Revelation 19 – Part 1

“After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to our God!’” Revelation 19:1

“The classic science-fiction adventure Star Wars ends with the dazzling destruction of the Death Star – a moon-sized space station that had terrorized the galaxy as a symbol of evil and tyranny. The epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings climaxes with the cataclysmic destruction of the dark tower of Mordor – the center of the demonic Dark Lord Sauron’s evil oppression.” 1

In a similar way, the obliteration of Rome (“Babylon”) represents the destruction of everything that is evil and demonic in the current world system. So, it should not surprise us when something as decadent as Rome and its religious/economic system comes to an end, all of heaven will celebrate with a jubilant chorus of hallelujahs. Even in the fictional realms of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, the victory over evil causes great rejoicing among those who are triumphant. 2

Following the destruction of the great harlot (Rome) which caused the people of the world to grieve deeply and be distressed (18:1-24), we see a much different response to Rome’s destruction in heaven (19:1-10). All the inhabitants of heaven are praising God for what He has done to Rome. As the Tribulation period is coming to an end, the focus in heaven is on God and the nearness of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to earth.

The apostle John writes, “After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to our God!’” (Revelation 19:1). The phrase “After these things” (Meta tauta) refers to the events of chapter 18 and marks a new chronological development in the book of Revelation. 3 In this new vision John “heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven.” Think of a large stadium filled with enthusiastic football fans screaming at the top of their lungs when their team scores the go-ahead touchdown. In heaven, a “great multitude” of heaven’s inhabitants (possibly believers and angels) are roaring with praise toward God’s judgment of Rome.

This heavenly choir is saying, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to our God!” The word transliterated “Alleluia” is from the Hebrew compound word: “hallal” (praise) and “Yah” (an abbreviated form of Yahweh). 4 Hence, the word means “praise Yahweh” or “praise the Lord.” The only four occurrences of “Alleluia” in the New Testament are in this section (19:1, 3, 4, 6) although it does occur often in the Psalms. 5This is the biblical Hallelujah Chorus! 6

“Praise” “is the declaration of the glory, greatness, power, and majesty of God, and there is no such thing as silent praise. Unlike worship, which can occur quietly within a believer’s heart, praise in Scripture often is tied to our lips (e.g., Ps. 34:1; 51:15; 119:171). God is not untoward in demanding praise because He is worthy of it. Hundreds of thousands of people attend parades to celebrate championship sports teams, yet God is infinitely more worthy of celebration than any athlete.” 7

This is why we see the inhabitants of heaven crying out, “Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to our God!” Barclay notes, “The salvation of God should awaken the gratitude of man. The glory of God should awaken the reverence of man. The power of God is always exercised in the love of God, and should, therefore, awaken the trust of man. Gratitude, reverence, trust – these are the constituent elements of real praise.” 8

There are two reasons why heaven praises God. “For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.” (Revelation 19:2). The first reason heaven praises God is because “His judgments,” including His annihilation of “the great harlot,” are “true and righteous” (19:2a). The word “true” (alēthinai) conveys that God’s judgments are totally in line with the truth of His Word. The Lord did what His Word said He would do. 9

In addition, God’s judgments are also “righteous” (dikaiai) which carries the idea that God is fair and just in carrying out these judgments. 10 For centuries, pagan and papal Rome seduced people away from the true God with her rituals and superstitions to worship false gods (“fornication”). Her worldly luxuries and pleasures had deceived the nations of the world into believing that joy, security, and meaning in life come through the accumulation of material wealth instead of through their Creator God. God was just to judge her severely for these decadent things.

The second reason God is to be praised for these judgments is because “He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her” (19:2b). Thousands of years ago, the Lordsaid He would judge those who shed the blood of His servants (cf. Deuteronomy 32:42-43), 11 and now He has fulfilled His promise by judging Rome (“her”) for killing His “servants.” For centuries, pagan and papal Rome persecuted those who proclaim the truth exposing her materialistic and idolatrous false religion. History shows that the Roman Catholic Church has shed the blood of many believers and victims of the Crusades and Roman Inquisition. 12But the height of Rome’s hostility toward God’s people will take place during the Tribulation period when she vehemently opposes God’s people on the earth. Rebellious humankind who witnessed God’s judgments blasphemed His name (cf. Revelation 16:9, 11, 21); but the heavenly multitude praised Him because His wrath was “true and righteous.” 13

Another burst of praise breaks forth from the heavenly multitude. “Again they said, ‘Alleluia! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!’” (Revelation 19:3). This encore heightens the first burst of praise.14All of heaven praises God a second time for the finality (“rises up forever and ever”)of Rome’s destruction (“her smoke”). Never again will Rome be able to shed the blood of God’s people.

A third burst of praise for God takes place next in heaven. “And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, ‘Amen! Alleluia!’” (Revelation 19:4). The “twenty-four elders” representing the church in heaven (see comments on 4:1-4) and “the four living creatures” representing angelic beings (see comments of 4:6-8), “fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne,” which is evidently God the Father. Both these groups were crying out, “Amen! Alleluia!” In saying “Amen” (lit., “so be it”), they were giving their wholehearted agreement to the praise already given to God. 15 By shouting “Alleluia,” they were giving God their own praise for His “true and righteous” judgments.

As we have looked at the great mourning that will take place on the earth for Rome’s (“Babylon”) destruction (Revelation 18:9-24) and then the great celebration that will take place in heaven (Revelation 19:1-4), we are reminded that God is still worthy of praise no matter what we face in life.

All God’s decisions are “true and righteous” even when a romance does not blossom as we had hoped, or a job interview does not turn out the way we thought it would. It is important to remember that God is worthy of our admiration and trust even when the effects of sin endanger our families, when pain drives us to our wits’ end, or when misfortune is about to push us over the edge. God gives and He takes away (Job 1:21). 16 He is honored when we return to Him, when we release our worries to Him, and when we rest in Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, what a contrast You have shown us between the mourning of the people on earth after Rome’s destruction and the celebration of the inhabitants of heaven. The difference is on each group’s focus. Those on the earth were paying attention to what was lost. But those in heaven were focused on what they had – a God Who is worthy of all praise. Father, whether our lives are filled with grief or gladness, You alone deserve our praise. Thank You for reminding us of this today. May we live our lives focused on who You are and what You have done. In the mighty name of Your Son, 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), pg. 330.  

2. Ibid.

3. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 6190.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2413.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 203.

6. Walvoord, location 6200.

7. Evans, pg. 2413.

8. Constable, pg. 203 cites William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible Series, 2nd Ed. (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 218.

9. 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. 1571.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. “Bill Salus on Mystery Babylon video on the August 26, 2018, Christ in Prophecy show.

13. Vacendak, pg. 1571.

14. Constable, pg. 203.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1571.

16. Swindoll, pg. 333.

Come Home

“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” Luke 15:20b

Do you ever have a disconnect from the way God is portrayed in the Bible and your perception of God based on your own experiences or feelings? We may think that God will resemble our parents or authority figures from our childhood (cf. Psalm 50:21). For example, if you had a rigid and perfectionistic father or father figure, you could never measure up to his demands no matter how hard you tried. Because of this, you view God as Someone who is impossible to please. He does not forgive nor forget sins. And when you mess up!?! Watch out! His cruel side is manifested. He seems to delight in sending financial disaster or physical disease to emphasize His intolerance of your spiritual failures. Understandably, it is difficult for you to approach God and experience His forgiveness and love when you have this kind of distorted view of Him.

