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Revelation: The Dragon Makes War

June 19, 2011

As we enter chapter 12, we have a change of scene as well as a change of timeframe. From the beginning of the apocalyptic timeline in Revelation 4 and 5, we saw the Lamb who had been slain, who was raised again and who opened the seven seals. We positively identified the Lamb as Jesus Christ, and noted that he had already been crucified and raised from the dead. But now, in chapter 12, we read of the birth of a male child who would “rule with an iron scepter” (vs 5). This is a quote from the Messianic prophecy in Psalm 2:9, removing all doubt that this child is the Christ. In chapter 5, he had been slain and raised to life. In chapter 12, he is just being born. So chapter 12 starts with a flashback to the birth of Jesus.

Rev 12:1 A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.
Rev 12:2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.

Who is the woman? She gave birth to the Messiah, and is also attributed with other offspring, “those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (vs 17) We know that Jesus was a Jew, descended from Judah (Heb 7:4), descended from Abraham (Matt 1). We also know that the Christian church was brought into the world as spiritual descendents of Abraham (Rom 4:17). So the woman represents the chosen people of God, through whom God brought Jesus into the world, and through whom God established the church.


Rev 12:3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads.
Rev 12:4 His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.

A dragon threatens the woman and her child! Just a few verses later we learn who this dragon is:

Rev 12:9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him

First Satan attempted to destroy Christ directly, while Christ was on earth. But Christ was raised from the dead! So Satan was hurled down to the earth:

Rev 12:10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
Rev 12:11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
Rev 12:12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”
Rev 12:13 When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.
Rev 12:14 The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.
Rev 12:15 Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent.
Rev 12:16 But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.
Rev 12:17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

So in chapter 12 we have the background for the war between Satan and the church, following the resurrection of the Christ.

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Revelation: The Seventh Seal and the Seven Trumpets

June 12, 2011

(Rev 8:1-6) When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.

With the opening of the seventh seal, a remarkable silence enveloped heaven, filling the air with anticipation and wonder about what would happen next. Then seven angels with seven trumpets were revealed. As the first four angels sounded their trumpets in sequence, four waves of desolation swept over the earth. Hail and fire and blood. A burning mountain thrown into the sea. A great star falling into the rivers and springs of water. The sun, moon, and stars being struck. And an eagle warning of three woes coming from the remaining three trumpets.

A star fell, opened the Abyss, and released a plague of terrible locusts with stings like scorpions. They tortured the unbelievers for five months.

An invading army attacked, mounted on terrifying horses breathing out deadly fire, smoke, and sulphur.

The invaders destroyed a third of the earth, a third of the trees, and all of the green grass. A third of the sea turned to blood. A third of the creatures in the sea were killed, and a third of the ships were destroyed. A third of the rivers and springs turned bitter and killed many people. A third of the day was without light, and a third of the night. A third of mankind was killed.

As before, these images of devastation are symbolic of severe discipline and warnings of the full wrath of God against the beast, the Roman Empire. There would be a series of disasters over a period of time, each round further weakening the nation. Up to this point, the devastation would be only partial (one third), to give the survivors an opportunity for repentance. Yet Rome would refuse to repent.

Rev 10:5-7 Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.”

The seventh trumpet would signal the complete destruction of the unrepentant enemy. Before the blowing of the seventh and final trumpet, the angel gives John a small scroll to eat and commands him to prophesy. He is commanded to measure the temple and to count the worshippers, but to exclude the outer court. Again God was designating who would be protected from the onslaught that would follow. Those inside the temple, the people of God, would be protected — both from the desolation sent by God, and from the attacks that would come from the enemy. But those outside the temple would face desolation under the wrath of God.

Next John describes two witnesses who would continue to prophesy during the 42 month (1260 day) period when the outer court would be trampled by the Gentiles. The witnesses represent those who continued to prophesy boldly during the period when the church was being persecuted by the Roman Empire. They would torment the inhabitants of the earth with their warnings and prophecies. The two witnesses would complete their testimony, and would join the ranks of the martyrs. They would ascend to heaven in the sight of those who killed them. A severe earthquake would then bring the inhabitants of the earth out of their brief celebration just as the third woe was about to be revealed. The enemies of the church would come to realize that they had failed to destroy the church, and that instead it was themselves who would be destroyed.

