Sunday, January 31, 2016


One Half Hours of Silence

Chapter 7 was an interlude. It interrupted the seal judgments to show believers on earth protected from God’s wrath and believers in heaven. It ended with the multitude of believers praising Jesus for salvation. Then they were joined by all of the creatures of heaven. But then, as 8:1 shows, Jesus broke the seventh seal of the scroll handed to him by the Father. This shows us the judgments are about to resume. But, instead of getting right to it, everything stopped for a while. All of the praising stopped. Silence ensued.

Why did heaven go silent? Why did all go silent? They were quiet in the face of the coming judgment of the Lord upon earth. When the time has come for judgment, there is nothing left to be said. God does to want to hear explanations or even pleas for mercy. It is also a sign of respect.

There are Old Testament examples. Consider Zephaniah 1:1-7. There the Lord tell of judgment that is coming. After he describes the judgment, God says “be silent before  the LORD GOD!”. (Zeph. 1:7) It is a sign of respect. And it is a sign that the time for talking has come to an end.

Another example is Zechariah 2:13. There God said he will judge those who plundered Jerusalem. He ended by saying “Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, force has roused himself from his holy dwelling”.

Finally, look at Psalm 76:7-9. The Psalmist wrote:
But you, you are to be feared!
Who can stand before you
when once your anger is roused?
From the heavens you uttered judgment;
the earth feared and was still,
when God arose to establish judgment,
to save all the humble of the earth.

The Seven Angels With Trumpets

Then the silence is over. The seal judgments are over. The vision moves on to show the trumpet judgments. John saw 7 angels who stand before God. They were given 7 trumpets.

Prayers for Vindication Answered

Before the angels blow their trumpets, something else happens. John saw another angel standing at the altar before the throne. In the Old Testament tabernacle, the altar of incense was the item of furniture closest to the ark of the covenant.

 The ark symbolized the throne of God. His presence dwelt there between the two golden cherubim. The altar was outside the Holiest Place, separated by a veil or curtain. The Israelite priests offered incense on it every morning and evening. (Exodus 30:7-8) The smoke of the burning incense joined the prayers of the people wafting up to God. The smoke symbolizes the prayers. You might remember that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, had the job of burning the incense. When he did it, people gathered outside the temple to pray. (Luke 1:8-10) They understood this symbolism. They wanted their prayers lifted to God with the smoke of the incense.

The angel held a golden censer. That is what you carried the incense in when you took it to the altar to burn it. He was given much incense in the censer. It was to be burned on the altar along with the prayers of the saints. Remember a scene from chapter 5. After Jesus took the scroll, the 24 elders and 4 living creatures held golden bowls of incense that were the prayers of the saints. (Rev. 3:8) Then, in chapter 6, John saw underneath the altar the souls of the saints who asked how long it would be until God judged the earth. (Rev. 6:9-10)

So now, in chapter 8, we see a vision of these prayers rising up to God. Whereas God earlier told them to wait a little while longer, he now acts to answer those prayers. An angel took the censer, now empty of incense, and filled with with fire from the altar. He then threw it down onto earth. (8:5)This is a symbol of God answering the prayers of the saints for vindication and judgment.

The background for this action is Ezekiel 10:1-2. There God told the man clothes in linen “go in among the whirling wheels underneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from between the cherubim and scatter them over the city.” This was to punish the people of Jerusalem for idolatry. It happened only after those true to God were sealed on their foreheads. (Ezekiel 9:4)

There is thunder and lighting and earthquake, symbolizing God’s power exercised in judgment and wrath upon his enemies on earth. The language here is the same as that used to describe God’s coming to Mount Sinai to deliver the law. (Exodus 19:16)

Hebrews 12:25 - 28 draws a comparison between God shaking Mount Sinai with his presence when he gave the law to Moses, and his shaking the earth in judgment at the end of time. It says:
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking, for if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”

Next will come the blowing of the trumpets. Trumpets in the Bible often announce the coming of God in victory. For example, Joel 2:1 says “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain. Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near…”

With each trumpet, a judgment will come. The period of time covered by the trumpet judgments seems to cover the whole church age as the seal judgments did. But, here we see it from a different perspective. With the seal judgments, we saw the judgments from the perspective of heaven and the throne. But the trumpet judgments show the perspective of those unbelievers on earth who experience them as a result of the prayers of the saints. These judgments will resemble the plagues God poured out on Egypt as an expression of his wrath. The purpose of the plagues was to demonstrate God’s glory in his sovereignty over mighty Egypt. Egypt was powerful, but God defeated them and protected his people from the plagues. Here God will defeat the powers of the earth that oppose him and his people and will also protect his people in the process.

