephesians, who lost their first love, to do?
    • What do I remember of the heights of my devotion to Jesus? What are the things I “did at first” that I need to repeat again and again to remain in the love I had at first?
    • REVELATION 2:8-11
    • What did Jesus exhort the Smyrnans to do in the face of suffering?
    • How can I apply the exhortation to “be faithful unto death” in the context of my Christian life?
    • REVELATION 2:12-17
    • “As the center for four idolatrous cults (Zeus, Dionysius, Asclepius, and Athene), Pergamum was called the city ‘where Satan has his throne’[1]
    • What would it have taken for the church of Pergamum to remain true in this kind of environment?
    • REVELATION 2:17
    • “And what shall we take this secrecy to mean? Surely, that each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the Divine beauty better than any other creature can. Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently?  And this difference, so far from impairing, floods with meaning the love of all blessed creatures for one another, the communion of the saints. If all experienced God in the same way and returned Him an identical worship, the song of the Church triumphant would have no symphony, it would be like an orchestra in which all the instruments played the same note.” [2]
    • What is revealed about God from the fact that he will give me a “white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it”?

[1] Life Application Study Bible, study notes (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers and Zondervan, 1991) 2245.

[2]Lewis, C.S. Problem of Pain. New York: HarperCollins, 2009. Ch. 10, Location 1787. Kindle edition.

 

 

October 6, 2017

Revelation 1

 

  • REVELATION 1:4-8, 18
  • How is Jesus described in this passage?
  • How are Christians described in this passage?

 

  • REVELATION 1:12-13“One of Revelation’s most important declarations is that Jesus appears among the lamp stands (1:12; 2:1), which represent the seven churches (1:20) […] the church is pictured as having a mission, to be the bearer of God’s light to the nations (cf. Matt. 5:14-16).  The church is not abandoned to carry out this mission alone; Christ walks among the lamp stands.” [1]
  • What may be some steps I can confidently take knowing that Christ has not abandoned the church to carry out the daunting mission alone?

[1] M. Eugene Boring, Revelation, Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching (Louisville, KT: John Knox Press, 1989), 85.

 

October 6, 2017

Revelation Commentary & Bible Project Sketch Note

Bible Project Sketch Note & Commentary on the Book of Revelation 

Introduction

“The revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1) was probably written by the apostle John while in exile on the island of Patmos, off the coast of present-day Turkey. It was addressed to seven actual churches. Revelation begins with letters from Christ himself to these churches, letters that include commendation, criticism, and comfort. Then comes a long series of visions of judgment on the wicked, all in highly symbolic language. The church is depicted under great distress but is assured of the final triumph of Jesus as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (19:16), bringing to an end the rebellion of humanity and ushering in “a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1), where God himself will reign forever and ever (11:15). Revelation was probably written A.D. 95–96.[1]

The Setting

It is likely that… the book was written towards the close of the first century of our era, when the emperor Domitian was commencing his persecution of the church. … Domitian was more insistent on pressing his claims to divinity than any of his predecessors; his favourite title was Dominus et Deus noster (‘our Lord and God’).[2]

1:4 “The seven churches refer to seven historical churches in Asia, but the number ‘seven’ can hardly have arisen by chance. This is the favorite number of the Apocalypse […] In the OT seven was used to denote ‘fullness,’ that is, the time necessary for something to be done effectively, or a general designation of thoroughness or completeness […] The idea of completeness originates from the creation account in Genesis 1, where six days of creation are followed by the consummate seventh day of God’s rest […] the seven historical churches are viewed as representative of all the churches in Asia Minor and probably, by extension, the church universal.”

1:4 The introductory paragraph of John’s book is followed by a typical greeting such as we find in the letters of the NT: ‘John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you …’. Strangely, it has not been commonly recognized that Revelation is fundamentally a ‘letter’ addressed to churches for which John was concerned and for which he had special responsibility. The implications of this fact are clear: the book was as truly directed to the situation and needs of the churches mentioned in its greeting as, for example, Paul’s letter to the church in Colosse (which lay in the neighbourhood of the seven churches of Revelation), or the letter to the Galatian churches (which were not far east of them).

1:20 That the stars in Jesus’ hand represent the angels of the churches and the lampstands among which he stands represent the churches indicates Jesus’ intimate care for his people: He is among them (cf. 21:3), and their future lies in his hand (cf. John 10:28–29). .. More important, astrology pervaded Mediterranean thought by this period; people felt that fate controlled their future, guided or revealed through the stars…

By contrast, Jesus’ followers have nothing to fear: Jesus holds the stars of the churches in his hand.

The more difficult question is: What are the angels of the seven churches? In Greek, the term used here (angelos) can mean simply “messenger,” sometimes used for “messengers” of the gods.  .. Others apply the term to readers of the message in the congregations, that is, leaders whose title could also be translated “messengers.”  …

2:6 Nicolaitans. Obviously a heretical Christian sect, but not identifiable with certainty from NT or extrabiblical evidence. Like the prophet Balaam, they seduced God’s people to participate in idolatry and sexual immorality (vv. 14–15), perhaps disguising antinomian license as freedom in Christ (see 1 Cor. 6:12–20; 8:1–11:1).

2:12 Christ’s reference to the sharp two-edged sword proceeding from his mouth (cf. 1:16) forewarns that the church’s failure to discipline false teachers will prompt him to intervene directly (2:16).

2:14–16 As the Israelites migrated through the wilderness, the prophet Balaam, prevented from cursing them, advised Moab’s king to seduce them into both sexual and spiritual adultery (Num. 25:1–2; 31:16). Likewise the Nicolaitans, though opposed in Ephesus, were spreading sexual and spiritual infidelity at Pergamum (see Rev. 2:6).

3:1 the seven spirits of God (cf. note on 1:4–6). A figurative description of the one Holy Spirit, who issues an edict to each of the seven churches (2:7, 11, 17; etc.). He will also appear as the Lamb’s seven eyes, sent throughout the earth (5:6). Jesus knows this church’s reality (dead), not just its reputation (alive); he holds the seven stars that signify the churches’ true identities.

3:2–3 like a thief. A frequent NT simile (Luke 12:39–40; 1 Thess. 5:2–4; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 16:15); humans cannot predict the timing of Christ’s return. The command to “wake up” is a reminder that twice in its history Sardis had been sacked (in 547/546 B.C. by Cyrus II, and in 214 B.C. by Antiochus III) when the watchmen on the walls failed to detect an enemy army sneaking up its supposedly impregnable cliffs and walls.

3:7–13 To Philadelphia. Inscriptions from Philadelphia mention worship of Zeus and Hestia, and the Roman imperial cult was already present by the first century A.D. An inscription from a nearby town mentions a synagogue in that town. Christians in Philadelphia later received a letter from the early church father Ignatius (c. A.D. 110), and they suffered during the martyrdom of Polycarp (c. 155).

3:9 As in Smyrna, the Jews of this city are called the synagogue of Satan; they would have not only opposed the Christians but asserted that the latter had no place in the kingdom of God, since it was for Jews alone.[3]

3:14–22 To Laodicea. Damaged by an earthquake in A.D. 60, self-sufficient Laodicea, a commercial center and site of thriving medical and textile industries, declined imperial disaster relief. The city did not see itself as “poor, blind, and naked” (v.17), nor did the complacent church within it. In this last church alone Jesus finds nothing to commend. Laodicea was famous for its worship of Zeus, who appears on some of the city’s coinage. Today one can still view unexcavated remnants of the city wall, two theaters, a stadium from the time of Vespasian (c. A.D. 79), and a second-century bath and/or gymnasium with adjacent water tower. An aqueduct came from the south toward Laodicea, bringing water rich in minerals. There is evidence of Jewish presence in Laodicea. Twenty pounds of gold were confiscated in the first century B.C. from Jews who intended to send it as a temple tax to Jerusalem (Cicero, For Flaccus 28). Paul was in contact with the church there (Col. 2:1; 4:13–16).[4]

3:15–16 The waters of the nearby Lycus River were muddy and undrinkable, and the waters flowing by aqueduct from hot springs 5 miles (8 km) away were lukewarm when they reached Laodicea. Likewise, Jesus found his church’s tepid indifference repugnant. Cold and hot water represent something positive, for cold water refreshes in the heat, and hot water is a tonic when one is chilly.

