Revelation 7 – Part 2

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” Revelation 7:9

During the interlude between the sixth and seventh seal judgments, the apostle John receives two visions of God’s great mercy involving the salvation and sealing of 144,000 Jews on the earth (7:1-8) and the salvation of Gentiles and Jews from every nation who are taken to heaven (7:9-17). Even though this will be a time of trouble on the earth like never before, it will also be a time of salvation like never before—of both Jews (7:1-8) and Gentiles (7:9-17). 1

I often hear a certain religious group responding to our online videos who claim that there will only be 144,000 people in heaven. 2  Some scholars believe the 144,000 on the earth (7:1-8) are the same group mentioned in heaven (7:9-17). 3 But this is contrary to what we see in Revelation 7. There are significant differences between the redeemed group of 144,000 on the earth (7:1-8) and the redeemed group of people before God’s throne in heaven (7:9-17): 4

1. The number of redeemed on the earth is not only smaller, but definite (“one hundred and forty-four thousand” – 7:4), but the number of redeemed in heaven is not only larger, but indefinite (“a great multitude which no one could number” – 7:9).

2. People from all the tribes of the children of Israel” comprise the first group (7:4), but people from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” make up the second (7:9).

3. The first group is standing on “the earth” (7:1-3), whereas the second group is standing “before the throne” of God in heaven (7:9).

4. God prepares the first group for imminent peril on the earth (“Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” – 7:3), but the second group is victorious, secure, and at rest in heaven (“standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands” – 7:9).

5. The first group is prepared for persecution on the earth (7:1-8), but the second group is ascended to heaven after persecution (7:14-15).

There seems to be a cause-and-effect relationship in Revelation 7between the 144,000 Jewish believers in verses 1-8 and the innumerable crowd of Gentile believers in verses 9-17. The ministry of the 144,000 during the last half of the Tribulation period brings about salvation for millions of people. 5 In spite of the turmoil all around them, the 144,000 Jewish evangelists are faithful to God and God uses them to reach many people from all over the earth during the last half of the Tribulation period (cf. Matthew 24:14). 6

Some students of the Bible have concluded that those who heard the gospel before the Rapture of the Church and rejected it, will not be able to get saved during the Tribulation. They refer to 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 for support of this view. 9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).

When Paul speaks of being “saved” (2:10), he is speaking of the salvation or deliverance from the Tribulation on earth by means of the Rapture of the church as seen elsewhere in his letters to the Thessalonians (cf. I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-5:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:1). 7 Verse 12 does not mean that everyone alive at the time of the Rapture who are unbelievers will be given God’s “strong delusion” and be unable to get saved during the Tribulation.

Seemingly when the Rapture occurs the Man of Sin will emerge and will give some explanation for the sudden disappearance of Christians. With this lie will surely come his claim to be God and to offer protection for all who follow him. Many will be deceived by his message. It is not known for sure what the strong delusion will be. But it is known that only unbelievers who did not “believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” will be deceived (2:12). This cannot mean that all the unsaved when the Rapture occurs will be eternally condemned since Revelation 7 states that there will be 144,000 Jewish evangelists who will lead innumerable Jews and Gentiles all over the earth to faith in Christ during the Tribulation. 8

Those who had “pleasure in unrighteousness” are people who heard and yet rejected the gospel in this Church Age. Those in tribes and people groups who have not heard the gospel will not be endangered by this delusion. It is possible that some in countries like the United States, where the gospel is accessible to all, will not have heard the clear gospel, or have not heard it enough, and so some of them will come to faith in Christ during the Tribulation. Likely, however, many people in Christian lands will be deluded when the Rapture occurs and will be hardened in unbelief. Most of the converts of the 144,000 will likely be in third-world countries and unreached areas of the world (Matthew 24:14). 9

This is a powerful reminder for unbelievers not to continue in their unbelief. They are to cry out to God to show them the truth. Their fear of the coming Tribulation is meant by God to motivate them to ask Him to reveal the truth of the gospel to them. 10 During the Tribulation it will be very difficult for those who have continually rejected the gospel to come to faith in Christ. After all, it won’t get easier to be a Christian after the Rapture, but rather more difficult, since the Antichrist will openly persecute those who receive Christ and refuse to take his mark (Revelation 13:7, 16-17). However, to say that it is impossible for anyone to receive God’s mercy during the Tribulation is expanding 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 beyond what the context allows.” 11

Let’s take a closer look now at this second group in heaven. The apostle John writes, “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9). The converts of the 144,000 are from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.” Every country, tribe, people-group, and language group will be represented in heaven. This tells us that racial distinctions and uniqueness are retained in eternity. 12

Only Jesus Christ can unite all nations and ethnicities together for all of eternity! Governments, special interest groups, and well-meaning religious groups have failed to bring universal peace to the nations of the world. However, God is at work amid a world that is divided. There are churches today comprised of various ethnicities worshiping the true God, Jesus Christ (I John 5:20)! This is a preview of more to come throughout eternity.

These converts of the 144,000 will be “clothed with white robes.” Thesewhite robes” represent believers in Jesus who have been declared righteous in the sight of God through faith in Christ. One of the twenty-four elders says of this group, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14). Whereas the white robes in Revelation 3:4-5 are an eternal reward given to believers who remain faithful to Christ until they go to heaven, the robes here in 7:9, 14 are symbolic of the complete and eternal cleansing of sin that comes to every person who believes in Christ for eternal life. 13

These believers standing before the thrones of God the Father and God the Son are holding “palm branches in their hands” (7:9), which recalls John 12:13 where the Jews meet Christ at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem with joyful celebration and exalt Him as Israel’s King. (The Jews celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles by waving palm branches as they quoted Psalm 118:25-26.) In a similar manner the redeemed ones before the throne will celebrate the imminent victory of the King at His Second Advent (cf. 19:11–20:3) as well as His coming reign (cf. 20:4).” 14

This innumerable group of redeemed people are, crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:10). The word for “salvation” (sōtēria) here refers to a two-fold deliverance: first, from the Lake of Fire as seen in verse 14 where reference is made to the eternal cleansing of the blood of the Lamb. And secondly, when Christ returns to the earth there will be a deliverance from the Man of Sin (cf. Micah 5:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 19:15-20), physical corruption (cf. Romans 8:21-22; Isaiah 35), and the rebellion of men (cf. Psalm 2:9; Jeremiah 30:23-24; Revelation 19:11-21). 15

Verse 10 underscores that this salvation or deliverance belongs to God the Father(“our God who sits on the throne”)and God the Son(“to the Lamb”). Only God could pay the penalty for all our sins since it took a perfect sacrifice to accomplish such a feat (Hebrews 1:8; 10:1-14). And only God could overcome centuries of sin and death through His return to earth to set up His kingdom and bring universal peace and blessings to the earth (Revelation 11:15-18; 19:11-20:6; cf. Isaiah 11:1-16; 65:17-25). 

In addition to these martyred Tribulation believers (7:14) shouting praises to God the Father and God the Son, John tells us, “All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.” (Revelation 7:11). Other “angels,” in addition to the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, representing the church, “stood around the throne and worshiped God.” While the earth is subject to wrath at this time, heaven is filled with worship of God the Father and God the Son.

All the inhabitants of heaven are saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 7:12). “Blessing” (eulogia) or praise is what God deserves because of what He will do for these people (cf. Revelation 5:12, 13). 16 “Glory” (doxa) is the honor due to God because of His good reputation, specifically for delivering them (cf. Revelation 1:6; 4:11; 5:12, 13; 19:1). 17 “Wisdom” (sophia) is God’s infinite knowledge displayed in His plan of deliverance (cf. Revelation 5:12). “Thanksgiving” (eucharistia) literally means “well” and “to give freely,” but it denotes an expression of gratitude for a favor rendered (cf. Revelation 4:9). 18

“Honor” (timē) or esteem is what God deserves because He has planned and provided this salvation (cf. Revelation 4:11; 5:12, 13). 19  “Power” (dynamis) reflects God’s omnipotence that enables Him to overcome all opposition (cf. Revelation 4:11; 5:12; 19:1). 20 “Might” (ischys) or strength refers to God’s inherent power that enabled Him to deliver this multitude from their enemies (5:12). 21 God is worthy of this worship throughout eternity. “Amen” (Amēn) underlines the truthfulness of this sevenfold ascription (cf. 5:13). 22

We must not overlook the oneness of God the Father and God the Son in these verses. While their worship is directed to both God the Father and God the Lamb, we are told they “worshiped God” (7:11) and gave praise “to our God” (7:12). During His earthly ministry Jesus said, “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son.” (John 5:22). The Jews thought it was God alone who would judge the world, but Jesus claims that the Father has given Him that privilege. Why? “That all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (John 5:23). The Jews believed that only God was to be honored and worshiped. Jesus claims the same right to be worshiped and honored that the Father has. This emphasizes the unity of the Father and the Son. What is done to One, is also done to the other because they are equals. They both have the same divine nature.

This is why all other religions fall short. They cannot truly honor God or worship Him apart from Jesus Christ. This is why Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses, etc., all fall short because they do not worship and honor God the Father through Jesus Christ. They may say Jesus was a god or a prophet or a good moral teacher, but they do not believe He is the one true God. And by rejecting Jesus Christ as God, they are rejecting His Father because Christ is the perfect reflection of the Father.

But this will not happen in heaven. All the inhabitants of heaven will honor and worship both God the Father and God the Son because they understand the oneness of God. Jesus said, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19b). Jesus taught that God is one (“the name” is singular) in divine nature, yet eternally exists in three Persons (“Father… Son… Holy Spirit”) Who are equal in every way, yet distinct in their tasks and relations to humanity. God is one substance (Deuteronomy 6:4), yet three in Person (Ephesians 2:18; 2 Corinthians 13:14). Students of the Bible refer to this truth as the Trinity or “three in one.”

All three Persons in Matthew 28:19 share one “name,” because they are one Being. This is not self-contradiction, and here is why: Person is not the same as being. Your being is the quality that makes you what you are, but your person is the quality that makes you who you are. For example, we are humans. That is what we are. That is why we are called human beings. But what we are is not the same as who we are. If someone asks, “Who are you?” I should not respond by saying, “A human!” That answers the question of what I am, not who I am. Who I am is Jeff Ropp; that is my person. What I am is a human; that is my being. Being and person are separate.

Unlike a human being, which has only one person, God has three Persons. He is one being, Yahweh, in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unlike a human being, which has only one person, God has three persons. He is one being, Yahweh, in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. He is more than able to exist like that because He is God. If we say God must have only one Person, like humans, then we are making God in our image. Who are we to limit God? It is up to God to tell us Who He is. That is where the discussion should really be between Christians and non-Christians: on revelation, not on the conceptual plane of “Trinity versus _______,” as if our reason alone can dictate or even decipher the nature of God.

Christians and non-Christians should agree that God is greater than we can possibly conceive, more complex than we could ever hope to grasp. We are in no position to determine the intricacies of God’s nature. If God were to inform us that He is one being in one Person, we are obligated to believe Him. If He tells us, “I am one being in three Persons,” who are we to say “No” to God? As believers in revelation, we must turn to divine Scripture to learn about God.

Scripture is the reason why Christians believe God is triune. The doctrine of the Trinity is the best interpretation of the Bible. There are five elements found repeatedly throughout the Bible’s text that are best interpreted through the lens of the Trinity:

– There is only one God (e.g., Romans 3:30) 

– The Father is God (e.g., John 6:27)

– Jesus is God (e.g., John 20:28; Romans 9:5; 2 Peter 1:1) 

– The Holy Spirit is God (e.g., Acts 5:3–5) 

– These three are distinct Persons (e.g., John 14:16–17)

Those who reject this biblical truth of the Trinity, cannot worship God in the way He has revealed in His holy Word, the Bible. They can change their minds now and believe in Jesus alone for His gift of eternal life (John 3:36a) and worship the Triune God “on earth” and “in heaven” forever (Revelation 5:13; cf. Philippians 2:9-11). But if they refuse to believe Jesus Christ for His gift of eternal life, God’s wrath “abides on him” or her forever (John 3:36b) and they will bow down before Jesus as their Lord “under the earth” in the lake of fire (Revelation 5:13; 20:15; cf. Philippians 2:9-11).  