There is one last image here to deal with. The other place in the Bible where 7 trumpets blow in conjunction with the judgment of God is in the book of Joshua. The city of Jericho stood between God’s people and their possession of the promised land. God had Israel march around the city once per day for 6 days. They carried the ark of the covenant with them. On the 7th day, 7 priests with 7 trumpets blew them after marching around the city 7 times. The city walls fell and Israel destroyed Jericho. (Joshua 6) Here in Revelation we have 7 trumpets heralding God’s judgments on unbelievers. We might call them the City of Man. Revelation will call it Babylon later in the book. And the 7th trumpet leads to the appearance of the ark of the covenant in Revelation 17.

The comparison is made between the Old Testament people of God struggling to get to the promised land and the afflicted New Testament people of God enduring to the end in order to inherit the new promised land, the New Jerusalem. In Revelation, the city of man stands in the way of the New Jerusalem. But God will destroy it, protect his people, and deliver them into the new promised land.

The First Trumpet

At the sound of the first trumpet, hail and fire mixed with blood were thrown down on a third of the earth, burning it. Again we see the judgment limited. There are people left who may repent. If they see this as a sign of the final destruction to come, they will recognize God’s sovereignty, repent and be saved.

This is reminiscent of the 7th plague on Egypt in the book of Exodus. Exodus 9:23-26 says:

“Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven and the LORD sent thunder and hail and fire ran down on the earth. And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt. There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field. Only the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel were, was there no hail.”

This symbol may mean these things come actually from heaven, but also may be symbols of things mankind will bring about. The first seal judgement was about conquest. The first trumpet judgment may symbolize conflict that brings destruction. History is full of examples of armies destroying everything in their paths to prevent their enemies from restoring their prosperity. Ancient armies burned cities as Israel burned Jericho. They sowed fields with salt to kill the soil. The ISIS army today steals what it ca use and destroys everything else.

The 2nd Trumpet

Whereas the first trumpet destroyed one third of the land, the second trumpet destroys one third of the sea by turning it to blood. A third of the world’s ships was destroyed. This happened because “something like a great mountain burning with fire” was throne into the sea. The fact that John said “something like” means he did not have an exact description. If we work with the later date for the writing of Revelation, all would have been familiar with the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii. We also know that the first plague the Lord sent on Egypt was turning the water of the Nile to blood.

Death of one third of the world’s fish would cause great food shortages. Destruction of one third of the ships would disrupt both commerce and military operations.

The 3rdTrumpet

The 3rd trumpet causes the destruction of one third of the rivers and streams. A great star fell on these rivers and made the water bitter and toxic. Wormwood is a plant with a strong bitter taste. It is actually not poisonous. But, the Bible uses bitter water as a symbol of suffering and judgment. In this case, people died from drinking this water, as when the Egyptians could not drink the bloodied water of the Nile after the first plague. (Exodus 8:24)

Water is a precious commodity. We cannot survive without it. When drought comes, people suffer. Water is in short supply in some places in the U.S. and in many places in the world. A loss of one third of the drinking water would be catastrophic.

One of God’s judgments on Israel was this very thing. In Jeremiah 9:15, God said “I will make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water”. This was in judgment of Israel’s idolatry.  Similarly, the 3rd trumpet brings judgment on the earth that is in rebellion against God and, therefore, guilty of idolatry.

Certainly the world today is largely in rebellion against God. Although Christianity is growing, much of the world worships under Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. There are many native religions. Paganism is resurgent in first world countries. In addition, there are many perversions of Christianity around. God will ultimately destroy all these.

The 4th Trumpet

At the sound of the 4th trumpet, a third of the sun, moon and stars was struck. This would make our world much darker than it is. At our house, light bulbs often go out and we are slow to replace them. Sometimes a room gets too dark to be used, so we are forced to get those bulbs replaced. Then we are amazed at how bright the room becomes.

Some years ago, people in our city were amazed that smoke from a big fire in central Mexico made its way to us. For two days, our sky was darkened by smoke. It was distressing and many people were scared.

Darkness would also limit the growing of crops. It would affect many people mentally.

This is again a limited judgment. It affects only one third of the light. That is terrible, but it is not total darkness. In contrast, The final seal judgment in chapter 6 said the whole son became black and the moon red. But it also harkens back to a plague against Egypt. In Exodus 10:21, God said to Moses: Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to  be felt.”

There will be darkness in eternity for those who reject Christ. Jesus said “I tell you, many will come from east and west and refine at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Revelation 7

In Revelation 6, we saw God send disasters on the earth. They were brought by 4 horsemen. These disasters are expressions of God’s wrath poured out on mankind in rebellion against God. The chapter ended with the coming of the Lord in judgment. Those who rebelled against God experienced the wrath of the Lamb.

Chapter 6 ended with the cry of “who can stand” in the face of the wrath of the Lamb? Chapter 7 answers that question. And the answer is, the saints of God.

Chapter 7 contains 2 visions of the saints. Think of a play with 2 scenes. In verses 1-8 we see a vision of 144,000. In verses 9-17, we see a great multitude.