3:17–18 The spiritually blind, bankrupt, naked Laodiceans obviously had no resources to buy from Jesus gold or garments or salve for their eyes. They could “purchase” these necessities only by his grace, as the Lord had once invited thirsty spiritual paupers to “buy wine and milk without money” (Isa. 55:1–4).

3:19–20 Like a loving father, Christ will reprove those whom he loves (cf. Prov. 3:12), calling them to repent before he intervenes in judgment. I stand at the door and knock, not as a homeless transient seeking shelter but as the master of the house, expecting alert servants to respond immediately to his signal and welcome his entrance (Luke 12:35–36; James 5:9). To the one who opens the door, Christ will come in and will eat with him, a picture of close personal fellowship.

4:4 On twenty-four thrones sat twenty-four elders. Their number … symbolize the unity of God’s people, encompassing OT Israel (led by the heads of the 12 tribes) and the NT church (led by the 12 apostles), like the new Jerusalem’s 12 gates and 12 foundations (Rev. 21:12, 14). Their thrones resemble those of God’s heavenly court in Dan. 7:9–10 (cf. Rev. 20:4).[5]

4:6–8  The sea of glass appears in prophetic visions of God’s throne room (Ex. 24:10; Ezek. 1:22, 26; Rev. 15:2). Four living creatures exhibit features of cherubim (full of eyes; lion; ox; man; eagle) and seraphim (six wings; “Holy, holy, holy”) glimpsed by previous prophets (Isa. 6:2–3; Ezek. 1:10, 18). Variation and blending of such features is a reminder that in prophetic visions, images symbolize mysterious unseen realities. These close attendants represent and yet transcend the whole of the created order on earth and in heaven as they ceaselessly praise God for his intrinsic attributes: infinite holiness and power, and eternal life (in the repeated description, “who lives forever and ever,” in Rev. 4:9–10). When the Lamb breaks the scroll’s seals, these living creatures will summon four horsemen to bring judgment (6:1–8).

5:1 A scroll written within and on the back is like the scroll given to Ezekiel (Ezek. 2:9–3:3) … The scroll John sees could symbolize a will that is to be opened and its contents executed; or it could symbolize God’s covenant with mankind, with the covenant curses that will be poured out due to mankind’s breaking of the contract. In a broader sense, the scroll contains God’s purposes for history, but its seven seals prevent the full disclosure and enactment of its contents.

5:5 The Lion of the tribe of Judah echoes Jacob’s blessing on Judah, conferring leadership over his brothers (Gen. 49:8–12). In the OT, the Messiah was the branch to spring from Jesse’s root to restore David’s dynasty (Isa. 11:1, 10). But now he is also called the Root of David, because Jesus is not only the royal descendant (Rev. 22:16) but also the source of David’s rule (Mark 12:35–37; cf. “root of Jesse,” Rom. 15:12). The Lion is worthy to open the scroll because he has conquered. The OT promise of a conquering Lion is fulfilled in the NT reality of one who is also the slain Lamb (Rev. 5:9).

5:6–7 The conquering Lion now appears as a Lamb standing, as … slain—as “the living one” who died and rose again, “alive forevermore” (1:18). The Lord’s servant was led like a lamb to slaughter, bearing the iniquity of others and achieving their healing (Isa. 53:4–7; John 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:19). The Lamb’s seven horns symbolize great power (Ps. 18:2; Dan. 7:24; Zech. 1:18–21). His seven eyes, identified with God’s “seven spirits” (cf. note on Rev. 1:4–6; also Zech. 4:10), show that the Lamb’s knowledge extends through all the earth.[6]

6:1–8:1 The Lamb Opens the Scroll’s Seven Seals. As the vision of the Son of Man introduced edicts to seven churches (chs. 2–3), so the vision of the Lamb’s receiving the scroll (4:1–5:14) introduces a series of seven visions as the scroll’s seals are broken. These visions introduce instruments employed by the Lamb to bring his enemies to justice (seals 1–4), the rationale for his righteous wrath (seals 5 and 7), and the climax of judgment at history’s end (seal 6). Many who take a futurist view of Revelation [i.e., those who see the book of Revelation as primarily having to do with future events, rather than with historical realities facing the churches John is writing to] (see Introduction: Schools of Interpretation) hold that the “great tribulation” (see 7:14) begins with the opening of the first seal (6:1). Other futurists think the great tribulation begins in ch. 11 with the “1,260 days” (11:3).

6:1–8 As the Lamb opens each of the first four seals, one of the living creatures shouts, “Come!” and a horse with its rider (or riders) responds to the summons. The horses’ colors generally reflect those of the horses in Zech. 1:8–10 and 6:1–8, symbolizing emissaries sent by God to patrol the earth.

6:1–2 However, this rider, armed with a bow (like the Parthians, a frequent enemy on the Roman Empire’s eastern border), probably symbolizes political and military leaders’ destabilizing quest to expand their realms, leading to war (red horse), famine (black horse), and epidemic disease (pale horse).[7]

6:7–8 Death and Hades ride the pale horse (Gk. chlōros, “pale green”; either yellowish green or grayish green, the color of corpses). Their authority to kill is limited to a fourth of the earth: God’s providence restrains both his own wrath and humanity’s violence. Sword, famine, and pestilence (Gk. thanatos, lit., “death,” but here meaning epidemic disease, such as bubonic plague) sum up the disasters symbolized by the red, black, and pale horses. They also echo covenant curses inflicted on Jerusalem in the exile (Ezek. 14:12–21).[8]

6:9–11 The fifth seal reveals the Lamb’s rationale for releasing combatants to devastate the earth. Under the altar in heaven, where sacrificial blood would pool (Ex. 29:12), John sees the souls of believers who were slain (thus they are pictured as sacrifices) for bearing witness about Jesus (cf. Rev. 20:4). Their lament, how long …? echoes that of the psalmists (Ps. 13:1; 89:46). The surprising answer is that the Lamb will restrain his wrath against his witnesses’ assailants until the last martyr has been slain. Until then, the souls of deceased saints will rest a little longer (Rev. 14:13) in the white robe of victory and purity (cf. note on 2:17; also 3:4–5; 7:9, 14). The rest of the book progressively shows how the Lord answers their prayers to avenge their deaths, beginning in 6:15–17 with the very ones who had put them to death.

6:12–17 The sixth seal shows a preview of the coming destruction of the first heaven and earth (20:11; 21:1) at the full display of the wrath of the Lamb. An earthquake previously announced the terrifying arrival of the Lord in his glory (Ex. 19:18; Ps. 97:5; Ezek. 38:19–20), but his final coming will shake both earth and heaven (Hag. 2:6; Heb. 12:26–27). Most of the seven cities mentioned in Revelation 2–3 had experienced devastating earthquakes during the century before the book of Revelation. Christians in these cities could graphically imagine earthquakes preceding the Lord’s terrifying arrival. John sees the sun blackened, the moon turned blood red, the stars cast like figs in the wind, the sky rolled up like a scroll, and every mountain and island displaced (Isa. 34:4). The luminaries that have marked earth’s times since creation (Gen. 1:14) will be removed. All of this communicates the truth that the end has arrived. Rebellious humanity—from kings and the rich and the powerful to everyone, slave and free—will seek cover from God and the Lamb, begging mountains and rocks, Fall on us and hide us (cf. Isa. 2:20–21; Hos. 10:8). Their desperate question, “Who can stand in the face of God and the Lamb?” (Nah. 1:5–6; Mal. 3:2), assumes that none can. Yet John is about to see those who stand by grace (Rev. 7:1–17).

7:1–17 Interlude: The Sealing of God’s International Israel. There are three interludes (vv. 1–17; 10:1–11:14; 20:1–6) explaining the place of the saints in the events of Revelation. (As with the Egyptian plagues, the seals, trumpets, and bowls relate only to sinners.) … However, another common approach understands “Israel” as a reference to the church, the new covenant people of God, and in this view the visions of the 144,000 and of the international multitude are complementary perspectives on the church, believers from every nation including ethnic Israel.

