The Revelation to John was written around 95 AD by the apostle John while exiled on the isle of Patmos at the order of the Roman emperor Domitian. It includes over 300 indirect quotes from more than half the Old Testament, primarily Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Psalms.
There is a particular correlation between Revelation and the prophecy of Daniel 9:24–27, commonly referred to as the Seventy Weeks prophecy. In hindsight we know that these ’weeks’ or ’sevens’ are groups of years, so if one of them remains it must last seven literal years, not literal weeks or days. The Messiah was “cut off” after the 69th week, interrupting the prophetic clock so that the Gentiles could be saved (see Acts 15:15–17, Rom. 11:11–25).
Regarding that 70th week, we are told that its beginning is marked by the confirmation (or renewal, enactment, enforcement) of a seven-year contract or treaty by the “prince that shall come” between Israel and “many”, but halfway through he will violate it and the Jewish temple. So when this occurs in Revelation, we know it is the halfway point of the seven-year period. And we know Revelation is that 70th week because it has not yet happened, and Revelation reaches to the end of human history.
Another connection between the two prophetic writings is the matter of their being “sealed” or not; Daniel is told to seal up the prophecy (Dan. 12:9), while John is told not to seal it (Rev. 22:10), so Rev. must be the unsealing of Daniel’s prophecy. And in Dan. 12:11 we are given a very familiar expression of time to readers of Revelation: 1,290 days. This is about 3-1/2 years, half of the seven, and is the span between the abolishment of the sacrifices/“abomination of desolation” and the end of the prophecy. So the seven years are divided in two, and we can know the halfway point in Revelation by that event.
But if Revelation is the unsealing of Daniel’s prophecy, which only concerns Israel and not the “church”, then why is it sent to the “churches” and not the people of Israel? There are several points to consider:
At the end of this document is a very simplified possible chronology. And though the translation itself uses the term Oppression rather than Tribulation (which simply means “trouble”), the traditional terminology will be used in this document since it is a much more familiar term. Likewise for the “wild animal”, which is rendered “Beast”.
“Revelation” and “apocalypse” are the Latin and transliterated renderings of the Greek word meaning “unveiling”, or in this context we might say “unsealing”. It is unclear whether the Messenger sent by God is Jesus or another Messenger, but it is clear that the ultimate source of the prophecy is Jesus. Because of common illiteracy, it was necessary for the words to be read aloud by the few who could. So John or Jesus is promising blessings to the reader who does not add or remove words, and the listener who takes them to heart.
The prophecy is to be sent to seven actual, historical Congregations in the Roman province of Asia, the area we now know as Turkey. These were certainly not the only Congregations or even the most prominent of them; conspicuous by its absence is the one in Jerusalem for example. So this may be a hint that there is more to these letters than simply to address immediate problems or challenges. Certainly the number seven is significant, seeing that it denotes perfection or completeness in the Bible. If so, then perhaps the prophetic significance is that this represents the completion of the church age.
All three Persons of the Trinity are cited as the author of the prophecy, along with the promise of Jesus’ appearing. And the “alpha, omega, and the God who is, was, and is coming” make it clear that he is God. This is important to compare with the earlier words that seem to make the Father above him.
John then explains the setting: he has been exiled on the isle of Patmos off the coast of the province where the seven Congregations were, due to faithfulness to the Gospel. It was The Master’s Day, an expression presumed to refer to the first day of the week, our Sunday. While he does not specify what “in the Spirit” means, it was in this state that he heard the voice ordering him to write down what he is about to see and send copies to the seven Congregations.
His description is clearly of Jesus (“the Living One who died”), and every detail is written in superlatives. Whether the individual qualities have symbolic meaning is not clear in this passage, but they may have significance in the detailed greetings to individual Congregations later. But Jesus explains the meaning of some of the things in the vision (Congregations and their messengers), so the likelihood of symbolic meaning is certainly high.
We should keep in mind that not just the individual letters were sent to each Congregation, but all the letters and the entire prophecy. So each Congregation would know about the instructions to the others, though each had specific instructions that applied only to them.
There are different views on what or whether these Congregations also indicated something about the “church age”. Certainly these were historical, literal Congregations, though some do make them entirely symbolic in spite of evidence that they actually existed. Among those who accept them as actual Congregations, some believe the sequence indicates a progression of “church history” to come, while others believe they simply correspond to various conditions the Congregations of any given time might experience. But given the fact that none of the terminology used for Congregations is seen on earth again after the letters, it seems plausible to deduce that they symbolize something about the entire duration of “church history” in some way. Yet we must note that since all these churches existed at the same time in the first century, and since the historical progression theory requires quite a bit of arbitrary generalization (deciding where one age ends and another begins), what these letters signify beyond the immediate and literal can apply to any given Congregations in any given time. That is, there is no clear progression, as if we can determine the lateness of the prophetic hour by the character of the Christian world in general.
But what does it mean that these letters are sent not to the Congregations but to their messengers? We are not told here or anywhere else in scripture, so all theories are pure speculation. Origen believed them to be “guardian angels”, while Epiphanius believed them to be “bishops”. The problem for Epiphanius’ view is that no human was ever called a messenger anywhere else in the Letters. Likewise, the problem for Origen is that no Letter ever mentions or hints at such non-human guardians. So with that in mind, and given the context here, we should consider that they might refer to literal human messengers who would be sent to each Congregation to deliver their letter. We should note that in the specific wording for each, Jesus never speaks to the messenger but to all the people.
We also note that the parting statement in the letters is the phrase, “Let those with ears pay attention to what the Spirit is saying to the Congregations”. Jesus used this phrase in Mark 4’s parable of the sower and went on to tie it to Isaiah 6:9-10. He also used it in Mat. 11:15 after discussing who John the Baptist was. So it seems to be a expression of the culture and time to pay close attention to an important principle that requires effort to grasp.
Another repeated phrase is “those who conquer”. While most would agree that the specific promises in each letter are aspects of the general promise to all saved people, we cannot conclude that this injunction to “conquer” is a requirement to be saved, as it would contradict the clear scriptural principle of salvation by faith alone, not “works”. Instead, noting the context of reprimand in all but two cases, we can understand this need to “conquer” as being tied to whatever is wrong; that is, to correcting a fault. In those two exceptions, the intent seems to be to keep what has already been attained and thus avoid the pitfalls others have fallen into.
In this letter Jesus emphasizes his being the one in charge of the Congregations. And as will be his habit, he begins with praise for what the people are doing right. Specifically, these people practice discernment and don’t blindly accept any claims by would-be authorities. But their fault is that they have fallen from the level of devotion or love they started with. Some interpret “the devotion you had at first” as referring to fellowship meals, but the word here is singular; it would make little sense to criticize people for letting go of their first fellowship meal.
Then Jesus adds another positive observation: they “despise what the Nicolaitans do, just as much as I”. Who are these Nicolaitans? Hippolytus of Rome, Irenaeus, and others claimed there was a deacon by that name who led people to live in wild indulgence, including eating food offered to idols and wife swapping. But the name itself means “to conquer the people”, and given the context and the fact that their deeds are separated from those of Balaam in the letter to Pergamos, it could refer to those who seek to impose illegitimate authority over the Congregation. According to Albert Barnes, the view of Hippolytus et al essentially creates a redundancy with Rev. 2:15, and there is no reason in the context to doubt that it refers to an actual group of people called by that name. In that same article, Cyrus Scofield specifies that it refers to the earliest form of a priestly order, or ‘clergy’. Noted historian Philip Schaff1 corroborates the early rise of hierarchy as well.
Finally, Jesus promises that “those who conquer” will eat from “the Tree of Life in the Paradise of God”. Certainly all the saved will do so, but the implication here seems to be that it is the saved who will “conquer” the faults Jesus just defined, since salvation is not a foe to be conquered but a gift to be received, because Jesus is the true Conquerer; see Rom. 8:37.
In this letter Jesus emphasizes his being the one who died and lives and is eternal. He sees their troubles and hardships, and the slander they endure from false Judeans. But who are these false Judeans? It may refer to ethnicity, but the bulk of scripture would seem to favor the view that they are those Judeans who have rejected their Messiah and are thus in rebellion against God, in spite of their ethnicity. Or, at the very least, they have abandoned the laws of Moses in favor of the Talmud and other rabbinical traditions which contradict Moses. The latter view would fit well with the prophetic concept of Israel “in unbelief”, since the presumption is that those who still follow Moses are real Judeans. We might also note that while Jesus lambasted the Pharisees for their “traditions”, the disciple Nathaniel was called “a genuine Israeli”.
Though the people of Smyrna are not reprimanded, they are told they will be persecuted by the False Accuser, an obvious connection to the false Judeans and the ultimate source of their falsehood. The “ten days” are not defined but probably refer to more than ten literal solar days here. Some, such as W. A. Spurgen, believe it refers to ten persecutions to be experienced by believers through “church history”. But others (same reference) take it to mean a relatively short period of time, and we might note the contrast with Daniel’s “weeks” for years. A parallel might possibly be drawn as well with the era of papal persecution of various Christian groups such as the Anabaptists. The secular historical record shows that the believers in Smyrna did suffer, as reported by Ignatius (same reference), but it is difficult to say whether it lasted ten distinct periods of time.
