Category Archives: The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Seventh Seal of Revelation – The Meaning of The Silence In Heaven

And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. – Revlation 8:1.

Of the many hard-to-decipher passages in the Book of Revelation, verse 1 of chapter 8, is one of few attempt to interpret. The Seventh Seal is a monumental event in Heaven, but what does it mean? Why is there silence? This article will attempt to explain the meaning of the silence in Heaven and explain why it is a critical aspect not just of end times events but of the life of every person who has ever lived.

The Meaning of The Silence in Heaven

Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation.

Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation.

In our article, Who Are The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse?, House of the Nazarene (To be Lord willing done,) detailed the meaning of the first four seals of Revelation 6. The Seven Sealed Book was given to The Lord Jesus Christ upon His triumphant ascension and return to Heaven, having defeated Satan, death and the grave in His death, burial and resurrection. Jesus Christ is the only one found worthy to open the book and it is given to Him as He took His seat of honor at the Right Hand of God the Father. From there, the first four seals were opened, unleashing a series of spirits who bring judgments and tribulation to the world throughout the entirety of the church age. The 5th seal is then opened which brings the spirit of persecution and martyrdom that Christians have experienced from the first century AD and continue to today.
The opening of the 6th Seal triggers the Rapture and the Day of The Lord, (Work in progress, Stay Tuned!) the time at which God will pour out His wrath on the unbelieving world. Revelation chapter 6 ends with the powerful people of the world fully understanding that the cataclysmic global earthquake and events of the 6th seal are of divine origin:

And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? – Revelation 6:12-17.

 

This shaking of Heaven and Earth is the time that God rises to personally intervene and judge the centuries of sin and evil of unbelieving, unrepentant humanity. It is also a wake up call to Israel to return to the worship of the God of their fathers. Hence we see first the Rapture and then the sealing of the 144,000 Jewish witnesses (Work in progress, Stay Tuned!), who will share the Gospel of the Kingdom with Jewish people and the world in the first part of the Day of The Lord/Great Tribulation. These are the events of Revelation Chapter 7 and serves as the backdrop for Revelation Chapter 8 and the opening of the 7th seal.

A Sign of Coming Judgment

The silence in Heaven serves a very specific purpose.

The silence in Heaven serves a very specific purpose.

The silence in Heaven is a sign of God’s impending devastating judgment. When a people or nation or even the world is so far gone into rebellion against God with no repentance, The Lord removes His Holy people and allows for a period of “silence”, right before His judgements are unleashed onto the world. How can this be so? Well The Bible instructs on how to interpret and understand Scripture:

Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: – Isaiah 28:9-10.

 

The Bible is to be interpreted by using Scripture to interpret Scripture – that is, using parts of the Bible to understand similar parts. The Apostle Paul summed this method up stating:

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. – 1 Corinthians 2:12-13.

So where can examples or types and shadows of this Heavenly silence be found in Scripture? The first example is in the Days of Noah.

The Silence Before The Flood

The Lord’s preacher of the Gospel went silent for seven days before the flood.

The Lord’s preacher of the Gospel went silent for seven days before the flood.

The Days of Noah were infamous for being a time of global, rampant rebellion against God. Humanity, plagued by their own sinful lust and the influx of Nephilim giant hybrids, had become so deep in sin that the Bible says, “..God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5). God then instructed Noah to prepare an ark because in the years to come, The Lord was going to destroy the entire world with a flood. Noah, was a “preacher of righteousness.” He was not just a believer in The Lord, he committed his life to preaching belief in God to those in his society. But once the ark was prepared, God brought the preaching of His faithful servant to a close:

the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female… For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth. And Noah did according unto all that the LORD commanded him. And Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters was upon the earth. And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood… There went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah. And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth. (Genesis 7).

So once the ark was complete, God instructed Noah to take all of his family and all of the animals and enter into the ark for seven days. The passage in Genesis goes back over this detail to emphasize its significance.

In the self same day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark; They, and every beast after his kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind, and every fowl after his kind, every bird of every sort. And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life. And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in. (Genesis 7).

Not only was Noah commanded to enter the ark seven days in advance, on the same day he entered and got every person and creature on board, God shut the door Himself. The chance to hear the preaching of repentance before the worst judgment the world had seen was over. No longer would the preacher of righteousness, who knew the flood was coming, be able to warn anyone. Instead, the completed ark sat in silence for seven days, with no one going in or out.So the sinful, rebellious world were left in ignorance. The Lord Jesus Christ confirms this in Matthew 24:

But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. – Matthew 24:37-39.

 

The devastating flood came which destroyed all people, nephilim and creatures from the Earth, except for those who were safely aboard the divinely-designed ship. The silence of God preceded utter judgment and destruction. This pattern is seen again in an even more powerful way in the book of Joshua.

The Battle of Jericho

Jericho seemed to be invincible until it experienced God’s wrath.

Jericho seemed to be invincible until it experienced God’s wrath.

The Book of Joshua is an amazing book for the student of the Bible. It is full of types and shadows of the end times. In many ways, the book runs parallel to the book of Revelation (for more information on this please our article: Joshua’s Great Battle: A Preview of War With The Antichrist). (Work in progress, Stay Tuned!) After being freed from the Egyptians by God in the Exodus, the Battle of Jericho was the first battle the ancient Israelites waged to actually enter the Promised Land. It is a type and shadow of the Battle The Lord Jesus waged and will wage to lead His faithful believers to salvation (at the cross) and His Millennial Kingdom (at Armageddon), when the Earth will be taken from Satan and return to Christ (just as Joshua was removing the Canaanite usurpers out of the Promised Land and returning it to God’s people).

God gave Joshua very specific instructions for how the battle was to fought. Joshua then relayed them in full detail to the nation of Israel:

And the Lord said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour. And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days.And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets.And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him.And Joshua had commanded the people, saying, Ye shall not shout, nor make any noise with your voice, neither shall any word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I bid you shout; then shall ye shout. So the ark of the LORD compassed the city, going about it once: and they came into the camp, and lodged in the camp.
And Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the LORD. And seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the LORD went on continually, and blew with the trumpets: and the armed men went before them; but the rereward came after the ark of the LORD, the priests going on, and blowing with the trumpets. And the second day they compassed the city once, and returned into the camp: so they did six days. And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they rose early about the dawning of the day, and compassed the city after the same manner seven times: only on that day they compassed the city seven times. – Joshua 6:2-15.

 

Notice that God instructs His people to circle the city of Jericho, without raising a weapon, for seven days. And Joshua is emphatic that the people remain silent. No one is to speak or utter a sound for the seven days. And then on the seventh day, after the city was circled seven times, the nation would shout, and the walls of Jericho crumbled to dust and the Israelites slaughtered their enemies in the city and burnt it to the ground.

 

And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for the Lord hath given you the city….So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword. – Joshua 6:16-21.

The most impenetrable city in the world was defeated by supernatural judgment of God. And this followed seven days of silence. So again, the Biblical pattern is clear: there is a period of silence before Judgement of The Lord comes.

King David’s Pleaangel-WHATSHOTN

King David seemed to have a good understanding of this concept as shown in Psalm 28:

Unto thee will I cry, O LORD my rock; be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit. Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle. Draw me not away with the wicked, and with the workers of iniquity, which speak peace to their neighbours, but mischief is in their hearts. Give them according to their deeds, and according to the wickedness of their endeavours: give them after the work of their hands; render to them their desert. Because they regard not the works of the LORD, nor the operation of his hands, he shall destroy them, and not build them up.– Psalm 28:1-5.

David’s plea to the Lord highlights what can lead to The Lord being silent with a person. It is those who are headed for damnation (“who go down to the pit”). The unrepentant sinners who have no fear or understanding of God. David makes his case by reminding God of his prayer and worship of The Lord. He is proclaiming his belief in God as the sovereign ruler of his life. But those who are wicked, workers of sin, deceitful (“they speak peace to their neighbors, but mischief is in their hearts”), and do not acknowledge God (“they regard not the works of the LORD, nor the operation of his hands..”), they do not receive a Word from The Lord. And their ultimate end is destruction. So again, it’s clear that the silence of God precedes devastating judgment.

Psalm 50 provides a stern warning:

But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest instruction, and casteth my words behind thee. When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers. Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother’s son. These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes. Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver. – Psalm 50:16-22.

 

So again we see the pattern: rebellion against God, that rebellion reaching an extreme limit, silence from God, then judgment. Here God Himself, speaking through the Psalmist warns the sinner in deep rebellion that if they continue to forget God, they will be torn in pieces with no chance of deliverance.

The Wrath of God In Revelation

With these prophetic types and precepts the understanding of the silence in heaven becomes clearer:

And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets. – Revelation 8:1-2.

In this future event that takes place during the end times the seven trumpets given to the angels who stand before The Lord each bring forth devastating judgments to the people on Earth. The trumpets, along with the vial judgments that follow, are the true outpouring of God’s wrath. The Earth itself will be damaged and poisoned, millions upon millions suffer and perish. The trumpets will be discussed in much more detailed in later installments of this series, but the point to understand is that just as it was in the days of Noah, and as it was at the battle of Jericho, the silence of God comes before He is preparing to unleash His wrath.

Is The Silence Really For A Half Hour?

It is this author’s contention that the silence in Heaven is not actually for 30 minutes. Hence the Scripture saying “about the space of half an hour.” The Apostle John makes the point that he is not marking an exact duration of time. Could the sequence of events be the 6th Seal with its Rapture, global earthquake and stellar signs, the opening of the 7th seal and then seven days of silence before The Lord’s wrath begins with the blowing of the trumpets and their unprecedented judgments on Earth? While this author will not be dogmatic and say it’s definitely so, the consistency is there. At the flood in Genesis, the silence of God was for seven days. At Jericho, there were seven days of silence until the city was circled seven times. In Revelation, the seventh seal is open, which leads to the silence and then seven angels are given seven trumpets to unleash God’s wrath.  The types and shadows of Scripture certainly give some credence to the idea.

Pray For God To Not Be Silent

If God seems silent in your life, cry out to Him in prayer.

If God seems silent in your life, cry out to Him in prayer.

There are many mysterious verses in Scripture but the beauty of the Bible is that with God’s Holy Spirit and enough study, they can be understood. And while the Silence in Heaven is a future event, Scripture is quite clear that when we are in rebellion God can be silent with us. And that is a scary proposition. Make sure you are hearing from The Lord every day by studying His Word also find Salvation and praying consistently with repentance.

Be silent, O all flesh, before the LORD: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation.

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Things Past (Rev 1:9-20)

Revelation can obviously be outlined or divided in a number of ways, but most commentators see 1:19 as a divinely-given outline. Walvoord writes:

The advantage of this outline is that it deals in a natural way with the material rather than seizing on incidentals as some expositors have done or avoiding any outline at all, as it true of other expositors. It is not too much to claim that this outline is the only one which allows the book to speak for itself without artificial manipulation …

The point is that this God-given outline supports and demonstrates the futuristic approach of the book. Revelation 1:19 becomes a key to how we should interpret the book. Verse nineteen gives a three-part division: Following the prologue or introduction, we have what John calls “the things which you have seen,” i.e., the things past. This is followed by “the things which are,” the things present, and then “the things which will take place after these things,” the things future. Based on this breakdown, Revelation falls into the following three divisions:

(1) The things past are the things which John had seen from verse 9-19 including verse 20 which is an explanation of part of this vision, the vision of the glorified Christ (1:9-20).

(2) The things present are “the things which are.” This deals with the messages to the seven churches and the state of the church or the church age (2:1-3:22).

(3) The things future refer to “the things which shall take place after these things.” This takes us the reader into the future or things to come, and deals with the things that will occur after the church: the tribulation, the millennium, and the eternal state (4:1-22:21).

Remember that,

If one follows the plain, literal or normal principle of interpretation he concludes that most of the book is yet in the future. No judgments in history have ever equaled those described in chapters 6, 8, 9, and 16. The resurrections and judgment described in chapter 20 have not yet occurred. There has been no visible return of Christ as portrayed in chapter 19.

Circumstances of the Vision
(1:9-11)

9 I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, 11 saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

In verses 9-11 John provides us with those facts which are pertinent to the nature of the book and how John came to write it.

THE RECEIVER OF THE VISION (9A)

“I John, your brother and fellow partaker in the …” John, of course, was well known among the churches of Asia Minor. He refers to himself as simply John in 1:1 and 1:4, but twice he says, “I John” (1:9; 22:8) which seems to add emphasis for the purpose of authenticating his witness.

In his epistles John described himself as an elder (2 John 1; 3 John 1), but here he simply calls himself “a brother and fellow partaker …”

“Brother” is the Greek adelfos, a word often used as a technical term for believers in Christ because we are all born again into God’s family. It stresses the close relationship we all have regardless of our position or gifts in the church or in society. We are still brothers under the authority and care of the Father and our older Brother, the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Fellow partaker” is the Greek sunkoinwnos, “to share jointly, to have in common with others.” It reminds us of the doctrine of koinwnia or fellowship and how we, as believers in Christ, share many things in common—a common hope, common blessings, common sufferings, and common responsibilities.

“In Jesus” is the uniting factor and the basis of our brotherhood or fellowship (1 Cor. 1:9). It calls to mind our union or position in Christ or the co-identification that we share together in Him. Note, three things are mentioned that he had in common with the seven churches.

First, John speaks of himself as “a fellow partaker in tribulation.” “Tribulation” is the Greek qlipsis from qlibw, “to crush, press hard.” Qlipsis means “trouble, affliction, distress.” The Greek has the article with the word “tribulation,” but it goes with all three nouns linking them together as three related things that often come simultaneously to believers in Christ. Literally, “the affliction, kingdom, and endurance in Jesus.” It does not refer to “the tribulation” to come as though it had already begun. Specifically, “tribulation” in this verse refers to the persecutions and distress that John was facing on the isle of Patmos and that much of the church was experiencing for their faith in Jesus Christ because of the persecutions of the Roman emperor, Domitian.

Second, John then spoke of a “kingdom”: Though we may experience tribulation, we also share in a kingdom that enables us to become overcomers in affliction. This refers to Christ’s kingdom and rule. There are three aspects of this in which all believers in Christ share:

(1) There is the present mystery form, the kingdom of God within you which includes God’s sovereign provision, control, and deliverance: Compare Col. 1:12-13 with the mystery parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13 which describes the present mystery form between Christ’s first and second comings.

(2) The predicted millennial reign on earth in which all believers will take part with varying degrees of responsibility and rewards depending on their faithfulness to walk with the Lord (cf. Rom. 8:17; 1 Cor. 3:12f; Rev. 2:26; 3:12, 21; 20:4).

(3) The eternal form of the kingdom, the eternal state (Rev. 22:1-22:5).

However, not only do we share in tribulation, but as sharers in Christ’s kingdom and rule, we can also share in the endurance that comes to us in Christ. So …

Third, John referred to “perseverance” as further common thing we share in Jesus. This is upomonh from upo, “under” and monh, “to abide.” It means endurance, the ability to abide under pressure regardless of the intensity or length of time. This is a joint ability that all believers have in Christ if they will walk in faith and keep their eyes on the Savior (cf. Col. 1:9; Heb. 12:1-2). This is especially true when we fix our gaze on the future glory and the blessings to come (cf. the close of each message to the seven churches).

THE PLACE OF THE VISION (9B)

John was on an island called “Patmos.” Patmos was a small, bleak, and rocky island about ten miles long and six miles wide. It was a place where prisoners and undesirables were banished and forced to work in the mines. According to early church fathers like Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Eusebius, John was sent here and forced to work in the mines though way up in years. This points to the source of his affliction and endurance as a partaker of Christ’s rule and reign in his life.

“Because of the Word of God” points us to the cause or reason for John’s banishment as an undesirable—his unswerving faithfulness to proclaim the Word and share Jesus Christ with men. Please note, though men could circumscribe his human activities, they could not bind the Spirit of God nor the testimony of Jesus Christ nor the power of the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:9).

Moses wrote the Pentateuch in the wilderness. David wrote many psalms while being pursued by Saul. Isaiah lived in difficult days and died a martyr’s death. Ezekiel wrote in exile. Jeremiah’s life was one of trial and persecution. Peter wrote his two letters shortly before martyrdom. Thus in the will of God the final written revelation was given to John while suffering for Christ and the gospel.

THE SPIRITUAL CIRCUMSTANCES (10-11)

“And I was in the Spirit.” The tense, the verb used, and the fact of this statement pointing us to the reason for the visions of this book all suggests this refers to something unusual instead of the normal experience of the Spirit controlled walk.

Explanation: First, such visions as depicted in this book are never stated to be one of the products or promises of the Spirit filled walk (Gal. 5:22f). Rather, it refers to a state where God could supernaturally reveal the special contents of this book. Second, the verb here can be classified as an ingressive aorist describing an entrance into a condition. The verb is ginomai, “to come to be, become.” Literally, “I came to be in the Spirit.” It refers to an entrance into an unusual state. “Such was the experience of Ezekiel (Ezek. 2:2; 3:12, 14; etc.), Peter (Acts 10:10-11; 11:5), and Paul (Acts 22:17-18).”

THE TIME OF THE VISION

“On the Lord’s day” is taken by interpreters in two different ways: (a) the Lord’s day as the first day of the week or Sunday, or (b) as a reference to the Day of the Lord, the Tribulation.

Explanation: “Lord” is the Greek kuriakos, an adjective meaning “belonging to the Lord, lordian, imperial.” And though the Day of the Lord in other places is always written differently (hmera kuriou), due to the unique emphasis of this book, a number of writers as Walvoord, Ryrie, and Pentecost and others believe this word does not refer to Sunday, but rather to the Day of the Lord of the Old Testament, an extended period of time when God will deal in judgment and sovereign rule over the earth.

