Revelation 12 – Part 1

“Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.” Revelation 12:1

If you are a Christian, you are familiar with God’s love for you. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). The world includes you and me. God loves us!!! The apostle Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). God showed how much He loved us by dying in our place “while we were still sinners.” God did not wait for us to clean up our lives and become “worthy” of His love. Even when we were at our worst, God loved us by giving His best for us when He took our punishment for sin on the cross.

As much as God loves us, we need to understand that Satan hates us. Swindoll writes, Never forget those three words if you love and follow Christ’s teachings. Satan wants nothing more than to sabotage our love for God and for others, to tempt us into a moral catastrophe, and to see us choose a lifestyle of sin rather than a walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. When we falter, he stands ready to accuse us before God. When we pass the tests of temptation, he looks beyond that and is already strategizing his next attack. Satan’s hatred of us is relentless.

“… Understanding that Satan is neither all-powerful nor completely powerless will help us come to terms with the real challenges we face as we do battle with Satan’s evil empire in its current form. I say ‘current form’ because it’s important to understand that Satan’s ability to unleash his fury on God’s people is limited in the present age. However, one day Satan’s empire will be allowed to strike the world in full force before crumbling at the coming of Christ.” 1

You may recall that the apostle John received instructions to“prophesy again,” a second time regarding the seven-year Tribulation “about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings” in Revelation 10:11. Therefore, Revelation 11-19 surveys the seventieth week of years (Tribulation) a second timewith a view to revealing the specific characters on the stage of the drama. In Revelation 11, John reviews the first half of the Tribulation with a focus on the Two Witnesses whom God will bring directly to faith in Christ so they can proclaim the truth to the world from Jerusalem (11:1-6), resulting in the salvation of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists (“firstfruits” – 14:4) who will proclaim the “gospel of the kingdom” during the last half of the Tribulation period (cf. 7:1-10) to “all the nations” (cf. Matthew 24:14).

At the end of Revelation 11, the seventh trumpet sounded to prepare the apostle John, and his readers for the seven horrific bowls of wrath (cf. Revelation 16) immediately before Christ returns to set up His kingdom on earth (Revelation 11:15-19). God now gives John and his readers more information about the forces behind the anti-God hatred during the last half of the Tribulation (Revelation 12-15), so John and his readers could understand the bowl judgments (Revelation 16) which the seventh trumpet judgment contained. 2

Beginning in Revelation 12, John will describe the conflict between God and Satan in the spiritual realm that has taken place throughout history since Satan’s rebellion against God (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:11-18) so we can understand how it will be manifested in the physical realm during the second half of the Tribulation period, especially during the bowl judgments. 3

John will now focus on five main characters in Revelation 12 that are involved in this spiritual conflict. First, we are introduced to a woman. “Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.” (Revelation 12:1). The phrase “a great sign” (mega sēmeion) Walvoord says refers to “the first of a series of events called ‘signs’ or ‘miracles’ (12:3; 13:13-14; 15:1; 16:14; 19:20). As signs they were symbols of something that God was about to reveal and usually contained an element of prophetic warning. Though this sign was seen in heaven, the events which followed obviously occurred on earth.” 4

Swindoll states that the Greek word for ‘sign’ (sēmeion) signifies a mark or symbol that carries a special meaning or points us to something beyond it.” 5 In this case, John indicates that the new vision contains symbolic characters that point to real people or events in history – past as well as future.” 6

Many interpretations have been offered regarding the identity of the “woman” in this verse. Some have said that John was referring to something that his original readers knew about, namely, the “mother of the gods” represented on Roman coins. 7 Others have held that this woman is the church that is laboring to bring Christ to the nations. 8 This is built on an allegorical interpretation of Scripture and must be disallowed. The church did not produce Christ, but Christ produced the church. Also, since the church is not seen on earth in Revelation 4-19, the church cannot be represented by this woman. 9

Others say the woman refers exclusively to Mary, the mother of Jesus. 10 But this is not possible because Mary was never persecuted and never fled into the wilderness where she was fed for 1260 days (Revelation 12:6, 13-14). Clearly the woman is the nation of Israel who will be intensely persecuted during the last half of the Tribulation period (Revelation 12:13-17; cf. Matthew 24:15-22).