Now we see the connection with Jesus’ opening statement about the one who rose from the dead: the people of Smyrna were to expect some martyrdom, but they could be sure this death is not the end. So the final statement to them is connected as well: they will not be harmed by the Second Death, which as the remainder of the prophecy will make clear, refers to eternal separation from God.
This letter begins with a curious statement: that the people are “where the Adversary’s throne is”. Whatever that means,2 we can see why Jesus would introduce himself as the one with the sharp, double-edged broadsword. Their faithfulness in spite of this strong evil against them is particularly noteworthy, because they have already suffered martyrdom and still remained faithful.
In spite of that, they share a fault with the Congregation in Ephesus: they have loose morals, and they follow the Nicolaitans. Here is where there would be a redundancy if the two referred to the same kind of sin. And this is where the “double edge” of that broadsword comes into play: the same sword that fights for them against the Adversary can also fight against them for their own sins. Persecution does not afford them the right to get away with sin— a lesson each of us as individuals should learn so that we make no excuses for our own sins.
The end statement referring to hidden manna and a white pebble with a secret name on it can be seen to refer to the power to endure as well as a verdict of innocence should they conquer the listed faults. The Adversary as their accuser would thus be shown to have lost the quest to have them convicted.
Here Jesus describes himself as the one who is both divine and human, who sees what the people have been going through and the effort they’ve put out. Though this was a small Congregation near Pergamos and was not mentioned in any account of missionary activity in the scriptures, we should note that the convert Lydia was from Thyatira and is the most likely reason this Congregation existed.
But then we see the infamous name Jezebel, first seen in 1 Kings as the wife of Ahab. That Jezebel was certainly not a worshiper of God, but what scripture condemned her for was persecuting the prophets of God. She is often held up as the epitome of a manipulative and overbearing wife to a non-assertive husband, but her faults in scripture make no statement directed at such qualities, and instead are concerned with her treatment of the prophets and her enticements to immorality. So whenever someone cites Jezebel as the model of an unsubmissive wife, they are inventing a Jezebel unknown in scripture.
Here we see the focus on enticement to immorality, which likely means Jezebel was not the real name of the woman being discussed concerning the people of Thyatira. If this Congregation had in fact been initiated by the woman Lydia, the woman Jezebel would serve as a stark contrast. Like the original Jezebel, this woman is encouraging immoral behavior and the worship of false gods. But it isn’t just she who is being threatened, but also anyone who has followed her; they are responsible for their participation in her sins and cannot offer any excuses to escape her punishment.
In the face of such pressures, Jesus only tells the few who have stayed clean to hold on. And to those who do, Jesus will give command over the non-Judeans. The emphasis here does not seem to be on who is being ruled but that these who overcome will be rewarded in a manner appropriate for their suffering. Like Jesus, they will “shepherd with a rod of iron” which means that any threats to the “flock” will be met with decisive and deadly force, in contrast to the time Jesus has given Jezebel to change her ways. As for the “morning star”, it is one of the titles Jesus uses for himself, and probably is another way of emphasizing the co-rule of these who stay pure.
Jesus describes himself to the Congregation in Sardis as the one with the seven stars and spirits of God. Seven is widely held to be the number of divinity and perfection, which is about to be contrasted with the sorry state of the people there. And they are blind to this poor condition, being at the brink of figurative death while believing themselves to be the very picture of health and vitality. They are to hurry and preserve what little remains of their former condition as a viable Congregation at their beginning. They are not given time to change their ways as was Jezebel, but a very minimal opportunity whose duration will end without warning.
But even here there are a few who are not at fault, and they will wear the clothing of purity. They will also be honored with special mention before God and his Messengers as conquerers.
This one of the two Congregations not reprimanded for anything is greeted by the one who opens doors for those without the power to do so themselves. They have been shut out by false believers who really belong to the “congregation” of the Adversary, but such people will be forced to abase themselves before their former victims, who will be honored by Jesus as his beloved people.
The phrase about guarding them out of the hour of trial that the whole world was about to go through is one which had no immediate and literal fulfillment in history. There has never been a global persecution of Christians, and the phrase “the whole inhabited world” leaves no room for a regional or local event. But whatever it refers to, these people will be kept out of it completely; the Greek grammar clearly states “out of”, not “through or during”. It is the world which is to be tested, not the Body of Christ which has already experienced testing throughout its history. This also connects with Daniel’s prophecy regarding the purpose of the 70 weeks; see Dan. 9:24.
The people are thus to be prepared for their sudden removal from the world. For those who do prepare, the promise is given that they will never leave the most secure place anyone could be: the temple of God in heaven. They will bear the names of God and of Jesus, as well as the New Jerusalem.
In this final letter Jesus describes himself as the one to be trusted and the very Creator Himself (ref. Col. 1:15–16). So for the people to be indifferent to him and the Gospel is utterly repulsive, to the point that it nauseates him. Their self-image of being rich and complete is the exact opposite of reality, so they are strongly advised to come to him for the remedies to their pitiful condition. Above all, they must trade their sickening apathy for strong desire. Jesus has not been silent during this time but has kept knocking on the door. Though the majority have paid no attention, the few who do will enjoy the close relationship that indifference cannot have. They will also be granted the right to sit on the very throne of the Creator.
John has been seeing and hearing everything to this point at his place on Patmos, but for the remainder he will be taken to heaven “in spirit”.
Since there is nothing in the text to indicate a bodily transportation, and since we know John remained in his mortal body afterwards, we cannot cite it as an example of a literal “rapture” event. However, we should note that this spiritual change of venue happened only after the letters to the Congregations were completed, and that the “open door” has a parallel in the letter to the Congregation at Philadelphia. The passage begins with “after these things”, which refers to all that had taken place up to this point. If the letters as a whole refer to the entire history of Christianity, and since the Congregations are never portrayed on the earth after this point, then there is strong support for this change of venue at the end of the letters to symbolize events which only happen after that history is ended. So while this change of venue is not a literal Rapture, it is certainly a type.
The Rapture (or Departure) refers to the belief that followers of Jesus will be “snatched away” or “caught up” to heaven (the Latin rendering of the Greek is where we get the word Rapture). The more direct references are found in 1 Cor. 15:50–58, 1 Thess. 4:13–5:11, and 2 Thess. 2:1–12. Among those who take this literally, there is much controversy over the timing. The most common beliefs are known as pre-trib, mid-trib, and post-trib. Another view called pre-wrath aims to take portions of all the others and arrive at a fourth conclusion. The key points in this debate are not only timing but what it depends upon: the definition of the wrath of God, whether believers would be kept safe through it or taken out of it, the principle of imminence, and whether there are righteous mortals left to repopulate the earth after all the judgments are completed.
The pre-trib view argues that no specific signs or conditions are required to signal the Departure. It is possible that God does not want Satan to know when the Departure will happen, which would explain why Satan seems to keep trying to have a global government ready at all times, and why there are so many false prophecies about the end of the world. So the lack of prerequisites and the hiding of this event from Satan logically lead to the conclusion that the Departure is before even the first seal judgment begins. This does not require that the 70th week of Daniel begins immediately; it may very well not begin until the 6th seal or 1st trumpet. This would also mean that pre-trib believers are not necessarily mistaken in reading “the signs of the times”, but that such signs do not apply to the Departure itself. Yet by extension, seeing signs of the 70th week of Daniel surely indicates that the preceding Departure must be even nearer. The great error of many holding this view is date-setting based upon those signs. It should be obvious, then, that the pre-trib view is incompatible with any others, since they have clear events to watch for.
The mid-trib view holds that the Departure must come at either the 6th seal (but see detailed discussion in the section about the multitude from the Great Tribulation) or 7th trumpet, depending on which one is believed to mark the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week. Its proponents argue that the followers of Jesus are promised “tribulation”, yet the pre-trib view does not deny this. It shares with pre-trib the belief that the Body of Christ is exempt from the wrath of God, but it defines that wrath as limited to the last half of the 7 years.
The post-trib view holds that only the “Day of the Master” at the very end of the bowl judgments is the wrath of God, thus only lasting part of a literal solar day. So they believe that Jesus will bring his people up to meet him on his way down to the earth to defeat the Beast/Antichrist. Yet they also believe that the Body of Christ is protected during the 70th week, which seems to be a direct contradiction of the great numbers of martyrs coming out of it. It also leaves no mortals on earth to repopulate it during the Millennium.
The pre-wrath view holds that Jesus’ statement, “those days will be cut short” (Mat. 24:22), allows a blending of the other views. The reign of the Antichrist is cut far short of its prophesied 3-1/2 years by the removal of the Body of Christ, and then after the 3-1/2 years Jesus returns with all the elect to begin the Millennium. Thus the world is repopulated by those who come to faith after the Departure.