As we looked upon the inhabitants of heaven during the Tribulation on earth, we saw an innumerable gathering of people before the throne of God consisting of Jews and Gentiles from the church age (“twenty-four elders”) and the Tribulation (7:9, 14). What part of this great multitude of people in heaven will be there because of you and me? Because we were faithful to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 16:15) and make disciples of those who believed in Christ (Matthew 28:19-20)?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for revealing Your great mercy during this unprecedented time of judgment on the earth. Thank You that by believing in Jesus we can be a part of this innumerable gathering of people worshiping You and Your Son around Your throne in heaven forever. We praise Your name and thank You that Israel will finally fulfill their covenant promise – to be a light to the Gentiles and to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom throughout the world during the last half of the Tribulation period. Thank You that by Your grace, we can also invest in helping to populate heaven by sharing the gospel with the lost and making disciples of those who believe in Christ during what time we have left on the earth. Please lead us to the people Your Spirit has prepared to hear and believe the gospel so we may share it with them. All blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might belong to You both now and forever, O Lord God. In the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.   

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1524-1525.

2. Jehovah Witnesses are the most common responders who adhere to this view.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 99 cites as an example Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and Carlisle, England: Paternoster Press, 1999), pg. 424; George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), pg. 116.

4. Adapted from Constable, pg. 99 and Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 167.  

5. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pp. 291-291.

6. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1526.

7. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1149.

8. Ibid., pg. 1150.

9. Ibid.  

10. Ibid.

11. Hitchcock, pg. 244.

12. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2384.

13. Vacendak, pg. 1526.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Constable, pg. 100.

17. Ibid., cites W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1966), pg. 158.

18. Ibid., cites George Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1950), pg. 190.

19. Ibid., cites F. C. Jennings, Studies in Revelation, (New York: Publication Office of “Our Hope,” n.d.), pg. 230.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid., cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1—7, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 491-92.

22. Ibid.

23. The last few paragraphs are adapted from former Muslim, Nabeel Qureshi’s book No God but One: Allah or Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016 Kindle Edition), pp. 55-57.

Revelation 7 – Part 1

“And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.” Revelation 7:4

John received two new visions that corrected the possible impression that no one would survive the “beginning of birth-pangs” (Matthew 24:6-8) during the first half of the Tribulation judgments (Revelation 6:1-17). God will save two groups of people during the first half of the Tribulation (cf. Matthew 24:14): He will preserve 144,000 Israelites alive on the earth (7:1-8), and He will take to heaven a multitude of people from all nations who will die during that time (7:9-17). John saw both groups in chapter 7, which contrasts the panic of unbelievers described in Chapter 6 (“After these things”) and in answer to the question “Who is able to stand?” (6:17), with the security of believers during this time of unprecedented suffering (7:1a). 1

The mention of martyrs during the Tribulation (6:9-11) leads John to write about what will happen to those who become believers during that time. Though billions of unbelievers will die, many will come to faith in Christ and many of those will be martyred for their faith in Him. In wrath, God will remember mercy (cf. Hab 3:2). Even though this will be a time of trouble like never before, it will also be a time of salvation like never before—of both Jews (vv 1-8) and Gentiles (vv 9-17).” 2

As the hoofbeats of the four horsemen echoed into the distance and the cacophony of geological and cosmic upheavals stilled, John’s attention turned to the center of the earthly end-times drama: the land of Israel. Throughout their history, the people of Israel had been conquered, delivered, devastated, exiled, and restored over and over again as military threats bombarded them from every side. Yet at the beginning of John’s vision of the Tribulation, just as the land of Israel is about to endure the most devastating war in all of history, God’s intervention reminds us that He will keep His promises to Israel.” 3

In between the sixth and seventh seals of judgment, John writes, “After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree.” (Revelation 7:1). The apostle “saw four angels standing at the four corners.” The phrase “four corners of the earth, is an idiom for the four cardinal directions 4 – north, south, east, and west. 5

The four angels in John’s vision have the responsibility of restraining the judgment of God (pictured by “the four winds,” cf. Jeremiah 49:36-38; Daniel 7:2; Hosea 13:15) on nature (“the earth…the sea…any tree”). Most of the trumpet and bowl judgments involve God’s destruction of the earth’s environment in some way (cf. Revelation 8–9, 16). However, as Revelation 11:14 indicates, the first six trumpet judgments take place before the 144,000 go out to preach in the last half of the seven years. 6

Then John sees another angel in addition to the first four: “2 Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, 3 saying, ‘Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.’” (Revelation 7:2-3). “Another” [allon] angel” of the same kind as the first four angels ascended “from the east” (literally – “from the rising of the sun”). In the Bible, divine salvation often comes “from the east” (cf. Genesis 2:8; Ezekiel 43:2; Matthew 2:1; 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16). 7

This fifth angel had “the seal of the living God.” A “seal” was a symbol of ownership (2 Corinthians 1:22), authentication (John 6:27), and protection leading to final salvation (Ephesians 1:14; 4:30; cf. Genesis 4:15; Exodus 12:7). 8 This “seal” represents God’s intention to protect the twelve tribes of Israel that are mentioned in verses 4-8, much as He protected Noah from the Flood, Israel from the plagues of Egypt, and Rahab and her household in Jericho. 9

“In Ezekiel 9, a linen-clothed angel went forth and put a mark on a select group of people to set them apart from those on whom God’s judgment would fall. The same is true here. The purpose of this seal is to set apart those who will share the gospel in the last three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation and to protect them from the judgments that will be falling on unrepentant mankind (cf. 9:4).” 10

On earth during the Tribulation, the followers of the Beast will bear his mark on their right hand or forehead (Revelation 13:16). During this same time, the Lord will identify His people by placing a seal of ownership on their foreheads (Revelation 7:3). Revelation 7 and 13 use two different Greek words to distinguish these marks from each other. In Revelation 7, God seals the 144,000 on their “foreheads.” The word used there for the verb “sealed” is sphragizō, which symbolizes the spiritual sealing mentioned throughout the New Testament (John 3:33; 6:27; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30). But in Revelation 13, where followers of the Antichrist are given a “mark” (Revelation 13:16-17), the word used is charagma which refers to a literal brand, tattoo, or etching. 11

This angel commands the four angels to whom was given authority “to harm the earth and the sea” to withhold their judgment on the earth until he had finished sealing “the servants of our God on their foreheads” (7:3). God wants His servants set apart and ready before any of the judgments fall on the earth. 12 The “servants” in view are believers in Jesus Christ who are Jews (7:4-8). The sealing of God’s servants sets them apart as God’s redeemed people and guaranteed their physical safety while they preached the gospel during the last 3 ½ years of the Tribulation when the trumpet judgments take place (8:7-21; 11:15-18).

“Evidently God will give these 144,000 believers special protection in the last half of the Tribulation, because its calamities will be much more severe than those in the first half. Antichrist will also mark his followers in a similar way (13:16-18; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20).” 13

Next John writes, “And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.” (Revelation 7:4). When God’s Word says, “all the tribes of the children of Israel,” He means it. Unfortunately, “most posttribulationists and amillennialists believe the 144,000 are members of ‘spiritual Israel,’ a title of theirs for the church. 14 “Many interpreters take the number 144,000 as symbolic of all God’s servants in the Tribulation.” 15

Swindoll writes, Many Christians today are convinced that God’s plan for ethnic Israel has come to an end. Some believe that the promises of a glorious nation and blessing in the Holy Land have been abolished because of Israel’s past unfaithfulness. Others have determined that these promises were fulfilled in a spiritual sense through Christ in the church. Some theologians propose that Israel has been replaced by the church and that ethnic Jews have been divorced by God, without a future in God’s plan.

“However, the New Testament assures us that God plans to bring about the fulfillment of those promises through Jesus Christ. Although most ethnic Jews have been in a state of unbelief since the time of Jesus, God will one day bring a remnant to faith in Christ and restore them to the land promised to their forefathers (Genesis 13:15). Jesus Himself promised the apostles, ‘In the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Matthew 19:28). Before Christ’s ascension, the disciples eagerly inquired about the timing of that earthly kingdom when they asked, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ (Acts 1:6). It is significant that Jesus didn’t reject their literal interpretation and expectation of a future fulfillment of these earthly promises. Instead, He told them that they would not know the timing of this restoration (Acts 1:7-8). 

Years later, the apostle Paul addressed the problem of Israel’s unbelief by declaring that this rebellion would one day be reversed: ‘A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved’ (Romans 11:25-26). In other words, when God has accomplished His purposes through the church, He will again turn His attention to the nation of Israel and bring them to faith in Christ. We can see the beginnings of this future for Israel with the sealing of the 144,000 in Revelation 7:1-8.

“Why is the restoration of Israel so important? Because God’s very reputation as a Promise Keeper is at stake! With explicit reference to the calling of Israel, Paul said, ‘For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable’ (Romans 11:29). It’s as simple as this: If we cannot trust God to keep His promises to Israel (Jeremiah 31:35-37), how can we trust Him to keep His promises to us (Romans 8:35-39)? Never doubt it: God will do what He says He will do!” 16

That God is referring to ethnic Israel is underscored by the fact that John heard the names of twelve tribes of Israel with 12,000 from each tribe “sealed” and thus protected: 5 of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand were sealed; 6 of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand were sealed; 7 of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed; 8 of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed.” (Revelation 7:5-8). Nothing in this text suggests a symbolic understanding. The fact that specific “tribes” were named “and specific numbers from each tribe were indicated would seem to remove this from the symbolic and to justify literal interpretation. If God intended these verses to represent Israel literally, He would have used this means. Nowhere else in the Bible do a dozen references to the 12 tribes mean the church. Obviously, Israel will be in the Tribulation, and though men do not know the identification of each tribe today, certainly God knows.” 17

The number of sealed servants of God, with specific numbers from each tribe in contrast with the indefinite number of 7:9, underscores the literal understanding of these verses. “If it is taken symbolically, no number in the book can be taken literally.” 18

Hitchcock gives several reasons why the church cannot represent Israel in Revelation 7:1-8: “Why would the Holy Spirit begin to mix the church and Israel in the book of Revelation, the final book in the New Testament, when He has so carefully distinguished the two groups in the previous twenty-six books of the New Testament? Why begin to identify the church as the true, spiritual Israel at this late point in the New Testament? It does not make good sense and is inconsistent.

“Second, if one holds to the pre-Tribulation timing for the Rapture, the church is already in heaven as pictured by the twenty-four elders in Revelation 4–5. Thus, it doesn’t make sense that the group in Revelation 7, which is on earth, would be the church. The church has already been raptured.

“Third, it is interesting that Jews and Gentiles are clearly distinguished from one another in Revelation 7. The 144,000 Jews are listed in 7:1-8 while 7:9-17 presents an innumerable host of ‘every nation and tribe and people and language.’ Merging these two groups does not do justice to the distinctions that Revelation 7 makes:

“Jews from twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 7:1-8), Gentiles from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9-17); numbered—144,000 (Revelation 7:1-8), not numbered—“a great multitude which no one could count” (Revelation 7:9-17); standing on earth (Revelation 7:1-8), standing before God’s throne (Revelation 7:9-17); sealed for protection (Revelation 7:1-8), ascended after persecution (Revelation 7:9-17).

Furthermore, Revelation 7 clearly distinguishes between Jews and Gentiles, but this distinction is inconsistent with the New Testament picture of the church—Jews and Gentiles are seen as one in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:27-28; Ephesians 3:6). Since Galatians 3 and Ephesians 3 unite Jews and Gentiles as one and since Revelation 7 does not reflect that unity, the Rapture must reinstitute a division between Jews and Gentiles. Revelation 7 reflects that division.