Other reasons why the “woman” refers to the nation of Israel include:

1. The context of Revelation 12:1 reveals that John is dealing with the nation of Israel. Grant says of Revelation 11:19, “The ark, then, seen in the temple in heaven is the sign of God’s unforgotten grace toward Israel…” 11

2. The identity of the woman as the nation of Israel is supported further by the reference to “the sun… the moon… and twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1) which connects back to a similar symbolic representation of Israel in Genesis 37:9-11. In this passage, Joseph, the son of Jacob has received a dream from God. 9 Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, ‘Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.’ 10 So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?’ 11 And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind.” These verses identify “the sun” and “moon” as Jacob and Rachel, Joseph’s parents, and the stars as Jacob’s twelve sons (cf. Isaiah 26:17-18; 60:1-3, 20). Compare Jeremiah 31:35-36; Joshua 10:12-14; Judges 5:20 and Psalm 89:35-37 where heavenly bodies are associated with Israel’s history. 12

3. The use of the term “woman.” Eight times the term “woman” is used in this chapter (12:1, 4, 6, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17), and thirteen additional times the pronoun “she” (12:2, 5, 6, 14) or “her” (12:1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 14, 16, 17) is used in reference to the woman. We find this term used frequently in the Old Testament to refer to the nation of Israel (cf. Isaiah 47:7-9; 54:5-6; Jeremiah 4:31; Micah 4:9-10; 5:3; Isaiah 66:7-8). While the church is called a “bride” (Revelation 21:2, 9, 17), a “wife” (Revelation 19:7; cf. Ephesians 5:22-33), or a “chaste virgin” (2 Corinthians 11:2), we never find the church referred to as a woman in the New Testament. 13

4. The use of the term “wilderness.” The “wilderness” is said to be the place of refuge afforded the woman in her flight (Revelation 12:6, 14). The “wilderness” was a common reference to Israel in her national history (Exodus 3:18; 4:27; 5:1; 7:16; 8:27-28; 13:17-18, 20; 14:3, 11-12; 15:22; 16:1-3, 10, 14, 32; et al.). Israel was taken into “the wilderness of the land of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:36). Israel, since she refused to follow God into the promised land, was turned back into the wilderness for forty years where they would die, and a new generation would be brought forth (Numbers 14:1-35; cf. Hebrews 3:7-18). Israel’s unbelief caused Ezekiel to declare God’s purpose: “And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face.” (Ezekiel 20:35). Hosea reveals that in the long period Israel would spend “in the wilderness” God would be gracious to them (Hosea 2:14-23). 14

5. The references to the period of three and a half years (“one thousand two hundred and sixty days” – 12:6 and “a time and times and half a time” – 12:14) in Revelation 12 connect to the last half of the week of Daniel’s seventieth week prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) which was specifically addressed to “your people and for your holy city” (Daniel 9:24). Since this prophecy was given to Daniel it could only refer to Israel and the city of Jerusalem. Each time this period is mentioned in Scripture, whether as a “one thousand two hundred and sixty days” (Revelation 11:6; 12:3), “forty-two months” (Revelation 11:2; 13:5), “time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 7:25; 12:7; Revelation 12:14), or three and a half years, it always refers to Israel and a period in which God is dealing with that nation. 15

6. The reference to the angel, “Michael” (Revelation 12:7). In Daniel 12:1 the archangel Michael is called “the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people.” Michael is united with the destiny of the nation Israel by this word of the Lord to Daniel. In Revelation 12:7 Michael appears again in reference to the warfare in heaven. The fact that Michael appears on the scene here indicates that God is again dealing with the nation Israel, and Michael is a character here because the destiny of Israel is involved. 16

Pentecost quotes Moorehead regarding Revelation 11:19, And the temple (sanctuary) of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of the covenant.’ This is strictly Jewish ground; the temple, the ark, the covenant belong to Israel, represent Hebrew relations with God and Hebrew privileges. The Spirit now takes up Jewish things, Jewish standing, covenant, hopes, dangers, tribulations and triumph.” 17

Clearly the people of Israel are in view here, so the woman in Revelation 12 represents the nation of Israel.

Next John writes, “Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.” (Revelation 12:2). Since the woman is Israel, the “child” is the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 12:5). The Bible tells us that Christ would come from the nation of Israel. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; 5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” (Romans 9:3-5).

The “labor” and “pain” in giving “birth” to Jesus (Revelation 12:2) are pictures of the grief and sorrow that the nation of Israel experienced in Old Testament days at the hand of Satan in his attempts to prevent the Messiah from coming. This agonizing struggle between Satan and Israel has been going on from the very beginning (cf. Genesis 3:15). 18

Israel’s founding father, Abraham, was promised a son (Genesis 12:1-7). Instead of waiting on God’s timing, Abraham took a shortcut and slept with his maidservant, Hagar, who gave birth to Ishmael (Genesis 16:1-16). Later Abraham’s wife, Sarah gave birth to Isaac (Genesis 21:1-7). The result of these two births has been a source of conflict between the Arabs and the Jews ever since (Genesis 21:8-21; 25:12-16). Israel faced terrible pain while in exile in Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria.In the days that Jesus was born, Israel was under the oppression and taxation of the Roman government.

