God is the center.
I must admit, ever since I began this blog more than three years ago, I have been sort of dreading getting to the Bible’s final book. Revelation is a book notorious for its confusing symbolism and outrageous imagery. When I think of Revelation, the question that immediately comes to mind is, Who can understand it? Ask ten different people what it means, and you’ll get ten different interpretations.
Yet here we are.
As I read the first chapter of this mysterious book, I couldn't help feeling like it seemed oddly familiar. Of course, I’ve read Revelation before, but it was something more than that. I knew when I hit the vision John had of Christ among the lampstands that what he had seen wasn't anything new:
“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” (vs 12-16)
I was curious about this description, so I started to investigate a little more. And here’s what I found: This revelation of God, this particular imagery had already been given to the prophets of old in various bits and pieces:
- In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. (Dan 7:13)
- I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in a linen robe, with a belt of fine gold around his waist. (Dan 10:5)
- As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. (Dan 7:9)
- His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. (Dan 10:6)
- Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. (Ezek 1:7)
- I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory. (Ezek 43:2)
- He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. (Isa 49:2)
No wonder this sounded familiar! Intrigued, I decided to dig a little bit more, and I discovered that in the book of Revelation, there are anywhere between 500 and 1,000 allusions to Old Testament Scripture. In every single chapter, there are no fewer than 10 references from the Jewish Bible.
It suddenly occurred to me that, as mysterious as Revelation may seem to us, it would have been anything but mysterious to its first audience! Those first Jewish Christians would have immediately recognized the imagery, the phrases, and the terminology John was using. They wouldn't have found it bizarre or confusing at all.
Which leaves me to wonder if the degree to which we find Revelation confusing today isn't the same degree to which we are unfamiliar with the Old Testament.
And maybe that was John’s point all along—to reveal to his audience that the Jesus they had come to know and love wasn't some new phenomenon, but He had been in the Old Testament all the time. Maybe John was hoping his readers would see what he had come to see as he walked with Jesus—that all through the course of human history, God was always at the center.
For God did not suddenly appear in the middle of the lampstands for the first time in order to provide a beginning for John’s final letter. No, He has been “in the center” all along. He is the Word who was before anything else was here; He is the Word who speaks in the present moment; and He is the Word who will remain, even if everything else should perish.
Knowing now that nearly 70% of the verses in Revelation contain an Old Testament allusion, I wonder if God designed this to be a vision that would suddenly take John on a “zoom out” journey for a look over the course of human history. Having read 65 books of magnifying-glass detail on various events in the lives of God’s children, maybe the 66th and final one will present us with a larger view.
We shall see.
God reminds us of the past (part 1).
One of my mom’s favorite things to do through the years has been to tell and retell the stories of how she and my dad fell in love and eventually got married. Sometimes she apologizes for telling the stories over and over again, but I never mind. I like to be reminded of where I came from—even before I was thought of.
God does the same thing with us in various ways, reminding us of our past, where we came from. Sometimes Satan does this too, but his motivation is always to stir up guilt and fear in us. God’s motivation in bringing up history is always to remind us of what He has done for us in the past, thereby helping us be more confident for the future.
Revelation chapters 2 and 3 are a brilliant example of how God does this. At first blush, both of these chapters comprise a series of seven letters to seven churches, and it’s true that all these churches were actual entities at the time John wrote Revelation. No doubt, the messages given to these seven groups of people were timely and appropriate for their circumstances at the time.
But if we take a closer look at these seven letters, there is also something remarkable lurking beneath the surface—a pattern (retelling, if you will) of Old Testament Israelite history, from Adam and Eve in the beginning right on down to the days of Jesus. Consider this chapter’s first four letters and their associated references.
In the letter to the church in Ephesus (vs 1-7), we find references to the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden:
- You don’t love me or each other as you did at first. (vs 4)
- Look how far you have fallen! (vs 5)
- Turn back to me. (vs 5)
- To everyone who is victorious, I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God. (vs 7)
Next, in the letter to the church in Smyrna (vs 8-11), we find references to the time of the Patriarchs and the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt:
- I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! (vs 9)
- The devil will throw some of you in prison to test you. (vs 10)
- You will suffer for ten days. (vs 10)
- If you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life. (vs 10)
Next, in the letter to the church in Pergamum (vs 12-17), there are references to the period of time following the Exodus when the Israelites wandered through the wilderness:
- You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. (vs 14)
- Repent of your sin, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (vs 16)
- To everyone who is victorious, I will give some of the manna of heaven. (vs 17)
Finally, in the letter to the church in Thyatira (vs 18-28), John makes reference to the era of monarchies in Israel, culminating with the establishment of David’s throne:
- You are permitting that woman—that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet—to lead my servants astray. (vs 20)
- To the one who is victorious . . . that one “will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (vs 26-27)
Tomorrow, we will continue looking at how God recounted the history of His people in the letters to the churches. Some of it may seem quite dismal, but God never reminds us of our past failures without also assuring us of our future victories. That’s why all His letters to the churches end with glorious promises:
- You will eat from the tree of life.
- The second death will not hurt you.
- You will eat the manna of heaven.
- You will be given a new name.
- You will have authority over the nations.
God reminds us of the past (part 2).
Continuing from yesterday’s foray into Old Testament history, the final letters to the churches in this chapter of Revelation served to remind John’s audience (and us) that not only did God remember the Israelites’ past, but He had been in the midst of them all along.
In the letter to the church in Sardis (vs 1-6), there are parallel references to the time when the Israelite monarchy ended and the Jews were taken into captivity in Babylon:
- I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (vs 1)
- Strengthen what remains [remnant] and is about to die. (vs 2)
- Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. (vs 4)
After that difficult period of Israelite history, a faithful remnant returned to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. In the letter to the church in Philadelphia (vs 7-13), we find references to that:
- I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (vs 8)
- The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. (vs 12)
- I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem. (vs 12)
And finally, in the letter to the church in Laodicea (vs 14-21), God recounts the era when Jesus walked on the Earth, referencing the Pharisaical attitudes He encountered—attitudes which, unfortunately, still persist to the present day:
- You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (vs 17)
- Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. (vs 19)
- Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. (vs 20)
I’m only three chapters into Revelation, and I get the feeling that a person could read this book a hundred times and never actually see the same thing twice. Still, I am intrigued by the idea that one of the things God was doing by giving this revelation to John was showing us precisely how (and how well) the history of the Old Testament harmonized with the new era in Christ.
In reminding us of how He had been diligently and patiently working with His people from the beginning of human history, I think God is setting us up to discover that whatever we encounter in the future will not be devoid of His presence and His plan.