So then, who are these 144,000 servants of God? If the Scriptures are interpreted literally, then the 144,000 are a literal group of 144,000 Jewish men—12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel—raised up by God during the Tribulation to serve Him. They are not spiritual Israel (the church), but actual Israel.” 19

The most important fact taught here is that God continues to watch over Israel even in the time of Israel’s great distress. There is no justification whatever for spiritualizing either the number or the names of the tribes in this passage, to make them represent the church.” 20

In conclusion, God’s faithfulness to His promises is seen in the fact that ethnic Israel will retain her national identity before God during the Tribulation period, and He will resume dealing with them again as His chosen people during this time (7:1-8; cf. Daniel 9:24-27). Jehovah Witnesses or any other Gentiles who claim to be a part of this group fail to accept the final authority of God’s Word which clearly states that these 144,000 servants of God will be physical descendants of the twelve Israelite tribes. When they are sealed (7:1-8), they will know their tribal roots, and their sealing will take place after the Rapture of the Church (4:1-4).

How can we apply this to our lives today? Just as God prepared the 144,000 Jewish servants for service by giving them His seal (7:2-8), so God has prepared us for His service by giving us the Holy Spirit to empower us to be His witnesses to the entire world (Acts 1:8). We are not alone when it comes to sharing the gospel with a lost world. God the Holy Spirit indwells us (John 14:16-17) and will give us the boldness (Acts 4:29-31) and words to speak to those who need Christ in their lives (Matthew 10:19-20).

The 144,000 Jewish servants will boldly proclaim the gospel of Christ’s coming Kingdom during the Tribulation period. There appears to be a cause-and-effect relationship in Revelation 7 between the 144,000 Jewish believers (7:1-8) and the innumerable crowd of Gentile believers in heaven from all nations (7:9-17). The preaching of the gospel by these 144,000 Jewish evangelists during the last half of the Tribulation period will results in an innumerable number of people being saved. They will be the greatest evangelists the world has ever seen. These sealed servants of God will fulfill Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” Revelation 7 provides a panorama of God’s saving work during the Tribulation. The 144,000 reveal God’s passion to save people even amid the unspeakable judgments of the Tribulation. To the very end, our Savior will graciously continue “to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10). 21

Does our passion for the lost reflect that of our Savior Who desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2:3-4)? I am convinced that the closer we grow to the heart of the Lord Jesus, the more our hearts for the lost will reflect His. Christ promises that if we follow Him, He will make us fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). Do you feel inadequate to evangelize the lost? Do you ever think that you do not know enough to share the gospel with non-Christians? Ask the Lord Jesus to help you follow Him daily and He will teach you all you need to know about evangelism. The best way to learn to talk to unbelievers is to walk and talk with Jesus.

Swindoll reminds us that this interlude between the sixth and seventh seal judgments in Revelation 7 teaches us several things: “To reaffirm Christ’s central position, remind us of God’s great plan of redemption, and reassure us that God’s wrath isn’t without mercy. John needed that interlude. So do we. In fact, it might be wise for us to follow God’s example and work interludes into our own lives.

“Interludes do at least three things for us—all of them essential in a world filled with relentless stress, hardship, busyness, and drama.

“First, interludes reaffirm for us who’s first… Interludes strengthen the centrality and preeminence of Christ. When we are alone for even a short period of time, we get a desperately needed opportunity to focus on Him. Strive to make this ‘time with God’ a daily appointment. Consider not only setting aside a few hours on Sunday morning to remember who’s first but also devoting the whole Lord’s Day to Christ-centered activities.

Second, interludes remind us of what’s important. In the fast pace of modern life, we frequently get our priorities jumbled up. The nonessentials of life tend to bleed over into the essentials—and vice versa. When we pause, step back, and gather our thoughts, we give ourselves a chance to reorder our priorities. Such occasions to ‘regroup’ can be monthly getaways or annual retreats. Each of us is different, but all of us need a chance to reconsider priorities, set things straight, and form a plan to keep life’s essentials on top. Consider dedicating a portion of a vacation to thinking and praying through your priorities. What a difference it will make for the rest of the year!

Third, interludes refresh us with why it’s all worth it. In the depths of despair, in the thick of tragedy, in the throes of suffering, we need interludes in order to recharge spiritually with the faith and fortitude to carry on. Interludes can help us endure suffering, loss, disappointment, and the death of dreams. They massage us back to a fresh new start. We reenter the fray with a new perspective, centered on God’s goodness and on His plan and purpose. Sometimes we just need a shelter from the storm.

“It’s easy to lose sight of God’s goodness, grace, and mercy in the midst of the daily turmoil of life in this fallen world. Only during interludes of reflection are we able to evaluate our priorities and passions in light of the central position of Jesus Christ, which equips us with a new sense of purpose as we place our trust in Him.” 22

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for this amazing interlude in heaven between the sixth and seventh seal judgments which underscores that Your wrath is accompanied by Your mercy. Only You can give us security amid a world that is spinning out of control. Your judgments can awaken people for their need for Your mercy through the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank You for remaining faithful to Your promises to Israel and to those of us who are Gentiles. We can trust You to keep Your promises no matter how difficult life becomes. Please show us how to work interludes into our own lives that enable us to renew our commitment to Christ. We need to detach from this hostile world and renew our love relationship with Jesus. Make us more like You, Lord Jesus, so Your love for the lost becomes ours. Use us to proclaim Your message of grace through faith to a world that is perishing without You. Protect us from the evil one and equip us with a renewed sense of purpose as we place our trust in You. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 94.

2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1524-1525.

3. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 162-163.

4. Ibid., pg. 163.

5.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2382.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1525. Regarding Revelation 11:14, Vacendak says, Since the death of the two witnesses and the subsequent earthquake occur after the first and second ‘woe’ (i.e., trumpet judgments five and six), one may conclude that the first six trumpet judgments occur during the first three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation” (pp. 1538-1539).

7. Constable, pg. 95.

8. Ibid.

9. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1525.

11. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 290.

12. Vacendak, pg. 1525.  

13. Constable, pg. 96.

14. Ibid., cites as examples William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible series 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 30; Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), pg. 168; Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John, Tyndale New Testament Commentary series, Reprint ed. (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), pg. 175; George Raymond Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, New Century Bible Commentary series, Revised ed. (London: Morgan & Scott, 1974; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1983), pg. 140; George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John, 1972 reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985), pp. 114 116; Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John. 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907), pg. 99; James Moffatt, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” In The Expositor’s Greek Testament Vol. 5 (1910), 4th ed. Edited by W. Robertson Nicoll 5 Vols. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1900-12), pg. 395; Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and Carlisle, England: Paternoster Press, 1999), pg. 413; David E. Aune, Revelation 6—16, Word Biblical Commentary series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), pg. 447.  

15. Ibid., cites as examples Alan Johnson, “Revelation,” In Hebrews-Revelation Vol. 12 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary 12 vols., Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), pp. 463 and 481; Ladd, pg. 117.

16. Swindoll, pp. 156-157.

17. Walvoord, pg. 164.

18. Constable, pg. 96 cites Thomas, Revelation 1—7, p. 474.

19. Hitchcock, pp. 288-289.

20. Walvoord, pg. 164.

21. Adapted from Hitchcock, pp. 291-292.

22. Swindoll, pp. 168-169.

Revelation 6 – Part 3

15 And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’” Revelation 6:15-16

The first four seal-judgments involving four horsemen depicted utter destruction of the world in general from the Lamb in heaven (6:1-8). These first four seals are “the beginning” (Matthew 24:8) of a series of judgments that take during the first half of the seven-year Tribulation period. They will be followed by a period of persecution (6:9-11), after which the earth-shattering judgments of the sixth seal will take place (6:12-17). This is exactly what the Lord Jesus predicted in His Olivet Discourse:

1. Wars, famines, pestilences (Matthew 24:6-8).

2. Persecutions (Matthew 24:9-14a).

3. Then the end will come (Matthew 24:14b). 1

In anticipation of this persecution, John writes, “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.” (Revelation 6:9). When Jesus “opened the fifth seal,” John “saw under the altar” in heaven “the souls of” believers “who had been slain for” their commitment to “the word of God and for the testimony which they held” during the reign of the World Ruler or Beast of Revelation (cf. Revelation 13:1-7; Matthew 24:9-22). This verse makes it clear that people will be saved during the Tribulation period, but many of them will be martyred. More will be said of these martyrs in Revelation 7.  2

“Some Amillennialists believe these martyrs are all Christians who die for their faith during the entire Church Age, which, according to their view, are all the believers who will have died from Christ’s ascension to His Second Coming.” 3  “Preterists view these people as Christians who died in the first century of the church’s history.” 4

But in the context of Revelation 6:9, a literal understanding places these martyrs in the future Tribulation period. Since the church is already pictured in heaven as represented by the twenty-four elders (Revelation 4-5), these people in verse 9 must be those who died after the Rapture, since all Christians living at the time of the Rapture will experience bodily resurrection and go directly into Jesus Christ’s presence to escape the coming wrath of the coming Tribulation (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 4:15-17). The people John describes in verse 9 are those who come to faith in Christ after the Rapture (cf. Matthew 24:9; Luke 21:12). They had become believers during the first half of the Tribulation through the preaching of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:1-10), and then had suffered martyrdom for their faith. John saw their “souls” in heaven, not their resurrected bodies, because God had not resurrected them yet. The resurrection of Tribulation saints will not occur until the end of that seven-year period of judgments on the earth (cf. Revelation 20:4). 5

“Obviously, then, people will come to faith in Jesus following the rapture because believers of the church age all will have been removed from earth. Notably, this is the first seal in which God’s judgment comes in response to the cries of people.” 6

In the last three-and-a-half years, as the Beast assumes worldwide authority (cf. 13:3), he will set out to rid the world of the witnesses of Christ who are spreading out all over the earth to share the gospel and will succeed in killing multitudes (cf. Matt 24:9, 14; Rev 12:17).” 7

These martyred Tribulation saints Cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Revelation 6:10). These believers “cried with a loud voice” asking the Lord Who is “holy and true,” how long they would have to wait until He would “judge” their murderers.

Compare the prayers of Jesus (Luke 23:34) and Stephen (Acts 7:60), in which they asked God to be merciful to their murderers, with the prayers of these Tribulation martyrs.  The difference is that, for the martyrs’ murderers, the time of God’s longsuffering had now ended, and He had begun to pour out His wrath on rebellious humanity. 8

“This plea to God for justice and vengeance finds its roots in the Old Testament imprecatory psalms—prayers calling God to take His stand against the enemies of righteousness. Psalm 94:1-5 provides a perfect example of this sentiment.

“O LORD, God of vengeance,

God of vengeance, shine forth!

Rise up, O Judge of the earth,

Render recompense to the proud.

How long shall the wicked, O LORD,

 How long shall the wicked exult?

They pour forth words,

they speak arrogantly.

All who do wickedness vaunt themselves.

They crush Your people, O LORD,

And afflict Your heritage.

“This prayer for judgment and vindication acknowledges several important theological truths. God is a God of justice, holiness, and truth who will keep His promises of salvation for His people and retribution against His enemies. But the psalmist, like the saints under the altar in Revelation 6, acknowledges that such vengeance is a strictly divine prerogative. Paul exhorted the Romans, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay’” (Rom. 12:19, quoting Deut. 32:35). Though the martyred saints will have to wait a little longer while their fellow Tribulation martyrs join them (Rev. 6:11), the Lord will keep His promise to avenge the murder of His saints (2 Thes. 1:6-8). In fact, the sixth seal portrays the fulfillment of this promise of vengeance against the enemies of God’s people.” 9

One important question about the fifth seal is, how will the deaths of believers be a judgment for the world? Remember, the seals are divine judgments. The death of God’s people brings judgment in two ways. First, the removal of God’s people, the salt and light of the world, will allow darkness and corruption to overrun the earth unchecked. It will be a case of the blind leading the blind. Second, as the enemies of God murder His people, they are unknowingly heaping more judgment upon themselves. Also, God will answer these martyrs’ prayers for vindication when He pours out His wrath on His enemies.” 10

Next John writes, “Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” (Revelation 6:11). Each martyr was given “a white robe” and told to “rest a little while longer until” the full number of martyrs “was completed.”