John, through this spiritual state, was projected into the Day of the Lord, that imperial day and time when the Lord would return in His kingly glory and take the reins of earthly government via the events and conditions of chapters 4-22. Support for this is as follows:

(1) Unless this is the exception, the expression, “the Lord’s day,” as a reference to Sunday is nowhere else used in the Bible. This word, kuriakos is used only here and in 1 Cor. 11:20 where it is used of the Lord’s supper, but not a day. Outside the New Testament it meant “imperial.”

(2) The day that the early church regularly met, the day of Christ’s resurrection, was consistently called “the first day of the week,” and never “the Lord’s day” (cf. Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1,19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).

(3) Further, Walvoord adds, “it is questionable in any case whether the amazing revelation given in the entire book could have been conveyed to John in one twenty-four-hour day, and it is more probable that it consisted of a series of revelations.”

(4) “And I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet” calls attention to the awesome nature of what John was about to see, a vision of the glorified Christ. Trumpets are used in the Bible to announce important occasions and to assemble God’s people for some kind of preparation. The important occasion here is the vision of Christ which is preparatory to all that follows.

THE COMMAND TO RECORD THE VISION

“Write in a book what you see” is one of twelve times John was told to write in the book what he saw. This indicates John was to write after seeing each vision. In 10:4, John was told not to write, but seal up what was spoken.

“And send it to the seven churches” shows us again that God’s intends for the church to have and know the contents of the book of Revelation. The entire book along with the individual messages were to be written for and sent to the seven churches.

Content of the Vision
(1:12-16)

12 And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; 13 and in the middle of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle. 14 And His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire; 15 and His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been caused to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 And in His right hand He held seven stars; and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.

seven golden lampstands with Christ in the centerTHE POSITION OF THE LORD (12-13A)

Having turned to see the voice, a figure for the one who was speaking to John, he was then given and recorded the vision of the seven golden lampstands and the glorified Christ seen in the very center of the vision. The Position of the Lord in the middle of the seven golden lampstands (1:12-13a), is of course, the most striking feature of this vision. It draws our attention not only to His glorious appearance, but to the central place He has and deserves in the life of the church.

The meaning of the seven golden lampstands with Christ in the center:

The vision is for the seven churches of Asia Minor (vs. 20) who represent the church at large throughout the ages. Its truth is for our comfort, encouragement, challenge, and instruction.

In the Old Testament, the lampstands of the tabernacle and the temple consisted of a seven-branched lampstand, a single stand with one center lamp and three on each side. Here, however, we have seven separate lampstands arranged in a circle with Christ standing in the center.

The lampstands are made of gold, a symbol of the deity of Christ who gives beauty to the church when it exhibits His character. He is the reason for our value. In ourselves, we are only clay vessels.

The lampstands are filled with olive oil, a symbol of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and they are responsible to give out light, their principle function, in the power of the indwelling Spirit.

But the key note is the circle of lamps with Christ in the center pointing emphatically to the centrality and priority of Christ. He is the center, the hub, and the heart of the church at large and of each individual local church. Note that the Lord has a direct relationship with each church. He is in our midst to minister to us, to search us, and to enable us and we are in the world to give off light to point men to Christ.

THE DESCRIPTION OF THE LORD (13B-16)

The description which follows symbolically represents the attributes and traits of Christ which demonstrate His relationship to the events of the book of Revelation and His qualifications to carry out and accomplish all that will follow. But before the description of His glory or deity begins, note how He is defined: as “one like a son of man.” This title points to his true humanity and Messianic character. Though portrayed in all the glory of His deity in the similes that follow, He is still the Son of Man, one made like His brethren that He might be a faithful high priest and reclaim what Adam lost in the fall (cf. Heb. 2:9f). Note also, as the Son of Man, He is seen “clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle.”

This vision is introductory to chapters 2 and 3, the letters to the churches, and the events that follow dealing with the judgments of the Tribulation. This portrays Him in His role as the Son of Man who is also a priest and judge. His role as priest and judge is a somber and significant note as He stands in the midst of the seven churches because it calls our attention to just exactly who He is.

(1) His head and hair (14a)— “were white like wool, like snow.” This corresponds and is designed to remind us of the vision in Daniel of “the Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:9). This represents (a) His eternal wisdom, the wisdom of age as the one whose “goings forth are from old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2), and (b) His complete purity or holiness symbolized in the white wool and snow.

(2) His eyes (14b)— “were like a flame of fire.” This speaks of His penetrating vision, searching righteousness, and judgment into the affairs of the church and mankind as a whole. Perhaps there is in this a connection with the Bema, the judgment seat of Christ for believers, and the Great White Throne Judgment (GWTJ) for unbelievers. The fire which will try men’s works at the Bema and prove the condition of their heart at the GWTJ will be the penetrating and holy gaze of Christ (1 Cor. 3:12f; 2 Cor. 5:10,11; Rev. 20:11-12 and Rom. 3:23; 4:2).

(3) His feet (15a)— “were like burnished bronze.” Literally, the Greek says, “his feet like fine brass (or refined bronze) as when it has been burned (refined—the perfect tense of completed action) in the furnace or oven.” “The idea may be ‘glowing’ and it would indicate that the metal is not only the finest and brightest, but it is aglow as if still in the crucible.”

In Scripture both brass and fire stand for divine judgment as seen in the Old Testament types of the brazen altar and other items of brass used in connection with sacrifice for sin (Ex. 38:30).32

Christ is able to stand in the midst of the church as priest and judge and will be able to execute the world wide judgments that follow on the basis of the divine judgments He Himself endured through His life and sufferings on earth as the Lamb of God without spot or blemish.

(4) His voice (15c)— “was like the sound of many waters.” His voice as John heard it was like a mighty waterfall. As the water of Niagara Falls is so loud that it silences all voices around, so this portrays Jesus Christ as the absolute voice of authority to which all human authority must bow.

(5) His right hand (16a)— “And in His right hand He held seven stars.” Verse 20 will explain the mystery of the seven stars in the right hand of the Savior. For now, it is enough to recognize that the right hand is a symbol of strength, power, and honor. The stars, the angels or messengers, are in a place of honor, but they are also under His authority, strength and protection.

(6) His sword (1:16b)— “and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword.” Sword is mentioned a total of nine times in Revelation. Here, it is the Greek romfaia, mentioned five times in Revelation. Another Greek word for sword, makaira, the short Roman two-edged sword, is mentioned four times.

The romfaia was the long and heavy broad sword of the Thracians and other barbarous nations who often marched as God’s instruments of judgment over one country after another. It symbolizes the irresistible authority and devastating force of our Lord’s judgment (cf. 19:15). Hebrews 4:12 speaks of the Word of God as “quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword.” In Hebrews 4:12, however, the Greek word is macaira which speaks of the penetrating power of God’s Word to uncover our inner lives and to get to the root of our needs.

However, it is this same word which, proceeding out of His mouth, will be the basis of Christ’s judgment of men (cf. John 12:48). So, this may also be in view since this sword comes out of the mouth of Christ. It is thus, an instrument of judgment, of war, of death and destruction.

(7) His countenance or face (16c)— “and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” This is undoubtedly a reference or symbol of the brilliance of the divine glory of Christ portraying His holiness and deity. It was this that blinded Paul on the Damascus road and which here caused John to fall at Christ’s feet as a dead man (vs. 17). Here is the Sun shining in the midst of the church. He and He alone is our source of light and righteousness. Paul describes us as heavenly luminaries in Philippians 2:15. The Greek word there is fwsthr which can refer to the sun, but also to the moon or planets that get their light from their sun. He is to us what our sun is to the moon. He is our light, our holiness, and our means of becoming light to the world. Do we take His holiness for granted or do we fall prostrate before Him in humble submission and adoration? This naturally brings us to our next point:

Consequences of the Vision
(1:17-20)

17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as a dead man. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. 19 Write therefore the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall take place after these things. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

THE WORD OF COMFORTTHE WORD OF COMFORT (17-18)

On several occasions when men have had a glimpse of the glory of God, they rightly fell on their face in humble submission and reverence or responded in some way that showed the effect on man the creature when faced with the awesomeness of the Creator’s glory. But when they did this, God spoke or touched them or both (cf. Dan. 10:8-10, 15-16; Matt. 17:6-7). And so here, the Lord Jesus placed His right hand upon John and spoke words of comfort.

Why did the Lord do this? Because the sovereignty and holiness of God that becomes terror and judgment to the unbelieving world becomes a source of comfort and protection to the believer in Christ because He stands cleansed and purified in the merit and love of Christ (Isa. 6:1-8).

The basis for having no fear— “I am the first and the last.” This is similar to 1:8 and both of these statements are applied to Christ later in the book (21:6; 22:13; 2:8). But we need to ask why does the Lord describe Himself as the first and the last? A couple of Old Testament passages point us to the meaning and significance of this.

Isa. 41:4, 48:12-13 “Who has performed and accomplished it, Calling forth the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last. I am He.’”… 12 “Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last. 13 Surely My hand founded the earth, And My right hand spread out the heavens; When I call to them, they stand together.”

By the context we can see that this description stands for God’s independent, self-existence, and self-sufficiency as the transcendent and sovereign God of the universe. He stands outside and independent of all creation. This same designation is used in Revelation 2:8 to comfort a church in affliction because it stands for Christ’s deity and sovereignty over all our affairs. Christ, our Savior and Lord, is God, the origin and goal, the self-existent one who sees the beginning from the end, in whom all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge abide, and who is in total control.

“And the living One; and I became dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.” In these words we see His assurance of eternal life and resurrection. He is the one who, as the eternal God, became man and died, but who conquered death by His death for sin and by His resurrection.

“And I have the keys of death and of Hades.” As the one who conquered death, He has the keys of death and Hades. “Keys” means authority and power. In Scripture a key is a sign of authority and power. So, the Lord Jesus has control over both death and hades. What does this mean?

(1) This means He is the Lord over physical death which terminates life in this world. By His death for sin and His resurrection, Christ has wrenched from Satan’s hands any authority the devil had over death (cf. Heb. 2:14-15). This means “no man can die apart from divine permission even though afflicted by Satan and in trial or trouble” (cf. Ps. 68:19-20).

(2) He is the sovereign over hell or life after death. “Hell” (KJV) and “Hades” (NASB) is the Greek hades. The Greek word hades, commonly translated “hell,” refers to the intermediate state and is to be distinguished from the lake of fire or Gehenna, which refers to the eternal state. To avoid confusion it is better to transliterate the word hades (as does the NASB) and to use the word “hell” as referring to the eternal state only.

As the one who has the keys over death and hades, Christ is sovereign over death in this life and over the life to come.

Please refer to the Glossary in Appendix 7 for definitions of hell and related terms.

THE WORD OF COMMAND (19-20)

Now the apostle is commanded to write the things which he had seen and would see in the visions to follow. As pointed out previously, this gives us God’s outline for the book and shows us we should have a futuristic approach to the great majority of the book of Revelation.

Verse 20 explains the mystery of the seven golden lampstands and seven stars. In Scripture, “mystery” refers to what was before unknown but is then revealed by revelation from God. It is not something mysterious, but previously unknown. The lampstands are the churches portraying their function and purpose in the world and the stars are the angels or messengers of the seven churches.

But, how do we take the word “angels”? “Angels” is the Greek angelos which means “messenger.” In scripture, it is used of both men (Luke 7:27; 9:52; Jam. 2:25) and angelic beings. So, is this a reference to angelic beings who function somewhat like guardian angels? Or do we take this as a reference to human messengers who either carry the message of these letters or who are leaders of the seven churches? Much more will be said on this in the next chapter, but Walvoord has a good summary:

It is possible that these messengers had come actually to the Isle of Patmos, but it is more probable that they refer to the leaders in these churches to whom the messages primarily are addressed. The spiritual significance is that these angels are messengers who are responsible for the spiritual welfare of these seven churches and are in the right hand of the Son of Man, indicating possession, protection, and sovereign control. As the churches were to emit light as a lamp stand, the leaders of the churches were to project light as stars.

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Prologue (Rev 1:1-8)

The Superscription
(1:1-3)

1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.

TITLE AND THEME OF THE BOOK (1A)

The title of the book is “The Apokalupsis of Jesus Christ.” “Revelation” is the translation of the Greek noun, apokalupsis, meaning “a disclosure, an unveiling.” The term “revelation” itself is derived from the Latin revelatio (from revelare, “to reveal or unveil that which has previously been hidden”).

This was the title assigned to the book in the Latin Vulgate. The Greek title is Apocalypse, taken directly from the first word in the Greek text, apokalupsi. In this noun form the word is not found anywhere else in Greek literature, but as a verb it is continually used in the Gospels and the Epistles, in many different ways, especially in reference to some form of divine revelation to man (as of the Son of Man, in Lk 17:30). It is used by Paul in referring to the same coming event (Rom 8:18; I Cor 1:7; II Thess 1:7), and frequently in I Peter (1:7, 13; 4:13; 5:1). In the Greek text of Daniel this word is often found referring to the uncovering of secrets, or the interpretation of dreams, or the revelation of God (see Dan 2:19, 22, 28, 29, 30, 47; 10:1; 11:35).14

Apokalupsis means “to expose to full view what was before unknown, hidden, and secret.” In its first appearance in the New Testament (Luke 2:32), it is used of Simeon who, taking the baby Jesus in his arms, blessed Him and spoke of Him as “a light to lighten the Gentiles” (KJV). It reminds us that God intends for this book to bring light and to be understood by its readers. This opening clause is a mark of distinction which gives us not only the title, but the theme. Notice that it is not the revelation of John, but of Jesus Christ which was given to John. The common title sometimes used for the book, “The Revelation to John,” merely identifies John as the human author. But how are we to understand the phrase, “of Jesus Christ”?

Grammatically, the words “of Jesus Christ” can be either a genitive of object meaning a revelation “about Jesus Christ,” or a genitive of subject meaning a revelation “from Jesus Christ.” “From Jesus Christ” would point to Christ as the author who gave this to John through His angel (cf. 22:16). Writers differ with some arguing for one or the other of these views. Some would argue that as 22:16 shows, it is from Christ and that the subject is about “things which must shortly come to pass” (vs. 1b). Others say, no, it is a revelation of and about the person of Christ. But grammatically it is likely that “of Jesus Christ” is what grammarians call a plenary genitive and includes both ideas. It is a revelation about and from the Lord Jesus. It is a revelation, a disclosure about the Christ Himself. It reveals His present work in the church, and discloses future events, but the events concern the person of Christ Himself and His return and activities associated with His second coming. In support, note the following verses:

1:5 — “and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness.”
1:7 — “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him,” so we have an unveiling.
1:13f — Reveals Christ’s ministry in the middle of the lampstands.
5:5-6 — Reveals Jesus Christ as the Lion and the Lamb.
6:14f — Reveals the unveiling of the Lamb on the throne and His wrath.
19:10 — Reveals the return of the Lord as King of kings.

THE COMMUNICATION OF THE BOOK (1B-2)

THE CHAIN OF COMMUNICATION

In keeping with the teaching of the New Testament regarding the procession of the ministries of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we see the headship of the Father who initiates this revelation through the Son (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3). First, it proceeds from the Father to the Son—“which God gave to Him.” For other Scriptures supporting the doctrine of procession see John 3:34, 35; 5:20-24; 7:16; 14:10, 24; 16:15).

Second, the communication proceeds from the Son through an angel, “and He sent and communicated it by His angel.” The term angel, angelos, is found 175 times in 171 verses of the New Testament. Though some verses refer to men, the vast majority refer to angelic beings. This prominence shows the importance of angels in the worship of God, in the communication of revelation to man, and in the execution of God’s purposes and judgments.

Angels were often God’s instruments of communication or his messengers which is the basic meaning of the word, “angel” (Heb. 2:2; Acts 7:53). They will again be used as God’s special messengers in the time described in Revelation 6-19. Angelos is used seven times of the angel or messenger to the seven churches in chapters 2-3, though in these chapters, it refers most likely to a human messenger, someone responsible for communicating the Word in each of the seven churches. The prominent idea is a messenger, an instrument of communication used by God.

There is a great deal of interest today in angels. Numerous books have been written about angels and so-called angelic encounters. Little figures of what angels are supposed to look like are a very popular item in the stores and not just around Christmas time. But we need to be careful about this interest in angels since Satan, who disguises himself as an angel of light, surely has fallen angels under his command who do the same and pose as instruments of good, even claiming revelation from God (2 Cor. 11:14-15). One of the largest cults in the world today claims it was begun because of an encounter with an angel; and shortly after the time of Paul, a false system of religion arose called gnosticism in which there was an intricate belief system in angels. Paul seems to warn about this system in its incipient form in Colossians 2:18-19.

An extremely interesting statement and a very timely one for any generation, but especially for our society, is found in Galatians 1:8. “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” Since the fall of Satan, no true angel from heaven would ever preach a false gospel, but hypothetically speaking, should one do so, Paul says he is to be accursed, devoted to destruction as are all the fallen angels or demonic beings (Matt. 25:41). The good angels are servants who do many tasks for God, but above all, they are messengers, as the name implies, who are responsible to witness truthfully to the person of the Lord Jesus. Three characteristics of angels: (a) they will agree with and bear testimony to the message of the Bible regarding the person and work of Christ (Rev. 1:1-2; 19:10), (b) they will always honor God and never seek honor for themselves (Rev. 19:10), and (c) they act on God’s behalf to do His will and often for the sake of Israel and the church as is so evident in the book of Daniel (10:13f; 12:1) and Revelation (see also Heb. 1:7, 14; Ps. 103:20).

Third, the communication comes from the angel as the Lord’s messenger to John who is called His bond-servant (vs. 1) (cf. Rev. 17:1; 19:9f; 21:9; 22:6,8,16).