7:9 As in 5:4–5, where John first heard an OT title (the Lion of Judah) and then saw its NT fulfillment (the Lamb slain), so here John hears (7:4) the names of the sealed sons of Israel and then sees the NT fulfillment: a countless multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages (cf. 5:9), whom God has rescued from wrath through the blood of the Lamb (7:14). They stand before the throne and before the Lamb in heaven, worshiping their Savior. They wear the white robes of victorious martyrs (6:11; see note on 2:17).[9]

7:13–14 An elder identifies the multitude as the ones coming out of the great tribulation. Some understand the definite article (Gk. , “the”) to refer to one great final period of suffering, but others take this to represent the sufferings of the church throughout all history. The source of their robes’ whiteness is the blood of the Lamb (cf. Ps. 51:7). John will later hear that “our brothers” have conquered their accuser by the blood of the Lamb and their testimony (Rev. 12:11).[10]

8:6–11:18 Angels Sound Seven Trumpets. Judgments revealed by the first four trumpets harm the same spheres that will be destroyed when the first four bowls are poured out (16:1–9): earth, sea, rivers and springs, and sky. The damage done with the trumpets is limited to “a third”: God restrains his wrath, while giving foretastes of total devastation to come if rebels ignore his warnings. “Woes” introduced by the last three trumpets are increasingly severe (8:13; 9:12; 11:14). Futurists (see Introduction: Schools of Interpretation) generally see these trumpets and plagues as signifying actual calamities to be suffered by unrepentant unbelievers during the great tribulation. They may be either supernatural judgments or symbols for events caused by man (such as nuclear, biological, or chemical warfare).

8:6–7 At the first trumpet blast hail and fire, mixed with blood, are thrown from the heavenly altar to earth, consuming a third of the earth and its trees, and all green grass. This reproduces the seventh plague on Egypt (Ex. 9:24). The first four seals (Rev. 6:1–8) signified the Lamb’s power to use human aggressors to punish persecutors of his people. Here God’s providential rule makes use of human combatants’ military strategy of ruthless defoliation (cf. Deut. 20:19–20) to call rebellious nations to repentance.

8:8–9 The second trumpet reveals a great mountain, burning with fire, thrown into the sea, turning a third of it to blood and destroying a third of its creatures and ships. Volcanic eruptions such as Vesuvius and bloody battles on the Mediterranean show the Lamb’s sovereignty over another sphere of human life. The first plague on Egypt turned the Nile to blood (Ex. 7:20–21). The imagery echoes Jer. 51:25, 42, where God announced that he would make Babylon, Zion’s destroyer, a “burnt mountain” and cover it with the sea.

8:10–11 At the third trumpet, fire falls from heaven as a blazing star named Wormwood (see note on Amos 5:7), which embitters and poisons a third of the rivers and springs (sources of drinking water) just as the Nile’s bloodied waters became undrinkable (Ex. 7:24). Besieged cities could be driven to surrender by sheer thirst (see 2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chron. 32:30; Ps. 46:4). If Rev. 8:10 is understood literally, it may represent a great meteorite falling to earth.

8:12 The darkening (at the fourth trumpet) of a third of the sun, moon, and stars, obscuring their light for a third of the day and the night, resembles the ninth plague on Egypt (Ex. 10:21–23). Since stars are still in the sky, this judgment apparently precedes the shaking of heaven and earth portrayed with the sixth seal.

8:13 Woe, woe, woe. The last three trumpets signify escalating judgments on rebellious humanity as the end approaches.[11]

9:1 What Is the Abyss?

The term Abyss occurs nine times in five different passages in the New Testament. In Luke 8:31 it is the place to which demons do not wish to be sent. In Romans 10:7 it is translated “the deep” and is the opposite of heaven, the one being above the earth and the other below. In Revelation 9:1–2 the “shaft [or well or pit] of the Abyss” is opened. In Revelation 11:7 there is a “beast that comes up from the Abyss.” And finally in Revelation 20:1–3 Satan is chained and thrown into the Abyss for one thousand years, the shaft being locked and sealed over him. This is the New Testament data that we have to work with.

The Abyss is apparently the prison of demons and fallen angelic beings … Jesus apparently allows them freedom because the time of judgment has not yet arrived. Likewise it explains why Satan is imprisoned in the Abyss, for it is the standard place to imprison such beings.

Yet the Abyss can be opened. In Revelation 9 it is opened to let out what are apparently demonic beings to torment people. These beings are not unorganized, but have “as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon” (Rev 9:11). The name means “destroyer” in either language. The identity of this ruler is unclear. Is he an angel, perhaps the one who opens the pit and then is sent to control the host he allows out?[12]

9:2–3 When the fallen star [referring to a fallen angelic being] unlocked the bottomless pit, locusts emerged in billowing smoke that darkened the sky. An echo of the eighth plague on Egypt (Ex. 10:14–15), this infestation of locusts also recalls the swarm summoned by trumpet to strip the land bare on the “awesome day of the LORD” (Joel 2:31).

9:7–11 The locusts’ visible similarities to horses, human faces, lions, and scorpions caution against reading John’s visions as physical descriptions. Rather, these images show demons to be powerful, swift, intelligent, fierce, and capable of inflicting intense mental and spiritual torment.

9:11 Abaddon, Apollyon. In Hebrew and Greek, respectively, these words refer to “destruction” and the “one who destroys.” Satan’s demonic hordes wage war against his own human subjects. Later the enemy will be called the “accuser,” as his Hebrew and Greek names, Satan and Devil, signify (12:9–10).

9:13–14 the golden altar before God. These woes come in answer to the saints’ prayers, offered as incense on that altar (8:4–5). Ancient Israel’s captors, Assyria and Babylon, had come from the great river Euphrates. In John’s day it also marked the eastern boundary of Rome’s influence, beyond which barbarian powers such as Parthia threatened the empire’s peace. This river represents that which keeps civil chaos and wanton violence at bay. The release of its four destructive angels here, like the drying of its waters in 16:12–16, unleashes unprecedented bloodshed and suffering.

9:20–21 did not repent. Although those rebelling against God have been tortured by the very demons they worshiped, the survivors will take no warning from these final trumpet blasts. This shows the total depravity of the sinners (also 16:9, 11, 21; 20:7–10). Every time Christ offers them repentance, they reject his offer and prefer to follow Satan. idols … cannot see or hear or walk. Senseless and impotent, images of metal, stone, or wood cannot protect or rescue, as Daniel told King Belshazzar on the night that his life was taken and his kingdom seized (Dan. 5:23; cf. Ps. 115:4–8; 135:15–18; Isa. 44:12–20).[13]

10:4 John is forbidden to write down the message of the thunders. What the message was and why it was not to be revealed has intrigued exegetes through the years. Perhaps it is meant to indicate that God’s will is far greater than that which prophecy is able to express.[14]

10:5–7 The angel’s stance—one foot on sea, one on land, and right hand raised to heaven—unites three spheres of the created order (see 5:13; Gen. 1:6–10) as their divine Creator is invoked to witness the angel’s oath (cf. Dan. 12:7; also Gen. 14:22; Deut. 32:40). The angel swears that the era of God’s longsuffering, which entailed delay of his martyrs’ vindication (Rev. 6:10), will end when the last trumpet sounds. The mystery of God to be fulfilled when the seventh trumpet sounds is his plan to unite all things in heaven and earth under Christ’s headship (Eph. 1:10), making visible to all the sovereignty by which the Son now orchestrates every event for his church’s welfare (Eph. 1:20–22)… Expression of God’s wrath, signified in the bowl judgments, toward all who resist his reign (cf. Rev. 15:1, where “finished” translates the same verb [Gk. teleō] rendered “fulfilled” in 10:7).