Believers of Earth

Chapter 7 is not chronologically later than the end of chapter 6. We know this because chapter 6 covered the whole church age. Chapter 7 drops back to show us what happens to believers before the wrath of God is poured out on non-believers.

Chapter 7 begins with four angels holding back the winds of earth. (1) It is not that wind is bad. This again is symbolic, using cosmic catastrophe to signal dramatic events. So the events of Chapter 7:1-7 begin before the judgments are poured out in Chapter 6. The angels hold back the winds to mean, before Christ pours out these catastrophes shown by the horsemen of chapter 6, believers will be protected. The 4 angels hold back the 4 horsemen who are the winds from the 4 corners of the earth. The 4 horsemen in Zechariah are also called the 4 winds of heaven.

The fact that the angels stand at the 4 corners of the world show their actions will affect the whole world. This terminology is used repeatedly in the Old Testament. For example, God promised to gather people from the 4 corners of the earth, meaning all over the earth. (Is. 11:12)  

Another angel arises with a seal of the living God. He orders the angels not to harm the earth until the servants of God are sealed on their foreheads. (2) So, the 4 angels holding back the winds must restrain the 4 horsemen\winds bringing devastation until the servants of God are sealed.

So, we are looking at a vision of earth here. The harm to be poured out on the earth is the issue. The servants of God on earth are Christians. They are those who believe in Jesus. They are servants of God. The angel will seal them to distinguish them from non-believers who will suffer the wrath of God.

A seal is a sign of ownership and protection. It is a similar picture to sealing a document with a signet ring. The seal signifies that the scroll belongs to the one who wears the ring. That person’s authority and power over the scroll follows the scroll with its seal. This seal in chapter 6 shows that believers belong to and are protected by God.

The image of the seal of God may come from Ezekiel 9:4-6. Ezekiel 9 is a vision of God pouring his wrath out on Jerusalem. Before it started, God told the man clothed in linen to pass through Jerusalem and put a mark on the forehead of the faithful. Everyone else was to  be killed.

The next occurrence is something John heard as opposed to saw. He heard the number of believers to be sealed. (4) Confusion arises because they are named as people from 12 tribes in Israel. Because of that, some want to say this is a vision of Jews converted before the judgment. However, further examination seems to make this unlikely.

First of all, theologically, the New Testament does not distinguish between Jewish and Gentile believers. In fact, it does the opposite. The book of Galatians is devoted to this topic. Paul wrote “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7) and “there is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) In Ephesians 2:14, he wrote that Christ died to reconcile both jew and Gentile to God in one body through the cross. He wrote that Gentiles who believe in Jesus are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:19) He gave us a great visual image also, showing the people of God as a tree containing branches that are believing Jews and into which believing Gentiles have been grafted. (Romans 11)

Second, practically, there is no listing of the tribes of Israel matching the one in Revelation 7. Judah is promoted to the first place on the list, though Reuben was the oldest. But Judah is the tribe of the king, of Jesus, who leads the church. Dan is omitted entirely. Joseph is listed instead of his son, Ephraim. Also, exactly the same number are sealed from each tribe despite the great variance in their sizes in the Old Testament.

Third, contextually, this listing describes the “servants of God” and, thus,  appears to be a symbol of the church on earth. The number 144,000 is symbolic, being 12 x 12 x1000. All of believers on earth are sealed. So, Christians on earth will suffer persecution and tribulation, but they will not experience the wrath of God poured out on non-believers.

Although popular apocalyptic fiction has speculated on a physical mark on the forehead of believers, I believe this to be symbolic also. For example, Jesus said God set his seal on Jesus. (John 6:27) No one is recorded running up to Jesus to examine his forehead for a mark. They knew what he meant. Jesus belonged to and was protected by the Father.

The New Testament says believers are sealed as well. 1 Corinthians 1:21-22 says “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee”. Ephesians 1:13 says “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire obsession of it, to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 4:30 says “and do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Our seal is the Holy Spirit, who is given to us at our salvation. None who have the Holy Spirit will suffer the wrath of God in judgment or destruction.

The Great Multitude Described

In verse 9, John’s perspective changes again from earth to heaven. Having seen the saints on earth, he saw a great multitude in heaven. They were from all over the earth, from all nations, and groups of people in nations and speaking different languages. They stood before the throne of God dressed in white robes, waiving palm branches and shouting praise to God, saying “salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb”. (10) They were praising  Father and Son for salvation.

We have seen that white robes symbolize victory through purity. Palm branches were used to acknowledge and celebrate a king. Remember Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people waving palm branches. (Matthew 21)

Angels Join the Praise

Upon hearing the praise of those in white robes the angels, the 4 living creatures and the elders joined in. They fell on their faces and worshipped. They said “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (12)

The Multitude Identified

Those in the white robes are identified for us in verses 13 and 14.