These Tribulation martyrs are reminded that even though God’s justice is delayed at times, it always comes. God misses nothing and eventually He will bring complete justice in response to every wrong committed. 11

The sixth seal will provide God’s answer to the cries of these Tribulation martyrs. “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood.” (Revelation 6:12). After Jesus “opened the sixth seal” John saw a “great earthquake” occur as the Beast and his armies gather to make war against Christ (cf. Revelation 19:19). 12 This earthquake resulted in “the sun” becoming “black as sackcloth of hair,” which is likely because of volcanoes erupting and discharging ash that blocks the sunlight. 13  In addition, “the moon” will become red “like blood” (6:12a).

Next, John observes, 13 And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. 14 Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.” (Revelation 6:13-14). Meteor-like “stars of heaven” will fall “to the earth” and “the sky” will recede “as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island” will be moved “out of its place” perhaps due to the great earthquake and meteorites (6:13-14). The universe will seem to be imploding before the eyes of all who dwell on the earth. 14

All kinds of people all over the world without Jesus will panic and seek to protect themselves instead of turning to the Lord for mercy and deliverance. 15 And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’” (Revelation 6:15-16). Without Jesus as their Savior, they would rather have “the mountains and rocks” fall on them and kill them than face “the wrath of the Lamb.” This indicates that the unbelieving people’s perception of God (“Him who sits on the throne”), and the “wrath of the Lamb,” in heaven, will be far more terrifying to them than the physical consequences of this judgment. Whereas the martyrs cry, “Avenge us!” (6:10), these unbelievers cry, “Hide us!” 15

“What sinners dread most is not death but having to stand before a holy and righteous God.” 16

Those who refuse to trust in Jesus during this unprecedented time of worldwide suffering will say, “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:17). “The splitting of the sky and shaking of the earth that is occurring is so unprecedented that the followers of the Beast clearly recognize their guilt and culpability before God and His Son. They have not one ounce of hope.” 16

This sixth seal “reveals the horror of unbelievers who must face the full wrath of God and His appointed Judge, Jesus Christ. The absolute panic experienced  by these wicked people doesn’t grip them because God is unjust, but because they know He will give them exactly what they deserve!” 17

Oh, my dear friends, as you read this portion of the Word of God, please understand that this is not some science fiction novel or symbolic description of various troubles that have already taken place on earth. This is a literal description of an unprecedented time of worldwide suffering that will take place in the future on earth. Everyone on earth at that time will not only know it is God’s judgment, but they will act like it by seeking death to escape from God’s wrath. You do not have to go through this terrible period of unprecedented suffering. God has provided a way of escape.

Jesus Christ said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24).  Have you heard Jesus’ promise of eternal life?Do you believe or trust Him alone for eternal life?

If you heard and believed Jesus’ promise, Christ guarantees that you now have everlasting life which is a forever personal relationship with the true God (John 17:3) which can never be lost (John 6:37; 10:28-29). If you could lose eternal life, Jesus just told a lie in John 5:24. Jesus is qualified to give you eternal life because He is God (John 1:1; I John 5:20) and He paid for this free gift (Romans 6:23b) when He died on the Cross for all of our sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-8).

Jesus promises that you “shall not come into judgment.” You will not be judged for your sins because you have everlasting life. You have complete forgiveness (Colossians 2:13-14). You are now God’s child forever (John 1:12). You are completely covered by His love without a single fault (Ephesians 1:4; cf. Romans 8:31-34).

You have “passed from death into life.” You never have to be afraid of dying because you now have everlasting life which means you will live with Jesus forever in His Father’s house in heaven (cf. Matthew 6:9; John 14:1-3; Revelation 21-22) after you die or are raptured from the earth (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23; I Thessalonians 4:15-17), whichever takes place first.

Those who refuse to believe in Jesus for eternal life are promised not to “see life, but the wrath of God abides on” them both now (John 3:36), during the Tribulation on earth if they are alive then (Revelation 6), and in the lake of fire for eternity (Revelation 20:15).   

The Bible promises to remove believers in Jesus from the earth to live with Him in heaven forever in the third heaven or Paradise before this great outpouring of God’s wrath takes place on the earth (2 Corinthians 12:1-4; I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-18). Knowing this should comfort and encourage us to live for Christ until we see Him face to face (I Thessalonians 5:6-11).

As believers in Jesus, it is important for us to have Christ’s love for those who are lost, who will one day face this horrific future on earth and do what we can to tell the good news of the gospel of grace to those in need of Christ’s salvation and eternal life. Let us speak of the joy that could be theirs through faith alone in Jesus and His atoning sacrifice and warn of the wrath to come and the eternal suffering that awaits those who refuse to believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God for His gift of everlasting life. 18

Prayer: Holy and true God, thank You for revealing the horrific judgments which will take place in the future during the seven-year Tribulation on earth. Because You are holy, You cannot let any sin go unpunished. Millions of believers throughout history have suffered and died at the hands of Your enemies. Your message today underscores that You will severely repay those who have persecuted Your people. Thank You also for reminding us that those who believe in Jesus for eternal life are not appointed to this coming wrath on earth. Our future is free from Your wrath. Please give us Your heart for the lost so we may boldly and lovingly warn them of Your wrath to come on the earth and in eternity, so they may believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life and forgiveness of all their sins and escape Your wrath to come. In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1523. 

2. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 89 cites as an example Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and Carlisle, England: Paternoster Press, 1999) pg. 39.

4. Ibid., cites as an example Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John 2nd ed., (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907), pg. 92.

5. Ibid.

6. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2382.

7. Vacendak, pp. 1523-1524.

8. Constable, pg. 89.

9. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 153-154.

10. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 284.

11. Evans, pg. 2382.

12. Vacendak, pg. 1524.

13. Evans, pg 2382.

14. Vacendak, pg. 1524.

15. Constable, pg. 91.

16. Ibid., cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1—7: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 456; cf. Swete, pg. 94.

17. Swindoll, pg.  154. 

18. Adapted from Elizabeth Haworth’s daily verse entitled, “What Does Revelation 6:8 Mean?” at knowing-jesus.com.

Revelation 6 – Part 2

“So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.” Revelation 6:8

In Revelation 6, after the church has been caught up to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven (Revelation 4-5; cf. I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-5:11), the seal judgments are opened by the Lamb, Jesus Christ, at the very beginning of the Tribulation (Revelation 6:1-2). 1 After the apostle John received the vision of the Lamb opening the first of seven seal judgments containing a Rider on a white horse representing the Lord Jesus Christ about to begin a series of long-range judgments using His bow from heaven against rebellious humankind on earth (6:1-2), he writes: “When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ ” (Revelation 6:3). After the second seal is opened, Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.” (Revelation 6:4).

This second seal judgment will “take peace from the earth.” As a result, murder, violence, and war run rampant as never before. 2 In His Olivet Discourse, the Lord Jesus revealed that during the initial stages of the seven-year Tribulation on earth, there will be “wars and rumors of wars.” (Matthew 24:6). He says, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” (Matthew 24:7). Christ points out that such things will be “the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:8).

Even though most commentators view the first half of the seven years as a time of peace, it is clear that ‘the beginning of sorrows’ includes a world completely given over to war and bloodshed. However terrible and destructive war is, the sorrows that follow are more catastrophic. The colossal bloodshed during these beginning stages is pictured by the fiery red horse and a great sword given to its rider.” 3

This worldwide conflict during the first half of the Tribulation period does not mean the Antichrist’s covenant of peace with Israel will be broken (cf. Daniel 9:27a). This will not happen until the middle of the Tribulation and the beginning of the Great Tribulation (cf. Daniel 9:27b; Matthew 24:15). 4

Next John writes, “When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come and see.’ So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand.” (Revelation 6:5). The opening of this third seal would usher in economic instability to the first half of the Tribulation period, a reality depicted by a “a black horse” with the rider holding a “pair of scales in his hand,” used to measure out basic commodity prices. 5

Then John heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.’” (Revelation 6:6). As a result of increasing warfare during the first half of the Tribulation period, there would be great famine and inflation (cf. Matthew 24:7), with food (“wheat… barley”) costing a day’s wages which was “a denarius” in Roman currency. 6In John’s day, a denarius would purchase eight to sixteen times as much food as what he said it will purchase in the future.” 7 Since war had caused food supplies to be greatly reduced, strict control was implemented (“do not harm [tamper] with the oil and the wine”) over prices (6:6; cf. Matthew 24:7).

The causes of the famine were not extremely severe, since they killed only “the wheat” and “barley,” but not the vines (“wine”) and olive trees (“oil”) whose roots go deeper. 8 As the Tribulation grows worse, the wealthy as well as the poor will suffer, but at this early stage, the poor will suffer more than the rich. 9

At the middle of the Tribulation period, The Antichrist will be Satan’s CEO of the world’s economy. He will set interest rates, prices, stock values, and supply levels. Everything will be nationalized or internationalized and placed under his personal control. With the chaos created by the Rapture and the collapse of the world economy predicted in Revelation 6:5-6, people will be willing to give all power over to one man. Much like the Germans turned to Hitler after the runaway inflation in Weimar Germany, the world will turn to the man who seems to have answers for the crushing problems they’re facing. From the midpoint of the Tribulation until the second coming of Christ, no one will be able to buy or sell without the Antichrist’s permission (Revelation 13:16-17). People all over the world will be compelled to take his mark. His one-world economy will be run by his sidekick the false prophet (Revelation 13:11-18).” 10

Next John observes, 7 When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ 8 So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.” (Revelation 6:7-8). After the Lamb “opened the fourth seal,” John saw “a pale horse” whose rider “was Death, and Hades followed with him.” This judgment will reduce earth’s population on an unprecedented level; one-fourth of humanity will die – nearly two billion people if it happened today. 11 “Hades,” the place unbelievers go immediately after death (Luke 16:22-23), follows the rider named “Death. “This image reveals that as Death rides forth like a harvester among the grain, he scoops up victims and casts them into Hades’ sack.” 12

Jesus gave these enemies the “power” to kill “a fourth of the” world’s population through war (“sword”), famine (“hunger”), disease (“death”), and attacks by ferocious “beasts [animals] of the earth” (6:8b).

I must admit, it’s hard to come to terms with the severity of these judgments. This stampede of deception, wars, pestilence, death, and destruction make every tragedy we’ve seen in world history pale in comparison! Only the emotionally numb could fail to wonder, ‘How could God allow such things to happen, much less decree them?’  Where in the world is our loving heavenly Father?

“In the midst of our concern about these judgments, we must never forget that God is absolutely just and fair in punishing evil. Wickedness deserves to be judged. Yet in His abundant grace, God continually tempers His wrath and demonstrates demonstrates mercy. In fact, Jesus taught that God will even put a limit on the days of the Tribulation (Mark 13:20). This may not seem significant until we realize that, if He does not impose that limit, everyone in the world will perish!

“We should also recognize that most of the judgments in Revelation come through the work of evil agents. God allows evil in the world, but He is not the author of evil.” 13

“One theologian writes, ‘Specifically, it will not do to accuse God of evil intentions or malevolent acts. He is sovereign, but not blameworthy, for He is righteous in all His deeds (Ps. 11:7; Dan. 9:14). He oversees all things in accord with His will, but He is not the source, the cause, or the author of sin.’” 14

The fact that God reveals far in advance, the seriousness and severity of His future judgments against unbelief and sin, reminds us that His judgments never occur prematurely or haphazardly. This also shows His grace in allowing people ample opportunity to heed the warning and look in faith, to His Son (cf. 2 Peter 3:3-9). 15

Prayer: Father God, thank You for recording these severe judgments ahead of time so we can prepare by believing in Your Son, Jesus Christ, for His gift of salvation. For those of us who already believed in Jesus, please help us to warn others of what is coming so they can trust in Christ alone for their salvation and escape the coming wrath that will overtake this world with unprecedented suffering. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 143.

2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1522.

3. Ibid.

4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 87.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2381.

6. Ibid.

7. Constable, pg. 87 cites Cicero, In Verrem 3.81.

8. Ibid., cites Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (New York: Macmillan, 1922), pg. 521.

9. Ibid.

10. Hitchcock, pp. 262-263.

11. Retrieved on November 24, 2021 from https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/ .

12. Vacendak, pg. 1523.

13. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 151-152.