The Bible gives us a beautiful picture of God the Father in Luke 15. When “all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to” Jesus to listen to His teaching, the religious leaders of Israel were critical of Christ for associating with spiritual outcasts (Luke 15:1-2). Christ responds by telling three parables (parable = an earthly story that teaches spiritual truth) to teach these religious leaders that when a sinner returns to God it is reason for celebrating instead of complaining (15:3-32).

After telling parables about a lost sheep and a lost coin, Jesus tells a parable about the love of a father toward his two sons (Luke 15:11-32). The youngest son asked for his “portion” of his father’s inheritance, and the father graciously gave both sons theirs (15:12). Normally in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day, the inheritance did not pass to the heirs until the death of the father. To request it prior to the father’s death, was like wishing for the father to die. The youngest son then “journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living” (15:13). When a “severe famine” came to that land, the son “began to be in want” because of his wasteful living (15:14). He got a job in the fields feeding “swine,” which is something any self-respecting Jew would only do out of desperation (15:14-15). The son had sunk so low that he longed to eat pig’s food because “no one gave him anything” to eat (15:16).

Have you ever wasted the resources God has given you? Just as the youngest son “wasted his possessions with prodigal living” (15:13), so also when we stray away from God, we waste the the resources God has placed in our possession. Time spent out of touch with God is an enormous waste of time, energy, strength, ability, and opportunity. When we are restored to the Lord, we may experience profound regret for what has been wasted during our time of separation from God. This is especially true when the separation has lasted for years, as it sometimes does.

I wonder how many of us have ever wandered so far away from God that we were willing to do anything just to survive? But no matter where we turned, we could not find one person on earth who showed us any compassion. We were all alone and destitute. Our stomach and our soul were empty. We may cry out, “Where are you God!?! Why have you abandoned me!?!” This is the place the youngest son had come to. Thankfully the story does not end there.

At this point of absolute brokenness, the son “came to himself” (15:17). He repented or changed his mind and decided to “go” back to his father (15:18a). He planned to confess his sin and his unworthiness to be his father’s son (15:18a-19a), and then ask to be one of his father’s “hired servants” because he knew his father paid his servants well (15:19b; cf. 15:17). This son thought he would have to work for His father’s love and acceptance.

How many of us perceive our Father in heaven to be this way? We think that when we fail God spiritually, the only way He could ever accept us and love us is to pay for our own sins with self-hatred and condemnation? We may rehearse in our minds what we will do for God before we approach Him. We assume that the only way God will ever accept us and forgive us is to work so hard or punish ourselves so much, God will eventually have compassion for us and forgive us.

This kind of thinking fails to understand the heart of our heavenly Father. Nor is this thinking from the Lord. It is from the father of lies (John 8:44) who delights in accusing God’s children (Revelation 12:10). When we fail, Satan whispers in our ear, “This is how God thinks of you. He thinks you are unloveable and unforgivable. He thinks you are worthless and pathetic. The only way He could possibly ever forgive you or love you is for you to do this and this and this and this…” These lies drive us deeper into a pit of shame, isolating us from God.

But let’s take a look at the father’s response when his son returns home. “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (15:20). When the father “saw” his prodigal son coming home from “a great way off,” it suggests he was continually watching and waiting for his son’s return. He longed for his son to come home. This is the way God is with us when we wander away from Him. He leaves the porch light on every night, looking for our return.

The father did not reject his son by running into the house and locking the doors. He did not scold or condemn his repentant wayward son. Instead, he “had compassion” on his son. This shows that the father had some knowledge of his son’s immorality and misfortunes – probably from reports about him (cf. 15:13, 30). He empathized with his son’s brokenness and need for acceptance and love after his wayward journey. God is also this way with us. He is not quick to criticize or condemn us because He knows our weaknesses and how much we need His mercy and grace when we have failed (cf. Psalm 103:11-14).

When the father “ran” out toward his son, this was very unusual for any Jewish father to do. It was not acceptable for him to run out like that in the Jewish culture of that day. But in the father’s eagerness to restore his son to fellowship, the father ran to him while he was “still a great way off.” This was the father’s way of preserving his son’s dignity. By this time, all the neighbors knew how the son had wasted his inheritance on prostitutes (15:13, 30). So instead of letting his son walk by these gossiping neighbors by himself when he was most vulnerable to discouragement, the father runs out to his son to walk beside him as a show of his love and acceptance of him. Surely, no one would speak poorly of his son if he were to walk with him all the way home.

God is that way with us. He is not apathetic and cold toward us when we fail. He does not abandon us when we return home to Him. He is not bound by culturally acceptable expressions of love and forgiveness. He is eager to forgive us and restore us to fellowship or closeness with Him. He wants to restore our dignity which had been lost by our shameful choices and actions. While Christian peers or churches may shun us or speak down to us after we have failed the Lord, God is the first to run out to us and shoulder our brokenness and restore our closeness with Him. He will protect us from the accusations and condemnation of others.

When the father “fell on his neck” he embraces and hugs his repentant son. Then the father “kissed him” which was a friendly sign of greeting like a warm handshake in American culture. This is a very affectionate reception from the father. Imagine how this young man must have felt?! Before he could begin his rehearsed speech, he already had his father’s total unconditional love and acceptance. Likewise, God is not cold and calculating toward his repentant children. He embraces us and welcomes us home when we repent. But it does not stop there.

When the son began his rehearsed speech, he could not even get to the part about becoming a hired servant of his father (15:21). His father interrupted him and said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry” (15:22-23). What is the father doing here? I believe the father knew his son’s heart. He was not focused on all the immoral and shameful living of his son. He was not uptight about his son’s sin and shame. He saw the heart of his son which longed to be connected to his father’s heart. Instead of making his son a hired servant, the father bestowed the symbols of honor (“best robe”), authority (“ring”), and freedom (“sandals”) on him. Sandals were marks of a free man, but slaves went barefooted.

The forgiveness from the father is complete and his son does not need to feel as if he is a forever second-class Christian, as if he now served God as a mere hired servant. He is now able to enjoy all the privileges of sonship, symbolized by the robe, the ring, and the sandals.

Then his father prepared a banquet for his son because his “son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found” (15:24). The father felt the absence of his son as deeply as if he had died (“dead”), because he had totally lost contact with him. So, the death he is referring to is a separation from the father. Their reunion is like a glorious coming to life and a joyful rediscovery of the shared father-son experience. Any father who has long been separated from a son whom he loves dearly can fully relate to these words.

Years ago, a young man had a verbal argument with his father and left home. He continued to keep in touch with his mother, and wanted very badly to come home for Christmas, but he was afraid his father would not allow him. His mother wrote to him and urged him to come home, but he didn’t feel he could until he knew his father had forgiven him. Finally, there was no time for any more letters. His mother wrote and said she would talk with the father, and if he had forgiven him, she would tie a white rag on the tree which grew right alongside the railroad tracks near their home, which he could see before the train reached the station. If there was no rag, it would be better if he went on.

So, the young man started home. As the train drew near his home; he was so nervous he said to his friend who was traveling with him, “I can’t bear to look. Sit in my place and look out the window. I’ll tell you what the tree looks like, and you tell me whether there is a rag on it or not.” So, his friend changed places with him and looked out the window. After a bit the friend said, “Oh yes, I see the tree.” The son asked, “Is there a white rag tied to it?” For a moment, the friend did not say anything. Then he turned, and in a very gentle voice said, “There is a white rag tied to every limb of that tree!”