Finally, the communication of the book is from John to the body of Christ. This is seen in the words, “to show to his bond servants” (vs. 1), and in the words, “to the seven churches …” in verse 4. “Bondservants” is the Greek word, doulos, a significant term especially when applied to the people of God. The bondservant was one who was owned by his master lock, stock, and barrel. He was totally under the authority and power of his master and dependent on him for everything—his responsibilities, his daily food, housing, and supplies, and his purpose in life. Ironically, however, it is in this servitude to Christ that we experience true freedom—freedom from bondage to sin, self, Satan, and the religion of the world. But it is not just a freedom from something. It is also a freedom to be something, a freedom to know, serve, and walk with God in the peace and righteousness of Christ choosing to serve Him rather than sin.

Perhaps the use of the terms “angel” (messenger) and “bond-servant” should remind us of two key areas of truth that are related as root to fruit. They remind us of what both angels and men should be, especially the body of Christ which has been left on earth to represent the Lord Jesus as His messengers. We are to be instruments of light as portrayed in the symbol of the lampstand. This means we are messengers of Christ and servants of God, but our willingness and ability to be effective as messengers of the message of the Savior as was John is greatly dependent on truly living as bondservants of the Savior. We see this truth in the first verse of Paul’s message to the Romans where he identifies himself as “a bondservant of Jesus Christ” and then as one “called to be an apostle” (Rom. 1:1). The secret of Paul’s ministry to the nations as a preacher and an apostle and a teacher (2 Tim. 1:11) is indicated in the order of these words of identification in Romans 1:1. He was first and foremost a bondslave, one utterly surrendered to the ascended Christ, and then he was an apostle, one sent with the message as a preacher and a teacher.

One of the vital principles of the Christian life is that the way up is down, and the way to life is death—death to self and its control. The Lord Jesus is the perfect example of this, who, though being God of very God, took on the form of a bondslave in the form of true humanity and humbled Himself to die in our place that we might have life (Phil. 2:6-8). He, as a servant, came not to be ministered to, but to minister and give His life for our redemption (Mark 10:45). He taught us that becoming a productive servant begins with dying to ourselves as a grain of wheat. He said:

John 12:24-26 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. 26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

General Eisenhower once rebuked one of his generals for referring to a soldier as “just a private.” He reminded him that the army could function better without its generals than it could without its foot soldiers. “If this war is won,” he said, “it will be won by privates.” In the same way, it is the common, servant-like believer who becomes the very backbone of the body of Christ. We are often overly impressed by our great evangelists and superstar Bible teachers and leaders who stand before large crowds, but if the glorious message of the person and work of Christ is to reach the world, it will be done by a church that functions as bondslaves of the Savior (cf. Luke 12:15; 12:32; 2 Pet. 2:19; 1 John 3:17).

One man tells this story of his experience with hummingbirds:

Recently we put up a hummingbird feeder with four feeding stations. Almost immediately it became popular with the hummingbirds that live in our area. Two, three, or even four birds would feed at one time. We refilled the feeder at least once a day. Suddenly the usage decreased to almost nothing. The feeder needed filling only about once a week. The reason for the decreased usage soon became apparent. A male bird had taken over the feeder as his property. He is now the only hummingbird who uses our feeder. He feeds and then sits in a nearby tree, rising to attack any bird that approaches his feeder. Guard duty occupies his every waking hour. He is an effective guard. The only time another bird gets to use the feeder is when the self-appointed owner is momentarily gone to chase away an intruder.

We soon realized that the hummingbird was teaching us a valuable lesson. By choosing to assume ownership of the feeder, he is forfeiting his freedom. He is no longer free to come and go as he wishes. He is tied to the work of guarding his feeder. He is possessed by his possession. His freedom of action is as circumscribed as if he were in a cage. He is caged by a situation he has created.

Someone has said, “The true test of a servant’s heart is whether or not I am willing to act like one when I am treated like one.”

THE AIM AND PURPOSE OF THE COMMUNICATION

“Show” is deiknumi, “to exhibit, disclose, point out.” Again we see an emphasis on disclosing the message of Revelation. God intends for this book to be communicated to His people.

“Shortly” is the Greek en tacei which can mean either of two things. It can mean soon as in the immediate future or in prophetic terms, it can mean imminent, i.e., they could occur at any time or in our day. One must remember the truth of 2 Peter 3:8, that one day is as a thousand years and vice versa from God’s viewpoint. It may also mean “rapidly, quickly, speedily.”

The point is, by comparison to the rest of history, once these things begin to unfold they will occur rapidly (cf. Luke 18:8; Acts 12:7; 22:18; 25:4; Rom. 16:20). There will be no more delays in the plan of God and in His long suffering (cf. Matt. 24:22). A similar word, tacus, is translated six times in Revelation meaning “quickly” which may illustrate the concept (cf. 2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7,12,20). In view of the words “the time is near” in verse 3 (cf. 22:10), it may be best to take en tacei as “soon” and understand it to refer to the imminent return of the Lord. Imminent means “ready to take place, impending.” “The church in every age has always lived with the expectancy of the consummation of all things in its day. Imminency describes an event possible any day, impossible no day.” (See Appendix 1 for reasons in support of imminency.)

THE MANNER OF THE COMMUNICATION

“Communicated” is shmainw, meaning “to show, signify, reveal by signs or symbols” as is often the case in this book. But it can also mean to reveal by words without the use of signs or symbols. John was communicated to by both the spoken word and by visions in which he saw things that were full of symbolic meaning as in 1:10-12, but these symbols are designed to be understood according to the normal meaning of the symbols.

THE THINGS COMMUNICATED

That which is communicated is first of all defined as the “witness” of John. This is marturew, “to be a witness, act as a witness, testify or bear witness.” It carries the idea of “attestation, verification, validation” and stresses that John was bearing testimony as a witness of what he received. That witness is defined and described in a three-fold way which shows it importance and why we need to pay attention to it message:

(1) “The Word of God”—This book with its visions is called the Word of God and is part of the whole canon of Scripture. It stands in harmony with the rest of Scripture and provides us with the culmination and conclusion. This description stresses its authority and importance to the church. It brings out the concepts of inspiration, canonicity, preservation, and illumination (cf. 1:9; 3:8, 10; 6:9; 12:11; 17:17; 19:9; 20:4).

(2) “The testimony of Jesus Christ”—The word “testimony,” marturia, a noun form of the above marturew, also carries the idea of “attestation, verification, validation.” This could mean “the testimony about Jesus Christ,” an objective genitive, or “the testimony from Jesus Christ,” a subjective genitive. The latter is preferable because of the phrase, “the Word of (from) God,” and the context. The point is John testifies to both the Word of God and to the validation of his message from Jesus himself.”

(3) “And of all the things which he saw”—The first two defined and described his testimony from the standpoint of its nature or character and source. This calls attention to the many details and areas that he saw and that will be found in the book—the great events and personages which precede and surround Christ’s coming, His kingdom, and His eternal glory.

THE PROMISE, PLAN, AND VALUE OF THE BOOK (3)

THE PROMISE—BLESSING

“Blessed” is makairos, “happy, blessed” (cf. Matt. 5:3). This is a promise of the happiness, spiritual blessing, and joy that will come from knowing and responding to the truth of the book. There are seven beatitudes, the word “blessed” appearing 7 times in the book of Revelation.

Lehman Strauss defines them as: The Blessed Challenge (1:3), The Blessed Comfort (14:13), The Blessed Cautiousness (16:15), The Blessed Calling (19:9), The Blessed Conquest (20:6), The Blessed Cherishing (22:7), The Blessed Conformity (22:14).19

THE PLAN—EXPOSITION AND APPLICATION

“He who reads.” Note that this is singular while the next clause, “those who hear,” is plural. This reflects the early form of worship and one of God’s primary plans for taking in the Word. The Scripture was publicly read to the congregation. The early church didn’t have a large number of copies of the Scripture nor any books of the New Testament when they were received, so they would be read and undoubtedly also, expounded on by the pastor and teachers given to the body.

“And those who hear.” In this we see the responsibility of the flock to hear and respond. It is these who are blessed. “Hear” is akouw, “to hear, listen, attend, perceive by hearing, comprehend by hearing.” It includes concentration and learning, and of course, to hear, one must be present when the Word is taught (Heb. 10:25).

“And heed the things …” “Heed” is threw, “to guard, watch over, preserve” or “observe, apply, obey.” In this context, the main idea is that of personal application with obedience.

“The words of this prophecy” and “the things which are written.” Note that “words” and “things” are plural. They point us to the content of the book, but include the various categories and truths that make up the content of Revelation—the person of Christ, the church, the saints, the Tribulation, witnessing, faithfulness, overcoming, the angelic warfare, Israel, Satan, demons, judgments, the millennium, the resurrection, the eternal state, etc.

“Of this prophecy.” In addition to being called the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, it is called “prophecy.” Prophecy involves not only future events, but also moral and spiritual things that train, exhort, and comfort. It particularly refers to truth received by direct revelation from God (1 Cor. 14:30).

“Which are written in it.” “Written” is in the perfect tense and means “stands written.” The perfect tense stresses the permanence of the record and perhaps its availability. God has made His Word available to us and preserved it in the Canon of Scripture. In the New Testament, the concept of the Word which stands written is found over sixty times.

THE VALUE—ITS TIMELINESS

“For the time is as hand.” “Time” is kairos and refers to a definite season or period of time, but one that is marked out by its contents or characteristics. The time in mind is the time of Christ’s return marked out by all that will happen just before, during, and after (1:19).

“Is near” is engus which includes: (1) near as to place, close by, like the car near the garage, and (2), near as to time, soon. The idea is “near from the standpoint of prophetic revelation, i.e., next.” Again we see God’s reckoning of time (2 Pet. 3:8-9). The next phase of God’s program for the earth will be the events of this Revelation. The world is ever coming closer to this awesome time. The value of this book is that it provides orientation to the times, motivation to ministry and godliness, comfort, and instruction.

The Salutation
(1:4-8)

4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne; 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood, 6 and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so. Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

THE WRITER (4A)

“John.” The human author is John the Apostle (1:4a). “The Hebrew idioms in the book, the authority of the author in relation to the churches, the use of distinctively Johannine terms like logos and “Lamb of God,” and the corroboration of Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian and Clement all affirm that the Apostle John was the author of this book.” Every New Testament book was written by an apostle or by one who was closely associated with an apostle, i.e., like Luke who was a companion of the Apostle Paul. This was one of the marks of inspiration and necessary for recognition of a book into the canon of Scripture.

THE RECIPIENTS (4A)

“To the seven churches in Asia” (1:4b). The whole book is addressed to seven historical churches in the province of Asia Minor. This fact should prevent anyone from saying that Revelation is nothing more than a piece of poetic idealism. As will be discussed later, these seven in their historical situation are representative of the church at any particular point in history. Chapters two and three contain specific letters to these seven churches with special warnings, exhortations, commendations, and instructions.

THE GREETING (4B)

“Grace to you and peace.” First, we should note the order of God’s blessings: Grace, then peace. Peace is always the product of knowing and appropriating the grace of God in Christ. This order can never be changed. Ignore the grace of God and you forfeit the peace of God (cf. Heb. 12:14 with vs. 15). Peace is the product of grace (2 Pet. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 3:18). Peter exhorts us, “but grow in the grace and knowledge of …” The more we experience the grace of God, the more capacity we have to experience the variegated aspects of God’s peace. Though the message of Revelation is primarily one of judgment, this benediction of grace and peace is notable. God here seeks to comfort and strengthen His people. Knowing this book brings a greater capacity to understand God’s grace in his patience during this age and even in the events of the future for God does not wish for any to perish, but to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). Having a grasp of God’s program for the future also gives peace.

For an overview of the nature of grace and peace, see Appendix 2.

THE SOURCE OF THE DIVINE BLESSINGS (4D-8)

Note that the preposition, “from,” is used three times in verses 4 and 5. This points us to three distinct and separate ministries found in the distinct ministries of the trinity.

FROM THE TIMELESS AND ETERNAL ONE

We should note in passing that this designation of God corresponds to the division of the book given in Revelation 1:19, the things past, the things present, and the things to come. It reminds us that He is the God of history. This should comfort and strengthen as we study about all that has, is, and will happen in the future. Behind it all is the eternal and sovereign God of the Bible.

“Who is” is literally “the one who is.” It ascribes the fact and quality of continual existence as a distinctive and emphatic quality of God’s being and essence. He is the “I Am” of the Old Testament.

“And who was.” “Was” is the imperfect of the verb “to be” and refers to God’s continual existence in past time. It stresses the Father has always been.

“And is to come” is literally “the one coming” or “the coming one.” The Greek construction again describes a fact and quality that characterizes God. It speaks of the future coming of God to take control of all things in a world that has been in open rebellion. He is coming to put down His enemies and establish His reign through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor. 15:20-28).

FROM THE SEVEN SPIRITS

Ryrie comments,

The number seven, occurring 54 times in the book, appears more frequently than any other number. In the Bible it is associated with completion, fulfillment, and perfection (cf. Gen. 2:2; Ex. 20:10; Lev. 14:7; Acts 6:3). In Revelation there are seven churches and seven spirits (1:4), seven lampstands (1:12), seven stars (1:16), seven seals on the scroll (5:1), seven horns and seven eyes of the Lamb (5:6), seven angels and seven trumpets (8:2), seven thunders (10:3), seven heads of the dragon (12:3), seven heads of the beast (13:1), seven golden bowls (15:7), and seven kings (17:10).

“The seven Spirits.” To whom or what does this refer? Some take this to refer to the seven angels who are before the throne, but it seems best to understand this as a reference to the Holy Spirit and the perfection or fullness of His actions and the manifold nature of His ministry. This fits both the context and the analogy of Scripture as demonstrated below:

(1) The book is presented as coming from three sources who seem to be presented as equal with one another. The last of these is clearly defined as Jesus Christ, the third member of the trinity. If the first is the Father, and the third is the Son, the second would in all probability be the Holy Spirit rather than seven angels. First, because only the Holy Spirit is equal with the Father and the Son, and second, though angels are involved in the visions of the revelation, only one angel was really involved in specific communication of the book to John (cf. 1:1).

(2) Because the obvious parallel to the seven-fold ministries portrayed in Isaiah 11:2.

Why then is the Holy Spirit referred to as seven spirits? There is only one Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:4), but in the Bible, seven is consistently associated with perfection, fulfillment, and completeness. Evidently, because Revelation is the final book of the Bible, the culmination, the fulfillment, and climax of the ages. The number seven becomes prominent to demonstrate this.

FROM JESUS CHRIST, THE GOD-MAN SAVIOR

In verses 5a-7 there is a three-fold emphasis on Christ’s person and work to draw attention to who He is, what He has done, and will do.

Appellatives (titles) of Jesus Christ (5a)

(1) Our Prophet—the faithful witness. The Greek text is very emphatic. Literally it reads, “the witness, the faithful One.” This stresses the character of His witness as faithful. The Lord Jesus is the logos, the very revelation of God to man (cf. John 1:1, 14, 18). He answers man’s need of the ideal prophet or spokesman and revelation from and for God (Deut. 18:15-22).

(2) Our Priest—the firstborn of the dead. First, since He could not be the firstborn from among the dead without dying, this statement must first look back to Christ’s substitutionary death for the sin of the world (Heb. 5:1-10; 9:11-14; 10:14). Second, the firstborn from the dead is also an obvious reference to the fact of the resurrection. By the resurrection God the Father verified His acceptance of Christ’s offering of Himself by raising Him to prove our justification (Acts 2:23-24, 31-32; 4:25), prove to the world that He is God’s Son (Rom. 1:4), and prove that this Jesus will judge the world (Rom. 17:31). Third, the mention of the firstborn points to Him as our forerunner in resurrection. The first one brought forth from the dead in a glorified body is a promise that more will follow. The Lord Jesus is God’s guarantee of our resurrection and glorification (John 11:24-26).

(3) Our King—the ruler of the kings of the earth. “The ruler” is literally “the one who rules …” or “the ruling one …” It ascribes the quality of rule to Him and characterizes Him as the one who rules, the ruler (cf. 19:16). It is a rule that is going on now and it is a rule over all governments even though the world lies in rebellion and unbelief. Nations, kings, and governments rise and fall by His sovereign authority and power (cf. Matt. 28:18). Compare Daniel 2:20,21; 4:17; 5:18.

So Christ is now seated at God’s right hand, having spoiled Satan and Satan’s demonic hosts by His death and resurrection. But one day He will rise from His seat and begin to take the reigns of control through the events of the Tribulation (cf. Dan. 2:44; Rev. 4; 5; 11:15-17).

Accolades (praise) to Jesus Christ (5b-7)

(1) For His present ministry—“who loves us.” The Greek text uses one article with two adjectival participles which descriptively portray the person, work, and ministry of the Lord. Literally—“the one who loves, … and who released us, …” The construction of the Greek text ascribes Christ’s love for us as a constant quality and characteristic. It speaks of His constant care and ministry on our behalf.

(2) For His past ministry—“who released us … and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.” “Released” looks at a past historic fact. It looks at this as an accomplished fact, as something that does not need repeating and Scripture strongly stresses this in the truth of the finished work of Christ. Again, it is a descriptive participle only now in the aorist tense. It is descriptive, classifying Christ as the Releaser, the one and only one who has accomplished what is necessary to release men from the penalty and power of sin.

The object of the releasing is “us,” a reference to believers in Christ, but it is available to any who will put their trust in the Savior (John 3:16).

The verb is luw, “to untie, set free, release.” It stresses that man, apart from Jesus Christ and His work on the cross is in bondage, chained to his sin problem: both its penalty (physical, spiritual, and eternal death) and its power (weakness and domination by a sinful nature). Some MSS have “washed us” from louw, “to wash.”