This Commentary is written from the pre-trib perspective, holding that the definitions and durations of terms such as “the Day of the Master” and “the wrath of God” cannot be limited to the extreme precision required by the other views.
The scene in heaven is, if nothing else, indescribably glorious. Everything there, as well as God Himself, is compared to priceless gems and the brightest lights. One could of course look for symbolic meaning in every detail, and no doubt such meaning exists. But we are not given all the meanings and must be content with waiting for the answers till we see them ourselves. The possible exception would be the two stones mentioned: jasper and carnelian, since they match the first and last stones of the tribes of Israel and were worn on the priestly garments to represent all Israel.
Probably the most significant aspect of the scene, aside from God on the central throne, is the identity of twenty-four elders surrounding him. Some say they represent the righteous of all ages, while others say they represent only the believers of the “church age”, and a minority believe them to be Messengers. But all agree that they represent someone or something else rather than that there are literal elders around the throne of God.
Twenty-four is of course a significant number in the scriptures; this was the number of priestly orders under the old law for example. It is also double the very prominent number twelve, corresponding at least to the tribes of Israel as well as the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples while on earth. We are also told that these elders wear white clothing and golden crowns. White clothing symbolizes purity and righteousness, and throughout the prophecy we will be told that white stands for “the righteous actions of the holy people”. The Greek word for the crowns refers to the type worn by victors rather than royalty. So these elders certainly represent human beings who have conquered and done righteous things. Yet they are not described as martyrs.
But perhaps the most significant detail is that they say to the Lamb, “You bought us for God by means of your blood” (5:9). Only humans could say this. According to biblestudytools.com, manuscript study strongly indicates that the elders include themselves in the company of the redeemed. But the four creatures are also singing this song, and it is likely they who refer to the redeemed as “them” in response to the song of the elders. So these elders represent at least all Christians prior to the judgments. It would seem from 1 Thes. 4:16 that the righteous prior to the “church age” will not be resurrected until later, since it specifies those who died as believers in Jesus.
Also surrounding the throne are four animals or “living things”. Their meaning is not given, so again we can only speculate. Some say that since the Holy Spirit is represented by seven lampstands, so also these animals represent something about the attributes of God. Others say that they represent the way the tribes of Judah (lion), Ephraim (ox), Reuben (man), and Dan (eagle) would pitch their tents around the Tabernacle. Still others say that they have some connection to the prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel as symbolic of certain Messengers. These last two would also indicate that the focus is on Israel rather than Christianity, further bolstering the view that all of Revelation beyond the seven letters is post-“church age”.
Whatever or whoever these entities represent, their purpose in heaven seems to be simply to honor and worship God. But it is only the elders who have crowns to throw at his feet, so they probably do not represent the same entity. And as we’ll see, it is only the animals that call forth the four horses of the first four seals.
Now begins the preparation for the actual judgments. God holds a scroll written on both sides and sealed in seven places, such that the seals must be broken in sequence. It may be that the “strong Messenger” demanding to know who is worthy to break the seals is none other than the Messenger (possibly Gabriel as identified in ch. 9) who had given Daniel the Seventy Weeks prophecy and told him to seal it. John’s emotional reaction to the absence of any such worthy individual is not explained, but it certainly illustrates the great importance of the scroll, which some think may be the “title deed” to the earth that was given to the serpent in Eden.
Then of course the Lamb, obviously Jesus due to having been killed in sacrifice and symbolically portrayed as divine by the seven horns and eyes, is shown as the one worthy to break the seals. Though one might expect to see him in heaven as the Lion of Judah, it is the sacrifice that brought worthiness; the time for taking back the kingdoms of the world is not yet. Those who had been worshiping God on the throne now fall before the Lamb as further support for this being Jesus who is both divine and human.
To this point, everything has transpired in heaven, but now we begin to see the results of heavenly activity on the earth. Yet does the opening of the first seal signify the beginning of the seventieth week? All we know for certain is when the middle of that week has been reached, as noted in the Background. But we are given no timeline for the sequence of events leading up to that point, which will not be until the seventh trumpet. Even if we know that all Christians are brought to heaven before the seals are opened, we do not know that there will be an immediate confirmation of the seven-year treaty at that moment, and nothing at all is said about this treaty in the entire prophecy.
So it is impossible to say whether the events the seals cause are part of that final seven years. At the same time, however, we must note the very close similarity between the seals and Jesus’ discourse in Mat. 24, while also remembering that those words were spoken to Jews before the cross. This leads to the possible conclusion that the seals constitute a kind of overview of the seven years. But the problem is in the details; for example, the proportions of destruction are not the same (1/4 for the seals but 1/3 for the trumpets).
Some say that all the judgments, including the seals, must happen in the second half of the seven years. Yet because the “two witnesses” are killed by the Beast during the sixth trumpet, and they had been active for 3-1/2 years, we can deduce that this period of time was during the first half of the seventieth week, and thus began with the confirmation of the seven-year treaty. Then it seems a stretch to think that none of the disasters caused by the witnesses were part of the judgments of God. So it seems reasonable to conclude that the seventieth week begins at least with the trumpets.
But what if that seventieth week does not start with the seals? It’s possible that the seals are during a time between the Rapture and the seventieth week wherein many lesser-known end-times prophecies take place, such as the battles of Psalm 83 and Ezekiel 38-39. And it may be that this time is what Jesus called “the beginning of labor pains”, and that the Tribulation cannot begin until the entire scroll is unsealed.
Another consideration is that if the seals and trumpets comprise the first half, why the imbalance of having 2/3 of the judgments in one half and 1/3 in the other? Yet another is whether any given set of judgments takes up an entire 3-1/2 year period or only transpires during a small portion of that time. And still another is whether people could possibly survive at least 3-1/2 years under such horrendous conditions. Many questions arise from the judgments to come.
As one of the four animals calls forth this horse and rider, we need to ponder whether these horses and riders represent people or are personifications of other entities. This one is often said to represent the Antichrist/Beast, but the problem is that none of the other horses are mapped to individuals. It would seem more consistent to view this one as representing the kingdom or government of the Beast, or simply ideological conquest.
“Bow” (toxon) is a means of shooting arrows, not any kind of ornamental ribbon or even a halo. The Septuagint does not render this word as anything but a weapon of war (see Zechariah 9), except for the rainbow after the Flood. Note also that this bow is held in the rider’s hand, not worn like a sash. Similarly, the crown (stephanos) on the rider’s head is not the diadem of royalty but the wreath of a victor or conquerer. The white color of the horse often represents purity throughout Revelation, but it also symbolized indifference or peace to the Greeks of the time. Considering all of this as well as the fact that it is the Lamb opening the seals, rather than riding the horse, it seems clear that this seal’s horse and rider do not represent Christ and his followers, who were never told to conquer the world but only to evangelize it. Otherwise we would have to say that the Christian community has been without power or weapons.
The “fiery” (purros) horse, if red, symbolized death to the Greeks; if literally made of fire, it would symbolize that which consumes and destroys. From the statements there about the large sword and people slaughtering each other, it seems clear that this seal denotes all-out war. The fact that this follows immediately after the white horse lends further weight to the interpretation that this has nothing to do with Christ or his people. So we can interpret the white horse and rider as denoting a conquest that is not open war, such as political intrigue, espionage, and organized crime. Also note that these horses and riders are the ones executing the judgments, not suffering them, so they cannot represent the suffering of Christ or his followers.
The black horse can symbolize mourning, but given the statement about scarcity of necessities it more likely represents economic disaster. If the first horse represented a weakening of society, and the second the open destruction of infrastructure, this interpretation of economic ruin seems to follow logically.
The fourth horse is green (chloros), and in ancient Greece it symbolized fear. But it is ridden by Death and Hades, again the natural results of the preceeding seals. Note that these are given power to kill one fourth (not one third as in a later judgment) of the world’s population by not only war but also its typical aftermath.
The earthly disaster for this seal is implied: followers of Jesus are being singled out for execution. It shows the martyrs under or at the base of the altar, probably to symbolize that they were a special kind of sacrifice or offering, since their blood was literally poured out to God. Notice that they ask God to avenge their blood, and that the people who killed them are still alive on the earth. These are recent victims, since the murderers still living would not be liable for all the martyrs of history. Also note that they are told to wait patiently for more to be martyred, indicating that this point in the judgments cannot be the end. Later we will be told of others who are martyred specifically by beheading (Rev. 20:4).
The preceding seals seem like things the earth has endured before, but this one crosses the line into the terrifying; it is reminiscent of the magicians of Pharaoh’s court being able to duplicate the first few plagues and signs from Moses but then recognizing “the finger of God”. The description could be of a meteor shower and/or other cosmic disasters, some of which could possibly trigger earthquakes and volcanoes, which in turn could darken the sun and moon. John is simply describing what he sees without explanation, but any earthquake large enough to move all the mountains and islands is unprecedented. It cannot be a normal eclipse, since it would be physically impossible for both the sun and moon to be obscured at the same time.