He has been in control since the beginning, and He will be in control until the end. And hopefully, by helping us see His provision in our past, He will convince us of His enduring promise for the future.
God's door is always open.
This was a chapter rich in vibrant imagery—the thrones, the elders, the creatures, the sea, and the emerald rainbow. Yet, even in the midst of this technicolor vision, I couldn’t help but notice just one simple image—the open door.
Right at the beginning of this chapter, John simply writes, “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.” (vs 1)
What particularly caught my attention about this was the fact that in the previous chapter, God had described Himself as standing at a closed door: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Rev 3:20)
I don’t believe that these two doors being seen in such close proximity to one another is any coincidence. Rather, I think God is making a very clear statement about His stance toward us . . . and, unfortunately, our stance toward Him. In other words, we are the ones who have closed the door.
The door in heaven is standing open. In fact, also back in chapter 3, God declared that this door would always be open: “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” (Rev 3:8)
What does this mean? Simply that God does not base His treatment of us on our response to Him. His door is always open to us—and nobody can close it—even if our door remains closed to Him. In other words, if we are ultimately separated from God, it’s not because He closed His door to us. It’s because we closed our door to Him.
I also love the fact that this simple statement of the open doors comes immediately on the heels of the letters to the seven churches. In those letters, God had a lot of hard words for His people—including warnings and reprimands. Yet, at the very end of it, He reminds them, “The door of heaven is standing open.”
Nothing we have done can make God shut this door to us. Just as the home (and the arms) of the Father was always open to the Prodigal, so God’s door is always open to us. Anytime we are willing, we can walk right through it and into His very presence.
God is worthy.
I have long believed that the Bible speaks about two different kinds of death. Already in Revelation, we have encountered one verse that talked about the “second death” (Rev 2:11), and John makes reference to it a few more times before the end of the book.
However, instead of “second” signifying the numerical order of this death, I believe it signifies a different kind of death altogether than what we currently speak of as “death.” In fact, several times throughout His life, Jesus alluded to this very thing:
1. He said Lazarus (whom He “raised from the dead”) wasn’t dead at all. “After he had said this, he went on to tell them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’” (Jn 11:11)
2. He also described the death of Jairus’ daughter in the same way. “When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’” (Mk 5:38-39)
3. He clearly described two different kinds of death when sending out His disciples into the world. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of that which can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28)
Notice that, in the description of the first kind of death, the body is killed, but not the soul. In the second kind of death, both are completely destroyed. That’s quite a difference! And, as I've mentioned before on this blog, it seems to be a difference the disciples caught on to as, in the writings of Luke and Paul, they mostly referred to dead human beings as those who were asleep while reserving the Greek word for death for the times when they talked about Jesus’ death on the cross.
So, what does all that have to do with Revelation 5? I thought it was interesting that the scroll with seven seals was connected to death: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb . . . took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it . . . they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain. . .’” (vs 6-9)
It’s interesting that the question wasn't who was strong enough to open the scroll, but who was worthy enough. It’s even more interesting that Jesus (the Lamb) was found worthy because He was slain. This is apparently why even God the Father sitting on the throne didn't open the scroll, yet handed it to the Son.
My speculation is that what is “written” on the scroll is the revelation of universal reality—including the information that reveals who is righteous and wicked, the nature of death, and God’s involvement in that death. The reason, then, that the Lamb is worthy to open this scroll and reveal that information is because He is the One who first descended into the darkness of true death. Nobody else has yet died this death—the ultimate death of the sinner—except Him who was “made to be sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21).
For ages, God and all His creatures have been engaged in a universal war where a number of very important charges have been leveled and a number of very important questions have been raised. And in this war, only God is worthy to answer those questions. Only He has been proven to be totally trustworthy in revealing truth.
God is battling an impostor.
As the Lamb begins to open the seven seals in this chapter of Revelation, the first event to take place is the appearance of a rider on a white horse: “I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” (vs 1-2)
I don’t know much about Revelation, but one of the things I remembered from past studies with others is the idea that this rider on the white horse is Jesus. This seems to be the prevailing view, and on the surface, it would seem to make sense, especially since a rider on a white horse appears again in Revelation 19.
But as I read the rest of the chapter today, I started to wonder if the two riders on white horses were, in fact, the same. For as I began to compare the two accounts in Revelation 6 and 19, some oddities appeared that raised some questions in my mind.
First, it may seem too obvious (and, for more seasoned scholars, a bit simple-minded), but I wondered how Jesus could be both the white horse rider on Earth in Revelation 6 as well as the Lamb in heaven opening the seals. However, when you’re dealing with a book that’s so rich in symbolism and imagery, it might be best not to put too much stock in the literal.
But then there were the differences between the two riders themselves.
Here are some points given about the Revelation 6 rider:
- His “weapon” was a bow.
- He wore a single crown.
- He rode out with an aim to conquer.
- He is unnamed.
Here are some similar points given about the Revelation 19 rider:
- His “weapon” is a sharp sword coming out of His mouth.
- He wore many crowns.
- He rode out and was attacked.
- He is named—”Faithful and True” and “Word of God.”
Comparing those four points, does it really seem like these two riders are the same person? If so, why not name the rider in Revelation 6? Why the difference in the number of crowns? And why the different weapons?
These differences were a little much for me, and I must admit that I don’t think the white horse rider in this chapter is Christ at all. In fact, I think he is an impostor! I think he is someone who is pretending to be Christ or who would like to set himself up as Christ, and so he masquerades as Christ.
Yet the deception is short-lived.
For even though this rider comes out as a king who conquers with truth and righteousness, his true colors begin to show nearly immediately as the Lamb continues to break open the subsequent seals:
- With the second seal comes a rider on a red horse who inspires war.
- The third seal reveals a rider on a black horse who leaves mass hunger in his wake.
- When the fourth seal is broken, a rider on a pale horse kills a quarter of mankind.
- By the time the sixth seal is opened, the planet itself is reeling from the carnage.
All of this comes right on the heels of that first, dazzling white horse. And I immediately thought of the text where Paul says, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Cor 11:14) Indeed, isn't that what the serpent did in the Garden of Eden at the very beginning of the human story? He promised something that turned out to be the opposite of reality. He promised Adam and Eve an exalted, empowered existence, but it was really a road that led to death.
That’s why I think this first white horse rider only wears one crown, and John says it was a crown that was “given” to him. (vs 2) For essentially, in this universe-wide war, there has been only one domain that has been voluntarily “handed over” to Satan—and that’s the Earth. God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the Earth, but when they threw their lot in with the serpent, in essence, they handed the keys to Satan.