They are believers who died in faith in the tribulation. Their robes are white because they are washed in the blood of the Lamb. What a great paradox: a dirty robe washed in blood becomes white. The blood of Jesus washes away the stain of sin, leaving righteousness in its place. As the Lord said in Isaiah 1:18:
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.”

I think these are all believers who have gone to heaven. Some believe them to be those who die in a great tribulation at the end of the age. However, great multitude seems to show all believers in heaven, as the first vision showed all believers on earth. There is always tribulation for the body of Christ, though some individuals suffer greatly and some very little.

On earth, they experienced tribulation and persecution. but in heaven, they are before the throne of God. They are in his presence experiencing great joy. They serve him in his heavenly temple.

They will never be hungry or thirsty, nor suffering in the heat of the desert sun. They are now at rest and in peace. There is no sorrow to cry about.

This is our future after death: rest, joy, peace.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Notes on Eschatology

Eschatology is the brand of theology dealing with final things. However, in a sense, most of the Bible is eschatological because it tells the story of the relationship between God and man from beginning to end. It even has a "spoiler" at the beginning. Immediately after the fall of man, God cursed the snake. The curse was also a statement about the conclusion of earthly history. God said "I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring: he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heal".

From that time forward, Satan sought to destroy the seed of woman and to derail the plans of God. He never defeated God's plan, but he caused, and causes, much havoc and suffering. That is why we look forward, yearning for Christ's final victory and our vindication. That final victory begins with the return of Jesus. And that is why his return is the basis for our great hope. Paul wrote that we are "waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ". (Titus 2:13)

Sunday, January 17, 2016


In chapter 6, the Lamb, Jesus, opened the seals one by one. He was the only one worthy to open the scroll.  In everyday life, the contents of a sealed scroll would be available only after all the seals were open. However, we have here a vision. For dramatic effect, the plan of God, as contained in the scroll, is revealed as each seal is broken. Different elements of the plan are revealed as each seal is broken. The living creatures, as servants of God and the Lamb, participate in the action. Angels are involved in things that happen in the world, even though we are not aware of it. Our perspective is incomplete, limited by our finite, physical natures. The story of Job illustrates that.

We will see that 5:1-8:1 is structured like  8:2-11:19. Both have opening scenes introducing the origin of the judgments (5:1-14; 8:2-6). Then there are six judgments (6:1-17; 8:7-9:21). A dramatic interlude promises care for God’s people (7:1-17; 10:1-11:14). The seventh and climactic judgment follows the interlude (8:1; 11:15-19). (See Introduction: Structure.) The seven judgments move forward toward the Second Coming, which occurs in 6:12-17 and 11:15-19. The first four judgments out of the seven have an inner unity. 6:1-8 corresponds to the four living creatures of 4:6 and the four horsemen of Zech. 1:8. 8:7-12 concerns the four major regions of the world, namely dry land, sea, fresh water, and air/sky.

The opening of the seals will cover the time from the church age through the return of Christ. Jesus did not give us a calendar or tell us when the end would come. He told the disciples It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. (Acts 1:7) Instead he gives us a description of what it will be like in broad terms. 

The first four seals go together. (This will also be true of the first four trumpets and bowls later in the book.) Each begins with a loud summons from one of the four living creatures to “come”. Responding to the summons are four horses of different colors. First we are told the color, then the rider is described and his significance explained. 

The colors of the horses correspond to the colors of the chariot horses in Zechariah 6:1-8. The chariots symbolized spirits that brought judgment on the nations that oppressed Judah. Jesus expands the symbolism in Revelation by having the horses and riders bring judgment on the enemies of Christ and his church. 

The fact that the seals are opened sequentially does not mean the judgments are sequential or in chronological order. Rather, all of them will occur during the time before Jesus returns. Some events of these types had already occurred by the time the book was written. There were big earthquakes in 60 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 and there was famine in 92.  Clement, in 96 A.D., wrote of the sudden and repeated calamities and reverses that have befallen us.” (1 Clement 1.1) 

The fifth seal will show us the reason for the judgments. It shows the souls of the martyrs crying out for justice. Their final vindication will not be immediate, but their prayers and cries are not ignored or forgotten.   

The First Seal

When Jesus opened the first scroll, the four living creatures summoned a horse and rider. The horse was white. The rider had a bow and a crown. He conquered. The white horse signifies victory in conquest, as does the crown. Julius Caesar, for example, paraded through Rome in chariot drawn by white horses when he returned from war. 

The church age is shown to be characterized by conquest. Certainly, the churches of Asia would see Roman conquest give way to Persian conquest. Interestingly, the Persians had mounted archers, horsemen with bows. The Ottomans would later impose Islamic rule on the area. Kingdoms will rise and fall.

Each of the riders is given power to do something. It is Jesus who gives them these powers. This is symbolized by the fact that the breaking of the seals by Jesus releases them to act.