Regarding the people hiding in caves and crevices, it is interesting to consider the reports of many underground bunkers, not only from the cold war but new ones as well. Speculation is that government leaders around the world are expecting a disaster of this magnitude, which is unprecedented in recorded history. At any rate, the people know why it is happening and do not deny the existence or identity of the God they are hiding from. Perhaps the longstanding demand of many atheists for God to prove his existence will have finally been met.
After this obvious wakeup call from God, all the winds on earth are kept still while God seals 144,000 Hebrews, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes. The Messengers holding back the wind are ordered to delay their impending assault by another Messenger who comes from the east. Note that these Hebrews are sealed on their foreheads, which will identify them during the plague of locusts at the fifth trumpet.
After the sealing, John is shown a crowd of non-Israelis (“the nations”) in heaven, wearing the white robes of righteous acts. But this time he is told who they are: believers who are coming out of the Great Tribulation. Does the multitude’s sudden appearance in heaven indicate that they just arrived there, meaning they were just “raptured”? We can note that in these seal judgments nothing is said about Jerusalem or Israel, and this group is identified as non-Jewish. Yet we must remember that the Congregation is composed of both Jew and Gentile; in fact, such distinctions are not even made within it (Gal. 3.28). We can also note that though the four horses and riders also “suddenly” appeared, no one thinks that they had just arrived; likewise for other entities to come. So we cannot say when this multitude arrived in heaven, and we cannot identify them as the Congregation. But we can connect them to the statements of Paul (Rom. 11:25) and James (Acts 15:14) about “the full number of Gentiles” who were to “come in” before God would “return and rebuild David’s fallen tent”.
In addition, these people were in a process of coming out of the Great Tribulation; the Greek word rendered “coming” (erchomenoi) is a present participle.3 Though there are many contextual considerations to make in determining the temporal meaning,4 a strong case can be made for the continuing sense of the word. That is, the group was still being added to, not already completed, as also was the case for the martyred souls under the altar.
So we are not compelled to argue that the Rapture must happen at the sixth seal, even though it is only at that point when “the wrath of God” is acknowledged (6:15-17), and it is that wrath which Christians are not to go through (1 Thes. 1:10, 5:9). Not only is the acknowledgement of people not the divine definition of the wrath of God, but they say it had arrived, not was about to arrive. And since the Lamb opens the seals, and the Lamb is God, then even the seals are part of the wrath of God. Consider the following summary:
Therefore, it seems likely that the sixth seal is the outside limit for the Rapture, in which case all the remaining judgments happen afterwards.5 As for the inside limit wherein the Rapture precedes the first seal, there is no reason why it can’t, even if the wrath of God doesn’t technically begin until the sixth seal. Also, it can be argued that it is not just the sixth that beings the wrath, but all the seals as a group, especially since they are direct judgments from God. And if it is asserted that Jesus’ ministry lasted 3-1/2 years and comprised the first half of Daniel’s 70th week, the seals did not happen at all during that time so they would have to be part of the second half. That is, all three sets of 7 judgments would have to be crammed into the space of 3-1/2 years, which seems practically impossible considering all that must take place, and especially considering that not all the end-time prophecies are contained in Daniel and Revelation alone.
So from the grammatical, contextual, and logical clues we’ve studied, the multitude is composed of Gentiles from the Great Tribulation. One noted characteristic of all three sets of judgments (as well as the OT) is the separation of Jew and Gentile, such that this Gentile-only group would fit the post-“church age” era. So the only conclusion left to draw is that they are arriving in heaven during the bowl judgments. Given that the crowd appears after a massive global earthquake, perhaps they were taken out at that time, though the group was not completed then.
But notice that they are said to come out of the Great Tribulation specifically, meaning the second half by nearly unanimous agreement, in spite of the fact that they appear during the sixth seal. Yet it is only after this that the 144,000 Jews are sealed (presumably to be protected from judgments to come), and they appear on Mt. Zion with the Lamb in ch. 14 just before the bowl judgments, which almost everyone agrees are at least part of the Great Tribulation. But surely the nearly seven-chapter span between the sealing of the 144,000 and the beginning of the bowl judgments is significant.
At this point we face a chronological dilemma: there is a clear sequence (first, second, after this, etc.), yet the points at which various things occur or entities appear seems conflicting. Even if we cram all three sets of judgments into the final 3-1/2 years, which would be required to put the multitude in both the seal judgments and the Great Tribulation, we still have to account for such things as the 3-1/2 year ministry of the “two witnesses” (ch. 11) that ends at the sixth trumpet— which precedes the bowls. Now we would have to push the bowls out past the Great Tribulation, which few would agree to since it is the one thing almost everyone says defines that time. So not even putting all the judgments in the Great Tribulation solves the problem. In addition, there is no need for these witnesses while the Body of Christ is in the world, since that is our mission for this era (Acts 1:8). This means that the two witnesses will not appear till we’re gone, and thus the only way to solve the problem is to assume a gap between the Rapture and the Tribulation. Yet if this is so— and it must be if the witnesses finish before the bowl judgments begin— then we’re conflicting with the “sixth seal Rapture” theory.
We will see that the seventh of each of the first two sets of judgments marks the beginning of the next set. Here of course the next to come are the trumpets. Whether the trumpets are said to be contained by the seventh seal or follow it, the sequence is clear: the seven seals precede the first trumpet.
It begins with an unusual but short-lived silence, which is not repeated with the sounding of the seventh trumpet. So there is something different here, something that marks the trumpets and bowls apart from the seals. It could possibly indicate that the treaty marking the beginning of the Tribulation has been enacted, but we are given nothing in the text to explain it.
Then John sees a Messenger first place a censer on the altar, containing the prayers of the holy people. But this same censer is then used to get fire from the altar and hurl it onto the earth, causing many disasters. Is there a connection between the prayers and the disasters, as if the prayers were for vengeance as we have already seen from the souls at the base of the altar? We are not told.
Spanning nearly seven chapters, clearly the trumpet judgments are significant. However, rather than conclude that the trumpets comprise a larger amount of time than the other sets, we must consider the occasional “flashback” or parenthesis, as being background or explanation or reminder to help explain what is to come. The overall character or theme of this set of judgments seems to be “1/3”, and like the seals, the first four are different from the rest: the first four concern nature, while the rest concern humanity.
Hail, fire, and blood are thrown onto the earth and burn up a third of the green plants, reminiscent of the disaster of Exodus 9:18–26. The difference is the blood, and no explanation is given for its inclusion.
The burning mountain that turns a third of the sea to blood and kills a third of marine life could be a meteor. But whatever it is, it also disintegrates ships.
It is called a star but could be any heavenly body. But there is no explanation for such a body making the streams and springs bitter and apparently poisonous. And if we interpret it as man-made, we wonder what country would poison its own water along with that of the rest of the world. Some of course would propose an alien weapon or ship, but were that the case we’d expect to see some reference here to demons or Satan.
There is no cause given for the darkening of the heavenly bodies, but it accompanies the warning of an eagle about the remaining trumpets. To this point the sources of food and water and light have been crippled, and just when people think things are as bad as they can be, God will turn his rage on the people themselves. He had promised that the seasons and harvests would continue to the end (Gen. 8:22), and now the end has come.
What is the Abyss, but a bottomless pit? According to Luke 8:31 it is the prison of demons, and possibly also the fallen Messengers if it is the same place as Tartarus (2 Peter 2:4).
Messengers are sometimes referred to as stars in scripture, and since this one that had fallen from the sky/heaven is personified, we can safely assume that is the case here as well. This is the point where demonic forces are unleashed on mankind, since they come up from the Abyss and not the earth’s surface as literal locusts would.
Their description could indicate flying machines of some kind, but their demonic character is undeniable. Further support for this is that their leader is Abaddon (Destroyer). We have to be careful not to assume that the Messenger who opened the shaft is this leader, but since it is “fallen” and did not just now fall, it is quite possibly a reference to Satan. However, certainly Satan would have released his Messengers a long time ago if he had charge of the prison earlier, but on the other hand the key is not handed over until now.
This is also a rare occasion when we are given a duration: five months. And the hopelessness of relief or escape, even through death, is surely a foretaste of eternal separation from God. The torment is only on those not having the seal of God on their foreheads (that is, everyone except the 144,000 sealed at the sixth seal). Still, the worst is yet to come.
Now we see another group of four, this time Messengers who had been stationed (by force, so they are evil) at the river Euphrates for this precise point in history. Though the locusts could only torment, these can kill and are permitted to take out 1/3 of the human population (the earlier 1/4 + this 1/3 combines to reduce it by about half). They command an army of two hundred million, which could indicate the combined armies of the Orient. John goes into great detail here in describing the horses and riders. Of course they could be literal horses, but just as easily this could be a description of modern weapons and armor.
And still the people refuse to change their minds about God. Though it is Satan and his forces that have tormented them and field vast armies spewing death, people still prefer to suffer rather than humble themselves before God. They prefer as their king the one who has caused all the suffering of the world for thousands of years, rather than the one who has limited his activities so people could freely choose. The choice was never between people’s autonomy and serving a master, but between one master and another. They have been deluded into thinking that Satan would allow them to indulge themselves forever, when in fact he would torment them as shown in this prophecy.