14. Ibid., pg. 152 cites Robert A. Pyne, “Humanity and Sin,” Understanding Christian Theology, pg. 758.

15. Ibid., pg. 158.

A Cosmic Christmas (Video)

This video is about the birth of Christ from heaven’s perspective as described in the book of Revelation. The message of this video will help you learn how to experience the joy and peace you were meant to have.

All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. The Revelation Art is used by permission of Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. To order art prints visit her “Revelation Illustrated” site: http://www.revelationillustrated.com. Other digital images are used with permission from Arabs for Christ / FreeBibleimages.org, Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org, Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing, www.LumoProject.com, GoodSalt / goodsalt.com, or they are creative common licenses.

Revelation 6 – Part 1

“And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” Revelation 6:2

Our daily rituals are often the same, day in and day out. Wake up. Get up. Wash and dress. Eat breakfast if there’s time. Dash off to school or work or other activities. We expect our routines to be the same every day. However, each one of us has experienced an unexpected disruption along the way. A flat tire, a sick child, a fender bender, a phone call out of the blue relaying tragic news: Situations like these interrupt our routines with unwelcome stress, even severe trials. Occasionally these unexpected events can overturn our entire lives.

For most people, God’s end-time judgment will be unexpected and unwelcome, disrupting life’s routine with more than just minor irritation. The Great Tribulation of Matthew 24:21 will affect more than just one family, city, or nation. The period of God’s final judgment will affect the whole world (Luke 17:26-30; 1 Thes. 5:1-3; Rev. 3:10).

“Some people completely deny that God would ever judge anybody for anything. After all, they reason, isn’t God a loving God? Doesn’t He abound in mercy? Whatever happened to divine compassion and forgiveness? Clearly, God’s coming judgment strikes at the very heart of our theology, our view of the nature and character of God Himself. It’s no wonder that people find much that is disturbing to them in the book of Revelation. Yet when we discover that God’s mercy and wrath work hand in hand and that God will bring about redemption through judgment, we will have a much clearer and more balanced understanding of the God we love and serve.” 1

In Revelation 4 and 5, John saw God the Father sitting on His throne in His heavenly throne room holding the seven-sealed scroll containing judgments to be unleashed on rebellious humankind during the early part of the Tribulation period on earth (Revelation 6:1-8:2). Only one Person in the universe – Jesus Christ – was found worthy to take that scroll, to open its seals, and to begin the process of taking control of the world from evil and forever conquering sin and death. However, the steps necessary for preparing the world for His Kingdom on earth would involve a period of unparalleled judgment and suffering. 2

The subject of Revelation 4 and 5 was worship in heaven. But beginning in Revelation 6 the subject changes to wrath being poured out on the earth. 3 

With the opening of the first seal, the tribulation period begins on earth—a seven-year span following the rapture of the church in which God brings judgment to earth in order to reclaim it. Once the church is in heaven and worshiping around God’s throne, divinely wrought calamities will come upon the earth.” 4

In the book of Revelation, there are three distinct series of judgments that will take place during the seven-year (Daniel 9:27) Tribulation period on earth: seal judgments, trumpet judgments, and bowl judgments. The seventh of each series brings the judgment to a close and opens a new vision, in which the next series begins. The seven-seal judgments take place during the first half of the Tribulation (6:1-8:1) followed by the trumpet judgments beginning in the middle of the Tribulation (8:2-9:21, 11:15-19). The bowl judgments refer to the most severe judgments near the end of the Tribulation (16:2-21).

“Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, ‘Come and see.’” (Revelation 6:1). When “the Lamb opened” the first of the seven “seals,” John “heard one of the four living creatures” say, “Come and see.” The “voice like thunder” alludes to the intense storm of God’s judgment that is about to come on the earth. 6

Next John writes, “And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” (Revelation 6:2). Among the numerous interpretations of this verse, the two most common understand the white horseman to refer either to Jesus Christ 7 or to the Antichrist. 8

It is best to understand that the rider on this “white horse” is the Lord Jesus Christ for the following reasons: 9

1. None of the symbolic elements of this first horsemen are found anywhere else in the Bible describing the world-ruler or Antichrist. However, every feature of this vision is found elsewhere in the Bible in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Zechariah 1:7-11; Psalm 45:4-6; Revelation 19:11-21).

2. The vision of the four horsemen in Revelation 6:1-8 is like the visions of Zechariah 1:7-11 and 6:1-8 which provide a Scriptural prototype that divine, not Satanic, agencies, are in view (cf. Zechariah 1:10-11 and 6:5). The vision in Revelation 6:1-8 has the four horsemen intimately connected with God’s throne in Revelation 5 and are therefore, the only active agents of judgment which are directly summoned by the living creatures surrounding the throne of God.

3. When comparing the first vision of Zechariah with Revelation 6:1-8, it is significant to observe that the first man riding on a red horse” that “stood among the myrtle trees” (Zechariah 1:8), was none other than “the Angel of the Lord” or the preincarnate Christ (cf. Zechariah 1:11). Hence, the first horseman of Zechariah’s vision is the Son of God.

4. Psalm 45, a Messianic Psalm, is parallel in thought to Revelation 6:2 (“he went out conquering and to conquer”) when it reads, And in Your majesty ride prosperously” (Psalm 45:4). This parallel becomes more noteworthy when the Psalmist describes this prosperous ride with the words, “Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies; the peoples fall under You” (Psalm 45:5), for the first rider of Revelation 6 is armed with a “bow” (6:2). The ultimate victory of the rider of Psalm 45 is no different than that for which the first horseman of Revelation 6 goes forth, for the Psalmist continues, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.” (Psalm 45:6). These words, applied to the Son of God in Hebrews 1:8, can also be seen in the first horseman of Revelation 6 being connected to God’s throne in Revelation 5. The first horseman of Revelation 6 can be seen advancing the cause of God’s throne whereby the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ would then be in the final and eternal establishment of the throne of God and of the Lamb.

5. The most obvious parallel is that the first horseman of Revelation 6:1-8 rides “a white horse” (6:2) just as the last horseman of the book of Revelation does: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.” (Revelation 19:11). The horse was “white,” symbolizing victory, righteousness, and holiness. White has these connotations in other places in Scripture. A Roman conqueror typically rode a white horse in a triumphant procession. 10 The first horseman of Revelation 6 goes forth at the beginning of God’s judgments on the earth and the last horseman of Revelation goes forth at the consummation of these judgments. The first horseman of Revelation 6 represents “victory in prospect” – “he went out conquering and to conquer” (6:2) – and the last horseman of Revelation 19 “represents victory realized.” 11

6. The differences between the first horseman of Revelation 6 and the last horseman of Revelation 19 can be adequately explained. First, there is the matter of the first horseman having a “bow” (6:2) in contrast to the last horseman having a “sword” (19:15). “The bow is the weapon of long-range warfare, whereas the sword is the weapon used in close combat with the enemy. If the rider of 6:2 represents Christ as the Initiator of all God’s judgments upon His enemies, it is clear that throughout the Tribulation He fights with them, so to speak, at long range. For the judgments of the Tribulation are such as fall from heaven to earth while the King is absent. But in chapter 19, the King comes personally to earth and now the conflict with the forces of evil is waged at close quarters and, with the sword, the last battle is won. And just quite naturally the sword is thought in connection with His Word – for it proceeds out of His mouth – so also may the bow be linked with the same Word. As the prophet Habakkuk has written, 12

Your bow was made quite ready; oaths were sworn over Your arrows.” (Habakkuk 3:9). Hence, the judgment-bringing Word of God is seen first under the figure of a “bow” foreshadowing Jesus’ conquests over His enemies from long range in heaven (6:2) until the final battle when He returns in chapter 19 as the last, white-horsed Rider fighting and winning at close range with a sword in His hand (19:11-21). 13 The purpose of these long-range judgments from heaven is to bring Christ’s enemies into submission to Him (Hebrews 1:13) and to bring the nation of Israel to repentance (Daniel 9:24-27; Romans 11:26-27).

Another difference between the first and last Rider on a white horse is the one “crown” (stephanos) of 6:2 and the “many crowns” (diadēmata) of 19:12. It is important to realize that the first appearance of this Rider is separated from His last appearance by seven prophetic years. The stephanos is no less appropriate than the diadēmata, for the writer of Hebrews sees the Son of God already “crowned” (the verb form of stephanos, stephanoō) in glory and honor before His final victory (Hebrews 2:9). 14 The stephanos refers to “the crown of victory both for the victorious athlete in the games and for the triumphant general in war.” 15 The use of stephanos in Revelation 6:2 is appropriate in connection with the victory which is ascribed to this first horseman who goes “out conquering and to conquer.” His victory is certain and therefore He is crowned beforehand. But the “many crowns” of Revelation 19:12 representing kingly authority, 16 are equally appropriate where the emphasis falls upon the royal identity of the last Horseman Who is “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (19:16).

The single “crown” (stephanos) represents the final all-conquering victory which the first Rider will achieve (6:2), while the “many crowns” (diadēmata)of 19:12symbolize the multiple victories over the kings and lords of the earth which flow from this victory. Hence, the “crown” (stephanos) of ultimate victory is followed by the “many crowns” (diadēmata) of universal authority. Regardless of whether it be the stephanos or diadēmata, it belongs alone to our Lord Jesus Christ. May God speed up His wearing of them both! 17

Prayer: Father God, as we watch the world spin out of control with evil and wickedness, we are encouraged to read this vision of the first Rider on a white horse representing the Lord Jesus Christ. His wearing of one crown reminds us that His victory over His enemies is certain. Following His removal of the church from the earth, He will begin a series of long-range judgments using His bow from heaven against rebellious humankind on earth to bring them into submission to His kingly authority and to bring the nation of Israel to repentance. His universal kingship will be fully realized when He returns to earth to defeat His enemies at close range using a sword at the end of the Tribulation period to establish His universal reign on the earth as King of kings and Lord of lords! Lord Jesus, we not only look to You to conquer evil and sin in the future, but we also trust You to lead us into victory over evil and sin in our own lives. In Your mighty name we pray King Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 148-149.

2. Ibid., pg. 149.

3. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 277.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2381.

5. Swindoll, pg. 149.

6. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1521.

7. Zane C. Hodges, “The First Horseman of the Apocalypse,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 119:476 (October 1962), pp. 324-34; Jack MacArthur, Expositional Commentary on Revelation (Eugene, Oreg.: Certain Sound, 1973), pg. 137.

8. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, pg. 86 cites J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come, (Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications, Victor Books, 1990), pg. 250; Evans, pg. 2381; John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

9. Adapted from Hodges, pg. 324-334.

10. Constable, pg. 84 cites Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament Vol 6 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), pg. 340.

11. Hodges, pg. 328.

12. Ibid., pg. 333.

13. Ibid., pp. 333-334.

14. Ibid., pg. 334.

15. Ibid., pg. 334 cites J. H. Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, pg. 589; cf. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 943-944.  

16. The diadēmata (“many crowns”) represent kingly authority (see Constable, pg. 86; Walter Bauer, pg. 227; Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament [with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!], 6 Volumes [E4 Group, 2014 Kindle Edition], Kindle Locations 227973-227977). Hence, the last horseman’s vast kingly authority as “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (19:16)is represented by thediadēmata of Revelation 19:12.

17. Hodges, pg. 334.

Revelation 5 – Part 1

“But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.’” Revelation 5:5

Christian author and speaker, Chuck Swindoll writes, I never cease to marvel at the advances of the modern world. The field of medicine has given us a life expectancy higher than ever. In many countries, even some people living in poverty live longer and have more comforts than kings of the past. Technology has sped up communication and transportation, essentially shrinking the globe. Within seconds, a person in Canada can chat with a friend in Thailand. Within a day, they can shake hands. At least in the Western world, humans have overcome many social and political problems, learning to face new challenges in the twenty-first century. We human beings have certainly come a long way!

“Or have we?

Over a century ago, liberal theologians thought we were on the verge of ridding ourselves of the barbarism, imperialism, and superstition that had led the world astray for so long. This included what they saw as the ‘mythical’ trappings of Christianity—things like the Virgin Birth, the deity of Christ, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Armed with modern science and philosophy, those enlightened intelligentsia were convinced that people could finally mold the world into what it was meant to be—an enduring kingdom of peace and prosperity on earth. In short, they believed that humanity, equipped with the latest ideologies and technologies, was worthy to forge a glorious destiny, trusting in human ability rather than trusting in God.