10:8–11 As Ezekiel ate a scroll and found it sweet as honey in his mouth, so John must do the same, receiving God’s words in his heart before he speaks them (cf. Ezek. 3:1–3, 10). The sweet word made his stomach … bitter. Although some “from every tribe and language and people and nation” will be redeemed by the Lamb (Rev. 5:9; 7:9–17), at this particular time John will see peoples and nations and languages resisting Christ and his witnesses (11:9; 13:7; 17:15). Kings in particular will ally themselves with evil (6:15; 16:12–14; 17:2, 18; 19:18–19).[15]

11:2–3 Symbolic Numbers?

In addition to its unusual personages and symbols, Revelation has some numbers that are difficult to decipher. Those in Revelation 11:2–3 are as confusing as anywhere. …. What does it mean for the holy city to be trampled for 42 months? And who are these witnesses who prophesy for 1,260 days? How do these periods of time relate? We can only give tentative answers to these questions.

The context of Revelation 11:2–3 is the sixth of the series of trumpet judgments, the penultimate judgments of Revelation. This second “woe” (the last three of the seven trumpet judgments are called “woes”) blew in Revelation 9:13; its judgment is finished in Revelation 11:14. This last part of the judgment contains both the numbers we mentioned above and the three and a half days that the witnesses (the main subjects of this last judgment scene) are to lie dead before their resurrection. Although the three and a half days are a separate issue, the other two numbers are the same, for it does not take much math skill to discover that 42 months equals three and a half years. Likewise the 1,260 days equals 42 months of 30 days each or three and a half years of 360 days each. Furthermore, in Revelation 12:14, the end of the next chapter, we discover that “the woman” will be protected for “a time, times, and half a time,” or three and a half years. Therefore Revelation has three different ways of referring to the same length of time.

It is clear that this time period is symbolic. In Daniel 7:25 the fourth beast will oppress the saints of the Most High for “a time, times, and half a time.” The same timing is mentioned in Daniel 12:7, although two other periods of 1,290 (43 months) and 1,335 days (44.5 months) respectively are mentioned in Daniel 12:11–12. Daniel 8:14 notes a period of 2,300 days (76.7 months or 6 years and 4.7 months) when the “little horn,” Antiochus IV Epiphanes, would suppress Judaism. (This ruler, who deposed the last Zadokite high priest in 170 B.C. and suppressed sacrifice in Jerusalem from 167 to 164 B.C., is the model for much that happens in Revelation.) John does not use all of these numbers from Daniel. What he does use is the 3.5-year period, a period during which there will be oppression and the rule of “the beast,” but also the protection of “the woman” and the activity of “the two witnesses.”

When it comes to identifying this period and these individuals there are three basic schools of thought. One group sees the temple as a literal rebuilt temple in Jerusalem and the witnesses as two specific individuals. Given the nature of their miracles, they appear to be most like Moses and Elijah, the greatest of the Old Testament prophetic figures. The 3.5 years, then, is also a literal period at the end of the age during what John calls “the great tribulation,” when the antichrist, who will be a world ruler, will oppress the temple worship. The problem with this view is that the oppression excludes the altar and inner court of the temple, which makes it appear to be more a symbolic temple than a literal one. Who would control the outer court of the temple and ignore the inner one?

A third interpretation sees the temple and Jerusalem as symbols for the church and the world. The inner court is the true worshipers. The outer court is those members of the church who are corrupted by the world (the Nicolaitans and followers of Jezebel; see Rev 2). The holy city (Jerusalem) is the world outside the church. The church is oppressed by evil for a definite period (the 3.5 years normally are interpreted symbolically). Yet during this period witness will go on (the two witnesses being symbols for the witness of the church), although the witness will entail martyrdom. …[16]

11:5–6 The witnesses especially fulfill the church’s prophetic role, pouring God’s word as fiery judgment from their mouth (cf. 2 Kings 1:10–12), announcing drought like Elijah (1 Kings 17:1), and turning waters … into blood like Moses (Ex. 7:14–25).

11:7–10 Although the witnesses are invincible until they have finished their testimony, when their mission is accomplished the beast from the bottomless pit (13:1) will conquer them, not through spiritual seduction (God will soon vindicate them) but through martyrdom (11:7; cf. 13:7). The great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt is identified as the site of the martyrs’ death and their Lord’s crucifixion. See also references to “the great city” in 16:19; 17:18; and five times in 18:10–21, where in these instances “the great city” is symbolically identified as “Babylon,” a euphemism for Rome… Thus the symbol of “the great city” had broad significance in John’s day, but it also stands as a representative symbol for every empire that grasps after divine glory and afflicts Christ’s church even in this present day. three and a half days. The celebration of the rebellious over the church’s apparent demise through persecution will be short-lived.

11:11–14 they stood up on their feet … they went up to heaven in a cloud. If the two witnesses (v. 3) symbolize the church, then these verses predict the vindication of God’s witnessing church in resurrection (cf. Ezek. 37:10) and enthronement in heaven (see Dan. 7:13; Acts 1:9)… As in 1:7, Acts 1:9, and several OT passages, the “cloud” symbolizes the mysterious active presence of God…

11:15–18 the seventh angel blew his trumpet.  As with the seventh seal (8:1–6), the scene now shifts from woes on earth to worship in heaven. Songs from the future consummation speak back through time to the suffering church, announcing the day when the world’s kingdom has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, reversing the present when the nations and their rulers still “rage … against the LORD and against his Anointed” (Ps. 2:1–2). God’s redemptive kingdom was inaugurated in Christ’s first coming, death, and exaltation (Mark 1:15; 9:1; Acts 2:30–36). Here the elders celebrate a day still future, when God and his Christ have begun their unchallenged reign by judging the dead (foreshadowing Rev. 20:11–13), rewarding their servants (cf. 21:1–7; 22:1–5), and destroying the destroyers of the earth (cf. 20:14–15).[17]

11:19–14:20 The Woman, Her Son, the Dragon, and the Beasts: The Cosmic Conflict between Christ and Satan. At the center point of the book, John records the vision that reveals the deepest dimension of the conflict in which the church is engaged: through his sacrificial blood Christ (the seed of the woman) has defeated Satan (the accuser of his people). In light of the cross, believers’ sufferings, though intensely painful and inflicted by powerful opponents, are merely symptoms of the dragon’s desperation, since “he knows that his time is short” (12:12).

12:1–17 Two signs in heaven—a woman who gives birth, and a dragon intent on destroying her offspring—dominate the two visions in this chapter. Twice John sees the dragon decisively defeated, and both descriptions of the battle’s aftermath describe the woman’s protection in the wilderness (vv. 6, 13–17). The first vision (vv. 1–6) portrays a decisive battle at the turning point of history when Christ’s incarnation, obedience, sacrifice, and exaltation forever disqualified Satan as the accuser of believers (see v. 10). Some interpreters think the second vision (vv. 7–17) also represents the same series of events, while others think it portrays events at the beginning of the great tribulation.

12:1–14:20 The conflict between the church and the powers of evil

Since the seven trumpets followed on the seven seals, it would be natural to assume that the seven cups of wrath would immediately be poured out, so completing the story of the birth pangs of the kingdom of God. A lengthy parenthesis, however, intervenes. It is necessary to reveal the nature of the conflict which the Christ will bring to an end at his appearing. The struggle of the Christians against the contemporary exaltation of the emperor as Lord and Saviour of the world is set in the context of a yet more terrifying contest, in which the age-old adversary of God and people strives by all possible means to thwart the purpose of God. The ‘parenthesis’ thus lies at the heart of the book, in significance as well as in position. It covers the whole Messianic period from the birth of Christ to the consummation.[18]

12:5 This male child, the promised Messiah who is born to rule all the nations with a rod of iron (cf. Ps. 2:9), is not destroyed by the dragon but is exalted to God’s throne (cf. Acts 2:33–36; Rev. 3:21). Yet the second vision (12:7–17) will reveal that the Messiah’s suffering was integral to his victory (v. 11; cf. 5:9–10).