That, in a sense, is what God is saying to us in Luke 15. The truth is all of us are like the prodigal son. He can represent a non-Christian whose repentance or change of mind about his sinful lifestyle leads him to come home to His Creator God and believe in Jesus for complete forgiveness of sins, much like Cornelius in Acts 10. You may be seeking God by going to church and giving money to it, or by trying to clean up your life. But you are not saved from your sins by any of those things you do in your search for God (Isaiah 64:6). You are saved by believing or trusting in Jesus alone for His gift of salvation (John 3:16; Ephes. 2:8-9). God is inviting you to come home to Him just as you are. He is waiting to welcome you into His family and make you His beloved son or daughter forever the moment you believe in Jesus alone to save you (John 1:12; 10:28-29).

But the prodigal son can also represent a Christian who has drifted away from fellowship with God to explore the pleasures of the world. Being dissatisfied with the world’s empty pleasures, he decides to “come home” to God by confessing his sin to the Lord and claiming His cleansing forgiveness (I John 1:9). We do not have to work for this restoration. There are no hoops to jump through or obligations to fulfill. Simply come home to your Father in heaven and He will lovingly welcome you and restore your fellowship or closeness to Him.

Whether we are coming home to God for the first time for salvation from hell through faith in Jesus or for the hundredth time as a believer to restore our fellowship with God, the Father is waiting with open arms and an open heart. Will you come home to Him now?

Prayer: Oh, gracious Father in heaven, how I have longed to hear these truths about You. Much of my understanding about You has been based on my own experiences and feelings as a child and as an adult with unavailable Christians. I have thought of You as a mean old man sitting up in heaven with a big hammer waiting to strike me the moment I say, think, or do something wrong. But Your Word tells me that You are not a mean-out-of-control man. You are a tender loving Father who eagerly waits and watches for His wayward child to come home so You can run out to him and wrap Your loving arms around him and tell him he is loved and safe in Your arms. Please, Father God, heal the holes in my heart so I may experience Your love more fully and begin to see myself as You see me. I am Your beloved child who has access to all that You possess because of my relationship with Your only perfect Son, Jesus Christ. I am so glad to know that You are much more concerned about my heart than my past. My past is gone now. I am totally forgiven and loved by You. I am not a second-class Christian. I am a beloved child of God who can now enjoy all the privileges of sonship. And I am with You forever, never to be alone again. Thank You for restoring the joy of my salvation. Thank You that I am no longer defined by the darkness, but by the light of Your love. Please help me to walk in Your light and love. Please transform individual Christians and churches to respond to broken and wayward people with Your compassion and love so more people will come to Jesus in faith for His gift of salvation. In Jesus’ mighty name we pray. Amen.

Revelation 13 – Part 4

“Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.” Revelation 13:11

When Jesus spoke on the Mount of Olives of the sign of His coming to earth to set up His Millennial Kingdom, He described the future seven-year Tribulation period in Matthew 24:4-26. After expounding upon the first half three and a half years of the Tribulation period containing worldwide deception and agony (24:4-8), Christ then focused on the last three and a half years which would be characterized by even more deception and pain (24:9-26). He said, 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many… 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.” (Matthew 24:11, 23-25).

Christ is warning His audience that “false christs” and those who announce them, “false prophets, will rise up and deceive many” by showing “great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” chosen people of God who are believing Jews living during the last half of the Tribulation period (24:24). Christ shares this “beforehand” to prevent His people from being deceived by satanically inspired teaching that misleads people away from the true God. In our study of Revelation today, the apostle John describes the ultimate fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic words.

After seeing the vision of a beast coming up out of the sea representing the Antichrist (Revelation 13:1-10), John now sees a second beast. “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.” (Revelation 13:11). John saw “another beast” of the same kind come “up out of the earth. Both men are called beasts to emphasize their cruel and vicious natures. 1 The word “earth” (gēs) literally means “land” and is most likely a reference to the land of Israel. 2 So, in contrast with the first beast who was a Gentile (from the sea; cf. 17:15; Isaiah 60:3-5; Daniel 7:2-4, 17; Matthew 13:47-50), we see that this beast may be a Jew (cf. 1:7). In view of the endless conflict between Arabs and Jews, this is a masterful arrangement by Satan himself. The union of an Arab (first beast) and a Jew (second beast) to lead the world into political, economic, and religious harmony is an ingenious answer to the world’s problems. 3

We learn that this second beast “had two horns like a lamb,” depicting his humble and gentle conduct. No one is afraid of a harmless “lamb.” But his speech will reveal his true character (13:11b; cf. Matthew 12:33-37). He will speak “like a dragon,” promoting Satan’s teaching that the first beast is God (13:11c; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:4). He will be the Devil’s mouthpiece speaking lies to persuade the world to worship the World Ruler. No wonder God refers to this second beast three times in the book of Revelation as the “false prophet” (Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10).

The deceptive and deadly approach of the second beast is summarized well by John Phillips: “The dynamic appeal of the false prophet will lie in his skill in combining political expediency with religious passion, self-interest with benevolent philanthropy, lofty sentiment with blatant sophistry, moral platitude with unbridled self-indulgence. His arguments will be subtle, convincing, and appealing. His oratory will be hypnotic, for he will be able to move the masses to tears or whip them into a frenzy…. His deadly appeal will lie in the fact that what he says will sound so right, so sensible, so exactly what unregenerated men have always wanted to hear.” 4

This second beast “is the final person in the unholy trinity of the end times (Revelation 16:13; 19:20-20:2, 10). Just as the Holy Spirit gives glory to Christ and points men to Him, the false prophet will glorify the Antichrist and lead people to trust and worship him.” 5

“As Donald Grey Barnhouse says, ‘The devil is making his last and greatest effort, a furious effort, to gain power and establish his kingdom upon the earth. He knows nothing better than to imitate God. Since God has succeeded by means of an incarnation and then by means of the work of the Holy Spirit, the devil will work by means of an incarnation in Antichrist and by the unholy spirit.’” 6

“In hell’s trinity, Satan is a counterfeit Father (antiFather), the Antichrist is a counterfeit Son (antiChrist), and the false prophet is a counterfeit of the Holy Spirit (anti-Spirit). This is the infernal trinity.” 7

Whereas the first beast will primarily be a military and political figure, the second beast will primarily be a religious figure who prepares the way for the World Ruler, much like John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, the Messiah (cf. John 1:6-9, 19-36; Acts 19:4). The apostle John writes, “And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.” (Revelation 13:12). This false prophet will have worldwide “authority” to cause all unsaved people “who dwell” on the earth to “worship the first beast” who died and rose from the dead (“whose deadly wound was healed”). “Like Joseph Goebbels with Hitler, the false prophet will be inspired by the same authority and will share the same diabolical agenda as the Antichrist.” 8

Commenting on this verse, Tony Evans says, “This second beast, the false prophet, completes the unholy trinity, which imitates the work of the Holy Trinity. Within the Godhead, the Father seeks worship; the Son gives glory to the Father; and the Holy Spirit gives glory to the Son. Here, Satan seeks worship for himself; the first beast glorifies Satan; and the second beast compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast. Additionally, he will heal the Antichrist’s fatal wound, imitating the Holy Spirit’s work of raising Christ from the dead (see Romans 8:11).“ 9

How exactly does the false prophet deceive the unsaved world to worship the Antichrist? The same way Jesus predicted he would (cf. Matthew 24:23-24).13 He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. 14 And he deceives my own people who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.” (Revelation 13:13-14). Like Pharaoh’s magicians, only with greater effectiveness, the second beast will have authority to perform supernatural miracles (cf. Exodus 7:11, 22; 8:7). These will be genuine “great signs” or supernatural wonders, not just tricks (13:13a; cf. Revelation 16:13-14; 19:20; Matthew 24:4-5, 11, 23-25; 2 Thessalonians 2:9). 10 God is not the only One who can do supernatural miracles. Satan can also perform miracles, and he uses this power to deceive people to worship his substitute for Christ, the Antichrist.