“From” is the Greek word ek, a preposition meaning “from, out of, away from.” It is a preposition of separation.

“Our sins” stresses two things: First, that the problem facing man is sin, imputed sin, inherent sin, and individual. Man’s problem is not the lack of a great society. Man is a fallen creature and this has caused both man’s separation from a holy God and the corruption of society. In himself, mankind does not have what it needs to rectify its problems. Only Christ, the sin releaser can do that. Second, it stresses that the sin problem is personal. Every person is up against the eight ball of sin and needs the saving grace of God (Rom. 3:23).

“By His blood” is a metonymy for the work of the Christ on the cross, His substitutionary death by which He dealt with the sin problem. Compare for instance, “the pen (a symbol of literary power) is mightier than the sword” (a symbol of military power).

As we think about this, we should be reminded of the total effects of what we have been separated from by His death in our place. The separation includes: (a) the PLACE from which separation takes place—Satan’s Kingdom (Col. 1:13), (b) the COMPANY from which separation takes place—Satan’s World System (John 17:15-17), (c) the CIRCUMSTANCES out of which one is brought—the Penalty and Power of sin and death—(Rom. 6:1f; Eph. 2:1f; Heb. 2:14, 15), and (d) the PERSONS with whom a connection is severed—the Son’s of disobedience (Eph. 2:2f; 5:6f).

“And He has made us a kingdom …” “Kingdom” is singular. Not kings, but a kingdom. It is collective and stresses our relationship to each other as believers and to Christ as our king. A kingdom is a place of rule. We are a kingdom, a people in whom God is to rule and who will one day reign with Christ, but because of the word “priests,” that’s not the focus here.

“Priests” is plural. Here we see our individual position, responsibility, and the purpose of this kingdom. We are a kingdom of priests to God who are to represent Him to the world. We have a collective priesthood, but every believer is a ministering priest before God. This is a far cry from what we so often see in churches today where the pastor is viewed as the minister and the people see themselves only as laymen or lay people.

“To Him be glory and dominion …” Before John turns to His future ministry and the keynote of the book—Christ’s coming again—there is a doxology of praise which both concludes what has been said and introduces what is about to be said regarding Christ’s return.

“To Him” is what we can call a dative of possession. It points us to that which rightly belongs to Christ. In this we see the great purpose of our lives.

“Be the glory.” This is the Greek doxa and refers to that which should accrue to Christ, the praise, the adoration, the rule, the respect and worship because of who He is and what He has done.

“And the dominion.” This is the Greek kratos. It means (a) power, might, and (b) rule, sovereignty.

“For ever and ever.” Man’s rule as given to him by God was lost in the garden of Eden, but never again once the Lord, the God-Man Savior, assumes His reign on earth at His second coming.

(3) For His future ministry—“Behold, He is coming with the clouds …”

“Behold” is designed to arrest our attention and get us to focus on this as the great theme of Revelation. He is coming for us (1 Thess. 4:13-18) and then with us to earth (Rev. 19:11-16), but in between, He is coming to judge the world for its rebellion (Rev. 6-19:10).

“Is coming” is the present tense of the verb, ercomai, “to come, go.” This is a future present used to denote an event which has not yet occurred, but which is regarded as so certain that in thought it is viewed as already occurring or accomplished.

“With the clouds” reminds us of Acts 1:9f and the promise of the angels at the ascension of the Lord Jesus. This may have been the Shekinah glory of God and it could be so here. There will be clouds, but clouds of the glory of God manifesting the coming glory of the Lord to rule and take up the reigns of government over the earth in a visible way (cf. Matt. 24:30).

“Every eye” simply points out that all mankind will see this in contrast to the ascension which was seen only by the disciples.

“Those who pierced Him.” In the light of Zechariah 12:10, this refers primarily to the Jews who asked for His death, but it could also refer to the Romans who carried out the sentence. In essence we all caused His death because of our sin.

“And all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.” Literally “and they shall wail over Him” (Matt. 24:30). The Greek word is koptw and means literally “to beat the breast in wailing and mourning.” For some it will be the mourning of repentance. For others it will be the mourning over the judgments that He will pour out on the earth and sinners.

THE BENEDICTION TO THE GREETING (7C-8)

The benediction begins with the words of verse 7, “even so, amen.” This confirms what has been said and introduces what is to follow.

“Even so” is the Greek nai, a particle of affirmation. It confirms the sure return of the Lord and the statements made about Him.

“Amen” means “to be firm, sure, true.” It is a further affirmation of the promise of the verse.

There is some disagreement about who is here speaking. Ryrie thinks this verse refers to the Father and is His affirmation of the Son. Others as Walvoord, believe it speaks of the Son.

Reasons in favor of this as a reference to the Son are: (a) He is the central person of the first chapter, and (b) in verse 17 Christ uses a similar expression of Himself when he says, “I am the first and the last.” (c) Finally, toward the close of the book two expressions are united and applied by Christ to Himself which seems to identify Him as the one speaking here (cf. 22:6, 22:13, and Isa. 44:6). This authenticates who He is—God Almighty.

However, since this follows the salutation which comes from the trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, perhaps it could be from the Godhead itself.

Jesus The Alpha and The Omega“I Am the Alpha and Omega.” These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. It is equivalent to our A and Z. This does not relate so much to time but to truth. It expressed the extent of God’s knowledge and wisdom (Col. 2:3). It stresses Christ’s or the Godhead’s omniscience or infinite knowledge and wisdom. This stands then as a strong authentication of the book of Revelation because it comes from the Alpha (uppercase Α, lowercase α; Greek: Άλφα Álpha) and Omega (capital: Ω, lowercase: ω; Greek Ωμέγα).

“The Almighty” is the Greek pantokratwr from pas, “all” and kratos, “might, power.” It stresses God’s omnipotence, but also God’s sovereign supremacy over all things. It declares God’s supremacy over all the universe. The word was used in secular literature to describe the attributes of the gods and John is probably using it here in contrast to the Roman emperor’s self-designation as the autokrator.

Walvoord has an excellent summary of these opening verses.

Jesus Christ is the central figure of the opening eight verses of Revelation. As the Source of revelation He is presented in verse 1. As the Channel of the word and testimony of God He is cited in verse 2. His blessings through His revealed word are promised in verse 3. In verse 5 He is the faithful Witness, the Firstborn of the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth. He is revealed to be the source of all grace who loves us and cleanses us from our sins through His shed blood. He is the source of our royal priesthood who has the right to gather in Himself all glory and dominion forever. He is promised to come with clouds, attended with great display of power and glory, and every eye shall see the One who died for men. He is the Almighty One of eternity past and eternity future. If no more had been written than that contained in this introductory portion of chapter 1, it would have constituted a tremendous restatement of the person and work of Christ such as found in no comparable section of Scripture.

Application Questions:

1. How well does my life exhibit the character of a bondslave?

2. Am I a careful messenger who accurately bears testimony to the person and work of Jesus Christ?

3. Am I involved in ministry as a believer priest or am I more of a spectator?

4. Am I living as a sojourner who looks with great anticipation for the Lord’s return, or have I become more of an earth dweller whose primary goals are in this world?

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Introductions!

Having looked at some basic principles and definitions for prophecy as a whole, we now want to look at some points of introduction to the book of Revelation itself.

Title of the Book

Our Bibles carry the title of the book as “The Revelation of John,” or “The Revelation to John” which means it is a revelation given to the Apostle John, but the proper name is found in the first words of 1:1, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” Revelation is from the Greek word apokalupsis meaning “a disclosure, an unveiling.” The name “revelation” (note that it is singular) is derived from its use in 1:1, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”

“Of Jesus Christ” is a genitive construction which can mean “about Jesus Christ” or “from Jesus Christ.” This is what some grammarians call a “plenary genitive,” i.e., a genitive doing double duty since both aspects are true.

(1) It is the revelation that comes from Christ (cf. the second clause in 1:1, “which God gave Him to show to His bondservants,” and 22:16 make this point clear). Jesus Christ, being God Himself, gave this revelation to His servant.

(2) But Jesus Christ is also the center of the book. The book is supremely the revelation about the Savior who has overcome and will return to defeat all evil (1:7, 13 [Note that each message to the seven churches begins with some aspect of the vision of Christ in 1:13-16]; 5:5-14).

Let’s note one more thing about the title. While this book contains several visions and unveilings, it is one book and one total revelation centered around one person and His literal return to earth—the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not the Book of Revelations (pl). The noun Revelation in verse one is singular and is so in the Greek text.

Theme of the Book

The prominent theme of the book certainly concerns the conflict with evil in the form of human personalities energized by Satan and his world-wide system, and the Lord’s triumphant victory to overthrow these enemies to establish His kingdom both in the millennium (the 1,000 years of Revelation 20) and in eternity.

This is accomplished by taking the reader and hearers (1:3) behind the scenes through the visions given to John to see the demonic nature and source of the awful evil in the world along with the conquering power which rests in the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, who is also the Lamb standing, as if slain, but very much alive, angry, and bringing the judgment of God’s awesome holiness against a sinful and rebellious world.

Importance and Purpose of the Book

I suppose there is no book in the New Testament which has been as neglected and as controversial as this book, at least in some quarters. Some assert that Revelation is impossible to interpret. Others claim it should not even be in the New Testament much less studied and read. An illustration of this can be found in Martin Luther’s attitude and remarks. For Luther, Revelation was “neither apostolic nor prophetic” and because of its overuse of visions and symbols, Christ was neither taught nor accepted in this book. Luther was offended by this book. Some seminaries avoid it almost entirely or give it very little attention, and many people and schools dismiss it as a hopeless conglomeration of visions and dreams.

The point is man has attempted to do precisely what God has told him not to do. Revelation 22:10 says, “seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” God does not intend for the truth of this book to be sealed to man. He intended the church to study and understand the message of Revelation. Why is that?

First, because blessing, not confusion is promised to those who will read it (1:3). Though filled with horror, it ends in the triumph of righteousness and faith.

Second, the Bible says “all Scripture is profitable,” meaning every book of the Bible. But Revelation has a unique and very important place as it is the consummation and climax of God’s revelation and redemptive history. As the final book of the Bible, Revelation brings together a number of lines of prophetic truth which run parallel throughout the Old and New Testaments, but, apart from the book of Revelation, they find no complete prophetic fulfillment.

I remember reading about a young believer who, at the conclusion of reading Revelation for the first time, jumped up and shouted, “We Win! We Win! The point is that without the book of Revelation, the Bible would be incomplete. Other Old and New Testament books add new dimensions and give added information and details of prophetic truth regarding the end times, but only Revelation draws them all together into a final conclusion.

This forms one of the arguments for the Bible as a completed canon. All the themes of Scripture are fulfilled and find their culmination in Revelation. There is no need for more revelation from this standpoint. With this book, we truly have “a faith once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Third, this book is also important because it deals with “things which must shortly come to pass.” It is the only major prophetic book in the New Testament that deals in an in-depth way with the events of the Day of the Lord. Many other passages deal with this period of time like Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 5, but not to the extent Revelation does.

Fourth, it is also important because of the way it reveals the Lord Jesus. It reveals Him as the Lamb of God and King of kings who, in the consummation of His program of salvation, restores to man what was lost by the fall and much more. All of Scripture ultimately speaks of the Lord, it points men to Him, but it is Revelation which thoroughly demonstrates the culmination of God’s complete salvation in Christ.

Fifth, Revelation is also important because of its unique warnings and challenges to the church in the section spoken of as “things present” (2-3). But even beyond this, the rest of the book also has a very pertinent message for us today for two reasons:

On the one hand, it provides us with an extended commentary on the spiritual warfare described in Ephesians 6:12. What we see revealed in this book is but the culmination of the warfare with rulers, principalities, and powers of evil under the control of Satan. As such, it calls us to walk carefully and to understand that what is happening around us is not merely a struggle with flesh and blood, but with supernatural entities that are as real as we are.
On the other hand, it gives us light concerning things to come, of things that have not as yet occurred in history, but will. It thereby comforts and encourages us to carry on in the light of the sure and final judgment on evil and consummation of God’s kingdom in time and eternity.

Sixth, it is important because it discloses conditions that will be present in the end-time system of the beast and the final world empire, politically, religiously, economically, and internationally. Such conditions, one would think, would naturally begin to come together to set the stage, as props are prepared for the world stage, before this end-time drama would actually unfold. Thus, while Christ’s return for the church is imminent, those members of the body of Christ who will be living in this moment of history can know that His return must be even more imminent, i.e., just around the corner.

Patmos where John writes to the seven church's

Patmos where John writes to the seven church’s

Author and Date

According to the book itself, the author’s name was John (1:4,9; 22:8). He was a prophet (22:9), and a leader who was known in the churches of Asia Minor to whom he writes the book of Revelation (1:4).

Traditionally, this John has been identified as John the Apostle, one of the disciples of our Lord. That the style is different from the style of the Gospel of John stems only from the difference in the nature of this book as apocalyptic literature.

An early church father, Irenaeus, states that John first settled in Ephesus, that he was later arrested and banished to the Isle of Patmos in the Agean Sea to work in the mines, and that this occurred during the reign of the Roman emperor, Domitian. This supports the author’s own claim to have written from Patmos because of his witness for Christ (1:9).

Domitian reigned in Rome from 81-96 A.D. Since Irenaeus tells us that John wrote from Patmos during the reign of Domitian, and since this is confirmed by other early church writers, such as Clement of Alexander and Eusebius, most conservative scholars believe the book was written between 81-96 A.D. This would make it the last book of the New Testament, just shortly after John’s gospel and his epistles (1, 2, and 3 John). Others conservative scholars believe it was written much earlier, around 68, or before Jerusalem was destroyed.

Interpretation of the Book

(1) This book is a part of the canon—a part of that which God has spoken. It belongs in the Bible.

Early church history supports the Apostle John as the author. So it was written by an apostle and this is one of the requirements or tests for inclusion into the canon of Scripture.

The book refers to the human author simply as John without further identification. This would imply the author was well known to the readers of Asia Minor, as would be the case with the apostle John who we know lived in Ephesus. This further supports the Apostle John as the author.

This book was widely circulated and received as inspired Scripture by the beginning of the third century, the early 200’s.

There were a few small groups who did not accept it as Scripture, but this was primarily from opposition to the thousand year reign so clearly taught in chapter 20. Much of this came from heretical groups, but on the whole, the early church accepted it as inspired Scripture.

(2) As a part of the Bible, this book is what God has spoken through the Apostle, the human author. The principle is that God is its author and Scripture emphatically declares that God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). If we accept it as Scripture, as did the early church and the majority of the church historically, we must approach the book as a book intended to be understood, not as a book to mystify and confuse. It is as Moses wrote: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and our children forever” (Deut. 29:29).

(3) The uncertainty and confusion that this book has been accused of creating is not the fault of the book nor the fault of God. Rather, the confusion is the product of the way men have tried to approach this book. A great deal of confusion has been caused because of a bias against such things as: (a) a literal 1,000 year reign, (b) the coming of the terrible judgments depicted, and (c) a desire to spiritualize prophecy in general. The confusion has come from those who have tried to spiritualize or allegorize prophecy and especially this book.

In allegory, words are not taken in their literal or normal meaning. They are spiritualized which means that the interpreter looks behind the literal, plain meaning of the text for a hidden and more profound meaning. This turns exegesis or Bible study into an artful play of human ingenuity and fanciful imagination.

The result of this approach is a potpourri, a mixed bag of interpretations. One man sees one thing and another sees something else because when the normal method of interpretation is abandoned (which includes the proper use of symbols) you have no objective controls to your interpretation and no control over human imagination.

SCHOOLS OF INTERPRETATION USED WITH REVELATION

THE PRETERIST SCHOOL

Preterist is from a Latin word meaning “past.” This school of thought sees Revelation as already fulfilled in the early history of the church by 312 A.D. with the conversion of Constantine. Note the spiritualizing nature of their interpretations: Revelation 5-11 is a record of the church’s victory over Judaism; Revelation 12-19 is record of her victory over Rome; and Revelation 20-22 is record of the glory of the church. The persecutions of Revelation, it is claimed, are those of Nero and Domitian and all was fulfilled by the time of Constantine (312 A.D.).

Revelation for the Preterist is purely symbolic history rather than prophetic of coming events in history. This not only does total injustice to the nature of the book as prophecy, but to the normal meaning of words.

THE HISTORICAL APPROACH

This approach sees Revelation as a symbolic presentation and a panorama of the total period of church history from John’s day to the end of the age or Christ’s second advent. In this view, Revelation does not just deal with a future time, but covers all of history from the time of John. The problems is most adherents of this view see the book culminating in their day and as many as 50 interpretations have evolved. Why? Because the literal, normal approach of interpretation has been abandoned. Further, such a view must ignore the imminent return of the Lord.

THE IDEALIST APPROACH

This approach sees the book as portraying in symbolic terms the age-old conflict of the principles of good and evil with no historic elements whether past or future.

THE FUTURISTIC APPROACH

The term “futurist” comes from the fact this interpretation sees the book from chapter 4 on as yet to be fulfilled. This is the approach taken in this study, though I do believe it is also an extended commentary on Paul’s statement in Ephesians 6:12.6 The futurist approach follows the principle of interpretation known as the literal, plain or normal method of interpretation. This method which will be defined below recognizes the use of symbols, but understands them in their plain, customary, and normal meaning just as we do in our language. The term star, for instance, can refer to a star in the heavens, or it can refer to a famous athlete, someone who excels in athletics. It depends of the context.