These kings or countries who conquer may be evil rather than Godly, but Jesus reigns over them and uses them for his purposes. Their actions may cause Christians to suffer, but Jesus is sovereign over what appears to be a chaotic world. He uses events for both judicial and redemptive purposes.   

The Second Seal

The second seal produced a bright red horse. God empowered its rider to take peace from earth. His sword represents people killing each other. Humanity in the church age has experienced many wars. Despite forming the United Nations and entering into treaties, we see war continually occurring. Right now the Middle East is engulfed in war. Terrorism has also become a major threat to peace. 

Jesus said “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” (Matthew 24:6-8)

The Third Seal

This seal produced a black horse. The rider was given scales to represent weighing food to determine the price. A voice sets out the price for wheat and barley and says to protect the oil and wine.   This represents famine. A denarius was about one day’s wages in the first century. A quart of wheat usually at that cost one eighth of a denarius. But with the famine, there is 800 percent inflation. Wheat becomes too expensive for the poor, so they must buy barley, a lower quality grain. 

As terrible as this is, the judgment is limited. The oil and wine are spared. This will happen with other judgments as well. They are limited. They foreshadow the final judgment when God has total victory over all his enemies. 

Rome itself would fall. Augustine thought it was the end of the world. But, it was only a foretaste of God’s ultimate victory.  

The Fourth Seal

The fourth seal brought forth a pale horse bearing a rider named Death. Hades (the grave) followed. The Greek word for “pale” mens a pale green, as the pallor of a very ill person. They brought death to a fourth of the population of the earth, by war, famine, pestilence and wild beasts. Again the judgment is limited.  

Katherine Anne Porter wrote a short novel called “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” about the influenza epidemic of 1918, using this imagery from Revelation. 

There have been many events of history causing great deaths, from wars, to plagues and other events.  Epidemics of sickness often break out during and after wars. Wild beasts come in where there are not enough people to keep them out. 

The results of these four seals bear a resemblance to the curses God invoked on Israel for violation of the covenant. God called it his four disastrous acts of judgment. Read Ezekiel 14:12-21.

The Fifth Seal

The fifth seal begins differently, giving us an additional aspect to the judgments. The perspective shifts from earth to heaven. Here we see the souls of those slain for being Christians. (6:9) They are under the altar, for they have been sacrificed for God. They cried out for justice and vindication. (10) They asked God how long until you judge and avenge. They had to wait a little longer, though, until the number of martyrs became complete. In other words, Christ will not come to judge until the last martyr has died. As a matter of hope, they are given white robes symbolizing victory through purity and faithfulness and told to rest. Those who have died have rested from their labors.  

The Sixth Seal

This seal shows Christ coming in judgment. In contrast to the fifth seal which showed the need to patiently wait for the end this seal shows that the end will certainly come. 

Great cosmic distress is described in verses 12 through 14. There was a great earthquake. The sun becomes black and the moon read, the stars fall and the wind blew. This is all symbolism to show an earth shattering, very important event. The event is the return of Christ in judgment.  

It is also Old Testament imagery. Joel 2:31 says the sun will be darkened and the moon turned to blood, stars falling and the sky rollup are in Isaiah 54:10, mountains and islands displaced are in Ezekiel 38:20. 

The earthquake is a sign and symbol of God coming on earth. From Exodus 19:18, where Mount Sinai shook, through the Old Testament we see this symbol. 

All of the people of earth from kings to slaves try to hide from him. These are those who have rebelled against God.  In chapter 1, Jesus said “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so, Amen. (Rev. 1:7)

In Revelation 6, they would rather rocks fall on them and hide them from Jesus than to face his wrath. The great day of wrath has come. (16) Who can stand? 

This language reflects the words of Nahum 1. Nahum wrote about God’s judgment on Nineveh. He wrote: who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.” Nahum 1:6. 

This time the judgment is not limited to part of the earth of part of its people. The judgment affects all of the earth and all of the people who are opposed to God and his Son.  

Sunday, January 10, 2016


Chapter 5 is the second act of the vision that is recorded in chapters 4 and 5. We can see that because chapter 5 starts with “Then I saw”, showing us something else is about to happen.

In chapter 4, the praise to God focused on his creation of the world and his eternity. In chapter 5, Jesus is praised because he redeemed people for God.

The Scroll

After seeing the throne of God, the 4 living creatures and 24 elders, John looked back to the throne and saw a scroll in the right hand of the Father. We are not told, at this point,  what is on the scroll. It was written on all over, front and back. It was rolled up, not open. It was sealed with 7 seals. It would appear that the scroll is God’s plan for the future of the world. It is complete, written on front and back. Ezekiel was also given a scroll that had writing on the front and back. It symbolized the message Ezekiel was to deliver to God’s people. (Ezekiel 2:8-10)

The scroll in the hand of God was sealed because God had not, until this time, chosen to reveal his plans. This may be a reference to the 12th chapter of Daniel. There, at the end of Daniel’s visions, Daniel was told to “shut uptake words and seal the book until the time of the end”. (Dan. 12:4) He was also told “the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end”. (Dan. 12:9) As God came to the time to reveal the end, he produced a scroll so that it could be revealed.