And there has been nothing but trouble ever since.
Yesterday, I speculated that the scroll had something to do with revealing truth and reality to us and the onlooking universe. If that’s true and the rider on the white horse in Revelation 6 is, indeed, an impostor, then it would make sense that opening the seals would expose the truth about the principles that govern his kingdom.
What else can you do when you’re battling an impostor in a universe of intelligent beings who have been endowed with the power to think and the freedom to choose?
God inspires a response.
Today’s blog really begins back at the end of chapter 6 after the breaking of the sixth seal. Before the breaking of the seventh seal—which begins chapter 8—John draws a contrast between two different groups of people:
“They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?’” (Rev 6:16-17)
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (vs 9-10)
What a stark difference between these groups of people! They are obviously talking about the same person—the Lamb—whom we know as Jesus. Yet one group is so terrified, they’re begging the mountains to topple over on them to save them from the Lamb’s “wrath.”
(By the way, have you ever seen a wrathful baby sheep?)
So, why the difference? Is it that God treats His righteous children differently than His wicked children? Is He a docile Lamb to some and an angry Lamb to others?
If He was, that would make Jesus a liar, for He testified, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:43-48)
The reason God asks us to love our enemies is because that is what He does. So, if we come down to the end of it, and He destroys His enemies, He will have revealed Himself to be a liar and hypocrite.
Perhaps the difference isn't in the way God treats us, but in the way we perceive Him. Perhaps the group praying to the rocks to fall on them are so consumed by their fear, guilt, and shame that they perceive God to be something He is not.
Haven’t we seen a perfect example of this in the Biblical past? Think back to the experience of Adam and Eve. We don’t know how long they lived in the Garden of Eden, but while they were there, they enjoyed face to face communion with God. They spent time with Him and talked to Him as you or I would talk to a good friend.
But the minute they made a choice that resulted in the emergence of shame, guilt, and fear in their hearts and minds, they ran and hid from God. God hadn't changed one bit! He hadn't done a single thing to them! They ran and hid, not because God had changed, but because they had changed.
The fact is, we can’t have peace in God’s presence if we aren't close to God. I like the way C.S. Lewis put it: “Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry.”
One thing’s for sure: God inspires a response. But in this universe-wide war, the response He inspires isn't necessarily based on the reality of who He is, but it is based on who we perceive Him to be.
The more we get to know Him, the closer we come to Him, the more we will be infused with that fountain of peace and joy. Otherwise, when it comes time to see Him, we may wish to be buried by a mountain.
God prepares us.
This chapter begins in an odd way. Instead of learning the “contents” of the scroll as the Lamb breaks the seventh and final seal, “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” (vs 1) And what comes next isn't a reading of the scroll (at least in the literal sense), but the beginning of another “seven”—The Seven Trumpets.
As I read through the first four “trumpets” contained in this chapter, I couldn't help but notice a recurring phrase: a third of. No matter what John saw destroyed in each of these trumpet events, it was only “a third of” it—a third of the earth burned up, a third of the sea creatures killed, a third of the day without light, and so on.
I immediately thought of another famous “third of” I’m familiar with from Revelation: “Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.” (Rev 12:3-4) This passage, I believe, refers to Satan—that great dragon, or serpent—and the angels he convinced to join him in rebellion against God.
So, it wasn't too much of a logical leap to conclude that demonic activity may be behind these “trumpet” events. If breaking open the seven seals exposed the principles behind the kingdom of Satan, then the natural follow-up to that would be the revelation of the consequences of living in such a kingdom. And I don’t know about you, but it doesn't look that pretty.
I also thought about the use of trumpets in the Bible. In the Old Testament, trumpets were predominantly used to get people’s attention—whether it was for the purposes of preparing for worship, gathering for war, calling for repentance, or crowning a king. Those who heard the trumpet sound would have been alert, awake, and ready for whatever was at hand.
I think that’s also the purpose of these “trumpets” in the context of what’s happening in Revelation. Allowing Satan to begin partially wreaking his havoc on the earth and its inhabitants would (and should!) serve as a desperate wake-up call to anyone who was still holding out hope for something “good” in his kingdom. By now, it should be abundantly clear that the only thing Satan does is destroy.
You’d think that revelation would make a difference, right?
But, taking a sneak peek ahead at tomorrow’s chapter, we see that—incredibly—for many people, it does not: “The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (Rev 9:20-21)
That’s hard to believe, but it’s a sad fact that we can so ruin ourselves with evil that all of God’s warnings will fall on deaf ears. We could even see a third of humanity killed and a third of the earth devastated . . . and it still wouldn't wake us up.
Nevertheless, God does everything He can to prepare us. This is precisely what Revelation means, and it’s the reason for it. God doesn't want us to be in the dark about what’s going on. He has always wanted us to know the truth so we can make informed decisions based on evidence.
And based on the evidence, I’d say Satan is the last person you want as your king.
God is limiting Satan.
It’s really hard to write about Revelation chapter by chapter. To attempt that is like trying to describe the picture of a completed puzzle by examining one piece at a time. It’s hard not to constantly reference other pieces and talk about connections and relationships between them!
Case in point: Yesterday, our chapter began discussing the “seven trumpets,” but only described the first four. Today’s chapter deals with the next two, and John leaves no doubt as to the mastermind behind these awful events. In describing the army of locusts that will torture people for five months, he says, “Their king is the angel from the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon—the Destroyer.” (vs 11) This is the same name used for Satan in the description of his fall in Isaiah 14.
But even though there may be no doubt as to who is orchestrating this pain and misery, the sounding of the sixth trumpet indicates that God has still playing a role in the events—a limiting, or restricting, role: “The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the four horns of the golden altar that is before God. It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’ And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind.” (vs 13-15)
It is clear that the command to release these “destroying angels” comes from God’s altar in heaven, and I suppose some could argue that this destruction, then, is God’s idea. But that doesn't make much sense, especially when the previous five trumpet events have Satan’s stamp on them and the next series of seven events to come are actually called “The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath.” (Rev 16:1)
To me, then, it seems reasonable to conclude that God has bound these four angels until this moment, not because He is orchestrating their actions, but because He was previously restricting them. In fact, I think one could make the case from the Scriptures that, even though he was given “dominion” over our world, Satan’s actions have been restricted by God to a certain degree from the beginning.
- The serpent in Eden (which was a disguised Satan) was restricted to one tree.
- Satan couldn't do anything to Job beyond what God allowed.
- Jesus told Peter that Satan had asked permission to mess with the disciples.
- Satan argued with God over Moses’ body—and lost.
- Every demon Jesus ever met submitted to Him.