12:6 The child’s mother fled into the wilderness, a setting in which God’s people are utterly dependent on him but are protected from the dragon’s rage (vv. 13–14). There, she was nourished by God’s provision, as were Israel (Ex. 16:13–18) and Elijah (1 Kings 17:6; 19:5–8). Some scholars think the time period symbolized as 1,260 days (or “a time, and times, and half a time,” Rev. 12:14; cf. 11:2–3) began with Christ’s ascension and will end when God withdraws his restraint on the dragon’s power to deceive the nations and gather them against the church (20:7–10).

12:12 his time is short. Jesus’ death and exaltation inaugurated “the kingdom of our God” (v. 10) and guaranteed the certain and approaching demise of Satan’s tyranny. All the demonic activity here and in the Gospels is connected to Satan’s frustrated anger.

12:14 two wings of the great eagle. A metaphor of the exodus (see Ex. 19:4) becomes an image of God’s care for his church, exposed in the wilderness yet guarded and nourished in its pilgrimage. a time, and times, and half a time. This half-sabbatical period, derived from Dan. 7:25, signifies the brevity of the saints’ suffering and of their persecutors’ power (see note on Rev. 11:1–2; also 12:6; 13:7).

13:1–2 The beast looks like a leopard but has feet like a bear’s, a mouth like a lion’s mouth, and ten horns, and it wages “war on the saints” (v. 7). Thus it resembles all four beasts that Daniel saw emerge from the sea before the Son of Man appeared (Dan. 7:1–8, 21). As those beasts symbolized kingdoms (Dan. 7:17, 23), so this beast, a composite of them all, represents every human empire—Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and their successors—that demands absolute allegiance and trust, enforcing its demand with coercion. Its 10 horns and seven heads mirror those of the dragon (Rev. 12:3), who gives the beast its great authority.

13:4 Who is like the beast…? The worshipers’ question copies Israel’s praise of the Lord after the exodus (Ex. 15:11), reinforcing the beast’s arrogant claim to divine honors. It also mirrors the acclamation often given to Caesar as he entered cities.

13:6 The identification of God’s dwelling as those who dwell in heaven confirms that the measured sanctuary (11:1) symbolized the worshipers in it. Likewise, the “holy city” is the Lamb’s church-bride (21:2, 9–27; see Eph. 2:22).

13:7 to make war on the saints and to conquer them. The martyrdom of believers seems to be their defeat, but their death-defying faithfulness conquers the dragon and the beast (12:11; 15:2).

13:11 That this beast made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast suggests that it represents the priesthood of the cult of the emperor and the political authorities who supported it. It is later called ‘the false prophet’ (16:13; 19:20; 20:10). It is possible that as the first beast signifies the antichristian empire embodied in a personal antichrist, so this heathen priesthood is represented in a supreme head that directs its demonic work.

13:16–17 marked on the right hand or the forehead. The Israelites bore God’s law on their hands and foreheads to signify his authority over their deeds and thoughts (Deut. 6:8). Neither the beast’s mark nor the seal of God on believers’ foreheads (cf. Rev. 7:3; 14:1; cf. also Ex. 28:36–38; Ezek. 9:4) have to be understood as physical features, though they may be that. Both symbolize the spiritual control of heart allegiance and behavior, either by the beast or by the Lamb; but God’s seal secures safety.

13:18 The number of the beast, which is 666, may symbolize creaturely deficiency as the number of a man in contrast to divine completeness (symbolized by seven). The invitation to one with understanding to calculate this number, however, suggests the use of gematria, an ancient code using the numerical values of letters. Both “beast” and “Nero Caesar,” written in Hebrew characters, add up to 666…

14:1–20 Oracles of kingdom and judgment

14:3 The new song celebrates God’s triumph over sin through the Lamb (5:9; 15:3), just as the Lord’s prior victories were celebrated in new songs (Ps. 96:1; 98:1; 144:9). Their song belongs only to those who have experienced the Lamb’s redemption (Ps. 107:1–3), into whose salvation angels “long to look” (1 Pet. 1:12). This is another indication that 144,000 should not be taken as a literal number; they represent those who have been redeemed (see notes on Rev. 7:1–17; 7:4–8).[19]

4–5 This description of the saved multitude is as pictorial as their number. They are viewed as males who did not defile themselves with women, most plausibly because they were soldiers of the Lamb engaged on active service (cf. the OT regulations concerning holy war, which include abstention from sexual relations: Dt. 20:1–9; 23:9–14; 1 Sa. 21:4–5; 2 Sa. 11:6–13). The symbolism could include abstaining from ‘fornication’ with the harlot Babylon (cf. v 8).[20]

14:8 Another angel announces that Babylon is fallen (echoing Isa. 21:9) before Babylon even appears in the narrative (Rev. 16:19; 17:1–18). As ancient Babylon had carried Judah into captivity, so in John’s day Rome was the pagan power with “dominion over the kings of the earth” (17:18) that oppressed Christ’s people (17:6). the passion of her sexual immorality. Babylon the prostitute represents society’s allure of material prosperity and pleasure, seducing the unwary into adultery against the Lord.

15:1–8 Heaven’s Sanctuary Filled with Glory. Just as earlier vision cycles began with an opening of God’s heavenly sanctuary (4:1; 8:1; 11:19), so the cycle of bowls containing the last plagues, in which God’s wrath on rebels is completed, is preceded by a scene of celebratory worship offered by believers who share the Lamb’s victory.[21]

16:1–21 Angels Pour Out Seven Bowls. The bowls present varying perspectives on the final destruction of the first heaven and earth. The first four bowls inflict plagues on the same spheres as the first four trumpets (8:7–12): earth, sea, rivers and springs, and sun. The trumpet judgments were limited to one-third of each sphere (see also 9:4–5, 18), but the destruction poured out from the bowls is total. Unlike the seal and trumpet sequences, no interlude (7:1–17; 10:1–11:14) injects delay between the sixth and seventh bowls. The end has come.[22]

16:8–9 Instead of darkening the sun (see 8:12), the fourth bowl will intensify its heat to inflict a terrible foretaste of the coming lake of fire (20:15) on those who defiantly refuse to repent and give God the glory (cf. 9:20–21; 14:7).

16:10–11 The fifth bowl shows that the very throne of the beast is not immune to God’s just wrath. Darkness was the ninth plague on Egypt, the last before the slaughter of the firstborn compelled a heart-hardened Pharaoh to release Israel (Ex. 10:21–29). It is appropriate that a regime founded on deceit (Rev. 13:5, 13–14) should be plunged into darkness. Although reaping the anguish they have sown in rebellion, hardened people will react by cursing their just Judge rather than forsaking their self-destroying deeds. The refusal to repent (cf. 9:20–21; 16:9, 21) shows the total depravity of those who dwell in the earth, and it shows the justice of eternal punishment (20:3–15).

16:12–14 The sixth bowl prepares for the battle on the great day of God the Almighty. The drying up of the great river Euphrates, on which ancient Babylon foolishly relied for defense (Isa. 44:27–28; Jer. 50:38; 51:36), symbolizes God’s removal of restraint on Satan’s capacity to assemble a global conspiracy against the church (see Rev. 20:7–9). The Euphrates was also the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire, and it kept the Parthians out (see note on 6:1–2). Unclean spirits emerge as frogs (cf. Ex. 8:2–11) from the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet in order to deceive world rulers with delusions of victory over “the LORD and … his Anointed” (Ps. 2:1–2) and to assemble them for their final defeat and destruction.

16:16 Armageddon means “Mount Megiddo” in Hebrew. In ancient Israel, Megiddo was a plain, not a mountain; but it was also the site of some key battles (Judg. 5:19; 2 Kings 23:29), so in the symbolic geography of John’s visions it aptly represents the global combat zone (see Rev. 20:9) in which the final conflict between Christ and Satan will be fought.