The scroll, however, is sealed. It is sealed with 7 seals, perfectly sealed by God. If it is sealed  by God, who could open it? Seals were put on ancient scrolls for privacy and to insure they were opened only by one with authority to do so. The authority to open the scroll would also mean authority to carry out the plan revealed in it.

That is what the mighty angel asked in a loud voice. It is the picture of him asking all of heaven who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals?

In fact, no one in heaven or earth was able to open it or look into it. No one in creation was worthy to break God’s seals and reveal his plan. Neither the elders nor the living creatures were worthy, despite their closeness to the throne. John wept because no one was worthy. He desperately wanted to see God reveal his plan for his people. Jesus had said to come up into heaven to see things that will happen in the future. But he cannot if no one can open the seals.

John had long wondered about this. At Christ’s ascension, the apostles asked Jesus if that was the time to restore the kingdom. Jesus replied “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:6)

Who Can Open the Scroll

As John despaired, one of the elders comforted him by pointing him to Christ. He said “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (5) So, we see the setting of a grand stage. Before all of the creatures of heaven, a mighty angel asks who is worthy to open the scroll. None of these creatures are, not angels, or living creatures or elders. Then, into the middle of the congregation of heaven steps the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is worthy. He is worthy because he conquered.

What did Jesus conquer? He conquered sin, death and the grave. He is the only one to do that. And, therefore, he is worthy to reveal God’s will for the end.

Look at how the elder describes Jesus. First, he is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. When Jacob gave his final blessing to his sons, he referred to Judah as a lion and the tribe of rulers for the nation of Israel. (Genesis 49:8-10) This rule would be forever: the scepter would not depart from Judah. The lion is powerful, roaring into battle. Remember how the Israelites were arrayed in the wilderness. They were led by the tribe of Judah. Every day when they set out, Judah led the way. Into every battle, they were led by the tribe of Judah. This is to show the power and might of the resurrected Christ. It also shows his right to reign.

Second, he is the Root of David. This is to show the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies that the Messiah would come from the line of David within the tribe of Judah.   This is why Matthew began his gospel with a genealogy, showing Jesus as the descendant of David. Again it also shows his right to rule the nations.

Jesus Takes the Scroll

After the words of the mighty angel, John looked for Jesus. There, next to the throne of the Father, he saw him. He saw a Lamb standing, as if it had been slain. It had 7 horns and 7 eyes.

Remember that this is a vision. It, therefore, shows truth in pictures. This is not John looking at a photograph of Jesus looking like a strange sheep. It is a picture meant to convey meaning.

The slain lamb is emblematic of the sacrificial lamb of the Old Testament sacrificial system. The lamb was slain to atone for the sins of the people who offered it. This sacrifice was decreed by God as a grace, allowing the Israelites to cover their sins.

When John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching, he said “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) He meant Jesus would die as a sacrifice for our sins. He was the true Lamb of God. This is the meaning portrayed by John’s vision here also.

This lamb, though, is slain but alive and standing. He died and rose again. Remember Jesus saying to John in chapter 1, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore”. (1:18)

John also saw Jesus with 7 horns. This is again symbolic. A horn is a symbol of power and strength. For example, Psalm 89:17 says “For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted”. That is why, in apocalyptic scripture, horns represent powerful kings or nations. Remember Daniel 7:24: the 10 horns of the beast symbolized 10 powerful kings that would come from the best. Since Jesus has 7 horns, he is all powerful. He is almighty.

Jesus also had the perfect fullness of the Holy Spirit. He had “seven eyes, which are the seven spirits ofGod sent out into all the earth”. (5:6) The number 7 represents the fullness of the Spirit, as it did in 1:4. Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, are omniscient: they see the churches and know all things.

Here again we have a Trinitarian statement. The Father is on the throne, Jesus the Son arrives on the seen with the Holy Spirit. The Trinity was present and involved in the creation of the world, is involved in the judgment of the world and will be involved in the recreation of the world.

The Spirit was sent out into all the earth as he indwelled every believer. He, therefore, knows the status of the earth and that it is ripe for judgment.

Taking the Scroll

Jesus, the Lamb, stepped forward and took the scroll from the Father. This demonstrated that he was indeed worthy to take and open it. That being shown, the 4 living creatures and 24 elders again break forth in singing praise. They fell down before him and worshipped him. They had harps to play. They also had golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (9) They had the prayers of the saints because their prayers for vindication and deliverance will be answered as the scroll is opened. They will be answered through fiery judgments on the earth.