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Revelation: The 144,000 and the Multitude

June 5, 2011

By the end of chapter 6, six of the seven seals have been opened. Before opening the seventh and final seal, the opening of seals paused so the Christians on earth could be marked and protected.

Rev 7:1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.
Rev 7:2 Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea:
Rev 7:3 “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”

There were 144,000 servants of God who were to be sealed — twelve thousand, from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Those sealed were still on earth, where the four winds were being held back. They were marked so that the plagues and destruction sent by God would not fall upon them, but rather just upon their oppressor.

Remember, by the time Revelation was written, the Israel of God was the church (Rom 2:28-29, Gal 3:7-9, Phil 3:3, etc). So these 144,000 were Christians. The number 144,000 is symbolic — twelve times twelve times a thousand — representing the thoroughness with which God would mark and protect his people. Not one would be missing.

Meanwhile we also get another glimpse of heaven:

Rev 7:9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
Rev 7:10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Rev 7:11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God,
Rev 7:12 saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
Rev 7:13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
Rev 7:14 I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Rev 7:15 Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
Rev 7:16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.
Rev 7:17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Here in heaven, worshipping before the throne of God, was another group in white robes. These are clearly identified as having come out of the great tribulation. These include the martyrs, to whom we saw white robes being given after the fifth seal was opened. These former martyrs are revealed to the saints remaining on earth, who were under threat of martyrdom themselves. The potential future martyrs are being reassured that they, too, will worship in heaven before the throne of God; that they will be cared for by the Great Shepherd; that they will be led to springs of living water; and that God would wipe away every tear from their eyes. Their faithfulness would be richly rewarded! The message to them is the same as that given to the church in Smyrna:

Rev 2:10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

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Revelation: The Fifth and Sixth Seals

June 5, 2011

The fifth seal revealed the central message of the entire Revelation:

Rev 6:9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.
Rev 6:10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
Rev 6:11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.

By this time (circa 95 AD) many Christians had already died for their faith in Jesus. These martyrs cried out for God to avenge their deaths. In response they were reassured with a gift of a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer. There were still more who would be martyred by this oppressor before he would be subdued.

The sixth seal reveals yet more disciplinary action by God.

Rev 6:12 I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red,
Rev 6:13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind.
Rev 6:14 The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
Rev 6:15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.
Rev 6:16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!
Rev 6:17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

God was assuring the saints that the day was coming when He would avenge their blood. The fearful events that would come on that day were described using familiar symbols from Old Testament prophecy. Again, these symbols would have been familiar to the Christians.

Isaiah prophesied about the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem:

Isa 2:19 Men will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth.
Isa 2:20 In that day men will throw away to the rodents and bats their idols of silver and idols of gold, which they made to worship.
Isa 2:21 They will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crags from dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth.

In another place, Isaiah compared the fall of Babylon to the stars, the sun and the moon being darkened:

Isa 13:9 See, the day of the LORD is coming —a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger— to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it.
Isa 13:10 The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.

And in another place Isaiah wrote concerning the fall of Edom:

Isa 34:4 All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.

Hosea wrote concerning the fall of Samaria:

Hos 10:8 The high places of wickedness will be destroyed— it is the sin of Israel. Thorns and thistles will grow up and cover their altars. Then they will say to the mountains, “Cover us!” and to the hills, “Fall on us!”

And Joel wrote, prophesying the events at the time of the cross:

Joe 2:30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
Joe 2:31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.

The events unveiled by opening the sixth seal were standard prophetic symbols for the day of God’s wrath. Their meaning was no more literal in Revelation 6 than in the day of those Old Testament prophets. These were symbols, but with a corresponding reality.

We have previously determined that the chief persecutor was Satan, acting through the beast representing the Roman Empire. On the day of God’s wrath, no man would stand — least of all, Caesar. On that day he would find out who is Lord and who is not.