God used many imperfect people to bring His Son into the world through the nation of Israel. When you examine the genealogies of Christ (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-37), these lists of names contain broken sinners like you and me. They include Jacob (Matthew 1:2; Luke 3:34) who was a deceiver. David (Matthew 1:6; Luke 3:31) who committed adultery and murder. Solomon (Matthew 1:7) who took an abundance of wives and concubines. Manasseh (Matthew 1:10) was one of Judah’s most wicked kings.

Moreover, and while women do not normally show up in biblical genealogies, the women in Jesus’s line were particularly questionable. Tamar (Matthew 1:3) was a Canaanite who posed as a prostitute and committed incest with her father-in law Judah. Rahab (Matthew 1:5) was a prostitute; Ruth (Matthew 1:5) was from Moab, a non-Israelite people that worshiped false gods.

Another observation about Jesus’ genealogies is that they are mixed racially, including both Jews and Gentiles which indicates that Jesus’ kingdom identity and rule includes all races of people. All of this points to God’s sovereign grace. He accomplishes His glorious purposes despite difficult circumstances and the character of the people involved. If God can use the imperfect people listed in these genealogies to bring Jesus, the Messiah-God, into the world, God can surely use you and me to accomplish His purposes. 19

Evans writes, Notice also that of the five women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy, four are of Hamitic descent: Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, and Ruth. That doesn’t mean that Jesus was black. To assert such, as some black theologians and religious leaders do, is to fall into the exclusionist perspective of many whites, who would make Jesus an Anglo-European, blue-eyed blond with little relevance to people of color. It would also fail to respect the distinct Jewish heritage of Christ. Jesus was a person of mixed ancestry.

“It blesses me to know that Jesus had black in His blood because this destroys any perception of black inferiority once and for all. In Christ we find perfect man and sinless Savior. This knowledge frees blacks from an inferiority complex, and at the same time it frees whites from the superiority myth. In Christ, we all have our heritage.

“Black people, as all other people, can find a place of historical, cultural, and racial identity in Him. As Savior of all mankind, He can relate to all people, in every situation. In Him, any person from any background can find comfort, understanding, direction, and affinity—as long as Christ is revered as the Son of God, a designation that transcends every culture and race and one to which all nations of people must pay homage.” 20

In conclusion, God wants us to remember that His faithfulness to His promises is not contingent upon our character, but upon His. We see this throughout history when God promised to bring the Messiah through the nation of Israel despite the nation’s unfaithfulness. The genealogies of Christ underscore God’s faithfulness in using imperfect Jews and Gentiles to fulfill this promise. As a nation, Israel had to endure much pain to usher the Messiah into the world. Likewise, we may have to endure much pain to fulfill God’s purposes. Whether we are faithful or not, God remains faithful to what He has promised.

The Bible tells us, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13). I have heard many Christians and churches insist that going to heaven is based on our faithfulness to God, instead of His faithfulness to His promises. Where is the assurance in such an assertion? If our assurance of going to heaven is based on our faithfulness to God, then we are all in a heap of trouble.

Why? Because like the nation of Israel, we also have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). Our good thoughts, words, and actions cannot make us right before God because they are all stained with sin (Isaiah 64:6). This is why God sent His only perfect Son into the world through the imperfect nation of Israel (Romans 9:3-5) so He could pay the penalty for all our sin once and for all by dying in our place on a cross and rising from the dead (John 19:30; Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 15:3-6; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10-14). All God asks us to do to enter His heaven is believe in Christ and His finished work on the cross.

Jesus said, “14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15). Just as Moses “lifted up” the bronze serpent in the wilderness so that all the dying Israelites could look at that serpent in faith and live physically (Numbers 21:1-8), so Jesus Christ was lifted up on the cross so “that whoever believes in Him” or looks to Him “should not perish but have eternal life.” Nowhere does Jesus say, “Whoever remains faithful to Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Repeatedly, Jesus and His followers tell us to “believe” 21 or have “faith” 22  in Christ alone as the only condition for entering God’s heaven.

Have you been looking to your own faithfulness as the way to Christ’s heaven? If so, Satan has deceived you to trust your own faithfulness instead of God’s. This is an expression of the Devil’s hatred toward God and humanity. Satan is a liar, a thief, and a murderer (John 8:44; 10:10a). He wants to deceive people to miss God’s heaven by distorting the gospel message lest people believe it and are saved (Luke 8:5, 11-12).