This action of taking the scroll and creating praise reflects the progression of Isaiah 42:9-10. Isaiah 42 is about God’s chosen servant, the Messiah. God said “Behold, the former things have come to pass and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.” (Is. 42:9) Here God has set the stage to declare the new things that will happen before they actually happen. Isaiah 42:10, then says “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth…” And that is exactly what happens here in John’s vision.

Their song proclaimed Jesus’ worthiness to take the scroll and open it, based on his death for the sins of believers. They said he was slain and his blood ransomed people for God. (9) It is by death that Jesus, the Lamb, overcame. What most would consider the ultimate defeat was the ultimate victory. It is the victory through death that makes Jesus worthy to open the scroll.

These people were not just Jews. They are from every tribe and language and nation. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. God promised “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.

Believers from all nations are blessed in Abraham, because the offspring of Abraham, the descendant if you will, is Jesus. (Galatians 3:16) And his spiritual offspring is the church, for “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise”. (Galatians 3:29)

The elders and creatures also praise Jesus because he made believers to be a kingdom. (10) Christ came to establish his kingdom of believers. He brought them from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, his kingdom. The believers in Russia, South Korea, France, China and every other country on earth, are part of Christ’s kingdom. John already referred to this in 1:6. Peter said believers are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a people for his own possession. (1 Peter 2:9) This is language the Bible originally ascribed to ethnic Israel. Now, the church holds this position.

Jesus also made believers to be priests to God. Believers lead people to the worship of God and minister in his name.

Expanding Praise

The praise began with those closest to the throne, the elders and the living creatures. Then it expanded to include the voices of thousands of angels. Imagine the scene of “thousands of thousands” and “myriads of myriads”, numbers beyond counting, singing the praise of Jesus. They sang:
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing”. (5:12)

But, it is not complete. The circle of praise expands even greater. For, every creature in heaven, earth, under the earth, and in the sea praised Jesus, saying
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.”

This is the picture of all of creation praising the Son and the Father. And as all of creation shouts out in praise, the living creatures and elders are overcome with the presence and glory of God. They fell on their faces and and worshiped, saying “Amen”, or this is the truth.

The mood of America at this point in time is disappointment. People have lost faith in their government and other leaders because of their failures and corruption. There is an old hymn that says “the arm of flesh will fail you”. It will. But, this vision of heaven recorded in Revelation 4 and 5 shows us a savior who is worthy of praise and honor. He is a savior who will not disappoint. John has shown us Christ’s glory. He is about to show us his power. This Jesus, our sacrificial lamb, is the Lion who will devour his foes and lead his people  into a new creation.

He is worthy of our worship.

Sunday, January 03, 2016


Chapters 4-5
Vision of the Throne in Heaven

Jesus commanded John to write what he saw. That included things that are and things that are to take place after this. In other words, Jesus would show John things in his present time and things in his future. (Rev. 1:19)

Jesus showed John the condition of the churches of Asia in John’s present time. He did this through the letters to the seven churches in chapters two and three. The theme was for the churches to get right with Jesus and get ready for hard times to come. These are the things “which will soon take place”. (1:1)

The next chapters record John’s vision of the things to come from a spiritual perspective. It shows the battle between Christ and Satan as Satan attacks the church and Christ defends it. This battle occurs over the whole history of the church. It culminates in Christ’s victory over Satan, fellowed by his recreation of earth into a Garden of Eden in which his church will dwell with him forever.

Chapters 4 and 5 are a vision of heaven centered on the throne of God and Jesus. It is one vision even though your Bible divides it into two chapters. Remember the chapter divisions are not part of the original text.

Why would Jesus give John, and us, a vision of Christ in heaven before showing John what comes next? It is because of the theme of perseverance, or endurance. Jesus encouraged each church to endure in faith to the end in order to reign with him. What better way to encourage believers to face the battle ahead than to see the glory and power of the leader?

Summons to Heaven

For John’s first vision of Christ, he was summoned to the vision by a “the first voice which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet”. (1:10) The voice is that of Jesus, as it was in chapter 1.

John was also “in the Spirit” when he received the first vision and encounter with Jesus. (1:10) It is the Holy Spirit that helps us to experience spiritual things beyond the physical things around us. In chapter 4, John is shown this vision of heaven “in the Spirit”. (4:2)

Jesus summoned John to come into heaven via the vision of the door. This is similar to Ezekiel’s first vision, where he “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God”. (Ez. 1:1) It is also similar to Isaiah’s vision of God’s temple. (Is. 6) The summons is to come into heaven, God’s real temple, where John will be shown “what must take place after this”. (4:1) John will be shown heaven, then all of the remaining events he records in the book of Revelation.

Vision of the Throne of God

The very first thing John sees in heaven is the throne and the one who sits on it.  It is the center of Heaven. It is also central to the whole book of Revelation, being mentioned more than 50 times. For those thinking the throne in Rome was so powerful that Christianity might not endure, this book points out that God is on his throne and rules over all, including Rome.