Chapters ten and eleven describe events between the second and third “woes”. Though in some respects this Messenger seems to be Jesus Himself, in other respects this is not the case. For example, he swears an oath to God. The “little scroll” is not identified but also does not appear to be the same as the scroll with the seven seals. That John should eat the scroll, and that it tastes good but upsets his stomach, is surely symbolic of something, but we are not told explicitly what this is. However, since it is John who is told to prophesy when he eats it, and since there is no opportunity for John to participate in any of the events to come, it must refer to his continued mission in his natural life after the prophecy has been completely given.
Another task given to John at this point is to measure the temple of God, which had been destroyed on earth and thus must be one that would be rebuilt sometime early in the seventieth week.6 We can speculate that the building of this temple is part of the treaty with Israel, and we can rule out the temple in heaven because this one will be in the holy city (Jerusalem) which was to be trampled by non-Judeans for forty-two months (3-1/2 years). Since Daniel had been told that the violation of the temple and worship of the Beast mark the midpoint of the seventieth week, and since this trampling was to last 3-1/2 years, we have further support for presuming it was built at the beginning of the seven years. After all, the worship of the God of Israel would never be permitted after the Beast declares himself God in that temple.
Then we are introduced to the famous and controversial “two witnesses”. Most of the current focus is on their identity, but the text does not bother to identify them. The important fact is the duration of their prophetic activities, that being the very familiar 3-1/2 years. And since this is mentioned in the same place as the measurement of the temple, we can connect this period of time to that temple, meaning both the temple and the activity of the two witnesses coincide during the first half of the seventieth week.
The activities of these two witnesses are to wreak havoc on anyone who threatens them with harm, to have power over nature, and to give testimony to God. Their being equated with olive trees and lampstands has an echo in Zecharaiah 4, where the two images refer to the power and Spirit of God as executed by Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel the king. Some of their activities also resemble those of the prophet Elijah, including the 3-1/2 years of drought, and the plagues of Moses.
The biggest question these two raise is, Why here and now? Why are these two duration-specified events only brought up as part of the sixth trumpet? A clue might be that it was only at the fifth trumpet that the Abyss was opened, and immediately after the two witnesses are mentioned we are told that the Beast ascending from the Abyss kills them. And since the Beast is presumed by many to be the now Satan-possessed world leader who signed the treaty 3-1/2 years ago, then the midpoint of the seventieth week, when the Beast declares himself God, is shortly after the two witness are killed— yet another support for their ministry having begun at the start of that week of years. We can add as well the fact that the world is still functioning enough so that people can celebrate the death of the two witnesses by exchanging gifts for 3-1/2 days (there’s that number again), yet another reason to place their activities in the first half of the seventieth week.
But the gloating is short-lived because the two witnesses rise from death and are taken up into heaven while their enemies watch. And lest the Beast try to spin all this into him being Christ who sends the two he might say are the Beast and the False Prophet into the Lake of Fire (a great deception if he could get away with it), God destroys a tenth of Jerusalem and seven thousand people with a severe earthquake. The message is clearly perceived and causes the survivors to finally give honor to the God of heaven. There is also an obvious parallel with the cloud in which the two are taken up, and the one in which Jesus was taken up at his ascension (Acts 1:9).
Yet even then, the most severe judgments of all are about to begin, and if this marks the second half of the seventieth week (Dan. 9:27), we can refer to it as “ the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:4–7, Daniel 12:1, Mat. 24:15–22), or traditionally, “the Great Tribulation”. As we will see in Rev. 13:5 (same as we did in this passage when the temple was measured), the duration of this time is forty-two months or 3-1/2 years.
Many things are covered in this final trumpet and third “woe”. The timing of these events is not at all clear, though parts have a strong symbolic link to the distant past.
At the sounding of the final trumpet, praise breaks out in heaven, because with the completion of the impending final set of judgments will come the kingdom of God to earth. Along with the reward of the holy people of God will come the ruin of those who have ruined the earth. No explanation is given for why the temple is opened to expose the Ark of the Covenant, but we can note that it happens at the onset of the final judgments.
These two topics are identified as “signs in heaven”. The first has obvious similarity to that of the dreams of Joseph (Gen. 37:9–11), and is in great contrast to the woman to be discussed later, Babylon the Great. There is also speculation that this sign refers to a particular astronomical alignment. Sometimes the constellation Virgo has the sun near her head and the moon near her feet. If a comet moves up to where it appears to be like a tear coming from her eye, it would be as if she is crying out with the agony of childbirth. Then if it moves up to the top of her head it may appear to be like a crown. This has happened in the past and may also happen in the future, but so far no significant events have accompanied it.
We should also note that not everything in the imagery matches the past. If the child is Jesus, which seems obvious from the description, we know he was not immediately snatched up to heaven the moment he was born. And we also know that neither Israel nor Mary was carried on eagle’s wings into a place in the desert and protected for 1,260 days (3-1/2 years).
However, we have a precedent in Daniel for even a single sentence in a prophecy having a great amount of time elapse from one part to another, in the seventy weeks prophecy. (Of course some views such as Preterism reject this and therefore place all seventy weeks in the past, but there are critical problems with this view which are outside the scope of this writing.) It would seem that such a situation faces us here, since both the similarities and differences to past events are undeniable. And as we saw with the two witnesses, the point in this seventieth week at which this image is presented probably has significance.
There is a place at the south end of the Dead Sea called Petra, an ancient city carved out of the canyon walls and rediscovered in 1812.7 Many believe this is the place the woman will be taken to in order to be sheltered from the wrath of God for the second half of the seventieth week. But regardless of the location, the woman apparently represents godly people from Israel, and this may be the final fulfillment of Mat. 24:15–25.
As for the dragon, this is clearly representative of Satan. The gap in time would then be between the birth of Jesus and the war in heaven between the dragon and the Ruling Messenger Michael (ref. Jude 1:9, Dan. 10:13, 20–21, 11:1, 12:1), since the words between the two events are literally rendered “and it came to pass”. So at this point in the seventieth week, Satan is forever barred from access to the throne of God to accuse the followers of Jesus.
This prompts the warning to those still on earth, that the False Accuser will add his own great rage to everything else going on. He tries to pursue the woman (Israel fleeing to safety) but fails, then turns in a great rage to go after “the rest of her offspring”, presumably non-Jews, who belong to Jesus.
Now we are given detailed accounts of the Beasts. Though the first Beast was mentioned earlier as killing the two witnesses, it is only after the woman escapes to the desert that we are given much information about it. The symbolism is clearly related to that found in Dan. 7:7–8, Rev. 12:3 and 17:3,7, and serves to identify it as an empire, yet this includes its emperor as well. We know from Daniel that this Beast must be connected to “the prince that shall come”, whose “people” were historically the Romans; under the Roman Titus they obliterated “the city and the sanctuary” in 70 AD. We will discover more ties with ancient Rome in chapter 17, and should also consider the possibility of the rebirth of Rome as an antitype of the rebirth of Israel.
Notice that it is one of the heads of the Beast that is apparently dealt a mortal wound and then is healed; this would seem to refer not to the whole empire but to a leader, a person. This leader is then worshiped by the whole world and clearly aligns himself with and is empowered by Satan. The wound could be the Beast’s claim to being Christ since he had appeared to die and rise again. If so, many are deceived into worshiping him and help to hunt down anyone he opposes. And again we are told that this empire will rule for forty-two months or 3-1/2 years.
Then we are told of a second Beast, given power and authority from the first. Its symbolism is apparently of religious deception, and it forces people to worship the first Beast. This is why the second Beast is also called the False Prophet, though that title is not given in the text until later. We should note that it is this second Beast, not the first, who makes everyone accept an inscription on their forehead or right hand, one that undoubtedly signifies loyalty to the first Beast. As such, it cannot be forced on anyone but must be accepted voluntarily— though the price of rejection will be death. (As a side note, it is quite ironic that the same people who have always denounced God for this “sadistic choice” will eagerly line up to accept the same choice from Satan.) Without such a pledge of loyalty, no one will be allowed to buy or sell.
Much endless speculation could be presented as to the meaning of the number 666. We do know that in that time and culture the letters of the alphabet were used to represent numbers, but all efforts at finding a fool-proof method to determine the precise name or meaning have proved fruitless. At the simplest level we can note that if 7 is the number of divine perfection, the three sixes might represent the failure of Satan to achieve equality with God. But then one wonders why the Beast would want to etch the symbol of that failure on all his subjects.
We were introduced to the 144,000 under the sixth seal, but now these people are in heaven. Their being called a “harvest” would suggest that they were all martyred. But what is the significance of their being single, celibate males? The word for “unmarried” is almost exclusively used for females. If part of the significance of the 12,000 from each tribe is a reference to a military force, it should be noted that one requirement for Jewish soldiers going into battle was sexual purity (Deut. 23:9-10, 1 Sam. 21:5, 2 Sam. 11:11). This is consistent with the overall purity theme in Revelation. As for the phrase about not being “polluted with women”, it simply means that they were not promiscuous, since marriage does not “pollute” anyone. Some might otherwise jump to the conclusion that there is something inherently vile and poisonous about all women, as many false religions teach.