If you have believed the gospel, that Christ gives eternal life to all who believe in Him (John 3:14-18), but now you are trusting your own faithfulness as the basis of your assurance that you will go to heaven, then Satan, being the thief that he is, has successfully robbed you of your assurance of going to heaven. You still have eternal life because of your faith in Jesus, but your assurance of going to heaven is lost by looking to your own faithfulness instead of Christ’s. Our faithfulness to God can vary from moment to moment. So, when we are unfaithful to God with our thoughts, motives, words, or actions, we are prone to doubt our salvation if our assurance is rooted in our own faithfulness.

God makes it clear in the Bible that He does not want any of His children to doubt that they have eternal life and a future home in heaven with Him. “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 5:13). God wants you to know that you “have eternal life” the moment you believe in the name of the Son of God.” So, if you lack assurance of going to heaven, why not ask God to show you the truth and to make His Word understandable to you? 23

The key to assurance of salvation is looking to Jesus’ promise that all who simply believe in Him have everlasting life (John 3:14-18; 5:24; 6:35-50, 47; 7:37-39; 11:25-26; et al.). It is also important to remember, that we do not get to heaven through the promises we make to God, but through the promises He makes to us! 24

If you have been trusting your own faithfulness or anything else besides Jesus and His finished work on the cross to get you to heaven, Christ invites you right now to stop and look to Him and His finished work on the cross as Your only way to His heaven. When you do this, God gets all the glory and the only boasting in heaven will be in our gracious and loving Savior Who got us there (I Corinthians 1:18-31; Ephesians 2:8-9).

Prayer: Father God, we give You praise for the first main character in Your description of the conflict between You and Satan. The nation of Israel is central to Your redemptive purposes. It was through this imperfect nation and imperfect individual Gentiles that You brought Your only perfect Son into the world the first time to be our one and only Savior. If any of us struggle with shame and not feeling worthy to be used by You, may Your Holy Spirit use today’s Bible verses to silence our shame so we can present ourselves to You as Your available servants. You are a faithful God Who remains faithful to His promises even if we are faithless. Thank You, Lord, for this powerful reminder that can embolden us to faithfully proclaim Your saving message no matter what our past. Please use us to accomplish Your purposes so all the glory belongs to You. And Lord, if there is anyone reading this article right now who is trusting in someone or something other than Christ alone as their only way to heaven, please persuade them to stop and believe in Jesus for His free gift of eternal life. Thank You, Lord, for hearing our prayers. In the mighty name of 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. 234-235.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 132.

3. Ibid., pp. 132-133 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8—22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pg. 117.

4. 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 5656 to 5662.

5. Swindoll, pg. 235 cites Eugene Nida and Johannes P. Louw, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, §33.477.

6. Swindoll, pg. 235.

7. Constable, pg. 133 cites as examples Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959), pg. 337; and Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (London: SCM, 1965), pp. 151-152.

8. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Zondervan Academic, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 288 cites as an example Ford C. Ottman, The Unfolding of the Ages (New York: Baker and Taylor, 1905), pg. 280.

9. Pentecost, pg. 288.

10. Ibid., cites F. C. Jennings, Studies in Revelation (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, [n.d.].), pp. 310-311.

11. Ibid., cites W. Grant, The Revelation of Christ (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, [n.d.]), pg. 126. There is extensive biblical evidence showing that the woman of Revelation 12 is best identified as the nation of Israel (see Pentecost, pp. 288-291).

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., pg. 289.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., pg. 290.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid., pp. 290-291 cites William G. Moorehead, Studies in the Book of Revelation (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1908), pg. 90.

18. 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. 1541.

19. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1480-1481.

20. Ibid., pg. 1481.

21. Matthew 18:6; 21: 32(3); 24:23, 26; 27:42; Mark 1:15, 9:42; 15:32;16:16(2), 17; Luke 8:12, 13; 22:67; John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36(2); 4:39, 41, 42, 48, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 45, 46, 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64, 69; 7:5, 31, 38(2), 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:25, 26, 27(2), 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:12; 16:9, 27; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:29, 31(2); Acts 2:44; 4:4, 32; 5:14; 8:12, 13, 37(2); 9:42; 10:43, 45; 11:17, 21; 13:12, 39, 41, 48; 14:1, 23, 27; 15:5, 7; 16:1, 31, 34; 17:4, 5, 12, 34; 18:8, 27; 19:2, 4, 9, 18; 21:20, 25; 22:19; 26:27(2); 28:24(2); Romans 1:16; 3:3, 22, 4:3, 5, 11, 17, 24; 9:33; 10:4, 9, 10, 11, 14(2), 16; 13:11; 15:31; I Corinthians 1:21; 3:5; 7:12, 13; 9:5; 10:27; 14:22(2); 15:2, 11; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 2:16; 3:6, 9,

22; Ephesians 1:13, 19; Philippians 1:29; I Thessalonians 1:7; 2:10; 4:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:12,13; I Timothy 1:16; 3:16; 4:3, 10; 6:2(2); 2 Timothy 1:12; Titus 3:8; Hebrews 11:31; I Peter 1:21;2:6, 7; I John 3:23; 5:1, 5, 10(3), 13.

22. Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 7:50; 17:19; 18:42; Acts 6:7; 14:22, 27; 15:9; 16:5; 20:21; 24:24; 26:18; Romans 1:17; 3:3, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30(2), 31; 4:5, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16 (2); 5:1, 2; 9:30, 32; 10:6, 8, 17; 11:20; 16:26; I Corinthians 15:14, 17; Galatians 2:16 (2); 3:2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 14, 22, 24, 26; 5:5; Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 3:9(2); Colossians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:2; 2 Timothy 3:15; Titus 1:4; Hebrews 6:1;11:31; James 2:1, 23, 24; I Peter 1:21; 2 Peter 1:5; I John 5:4.

23. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 7.

24. Ibid.

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.

I am redeemed in Christ

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” Ephesians 1:7

When I believed in Christ, He “redeemed” or “purchased” me “through His blood.” This word for “redeemed” (apolutrōsis) is very important. At the time of the writing of the New Testament, it meant to go to the market place and buy a slave who is in trouble and then set the slave free. This is what Jesus did for us when He shed “His blood” on the cross.  He came to the market place where we have been slaves to sin.  And He paid the price or ransom for all our sins with “His blood” and set us free.

Before I placed my faith in Christ alone for salvation, I was enslaved to my sin. But the moment I believed in Jesus, I was taken off the slave market of sin so that I am now free to obey the Lord and not be enslaved to sin. The Holy Spirit, Who lives inside me, can empower me to say “no” to sin and “yes” to Christ (Romans 8:11-13). But if I do sin, the Holy Spirit will convict me so I can confess my sin to God and be restored to closeness with Him (I John 1:9).

Have you ever lost hope trying to overcome a sinful habit? You have tried and tried to break this habit, and you may be successful for a few weeks or months, but then you relapse? What God is telling us is that Christ has broken sin’s power in our lives by paying the full penalty for all our sins. Sin is no longer our master. Jesus Christ is now our Master and He wants to come alongside of us to enable us to get victory over sin.

One of the main reasons we may continue to sin in a particular area is because we believe the lie that says, “You cannot change because you are still a sinner who always sins.” But listen to the voice of truth. God says, “You can change through My Son, Jesus Christ, Who redeemed or purchased you off the slave market of sin so you are no longer enslaved to sin. You are now free to obey Me and live for Me.” Sin is no longer our master after we believe in Christ alone for salvation. Jesus is now our Master and He not only gives us the command to live holy lives, He also gives us the power to do so.

Let me illustrate the meaning of redemption. I read a story today about a father and son who worked for months to build a toy sailboat. Every night when he came home from work, the man and his boy would disappear into the garage for hours. When the boat was finished they stood back to admire the results. The wooden hull was painted bright red and it was trimmed with gleaming white sails. When it was finished the boy went to a nearby river for the boat’s trial run. The father had tied a string to its stern to keep it from sailing too far. The boat performed beautifully, but the string broke and the sailboat drifted out of sight. Attempts to find it were fruitless.

A few weeks later, as the boy was walking home from school he passed a store and was amazed to see his sailboat in the window. He ran inside to claim the boat, telling the owner he lost the boat. The store owner said, “You may have it back — for $50.” The boy was stunned at how much it would cost him to regain his boat, but since it was so precious to him he quickly set about earning the money to buy it back. Later he joyfully walked into the toy store and handed the owner $50 in exchange for his sailboat. It was the happiest day of his life. As he left the store he held the boat up to the sunlight. Its colors gleamed as though newly painted. “I made you, but I lost you,” he said. “Now I’ve bought you back.

God made you and me, but He lost us through our sin which separates us from Him. But God came to earth and bought us back by shedding His own blood on the cross. We now belong to the Lord Jesus and He is our Master. Let’s thank Him by living for Him!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for paying the full price for my sins with Your shed blood so I am now released from enslavement to sin. Because of my redemption in You, You are now my Master and I am Your slave. You not only give me the command not to sin, but You also can give me the power to obey it. Please use the Holy Spirit to apply this truth to my heart and mind so that obedience to Your Word becomes normal and natural to my Christian life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.