One of his great miracles will be making “fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men” (13:13b). Even the apostle John himself had at one time wanted to “command fire to come down from heaven” on some Samaritans who rejected Jesus (Luke 9:54). 11 Now John sees the false prophet calling fire down to the earth to deceive people into rejecting the true Christ in favor of Satan’s Antichrist.

As Christ predicted (cf. Matthew 24:24), even God’s own “elect” covenant people, Israel (“my own people who dwell on the earth”) will be deceived by these miraculous “signs” that the false prophet performs, the greatest of which was raising the Antichrist from the dead (“the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived”) after he had been fatally wounded (13:14; cf. 13:3; 17:8). As we mentioned in a previous lesson, by mimicking Jesus’ death and resurrection, Satan is attempting to persuade the nation of Israel to believe that the Antichrist is their long-awaited messiah so he can lead them to eternal destruction with him in the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 15), thus rendering God’s promises to Israel false and making God a liar.

Those who are deceived by the False Prophet will be instructed to build “an image to” honor “the beast” who died and supernaturally came back to life (13:14b). This fulfills Jesus prophetic teaching on the Mount of Olives when He said, Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand).” (Matthew 24:15). The “image” or statue in honor of the beast (13:14b) is the “abomination of desolation” that will be placed in the rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem at the midpoint of the Tribulation period.

Like the image of Nebuchadnezzar on the plain of Dura (Daniel 3), everyone must bow to this image or die. 12 “He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.” (Revelation 13:15). This image or statue will be unlike any ever created. This inanimate object will become animated. The false prophet will “give breath to the image of the beast” so that “the image of the beast” will come to life and “speak” (13:15a).

People have come up with many theories about this “image of the beast.” Some suggest that since Satan does not have the power to give life to an inanimate object, he only gives this image the “impression of breathing and speaking mechanically, like computerized robots today.” 13When the television set first came on the scene, some people thought that might be the image of the Beast. People made the same suggestion about computers connected to the Internet. Some folks, bewitched by sci-fi movies, tossed around the idea that the image might be a supercomputer that gains consciousness – or a 3-D hologram – or a subhuman clone of the Antichrist.” 14

I prefer to take the biblical text literally. The Greek word for “image” (eikona) means “an object shaped to resemble the form or appearance of something, likeness.” 15 The image of the beast will not be a robot, or a clone, or a supercomputer, it will be some type of idol that visually represents the Antichrist. 16 It is likely that Satan and his demons will indwell or possess the idol to be the direct recipients of the world’s worship. This should not surprise us. Throughout history, demons have attached themselves to idols so that when people worship an idol, the demons can receive the adoration and worship that they long for. 17

For example, the apostle Paul writes to Christians at Corinth who were not only participating in the Lord’s Supper with believers at church, but they were also eating with unbelievers who sacrificed to idols in pagan temples. Paul says to them, 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry… 19 What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? 20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.” (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:14, 19-20). A sacrifice that was offered to a false god, was actually being offered to a demon (cf. Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:16-17; 2 Chronicles 11:15; Psalm 106:36-38; Revelation 9:20).

Anyone who refuses to “worship the image of the beast” will be “killed” by it (13:15b). Believers worship Christ because He rose from the dead (cf. Acts 17:30-31), and unbelievers will worship the beast because he will have done a similar thing (13:14-15).

Many people during the last half of the Tribulation will assume a person who can give life to a statue must be a divine person, but the Bible teaches otherwise. Just because someone can work a miracle doesn’t make him worthy to be followed or worshiped. God does miracles in a righteous way and in accordance with biblical truth. Even if someone can call down fire from heaven and raise the dead, he is working for Satan if he does not point people to the Lord Jesus Christ. 18

In view of Satanic deception (Revelation 13:11-15), believers must always test what teachers say against God’s Word no matter how godly and persuasive they may appear (cf. I Thessalonians 5:21; I John 4:1-3). For example, Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15). Like the False Prophet of Revelation 13, Jesus says false prophets today will look like genuine believers (“come to you in sheep’s clothing”).

They will even confess the Lordship of Christ. Christ says of them, 21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23). They confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ by referring to Him as “Lord, Lord.” These are people who have some understanding of the greatness of the Person of Christ. They sincerely believe Jesus is “Lord,” that is, Master, Ruler, and King. Because of this belief, they look like followers of Christ outwardly and do wonderful works for His glory – prophesy in His name, cast out demons in His name, and do many wonders in His name (7:22), but inwardly they are “ravenous wolves” (7:15). Christ says they will not be in heaven (7:23).

Like the False Prophet of Revelation 13, these modern-day false prophets exhibit great power. They will claim to have “prophesied… cast out demons… and done many wonders in” in Jesus’ name (7:22b). Notice that Jesus does not deny their claim. These people wanted Jesus to get the glory by doing these incredible things in His name. They want the glory to go to the Lord, not themselves. These are all things that Jesus did. These false prophets appeal to Jesus to let them into the kingdom of heaven based on their Christ-like works. Even though they openly confessed the Lordship of Christ and did wonderful works for His glory, look at what Jesus says about them: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (7:23). Christ refers to their religious works as “lawlessness.” All sin is lawlessness (I John 3:4). Even sin that looks good on the outside is lawless before a holy God because it is not done in the context of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus explains that we will know these false prophets by their words, not their works: 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:16-20). The way to discern if they are false prophets is by their “fruits.” Since the Lord has just told us that these false prophets look like sheep, we can conclude that their “fruits” have nothing to do with outside appearances.

Jesus helps us understand that their “fruits” refer to their words, not their works in Matthew 12:33-37 where He uses the same imagery. 33 Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Just as “fruit” reveals the nature of a “tree,” so one’s “words” reveal the nature of one’s “heart.” What the “heart” is filled with (“abundance of the heart”) and values the most (“treasure of his heart”) cannot be concealed. The “mouth speaks” what is in a person’s “heart.” The “words” that a false prophet “speaks” are windows into his “heart.” So, the way to discern a false prophet is by listening to his message.

Jesus said if you want to “enter the kingdom of heaven,” you must do “the will” of His “Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). What is the Father’s will as it relates to entering His heaven? Jesus said, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40; cf. John 3:5-16). The will of God the Father as it relates to entering the kingdom of heaven is to believe in His Son, Jesus Christ, for eternal life. Anyone who teaches a different way to heaven is a false prophet or teacher.

In the context of Matthew 7, true prophets are standing in front of the “narrow gate” that “leads to life” (Matthew 7:13-14). They are preaching that the way that “leads to life” eternal is “narrow” (John 10:9; 14:6; cf. Acts 4:10-12). Only believing in Jesus Christ alone leads to eternal life (Matthew 21:31-32; cf. John 3:16; 6:40, 47).