There are several reasons for the futuristic approach. The prophecies found in this book have simply not taken place. There is nothing in history that comes close to the events of the majority of the book. For instance: (a) No judgments in history have ever equaled those depicted in chapters 6, 8, 9, and 16, but in these chapters, these judgments are presented as things that will occur. (b) The resurrection and judgment of chapter 20 have never occurred, but are clearly presented as future facts. (c) Obviously, the great anticipation of the book, Christ’s visible return as portrayed in chapter 20, has also not taken place.

Only the futuristic approach which is based on a literal or plain method of interpretation has any objectivity about the contents of the book.

STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK

The contents of Revelation are given in terms of a series of sevens, some explicit and some implied: seven churches (chap. 2-3); seven seals (chap. 6-7); seven trumpets (chap. 8-11); seven signs (chap. 12-14); seven bowls (chap. 16-18); seven last things (chap. 19-22).

Some divide the contents of the book around four key visions: (a) The vision of the Son of man among the seven churches (chap. 1-3); (b) The vision of the seven-sealed scroll, the seven trumpets, the seven signs, and the seven bowls (4:1-19:10; (c) The vision of the return of Christ and the consummation of the age (19:11-20:15); and (d) The vision of the new heaven and new earth (chap. 21-22).

The contents may also be divided up based on the division of 1:19: (a) “the things which you have seen,” The Things Past (chap. 1:1-20); (b) “the things which are,” The Things Present (chap. 2-3); and (c) “the things which shall take place after these things,” The Things Future (chap. 4-22). Some look at 1:19 differently, but the most natural way to take this verse is as it is translated in the KJV, the NAS, and the NIV.

METHOD OF INTERPRETATION AND USE OF SYMBOLISM

One’s method of interpretation is crucial to a correct interpretation of Scripture because without a correct method, the Bible becomes putty in the hands of the interpreter. You often hear the complaint that you can prove anything you want to with the Bible. And the implication is simply that everyone comes up with a different interpretation, especially with the Book of Revelation. A further implication is that we simply cannot have a sound and objective system of doctrine. But this is incorrect on several points:

(1) The commands of Scripture to know the Word and maintain a system of sound doctrine show us that God expects us to know and come to an objective understanding of the Bible and that this is to become the foundation for sound theology in all categories of truth or doctrine, prophecy included (1 Tim 1:3, 7, 10; 4:6; 6:3; 2 Tim 1:13; 4:3; Tit 1:9, 13).

(2) Without a sound system of doctrine derived from the Bible as our authority, men are left to the shifting sands of their own experience and imaginations. We are invariably left with some form of mysticism and neo-orthodox theology in which the Bible only becomes the Word of God when it speaks to you [or receiving a “Rhema” (ῥῆμα in Greek) word about it,] and a passage of Scripture may do this not only in different ways with different people, but in ways that are completely contradictory.

(3) You cannot prove anything you want to with Scripture if you follow the rules of sound hermeneutics. Hermeneutics means the science and art of Biblical interpretation and it is this that provides controls over the imagination and ideas of man.

(4) Hermeneutics is called a science because it follows rules that guide and control the interpreter. It is called an art because it requires skill and practice to apply the rules correctly as in any skill. This is evident in Paul’s words to Timothy and the context for the words, “accurately handling the Word of truth” in 2 Timothy 2:15. Without an accurate handling of the Bible, we end up with error, not truth. We must, then, using the science of hermeneutics, seek to ground interpretation in fact or the objective data of Scripture—context, grammar, historical setting, meaning and use of words, literary style, etc.

Some passages of Scripture and areas of doctrine are more difficult and hard to be dogmatic on, but this does not mean that they are beyond our grasp or that we should ignore them. We should continue to study these areas being careful to apply ourselves to a careful study of the Word as the inspired Word of God always examining our position as objectively as we can (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim 2:15).

It is also true that no one comes to Scripture without certain preconceived ideas. No one is completely objective (though we must strive to be so) and this is why our method of interpretation is so important as a check (Acts 17:11). But even with that there is also the need to humbly ask God to help us deal with our preconceived notions and prejudices. We need the humble attitude and prayer of the Psalmist who prayed, “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things from your Law” (Ps. 119:19).

It is also obvious that men will vary in their skill and knowledge of exegesis (one’s personal examination of the text to determine its meaning in its historical and literary context) and this will affect their ability to accurately interpret the Bible. But again, the responsibility is not to give up, or ignore Scripture, or to treat it as a mystic would do. Instead, our responsibility is to be careful students, ever seeking to be as objective as possible, to be willing to say I am not sure, or I may be wrong, and to continue to grow in the art and science of the study of the Bible as our only objective guide for truth.

As Ramm so aptly put it, “That God has spoken in Holy Scripture is the very heart of our faith and without this certainty we should be left to the relativity and dubiousness of human knowledge. God has spoken! But what has He said?” (italics his). “This is our primary and basic need in hermeneutics: to ascertain what God has said in Sacred Scripture; to determine the meaning of the Word of God.” (italics his). The Bible is no profit to us at all if we do not know what God has said, what it means, or if we think we know, but are wrong.

We must know and have the correct method of interpretation, a correct hermeneutic, so that we do not confuse the voice of God with the voice of man. The false methods of men are what make the Bible a source of confusion rather than a source of light and truth, not the Bible itself.

We must have a method that provides: a check on the imaginations, feelings, background, prejudices of men, a protection against the delusions and misuse of Scripture by Satan, and one that enables us to bridge the gap between the minds of the biblical writers and our minds, the minds of interpreters who live many years later, even hundreds of years later, in a different time, usually in a different place, and with a different language. This is the tremendous gap created by differences of culture, history, geography, and language.

The only method of interpretation or hermeneutic that brings such controls and that moves us toward objectivity is the literal or normal and plain method of interpretation. This is the method that I will be employing in this study of Revelation. But what does this mean?

THE LITERAL METHOD OF INTERPRETATION

To interpret means to explain the original sense of a speaker or writer versus imposing our ideas on the text. To interpret literally means to explain the original sense of the speaker or writer according to the normal, customary, and proper usage of words and language. “The literal or normal interpretation of the Bible simply means to explain the original sense of the Bible according to the normal and customary usages of its language.”

The Control: The literal or normal method operates by rules which help us to ground interpretation in fact. These are the rules of context, grammar, the analogy of Scripture, cultural and historical background, and the normal meaning of words according to their use in various contexts.

AllegoricalSPIRITUAL OR ALLEGORICAL METHOD COMPARED

“Allegorism is the method of interpreting a literary text that regards the literal sense as the vehicle for a secondary, more spiritual and more profound sense.” The spiritual or allegorical method sees the literal sense as well figures of speech as a symbol to convey some secondary or mystical, metaphorical, or spiritual idea that is hidden, but the hidden meaning is developed and controlled by the interpreter’s own ideas or ingenuity rather than by the rules and guidelines of context, grammar, the analogy of Scripture, cultural and historical background, and the normal meaning of words.

Clearly there are dangers to the allegorical method of interpretation.

(1) The allegorical method does not interpret Scripture. It ignores the common meaning of words and gives rise to all manner of speculation ignoring what the author really intended to say.

(2) In the allegorical method, the authority in interpretation is the imagination of the interpreter or his mind rather than the Scripture itself. In the final analysis, in the allegorical method one is left without any means by which the conclusions of the interpreter may be tested.

(3) The allegorical method results in shear nonsense because “To understand a speaker or writer, one must assume that the speaker or writer is using words normally and without multiple meanings. This is what the literal method of interpretation assumes of God in Scriptural revelation. It believes the Bible to be revelation, not riddle.” Again we remember Deut. 29:29.

The word “literal” is sometimes taken to mean non-figurative. The literal approach, however, recognizes the fact and use of symbolism, or figures, but attempts to understand them, as with any other literary method, on the basis of their normal and plain meaning as dictated by the normal rules of interpretation. This provides a check on our imagination or prejudice.

Let’s look at several illustrations:

PSALM 22: Verse 18 speaks of the casting of lots. This is a literal statement and is a prophecy of a literal happening, one that did happen when Christ was crucified, but verses 12-13 depict the fierce enemies of the Lord as strong bulls and ravenous lions. These are obviously figures or symbols, but with a very plain and literal meaning which is derived by the rules of the literal method—context, usage, culture and history. It important to realize that a symbol only has meaning when we understand how or what it previously meant literally in the historical and cultural setting of the time.

The Bulls of Bashan. By studying the historical background, the geography, the culture, and Scripture itself, we find that the area of Bashan lying northeast of the Sea of Galilee was a place where bulls became fat and strong. In the Bible, then, the phrase, “the rams or bulls of Bashan,” at times served as figures or symbols of Israel and especially as symbols of her leaders. It was used to portray those who had become luxurious, proud, and full of their own prosperity and importance. So this symbol pictures Christ’s enemies like the bulls of Bashan, with a full feeling of power and strength, ill natured, self satisfied and bullish in their attitude.
The Lion symbolizes Christ’s enemies as those who stand and gap with open mouths like a lion roaring over its killed prey. They weren’t literally lions, but they acted like lions based on our knowledge of how lions behave when standing over their prey.
JOHN 1:29: “Behold the lamb of God” is obviously another symbol, but it too has a plain meaning based on historical and Scriptural facts. In the light of Old Testament teaching and Israel’s sacrificial history, it points to Christ as God’s sacrifice, the one who would die for our sin as God’s innocent substitute.

JOHN 6:25-59: In this passage John records Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. This is an historical event, but it contains a number of spiritual truths and applications. For instance, Christ refers to Himself as “the bread of life.” The literal method understands this is symbolic but its meaning is derived from the significance of bread for our daily food for sustenance.

REVELATION 8:12: This passage speaks of judgment that will affect the sun, moon, and stars. Here there is no indication of symbolism other than one’s own bias against such catastrophes. The stars are literal because there is nothing in the context to indicate otherwise. We are imposing our imaginations on the text if we say, this is symbolical of world rulers or the loss of spiritual light in the world. Why? Because there is nothing in the passage or context to suggest this. We must let the passage speak for itself.

REVELATION 9:1-12: Here John records seeing a star fall from heaven. But in this passage, by context and the analogy of Scripture, this is plainly a symbol. Why? How can we know this? The following are some important keys and helps:

We should always read a passage literally and assume that the literal meaning is the prophet’s meaning unless there is adequate reason from context to read it otherwise.
But we should always note carefully words like “as,” “like,” “as it were,” and similar expressions (cf. 6:1; 9:7). Why do we do this? Because words like “as” normally indicate a figure or symbol by way of a comparison or an analogy and not an identification. Compare Revelation 8:13. The text here does not say, “I heard one flying like an eagle in mid-heaven …” Some would make this refer to perhaps an angel, but I think we should take it literally. If God made a donkey speak to Balaam, why could and would He not, in this tremendous hour, not use an eagle as a voice of woe to stress His sovereignty over creation.
Always, where a figure of speech is suggested by the context, interpret by the analogy of Scripture. Allow Scripture to interpret Scripture while always bearing in mind the context and other rules of interpretation.
Look for interpretive clues and identifications within the text itself which indicate a figure is being used. Note the following three examples:
REVELATION 9:1: All the English translations rightly view the star as a person rather than as a fragment of a star. This is indicated by the personal pronouns, “to him” in verse 1 and “he” in verse 2. Some would say the keys were given to the fifth angel, but word order would suggest the “him” looks back to the star who fell from heaven and not the fifth angel who sounded his trumpet. The star, who is further identified as a king in verse 11, is the subject of the passage, not the angel who simply announces this judgment by blowing his trumpet.

The star is also connected with the Abyss which is a demonic abode according to the analogy of Scripture (cf. Luke 8:30-31; Jude 6; 2 Pet. 2:4).
Further, he is identified as the angel of the Abyss, the king of demons and this identifies him as Satan which also perfectly fits with the analogy of Scripture which in other places refers to angels as stars (Matt. 9:34; 12:25-28; John 12:31; Eph. 2:2; 6:12: Rev. 12:7f).
ISAIAH 14:12-16: Though this a taunt taken up against the king of Babylon, most believe, due to the strong language of the passage, that it must look beyond any human being. Ultimately it must refer to Satan who Scripture portrays as the prince of this world and the power behind many of the world rulers (Eph. 2:2; 6:12). This speaks of Satan who controlled the king of Babylon and the Babylonian system of the past and will control the system of the future. In Isaiah 14:12-14, Satan is called “star of the morning,” lit. “bright, or shining one” which refers to him as a bright morning star.

LUKE 10:18: In Luke 10:18 the Lord refers to Satan as falling from heaven, like a star, and this all fits with the context and emphasis of Revelation 9 and 12. This is totally in keeping the natural use of words in language and is even found in our own English idiom. We likewise use the term “star” in both a literal and symbolical sense. We speak of the stars in heaven, but we also speak symbolically of the star of the game, of the stars in Hollywood because, like a star, they stand out among others in some particular way. It has a symbolical meaning, but it depends on the context and its normal use for its true meaning.

The literal method of approach that will be used in this study will recognize the presence of symbols, but they will be interpreted by the normal and plain meaning of the symbol derived by historical background, context, grammar, the analogy of Scripture, and general usage.

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Foundations for the Study of Prophecy (Revelation)

In the study of any book of the Bible or any topic of Scripture, a certain amount of ground work is needed for understanding, orientation, and motivation. This is particularly so with the Book of Revelation or prophecy in general. Revelation is a book that has been called everything from a hodgepodge of nonsense to a masterpiece. Because it contains a large amount of symbolism and because of the faulty approaches or methods of interpretation applied to its study, many have a difficult time grasping its meaning. It has become a book which is the object of the widest possible divergence of interpretation.

Regardless, God promises blessing to the student of this book (Rev. 1:3). In fact, Revelation is a book in which all the great themes, seed plots, lines of doctrine and Bible prophecy find their fulfillment. It is in this book that the victory of God as the God of history is seen in the culmination of the ages and the establishment of the eternal state.

The Purposes of Prophecy

IT IS NOT DESIGNED TO MAKE US PROPHETS

God did not give us prophecy so we could become a prophet or the son of a prophet and thereby predict the future. It is not given so we can predict who the Man of Sin or the Antichrist or the beast will be, nor is it given so we can predict the precise day and hour when the Lord will return.

History is full of those who thought they knew who the Antichrist would be or was. Men have said it was Napoleon, others Mussolini, others that it was Hitler, others John F. Kennedy because of the head wound by which he died. Some have said it would be Henry Kissinger because he was from one of the countries of the Old Roman Empire and because he was so involved in seeking peace between the Israelis and Arabs a few years ago.

From the Bible we can see the alignment of nations that will occur in the last days and we can see how our world is fitting into the pattern of those conditions morally, politically, religiously, and economically that will exist in the last days and in the days often referred to as the Tribulation or more accurately, Daniel’s Seventieth Week.

From this we may take warning and encouragement from the Scripture, but we need to be careful about making predictions. It is only logical that the ‘last day’ conditions will undoubtedly exist or begin to fall into place before the Tribulation begins in preparation for the terrible days that lie ahead. God will obviously be placing the props on the stage of human history and putting the actors in the wings ready to come on the stage of this great drama. We may see those who possess characteristics consistent with the key players we see revealed in Scripture, but we need to be careful about making predictions.

This means that when we see such conditions developing, we can know that those days could be near, that conditions appear to be rapidly marching toward the events of the last days which could mean suffering for the body of Christ, the church, in the form of greater persecution. Though I believe in the blessed hope, the pre-tribulation rapture, the unfolding of these events in preparation for the Tribulation period also means we should take the necessary precautions and prepare as well as we can for difficult times since we could see them before the Lord returns for the church.

But we should also know that these conditions can wax and wane like the moon to some degree so we can never be sure as to the time. All we can say is that this is like what will happen or that the present world affairs are growing and shaping up as we see them in the prophetic Word.

IT DEMONSTRATES THE ACCURACY OF THE BIBLE

In all the writings of the world, the accuracy of biblical prophecy is unique and stands as one of the great evidences of the God-breathed nature of the Bible. The cults are basically silent on the future and when they are not, they end up with egg on their face.

The test for any prophecy and the authenticity of its source is fulfillment, and hundreds of Bible prophecies have been fulfilled in minute detail. This is true of prophecies fulfilled in Old Testament times, in the life of Christ (birth, life, death, and resurrection), and in relation to even the shaping of world events of our day. Compare Deuteronomy 18:20-22; Jeremiah 28:9; but also Deuteronomy 13:1-5.

Note that a false prophet’s prediction might very well come to pass. The determination of whether he was a true or false prophet was not made on this basis but on whether or not he led the people away from God. The success of false prophets was permitted in order to test God’s people (vs. 3).

The ultimate issue for all prophecy is its spiritual impact on the lives of God’s people. Does it cause men to follow the Lord or turn them away from Him?

Ezekiel’s Prophecy concerning the city of Tyre is an illustration (Ezek. 26:1-5). About 350 years before Christ, Philip of Macedonia dreamed that one day he would throw off the Persian yoke. His son, who had already shown an ability for military logistics and leadership, had a falling out with his father at about the age of 15 and became a playboy on the Mediterranean. Later Philip was murdered, some even accused Alexander, but he returned to Macedonia. At age 21 he formed a military force and began conquering one country after another. He never lost a battle and he stopped his conquest at India only because his men were homesick.

The inevitable happened and he met Darius the Persian at the headwaters of the Tigris/Euphrates in the Battle of Isis. Darius and his men were put to riot by this upstart Greek. Alexander’s men being flush with victory wanted to pursue Darius back to Babylon and fight the final campaign. Alexander said, “No.” He felt that the time was not right because they didn’t have the proper supply lines. The Phoenicians would come in and help Darius. Instead, Alexander said, “Let’s go down to Tyre. Let’s defeat it and then the Phoenicians will throw in with us.”