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Revelation: The First Four Seals

June 5, 2011

As we move from chapter 4 to chapter 5, the scene is still the throne room of God in heaven. In chapter 5 we learn of a scroll, sealed with seven seals. The seven seals suggest that the message of the scroll was of imminent importance, and that only the highest authority could open it to reveal the message.

At first, John was distressed that no one could be found who was worthy to open the scroll. Finally one came forward who was:

Rev 5:6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…

Rev 5:9 And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.

No one could mistake the symbol of the Lamb. This was none other than the resurrected Christ, standing in the center of the throne room of God! The Jews and the Romans had utterly failed to put an end to the King of the Jews. The Christians in those seven churches must have been greatly reassured that they had chosen wisely when they named Jesus as Lord!

A magnificent scene of praise follows. The new song is sung. Listening to that song, the Christians in the seven churches would have been struck by the promise contained in this line:

Rev 5:10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

They were a kingdom — and that kingdom was not Rome, but the Kingdom of God! They were priests serving the Almighty God. And it was not Caesar, but the Christians themselves who will ultimately reign on the earth. Again, the saints would be encouraged through their trials.

In chapter 6, the Lamb began to open the seven seals, to reveal the message inside.

The first four seals corresponded to four horses. The first was a white horse, whose rider was a conqueror bent on conquest. The second was a red horse, who would make men slay each other with the sword. The third was a black horse, whose rider had scales like one would find at a market. The rider called out exorbitant prices, suggesting economic stress and shortages of food. Finally, the fourth was a pale horse, whose rider brought death through the sword, famine, plague, and wild animals.

Just as He had done to Pharaoh, God would use a series of hardships to turn the heart of the oppressor, if it were possible. As in that previous case, the oppressor would not listen, bringing on his own demise, as the remaining seals are opened.

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Revelation: The Throne of God

June 5, 2011

Now it gets really interesting.

In chapter 1 of Revelation we saw a narrative of John’s encounter with Jesus while in exile on Patmos, circa AD 95. In chapters 2-3 we saw an assessment of the then-current condition of seven congregations. In those chapters, John simply relates what happened, when it happened, what he saw and what he heard. But in chapter 4 things change. Beginning in chapter 4, we are drawn into John’s vision of events that would transpire in the future — that is, after AD 95. And therefore beginning in chapter 4, we begin to see the story being related in vivid symbolic language. As illustrated in chapter 1, these symbols represent real things and were meant to be understood by those early Christians in those seven congregations.

Chapter 4 describes the scene in which the coming events would begin — a great throne room. Someone was sitting on the central throne — universally understood to be God Himself, as those seven churches surely would have understood. This throne is surrounded by twenty-four other thrones where twenty-four elders are seated, wearing gold crowns. Perhaps these represent the twelve patriarchs and the twelve apostles, though we cannot be sure. These elders worshipped the one sitting on the central throne.

The description of the throne room has many parallels to the Jewish temple, which should have been evident to the seven churches. Pulling in a few details from later in the book (Rev 6:9, 8:3, 11:19) we find a lampstand with seven lamps, an altar of incense, an altar for sacrifice, the ark of the covenant, and a stream — all linked to components of the tabernacle, and of the temple. As Hebrews says, when speaking of the Levitical priests,

Heb 8:5 They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”

So this was clearly an image of the throne room in heaven.

A short while later we learn of a multitude of angels (thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand) around the throne. And,

Rev 5:13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

The prophetic revelation gave the churches a glimpse of the power and majesty of their awesome God. As the Christians in those seven congregations heard these words, they must have felt reassured that God was still on his throne, exalted and in complete control, far above Caesar in power and majesty. Caesar was NOT Lord.

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Revelation: Messages to the Seven Churches

May 29, 2011

Revelation is a message from the Most High God to seven specific churches at the close of the first century AD. God gave the message to Jesus, who sent it via an angel to the apostle John (Rev 1:1). John wrote it down addressed to those seven churches (Rev 1:4). The message was of highest importance, and would bring great blessings to those who received the message and took it to heart.