However, false prophets are standing in front of the “wide” gate that “leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13-14). These false prophets are preaching many ways to heaven except faith alone in Christ alone. Those who believe the false prophet’s message and never believe Christ alone for eternal life, will be surprised in the day of judgment when the Lord Jesus says to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23)!

It doesn’t matter what you have said or done, because you are still a sinner and need a Savior to take away your sins. Your words and works cannot take away your sins. This is why Jesus said these false prophets practiced “lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). They were relying on their sin-stained words and works to get them to heaven (Isaiah 64:6), instead of the finished work of Jesus Christ (John 3:14-15; 19:30). Only Jesus can take away our sins because He is God and took our place and punishment for sin when He died as our Substitute on the cross and rose from the dead (John 1:1, 14, 17; I Corinthians 15:3-6). When it comes to getting to heaven, it is not the will of God that you confess the Lordship of Christ, or surrender to the Lordship of Christ, or do good works for His glory. It is the will of God that you believe in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life (John 3:14-16; 6:40).

Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, thank You for Jesus’ warnings about false christs and prophets who will try to mislead us away from the truth about Christ with the use of their persuasive words and profound works. Thank You, Father, for giving us Your word so we may know the truth which can set us free from Satan’s lies. We need Your spiritual discernment, Father, especially in an age of deception and manipulation so we are not led away from You and Your Son, Jesus Christ. May Your Word have such deep roots in our hearts and minds that we can easily identify and avoid a false prophet who stands in front of the wide gate that leads into eternal destruction. Please enable us to clearly communicate the gospel of grace so unsaved people can know and believe that Jesus Christ alone is able to save them and give them everlasting life the moment they believe in Him. We ask Your Holy Spirit to open the spiritual eyes of those who have been blinded by Satan’s deceit so they can realize that the Jesus of the Bible is the only Savior Who can rescue them from the lake of fire and give them an eternal home in Your heaven. In the matchless name of 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. 269.

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. 1547; J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Zondervan Academic, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 333; Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2401.

3. Vacendak, pg. 1547.

4. Hitchcock, pg. 272 cites John Phillips, Exploring Revelation (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1991), pg. 171.

5. Hitchcock, pg. 270.

6. Ibid., cites Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation: An Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), pg. 240.

7. Ibid., pp. 270-271.

8. Ibid., pg. 273.

9. Evans, pg. 2401.

10. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 148 cites Gregory H. Harris, “Satan’s Deceptive Miracles in the Tribulation,” Bibliotheca Sacra 156:623 (July September 1999): 308-324.

11. Constable, pg. 148.

12. Hitchcock, pg. 274. F

13. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), locations 5820 to 5825.

14. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 253.

15. 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. 281.

16. Swindoll, pg. 253.

17. Ibid.

18. Evans, pg. 2401.

Revelation 13 – Part 2

“And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast.” Revelation 13:3

Last time (see diagram below) we were introduced to the three members of the unholy Trinity: Satan, pictured as the dragon (Revelation 12:3-17); the World Ruler or Antichrist pictured as the beast from the sea (Revelation 13:1-10); and the False Prophet pictured as the beast from the earth (Revelation 13:11-18). 1 In contrast to the unholy Trinity are the three members of the holy Trinity: God the Father (Revelation 1:6; cf. Ephesians 1:2); God the Son (Revelation 2:18; cf. I John 5:20); and God the Holy Spirit (Revelation 4:5; 22:17; cf. Acts 5:3-4).

While standing on the seashore, the apostle John saw a monstrous beast come up out of the sea, having “seven heads and ten horns” (13:1). The apostle then tells us, “And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast.” (Revelation 13:3). John sees “one of the heads” be “mortally wounded, and… healed.” Some interpreters believe that the head wounded and restored refers to the myth that Nero had not really died, but was alive, and would return to continue his monstrous atrocities as the Antichrist. 2 Others thinks that this refers to Judas who is restored to life. 3 Some believe this event refers to an empire not a person, concluding that it refers to the fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476 and its resuscitation in the end times. 4

I believe the biblical text is referring to the literal death and resurrection of the Antichrist for the following reasons:

1. The language in Revelation 13 describes an individual, not a nation or empire. The pronouns “he,” “his,” and “him” are used repeatedly (13:1-8). The second beast builds an idol to the first beast (Revelation 13:11-18). Such an idol would be peculiar if it refers to an empire instead of a person. 5

2. The Greek phrase translated “as if it had been mortally wounded” (hōs esphagmenēn eis thanaton – lit. “as having been slain to death”) in 13:3 is the same phrase John uses to describe the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. “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 [hōs esphagmenon].” (Revelation 5:6). Again, in Revelation 13:8 John uses this same phrase when he refers to Christ as, “the Lamb slain [tou esphagmenou] from the foundation of the world.” Christ’s death was clearly real and resulted in a literal bodily resurrection. 6

Regarding resurrection, the Greek word used of Christ’s resurrection from the dead in Revelation 2:8 (who was dead, and came to life”) is ezēsen, and this same word is also used in Revelation 13:14 where it says that the Beast “who was wounded by the sword and lived [ezēsen].” 7 So in both cases, John is describing the literal death and resurrection of the Beast.

3. Would the whole world really be awestruck by the revival of the Roman Empire? When the Beast is killed and brought back to life, “all the world marveled and followed the beast” (13:3b). John Phillips describes the importance of such an event: “With this master stroke of miracle, the devil brings the world to the feet of his messiah…. It is this miracle of resurrection that is given as the reason for the popularity of the Beast. No doubt the whole thing will be stage-managed by Satan and the false prophet to make the greatest possible impact upon men. Their propaganda machine will see to it that the miracle is magnified and elaborated to the fullest extent.” 8

Hitchcock writes, “This resurrection is the event that propels the Beast to popularity and compels the world to fall at his feet. This response would be much more likely if it refers to a man. If a great world leader were assassinated with a fatal head wound and then came back to life a few days later, this response would be understandable.” 9

4. It is more reasonable to apply the wording of Revelation 13:3 to a man rather than a kingdom. As Warren Wiersbe says, “it would be difficult to understand how a kingdom could be slain by a sword. It is best, I think, to apply this prophecy to individual persons.” 10

Many Bible interpreters do not believe the resurrection of the Beast is literal because they conclude that Satan does not have the power to give life. 11 While I agree that only God has the power to resurrect the dead, I believe that the biblical text teaches that God gives this power to Satan to raise the Beast from the dead as part of the strong delusion.