16:17–21 The seventh bowl evokes a pronouncement from God’s throne: “It is done!” This declaration, repeated in 21:6, affirms that God’s plan has reached completion (10:7), his wrath against evil is finished (15:1, 8), and his kingdom is fully come (11:15).[23]

17:1–2 The angel’s words to John could form a fitting title to the whole of 17:1–19:10: The punishment (or ‘judgment’) of the great prostitute. The city of Tyre was called a harlot by Isaiah (Is. 23:15–17), and so was Jerusalem (Is. 1:21; Je. 3) and Nineveh (Na. 3:4–5). The latter part of v 2 alludes to Jeremiah’s address to Babylon, ‘You who live by many waters and are rich in treasures’ (Je. 51:13)… From v 9 it is clear that the city of Rome is in mind—it has become the new ‘Babylon’, repressing the people of God and corrupting the whole earth.[24]

17:7–18 The vision interpreted: Babylon’s doom

For the explanation of the vision in vs 1–6, v 8 is crucial. The ‘beast’ on which the woman ‘rides’ is plainly the empire of the antichristian city, yet the language appears to relate to an individual who once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss (cf. 11:17). In reality this expression applies to both empire and emperor. The ancient myth of the conquest of the primeval monster of the sea came to denote on the one hand the nature of the political powers that oppressed the people of God (therefore God opposing!) and on the other hand their certain defeat by God. In some versions the monster was slain, in others he was simply subdued. The former is in view in Is. 51:9–10 and is applied to the defeat of Egypt at the exodus; the latter appears in Is. 30:7 to indicate the powerlessness of Egypt to aid Israel. Applying this to the end times it may be said that the monster from the Abyss was, it was overcome and rendered helpless, and so is not, but it will yet come; and so the power of Satan will be seen in another political power headed by another evil ruler. In John’s time a peculiar circumstance made this concept extraordinarily powerful. When Nero died the news seemed too good to be true. Rumours circulated that he was still alive and would return at the head of an army to attack Rome. As years passed it was realized that he had died, but the fear spread that he would rise from the dead. So in true apocalyptic symbolism John combined the two expectations to express the hideous reality of the godless city and its godless ruler, both hellish in their nature and both instruments of the devil. (On this theme, see further the note on the antichristian empire at the end of the exposition of ch. 18.)

17:9–11 The duality of application of this imagery is expressed in v 9, but with a specific identification: the seven heads of the beast are seven hills on which the woman sits, i.e. Rome, familiarly known as ‘the city of the seven hills’. Rome was acting the part of the ‘Mother of prostitutes’. But the seven heads also represent seven kings. Whatever the number seven meant to other writers, to John it was a symbol of completeness. Accordingly, five have fallen means that the majority have come and gone; one is relates to the present ruler; the other (i.e. the seventh) has not yet come, but when he does he must remain for a little while, naturally, because ‘the time is near’ (1:3). After his departure the beast will reveal itself in all its bestiality in an eighth king, who is not a newcomer, for he has already appeared as one of the seven, i.e. Nero; but he is not to be feared, for he is going to his destruction, as every God-opposing monster is doomed to go.

17:12–14 The ten horns, in line with Dn. 7:7, are interpreted as ten kings. In Daniel’s vision they precede the anti-god power (some are overthrown by him; Dn. 7:24), but in John’s vision they are confederate with the antichrist, rulers of satellite states or governors of provinces. But they have not yet received a kingdom, and when they do they will receive their authority along with the beast for one hour. So short is the time when they are allowed to go on rampage! Their war against the Lamb is useless, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings—including antichrist’s kings; and his called, chosen and faithful followers will share his victory (cf. the promises to the ‘overcomers’ in chs. 2–3).

18:1–24 A dirge upon Babylon

The lamentations over Babylon are uttered by the kings of the earth (9–10), merchants (11–17a) and sailors (17b–19). John is here particularly indebted to Ezekiel’s doom song over Tyre (Ezk. 26–27). 9 The kings of the earth are those mentioned in 17:18, not those in alliance with the beast (17:16–17; cf. Ezk. 26:16–17). 10 The substance of each lamentation is the same: In one hour your doom has come (see vs 17, 19).

11–13 Cf. the list of merchant nations that traded with Tyre (Ezk. 27:12–24) and their astonishment and fear (Ezk. 27:35–36). Vs 12–13 furnish a list of goods sold by the merchants to Rome; cf. the imports of Tyre (Ezk. 27:12–24). Citron wood was a sweet scented hard wood from North Africa, especially used for making expensive tables. Ivory was popular among Romans both for decorating furniture and ornaments. The term for spice denoted a fragrant plant from India, used for making costly hair ointment. Chariots are of a special kind, having four wheels and often expensively decorated. Two words are used for slaves, bodies and human souls. The latter expression occurs in Ezk. 27:13, and while in ordinary speech both were synonymous the latter virtually signified human livestock. On this Swete commented: ‘The world of St. John’s day ministered in a thousand ways to the follies and vices of Babylon, but the climax was reached in the sacrifice of human life which recruited the huge familiae of the rich, filled the brothels, and ministered to the brutal pleasures of the amphi-theatre’ (The Apocalypse of St. John, p. 235).

17–19 The concern of the seamen, as that of the merchants, is not for the city, nor for those who perished with it, but for their own loss of revenue.

20 The appeal to rejoice over the judgment of Babylon should be separated from the lament of the sailors. It is best viewed as the completion of the angel’s statement beginning in v 4, and including the lamentations of the kings, merchants and seamen. Whether intentional or not, 19:1–7 forms a fitting response to the cry. 21 The symbolic action of the angel is suggested by a similar one performed over Babylon by Jeremiah (Je. 51:63–64)…

Note on the antichristian empire. One urgent question arises from the reading of chs. 13, 17 and 18. In these descriptions of the doom of the city and empire of the antichrist there is little doubt that Rome was in John’s mind. He all but names it in 17:9, 18, and through his use of the mystic name Babylon. His prophecies set forth the impending appearance of an antichrist who would embody its wickedness, but whose reign would last only a short time, concluding with the destruction of the city and the appearance and reign of Christ. It is the height of irony that Rome, instead of becoming the sphere of the antichrist’s rule, capitulated to the Christ of God and came to be a world centre of Christianity. Many have concluded that John’s prophecies therein received their true fulfilment; but the prophet, with his anticipation of the coming of Christ and the descent of the city of God from heaven, would hardly have acknowledged that interpretation.

Here it is necessary to recall that John’s vision is fundamentally related to those of the OT prophets. All the prophets, in their representations of the overthrow of the oppressor nations of their day, looked for the establishment of the kingdom of God to follow on those judgments (e.g. Isaiah awaited the Messianic deliverance following on God’s judgment of Assyria, Is. 10–11; Habakkuk looked towards the destruction of Babylon, Hab. 2:2–3; Jeremiah and Ezekiel expected it after the return of the Jews under Cyrus, Je. 29–31; Ezk. 26; and every vision of Daniel looks for it to follow the overthrow of the tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes; see especially Dn. 7–9, 11–12). In the NT the evangelists place our Lord’s teaching on the second advent in proximity to his prophecies concerning the judgment on Jerusalem (Mt. 24; Mk. 13; Lk. 21), and that advent is awaited in the not distant future, though never dated (cf. Rom. 13:11–12; Heb. 10:37; Jas. 5:8; 1 Pet. 4:7; 1 Jn. 2:18). To this John was no exception. Two realities would have been before his mind: on the one hand, the Lord had achieved a redemption that brought the kingdom of God into the world, and he was to come soon for its consummation; on the other hand, the ‘mystery of lawlessness’ was most obviously at work in the world (2 Thes. 2:7), and Rome was already playing the part of the antichrist. The stage was thus set for the end, and John describes the drama as taught by the prophets, by Christ, and by his apostles. He applies that doctrine to the situation of his day. The time scale was too short, but the essence of his prophecy is not thereby invalidated. The ‘many antichrists’ (1 Jn. 2:18) since John’s day have increasingly approximated to his portrait and will culminate in one who will perfectly fulfil it.

The symbolism used in this ‘portrait’ of the antichrist is as evident as that employed in the portrayal of Satan, the city and the empire, and its use in ch. 12. John adapts the contemporary expectation of Nero’s resurrection from the dead to depict the coming antichrist as ‘another Nero’. There is a parallel to this in his application of the prophecy that Elijah will come before the day of the Lord (Mi. 4:5). John would have known how Jesus applied this prophecy to the ministry of John the Baptist (Mk. 9:12–13); he himself puts it to an even wider use in relation to the ministry of the entire church (ch. 11). It was as natural for him to represent the antichrist as working ‘in the spirit and power of Nero’ (cf. Lk. 1:17), by employing the story of ‘Nero redivivus’ without further explanation, as it was for him to use the prophecy of ‘Elijah redivivus’ without explanation.