If this is true—that God has been limiting Satan’s evil reach from the very beginning—it’s ironic that so many people ask, How can a loving God allow suffering? Instead, Revelation 9 may suggest that a better question is, How much suffering would we have had to endure if it wasn't for a loving God?
The true irony might just be that in this universe-wide war—which is, in part, about the ultimate preservation of freedom—God has actually been restricting the freedom of Satan to fully carry out his evil plans until the time is right and everyone is prepared to understand what’s going on. When that time arrives, there will be no reason to restrict him any longer, and God will be able to release what He has been holding in check. Perhaps then, and only then, will we truly see evil for what it is.
It’s sobering to consider the possibility that when it comes to suffering, we ain't seen nothin' yet.
God is a promise.
I’m sure there are a lot of prophetically-relevant things that could be said about this chapter, especially since it constitutes an interlude in the dramatic unfolding of the seven trumpets. But as I read, I couldn't get past the description of the “mighty angel” who brought the little scroll to John, and I decided to focus on that today.
Most Bible commentators agree that the phrase mighty angel is used to denote an archangel—an angel with very unique and special duties in terms of communication and revelation. Yet the description of the mighty angel at the beginning of this chapter sounds quite familiar, doesn't it?
- He is robed in a cloud.
- He is surrounded by a rainbow.
- His face shines like the sun.
- His legs are like fiery pillars.
- His voice is like that of a lion.
All of this imagery has also been used to describe Jesus—particularly the association with “coming in a cloud” and having a face that shines like the son. He is also known as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and various parts of His body have been described as fiery or aflame. So, if the interpretation were up to me, I’d say this mighty angel who came to John was Jesus Himself—in the angelic form of Michael.
The part of the description that intrigued me (and then blessed me) was that “He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head.” (vs 1)
Certainly, in a Biblical context, the mind immediately returns to the story of Noah and the Flood when presented with the image of a rainbow. It serves as an everlasting reminder that God keeps His word, even to the point where it is here described as part of His personal apparel!
It is also worth noting that a rainbow is simply a natural result of the sun shining through a cloud—which is exactly what we find in this description of Jesus! His face shines like the sun, like the bright and morning star, and it shines through the cloud He is robed in. Voila! A rainbow.
My friends, God doesn't only make promises, He is a promise. When the clouds of this life surround us, God is right there to shine His presence through the thick darkness, producing all the reminder we need that He will never leave us or forsake us or allow us to be overwhelmed to the point of destruction.
With His face shining through the clouds, we can live life surrounded by a rainbow.
At the end of Revelation 11, the seventh trumpet sounds, and heaven erupts in a cry of victory: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (vs 15) I want to focus on this verse in today’s blog, but first, let’s re-examine the events that have led up to this moment—events between the sixth and seventh trumpets.
Immediately after the sixth trumpet sounded, the four angels who had been bound at the Euphrates River were released to kill a third of mankind (Rev 9:13-15). And even after such a devastating event, John records that those who survived were not deterred in their evil pursuits (Rev 9:20-21).
Following this, the beginning of Revelation 11 describes the testimony, death, resurrection, and ascension of the two witnesses, followed by a severe earthquake which kills even more people. Apparently, this series of events causes some of the survivors to turn to God (vs 13).
Only after all these events take place does the seventh angel sound his trumpet, precipitating the cry of victory in heaven. What is interesting to note about this cry is the use of the verb tense: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord. In the Greek, the grammar clearly indicates something that is an absolute certainty even though it has not been realized yet.
Of course, this might lead us to ask, how can there be such joy when God’s full reign hasn't yet begun? In fact, if God’s full reign hasn't yet been established, why is there absolute certainty that it will occur?
Well, to use an American example, we need think no further than the night of a Presidential election. All day, citizens cast their votes, and by the end of the night, a winner has been declared. Celebrations begin, even though it will actually be a couple of months before the winner takes office, moves into the White House, and begins to govern. Until then, the current President (if he has lost reelection or cannot serve another term) is referred to as a lame duck.
I believe this is what the cry of victory means after the sounding of the seventh trumpet: Satan has become a total lame duck. Everyone in heaven and on earth have “cast their votes,” it is clearly seen that God has won the war, and it is only a matter of time before His kingdom is fully established.
Indeed, from this point forward in Revelation, there is never again mention of anyone repenting or turning to God. With the end of the seven trumpets comes the full revelation of the principles of Satan’s kingdom and the unmasking of his character. Those who have thrown their lot in with him are settled into his lies and will not yield, and those who have thrown their lot in with God are settled into His truth and will not yield.
Thus will begin the last, epic events of this universe-wide war, when—having revealed the truth about the way He reigns—God will be able to gather His faithful children home, allow His wicked children to reap the natural consequences of their sin, and restore heaven and earth to peace and harmony forever.
God has already won the war.
Revelation chapter 11 ended with a victory shout from heaven, proclaiming that God had won the war. Immediately following that, at the start of today’s chapter, John recorded signs that began appearing in heaven—beginning with a pregnant woman about to give birth and a dragon who was after the baby.
First, let’s examine the symbolism in these signs, and then I’ll try to offer an explanation of what I think is going on here:
- The woman represents the nation of Israel.
- The child she was about to deliver represents Christ.
- The dragon represents Satan.
- The stars flung out of the sky represent angelic beings.
First, the woman: “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.” (vs 1-2)
This is another group of images that would have been familiar to John’s first audience. In Genesis 37, Joseph (who became head of one of the twelve tribes of Israel) had a dream involving these very symbols: “Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’ When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, ‘What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?’” (Gen 37:9-10)
In his dream, Joseph saw his family depicted as the sun (Jacob), the moon (Rachel), and his brothers (eleven stars). Of course, we know that Jacob’s name was changed by God to Israel, and it was out of this very family unit that the nation of Israel (with its twelve tribes) was born. Thus, when Revelation describes a woman incorporating the symbolism of the sun, moon, and twelve stars, it’s highly suggestive of the nation of Israel.
Second, the child delivered by this nation is described in this chapter as one who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” (vs 5), a direct reference to the Messiah out of Psalm 2. Certainly, this can only mean Christ, and He definitely came from the nation of Israel.
Next, there are lots of clues to identify the dragon in this chapter:
- He sought to devour the child the moment He was born (vs 4), which signifies a personal conflict between the two.
- He swept a third of the stars (angels) out of the sky (vs 4), which is confirmed by the assertion that Satan had angels on his side during the war in heaven. (vs 7)
- He is specifically called “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan.” (vs 9)
These two—Christ and Satan—are the major players in the universe-wide war, and it seems that right after the victory shout is heard in heaven, God reveals to John how and when the war was won and what the effects of that victory have been.