Now it appears that we are about to rejoin the sequence of judgment as a Messenger flies around spreading the Gospel and urging people to fear God and honor him as the one and only Creator. But this one is followed by another who announces the fall of a previously unmentioned entity, Babylon the Great. But instead of elaborating on this, the passage moves immediately on to a third Messenger with final warnings about worshiping the Beast and accepting the inscription. Notice the fate of those who do not heed that warning: their eternal, conscious suffering is undeniable with the words “there is no relief day or night for those…”. This is of course the exact opposite of eternal life, and if one is endless then so must be the other (ref. Mat. 25:46).
At this point we have certainly picked up the sequence of the seventieth week, as “the time has come to reap the harvest of the earth”. That this harvest is described as “shriveled” or long overdue for harvesting would seem to indicate its lateness. Then there is another harvest of “ripe” grapes, but we are not told if these are in fact two separate harvests, and if so, what the first one means as opposed to the second. The meaning of at least the second harvest is quite clear: an epic bloodbath outside of “the city”, largely held to refer to Jerusalem.
The bowl judgments are described by John as huge and perplexing, a notable difference from the preceding signs. They are the worst of the worst and serve to fully complete the fury of God.
Before the bowl judgments begin, John is shown something like a sea made of glass mixed with fire. We are not told what this signifies. But the focus seems to be on the people standing next to it, who are those that had conquered the Beast and now hold glassy harps. They sing “the song of Moses”, another possible allusion to the plagues of Egypt. Or it could refer to the one Moses wrote down in Deut. 32, which seems to have closer parallels to the events of Revelation.
The sequence is clear with the familiar phrase “after these things”, and following the song the temple in heaven is opened again. Seven more Messengers come out of it, and it is they who hold the bowls of the last disasters to be poured out on the earth. The bowls are given to them by one of the four animals, though again we are not told what meaning this may have. And though the temple is opened, it is filled with smoke so that no one can see inside until the disasters are completed.
As with the selective plagues of Egypt, only those people with the inscription of the Beast break out in terrible and disgusting sores when this bowl is poured out. We are not told why this particular disaster distinguishes between the people of God and the people of the Beast, while the others are indiscriminate.
As mentioned, the second bowl affects everyone because it is poured out on the sea, killing everything in it.
Still generally paralleling the less intense trumpet judgments, the third bowl affects freshwater sources. As this completes the turning of all earth’s water to blood, we are told that this is payback from God for spilling the blood of his people. Clearly, vengeance is not incompatible with love, because it shows love and justice to the victims.
This bowl might be describing the sun going supernova or something similar. The people react here by cursing God because he had control over this disaster, much as many do today. They blame God for not using his power to stop evil from happening, but ignore their own evil actions against people who belong to God, and they failed to use what power they had to stand against the evil done to them. They also want God to do two mutually-exclusive things: leave them alone, and micromanage them so nothing bad happens. The free will of human beings and the evil of Satan must, for reasons we are not told, run their course. But when they do, all scores will be settled.
The scorching sun was apparently its last gasp: the lights have been dimmed before, but now they go completely out. Remember this when reading about the remaining bowls.
The rivers had already been turned to blood, but now this particular famous river dries up completely. As an antitype of the passage of Israel through a dry path in the Red Sea, the hordes of the east now cross the dry Euphrates riverbed in preparation for the most famous battle of all. That these hordes are driven by evil is symbolized by the appearance of frogs as unclean spirits from the mouths of the Beast, the False Prophet, and the Dragon, who are responsible for this battle.
After a parenthetical warning for people of God to stay sharp, the Battle of Armageddon is staged. But apparently before it can start, the final bowl is poured out into the air, the significance of which we are not told. It causes “the mother of all earthquakes”, causing every island and mountain to disappear, as well as causing all the cities of the non-Judeans to collapse. We are not given the identity of “the great city” that is split into thirds, but the two likely candidates would be Jerusalem and Babylon. As it seems unlikely that this would happen to Jerusalem, we can speculate that this is Babylon, especially since it is cited by name as the supreme object of God’s fury.
But before we get a detailed account of the fall of Babylon, and remembering the darkness over all the Beast’s kingdom, we are told that hailstones weighing a hundred pounds start falling from the sky. Not only can people not see them coming, there is also no place left to hide. But even this is not enough to knock sense into them.
The judgments and disasters are complete, but a few other loose ends remain before human history is officially and completely ended, including the thousand year reign of Christ on earth.
This is where we meet “the other woman”, the Great Harlot. This seems to be a look back, at least for her part in the seventieth week, while her inglorious demise happens probably at the midpoint. This chapter seems to describe the religious or ecclesiastical aspect of Babylon, while the next seems to describe the political and commercial aspect. It is only an entity that once belonged to God who is ever described in scripture as a harlot, and we have only two to choose from: Israel and the Bride of Christ. Since the former is the victim in this seventieth week and was already represented by the woman with child, we are left with the apostate “church in name only”.
First we are told that she “sits on many waters”, a common Biblical reference to rule over many nations. Her rule is said to have been attained through promiscuity, selling her “favors” for money and power. But John is only told these things, and next he will be taken “in spirit” to see her for himself.
John describes a woman riding a red beast covered with vile names and having seven heads and ten horns. These now-familiar terms tell us that this is the empire of the Beast, though the color seems to convey additional information. So the woman has been using this empire for her own ends, steering and controlling it, though also dependent upon it. But if she represents religion, she must have been active in the first half of the week, since at the midpoint the Beast demands all worship for himself. Shortly after this we will see how the Beast throws her off.
She has become filthy rich, looking and acting the part of queen of the world. And she has in her hand “a golden chalice filled with the disgusting filth of her promiscuity” as proof of her vile behavior. So she is properly labeled “Mother of Harlots and Everything Disgusting”.
On top of all this, she is drunk— with the blood of the holy people, a sight that completely shocks John. We might ask why, since he had been familiar with persecution, until we remember that this woman represents the utterly corrupt “church”. How could she have come to this, and cannibalized her own people? But like everything else the Beast touches, she was set up as the impostor of all that is good and pure.
But here we are not left to speculate; the Messenger explains these two entities. We need to keep this in mind, because many try to allegorize the explanation. The woman and the beast are the symbols, but what the Messenger says next is the authoritative explanation for what they mean, so there is no justification for allegorizing them.
First is the beast or empire. It is this empire which had existed before John’s time but not during, yet it would rise again to take part in this prophecy’s fulfillment. So we know that the kingdom of the Beast is not a new entity but an old one, as mentioned earlier regarding being the antitype of reborn Israel. Now at this point we would rightly conclude that this empire is Babylon and not Rome, since Rome was in power in John’s day. And we know from history as well as scripture that Babylon was both a political and a religious empire, and was at its peak in the time of Daniel.
But we also know that Babylon therefore could not be guilty of the blood of people belonging to Jesus, since they did not exist until well after Babylon had fallen from power as a world empire— though its religion lived on in many forms. So at this point we must conclude that this beast is the revived empire of Babylon. Yet even though these details to come are not to be allegorized, they are clues nonetheless and need to be carefully studied. That is, one does not interpret a symbol with another symbol but with something real and definite.
Note first of all that though the seven heads are on the beast and not the woman, they represent some connection between her and the beast: seven mountains or hills. But tempting as it may be to immediately connect this with Rome as “the city on seven hills”, the Messenger tells us that these hills stand not for literal hills but for kings. And like the three stages of the empire, these kings follow a sequence: five had already fallen before John’s time, one was his contemporary (as opposed to the beast’s “is not now”), and the other was to come and then be followed by an eighth. So what king was in power as an empire in John’s day? None other than the Caesar of Rome.
So the beast itself is the Babylonian empire, while the heads are a line of kings spanning the Babylonian and Roman empires, which will turn out to be the first and the last. Yet here we are also told that the beast itself is the eighth king, which will throw off the woman at last. This means that the line between emperor and empire is not so easily distinguished.
Now we must look for seven, and only seven, great world powers, and what we find is this: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece had fallen, Rome was, and Rome and then Babylon was to come. But the woman will have “ridden” them all, so she can be none other than religion which is opposed and wishes to supplant the worship of the one true God. She is all false religion, not one particular religion, though all of them have the same root. Religion has always been the glue that kept vast empires together.
To summarize then, we would expect the first half of the seventieth week to be the reign of the revived Roman Empire, and the second half the reign of the Beast/Babylon Empire. And as Daniel saw in the vision of the statue, the revived Roman Empire will be weak and short-lived. But all the “masks” of false religion will be torn off when the eighth king takes power and Satan openly demands direct worship.
Now on to the ten horns: they too are kings, but kings that had not yet come as opposed to the long historical line of the 7/8 kings. They will reign only a short time with the Beast, because they will hand him their power.