Well, how much do you know about Tyre? Though besieged many times, no one was ever able to capture the city. Years before Alexander decided to go down to Tyre, Nebuchadnezzar went after Tyre himself. He besieged the city for 13 years. As it happened, both Nebuchadnezzar and the people of Tyre decided to quit about the same time. The people of Tyre decided to make one last effort. They picked up all they could load in boats and at midnight, they went out and camped on a large rock-like island about 300 yards from the shore and reestablished themselves. Nebuchadnezzar made one last attack against the city, but when he found the city vacant, he left in disgust.

Because of the success of this move, Tyre built an impregnable fortress and city there on the rock some 900 feet from the mainland. Now, years later, Alexander said, “We will go up against the great fort on the rock and it will fall as other cities have. So he did. He commandeered boats, and attacked the city, but he was repulsed time and again. He was upbraided by his men and their argument was, “You can’t fight over 900 feet of water.” So Alexander took the dust, the rubble and the ruin from the old city of Tyre and poured it into the sea. It took seven months, but he built a causeway out to the rock and the city fell in one day. After that the site of the old city became nothing more that a flat rock where fishermen spread their nets. And what had Ezekiel prophesied years before Alexander’s time?

Now it came about in the eleventh year, on the first of the month, that the word of the Lord came to me saying, 2 “Son of man, because Tyre has said concerning Jerusalem, ‘Aha, the gateway of the peoples is broken; it has opened to me. I shall be filled, now that she is laid waste,’ 3 therefore, thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. 4 And they will destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; and I will scrape her debris from her and make her a bare rock. 5 She will be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken,’ declares the Lord God, ‘and she will become spoil for the nations …’” (Ezekiel 26:1-5)

Why begin our study of Revelation here? God said this about Tyre 2000 years ago, but the Hebrew prophet spoke these words 350 years before Alexander the Great.

IT REVEALS THE POWER AND WISDOM OF GOD

As just demonstrated, prophecy shows how God continues to control the affairs of this world in spite of the great and constant opposition of both Satan and man to the purposes of God (read Isa. 10:5-19). Though Assyria boastfully acted on her own initiative as an enemy of Israel (vs. 7), she was but an instrument of God’s wrath against a rebellious Israel. God was always in charge and through Isaiah the prophet, He prophesied that He would destroy Assyria so completely that a child could easily count the number of leaders that remained (vs. 19). Assyria fell between the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C. and the battle of Charchemish in 605.

IT REVEALS THE PLAN AND PURPOSES OF GOD

In the process of this study we will see this plan unfold along with some of God’s purposes. We will see God’s purpose for Israel, why they were cut off from the place of blessing, what God is doing today with the nation of Israel and with the Gentiles, and we will see God’s purposes for the church, for the Tribulation, and for the millennial reign of Christ.

IT PROTECTS BELIEVERS FROM SATAN’S COUNTERFEITS

Understanding prophecy can also protect Christians from the counterfeit strategies of Satan and the world system that lies under his control. As an example, one of the ancient counterfeits and one that will be a key note of his last day strategies, a strategy already prominent today, is the belief in one world government which is portrayed as a utopia and the last final hope for mankind. Nationalism will be hated and internationalism praised as the answer. Another illustration is the postmillennial belief that the church will be able to bring in the kingdom by the efforts of God’s people in concert, of course, with God. But an understanding of prophecy which warns of Satan’s attempts to bring the world together under his last-time leader (an anti-God, anti-Christ figure) warns us not to fall for any kind of one world movement.

GIVE COMFORTIT IS DESIGNED TO GIVE COMFORT

When we hear of wars and rumors of wars or hear of the problems of the Middle East or Russia, or we see the condition our country is in and the way it is in the control of the ‘one worlders,’ the knowledge of prophecy can give comfort by reminding us of God’s plan and that He is still on the throne, in control, and carrying out His purposes and plans (note that the purpose of these verses is to bring comfort John 14:1-3; 1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11; 2 Thess. 2:2).

IT IS DESIGNED TO PROMOTE HOLINESS

The greatest purpose of the prophetic Word, as designed by God, is the pursuit of holiness by His people. This is everywhere evident in one prophetic passage after another. Check all the passages dealing with the return of the Lord and you will find that, almost without exception, our Lord’s return is used as a basis for an exhortation to godliness. This includes living as aliens in His service, living for heavenly treasure, and finding comfort in the midst of suffering and persecution through the assurance of Christ’s return.

Some illustrations:

Philippians 3:15-21 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. 17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

Colossians 3:1-5 If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. 5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

1 John 2:28-3:3 And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. 1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Titus 2:9-15 Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. 15 These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

1 Peter 1:13-17 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth;

As we see how prophecy has been fulfilled, as we see it being fulfilled, as we contemplate the fulfillment of future events and their ramifications, and as we remember and live in the light of the coming Judgment (Bema) Seat of Christ, prophecy should have a special message and appeal for us to live now in the light of the sure and blessed hope of the future.

IT IS DESIGNED TO UNFOLD THE LOVELINESS OF JESUS

Revelation 19:10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

Prophecy is designed to reveal truth concerning the person and work of the Lord Jesus. This is nowhere more evident than in the book of Revelation.

Dangers in the Study of Prophecy

THE DANGER OF SENSATIONALISM

Two passages are particularly pertinent here:

Acts 17:21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. (RSV)

2 Timothy 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, … (RSV)

The Athenian philosophers were always ready to hear or tell some ‘new thing,’ but Paul warns us that this idea did not die with the Athenian philosophers. It is still with us today among Christians and non-Christians alike who often run from one prophetic conference or prophetic teacher to another, but in the process, they often show no real interest in other areas of Bible study. Why? Because they are looking for something sensational, novel, exciting, and entertaining, Facebook or because they are simply curious.

Prophecy was not meant to be sensationalized. It was meant to instruct believers according to certain clear-cut purposes of the Word that we have studied. Prophecy is fascinating and can be exhilarating, but should we be any more interested in it than in any other major tenet of Scripture? I think not.

Of course we should look expectantly for the return of the Lord and the blessed hope, but we need all of Scripture to do that effectively. Furthermore, reality reminds us that 2000 years have passed since the promise of His coming. This does not minimize the certainty of His return, but it should provide us with balance so that we live and anticipate His coming as though He will return today, yet work and serve as though He will not come for another 1,000 years!

THE DANGER OF IGNORING PROPHECY

Of course the opposite of the above, ignoring Bible prophecy, is also a danger. Prophetic teaching was strong in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, but began to decline in its popularity in the ’80s. I think this was so partly because it was sensationalized, which, after a while, had a deadening affect.

I remember hearing comments by well-known prophetic speakers that we could expect the Lord’s return within twenty years, at least by the ’70s or ’80s. The idea was that in view of the shaping of world events, they didn’t see how it was possible for the return of the Lord to be delayed any longer than that. Many times this would be followed by disclaimers like, “Now, no one knows the day or the year of the Lord’s return, but …” Another common statement was something like this, “We have more reason to believe the return of the Lord for the church will be in our day than any other generation in history since the early church.”

Though world events were still moving toward the picture we see in Revelation and prominent passages like Daniel 9, still things on the surface seemed much the same. Israel became a state in 1948, thousands of Jews began to flock back to their land, and there was all the news and talk about peace in the Middle East. But the fact the Lord did not return within that twenty-year period, as many expected, seemed to lull the church into a kind of prophetic sleep. Add this to the fact that in the ’80s we moved into a time known as the ‘age of consumerism’ and we can see how the church surely began to forget about the return of the Lord and began to look more and more like the world.

Our need is to maintain the biblical balance. We should be looking for the Lord’s return as One who might come tomorrow with the impact that should have on us from the standpoint of heavenly treasure and living as aliens. At the same time, from the standpoint of ministry and involvement in our society, we should live as though He will not return for years to come.

THE DANGER OF PRIDE

In 1 Corinthians the Apostle reminds us that knowledge without love makes us arrogant (2 Cor. 8:1) and pride is, of course, a danger we all face in some area of our lives. But, for some reason, people tend to become more puffed up over their knowledge of prophetic truth than in other areas.

Prophecy is a complicated area of Scripture with many divergent viewpoints even within the same prophetic scheme of things. As a result, people often view the knowledge of prophecy as a sign of maturity, great intelligence, or spiritual insight. The tendency is to think that if someone knows a lot about prophecy, that person is something close to the incarnation of the Apostle Paul. You often notice a tendency in this direction in some of the well-known speakers who specialize in prophecy. And though by-in-large they are godly and well-meaning in their purpose, pride nevertheless still comes out in some of the comments and attitudes displayed. There is a kind of arrogance, an attitude like, ‘you better come and hear what I have to say, or get my monthly newsletter and get the latest scoop, because I have it all figured out.’

THE DANGER OF IMBALANCE

Imbalance is a problem in any area of life. One of the unique things about the Lord Jesus is the fact of His balance. The Apostle John described Him as One who was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He was and is perfectly balanced. But what happens to us? We tend to become overly occupied with one area of doctrine or truth to the exclusion of others. We find a ‘hobby horse’ and ride it to death. This is especially true with the study of prophecy, especially from the standpoint of coming events and world affairs.

Of course we need to be alert and aware of world events, and we need people who are on top of these things, but our tendency is to so focus on them that we neglect other important areas of truth—principally the heart of all prophecy—the person and work of the Lord Jesus which includes His second coming. This doesn’t mean one cannot have a specialty, an area of doctrine in which they specialize such as the family, or the church, or prophecy. We need those specialists who devote much of their time to such studies, but we all still need balance and to need to know the whole counsel of the Word.

The Lord Jesus and His coming form the heart of all Scripture and especially in the passages on prophecy. The great hope of the church and mankind is the personal and visible return of the Savior. The last book of Scripture is called “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” and much of its content deals with “the things which must soon take place.” The visible return of Christ in all His glory is the prominent note or theme of this book (Rev. 1:7, 8; 19:10; see also 1 Thess. 4:13f; 2 Thess. 2:8f; Tit. 2:13f; Phil. 3:19-20) so we would never deny the importance of prophecy, but the appeal here is for balance.

Until then there will be the rise of one false hope after another—utopias, world leaders, and false messiahs, but none will be able to deal with man’s problems. Only the Lord Himself can do that.

THE DANGER OF DISCOURAGEMENT

If you are new at the study of prophecy, don’t become discouraged if at first the study of prophecy seems like a large puzzle. Keep in mind the purposes of prophecy. In time, it will begin to fit together as you pick up the pieces one by one, but never expect to have all the answers to all the questions, and especially if you do a quick skim without study, or if you just read the first sentence on Facebook you will never get the full picture!

Prophecy and the Terms
Used for King and Kingdom

In Bible prophecy or prophetic passages of Scripture, God often uses the same language to describe both the king and the kingdom. Why? Because the kingdom takes on the characteristics of the king. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish one from the other in a prophetic passage since they both represent each other. Point: Is the passage talking about the king (the ruler), or the kingdom of the ruler, or both? Let’s note a couple of illustrations.

(1) Daniel 7:17-19 calls the four beasts “kings,” but in verse 23 the fourth beast is called the fourth kingdom.

(2) In Revelation 13:1-3, the system of the beast, which many believe is the revived imperial form of the Roman empire of the future, is clearly in view because of the ten horns and the seven heads. It is a reference to a ten-nation confederation of ten kings that come together to form the revived Roman empire. But in verses 4-7, the king, the one who emerges as the ruler of this last day system, seems to be in view. Sometimes a clear distinction is made, other times it is not.

Kinds of Fulfillment in Prophecy

DOUBLE REFERENCE FULFILLMENT (NEAR AND FAR)

Bible prophecy may have both a near and a far fulfillment. “Two events widely separated as to the time of their fulfillment, may be brought into the scope of one prophecy. This was done because the prophet had a message for his own day as well as for a future time.”

In addition, the fulfillment of the near often became the assurance of the fulfillment of the far.

Illustrations:

(1) The Abrahamic promises had their ultimate goal in the coming of Messiah through whom all the families of the earth could be blessed, but the promise and birth of Isaac under the most adverse conditions would help Abraham to believe that in his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed.

(2) Daniel 8:9-11 and 23-27 provides another example. The little horn of these two passages were prophecies of Antiochus Epiphanes of Greece who, in 175 B.C., plundered the temple in Jerusalem and desecrated it by offering a pig on the altar, but many believe that this passage ultimately anticipates the character and actions of the last day ruler of the Revived Roman Empire or the antichrist.

great mountain peaks in the distance

great mountain peaks in the distance

DUAL OR PARTIAL FULFILLMENT

A prophetic passage may totally look to the remote future for its fulfillment, but at the same time there is often a dual fulfillment in the future with part of the prophecy to be fulfilled before the rest of the prophecy.

The prophet would be given a vision of future events which would appear together like great mountain peaks in the distance, but in actuality they were separated by a valley of time, a parenthetic period that would come between the fulfillment of the two parts of the prophecy.

Scriptural Illustrations:

(1) Isaiah 9:6a: The prophecy of the birth of Messiah, refers to the first advent though some often also see an immediate fulfillment in the birth of Isaiah’s son but the context favors the remote view. This was remote and looked to the future. But Isaiah 9:6b-7, the prophecy of the government that will rest on His shoulders, looks at the second advent. Like a valley that separates two mountain peaks, the two events are separated by hundreds of years and the church age.

(2) Isaiah 11:1-5: The shoot that will spring from the stem of Jesse, refers to the first advent, and 11:6-10f, the wolf that will dwell with the lamb, looks to the results of the second coming in the millennial reign of Christ.

(3) Compare Isaiah 61:1-3 with Luke 4:17-20: The Lord quoted Isaiah 61:1-2a, but He stopped abruptly in the middle of verse 2, put down the book, and then stated that “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Why did He leave out verses 2b and following? Because they must wait until the second advent for fulfillment.

(4) Another passage that adds insight to this issue is 1 Peter 1:10-12. In these verses Peter tells us that the salvation about which he has been writing is the subject of Old Testament prophecies. The content of these prophecies embraced both the sufferings and glories of Messiah (vs. 11). But he also shows that though the prophets spoke by the Spirit of Christ within them, they did not always understand their own utterances, especially as to the time (or times) of these things, so they diligently searched as did Daniel to find this out (Dan. 8:27; 12:8). The perplexity lay in the two mountain peaks—the sufferings and the glories.

They knew they were speaking of the future and in that, they were serving not themselves, but those who would live in the days of Messiah in the far future. “Serving” is the Greek diakoneo, to serve, minister. It reminds us that the writing and teaching of the Word is a service, a ministry to others, specifically today, the church.
The prophets knew that God would bless the Gentiles, that grace would come to them (vs. 10).
They saw the sufferings (Isa. 53 for example) and the glories (Isa. 11 for example), but they could not see the valley, the interim between the two. They could not fully understand the relationship of the sufferings of Messiah to His glory. They could not see that the sufferings related to His first advent and the glories to His second advent.

SINGLE OR COMPLETE FULFILLMENT

Some prophecies look only to one historic fulfillment. This may be reasonably near or very remote, but once accomplished, it is done, fulfilled. Some illustrations are:

(1) The destruction of Tyre (Isa. 23; Ezek. 26) and Nineveh (Nah. 1:15f and Zeph. 2:13).

(2) The birth place of Messiah in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2).

(3) Daniel’s Seventieth Week (Dan. 9:24-27), the unprecedented time of trouble coming upon all the inhabitants of the earth (Rev. 3:10).

HISTORICAL FULFILLMENT AS PROPHETIC FORESHADOWS

A Bible prophecy may have its foundation in some event in biblical history, yet at the same time be a prophecy in the form of a type, a picture, or foreshadow of a future event.

As mentioned earlier, the prophecy regarding the antichrist of the abomination of desolation (Dan. 8) may be foreshadowed in the person and actions of Antiochus Epiphanes (Dan. 8:9, 21-25).

Psalm 22 undoubtedly had its origins in some event in the life of David, yet it goes far beyond anything David experienced, and the Psalm became a miraculous prophecy of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Several of the fulfillment quotations in the gospel of Matthew fall into this category:

(1) Matthew 2:15, the life of Israel and their deliverance was used by Matthew as a type of deliverance of God’s Son from Egypt to protect Him from Herod.

(2) Matthew 2:17, the wailing of Israel at the time of the exile, is used as a prophetic shadow of the time of the slaughter of the young children after the birth of Christ.

(3) Matthew 12:39, the experience of Jonah in the belly of the great fish, also became a foreshadow of the resurrection.

Prophecy and the Time Element

LENGTH OF A PROPHETIC YEAR

In Bible prophecy, time consists of 30 days in a prophetic month, but it consist of 360 days to a prophetic year, not 365. God’s prophetic calendar year is calibrated on 360 days. Thus, promises like that of Daniel 9:25 are to be figured on a calendar year of 360 days.

When this is done, beginning in 445 B.C., the time of the decree to allow Israel to return to restore and rebuild Jerusalem to the time of Messiah, we are brought precisely to the birth or the triumphal procession of Christ.

Daniel 9:24 shows us that God would finish His dealings with Israel in 70 weeks of years, or 70 x 7, i.e., 490 years. That this prophecy is dealing with 70 weeks of years and not days is clear from two things: (a) Daniel was thinking of years and not days in verse 2 of this same chapter in relation to the 70 years of captivity, and (b) in 10:2-3, when days were in view, the Hebrew text makes this clear by adding “days” to the word “weeks.” Literally, the Hebrew text reads “weeks of days.”

At the beginning of the 70th week of years, or the last seven years (Dan. 9:27), a Roman ruler, i.e., ‘the prince of the people who would destroy Jerusalem,’ would come on the scene and make a covenant with the nation of Israel for one week or seven years, the 70th week. How do we know he will be a Roman? By his description in verse 27. It was the Romans who destroyed Jerusalem and he is their prince.