The Lord gave John a specific message for each church, followed by a general message for them all. The specific messages are found in chapters 2 and 3. Each specific message was directed to the angel of the corresponding church. Just who was this angel (gk angelos, a messenger)? Considering the chain of messengers through whom the message was delivered, it appears that the “angel of the church” was a human messenger, preacher or teacher at each church. It would not make much sense for God to pass a message through Jesus, then through an angel (in the eternal heavenly being sense), to the human apostle John, and then to another eternal heavenly angel for delivery to a church. Why involve a human between those two angels? So the “angels” to whom John wrote the seven messages were apparently the human preachers at each of the seven churches.

Many good lessons are available on various of these seven messages, so I won’t go into all those details here. Instead, let’s look at the common elements in all the messages. Remember that Jesus is preparing these churches for a dramatic increase in persecution. What were the things Jesus wanted to bring to their attention at this crucial time?

1) Jesus wanted them to remember who he is.

If the churches remembered who Jesus is, they would have the confidence to endure what was coming. Jesus told them that he was the one in the vision who held the seven stars (angels, or leaders of the churches) in his hand. Often it was the church leaders who faced martyrdom, and Jesus wanted them to know he would be there with them. He walked among the lampstands, or churches. So he would also be with the church through the persecution. And he wanted them to know he is well able to handle whatever trouble would come their way. He is the First and the Last. He died and came to life again. He had risen from the dead, and he would raise them also. He has the sharp, double-edged sword. He is holy and his words are true! He has eyes like blazing fire, and feet like burnished bronze. He holds the key of David. What he opens, no one can shut. And what he shuts, no one can open. He is the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. Whatever they were about to face, Jesus would be there with them, and he was fully capable to take care of them. He would enable them to endure.

2) He wanted them to know that he knew them.

Jesus knew their deeds, their failures, their struggles, and their victories. Nothing they had done escaped his notice, whether good or bad. And neither would anything escape his notice that would happen to them during the coming persecution. Jesus knew them by name, even calling some of their names in these messages. And he knew what they had to do in order to overcome the test that would soon face them.

3) He wanted them to hold on to the truth.

He commended those who had tested false apostles and found them false; those who hated the practices of others who perverted the Way; those who recognized and identified the false Jews. He challenged them to reject the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans, and of the false prophetess Jezebel. If they were going to survive the coming persecution, they had to be firmly grounded in the truth.

4) He wanted their wholehearted devotion

He wanted them to grow in their love for God, and to do more today than they did at first. He wanted them to have a real, vibrant devotion to God, and not just to have a reputation for that. He warned them against being lukewarm. He wanted them to be faithful even when it would cost them their lives. That day was coming, and the halfhearted and lukewarm would fall away.

5) He wanted them to be righteous

Jesus warned two of the churches about idolatry and sexual immorality. They had to keep pagan values and practices out of the church. If they let sin into the church it would destroy them.

6) He wanted them to be prepared for persecution.

Jesus warned the churches that they were about to suffer. Some had already endured hardship. Some in their midst had already been martyred. But it would grow worse. Some of them would face prison, and even death. He challenged them to persevere and to endure.

7) He wanted them to know the rewards that would be coming to those who overcome.

Great blessings were in store for those who would overcome. They would eat from the tree of life. They would receive the crown of life. They would receive the hidden manna, and a white stone with their name, known only to themselves. They would receive authority over the nations, and they would be given the morning star. Their names would be found in the book of life, and Jesus would acknowledge them before the Father and his angels. They would be made a pillar in the temple of God, never to leave it. Jesus would write on them the name of God, and the name of the city of God, and Jesus’ new name. They would receive the right to sit on the throne with Jesus.

All those blessings were promised to those who would overcome. And only to those who would overcome.

While most of us today are not facing imminent martyrdoms from our number, the basic message is still the same for us. We need to realize the exalted position and the power and the holiness and righteousness of Jesus. And we need to realize that he knows everything about us. We need to know the truth and to live by it with wholehearted devotion. And we need to overcome the tests of our faith that come, so that we can receive the phenomenal blessings that are promised.