So, John saw a throne and one seated on the throne. (2) John described this one as having the appearance of jasper and carnelian. We do not know the exact colors or appearance of carnelian or jasper, since many stones were named differently at that time than they are now now. There is also an emerald bow around the throne. Ezekiel also saw a bow above the throne. (Ez. 1:28) John tried to express the glory and brilliance of God and his throne. Notice, though, he refrains from describing God’s actual appearance.

Around the throne, John saw 24 thrones. In Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days, he saw thrones being placed. On those thrones sat elders. They wore white clothes with gold crowns on their heads. John does not say who these elders were. One common interpretation is that they were representatives of the church throughout history. That would mean 12 thrones for the 12 tribes of Israel and 12 thrones for the 12 apostles of Christ. This idea came from the King James Version translation of Revelation 5:9, where the elders sing: “Thou art worthy to take the book and to one the seals thereof; for thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred and tongue, and people, and nation”.  However, none of the modern translations contain the word “us”. For example the English Standard Version (ESV) says “you ransomed people for God”. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) says “”didst purchase for God with Thy blood men…”. The word “men” is written in italics. In the NASB that means the word is not found in the text but implied by it. The New International Version (NIV) says “with your blood you purchased men for God”. Thus, the modern texts do not support the conclusion that the elders are men of the church.

The alternate theory is that the elders are either a high order of angels. The setting is that of a king and his court. The text of Chapter 5 supports this view also. For, in 5:8 they held bowls of incense, symbols of the prayers of the saints. In Revelation it is angels that do this, not human beings.

Verse 5 returns to the description of the throne itself. Lightning and thunder came from it. This is a symbol of the presence of God in power. We see this in God’s appearance on the mountain to make a covenant with Israel. (Exodus 19:16) When Ezekiel saw the vision of the glory of God, there was “fire flashing forth continually”. (Ez. 1:4) Daniel said “a stream of fire issued and came out before him”. (Dan. 7:9)

Before the throne also were 7 torches of fire. John tells us they represent the 7 spirits of God. This refers to Zechariah 4:2. There the Lord gave Zechariah a vision that included seven lamps. They represented the Holy Spirit whom, God said, would accomplish God’s work of rebuilding the temple (as opposed to might or power of men). Revelation 1:4 also shows us this refers to the Holy Spirit as John referred to the Trinity. He described the Holy Spirit as “the seven spirits that are before the throne”. The number seven may refer to the fullness of the Spirit’s presence with the Father.

There was also a sea of glass in front of the throne. (6) It’s significance is not explained to us. But a glass sea would be smooth and calm, in contrast to the seas on earth, which were tumultuous and chaotic. God is omnipotent, or all powerful, even to subduing the sea. This sea appeared to some in the Old Testament. When Moses and the elders of Israel went up on Sinai to eat with God, they saw it saw “under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.” (Ex. 24:10)
Ezekiel saw “the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal”. (Ez. 1:22)

Moving inward toward the throne, we see it surrounded on all sides by four living creatures. They have eyes all over, seeing everything. Each has a different face: a lion, an ox, a man and an eagle. Isaiah and Ezekiel saw similar creatures in their visions of God. (Is. 6:2-3; Ez. 1:10, 18) The differences in the descriptions should not trouble you. The point of apocalyptic writing, and of prophetic vision, is not to present us a photograph of creatures. Rather, it is to portray aspects of the truth about God and his heavenly court that is relevant to the situation in which the prophet and his people struggle.

These living creatures are a type of cherubim. They guard the holiness of God. They did it in Eden, in the Tabernacle at the ark of the covenant, and at the most holy place in the temple. The places all were replicas of the heavenly throne room in which John found himself. God sits enthroned between the cherubim. No one enters into God’s presence unbidden. But Christ commanded John to come, so he was allowed entry into this sacred place.

In addition to their guard duty, the creatures engage in worship. The creatures praise God continually, saying “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,who was and is and is to come”. (8)  They praised God for his holiness. His holiness is perfect, shown by the threefold repetition. We have a hymn that mimics this. It is called “Holy Holy Holy, Lord God Almighty”, using the very words of this scripture.

The living creatures also praise God for his omnipotence by addressing God as the “almighty”. And, finally, they praise God his eternity, saying “who was and is and is to come”. God has always been and will always be. But he was also there for the Asian churches in their present. He is here with us in our present also. John adds to the description in verse 9 by calling God the one who lives forever and ever.

The elders also worshipped God, joining the praise of the 4 creatures. They got off of their thrones and fell on their faces. They even cast their crowns before him. These are acts of adoration and reverence. They said “worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. (11)

The basis for the praise of the elders is God’s creation of the world. Yet again we see that creation is essential to the Bible’s portrayal of God. It is not just Genesis 1 that is an issue. God is the Creator and we worship him for that.

He, and he alone, is worthy of our worship.