“As you probably know, this overconfidence in humanity evaporated like a morning fog. In 1914 an assassin’s bullet ignited the fire that exploded into World War I. Germany was armed to the hilt with the most advanced weapons produced at the time. And they had the unwavering support of Germany’s leading philosophers and even theologians! That great conflict, dubbed ‘The War to End All Wars,’ was quickly followed by the terror and atrocities of World War II. By then, mass killing had been reduced to a science at Auschwitz, and science had also been used to create the massive destruction of the atomic bomb! Then came the horrors of terrorism, which military authorities say is here to stay. The reality of human depravity has dashed the misplaced hopes of humanistic philosophy and liberal theology. Today the world is left wandering in unbelief, doubt, uncertainty, and fear. People wonder whether anyone or anything is able to truly remove the evil around us.

“Is anyone worthy to vanquish wickedness and usher in a world of true peace and prosperity? As the world continues its desperate and disappointing search for worldly answers to life’s problems, the Bible reveals the solution in clear words and vivid images. In Revelation 5 we experience the inexpressible joy that John felt when the attention of all creation finally centers on the only One who can take the reins of history and tame a world spinning out of control—Jesus, the worthy Lamb.” 1

Before God pours His wrath on rebellious humankind on earth (Revelation 6-18), He describes the Person Who is worthy to open a scroll containing God’s judgments to be unleashed on the earth during the 7-year Tribulation period. Chapter 5 continues the vision the apostle John was given of God and His throne room in Chapter 4. “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals.” (Revelation 5:1). The “scroll” that John saw “in the right hand of” God the Father is representative of the judgments God will pour out on the earth throughout the Tribulation period (cf. Revelation 6:1ff).The opening of just one seal alone, the fourth seal, will result in the death of one fourth of the world’s population (cf. Revelation 6:7-8). 2

This “scroll” was the focus of John’s attention in chapter 5, and it is what Jesus Christ opens (unseals) in chapter 6, resulting in the judgments that will be unleashed upon the earth. This rolled document was so full of words that John could see writing on the outside (“on the back”) as well as on the “inside” of the scroll (cf. Ezekiel 2:9-10). 3 Papyrus documents have been discovered that contain writing on both surfaces of the sheets, though this was unusual. 4

Someone, probably God, had “sealed” the scroll with “seven seals,” suggesting the profound nature of the revelation it contained. 5 Roman law required that people seal their wills “seven” times because they were very important documents. 6 The perfect number (i.e., seven) of seals may also hint at the absolute purity of the scroll. 7

“In John’s day, people used a seal to keep the contents of a document secret, unchangeable, and free from tampering—until some authoritative person broke the seal. In this case, after Jesus broke the first seal, the scroll unrolled until the second seal kept it from opening further. Then He had to break the second seal in order to reveal more of the contents, and so on. Probably the seals were located on the edge of the scroll.” 8

The scroll is like a title deed to the earth. It depicts God’s ownership of all creation and right to hold accountable those who misuse it and thus dishonor Him. Through judgment administered by Jesus, God once again will lay claim to His creation, which was plunged into sin by Adam in Genesis 3.” 9

Because God the Father has decreed that He will not execute His judgments on mankind personally (cf. John 5:22), 10 John hears “a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?’” (Revelation 5:2). This is the second of twenty-one times “loud voice” occurs in Revelation (cf. 1:10; 5:2, 12; 6:10; 7:2, 10; 8:13; 10:3; 11:12, 15; 12:10; 14:2, 7, 9, 15; 16:1, 17; 18:2; 19:1, 17; 21:3). His “loud voice” manifested his authority and the importance of what he said. 11 “The Greek word rendered ‘scroll’ is biblion, from which is derived the word ‘Bible.’” 12

One with sufficient authority and worthiness was necessary to “open the scroll and to loose” or break “its seals,” to unleash the judgments on the world that it contained. Next John writes, “And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it.” (Revelation 5:3). After searching every level of the universe, no created being “in heaven or on the earth or under the earth” in Hades possessed the authority or ability to “open” or even “look at” the scroll.

“In fact, no one is worthy even to look at the Lord’s plan for worldwide judgment, much less administer it, prompting John to weep.” 13 “So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it.” (Revelation 5:4). John “wept much because no one was found” who was qualified to “open the scroll” and execute God’s wrath and bring His enemies into submission to Him.

“John knew that if no one had been found worthy, the hopeless condition of the present world would continue indefinitely. The suffering, pain, sickness, and death that characterize everyday life would never come to an end! Yet John’s weeping may have had another dimension. For over sixty years he had placed all his hope in Jesus Christ to turn the world right side up. If heaven’s search for a worthy heir failed, so would his confidence in Jesus Christ.”  14

Spiritually minded people long for that future day when the evil cosmos will be subjugated, and God will be obeyed. Because no one is found worthy to execute God’s wrath and bring this subjugation about, John is extremely grieved.” 15

How deeply grieved are we to see the postponement of God’s wrath upon the earth which will bring all His enemies into subjection to Him? Does our heart yearn to see God’s righteousness bring to justice those who have rebelled against Him and caused much suffering and pain to His servants? For centuries, believers have prayed for God’s kingdom to come on earth (Matthew 6:10) only to be disappointed. Perhaps our generation will be the one to see this come to pass.

John’s grief was probably lifted when he writes, “But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.’” (Revelation 5:5). One of the twenty-four “elders” representing the church in God’s throne room in heaven, told John not to weep because Jesus, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has prevailed to open the scroll and its seven seals” to execute God’s wrath on the earth. The “Lion . . . of Judah” (Genesis 49:9) and the “Root” or Offspring “of David” (Isaiah 11:1, 10; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Matthew 22:42-43; Romans 15:12) are both titles of the Messiah-God, Who would fulfill the Old Testament promises of salvation and rule. This is the only place in the New Testament where they occur together, however. As God’s ultimate Anointed One, Jesus alone possessed the authority and qualifications necessary for this task. 16

The word “prevailed” is the Greek word enikēsen and is from the same word used in Revelation 2 and 3 to describe the victorious believers who earn the title of “overcomer” and thereby reign eternally with Christ (cf. Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21). The implication is that Christ was completely and perfectly faithful to God in His role as Messiah. He is the ultimate Overcomer, and therefore only He has earned the right “to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals” as the Executor of God’s judgments. 17

This scene reflects the fact that sinful people, even when they are redeemed, fall short of the qualifications necessary for one who could judge the earth. But Christ, by virtue of His full divinity, sinless humanity, and atoning death, is qualified. God the Father has granted judging authority to the Son (see John 5:22, 27). Jesus died to redeem humanity at His first coming. He will judge in order to redeem the entire creation at His second.” 18

Through tear-filled eyes now sparkling with renewed hope, John looked for the Lion—but instead he saw something else. 19 “And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Revelation 5:6). John now saw the “Lamb” of God, the Lord Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:6-7; John 1:29), “in the midst of the throne” room of God. The Lamb of God now took center stage among all the angelic creatures and the twenty-four elders gathered around the throne, as the central character and most important Personage in the entire heavenly scene (cf. 3:21; 4:6; 7:17). The Lamb “stood” ready to complete His work, bearing the marks (wounds, scars) of His death (“as if slain”). 20

“In one brilliant stroke John portrays the central theme of NT revelation—victory through sacrifice.” 21

The Lamb possessed “seven horns” representing His fullness of power and strength (Numbers 23:22; Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Samuel 2:1, 10; 2 Samuel 22:3; 1 Kings 22:11; Psalm 75:4; 132:17; Daniel 7:20-21; 8:5) 22 and “seven eyes” representing His fullness of wisdom and discernment through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (“seven Spirits of God,” cf. 1:4; 4:5) 23  which made Him aware of all that was taking place on “the earth.” 

Because Jesus is qualified to bring judgment to earth, “Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.” (Revelation 5:7). John saw the Lamb of God come and take the “scroll out of the right hand of” the Father “who sat on the throne” to signify the transfer of authority to execute judgment from the Father to the Son. The word “took” (eilēphen) is in the perfect tense to provide a vivid dramatic picture of the actual scene. 24 The transfer of authority was complete. During His earthly ministry Jesus had said, For the Father… has committed all judgment to the Son… and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.” (John 5:22, 27).

In conclusion, Jesus Christ is the only One worthy to execute God the Father’s judgments on rebellious humankind during the Tribulation period (5:1-7). This serves as a motivation for believers now to live for Him Who will judge rebellion in the future.

Prayer: Holy Father in heaven, for centuries people have trusted in themselves and their own ingenuity to rid this earth of evil only to find themselves overcome by more unbelief, doubt, uncertainty, and fear.As the world continues its search for solutions to life’s problems, You remind us in Your throne room in heaven of the only One Who is qualified to tame a world that is spinning out of control – Your Son Jesus Christ, the Lamb Who was slain and the Lion Who alone is worthy to judge the earth. Since Jesus will judge rebellion in the future, we who know Him as our Savior bow before Him and commit ourselves to give Him all our love and devotion. For He alone is worthy of all glory, honor, and power both now and forever!!! In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 137-139.

2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1519.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 74.

4. Ibid., pg. 75 cites Adolf Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East Revised ed. (Translated by Lionel R. M. Strachen. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1965), pg. 35.

5. Ibid., cites R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John Vol. 1 International Critical Commentary seriesa (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920), pg. 138.

6. Ibid., cites Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (London: SCM, 1965), pp. 182-183. 7. Ibid., cites William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol 1 The Daily Study Bible series 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 209; Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), pg. 142.

8. Ibid.

9. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2379.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1519.

11. Constable, pg. 75.

12. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

13. Evans, pg. 2379.

14. Swindoll, pg. 140. 

15. Vacendak, pg. 1519.

16. Constable, pg. 76.

17. Vacendak, pg. 1519.  

18. Evans, pg. 2379.

19. Swindoll, pg. 140.

20. Constable, pg. 77.

21. Ibid., cites Mounce, pg. 144.

22. Swindoll, pg. 140; Constable, pg. 77; Vacendak, pg. 1520; Walvoord, pg. 164.

23. Vacendak, pg. 1520; Walvoord, pg. 164.  

24. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament (with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!), 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2017 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 216335-216339.

Revelation 4 – Part 3

“The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’” Revelation 4:8

When the apostle John was caught up through an open door in heaven to enter God’s throne room, he saw God the Father sitting on a glorious and majestic throne surrounded by twenty-four elders representing the church (Revelation 4:1-4). After describing these elders, John returns his attention to God the Father where he depicts His power and majesty. “And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices.” (Revelation 4:5a). The “lightnings, thunderings, and voices” proceeding “from the throne” of the Father display His majesty and judgment about to come upon the rebellious people of the earth (cf. Exodus 19:16-19; Hebrews 12:18-21). While God does sit on a throne of grace, it is also a throne of wrath. 1 

Next John writes, “Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” (Revelation 4:5b). The “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne” represent the Holy Spirit (“severn Spirits of God,” cf. 1:4) and His readiness to carry out the Father’s judgments. Remember the number “seven” represents completion or fullness in the Bible. The Holy Spirit gives “perfect illumination and insight concerning all that transpires everywhere. By this perfect wisdom God rules the universe… Unlike earthly throne rooms, God’s throne room is not in the dark about anything (cf. Zechariah 4:10; Hebrews 4:13).” 2

John then observed, “Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal.” (Revelation 4:6a). The crystal-like “sea of glass” before the throne pictures the purity of God and the complete calmness of His throne room in heaven before His judgments begin on earth. While the “nations rage” (Psalm 2:1) on earth against the rule of God like a “troubled sea” (Isaiah 57:20), all is calm before God’s throne in heaven. 3 This reminds me of fishing at our farm ponds as a child and watching the pond waters become very still as storm clouds approached. The calm before the storm of God’s fiery judgments was evident in heaven.