The fact that the dragon was waiting to devour the Child the moment He was born represents the way Satan tried to destroy Christ’s mission and ministry on Earth. He certainly tried to kill Him early on by inspiring Herod to kill all the little boys in Bethlehem. When that failed, Satan continued to oppose His ministry, tempting Him to sin and trying to thwart His plan of redemption.
In the end, however, Satan was unsuccessful at his attempts to “devour the child” and, in John’s vision, the child was “snatched up to God and to his throne” (vs 5), signifying Christ’s victory over sin and His ascension to heaven.
And what happened in heaven immediately after that? “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” (vs 7-9)
This was no physical war, but a war of ideas. Though this war had already been raging for centuries, you’ll remember that there were several times in the Old Testament where Satan appeared in heaven, specifically to accuse God’s children on Earth. (The story of Job and the accusation against the high priest in Zechariah 3 are notable examples.) Thus, it appears that up until the point Christ ascended to heaven, Satan still had some “sympathetic ears” in heaven. These were likely angels who had questions about God and His character even though they had chosen to remain loyal to Him for the time being.
All that changed after the cross. Throughout Jesus’ life, and especially at His death, Satan was totally exposed before heaven as the fraud he is, and all remaining doubts and questions about God’s character were settled—at least in the minds of the angels. That’s why Satan “was not strong enough” and ended up losing his place in heaven. What he lost wasn't a physical place, but a willing audience.
The only place left for Satan to find a willing audience was on Earth, and so the war has continued here for a time: “Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.” (vs 17) Yet even here, the seeds sown by Christ’s life and death were already blossoming and would eventually come to fruition, culminating in God’s final victory over sin and evil—resulting in the victory shout at the end of Revelation 11.
God has already won the war because He has already provided all the evidence necessary to expose Satan’s lies and answer the charges leveled against Him. Granted, it is taking humanity quite a bit longer to see and understand this evidence, but the same revelation that restored God’s character in the minds of His heavenly creatures will eventually restore His character in the minds of His human creatures as well.
Until then, John warns us that things will get worse before they get better: “But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” (vs 12)
God gave us reason for a reason.
As I read and tried to digest today’s chapter from Revelation, one of my favorite quotes from Paul’s writings came to mind: “God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.” (Eph 6:10-12)
In this chapter, John said the time of the beasts would be a time that “calls for wisdom” (vs 18), but I don’t think that is only in reference to that infamous 666 number. Rather, I think that the entire scenario described here is one where only those who are open to the Spirit and committed to using their God-given reason will avoid being deceived.
When I read this chapter, I saw one thing: an unholy trinity. I mean, how far will Satan go in his quest to “become” God and take over His throne? First, he appeared as the rider on the white horse, making wonderful promises that he couldn't keep. And now, after he has lost his battle in heaven, Satan presents himself in a trinity to mankind—the dragon, the beast, and the second beast (later referred to in Revelation as the “false prophet”).
Did you notice some of the striking “similarities” between the unholy trinity and the Holy Trinity?
- The dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority (vs 2). Jesus said that the Father gave Him all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18).
- The beast suffered a fatal wound, but came back to life (vs 3). Jesus died and was resurrected (1 Thess 4:14).
- The second beast appeared after the first beast and continued its agenda (vs 11-12). After Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit was sent to continue His ministry (Jn 16:7).
- The second beast was the spirit, or breath, of the trinity (vs 15), just as the third member of God’s Trinity is the Divine Spirit.
I don’t know about you, but all of that seems like too much of a coincidence for me. It’s clear that when Satan comes to impersonate God on earth, he will leave no stone unturned, no miracle undone in his quest to get everyone to worship him.
There is much in the presentation of this unholy trinity that might first appear God-like. After all, the dragon gives his authority to another. That seems humble and servant-like, doesn't it? And it sounds like there will be no shortage of signs and wonders and miracles, which also had a place in the ministry of God’s prophets and even the ministry of Jesus Himself.
But when we are in a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels, we cannot simply rely on appearances. For when we encounter the dragon and his beasts, there might be healings and miracles and the occasional flash of humility, but present in the mix are also blasphemies and slander and terror. Shockingly, though, even then, John says, “The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast.” (vs 3)
I know I have written it on this blog many times, but I will write it again: Faith is not a blind leap. God gave us reason for a reason, and He wants us to use it. With an enemy like Satan who is hell-bent on doing whatever he can to trick and deceive us into following him, our only hope is to seek God with all our heart and with all our mind.
Your ability to reason is one of those “well-made weapons” Paul talked about in Ephesians 6.
Don’t leave home without it!
God fights—even when it's hopeless.
There is a very interesting progression of three visions in this chapter, and I think they have something significant to say about God. John has just finished the terrifying description of a planet in the hands of the unholy trinity—where people will be coerced into worshiping Satan under threat of death. Many who refuse to yield during that awful time will be killed.
It’s a bleak picture. Yet right on its heels comes the first vision in this chapter—the vision of Jesus standing on Mount Zion with the 144,000 who bear His name. (This group, I believe, is symbolic of all the righteous who will ultimately be victorious over sin and Satan and live with God forever.) It’s as if God wants to assure His people that their ultimate rescue is certain, no matter how ugly things get in the meantime.
At this point, we have two groups bearing two different marks, or seals. Those who have decided to follow Satan bear the “mark of the beast” (Rev 12:16), and those who have decided to follow Christ have the Father’s name written on their foreheads (vs 1). As I mentioned a few days ago, there is nothing left in the book of Revelation to indicate that anybody changes groups from this point forward.
And that’s what makes the second vision in this chapter so interesting. It’s the vision of three angels who fly over the earth to proclaim, once again, the message of the everlasting gospel and a warning to those who have identified themselves with Babylon that things are not going to end well.
What’s the point of making these overtures when both groups are sealed?
What’s the point of continuing to plead when people have already made up their minds?
I suppose you could argue that, perhaps, the mind of every single person hasn't actually been made up at this point, and Revelation doesn't mention any subsequent conversions or it just so happens that those who are on the fence eventually decide to stay with the beast.
But there’s a little clue in the third vision of Revelation 14 that makes that scenario seem unlikely. In the third vision, John sees the “harvest” of the earth: “Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, ‘Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.” (vs 15-16)
At first glance, this doesn't seem unusual. The time to harvest is when the crops are ripe. Yet the ancient Greek word translated ripe actually has a negative connotation. Instead of meaning something at the peak of freshness, it indicates something that is over-ripe, something that is past the natural time of harvest.