Just as we should not try to define Jesus’ coming with outward calculations, but pay attention rather to what God’s providential rule creates before our eyes, so we should allow God to fulfil John’s prophecy in his own way and day.

19:11–22:5 The revelation of the Christ and of the city of God

The judgment of Babylon has been the theme of 17:1–19:10, stated above all in the seventh cup judgment of 16:17–21. But we have not yet been told of the fate of the antichrist and his confederates, the subject of the sixth cup judgment (16:12–14). This prefaces the final visions of the triumph of Christ and his kingdom, which consist of a description of the coming of Christ and the subjugation of the evil powers (19:11–20:3); the kingdom of Christ in this world (20:4–10); the last judgment (20:11–15); and the new creation and the city of God (21:1–22:5).

19:11–21 The rider on the white horse

11–15 The portrayal of Christ’s coming is achieved through a series of symbolic pictures which highlight aspects of an event too great to comprehend in advance. When heaven is opened the first thing John sees is a white horse, with Faithful and True riding it. We do not commonly think of Jesus returning on a horse, accompanied by multitudes of angels on horses, nor should we do so. It is a representation of Jesus the almighty Conqueror, ‘Field Marshal’ of the armies of heaven, coming to subdue the rebellious of earth, which are led by the powers of hell.

16–18 The angel’s summons to the birds of prey to gather together for the great supper of God is drawn from Ezekiel’s vision of the overthrow of Gog and Magog (Ezk. 39:17–20), though the assault of Gog and Magog is set by John at the close of the earthly kingdom (20:7–9), in harmony with Ezekiel’s vision (Ezk. 38:7–9).

19–21 The beast and his confederates gathered to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. They are gathered, that is, to Armageddon (16:16). But there is no battle! The armies of heaven watch while the beast and the false prophet are captured, the Christ wields the sword of his mouth, and the devil is thrown into the Abyss. This is a judgment scene by the power of the word of God. The whole description is pictorial, including the horse of Christ, the sword issuing out of his mouth and the vultures that gorge the flesh of the slain. We cannot be sure of the details of the picture, apart from one dominant reality: the victory of Christ over those who oppose him is total. The antichrist and the false prophet are thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This fiery lake is a variant picture of hell, which in Greek is Gehenna, a transliteration of the Hebrew Gehinnom, ‘the valley of Hinnom’, where the Jews in Jeremiah’s time offered by fire human sacrifices (see Je. 7:31). In apocalyptic literature, both terms are pictorial, the former a development of the concept of the Abyss, both representing the inescapable judgment of God on those who persist in rebellion.

20:4–6 The millennium

Augustine’s interpretation, that the millennium is the period of the church between Christ’s first and second advents, became the official teaching of both the Catholic and Reformed churches.[25]

The description of Christ’s kingdom is extraordinarily brief; no word is given of the conditions of life in the thousand years, only a bare statement of who will exercise rule in it.

Revelation 16.16 is the only place in scripture to mention a final great battle at ‘Armagedon’, so Revelation 20 – the passage now before us – is the only passage in scripture where a ‘millennium’ is even mentioned. Those who go in for speculative prophecy-interpretation have, of course, snapped up these and other snippets, taken them (usually) out of their actual contexts, and constructed a quite different world-view in which they play a far more important role than they do in scripture itself.

But should we take the thousand years symbolically as well? Again, I believe we should. John has used all kinds of symbolic numbers throughout his book. It would be very odd if he were suddenly to throw in a rather obvious round and symbolic number, but expect us to take it literally.

The clue to the passage is, I believe, in the opening line: ‘I saw thrones, with people sitting on them, who were given authority to judge.’ This is straight out of Daniel 7, where the ‘thrones’ were for ‘the Ancient of Days’ and ‘One like a son of man’. But Daniel 7 itself interprets the latter phrase corporately, so that ‘the saints of the most high’ receive the kingdom and the authority to judge. It looks, then, as though John is referring not to a thousand-year period on earth, but to the heavenly reality which obtains during a particular period.

Jesus, according to the whole New Testament, is already reigning (Matthew 28.18; 1 Corinthians 15.25–28; etc.); and what John is saying is that the martyrs are already reigning with him. This, indeed, is more or less what is said, as well, in Ephesians 2.6, where the church is ‘seated in heavenly places in the Messiah Jesus’. … Perhaps, after all, John’s ‘millennium’ does correspond to a more widely known early Christian view.

At this point above all … it doesn’t do to be too dogmatic. We must hold on to the central things which John has made crystal clear: the victory of the lamb, and the call to share his victory through faith and patience. Whether we describe the final events as Revelation 20 has done, or as Paul does in Romans 8.18–26 or 1 Corinthians 15.20–28, it is clear that the one who wins the victory is the creator God, who does so to defeat and abolish death itself and so to open the way to the glories of the renewed creation. That is what matters.[26]

20:7–10 The Last Insurrection of Evil

As mentioned above, John here follows Ezekiel’s prophecy of the invasion of Israel’s land by Gog and Magog after the Messianic kingdom has been established. Whereas in Ezk. 38 ‘Gog of the land of Magog’ comes from the north to invade the holy land, in John’s vision Gog and Magog stand for the nations in the four corners of the earth (8). They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the city God loves—a city some 1,400 miles (2,200 km) long, wide and high (21:16)! The event is as symbolic as Armageddon and represents an attack on the manifestation of Christ’s rule in the world.

20:11–15 The Last Judgment

If the fleeing of heaven and earth from the face of God is to be viewed as the precursor of the new heavens and earth (cf. 2 Pet. 3:10–13), the spectacle of the great white throne as the one reality on which humankind can gaze is indeed an awesome sight. But the description is likely to be symbolic, to enhance the terrifying grandeur of the scene—the last overwhelming theophany from which creation wants to escape but cannot (cf. 6:12–17).

12 The dead, great and small, stand before the throne, i.e. all humankind is summoned to judgment. Is the church exempted from this? 20:4–6 suggests that it is, but in that case believers will have been judged earlier (cf. 3:5; 2 Cor. 5:10), but John gives no hint of this. The passage stands for the necessity of all to be judged, saints and sinners alike, and there’s plenty of time for it to happen!

14–15 Death and Hades represent the fact of dying and the condition entered on after death. Both were thrown into the lake of fire, a circumstance that shows the sheer pictorial nature of the scene, including the lake of fire.

21:1–8 The New Creation

The unfolding of God’s dealings with humanity in Revelation reaches its climax in this passage: vs 1–4 describe a new creation in which God and people dwell together in fellowship; vs 5–8 declare the truth of that description and its implications for the readers. Its purpose is to strengthen the faith, hope and resolution of the church as it faces its ultimate trial.

1 The creation of a new heaven and new earth is taught in Is. 65:17 and 66:22 (cf. Mt. 5:18; Mk. 13:31; 2 Pet. 3:12). Jewish teachers interpreted Is. 65–66 variously; some held that God would renew creation for his kingdom, others that he would replace it by an entirely new one. John’s vision is capable of either interpretation; the fact that 20:11 describes a theophany, i.e. a pictorial representation of creation’s response to God’s coming for judgment, may be held to favour the former view. In any case, there was no longer any sea is less concerned with water than wickedness: the devil, the antichrist and antichristian empire are all depicted as sea monsters; nothing of that order survives into the new… 4 Cf. 7:17; Is. 25:8. 5 I am making everything new refers to God’s action in the new creation, but it was begun in Christ’s resurrection and is experienced by all believers in the present (2 Cor. 5:17). It is done echoes the cry on the cross (Jn. 19:30) and the voice from the throne (16:17). God is the Alpha and the Omega; his character guarantees the truth of this revelation. The added promise recalls Is. 55:1 (cf. also 22:17; Jn. 7:37–38).