6b And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.” (Revelation 4:6b-7). The “four living creatures” surrounding “the throne” are angelic beings (cf. Ezekiel 1:5-11; Isaiah 6:1-3) that reflect the character and role of Christ. The phrase “full of eyes in front and back” pictures Jesus’ all-seeing knowledge. The “lion” pictures Jesus’ power, courage, majesty, and kingly role (cf. Matthew 2:2; 21:5; Revelation 5:5). The “calf” or ox pictures His faithfulness, servanthood, and self-sacrifice (cf. Matthew 12:18; 20:26-28). The “face like a man” pictures Jesus’ humanity (cf. Hebrews 4:15), and the “flying eagle” portrays His majesty and superiority over all things. 4

The appearances of these four angels may symbolize the portraits of Jesus in the four Gospels. In Matthew, Jesus is King of the Jews, represented by a regal lion. In Mark, he is a servant, represented by an ox—a beast of burden. In Luke, he is the Son of Man, represented by the face of a man. And in John, he is the Son of God who gives eternal life, represented by a majestic eagle.” 5

“The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:8). “The four living creatures each have six wings” like the seraphim (lit. “burning ones”) of Isaiah 6:2-3. “If their wings perform the same function as the seraphim, four of the six wings cover their entire bodies and denote humility and reverence toward God Almighty. With the other two wings they fly, which points to their readiness to obey the command of God.” 6

The description of them being “full of eyes” suggests alertness, comprehensive knowledge, and constant vigilance (cf. Ezekiel 10:12). 7 The phrase “around and within” probably means that they had eyes even on the undersides of their wings, so that they could move their wings without interrupting their vision. Their movements did not undermine their constant vigilance. 8

These angelic creatures “do not rest day or night” exalting the holiness of each member of the Godhead. The phrase “holy, holy, holy” is stated three times in the Majority of Greek manuscripts, one triplet for each member of the Godhead. “Each member of the Godhead is infinitely holy in His own Person.” 9

God the Father is “holy, holy, holy.” God the Son is “holy, holy, holy.” And God the Holy Spirit is “holy, holy, holy.” To be “holy” means to be separate and distinct. The Bible says, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5). There is absolutely no darkness or sin in our Triune God. He is perfect, pure, and righteous.

God’s holiness is the centerpiece of His character. 10 We never see, “God is love, love, love,” or “God is grace, grace, grace” in the Bible. But we do see God is “holy, holy, holy” in the Scriptures (Revelation 4:8; cf. Isaiah 6:3) because His holiness is at the center of His being. All of His other attributes flow from His holiness. His wrath against sin, then, is a holy wrath. His sovereignty or control over the universe is a holy sovereignty. His love for the world is a holy love. If God is anything, He is holy. 11

What this means is that God the Father is just as holy as God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Likewise, God the Son is just as holy as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, God the Holy Spirit possesses the same infinitely perfect holiness as God the Father and God the Son. All three Persons of the Godhead are worthy of our admiration and praise throughout eternity! Also, they are more than qualified to bring judgment against the rebellion of humankind on the earth.

In addition, these angelic creatures also exalt the power (“Lord God Almighty”) and eternality (“Who was and is and is to come”) of God. There is no one like our Triune God. All of heaven acknowledges this. Their focus is on the awesome character of the Lord. Heaven’s inhabitants are not distracted by others or by the furniture arrangements in the throne room of God. They are captivated with the holy character, power, and eternality of our Triune God.

“Our Lord God is holy in His majesty, holy in His Person, holy in His office and holy in the works of His hand and the words of His mouth. He was holy in eternity past and will be holy in eternity future and He is holy in the present time and in all the surrounding space.” 12

When you and I approach our holy God in worship, we can quickly be overwhelmed with a deep sense of our own sinfulness and lack of holiness. God has absolutely no darkness or sin in His actions, motives, thoughts, or words. But all our being is stained with sin (Isaiah 64:6). Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). We all fall short of God’s glory and holiness (Romans 3:23). Each one of us has sinned against God with our actions, motives, thoughts, and words, and we, therefore, stand before Him as guilty sinners.

But thanks be to God for the Lord Jesus Christ Who makes it possible for unworthy sinners such as you and me, to approach a holy God in worship (cf. Hebrews 10:1-22). When Jesus died in our place on the cross for all our sins (I Corinthians 15:3-4a; Colossians 2:13-14), God’s holy wrath fell upon Him. Christ’s death satisfied God’s holy demand to punish our sins as demonstrated when the Father raised Jesus from the dead (I Corinthians 15:4b-6; cf. Romans 1:3-4; I John 2:1-2), so that whoever believes in Jesus should not be judged for his or her sins (John 5:24) but have everlasting life both now and forever (John 3:16).

Those of us who believe in Jesus are now free to enter God’s throne room in heaven through the blood of Jesus at any time to worship our holy Triune God (Hebrews 10:19-23).

Prayer: Holy Father, Son, and Spirit, You alone are worthy of all glory and praise both now and forever. We humbly bow before You, recognizing it is only by Your grace that we can approach Your holy presence and sing both now and forever, Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!In the name that is above all names, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1517.

2. Ibid., pp. 1496, 1518.

3. Ibid., pg. 1518.

4. Ibid.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2378.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1518.

7. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 72.

8. Ibid.

9. Vacendak, pp. 1518-1519.

10. Evans, pg. 1112.

11. Ibid.

12. Retrieved on November 9, 2021, from Elizabeth Haworth’s Daily Verse entitled, “What does Revelation 4:8 Mean?” at www.knowing-Jesus.com.

Revelation 4 – Part 2

“Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.” Revelation 4:4

The apostle John has now transitioned to the third part of the divine outline for the book of Revelation. He is recording the things which will take place after this” (1:19c) concerning future events in Chapters 4 to 22. John was caught up through an open door in heaven to enter God’s throne room (4:1) where he saw God the Father sitting on a throne that signified His future judgments would be rooted in His absolute purity (“jasper”), His righteous anger toward sin (“sardius”), and His faithfulness to His promises (“rainbow… like an emerald”) (4:2-3).

Next John writes, “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.” (Revelation 4:4). While in heaven, John sees twenty-four elders sitting on thrones around the throne of God. Who are these twenty-four elders? Some teach that these twenty-four elders represent angels, 1 both angels and humans, 2 or both Old and New Testament believers. 3 However, I believe the biblical evidence indicates that these twenty-four elders represent the church for the following reasons: 

1. The word “elders” in the New Testament refers to leaders of the local church (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:4-5, 21). Nowhere else in the Bible are angels referred to as “elders.” 4

2. Just as twenty-four Levitical priests in the Old Testament represented the entire priesthood consisting of thousands of priests when serving in the temple (I Chronicles 24), so these twenty-four elders represent the entire church in heaven (Revelation 4:4). 5

3. The fact that these elders are seated on “thrones” and wearing “crowns” (4:4) points to the church because Jesus promised enthronement (Revelation 2:10, 25-27; 3:21; cf. Matthew 19:27-29; 2 Timothy 2:12) and crowns (Revelation 2:10; cf. I Corinthians 9:25; I Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; I Peter 5:4) to faithful believers from the church age. These elders cannot represent angels or Old Testament saints because angels are never referred to as “elders” in the Bible nor are they ever pictured as wearing “crowns,” andOld Testament believers will not be resurrected and rewarded until after the Tribulation is over (cf. Daniel 12:1-3). 6 But church-age believers will receive crowns at the Judgment Seat of Christ in heaven during the Tribulation period on the earth (2 Corinthians 5:10).

4. The white “robes” or garments of the elders (4:4) are identical to the clothing rewarded to faithful church-age believers in Revelation (Revelation 3:5, 18; 19:7-8).

5. Only believers, not angels, can sing Revelation 5:9 where the best Greek manuscripts have the word “us” in Revelation 5:9: “… for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Angels were not redeemed by Christ’s blood. Jesus died for humans, not angels (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3-6).

6. The elders are clearly distinguished from the angels in Revelation 5:11: “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.”

The fact that these twenty-four elders are already sitting on “thrones,” wearing “white robes” and “crowns” indicates they have already appeared before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive their rewards (4:4; cf. I Corinthians 3:8-15; 9:24-27; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:10, 25-27; 3:4-5, 21) which means the vision John describes in heaven takes place after the Rapture of the Church.

This is supported further by the absence of the word “church” (ekklēsia) and any references to church-age believers in Chapters 4-18, which describe the outpouring of God’s wrath on the earth during the Tribulation. Twenty times the word church occurs in the book of Revelation (cf. 1:4, 11, 20; 2:1, 7-8, 11-12, 17-18, 23, 29; 3:1, 6-7, 13-14, 22; 22:16). Nineteen times the word “church” occurs in Revelation 1-3 describing the Church Age. But in Revelation 4-18, where John describes the events of the Tribulation, the word “church” occurs zero times. The word “church” doesn’t occur again until the last chapter of Revelation (22:16).

“If the church will experience any or all of the Tribulation, then one would expect that Revelation 4–18—the most detailed description of the Tribulation—would include an account of the church’s role during that time period. But remarkably, Revelation 4–18 is silent about the church on earth.” 7

Those who believe the church will go through the Tribulation period on earth (Posttribulationists), argue that there is no mention of the word “church” in heaven during the Tribulation period (Revelation 4-19). The response to this is that the church throughout Revelation 4-19 is represented by the “twenty-four elders” in heaven (Revelation 4:4, 10; 5:5-6, 8, 11, 14; 7:11, 13; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4).

“The elders appear twelve times in these chapters. And in each instance, they are in heaven worshiping Him who sits on the throne and the Lamb. From their first mention in Revelation 4:4, the twenty-four elders are pictured in heaven, judged, rewarded, and enthroned. This interpretation fits well with the belief that the church will be raptured prior to the Tribulation. Revelation 4–19 consistently pictures the church in heaven, representing it by the twenty-four elders enthroned and crowned, dressed in white, and worshiping the Lamb (Revelation 4:4, 10; 5:5-6, 8, 11, 14).” 8

Posttribulationists also say that the word “saints” occurs several times in Revelation 4-18 and refers to the church on earth (Revelation 13:7, 10; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24). But this understanding fails to recognize that there are three distinct groups of “saints” in the Bible: Old Testament saints (Psalm 16:3, et al.), Church-Age saints (I Corinthians 1:1, et al.), and Tribulation saints (Revelation 13:7 et al.). The “saints” on the earthmentioned in Revelation 4-18 refers to people who were saved after the Rapture of the Church.

The church doesn’t appear again until chapter 19, where she is pictured as a bride returning to earth with her glorious Bridegroom. This returning from heaven to earth with Christ indicates that the Bride has already been in heaven for some time since she has ‘prepared herself’ (Revelation 19:7). Revelation 22:16 refers to the church again for the final time, specifically using the word ekklesia. The presence and absence of the term ekklesia in the book of Revelation is convincing evidence that the church will not be present on earth during the Tribulation and the outpouring of God’s wrath.” 9

The best explanation for all these details in Revelation is that the church has already been removed by the Lord Jesus Christ prior to the Tribulation to deliver her from “the wrath to come” (I Thessalonians 1:10). The apostle Paul wrote of believers in Thessalonica who “wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (I Thessalonians 1:10). Paul promises that believers in Jesus will be delivered from the coming Tribulation wrath. How? He explains that believers are caught up off the earth to meet Jesus in the air (I Thessalonians 4:15-18; 5:9-10) and unbelievers are left behind for judgment (I Thessalonians 5:3).

Knowing that we will be delivered from the coming Tribulation wrath via the Rapture of the church provides strong motivation to live for the Lord now. The certainty of our escape from the coming wrath should motivate us to live godly lives – 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night.” (I Thessalonians 5:6-7). “The Lord is coming unexpectedly, don’t be caught living like non-Christians,” Paul is saying. As Christians, we are to stay spiritually awake, living in anticipation of Christ’s return for us at any moment – and not worried about being caught in the Day of the Lord.

How do we stay spiritually awake and alert to the Lord’s coming? “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation” (I Thessalonians 5:8). The “breastplate” protects vital organs (heart, lungs). This breastplate is composed of faith and love – faith that Christ is coming back any time and love for one another will protect us from spiritual heart damage. “Helmets” protect our head. This “helmet” is made of hope which guards us from attacks on our thinking. This hope focuses on being delivered from the coming wrath. Wear this helmet constantly and you will be ready for His return.