To me, this indicates that God has waited even longer than necessary to allow His wicked children to reap the consequences of their choices. And even when it would appear that all minds have been made up and the case of the wicked is hopeless, God is still pleading with them to come home, still warning them of what will happen if they stay on their dead-end road.
Why would He do that? Probably for the same reason any parent with a terminally-ill child will try anything—any treatment, any medication, any procedure—to effect a change in their child’s condition, even when they know in their heart it won’t ultimately bring healing. It is in the heart of a parent who loves a child to never give up.
And within our God beats the heart of a parent who loves His children—all His children.
That’s why God fights—even when it’s hopeless.
That’s why He pleads—even when His pleading falls on deaf ears.
It is not in the nature of Love to give up. And as we turn the page to chapters 15, we’re going to see why.
God has a cup of wrath for sinners.
There is an image introduced in chapter 14 and continued in chapters 15 and 16 which, I feel, is worth taking some time to consider: the cup of God’s wrath. This is the object of much discussion, especially in the book of Revelation, for it is this final book of the Bible which clearly outlines the end of the wicked—and John describes this event in terms of their drinking from that cup. This phrase is used six times in the Bible, and it’s the only specific “cup” the Bible refers to as belonging to God:
- Let their own eyes see their destruction; let them drink the cup of the wrath of the Almighty. (Job 21:20)
- Rise up, Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes people stagger. (Isa 51:17)
- This is what your Sovereign Lord says, your God, who defends his people: “See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger; from that cup, the goblet of my wrath, you will never drink again.” (Isa 51:22)
- This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.” (Jer 25:15)
- A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.” (Rev 14:9-10)
- The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. (Rev 16:19)
As I encountered this image, it brought to mind another dramatic scene from the Bible where a cup from God was discussed: “They went to a place called Gethsemane . . . ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ Jesus said to his disciples. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” (Mk 14:32, 34-36)
What other cup could Jesus have been referring to but the cup of God’s wrath which will be poured out on sinners? Indeed, Paul later confirmed that at the cross, Jesus had been treated exactly as God will treat sinners: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)
And how, exactly, did God the Father treat Jesus on the cross? What did it mean for Jesus to drink the cup of the wrath of God? It meant He was given up: “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).” (Matt 27:46)
If Jesus drank from the same cup of wrath that the wicked will drink from in Revelation, then we must assume that the meaning of that is also the same in both scenarios. If God didn't torture Jesus on the cross, then He is not going to torture wicked sinners at the end of the world. If God didn't torment Jesus on the cross, then He is not going to torment wicked sinners at the end of the world. No, He will do to wicked sinners at the end of the world exactly what He did to Jesus on the cross—give them up to experience the consequences of sin.
The end result of this event for sinners is death, just as it was for Jesus on the cross. That’s why John said, “I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed.” (vs 1)
There is nothing more to come after drinking the cup of God’s wrath to the last drop. The end result is death. However, this death is the inherent consequence of the sin, not the imposed punishment of God. If, on the cross, God imposed no punishment on Jesus, then He is also not imposing punishment on sinners at the end.
God has a cup of wrath for sinners, but it’s certainly not a cup He wants them to drink. It’s a cup He never intended anyone to drink. But when freedom had been abused in God’s universe to the point that some of His creatures would inevitably drink from this cup, He drank from it first so we would know that the destruction which comes from sin doesn't come at the hands of God.
That will be an important point to remember as we turn the page to chapter 16.
God will let go.
And now we have come to what must be one of the most fearful descriptions of total devastation to be recorded in the Bible—the final, last plagues that will fall on this sin-wearied earth, labeled “The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath.”
But, before we catalog the miserable events associated with these plagues, we must bear in mind how the Bible consistently defines God’s wrath. Passages from both the Old Testament (such as Hosea 11) and the New Testament (such as Romans 1) clearly describe God’s wrath as His giving up and letting go of sinners who have decided to reject Him.
There are many places in the Bible where God exercises this giving up in a partial way. For example, God declared that He would pour out His wrath on the corrupt nation of Israel and hand them over to captivity in Babylon. At other times, He gave up His people to be defeated in battle by heathen nations. This partial “giving up” was always with the aim in mind of waking up His people and setting them back on a righteous path before they put themselves beyond His redemptive reach for good.
But, as we've noted now a couple of times in this blog on Revelation, it is clear that there will come a point in earth’s history when everyone’s minds will be made up for good. There will be no more changing sides. There will be no more conversions. The wicked will have ruined their capacity to repent, and the righteous will be settled into the truth.
When that hour arrives, there will be no reason to wait any longer, for God has made it clear why He continues to wait now: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)
It is not in the nature of Love to give up, but it is also not in the nature of Love to prolong suffering unnecessarily. Thus, once all of God’s children have ultimately decided either for or against Him, this universe-wide war can come to an end and all things can be restored to peace and harmony.
However, the reason Love doesn't want to give up is because the process of totally giving up those who have rejected God will be nothing less than devastating and heartbreaking. Today’s chapter describes all of these events as part of the consequences the earth and its inhabitants will face as they are fully and finally separated from God:
- An initial breakdown of health—festering sores on the body.
- All sea life dies.
- All water turns to blood.
- Intense global warming—the sun scorches the earth.
- Preparations made for global, even intergalactic, war.
- An earthquake that levels the earth. Islands sink, mountains are gone.
- A shower of 100-lb hailstones.
As the consequences of sin are allowed to fully develop on the planet, it is easy (yet still shocking!) to see how the wicked are totally entrenched in their decision to reject God: “People gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.” (vs 10-11)
At this point, there is nothing that would make these people change their minds. Let’s remember that God isn't inflicting any of these consequences on them as imposed punishment for sin, but even if He was, it is revealed that it wouldn't make one bit of difference. They are settled into their rebellion.
As God let Jesus go on the cross, so He will let the wicked go at the end. And I think it is significant (and certainly no coincidence) that these seven plagues end with the very same words Jesus spoke at the end of Good Friday: “The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘It is finished!’” (vs 17) With those words on the cross, the war was over in heaven, and when those words are spoken by God after the seven last plagues, the war will be over on earth.
God will let go, not because He wants to, but because He has to. In a universe where He has given His creatures the freedom to choose, He will honor the choice of those who decide to leave Him and give them up to the consequences of their choice.
What an awful day that will be.
God opposes all the kingdoms of this world.
When Pilate asked Jesus if He was the king of the Jews, Jesus responded, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (Jn 18:36) And in this chapter of Revelation, we see that every single kingdom of this world stands in opposition to and operates in stark contrast to the Kingdom of God.