21:9–22:5 The City of God

9 The revelation of the bride was anticipated in 19:7–9. Here the bridal metaphor gives way to that of a city; a similar transfer of imagery is made in Is. 54:4–8 and 11:12. 10 The language is so similar to Ezk. 40:2 that we must assume that John had it in mind; the city descends from heaven to the mountain whereon he stood. Heaven comes to earth in the kingdom of God! 11 The city’s appearance is compared to that of a jasper, and so its glory is like that of the Creator (see 4:3).

16 The city was laid out like a square; but as its height is the same as its breadth and length, it is a cube. One structure in the OT is mentioned as a cube in shape, namely the Most Holy place in the temple (1 Ki. 6:20); here the cubic shape indicates that the entire city is a sanctuary and partakes of the holiness of the ancient inner shrine. 12,000 stadia represents approximately 100 miles, but to translate it into modern mileage is to rob the measurement of its clear symbolism—an infinite multiple of 12. John may be saying that the city of God reaches from earth to heaven, and so unites them into one.

18–21 The language of symbolism continues in John’s description of the materials of the city. He has already said that its sheen is like that of jasper, the appearance of God (11); he now declares that the wall is entirely built of jasper. The pure gold may recall the sanctuary of Solomon’s temple, which was covered completely with gold (1 Ki. 6:20–22), or it could allude to the thought in 3:18. The list of jewels that decorate the foundations is startling. Despite some uncertainties of translation they appear to be identical with the jewels inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes on the high priest’s breastplate (Ex. 28:15–21). Philo and Josephus both draw attention to the fact that those jewels also represent the twelve signs of the zodiac. On the basis of an old correlation of the jewels and the zodiac signs it appears that John’s list of jewels portrays the progress of the sun through the twelve signs of the zodiac, but in reverse order! Perhaps John wished to dissociate the Holy City from pagan speculations about the city of the gods in the heavens; or it may be that the reverse is true, and John was showing that the reality for which the pagans longed is found in the revelation of God in Christ (the foundation stones have on them the names of the apostles of the Lamb—his witnesses!).

22–27 In a city modelled on the holy of holies there is no need for a temple; all is holy, and God is everywhere adored (cf. Jn. 4:20–23).

22:1–5 This conclusion of the vision of the city of God shows conscious links with the description of the paradise in Eden (Gn. 2–3).

1 The throne of God and of the Lamb is the source of the river of the water of life (cf. 7:17; 21:6; 22:17). The Garden of Eden had a river (Gn. 2:10). In Ezekiel’s vision a river flowed from the temple (Ezk. 47:9; see the application of this passage to Jesus in Jn. 7:37–38). 2 The tree of life (unlike Gn. 2:9; 3:22, but as in Ezk. 47:7ff) is viewed collectively. Like the symbol of the water of life, the healing powers of the leaves are taken in a spiritual sense, possibly in the first instance for the healing of the wounds inflicted in the great distress. 3 No longer will there be any curse cites Zc. 14:11 and reverses the curse pronounced in the original paradise (Gn. 3:14–19). In the new Jerusalem the effects of that curse are completely overcome. 4 The goal of redeemed humanity is here stated: They will see his face. Such a vision will involve the transformation of the beholders into the same likeness (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Jn. 3:2). For the name … on their foreheads see on 3:12 and 19:12. 5 They will reign for ever and ever expands 20:4 and is the final fulfilment of 3:21 (note that in 11:15 ‘he will reign for ever and ever’ includes the millennial reign and that in the new creation).

22:6–21 The Epilogue

Three themes find prominent expression in this conclusion of Revelation: the authenticity of the visions narrated (6, 7, 16, 18, 19); the imminence of Christ’s coming (6, 7, 10–12, 20); and the necessity for holiness in view of the impending consummation (10–15). It is difficult to be sure of the identity of the speakers in the various utterances. Vs 7, 12–13 and 20a appear to be utterances of Jesus; vs 6, 8, 14–15 the angel’s; v 16 Jesus through the angel; vs 8–9, 17–19, 20b and 21 John’s additions. A great deal of variation is possible, but in the last resort it matters little, for the speaker is ultimately Christ, whose messenger is the angel (9) and whose utterances John records as a prophet (10).

11 Let the righteous and holy guard themselves, for their Lord will soon come for their deliverance. To make of this statement a doctrine of the fixity of character and destiny of people in the last times is contrary to the context and the general teaching of the book (e.g. 14:6–7; 15:4; 21:6–8; 22:17). 12 Cf. 11:18; Is. 40:10; Rom. 2:6. 13 See the note on 1:3. 14 The last of the seven beatitudes of Revelation. Those who wash their robes have had their guilt removed through the crucified and risen Saviour and so have the right to the tree of life and may enter into the city (cf. Gn. 3:22–24). 15 This verse almost repeats 21:8, but the fate of those concerned is very differently represented. The fundamental reality in common is their exclusion from the city of God. John’s use of such different images to express judgment indicates the great flexibility of his symbolism.

16 Jesus as the Root and the Offspring of David fulfils Is. 11:1. As the bright Morning Star he fulfils the prophecy of Baalam in Nu. 24:17. 17 The Spirit, who is especially active in the prophets (19:10), joins the church in calling upon the Lord to Come, according to his promise (7, 12; cf. v 20). The individual hearer of the prophecy of this book, as it is read in the churches, is bidden to say Come. The repentant sinner is invited to come, and take the free gift of the water of life and so be ready to welcome the Lord when he comes.

18–19 John has been harshly judged for concluding his prophecy with these words. It was, however, customary for ancient writers to protect their works against mutilation and interpolation by adding such an anathema. John’s concern was to prevent his message from being perverted through addition or removal. The same concern is seen in Dt. 4:2. The so-called canonization formula in the passage—‘not add nor take away’—has been traced back to 2450 BC in Egypt. Instead of the usual curse, John warns of judgment and loss of the kingdom of God.

20 John’s response to the last promise of Revelation corresponds to the Aramaic watch-word Maranatha: ‘Come, O Lord’ (see 1 Cor. 16:22). The promise is the culmination of all promises; and the response is the sum of all living hopes.

21 The benediction reminds us that Revelation is a letter, and that its lessons are to be personally appropriated. Only by the grace of the Lord Jesus can that victory be gained which will receive the recompense portrayed in this book. It behoves us to open our lives to it continually, and to add our own Amen.[27]

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Re). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2]  Beasley-Murray, G. R. (1994). Revelation. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1422). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[3] Carson, D. A., France, R. T., Motyer, J. A., & Wenham, G. J. (Eds.). (1994). New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., pp. 1431–1432). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (pp. 2468–2469). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2469). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2470). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2471). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2472). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (pp. 2473–2474). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (pp. 2474–2475). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2475). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[12] Kaiser, W. C., Jr., Davids, P. H., Bruce, F. F., & Brauch, M. T. (1996). Hard sayings of the Bible (pp. 763–764). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

[13] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (pp. 2476–2477). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[14] Beasley-Murray, G. R. (1994). Revelation. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1439). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[15]  Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2477). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[16] Kaiser, W. C., Jr., Davids, P. H., Bruce, F. F., & Brauch, M. T. (1996). Hard sayings of the Bible (pp. 765–767). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

[17] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (pp. 2478–2479). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[18] Beasley-Murray, G. R. (1994). Revelation. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1441). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[19] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (pp. 2481–2482). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[20]  Beasley-Murray, G. R. (1994). Revelation. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1444). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[21] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (pp. 2483–2484). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[22] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (pp. 2484–2485). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[23] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2486). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[24] Beasley-Murray, G. R. (1994). Revelation. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., pp. 1446–1447). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[25] Carson, D. A., France, R. T., Motyer, J. A., & Wenham, G. J. (Eds.). (1994). New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., pp. 1446–1451). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[26] Revelation for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone), N. T. Wright p. 189-190.

[27] Carson, D. A., France, R. T., Motyer, J. A., & Wenham, G. J. (Eds.). (1994). New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., pp. 1452–1455). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

 

 

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