What relevance does this teaching have for the church? “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” (I Thessalonians 5:11). Christians are to encourage one another with this message of comfort and hope. The extent to which Christians misunderstand or are misinformed about the Rapture, will be the extent to which they are robbed of these blessings the Lord intended for them.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for Your great and precious promises, which include Your promise to deliver every believer in Jesus from the coming Tribulation wrath on earth through the sudden removal of Your Church. Your coming for us at any moment motivates us to live godly lives until we go to be with You so we can receive eternal rewards consisting of dazzling white robes and the authority to reign with You. We live for that day when we will be caught up to be with You forever. Until then, please empower us to multiply Your followers through the preaching of the gospel and the training of believers in discipleship so we may hear You say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 69 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1—7: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 348; E. W. Bullinger, The Apocalypse or “The Day of the Lord” (London: Eyre and Spottiswodde, n.d.), pg. 219; John Peter Lange, ed. Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, 12 vols., (Reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), Vol. 12: James-Revelation, by J. P. Lange, J. J. Van Oosterzee, G. T. C. Fronmuller, and Karl Braune. Enlarged and edited by E. R. Craven. Translated by J. Isidor Mombert and Evelina Moore), pg. 152; James Moffat, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” In The Expositor’s Greek Testament Vol. 5 (4th ed., Edited by W. Robertson Nicoll. 5 vols. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1900-12), pg. 378; George Raymond Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation New Century Bible Commentary series (Revised ed. London: Morgan & Scott, 1974; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1983), pg. 114.

2. Constable, pg. 69.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., pg. 70.

5. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 148; John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1989), pg. 102.

6. Hitchcock, pg. 148.

7. Ibid., pg. 146.

8. Ibid., pg. 147.

9. Ibid., pg. 146.

Revelation 4 – Part 1

“Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.” Revelation 4:2

After recording “the things which you have seen” (1:19a) pertaining to the vision of the ascended Lord Jesus walking among seven lampstands in Chapter 1, and the things which are” (1:19b) involving Jesus’ seven messages to the seven churches in Asia Minor in Chapters 2 and 3, the apostle John transitions to the third part of the divine outline for the book of Revelation. The apostle now records the things which will take place after this” (1:19c) concerning future events in Chapters 4 to 22.

John writes, After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, ‘Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.’” (Revelation 4:1). The phrase “after these things” refers to the vision John received of Jesus’ messages to the seven churches (2:1-3:22). This is a reference to the church age—that is, the period of history between Christ’s ascension and His Rapture or removal of believers from the earth. 1

After recording Jesus’ final message to the church of Laodicea, those last words were rather significant considering what John was about to see next. The vision of Christ standing outside the lukewarm church of Laodicea knocking on a closed door and promising a throne to the one who overcomes (3:20-21) suddenly shifts to a contrasting vision of an open door in heaven where John sees an eternal and glorious throne (4:1-2). 2 Twice in the book of Revelation, we are told that the door to heaven was opened. The first time was so the church could be received into heaven at the Rapture (4:1-4). The second time was so Christ could leave heaven with His church to return to earth (19:11-20).

Before we look at the details of this vision John received, let’s consider what is meant by the word “heaven.” The Greek word translated “heaven” is ouronos. It refers to “the portion or portions of the universe generally distinguished from planet earth.” 3 The word “heaven” is divided into three levels in the Bible: 4

– The “first heaven” includes the sphere surrounding the earth known as our atmosphere where birds fly and clouds float (Genesis 1:6-8, 20).

– The “second heaven” includes everything in the cosmos above the earth’s atmosphere—the moon, sun, planets, stars, and galaxies (Genesis 1:14-18). From a modern worldview perspective, both the first and second “heavens” are technically still part of the physical universe. But that is not the case with the “third heaven.”

– The “third heaven” was the term used to describe the dwelling place of God, the angels, and any other spirit beings. The apostle Paul said he “was caught up to the third heaven… into Paradise” (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4). Before Jesus died on the cross, believers in Jesus went to a place called “Paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22; 23:43) and unbelievers went to a place called “Torments” in Hades (Luke 16:23). When Jesus died on the cross, He released the souls and spirits of believers in Abraham’s bosom (Ephesians 4:8-10) to go to God’s home in the “third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4; cf. Matthew 6:9; John 14:2-3; Acts 7:59-8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-23). Hence, the “third heaven” is what we might call the “spiritual realm,” a plane of reality accessible only by heavenly invitation, like the one John received in Revelation 4:1. This is where God lives and rules. 

Prior to Jesus’ death on the cross, Old Testament believers could not go to the third heaven because Jesus’ blood had not removed all their sins yet. The Old Testament sacrifices had only covered their sins, not removed their sins (cf. Hebrews 9:9-10; 10:1-4, 11). Only the blood of the Lamb of God could take away their sins forever (John 1:29; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13-18; Hebrews 9:11-15; 10:10-22). After Christ’s death and resurrection, when a believer in Jesus dies, his spirit and soul go to the third heaven to be with Jesus while his physical body sleeps in the grave (cf. John 11:11-13; I Thessalonians 4:14, 16). 

But when an unbeliever dies, his or her spirit and soul go straight to Torments in Hades where they stay until they are called out to face God at the Great White Throne Judgment where they are judged according to their works to determine their degree of punishment in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-14). Then they will be confined to the Lake of Fire or Hell forever with Satan and his fallen angels (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10, 15)!

So, when John was taken up into heaven, he was not transported to another planet or even another galaxy. Rather, he was caught up to the ‘third heaven,’ to the presence of the living God.” 5

John then hears a booming “voice… like a trumpet,” most likely belonging to Christ, inviting him to “come up” through this open door in heaven where he would receive revelations about “things which must take place” during Daniel’s seventieth week of years (Daniel 9:27) which is the 7-year Tribulation period (4:1c; cf. 4:1-11:19).

In Revelation 1-3, John has been on earth on the island of Patmos. But now his venue is about to shift from earth to heaven where he can get a heavenly perspective about future events. It is helpful to understand that scenes alternate from heaven to earth throughout Revelation 4-20. 

This alternating pattern reassures readers that the chaos on earth is being controlled by heaven. God is on His throne and superintends all that transpires on earth. This should be a supreme comfort in uncertain, troubled times.” 6

After Revelation 2–3 no reference is made to the Church again until 22:16, and so some see 4:1 as a picture of the Rapture of the Church. However, the apostle alone, and not the Church, is summoned by this voice. Therefore, this is an invitation to John to enter God’s dwelling place and receive new revelation regarding His future plans.” 7

Next, John writes, “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.” (Revelation 4:2). “Immediately” John “was in the Spirit.” To be “in the Spirit” means toenter the spiritual perspective. That is, to see things that physical eyes cannot see, as when believers are commanded to pray in the Spirit (Jude 20). Naturally, certain aspects of John’s experience of being in the Spirit were unique and not repeatable since he was writing Holy Scripture. But much of it is repeatable. Believers today can abide in the Spirit, receiving understanding of God’s will and work. Too often, though, we merely ‘visit’ the Spirit, so to speak, without ‘living with him’ in a condition of heightened spiritual awareness.” 8

With the proper spiritual perspective, John is transported through the open door in heaven where he saw “a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne” (4:2b). This is like the perspective described in Isaiah 6:1-8, where the prophet Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” as “seraphim” stood above Him (Isaiah 6:1-2). 9 The “One… on the throne” (4:2b) was God the Father because both the Son (5:5-7) and the Spirit (4:5) are set apart from Him. 10 The fact that John saw God on His throne before the series of judgments are given underlines the sovereign control of God (cf. 4:1–5:14; 8:1-6; 15:1-8). Heaven determines what happens on earth. So even when we feel out of control as we watch the world move quickly toward end-time events, we can rest in God the Father’s rulership from heaven.

“And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.” (Revelation 4:3). The phrase, “He who sat there,” is not found in the majority of Greek manuscripts, so this description pertains to God’s throne, not God Himself. These verses would read, “And One sat on the throne which is like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance” (4:2b-3a). 11

The description of God’s throne having the “appearance” of “jasper and a sardius stone” signifies the absolute purity (“jasper” is clear as crystal, like a diamond; cf. 21:11) and the righteous anger toward sin (“sardius” was a fiery red stone) that will characterize the series of judgments coming from God’s throne. The “rainbow around the throne” was like “an emerald” having different shades of green, reminding us of Genesis 9:12-17, where God designated the rainbow as a sign of His covenant with Noah never to destroy the earth with a flood again. Each time a rainbow occurs in the Bible, it is a reminder of God’s perfect faithfulness to His promises. These three stones together “reveal that God’s throne is a throne of grace (cf. Hebrews 4:16). Even in the terrors of the Tribulation, God is gracious, because if He did not limit it to seven years, no one would be left alive (cf. Matthew 24:21-22).” 12

John’s vision of God’s throne room and its majesty, communicates some profound truths about God the Father. He is the center and source of all creation. Everything points to and revolves around Him. He occupies a throne from which judgments are made that are rooted in His absolute purity, righteous anger toward sin, and His perfect faithfulness to His promises. God the Father has unshakable authority over all things (Psalm 115:3; Daniel 4:35). His sovereign rule is fixed, permanent, and unwavering. Once we personally come to grips with John’s vision of God’s throne room, our response can be nothing less than profound admiration, unwavering commitment, and deep reverence for the eternal King. 13

John’s vision reminds us that true worship starts and ends with the living God of the universe. Unfortunately, many twenty-first century Christians, including myself, have lost sight of what John experienced in God’s throne room.

Christian author and speaker, Chuck Swindoll, writes, “We wonder: Does worship mean I have to hold my hands up when I sing and pray, like some Christians do? Does worship mean I need to close my eyes and envision something heavenly, lest I become distracted by something earthly? Does worship mean I have feelings that are a little bit ecstatic, maybe bordering on the supernatural?” 14

Swindoll continues, “Worship is ascribing ‘worth’ to something or someone. We attribute value, honor, and devotion to our object of worship. When we truly worship God, we turn all of our attention, affection, and adoration toward Him. That’s the missing jewel—worshiping God by ascribing supreme worth to Him, for He alone is worthy. God alone is the subject of our praise and the object of our worship. We miss it when we focus on the horizontal—on people and things—rather than on the vertical—on God and God alone. It has become too common for Christians to surrender everything for their work yet sacrifice nothing in worshiping the One who gave His life to save ours. Stop and think. Is that you?” 15

Before we pray, I want to invite you to take some deep breathes and release to God whatever is distracting you from Him. It may be work, a relationship, an illness, a financial burden, or an emotion. Then read Revelation 4:1-11. Notice that all of heaven is focused on the One Who sits on the throne. They are praising Him for Who He is (holy, righteous, faithful) and for what He has done (created and sustains all things). They are not distracted by each other or by the furniture of the throne room, or by their own wandering thoughts. Instead, they keep their eyes, ears, and hearts on the One Who is worthy of all praise. 16

Prayer: Father God, thank You for transporting John into Your throne room in heaven so all of us who read this can heighten our spiritual perspective. Thank You for God the Holy Spirit Who enables us to see things that physical eyes cannot see. The first thing John sees Father, is You sitting on Your throne, ruling the universe. As chaos worsens in the world, we can find comfort knowing You are still in control and that heaven determines what happens on the earth. Thank You for the appearance of three stones which indicate that the judgments that come from Your throne are rooted in Your absolute purity, righteousness, and faithfulness to Your promises. None of Your decisions made on this throne are corrupt, sinful, or based on deception. Because You still sit on a throne of grace, Your decisions remain gracious and invite us to approach You with confidence. Father, we thank You for the Lord Jesus Christ Who has provided a new and living way into Your heavenly throne room. In His mighty name we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2377.

2. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 126.

3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 737.  

4. Swindoll, pg. 128.

5. Ibid., pp. 128-129.

6. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 82.

7. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1516.

8. Evans, pg. 2377.

9. Ibid., pg. 2377.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1517.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid. 

13. Swindoll, pg. 127.

14. Ibid., pg. 133. 

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid., pp. 133-134.