Having said that, this has to be one of the most discussed, disagreed-upon, and differently-interpreted chapters in the whole Bible. Theories abound as to who or what constitutes “Babylon the Great,” as well as what or who the woman and all the kings represents. Is this referring to a power that has been and gone or one that is yet to come? Or both?
Today, I’m glad to announce that I don’t have the answers to those questions. I’m not sure anybody does. Regardless of the prophetic and apocalyptic “answer” (which is likely multi-layered anyhow), I do believe that the Christians to whom this letter was written probably identified the Roman Empire of the time as the entity in this chapter. Given the immediate context and time period when Revelation was written, the Jews were experiencing unbelievable oppression from the Romans, culminating with the utter destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Whether or not this chapter also has a prophetic future application, I’m sure John’s first audience “heard” and understood a pertinent message for their day.
It’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed with all the beasts and heads and horns and crowns in the book of Revelation—or perhaps it’s just easy to get desensitized to it all. I mean, John demonstrated that in a comical way in this very chapter: “Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. . . When I saw [the woman], I was greatly astonished.” (vs 3, 6)
By this point, John seems a little immune to the supernatural, doesn't he? Here, he sees yet another ferocious, seven-headed, ten-horned, scarlet-red beast that is covered with blasphemous graffiti . . . but he’s astonished by the sight of the woman. Perhaps there are only so many heads, horns, and crowns a person can digest at once!
But perhaps the proliferation of all these images for the entity that rises up to oppose God and the difficulty of pinpointing its exact identity give us the opportunity to consider a broader application of this symbolism. In particular, I found the following two quotes insightful and thought-provoking:
- Bible scholar Robert W. Wall suggests that Babylon the Great stands for a world system more universal than that of the old Roman Empire. She is, he says, “the ‘global village’ of godless power, which determines daily life for every person at any time in human history.” (New International Biblical Commentary, p. 202)
- Likewise, Bible scholar Leon Morris said of Babylon the Great, “The ‘great city’ is every city and no city. It is civilized man, mankind organized apart from God. It has its embodiment in every age.” (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p. 203)
In short, the symbol of “Babylon the Great” (in addition to denoting some specific entity either in the past or future) could also refer to all the ungodly religious-social-political-economic systems that man has created. Any and every world system that doesn't reflect God’s nature of love or the principles of His Kingdom as expressed in the life of His Son, Jesus, could accurately be depicted under this symbol.
So, no matter if we’re talking about the ancient Assyrians, the Roman Empire, or corrupt Israel, God opposes all the kingdoms of this world. He opposes them, not because they oppose Him, but because the principles under which they operate are harmful and ultimately self-destructive. He opposes them because, if He can’t redeem them, they will go down to destruction.
Jesus is a King, but His Kingdom is not of this world. The principles of His government stand in stark contrast to the principles of every government either man or Satan has concocted.
God is forever.
In yesterday’s chapter, we were introduced to the vision of a prostitute (whom the angel called Babylon )riding around on the scarlet beast. At the end of the vision, the angel foretold the ultimate downfall and demise of this woman, and today’s chapter describes how quickly that destruction will befall “her” and what the reaction of the witnesses will be.
In particular, this passage caught my eye: “To the degree that she glorified herself and reveled in her wantonness, to that measure she will know torment and anguish and tears and mourning. Since in her heart she boasts, I am not a widow; as a queen I sit, and I shall never see suffering or experience sorrow—so shall plagues come thick upon her in a single day, pestilence and anguish and sorrow and famine; and she shall be utterly consumed, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.” (vs 7-8)
This is actually not the first time God has warned Babylon of her destruction. Hundreds of years before John received this vision, God said this through the prophet Isaiah: “You said, ‘I am forever—the eternal queen!’But you did not consider these things or reflect on what might happen. Now then, listen, you lover of pleasure, lounging in your security and saying to yourself, ‘I am, and there is none besides me. I will never be a widow or suffer the loss of children.’ Both of these will overtake you in a moment, on a single day: loss of children and widowhood. . . Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you when you say to yourself, ‘I am, and there is none besides me.’ Disaster will come upon you, and you will not know how to conjure it away. . . A catastrophe you cannot foresee will suddenly come upon you.” (Isa 47:7-11)
What struck me about this is the stark contrast between the boast of the woman—that she is a forever, eternal queen—and the revealed reality—that she is so impotent, she is plundered and destroyed in a single day. Indeed, this radical turn of events is also shocking to those who witness their demise. The angel told John, “Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’” (vs 17-18)
As obvious as it sounds, this is all part of the revelation of Revelation—that only God is forever. It is only His government—which is founded on the principles of self-sacrificing love—which can exist for eternity. An entity built on any other principle is inherently self-destructive. Though it may look sturdy and even be strong and mighty for a time, it is revealed here to be only a matter of time before it comes suddenly crashing down.
Only Love is forever, and that means only God is forever.
Everything else is a house of cards.
God is faithful and true.
And now, it’s all over but the shouting. As they say, it’s all downhill from here. Satan has been completely exposed in full view of both heaven and earth, and his last, pitiful attempt to mount a physical assault against heaven will be swiftly put down—with a word. There will be no casualties on Christ’s side; there will be no prisoners taken on Satan’s side.
This chapter contains the third “revelation” of Christ, if you will, in the book. The first was at the beginning, where John saw someone like a Son of man standing among the lampstands. The second was in chapter 5, where Jesus was revealed as the Lamb worthy to open the scroll because He had been slain.
But this revelation contains something new: “Then I saw Heaven wide open, and before my eyes appeared a white horse, whose rider is called faithful and true, for his judgment and his warfare are just.” (vs 11)
Up to this point, the book of Revelation hasn't referred to God as “faithful and true.” It’s as if this has now been added to the revelation of Christ because of the events that have taken place—the unmasking of Satan and the unveiling of God’s trustworthiness. Before this, the praise in heaven has been aimed at God’s sovereignty, His omnipotence, and the like. It is not until after the reality of Satan’s kingdom is exposed (during the seven seals and the seven trumpet judgments) that heaven responds for the first time with, “Just and true are your ways, King of the nations.” (Rev 15:3)
In my mind, this underscores the idea that the central point of the Revelation is to demonstrate the nature of reality. Yes, God may be sovereign and omnipotent and the Creator of all things. And He may be worthy to be praised for all those reasons. But Satan has accused God of being a liar. Satan has accused God of being unjust. Is there any merit to those charges?
Once we reach the end of this universe-wide war, all will see that, no, there is no merit to those charges. God may be sovereign and omnipotent and the Creator of all things, but in the end, He is most worthy to be praised because He tells the truth. Everything He does is just and right and good, and this isn't just some claim He makes—He has suffered immeasurably to demonstrate that it is the truth.