In support of this, is the increase in Satan’s power during the Tribulation period. Currently, the Holy Spirit is restraining the Devil from certain activities (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7). But once the Restrainer, the Holy Spirit, is removed via the Rapture of the Church (2 Thessalonians 2:7; cf. I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11), Satan’s powers will be unbridled during the Tribulation period in ways never seen before. The coming of the Beast or “lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9). The Bible tells us that God will permit this activity. 11 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 2:11-12). Since Satan will have increased power and freedom during the Tribulation, it is reasonable to conclude that he will have the ability to raise the Beast from the dead to accomplish this “strong delusion.” 12

Revelation 13 also tells us that the false prophet “causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed” (13:12b),  “performs great signs” (13:13a), “deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast” (13:14), and “granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak” (13:15).If Satan has the power to give life to a dead idol, then why is it not possible for him (with God’s permission) to resurrect a man from the dead?” 13

In addition, Revelation 17:8 also speaks of the Beast’s death and resurrection. It says, “the beast that you saw was, and is not” (17:8a). This is a reference to the assassination of the Beast (cf. 13:1-3). Then we are told that the beast “will ascend out of the bottomless pit” (17:8b; cf. 11:7). This is most likely a reference to a demon that ascends out of the bottomless pit to resurrect and indwell the Beast. 14 When John says the Beast will “go to perdition” (17:8c), he is telling us that the Beast will not go back to the bottomless pit forever, but to eternal “perdition” (apōleian)or destruction in the lake of fire at the end of the Tribulation period (Revelation 19:20). 15

John adds, “And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.” (17:8d). When the unsaved people of the world(“whose names are not written in the Book of Life”) see the death and resurrection of this Beast who then kills the Two Witnesses in Jerusalem near the midpoint of the Tribulation (11:7), they “will marvel,” realizing this is no ordinary human being. It is at this point that the Beast will take his place in the rebuilt Jewish temple where he will declare himself to be God (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). 16

How will the unsaved people of the world respond? John tells us, 3And all the world marveled and followed the beast. 4  So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’” (Revelation 13:3b-4). The Beast imitates Christ’s death and resurrection to astound the unsaved world and gain its political and religious devotion. 17

After three and a half years of terrible judgments, the world will be easily deceived by the miracles they see and will wholeheartedly follow the beast. Much of the world will give their worship to “the beast” and to Satan (“the dragon”) “who gave authority to the beast,” making him seem invincible (13:4).

Let’s not forget that Satan is also seeking to destroy the nation of Israel knowing that he has a short amount of time before he is bound in the bottomless pit for a thousand years (Revelation 12:12-13; 20:1-3). By mimicking Jesus’ death and resurrection, Satan is attempting to persuade the nation of Israel to believe that the Antichrist is their long-awaited messiah so he can lead them to eternal destruction with him in the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 15), thus rendering God’s promises to Israel false, making God a liar.

It is important to remember that “Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). We see this exemplified at the midpoint of the future Tribulation when he will mimic Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection through the Antichrist to trick the world into giving him its economic and religious devotion. It is at this time that Satan will deceive the world with his unholy version (Satan, Antichrist, False Prophet) of the true Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit) to trick people into worshiping and following him (Revelation 12:3-13:18). Since the potential for spiritual deception will be even greater during this future Tribulation period because of the many worldwide judgments, political upheavals, and widespread suffering and death, the Beast’s death and resurrection will offer false hope to a starving world.

While Satan is not able to unleash the full force of his attacks and deception today like he will in the future Tribulation, he is still using the same deceptive strategies today to lure people away from worshiping the true Triune God of the Bible. Satan uses many false teachers and churches today to oppose God and mislead people away from the truth (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 11-15). Satan’s churches teach many false things like the Bible is not true, God is not three in one, Jesus is not God, Jesus did not die or rise from the dead, salvation is by works or faith plus works, plus many more lies.

Remember when the Bible describes the Beast in Revelation 17:8? It said, “the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.” Compare Satan’s imitation Christ with the true Christ, Who said “’I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,’ says the Lord, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (Revelation 1:8).  “The Alpha and Omega” are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and signify here, Jesus’ comprehensive control over all things—including time (cf. Revelation 21:6; 22:13). He is in control of the past (“who was”), the present (“who is”), and the future (“who is to come”), and He will bring history to its conclusion. Christ is yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8) because He exists eternally. 18

And because Jesus exists eternally, He wants us to exist forever with Him in His heaven. But Satan wants to trick us into thinking he is in control. He wants to instill fear in us because we give control to whatever we fear. Our greatest fear is physical death and Satan has used this fear to control people for centuries. But when Jesus Christ, the Creator God of all things (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), came to earth in the form of a man without ceasing to be God two thousand hears ago (John 1:1, 14), He destroyed Satan’s power regarding the fear of death. The Bible tells us, 14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Satan’s strategy to get humankind to sin and suffer death was to instill fear in them, especially the fear of death. But the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ removes the power of this fear, because His resurrection and victorious ascension to the right hand of the God the Father assures us of our own resurrection and victorious ascension to the Father in heaven when we believe in Jesus, so we no longer need to fear death.

Do you know for sure where you will live after you die physically? If not, would you like to know for certain you will live with Jesus in His heaven? If so, here is how. The apostle John not only wrote the book of Revelation, but he also wrote the book of I John.

John tells us, “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.” (I John 2:18). Although the Antichrist will appear in the future Tribulation to lure people away from the true Christ, there are many little “antichrists” or false teachers in the world today who oppose Christ and want to replace Him with an imitation Christ so people will not believe in the true Jesus of the Bible. These antichrists deny “that Jesus is the Christ,” the Messiah God (I John 2:22). For John, the belief that “Jesus is the Christ” is what saves us from hell and gives us eternal life (cf. I John 5:1; cf. John 20:31). To believe that Jesus is the Christ means we believe Him to be the One Who guarantees eternal life to all who believe in Him (John 11:25-27).

But these little “antichrists” or false teachers deny that Jesus is the Christ (I John 2:22) and deny that eternal life is available only through Jesus alone. John writes, 25 And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life. 26 These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you.” (I John 2:25-26). Satan wants us to doubt God’s promise of eternal life to all who believe in Jesus. This is one reason why so many preachers tell us it is not enough to believe in Jesus for eternal life. People are being told to do everything but believe in Jesus for eternal life. They are taught they must confess their sins, obey the commandments of God, surrender to the Lordship of Christ, sell all your possessions, and give the proceeds to the poor, ask Jesus into their heart, give their life to Christ, or commit to follow Jesus as His disciple, and many other substitutes in place of belief in Christ alone.

Perhaps you have been told to do these things and you still lack the assurance that you will go to heaven when you die. You are still afraid of dying. Satan has tricked you into believing his lies.

Please listen carefully. John tells us in I John 5:1: “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Do you believe Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah-God, Who died for your sins and rose from the dead, proving He is God (John 20:31; Romans 1:3-4; I Corinthians 15:3-6)? If you do, the Bible says you are “born of God.” God is now your Father, and you are His child forever!

Later in the same chapter, John also tells us, 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:11-13). Eternal life is a gift that God gives to us (5:11a). We do not have to work for this gift. It is free. This eternal life is only found “in His Son,” Jesus Christ (5:11b). Do you have God’s Son through faith in Him alone? If you do, then you have eternal life (5:12). God wants us to be certain of this. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” If you believe in the name of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, then you can “know” (not think or hope) with absolute certainty that you “have eternal life.” Because Jesus is “the truth” (John 14:6) and cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18), we can be confident He will keep His promise of eternal life to all who believe in Him.

Therefore, if we believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life, we do not need to fear death any longer because we are guaranteed a future home with Jesus in His Father’s house in heaven (John 14:1-3; Revelation 21-22). No longer do we need to give control to the Devil because Jesus has conquered him and his lies through His death and resurrection. As believers in Jesus now, we are to “abide” or continue in Christ’s word so we may know “the truth” of God which sets us free (John 8:31-32) from Satan’s lies and the fears they produce.  