Midway through that 70th week, after 3 1/2 years, he would break his covenant, stop the sacrifices in the rebuilt temple (either just before or perhaps during the first 3 1/2 years), desecrate this temple, demand to be worshipped himself, and it would be a terrible time of desolation and anti-Semitism as never before in history.

Revelation 6-19 deals with this same period of time of seven years and defines half of this period, 3 1/2 years, in terms of specific numbers of days and months. This shows us that the length of God’s calendar is 360 days. How? The last half (3 1/2 years) is defined as 1260 days and as 42 months (Rev. 11:2-3 and 12:6, 14). When this is calculated (i.e., divide 1260 days by 3 1/2), you get a year of 360 days, not 365. Or multiply 3 1/2 times 360 days to get 1260 days.

PROBLEM OF THE ORDER OF EVENTS IN PROPHECY

Prophecy does not always keep to a chronological order in the unfolding of events. This means as future events are described they are revealed in God’s own order for His own emphasis, but not necessarily in the order of their occurrence.

While Prophecy is for instruction and understanding, it is also for comfort and warning. The comfort or warning is usually more important than the chronological order. The comfort and warning challenges our way of life, the chronological order (which we can do nothing about anyway) often serves only to satisfy our curiosity.

Let’s ask a basic question. Which comes first, the day of God’s wrath, the day of reckoning in judgment, or the millennial reign, the time of peace and Messianic prosperity? The answer is obvious. Before the Lord will reign, He must put down His enemies. But when we compare Isaiah 2:1-22 we find the order reversed. Verses 1-4 describe the blessings of the millennial kingdom as a means of comfort and motivation, but this is followed in verses 5-11 by a description of Israel who had failed to walk in the light of the Lord. As a result, verses 12-22 describe a day of reckoning, the judgment aspect of the Day of the Lord that must come upon the nation before she will turn from her rebellious ways.

When reading or studying Revelation, people often assume that each section is chronological so that the next chapter or series of events naturally follows the preceding, but that is not the case. Rather, a number of sections in Revelation are parenthetical and the chronological order is halted in order to develop in more detail some aspect of this end-time period like a key person(s), or event(s), or condition(s).

Some examples:

(1) Chapter 7 stops the chronological progress begun in chapter 6 and forms an interlude which gives us information about the 144,000 and about multitudes who will be saved during the Tribulation. The six seals are described in chapter 6, but the trumpet judgments don’t begin until chapter 8 which constitutes also the seventh seal. Six of these trumpet judgments occur chronologically and are described through chapter 9. The seventh trumpet is not sounded, however, until 11:15.

(2) So again the story of the progress of judgment on earth is halted and we have another parenthesis from 10:1-11:14. Here a vision is given concerning the little book, concerning the no delay once the seventh trumpet is sounded, and concerning the two witnesses.

(3) Revelation 11:15 picks up the chronological process again and the seventh trumpet is sounded. Other sections which are somewhat parenthetical regarding persons and systems are chapters 12, 13, and 17-18.

Prophecy and the Church

In Old Testament prophecy, the church is omitted because it was a mystery that was not revealed until New Testament times (Eph. 3:1-5, 9; Col. 1:25-26; Rom. 16:25-26). The Old Testament prophets saw the coming of the Savior, His birth, death, life, resurrection, etc. The Old Testament spoke of the salvation and blessing of the Gentiles, but not in terms of the church where Jew and Gentile become one in Christ and coequal. The Old Testament illustrates truth for us that is applicable to the body of Christ in many ways, but the church as an institution is simply not there.

Likewise, you will not find the church mentioned in Revelation 6-18 because this portion of the book is dealing with Daniel’s 70th week and the resumption of God’s program for Israel. The church and the term church is mentioned repeatedly in chapters 1, 2, and 3, but it is not mentioned again until Revelation 19 in the symbolism of the bride and in connection with the return of Christ to earth. There He is seen coming with His bride who has been prepared for the wedding supper of the millennium. If the church is to go into the period described by chapters 6-18, why isn’t it mentioned? Because it is not there. Instead, the church is even given a special promise that it will be kept out of this time of testing for those who dwell on the earth (Rev. 3:10).

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The Doctrine of the Tribulation

Definition

The word “tribulation” comes from the Greek word qlipsis meaning “affliction, distress.” It is used in general of any kind of testing, affliction or distress which people experience throughout life, and especially of the church and her problems in this world (Acts 7:10-11; 11:19; Rom. 5:3; Rev. 1:9; 2:9, 10, 22). But Bible students have also used the term, “the Tribulation,” to refer to a specific eschatological time of trouble, a special time of judgment from God that will come upon the entire world, will be unprecedented in its affliction, and will be culminated by the personal return of Jesus Christ to earth. There are many passages that anticipate this time of trouble under a variety of names (see below), but two very special passages are Matthew 24:4-21 and Revelation 6-19. Others will be mentioned in the progress of this short overview.

For the purpose of accuracy, it should be noted that the word tribulation (qlipsis) is used prophetically to describe the distress that will occur in this specific future time of trouble preceding the return of the Lord only in Matthew 24:9, 21, 29; Mark 13:19, 24; and Revelation 7:14. Each of these passages are dealing with the time of Daniel’s seventieth week, also called the “time of Jacob’s distress” (Jer. 30:7). In five of the passages, the word “tribulation” refers to conditions in the last half of this time period and is either described by some qualifying terms like “great” (Matt. 24:21; Rev. 7:14), by a clause describing the unprecedented nature of the distress in the last half of this short period of time (Mark 13:19), or qlipsis has the article and in some way refers back to the great distress mentioned in the preceding context (Matthew 24:29 has, “after the tribulation of those days” and Mark 13:24 has, “following that distress” [emphasis mine]).

But since this seven-year period is a time of trouble (distress) involving judgments that will be poured out as the Lamb consecutively opens the seven-sealed scroll, Bible students often referred to this entire period as “the Tribulation,” and rightly so. Since the judgments of the seals, the trumpets, and plagues grow in intensity, the last half is by far greater than the first half, and for this reason, it is called in Scripture, “the Great Tribulation.”

The Source of the Tribulation

The post-tribulational rapturist (those who believe the rapture occurs at the end of the Tribulation) often refuses to distinguish between the general tribulations of this age which the church will endure and the unique, universal, and unprecedented Tribulation of Revelation 6-19 and Matthew 24:4-31. As such, they insist that the Tribulation is not the judgment of God, but that it comes from man and Satan and that the church will go through the majority of the events of Revelation 6 and following. They often see any future tribulation as merely the devil’s wrath poured out against Christians.

True, the Tribulation will witness Satan’s wrath and the persecutions of his man, the beast (Rev. 12:12-17; 13:7), but Scripture shows that even this is a manifestation of God’s wrath using Satan and mankind as the instruments of divine judgment as Assyria was used as the rod of His wrath (Isa. 10:5f). The clear emphasis of Scripture is that the Tribulation (Daniel’s Seventieth Week) is a time of God’s special judgment poured out upon the earth. The events or judgments of the Tribulation (Rev. 6-19) are clearly specified as the result of the sovereign actions of the Lamb who opens the seals which produces the judgments that follow (Rev. 5:6-9; 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12; 8:1).

Key Scriptures: Isaiah 24:1-13; 26:21; Daniel 9:24-27; Joel 1:15; Zeph. 1:18; Revelation 6:1-17; 11:18; 14:7, 10, 19; 15:4, 7; 16:1, 7, 19; 19:1-2.

JetThe Nature and
Character of the Tribulation

Read Deuteronomy 4:30-31; Isaiah 2:l9; 24:1, 3, 6, 19-21; 26:20-21; Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1; Joel 2:1-2; Amos 5:18, 20.

(1) It is a time of unprecedented trouble (Joel 2:2; Matthew 24:21). Everything about it will be unprecedented. Compare also Zephaniah 1:14-18.

(2) It is a time of God’s wrath or indignation and the vindication of God’s holiness (Zeph. 1:15, 18; Rev. 6:17; 1 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 14:7, 10; 19:2). God’s wrath against man’s sin and rebellion will be withheld no longer.

(3) It is a day of utter darkness, gloom and extreme cloudiness (Joel 2:2; Zeph. 1:15).

(4) It is a day of destruction and global catastrophes (Joel 1:15; 2:3; 1 Thess. 5:3; Rev. 6-19).

(5) It is a day of extreme lawlessness, sin and demonic activity (Rev. 9:20-21; 2 Thess. 2:12).

(6) It is a day of extreme deception and delusion (2 Thess. 2:9-12; Rev. 9:1f; 13:2-3, 11-18; Dan. 8:24f). This deception is caused by a number of factors: (a) the removal of the Spirit indwelt church with its restraining influence (2 Thess. 2:6-8), (b) the increase of demonic activity (2 Thess. 2:8-10), and (c) the blinding judgment of God (2 Thess. 2:11-12).

(7) It is a time of death (Rev. 6:3-11; 9:15, 18; 11:13). Large portions of the populations of the earth will be wiped out suddenly, both human and animal.

(8) It is a time of utter negative volition, cold indifference, and rebellion against God even though the world will know it is under the wrath of God (Rev. 6:14-17; 9:20; 11:10, 18).

(9) It is a time of internationalism religiously (Rev. 17), politically (Rev. 13:17), economically (Rev. 18), militarily (Joel 3:2, 9-14; Rev. 17).

(10) It is a time of extreme anti-Semitism (Rev. 12; Matthew 24:9, 13f).

(11) It is a time of unprecedented apostasy and blasphemy against God (Rev. 11:1f; 13:1f; 2 Thess 2:3f).

(12) It is a time of the martyrdom of believers, both Jew and Gentile (Rev. 6:9; 7:14f).

(13) It is a time of global and universal war, human and angelic (Rev. 6:2-4; 16:14; 19:14f; Joel 3:2, 9f; Rev. 12:7).

(14) But it is also a time of unprecedented evangelism (Rev. 7:9; Matt. 24:14).

Names Used of the Tribulation

(1) Jacob’s trouble or distress (Daniel 9:24-27)

(2) Daniel’s 70th week (Daniel 9:24-27)

(3) A time of trouble or distress (Daniel 12:1)

(4) The great day, the one of their wrath (Rev. 6:17)

(5) The hour of testing which shall try the whole earth (Rev. 3:10)

(6) The indignation (Isaiah 26:26)

(7) Tribulation and the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:9, 21, 29; Mark 13:19, 24; Rev. 7:14)

(8) The Day of the Lord (Joel 1:15; 2:1; 1 Thess. 5:2)

In Scripture, “The Day of the Lord” is often associated with this time of great judgment which God will pour out on the earth against Israel and the nations. But it is also associated with the time of millennial blessings which follow during which the Lord will rule on earth. Compare Isaiah 13:6-22 speaks of judgment, but 14:1-3 the result which is peace with Israel re-gathered and in blessing (Joel 1:15f; 2:1f, 12-18f; 3:1f).

Key Players and Personages

(1) Unbelievers: The Tribulation will begin with only unbelievers since the body of Christ will have been removed through the rapture and kept from this hour of trial (Rev. 3:10; 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9). The Tribulation is uniquely a time to test the earth dwellers (Rev. 3:10; Isa. 24:17), those who during the church age had no time nor interest in spiritual things and who therefore never received Christ as their Savior by faith (2 Thess. 2:10-12). The Tribulation is a time of God’s wrath or judgment. For believers in Christ there is no judgment (Rom. 8:1), we are not appointed to the Day of the Lord, the time of wrath (1 Thess. 5:2, 9).

(2) Jews and Gentiles: The participants of the Tribulation may be further categorized according to their racial heritage as either Jews or Gentiles. Scripture categorizes men today in three categories: (a) The church; (b) Israel; and (c) the Gentiles or the nations (1 Cor. 10:32). In the Tribulation the church will be gone, so the world will consist of only Jews (Israel) and Gentiles. Compare Ephesians 2:11-22 for the reason why the church is a new entity of people, i.e., a new man, a new creation where Jew and Gentile are made one in Jesus Christ.

The reason for these two categories is found in the dispensational purposes of God and God’s special calling and purpose for Israel according to the Old Testament covenants with Abraham and the patriarchs, and with David (Gen. 10; 11; 12; 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Rom. 3:9, 19; 11:1-32; Luke 21:24).

(3) 144,00 Bondservants of God: 12,000 Jews from each of the twelve tribes. These are Jews who will be saved after the Tribulation begins. They are sealed, which refers to their salvation, identification and protection for special service during the rest of the Tribulation. From the context of Revelation 7, it appears they will be the special evangelists whom God will use to lead multitudes to Christ from every nation, tribe, people and tongue (cf. Rev. 7:1-8 with 9-10).

The Two Witnesses(4) The Two Witnesses: This refers to the two men who will come on the scene as a virtual (though probably not literal) Moses and Elijah. They will perform miracles like those of Moses and Elijah, and will prophesy during one half of the Tribulation—most probably the last half (Rev. 11:1-14).

(5) Satan and his Demons: Revelation 9:1-11; 12:3-17; 16:13-14; 13:2. Obviously, as a day of delusion and great darkness, Satan and his demon hosts are key figures in this drama. All the lawlessness, the murders, drugs, wars and blasphemies of this period are a result of satanic activity in conjunction with the degeneracy of man (2 Thess. 2:9-12).

(6) The Beast: Revelation 13:1f; 16:13; Daniel 2:40-43; 9:27; 8:23f; 7:23-26; 11:36f. This title applies to both a man and his governmental system. The system is the revived imperial form of the Old Roman Empire which is a consolidation of ten European countries into one 10 nation confederation. But this system is headed up and controlled by a Satan-possessed man from whom the system gets its character and beastly nature.

(7) The False Prophet: While the beast is primarily a political figure (though he later becomes religious in that he seeks to be worshipped and claims to be God), the False Prophet is religious and promotes the ministry and person of the beast (Rev. 13:11-18). Since the first beast is Satan-possessed, this forms the unholy trinity, Satan, the beast, and the False Prophet. Satan is to the beast what the Father is to the Son, and the False Prophet is to the beast what the Holy Spirit is to Christ.

(8) The Fallen Angels and Michael and His Angels: Rev. 12:7. The entire Book is filled with the ministries of the angels of God in service to God and of the activity of fallen angels that do Satan’s bidding.

(9) The Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings, The Lamb and Lion from the tribe of Judah: Rev. 4; 5; and 19. He is the central figure who is revealed in all His glory and splendor, person, and work and who puts an end to God’s enemies and establishes God’s kingdom on earth.

(10) The Bride of Christ, the Church: Rev. 19:7f. She is viewed as married to the Lamb and coming with Christ at His second advent for the marriage supper, the millennial kingdom where she will reign with Christ.

(11) The Great Harlot, Religious Babylon: This is the great religious system, the mother-child cult, the mother of all harlotry stemming from the time of ancient Babylon. It finally becomes a great ecumenical, one-world religious system of the Tribulation (Rev. 17).

(12) The Merchants of the World: Rev. 18. This refers to the conglomeration of multinational companies and organizations and their merchandising of the world.

(13) The Ten Nations of Europe: Rev. 17:12. This refers to ten nations, a Mediterranean or European federation which falls under the power and authority of the beast.

(14) The Kings of the East: Rev. 16:12f. This refers to an oriental block of nations who will march across the Euphrates River when it is miraculously dried up. Their goal is to enter Palestine for the final battle of the campaign of Armageddon to be fought on the plain of Esdraelon near the Mount of Megiddo.

The Time of the Tribulation

The Tribulation occurs after the removal of the church (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:l-9) and is followed by the 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ (Rev. 20:1-4; Ezek. 20:33-38; Matt 24 and 25). It is that period of time through which the Lamb defeats His enemies and establishes His right to rule on earth (Rev. 4 and 5; 11:15-18).

Some arguments for the pre-tribulational rapture, i.e., that Christ comes for His church before the Tribulation are:

(1) It is a time of divine wrath and judgment upon sin and the church has not been appointed to wrath (1 Thess. 5:9; Rom. 8:1; John 5:24).

(2) The church has been specifically promised it will be kept out. See chart and the exposition of Revelation 3:10 in lesson 10.

(3) The church and Israel are two distinct groups or peoples of God (1 Cor. 10:32; Rom 9; 10; 11). The church age is a parenthesis in God’s program with Israel. The Tribulation is the resumption of God’s program with Israel, to conclude it and establish the kingdom. The Tribulation is thus Jacob’s Trouble, Jeremiah 30:7. It is for Israel and not the church, the Body of Christ.

(4) The coming of Christ for the church is seen as imminent in the epistles. By this we mean it is not preceded by signs. Christ could come for us today (1 Thess. 1:10; Titus 2:13; John 2:22). If the church had to go through the Tribulation, then His coming could not be imminent, but would be preceded by signs.

(5) The contrasts between Christ’s return for His saints (the church) and His return after the Tribulation also support two separate and distinct events separated by some time. (See the contrasts at the end of this Appendix.)

WhatsThe Purposes of the Tribulation

(1) For Israel: Being uniquely a time of Jacob’s (Israel’s) distress (Jer. 30:7), it is a time to discipline Israel for her stubbornness and rejection of Christ, to purge out the rebels and to bring the nation to faith in Christ and so prepare her for restoration and regathering for the millennium (Matt. 23:37-39; Ezek. 20:33-38; Zech. 12:10; Jer. 30:1-17). The Tribulation is also designed to break the yoke of Gentile bondage (Jer. 30:8, 11; 31:11).

(2) For the Nations: The Tribulation will serve as divine judgment for anti-Semitism (Zech. 1:15-21; 12:3f; 14:3; Joel 3:2; Jer. 30:8, 11, 16). The Tribulation will also be used to bring many Gentiles to faith in Christ (Rev. 7:9; 13:10). Finally, it is a test to try all the inhabitants of the earth.