And when anyone has demonstrated themselves to be so upright, so honorable, and so trustworthy, no wonder the very words that come out of their mouth act like a sword! Once such trust has been established and confirmed, that person’s authority and credibility would increase exponentially. And that level of honesty would be especially devastating to those who have been revealed to be corrupt and duplicitous and dishonest.
There is no king like our King. There is no lord like our Lord. He is King of kings and lord of Lords. Not because He says so, but because He has proven Himself to be faithful and true.
God has no equal.
There is something stunning at the beginning of this chapter of Revelation: “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.” (vs 1-2)
Okay, so perhaps it doesn't seem so remarkable upon first reading. But when you consider that the universe-wide war we've been engaged in has been a war between God and Satan and that this war has been raging now for thousands of years, it seems rather unceremonious—perhaps even comical—to have an unnamed angel come out of heaven and bind Satan for a thousand years, doesn't it?
I mean, this isn't even one of those strong angels John has been seeing in his visions. It’s not Gabriel or Michael or even God Himself. No, the one who seizes and subdues the “mighty” Satan is just an anonymous angel with no particular status or rank.
Incredible! To me, this is a striking revelation that—despite this war which has gone on for millennia—Satan is most certainly not God’s opposite or equal in terms of power or position. Therefore, God could easily have stopped Satan’s activity at any time, bringing the war to a grinding halt. In fact, He could have allowed it to never start in the first place.
That God decided not to do that tells us a lot of profound things about Him:
- He truly gives His creatures freedom—even freedom to rebel.
- He doesn't stack the deck in His favor.
- He solves conflicts on the basis of demonstration, not coercion.
- He submits Himself to circumstances caused by His own creatures.
Satan may have thought in his heart that he was going to set his throne above God’s throne. He may have thought that he was going to destroy God and become the god of the universe. He may have fancied himself in such a position of power and authority that God would eventually have to fully acquiesce to him and his demands.
He was wrong. At the end, he is helpless to stop a nondescript angel from hauling him away.
God has no equal in any area. The reason this universe-wide war has continued this long is because God has allowed it to continue—both for the sake of Satan’s freedom and the ultimate freedom of the universe. Satan has no physical power with which to challenge God; He has always been able to stop Satan at any time.
In case that makes you angry, it is worth considering that, in this war, nobody has suffered more than God. It’s true that all of us have had to endure a certain amount of suffering because Satan chose to start this war and God chose to let it continue, but nobody has ever or will ever suffer more for that decision than God.
Even in that area, God has no equal.
God will finally get what He wants.
And here we are, at the beginning of the end (or maybe it’s only the end of the beginning?). The beasts and the heads and the horns have all been destroyed by the work of their own hands. God has been vindicated; His character has been clearly revealed to everyone, and the war is over.
And so it is, in the first few verses of this chapter that we get a glimpse of God’s reward: “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’” (vs 1-3)
This is all God has ever wanted—to be with us, to provide and care for us, to have us as His friends. That’s why He created us in the first place! How it must have hurt His heart to have lost the intimacy of face-to-face friendship with us when Adam and Eve chose to believe Satan’s lies about Him. He has been longing to return to that quality of relationship with us ever since.
I think that’s why one of the most common ideas repeated in the Bible is, “Do not be afraid.” These words are quite literally the first thing out of the mouth of any heavenly being who encounters a human in Scripture, and the Bible tells us over and over again not to be afraid of God, not to worry about the things we need, and not to live in fear at all. For if God is for us, who can be against us?!
Fear of God and who He is (from having believed Satan’s lies) has been the one thing hindering humanity’s relationship with Him down through the ages. The entrance of sin, guilt, and shame into our human psyche made us afraid of the One who has only ever desired our best good. We have all run away and hidden from God, just as Adam and Eve did.
With the close of the universe-wide war, however, those who know God through accepting the testimony of Jesus about Him will find themselves suddenly face-to-face with the One who has always been for us. No longer separated by guilt, sin, shame, or fear, we will open wide our arms to God, only to discover that His arms have already been open wide to us from eternity past.
We will be His people, and He will be our God, and nothing will ever separate us again. Finally, God will get what He wants, what He has been waiting for and fighting for since before the creation of this world.
He will finally be at home with His friends
Having come to the final chapter of the Bible, I can’t help but think back to the first chapter—the very beginning of our story. Do you remember how it all started? “In the beginning, God . . .” (Gen 1:1) There has been a lot in between those words and the ones we find in Revelation 22. I mean, a lot. And most of it hasn't been pretty.
Thousands of years of sin, misery, discord, death, and suffering. Thousands of years of God running after His people, His people running away from Him, and God still running after His people. Thousands of years of “more of the same” repeating itself in a never-ending cycle of sin and selfishness.
How many generations have risen up and passed away since those first few words of the Scriptures? How many millions and billions of people have appeared on the planet and were gone almost before they had started living, awaiting in silence for the end of the war? How many stories of both righteousness and wickedness have played themselves out on the pages of the Bible?
Too many to count. And too many to remember.
But there is no getting around this thought—that by the time we arrive at the end of the war, there is only one person left who was also there at the very beginning: God. “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (vs 12-13)
Surely there can be no more comforting thought than this—that no matter what we encounter in our lives, it does not get the last word. It isn't the end. God is the end.
In fact, I think that was one of the main reasons God gave this revelation of Himself to John. He wanted those first-century Christians (and all the generations of humanity left to come) to know that, as the chaos and misery mounts, there is Someone who stands at the beginning and end of time—and not just anyone . . . someone who cares deeply about the things that happen in our lives.
Our perspective is so limited because we don’t live at the beginning or the end. Right now, we are stuck in the middle—and the middle is terribly messy. We are born into this world, thrust into the midst of a battlefield. Most of us struggle to simply get our bearings before our temporarily-short existence is over.
But in the midst of the chaos, we can be assured that God is. He is ever-present and ever-lasting. He is the beginning, the end, and the middle. He is the one constant in a world of constant change. He is the one rock-solid place in a world of shifting sand. Thus, no matter how messed up our lives become, we can be confident that it doesn't affect the ultimate outcome, for we know Him who is the Last Word.
In the beginning, God . . .
In the middle, God . . .
At the end, God . . .
No matter where we enter the story, our heavenly Friend is there. Since our perspective is so limited and fleeting, let’s trust what He has promised for the future. For no matter how bad things get between now and then, He will still be there. He will still be faithful. He will still be true.
He will still be.
Now and forever, He is.