Back to the woman: the waters she sat upon represent multitudes of people all over the world; false religion is everywhere, no matter what the government may be. But the ten kings and the Beast will finally be rid of her at last, exposing her for what she is and making sure she is really and truly dead forever. And this is all done by decree of God, who often uses evil to be its own executioner. No more hiding or pretending; the line between God and Satan will be clear and obvious when the Beast declares himself God.
But before we leave chapter 18 we are given another identifying characteristic of the woman: she is “that great city that has sovereignty over the kings of the earth.” So while she certainly is representative of all false religion, she is also to be headquartered in a city that acts like a nation/state. Babylon clearly fits the description, but with its intertwining with Rome, so also does the Vatican fit the description. And remember that we cannot allegorize “city” since it is part of the answer to the symbol of the woman.
Once again we see the phrase “after these things” and know we are moving on in sequence from what has come before. The religious system Babylon was destroyed at the midpoint of the week, but now we are at the end and political Babylon must be destroyed as well. This is proclaimed by a Messenger with great authority, and confirms in no uncertain terms which Babylon this is. This one, like the other, has also been promiscuous, but instead of being drunk with the blood of holy people she has made the kings of the earth drunk with her indulgences. Though the two are really one, they are like evil twins.
As the Babylon that has reigned for the second half of the week, she has used her power and wealth to oppress the nations, and now she must be paid back double portions of what she has dished out. Just before she is, the few who still worship God are to get away from her so they don’t share in her punishment. She will fall in one day, enduring everything she thought would never happen to her. And what happens is all about indulgent luxury, including slavery. Many are unaware that the slave trade is going strong even now, even in western countries, and this is not normal employment but literal slavery.
From the detailed description of the laments from various people in this chapter, we can see that such a literal city does not presently exist. There are some that come close, to be sure; the Vatican8 has unfathomable wealth in the form of precious metals and art, and though a city, it is treated like any nation. But its influence is still mostly hidden and passing itself off as poor and humble, while this Babylon is brazen and obvious. So we can expect that after the Departure/Rapture, there will be time for this situation to change. The current economic system is already teetering on the brink of collapse, and talk of fully implementing a New World Order is in full swing.
After another “after these things”, attention turns back to heaven, where “the mother of all parties” is getting started. People don’t only shout about how happy they are to be there, but praise God for exacting revenge upon the Great Harlot as well. The tables have been turned at last. Now begins the reign of righteousness and the healing of the earth. But first there is a cosmic wedding to celebrate, and happy invited guests. One might wonder who the guests are as opposed to the Bride, but this is not a problem for those who see the Body of Christ as a unique entity rather than the righteous of all time. John of course is overwhelmed by all this and falls down to worship the Messenger who showed it to him. But this is not to be done, even to a Messenger, since only God deserves worship.
Then John sees the sky or heaven open up and a white horse appear. The rider is clearly Jesus, and he is followed by “the armies of heaven”, who are not identified. This is the actual Second Coming of Christ, since rather than meeting his people in the air to take them to heaven, he brings them with him to the earth.
Zechariah 14:3–4 specifies that he will set his foot on the Mount of Olives, which will then split in two, moving half the mountain north and half south for a considerable distance. In Mat. 24:27–31 Jesus says that people will see him descend from heaven in the clouds, bringing his chosen ones from one end of heaven to the other; that is, not from the earth. The living will mourn if they were evil, and be overjoyed if they were good. These good people, still in mortal bodies, will then repopulate the earth for the thousand years to come.
Now comes the final gasp of the kingdom of the Beast. In spite of the spectacle of Jesus and the heavenly armies returning to earth, and in spite of the humiliating defeat of all Jesus’ enemies, the heart of evil knows only hate and rebellion. First there is an invitation much different from the one to the wedding of the Lamb: the flying scavengers of the earth are summoned to a great macabre feast. Then the armies of the Beast, assembled to apparently die to the last soldier, are given their wish without a fight. The Beast and False Prophet are seized and thrown alive into the Lake of Fire, and the armies are killed by the sword proceeding from Jesus’ mouth.
The thousand years, traditionally known by the Latin word Millennium, begin with the imprisonment of Satan in the Abyss. Then the kingdom of Jesus is established, with judges who had been beheaded for refusing to worship the Beast or take the inscription; this is their position for the full duration of the thousand years. This is called The First Resurrection, but note that the scope of this phrase must be limited to the seventieth week of Daniel since we were already told of the Bride, the Guests, and the armies of heaven. In this context it would then seem reasonable to see it as referring to the first of those who came to God outside of the “church age”. Those who died in Christ were part of his resurrection and already received their immortal bodies.
After a thousand years without war or suffering, one might expect people to accept the fact that the kingdom of God is a good thing. But Satan is released and immediately misleads people from all over the world into one final, desperate act of rebellion. Foolishly they surround Jerusalem, but before they can say “lock and load” God brings down fire from heaven and they are all consumed. At long last Satan is thrown into the Lake of Fire to join the Beast and False Prophet, all to be tortured forever. If the events of the seventieth week prove nothing else, it is that eternity will not be long enough to get the enemies of God to change their minds.
Now we reach the point widely known as Judgment Day, and among Christians as The Great White Throne judgment. All the dead stand before the throne to be judged according to what they had done in this life. Some contend that there are no degrees of suffering for the unrighteous dead, but if that were true there would be no point at all in judging them according to their deeds. Their eternal destination was sealed the moment they died, so the only purpose of judgment would be to determine the appropriate level of suffering according to how they had lived. And after they are all judged, even Death and Hades are dispensed with, since there will never be a need for them again.
Since the words “sky” and “heaven” are the same Greek word, we don’t know whether the entire universe will be replaced or only the earth and its atmosphere. But who cares? Everything mortal, corruptible, or in any way associated with the old world of sin will be gone forever.
At the end of the thousand years and beginning of eternity future, the earth and sky/heaven (certainly not heaven as the abode of God though) are replaced. But there is more to this new arrangement than heaven and earth. The first specific item we are told about is the New Jerusalem that had been decked out “like a bride dressed for her groom”, descending from the sky/heaven, but it doesn’t say it touches the earth. Given its enormous size, it may be put in geostationary orbit, unless the new Earth is much larger than the present Earth.
But before being given more detail about this city, we see the familiar phrases about “the alpha and the omega, the start and the finish”— terms applied to both the Father and the Son and indicative of Jesus’ divinity and full equality with the Father from eternity past to eternity future. We are also given a token list of the characteristics of those who will never enter this intimate relationship with God, and should pay attention to the fact that cowardice is as revolting to God as murder and promiscuity.
Now one of the Messengers who had poured out the bowl judgments has a much nicer task to perform: to show John the New Jerusalem. Again John is taken away “in spirit”, this time to a huge mountain. This was his vantage point for what he had briefly told us in the opening paragraph of this passage. We notice here that this city is described also as “the bride, the wife of the Lamb”, just as the saved of the “church age” are. So while one might presume that the New Jerusalem is only for Jews, this passage seems to indicate that it is for the Congregation. As we will see next, it meets the criterion given in Eph. 2:14 of having no divider between Jew and Gentile.
Of course we can hardly imagine the sight John beheld as he tried with mere words to describe it. He lists many precious gems and gold so pure that it is transparent, but we are not told of the significance of the various gemstones. And like everything else from God, the description of this city is done in superlatives. Of particular note are the gates each made of a single pearl (the basis of the popular phrase, “the pearly gates”), and each named after a tribe of Israel.
But of equal significance is the fact that the twelve foundations are each named after the twelve disciples of Jesus. They were all Jews, but also the literal foundation of the Body of Christ. This is the picture of the unified body of Eph. 2:14. The city was measured by the Messenger using human measurements of John’s time. Whether a cube or a pyramid shape, it is almost 1400 miles in length and width, and the same height, which is approximately the height of Alaska north to south (if accurate, there is a nice visual at Tour of Heaven). However, nothing in the passage states that the city will actually touch the surface of the earth. And there is no need for a temple, a lamp, or a sun, since God and Jesus are there.
But note that the nations will bring their majesty and wealth into the city, and that those who live in sin will not be granted entrance. And from the description of the River of Life, we can deduce that there is some pathway or connection between the throne of God and the city. But the Tree of Life in the center of the city is said to be for the healing of the nations, which along with all the other clues would seem to indicate that this pertains to the beginning of the Millennium rather than the end. However, it also says, “the Curse will be no more”, which could not be true during the Millennium since some people will die (Isaiah 65:20).
In closing the Revelation, the Messenger says that all this will happen “suddenly”, not “soon”. As has been said before and will be said again, when Jesus comes it will be unexpected and quick. And in case anyone says, as many do, that the study of future prophecy is a waste of time or even harmful in some way, Jesus promises blessings to those who take the words to heart and cling to them.