Prayer: Father God, thank You for showing us Satan’s strategies of deception that he will implement in full force during the future Tribulation period on earth. As an angel of light, he will mimic Jesus’ death and resurrection through the first beast to lure people away from worshiping and following the true God. Satan is using similar tactics of deception today to mislead people away from the true Christ and the eternal salvation He freely offers. We pray that the eyes of millions, who have been tricked by Satan’s lies, can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ Who guarantees never-ending life to all who believe in Him alone. Please enable those of us who believe in Jesus to abide in His Word so we may know the truth which sets us free from Satan’s lies and the fears they produce. In the name of the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty God, the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2399.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 143 cites William Barclay, The Revelation of John, 2nd Ed., Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pp. 115-119.

3. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Zondervan Academic, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 331 cites Arthur W. Pink, The Antichrist (Swengel, Pennsylvania: Bible Truth Depot, 1923), pp. 50-55.

4. 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. 322; also see Pentecost’s discussion, pp. 331-332.

5. Hitchcock, pg. 322.

6. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 248; 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. 1545-1546.

7. Vacendak, pg. 1546.

8. Hitchcock pp. 322-323 cites John Phillips, Exploring Revelation: An Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001), pp. 166-167.

9. Hitchcock, pg. 323.

10. Ibid., cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1989), pg. 605.

11. Pentecost, pg. 332; Hitchcock pp. 323-324, 486-487 cites J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, vol. 5 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983), pg. 1000 and Hank Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code: Find Out What the Bible Really Says about The End Times and Why It Matters Today (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), xix-xx, and Hank Hanegraaff and Sigmund Brouwer, The Last Disciple (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2004), pg. 394 as examples of those who hold this view.

12. Adapted from Hitchcock, pg. 324.

13. Ibid., cites Wiersbe, pg. 605.

14. Vacendak, pg. 1565. 

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Swindoll, pg. 311.  

18. Evans, pg. 2369.

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 5 – Part 2

“And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.’” Revelation 5:9

Swindoll writes,When the incarnate Son of God took the scroll from the Father, everything changed. The rule of humanity over all creation, which has been derailed by the Fall and wrecked by the curse (Gen. 1:28; 3:17-19), will be restored through the God-Man, Jesus Christ. As a truly human descendant of Adam, Jesus Christ is qualified to fulfill the original calling of humanity to exercise dominion over the earth and to subdue it, restoring the conditions conditions of Paradise throughout the whole world. As the truly divine Son of God, Jesus Christ has the power and authority to fulfill this calling where Adam failed. Don’t miss this! In Revelation 5:8 we see the beginning of the process of God putting everything in its right place by placing everything in the right hands.

“What a reason to rejoice! In fact, as soon as Jesus took hold of the seven-sealed scroll, everything changed from weeping to worshiping. All creatures in heaven and earth burst forth in praise. Uncontainable jubilation flowed outward from God’s throne. In one wave after another, creation poured forth praise to the Lamb of God. Why? Because not only is He the Suffering Servant who took away the sins of the world by His sacrificial death (Isa. 53), but He’s also the risen, glorified Judge who will execute judgment on the wicked and bestow blessings on the righteous. All authority to judge has been given to Him alone (John 5:21-22, 27). 1

After the Lamb and Lion, Jesus Christ, takes the scroll from the hand of God the Father, we see weeping transformed into worship. “Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Revelation 5:8). Jesus took “the scroll” because He alone was found worthy to execute judgment on all of humankind and set up His Kingdom on earth. This transfer of authority to Christ triggered an outpouring of praise and worship because it signaled that Jesus would soon begin judging His enemies on the earth. 2

Ever since that day in the first century when Jesus asked His people to pray, ‘Your kingdom come’ (Matthew 6:10), both the believers on earth and those in heaven have been anticipating the answer.” 3

Notice the order of worship. As soon as Jesus possessed the scroll the “living creatures” or angels closest to the throne, possibly seraphim (cf. Isaiah 6:2-3), fell flat on their faces before the Lord Jesus Christ as if to obey the command, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” (Hebrews 1:6). 4 This points to Jesus as God for only God is worthy to be worshiped (cf. Exodus 20:2-5). This is the declaration of Hebrews 1:8 when the Father says to His Son, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.” God the Father calls His Son, “God.”

This is why Jesus does not refuse the worship of the four living creatures in God’s throne room in heaven. If Christ was not God, then we would expect Him to tell all the inhabitants of heaven to stop worshiping Him. But He does not do this because He is God Almighty!

Then the “twenty-four elders,” representing faithful church-age believers, the highest of God’s redeemed, also “fell down before the Lamb.” Only “each” elder, had “a harp, and golden bowls full of incense.” This is clear in the Greek text from the masculine gender of hekastos, translated “each,” which agrees with the masculine gender of “the twenty-four elders” (iekosi tessares presbuteroi), not the neuter gender of the “four living creatures” (ta tessara zōa). 5

These redeemed saints offered “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” By the way, don’t ever think your prayers are insignificant. Even if God doesn’t answer your pleas for help now, one day when Christ reverses the curse and rights all wrongs, your desperate cries for His intervention will be counted. God never tosses your prayers into a trash bin—He’s storing them up in bowls, and He will one day answer them in ways beyond your imagination. Be patient!” 6

Then the four living angelic creatures and the twenty-four elders broke out singing a new song.9 And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 and have made them kings and priests to our God; and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10). This song was probably “new” in the sense that it represented new praise for a new deliveranceabout to take place. 7

Several times God commands us to “sing a new song” to Him (Psalm 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 149:1; Isaiah 42:10). As God reveals new blessings to His people, they are to respond by singing a new song which praises God for those blessings. Failure to sing a new song when God is doing something new in our lives is disobedience and can lead to a loss of joy and admiration for the Lord in our worship.

But when God’s people obey the Lord and write and/or sing new songs to the Lord which reflect the new manifestations of His grace toward us, He will reveal more of Himself to us (cf. John 14:21). Also, there will be an increase in our praise to Him and “many will see it and fear and will trust in the Lord” (cf. Psalm 40:3). Being sensitive to the new manifestations of God’s grace to us in our songs to Him will increase our “fear” or admiration of Him and lead us to “trust” in Him more in our daily lives, and it can also lead the unsaved to “trust in the Lord” Jesus as their Savior. Hopefully, no Christian wants to hinder unsaved people from coming to faith in Christ because of a music style preference.

All of us have our music preferences, but as we look back at history in the Old and New Testaments (cf. Exodus 15:1-17; Psalm 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isaiah 42:10; Revelation 5:9; 14:3) and in the Church Age, songs changed as the Lord revealed Himself and His workings in new and different ways. Singing a new song to the Lord enables us to experience and express the new manifestations of His grace in our lives in more meaningful ways. 

As I look back at my Christian life the last forty years, some of the most intimate times of worship with the Lord were when I learned a new song which expressed the new things God was doing in my life. I especially enjoyed it when the worship leader in our local church would write and/or lead us in a new song that reflected the new manifestations of God’s grace in and through our local church. Praise Jesus for those who capture the new things He is doing in the songs they write and/or sing! 

When is the last time you sang a new song to the Lord? Take time today to draw near to Him by singing a new song to Him that expresses something new that He is doing in your life. To find a new song, you can use google and search for “New Christian Songs.” Since God continues to create new and refreshing songs for His Church, you should have no trouble finding one to enhance your worship of Him. One of my favorites right now is “House of the Lord.”

In Revelation 4 the four living creatures and twenty-four elders praised God for His work of creation (4:11). In chapter 5 they praised Christ for His work of redemption. 8 This new song of praise to Christ focused on His worthiness to open the scrolls because of His death (“You were slain”), the redemption (purchase) of every people group by His shed “blood” (Revelation 5:9). Verse 9 is being sung only by the twenty-four elders because only humans can sing “You… have redeemed us to God.” 9 Jesus did not die to redeem angels. He died to redeem sinful human beings (cf. Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 15:3-4).

The reference to redeemed people in heaven being from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (5:9b) portrays the ethnic, linguistic, and national diversity that will be present in eternity. This means that difference and diversity are not problems to be solved but were part of God’s plan from the very beginning. God delights in the variety and beauty of His creation. Here in this perfect, complete worship service around the throne we can see clearly that ‘red, yellow, black, and white’ are all precious in God’s sight. And this diverse community of saints is unified in their worship of the Lamb. Christian unity does not mean uniformity, but a shared focus on and worship of Christ Jesus.” 10

In God’s plan of redemption, all lives matter to the Creator of the universe. In fact, each person, no matter what their color, is worth the shed blood of Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:9; cf. I Corinthians 6:20). His blood was the purchase price for each of us. All people are created equal and are dearly loved by the Savior of the world. Each of us can be grateful for our diverse backgrounds and appearances because they all bring great pleasure to our Creator God!

Verse 10 has two important textual issues. The NKJV reads, “And we shall reign on the earth,” (5:10b) but the Majority Text (MT), along with the Critical Text (CT), reads, “And they (believers) shall reign on the earth.”Who then is speaking this sentence? Some say it is spoken by the twenty-four elders, who are angels. Another suggestion is that there is an antiphonal choir here, with the four living creatures singing this line (i.e., all of v 10) as they alternate lines with the twenty-four elders.

“The same is true of the first clause in the NKJV translation, ‘And [You] have made us kings and priests to our God.’ Once again, the NKJV mistakenly has ‘us,’ whereas the MT and CT have the third person plural: ‘And You have made them kings and priests.’

“The four living creatures and elders are singing joyfully to the Lamb about those who will not only be entering His eternal kingdom but will also be ruling with Him in it because of their steadfast devotion. They were faithful and godly in life; therefore, they will reign in eternity (cf. 2:26-27).” 11

After the living angelic creatures and twenty-four elders sang a new song of praise to the Lamb of God, John writes, 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, 12 saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!’” (Revelation 5:11-12). The chorus of praise did not end with the twenty-four elders. Two more groups join this worship service in God’s throne room. An innumerable host of “angels around the throne” now join “the four living creatures and twenty-four elders… with a loud voice” ascribing worth to “the Lamb who was slain” Who deserves “power… riches… wisdom… strength… honor… glory… blessing” to be given to Him at the beginning of His reign on earth (5:11-12). These seven qualities belong intrinsically to Christ. 12

“The angels use seven expressions (the perfect number is probably significant) to indicate the wonder of the Lamb.” 13

The repetition of “and” (kai) between each quality brings special emphasis to each one individually. It “produces the impression of extensiveness and abundance by means of an exhaustive summary.” 14

The final group to join this profound worship in God’s throne room includes “every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’” (Revelation 5:13). Every creature, saved and unsaved, angelic and demonic, will join in giving God the Father(“Him who sits on the throne“) and “the Lamb,” Jesus Christ, “the blessing and honor and glory and power” they deserve.

“The creatures in view must be intelligent beings capable of worship, who can fully appreciate God and the Lamb— not the stars, planets, and animals. This probably involved a forward (proleptic) look to the end of the history of planet earth, when every creature will bow the knee to Jesus Christ (cf. 5:10; Phil. 2:8-11).” 15

Even the inhabitants of hell (“under the earth”) will bow before Jesus Christ and confess that He is Lord (Philippians 2:8-11). If you have not yet concluded that Jesus Christ is Lord (cf. John 20:28), the day will come when you reach such a conclusion “on the earth” during the Tribulation period (Revelation 6-19) or during Jesus’ Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 20:1-6), or “under the earth” in the future in hell if you never believe in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life.  

Why not come to faith in Jesus now for His gift of eternal life (John 3:16) so you can give Him the glory He deserves both now and “in heaven” in the future? Simply come to Christ as a sinner, realizing you cannot save yourself from sin’s penalty (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Recognize that Christ died for all your sins on the cross and rose from the dead, proving that He is God (Romans 1:3-4). Take Him at His Word when He says, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16), and He will give you everlasting life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). Then you can give Jesus the glory He deserves every day for the rest of your eternal life!!!

John concludes Chapter 5 with these words: “Then the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.” (Revelation 5:14). While all creatures in every corner of creation worshiped God the Father and God the Son together for their work of creation and redemption (5:13), the four living creatures and twenty-four elders continued their unceasing worship (5:14).

Revelation 4 and 5 present heaven, God’s dwelling place, as a real place. John saw God the Father and God the Son receiving great honor there, surrounded by church-age believers and innumerable angelic worshippers. Even though John saw a vision, it was a vision of something that truly exists. We may be able to see both heaven and its inhabitants there some day depending on how we respond to Jesus Christ in this life.

The reason I am going to repeat what I said above is because some people need to hear this more than once before they understand and believe it. The Bible says, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). You have a choice to make. You can refuse to believe in the Son of God and abide under God’s wrath for eternity confessing His Lordship “under the earth” in hell or you can believe in Jesus now for everlasting life and enjoy confessing His Lordship “on earth” and “in heaven” for eternity.The choice is yours.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the preview You have given us of heaven where all its inhabitants will focus on giving You and Your Son the blessing and honor and glory and power You both deserve. Thank You for reminding us that anyone and everyone can worship You. Revelation 5 shows us that every kind of creature from every level of creation has something to offer the triune God. Through new songs or old, with beautiful instruments or bold voices, by heartfelt prayers or hearty ‘Amens,’ all of us can reorient our hearts and minds toward You, Lord God. This powerful preview of worship in Your throne room gives us a rare insight into the spontaneity and variety of genuine praise. As great as it will be to see people there from every tribe, language group, and nation in Your throne room, we look forward to seeing the Lamb and Lion, Jesus Christ, the most, because He paid the price to make it possible for us to be there with Him!!! The One Who is worthy to exercise judgment and rule over the earth will accomplish His will through our lives. Even though human history is strewn with the wreckage of failed attempts to fix humanity’s problems, we can turn to Christ, Who has paid the price to bring about this glorious future. Help us to invest our lives in His coming Kingdom by proclaiming His gospel of grace to a lost world so more people can inhabit Your heaven in the future. To Jesus and to You, Father, be all the blessing, glory, honor, and power both now and forever. 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), pg. 141.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 78.

3. 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. 1520.  

4. Swindoll, pg. 142.

5. Constable, pg. 78 cites Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John. 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907), pp. 79-80.

6. Swindoll, pg. 142.

7. Constable, pg. 78.

8. Swindoll,pg. 142.

9. The word correctly translated “us” (hēmas) is found in the Greek Majority Text. See Vacendak, pg. 1520.

10. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2380.

11. Vacendak, pp. 1520-1521.

12. Constable, pg. 80.

13. Ibid., cites 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. 101.

14. Ibid., cites F. Blass, and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Translated and revised by Robert W. Funk (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961) paragraph 460 (3).

15. Ibid.

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 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.