Apparently John is too overwhelmed to remember not to worship the Messenger (the opposite of our human tendency to shoot the messenger!) and has to be reminded once again to worship only God. But as noted in the Background, here again John is told not to seal up the prophecy, and the reason is that its time is “near”. Compared to the time of Daniel, anything this side of Jesus’ first coming is certainly near, so we cannot presume that it meant “near to the lifetime of John”, especially since in hindsight we know that this prophecy has not been fulfilled. If all is allegory, or all is past, then none of the blessings apply to us today for studying it, and we are robbed of our hope of Jesus coming for us “in the clouds”. Neither is there any purpose in the many details given over the course of the prophecy; an allegory about good and evil hardly needs this degree of detail.
Then Jesus speaks directly, reminding people that his sudden return will be to give everyone what they deserve, and repeating that everyone not purified will be excluded from all the blessings. He also repeats the fact that he is the First and Last, and adds that he is both the root and family line of David. This is his self-identification as both God and man and the Messiah of Israel.
Finally, there is a solemn warning to not tamper with the words of this prophecy (which many take out of context to apply to the entire Bible, though of course it should go without saying that tampering with that would bring God’s displeasure as well). And with John, all who “long for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8) say, “Come, Master Jesus!”. Let no one say we are uncaring for the lost when we, like a true Bride, long to see our Groom. Instead, let us use this glorious future for the saved as motivation to spread the Gospel that would grant to the unsaved access with us to the New Jerusalem.
The outline and chart below provide a possible general sequence of events of Revelation. It should also be pointed out that we cannot presume that the sequence of any set of judgments is evenly spaced or takes up the entire 3-1/2 years; they could be sporadic or be all at the beginning or end. Another excellent study on Revelation is one from 1919 by Clarence Larkin at Sacred Texts (standard disclaimer applies).
There are three distinct sources for the beasts:
A fourth entity, called the Dragon, is clearly Satan (20:2), also called the Devil and the Ancient Serpent.
But is the "first beast" the same as the one from the Abyss, even though they appear to have two different origins? The similarities are obvious; the only major difference, beside the mention of color in one case, is the point of origin. Can we then equate the Abyss with the sea? The first time we encounter the first beast is in Revelation 9:11, at the 5th trumpet, when the locusts come out of it after the Messenger opens its "shaft". The king of the locusts is Abaddon/Apollyon, yet "the beast from the Abyss" is not mentioned again until 17:3-12 as the beast ridden by the harlot. And at that point, the Messenger tells John that this beast had not yet ascended from the Abyss. Yet this "first beast" seems to be the one that kills the two witnesses at the 6th trumpet, in 11:7. The key here is that rather than John witnessing the ascendance of the Beast from the Abyss at this point, the Messenger is telling him about it as future to John’s time. So the "not yet" is not a chronological problem here.
John writes things in the order he is shown them, but this is not necessarily the order they will take place. Is there a way to know when a sequence is being interrupted or paused to present background or concurrent events? The most common connecting words are "and, then, next" (kai) and "with/after these things" (meta tauta). The latter is found only 8 times in Revelation:
Certainly such words indicate sequence, but with the exception of the first one, they still refer to when John saw them, rather than necessarily when they would actually happen. After the 7 letters, John is taken to heaven. After the sealing of the 144k, John sees the multitude from the Great Tribulation. After the 5th trumpet sounds and judgments follow, John notes that two more are to follow. After seeing the sign of the final 7 judgments to come, John sees the Temple in heaven opened and hears the command to pour out the Bowl judgments. After being shown the woman riding the beast, John sees a Messenger announcing the fall of Babylon. After its demise, John hears praise in heaven. After the Millennium, Satan is released from prison for a short time.
After the 7 letters, John is shown heaven’s throne and various entities. This includes a group of 24 elders who sing about having been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, so they cannot be pre-Christian saints; yet they are in heaven before the seals are opened. And since nothing in terms of judgment has begun, this cannot be considered out of sequence. John is brought to heaven, he sees the elders, and after that the Lamb begins to open the seals.
The first possible out-of-sequence passage is 7:1-8:5, where the wind is held back, the 144,000 are sealed, and John sees the multitude from the Great Tribulation, which by all accounts is at least the trumpet judgments rather than the seals. From every other scripture describing the Great Tribulation, it is the 3-1/2 year span wherein the final judgments against mankind are unleashed. Some include the trumpet judgments in this, while others hold that only the bowl judgments qualify. Yet we see the multitude at the 6th seal, and there is no indication that they are martyrs.
The only event resulting from opening the 7th seal, besides the preparation to sound the trumpets, is a half-hour of silence in heaven. Does silence mean no further judgments during the first half of the Tribulation? Some say yes, since "hour" is sometimes used in scripture to speak of the final judgments, such that half an hour would mean half the 7 years. Rev. 17:12 says that ten kings will receive power for "one hour" along with the Beast, which may or may not span the entire 42 months of his rule, which would be half the "hour of trial", yet it says "one" rather than "one-half".
So also is "day" used to refer to the same time of judgments, and Mat. 24:36 uses both "day and hour" together. "Hour" is also used to refer to a three-hour span of the day (third hour, ninth hour, etc.). Jesus also used "hour" to mean the entire span of his public ministry in John 2:4, which is held by some to be 3.5 years, though details in the gospel accounts seem to indicate a shorter time. 1 John 2:18 states that the "last hour" had already come. Rev. 3:10 shows a church being exempt from "the hour of trial to come upon the whole world". Yet Rev. 9:15 says that 4 Messengers were kept for a particular "hour" inside that "hour of trial".
So there seems to be no solid basis for the claim that this "half an hour" of silence must refer to the first half of the seven years. And the silence is in heaven, not on earth. However, nothing in any prophecy must be taken as the wrath of God for the first half of Daniel’s 70th week. Neither does Revelation state that the three sets of judgments are evenly spaced. Yet what Jesus described in the Olivet Discourse as preceding the Great Tribulation has much in common with the seal judgments, and no indication of duration is given for any of them.
Could the seals, trumpets, and bowls each take 1/3 of the 7 years? Rev. 11:3 states that the two witnesses will be active for 1,260 days (360x3.5), and that this ends in 11:7 when the beast from the Abyss kills them. This is told to John after the 6th trumpet caused the 200 million troops to kill 1/3 of the world’s population. But there seems to be a slight break or change in 10:1, when the Messenger with the little scroll has John measure the temple of God, and the two witnesses are introduced.
It is during this possible interlude or out-of-sequence passage that the beast from the Abyss kills them. So are they really killed between the 6th and 7th trumpets, since Abaddon/Apollyon had ascended from the Abyss already? Or does this not happen until 17:8, after the 7th bowl? It seems highly improbable that this beast would not appear until all the judgments have passed, and we do know that it first came from the Abyss at the 5th trumpet.
This being the case, then, it seems that the passage about the woman riding the beast is out of sequence, but the passage where the two witnesses are killed is in sequence. Thus the two witnesses had to have begun their task 3-1/2 years earlier, which means they are not active during the bowl judgments.
Now the question comes, where in Revelation is the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week, which is to be when the "prince" violates the covenant, desecrates the temple, and declares himself God? Revelation says nothing about this, but can we say that the point at which the beast is worshiped must mean he has declared himself God? We see that such worship occurs in 13:8,12. As a side note, it is after this that we see the 144,000 on Mt. Zion. And right after this is when the Messenger announces, "Fear God and give him honor, because the hour of his judgment has come" (14:7), which of course is after the trumpets have passed and the bowls are about to begin.
Yet if the 7th trumpet marks the midpoint, then the bowls are the sole judgments of the 2nd half. But these judgments make life almost impossible, seeing that the 2nd bowl destroys all the oceans and rivers. And if we put them all near the end, then the first two or three years of the reign of the beast experience no judgments from God. Still, we must also consider the fact that the people of Jerusalem are told to flee to a protected area when they see the temple desecrated, which in Rev. 12:14 is specified as "a time, times, and half a time". There is no point in having them run to safety and stay there for 3-1/2 years, if for the bulk of those years there will be no judgments from God. This is part of the vision of the "woman clothed with the sun" as part of, or following, the 7th trumpet. So between this and the death of the two witnesses, we have two reasons to mark the 7th trumpet as the midpoint of the tribulation, yet there seems little reason for the people to flee if the bowl judgments will not begin until one or two years later.
So it would seem that we simply are unable to find the precise midpoint of the Tribulation, a marker reserved for those who will experience it. We also cannot know with precision where in all this the remaining Old Testament prophecies besides Daniel will take place, such as the battles of Psalm 83 and Ezekiel 38. The latter involves a period of 7 years when the people in the vicinity of Jerusalem use the weapons of their enemies as fuel, part of which time they also spend burying their enemies’ bodies. Such activities seem most unlikely during the bowl judgments, so those battles must have begun at least 7 years earlier.
There is also the matter of how much time might be needed to elicit the wailing and grief exhibited by the world’s merchants when Babylon falls. In addition, the gift-exchanging when the two witnesses are killed likewise seems unlikely any later than the 7th trumpet. One might argue that such things could take place in a pause between judgments, but certainly not once the bowls begin.