(3) In Relation to Satan: The Tribulation will reveal the true character and program of Satan. The Tribulation will permit Satan’s program to come to its logical conclusion resulting in judgment from God. It will demonstrate that Satan is the cause of war, murder, and deception, and that he deserves his judgment from God for All to see (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 12:7-12; 20:1-3; Isa. 14:12-17; Ezek. 28:12-19).

(4) In General: The Tribulation is an open judgment against all mankind for rebellion to God and rejection of Jesus Christ (Zeph. 1:15, 17, 18; Joel 3:12-14; Rev. 6:16-17).

(5) In Relation to God: The Tribulation will demonstrate that God is holy, righteous, just, and still on the throne. That He has not ignored man’s rebellion or sin, but that He has held back only in mercy and longsuffering, not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9).

The Length of the Tribulation

Daniel 9:24-27 teaches us that the Tribulation (Daniel’s 70th week) consists of seven years. This is further verified by the time periods of Revelation which divide the Tribulation into two periods of three and one-half years. (Rev. 11:2-3; 13:5; 12:6; Daniel 7: 25; Rev. 12:14).

Understanding these basic truths concerning the Tribulation will help prepare the student for a study of Revelation 6-19.

Contrasts and Comparisons Between
the Two Phases of Christ’s Second Coming

 

Christ’s Coming for the Church, the Rapture Christ’s Coming to the World
(1) At the rapture believers meet Christ in the air. It is the translation of all believers (1 Thess. 4:17). (1) At His second coming to earth, no translation is seen (Zech. 14:4).
(2) His coming is as a thief. Only believers of the church will see him (Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:17). (2) Every eye shall see Him, it is open, public, and manifest to the world (Rev. 5:16; Matt. 24:30).
(3) Believers are taken off the earth and unbelievers remain to go into the Tribulation (1 Thess. 4:13-17; John 14:3). (3) Unbelievers are taken and believers are left to go into the millennium (Matt. 24:37-39; Rev. 19:17-21).
(4) Christ comes for His saints and they return with Him into the heavens (1 Thess. 4:17). (4) Christ comes with His saints (1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 2:10-12; Zech. 14:5; Rev. 19:7f).
(5) It is imminent, not preceded by any specific signs (Tit. 2:13; 1 Thess. 1:10; Rom. 13:11-14; 1 John 2:28). (5) It is preceded by specific signs included in the Tribulation (Matt. 24).
(6) Christ comes as our Deliverer from the wrath to come. He keeps believers out of the Tribulation (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:9-10; Rev. 3:10). (6) Christ comes as Judge. The world is judged (Matt. 25:31-32, 46; Rev. 6-19; Matt. 3:11-12; Joel. 2:1-11; 3:1-17; Jude 15.
(7) It is a source of comfort to believers (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:9; Rev. 3:10). (7) It is a source of fear to man (Rev. 6:15-17; 9-11).
(8) There are no recorded changes in nature mentioned in connection with the rapture. (8) Many changes in nature recorded (Rev. 6; Isa. 35).
(9) It is a mystery, a truth hidden in the OT (1 Cor. 15:51). (9) It is the subject of extended prophecy in the OT.
(10) No reference or dealing with Satan. Instead, his activity increases (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18 with 2 Thess. 2:1f). (10) Satan is bound for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-3).
(11) At the rapture the Mount of Olives is unchanged. (11) At His return, the Mount of Olives is split and forms a valley (Zech. 14:4-5).
(12) At the rapture we have the examination, rewards, and wedding of the bride (Rev. 19:7-10). (12) Christ’s return to earth is followed by the wedding feast and the church is seen already rewarded.
(13) At the rapture believers receive a glorified body (1 Cor. 15:51-53) (13) Believers of the Tribulation go into the millennium with mortal bodies (Isa. 65:20-25).

 

 

 

 

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The Book of Life

A number of passages in the Bible refer to a book called “the book of life,” a figurative expression that originated from the ancient customs of (a) keeping various kinds of records like genealogical records (Neh. 7:5, 64; 12:22, 23) and of (b) registering citizens for numerous purposes (Jer. 22:30; Ezek. 13:9). Accordingly, God is represented as having records of men, of their works, and of God’s dealings with them. One such record is called “the book of life.”

There is some evidence that in the city of Sardis a person’s name was sometimes removed from the city register before death if he had been convicted of a crime. This is undoubtedly behind the promise given to the overcomer in Revelation 3:5, “I will not erase his name from the book of life.” But what is the meaning and significance of the various references to the book of life in relation to salvation, to the believer, and to the unbeliever? Is it a record of all who are saved or could it be a record of all those for whom Christ died, which under the doctrine of Christ’s unlimited atonement, would include all the world?

Passages Referring to the Book of Life

(1) Psalm 69:28 “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.”

(2) Daniel 12:1 “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.” Though the word “life” or “living” is not used here, it is part of the same concept.

(3) In the gospels Christ says, “… but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20). “Are recorded” is a perfect tense and looks at an abiding condition. This is evidently another reference to the book of life.

(4) In Philippians 4:3, Paul speaks of “the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

(5) Revelation 3:5 “I will not erase his name from the book of life.”

(6) Revelation 13:8 “all who dwell on the earth will worship him (the beast), everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.”

(7) Revelation 17:8 “… And those who dwell on the earth will wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.”

(8) In Revelation 20:12 “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.”

(9) Revelation 20:15 “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Categories of Books in Scripture

In addition to the book of life, there are other categories of records or books mentioned in Scripture. These are:

(1) Book of Wars: Numbers 21:14. This was a collection of war songs celebrating the glorious acts of God on behalf of Israel.

(2) The Book of Jasher: Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18. This was an early chronicle of the history of Israel.

(3) Book of Remembrance: Malachi 3:16-17; Psalm 56:8. This was a book of remembrance for special blessings and rewards for faithfulness.

(4) Book of Those Physically Alive (a dooms day book): Exodus 32:32-33. This refers to a register of the physically living. To be blotted out meant to experience physical death (cf. Exodus 17:14; Deut. 29:20; Psalm 9:5-6).

(5) The Book of Works: Revelation 20:12-13. This consists of a record of the deeds of unbelievers as a basis of their judgment proving they all fall short of the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Dan. 7:9-10; Rom. 3:19-24).

Thoughts on the Book of Life

IN RELATION TO BELIEVERS

First, believers are told their names stand permanently written (recorded) in the book of life. The tenses used in Luke 10:20, Hebrews 12:23, and Philippians 4:3 suggest an abiding state. Both Luke 10:20 and Hebrews 12:23 use the perfect tense which can carry the idea of “stand recorded or enrolled.” The perfect tense in its basic meaning, unaffected by context or a particular verbal idea, refers to completed past action with existing results. But when used in context, the emphasis may be on the accomplished action; this is called the consummative perfect. On the other hand, the emphasis may be on the existing state, the results without any thought or emphasis on the past; this is the intensive perfect. And of course, the emphasis can be on both elements, completion and results. The intensive perfect is much like an emphatic or intensive present. “The attention is directed wholly to the present resulting state, the past action of which it is the result being left out of thought.”

In Philippians 4:3, the verb in the clause, “are in the book of life,” is a present participle suggesting a continual condition and would likewise stress the permanence of this record.

Second, in Revelation 3:5, overcomers are promised that their names will never be erased or blotted out of the book of life. The negative “not” represents the emphatic double negative ou mh in the Greek. The idea and emphasis is “by no means or under no circumstances will I erase …” As discussed in the lesson on the church at Sardis (see lesson 9), this statement in Revelation 3:5 is an illustration of litotes, a rhetorical device designed to stress the positive by the use of a negative. If I were to say, “That’s no small problem!” you would immediately understand, “That’s a big problem!” This promise not only stresses the security of the believer, for every believer’s name stands permanently written in the book of life, but by stating the promise in this way, the Lord is promising something special to the overcomer in the kingdom and eternal future.

As mentioned above, there is historical evidence that in the city of Sardis a person’s name was sometimes removed from the city register before death if he had been convicted of a crime. When these messages were written, Christians were under the constant threat of being branded as social rebels and stripped of their citizenship if they refused to recant or denounce their faith in Christ. In other words, they were branded as criminals. Thus, as a source of motivation and encouragement the Lord personally reminds the overcomer not only of the safety of his heavenly citizenship, but of the special acknowledgment the Lord Himself will give him before the Father and before His angels.

Blotting names from the book of life is never applicable to a believer in Christ because believers are secure in Him, being kept by the power of God (1 Pet. 1:5) and held secure in both the hand of the Son and of the Father (John 10:28-30).

GodIN RELATION TO UNBELIEVERS

When we examine Scripture as a whole, there is evidence that some names, however, will be blotted from the book of life. In relation to Revelation 3:5, Walvoord writes:

On the basis of this some have considered the book of life not as the roll of those who are saved but rather a list of those for whom Christ died, that is, all humanity who have possessed physical life. As they come to maturity and are faced with the responsibility of accepting or rejecting Christ, their names are blotted out if they fail to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour; whereas those who do accept Christ as Saviour are confirmed in their position in the book of life, and their names are confessed before the Father and heavenly angels.

(1) Psalm 69 is a messianic Psalm portraying the suffering of Christ caused by His enemies. The passage is clearly talking about unbelievers for verse 21 reads, “They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” This was prophetic of actions that would be carried out by unbelievers against Christ during His crucifixion. Then, in Acts 1:2 Peter specifically applied Psalm 69:25 to Judas. Judas was a Christ rejecter and a representative of unbelieving Israel as a whole.

(2) In Psalm 69:27 David said, speaking of these enemies, “… and may they not come into Your righteousness.” Why could they not come into God’s righteousness? Because of rejection of Christ. In the Jew’s zeal to pursue their own self-righteousness they rejected the gift of God’s righteousness through faith in His Son (see Rom. 10:1-6).

(3) Then, in Psalm 69:28, still talking about the unbeliever, David adds, “may they be blotted out of the book of life and may they not be recorded with the righteous.” In the context, “be recorded” means either remain recorded, or it may point to the goal or end result—so they may not remain on the same register. “Be recorded” is in the imperfect tense in the Hebrew text which may, depending on the context, express an aim or result. It may be that David was not just praying for the untimely death of his enemies, but for removal from the book of life. Why? Because their actions not only demonstrated unbelief, but such a hardened condition of the heart that it precluded repentance or ever coming to faith in the righteousness of God through Messiah.

(4) Exodus 32:31-33:

Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32 But now, if Thou wilt, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Thy book which Thou hast written!” 33 And the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.”

This was probably a register of those who were physically alive and to be blotted out of this book meant an untimely death. However, God’s physical and material dealings with Israel were often types and pictures of God’s spiritual dealings with man, and especially with the church today (1 Cor. 10:1f). For David’s enemies in Psalm 69 “blotting out of the book of life,” as in the case of Judas and the unbelieving in Israel, meant removal from the book of life and from remaining recorded with the righteous. This is supported by the fact that in Christ’s day all unbelieving Jews were not put to death, though Judas died by suicide. So likewise this Exodus passage may typically portray the removal of the sinner, the unbeliever who rejects Jesus Christ, from the book of life (John 16:8-9).

(5) Revelation 20:11-15 refers to the judgment of the unbelieving dead. These are those whose names are not in the book of life and are condemned to the eternal lake of fire. As will be suggested below, it may be that their names were originally there, but were removed because they never trusted in the person and work of Christ as their Savior.

LIMITED VS. UNLIMITED ATONEMENT

Some believe in a doctrine of limited atonement (that Christ died for only the elect), but Scripture states plainly that Christ died for the sins of the entire human race. This is the doctrine of unlimited atonement.

From the human side or perspective, Christ’s saving work is limited only by man’s rejection or failure to respond to God’s grace (cf. 1 John 2:2; John 3:16, 36; 2 Pet. 2:1; Isa. 53:6; 1 Tim. 4:10; Titus 2:11; 2 Pet. 3:9; John 7:17; 1:9, 11; Rom. 2:4).

From the divine side or perspective, Christ’s saving work is limited by God’s elective purposes, but this does not alter the clear statements of Scripture that Christ died for all and the offer of salvation is for all. God’s sovereign election and man’s volition and responsibility to believe constitute a difficult concept for man to grasp. It is an example of what some theologians have called an antinomy, two laws or principles that are true, but that seem contradictory to the human mind.

WhoSome possible implications:

(1) Since Christ died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), since God is perfectly just, fair, and impartial in His dealings with man (Rom. 2:2, 4, 11), and since all men are potentially saved in Jesus Christ (provision is made for all [cf. 1 Tim. 4:4-6; 4:10; 2 Pet. 2:1; 3:9]), it may be that the name of every person born into this world was written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.

(2) Since the issue for salvation is receiving Jesus Christ by personal faith (John 1:12), the unbeliever’s name is blotted out at death because of rejection of Christ or negative volition to the grace of God, including the pre-salvation work of the Spirit of God that attempts to lead him to Jesus Christ. Romans 2:4 reads, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” Obviously, all do not come to repentance or faith in Christ. This is what grammarians call a conative present pointing to what God desires and attempts to do, but He is hindered by man’s hardness and rejection.

(3) This can never happen for those who have believed in Christ, however, since they have trusted in the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ.

DIFFICULT PASSAGES

But what about Revelation 13:8 and 17:8?

(1) In both these passages the words, “has not been written,” are in the perfect tense. Remember that the perfect tense, unaffected by context or a particular verbal idea, refers to completed past action with existing results. Depending on the verb and the context, the emphasis may be on the accomplished action, the consummative perfect. Or, the emphasis may be on the existing state, the results without any thought or emphasis on the past, the intensive perfect. And of course, if the context suggests, the emphasis can be on both the completion and results.

(2) The verb used to illustrate the intensive perfect in grammar after grammar is the word “to write,” graptein, which in the perfect, gegraptai, means “to stand written.” When the negative “no” is added, it could mean: (a) it was never written in the book, or (b) it does not stand (remain) written. Why does it not remain written? If the above proposal is correct it is because their names are blotted out at death because they had refused to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

(3) Some might argue that in Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 the names of the beast worshippers are already viewed as removed from the book of life, that is removed or absent from the book of life before death. But those mentioned in these two passages are the earth dwellers, those who worship and marvel at the beast and who receive his mark. Receiving the mark of the beast is a clear indication of complete rejection of Jesus Christ; it demonstrates that the possessor of the mark has reached such a place or condition of hardness that it precludes repentance or faith in Christ. Receiving the mark of the beast, then, terminates one’s chance to receive Jesus Christ. It is equivalent to death for Tribulation people. It is proof they will never receive Jesus Christ, and God knows this absolutely. This is similar to the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that could only occur during the life of Christ on earth (Matt. 12).

(4) By contrast compare Isaiah 4:1-3 and Daniel 12:1. Both of these passages anticipate the blessings of the millennium following the Tribulation. Further, they are dealing with the remnant, those left at the end of the Tribulation who were not killed by the beast and who did not receive his mark, those whose names are still recorded in the book of life. These believers will go into the millennium and will experience its blessings.

(5) What about the words “from the foundation of the world”? In Revelation 13:8 these words are grammatically connected with “the Lamb who has been slain.” Literally the Greek reads, whose names “do not stand written in the book of life of the Lamb, who was slain from the foundation of the world.” This statement compares with Acts 2:23 and 1 Peter 1:20. It is the Lamb whose death was ordained from the foundation of the world. In Revelation 17:8, however, the construction is different. Here “from the foundation of the world” is connected with “the book of life.” Literally the Greek says, “whose names do not stand written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” The book itself exists from the foundation of the world. The removal of names does not occur until death, or in this case, until they take the mark of the beast.

THREE CATEGORIES OF PEOPLE

Finally, there are three categories of people that we might consider in relation to the book of life:

(1) Normal individuals who have reached the age of accountability; they must receive Jesus Christ as Savior, or at death their names will be blotted out and they will face the great white throne judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).

(2) The child who never reaches the age of accountability, but dies before he or she is capable of understanding and is thereby incapable of either rejecting or receiving Jesus Christ. Since Christ died for all, and since the issue is accepting or rejecting Christ, these names remain written in the book of life (cf. John 16:8-9; 1 Cor. 7:14).

(3) The mentally retarded, the person who can never reach the age of accountability because of their inability to understand the gospel. Such a person would also fall in the same category as number two above.

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Glossary of Prophetical Terms

Advent

This term comes from a Latin word adventus and means “arrival, presence.” It corresponds to the Greek parousia (coming or presence), or epiphaneia (manifestation, appearance), or apokalupsis (revelation, unveiling). Advent has become a theological term used of Christ’s appearances on earth–His first and second coming. So we speak of Christ’s first and second advents. The first advent includes our Lord’s birth, life, death, resurrection and was culminated by His ascension. The second advent refers to Christ’s second coming which will begin silently when He comes for His saints in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18), and then openly to the world at the end of the Tribulation when He comes to earth (Matt. 24:27-30; 1 Thess. 3:13).

Amillennialism

A system of eschatology which, among other things, interprets the millennium as symbolical of present life in heaven.

Analogy of Faith

The principle that any interpretation of the Scripture must conform and harmonize with the whole teaching of Scripture on that given subject.

Apocalyptics

Prophecies that deal with the disclosure or revelation of the end time events. The word is derived from the Greek word, apokalupsis (sometimes written apokalypsis) “an unveiling, revelation.”

Apocalypse

A term sometimes used for the Book of Revelation since the word revelation comes from the Greek apokalupsis, “an unveiling, revelation.”

Antichrist

Anti means “against” or “in place of.” Antichrist, therefore, may refer generally to any apostate teacher who is against Christ or who claims to be Christ (Matt. 24:23-24; 1 John 2:18; 4:3). The Antichrist refers to the final and horrible world ruler of the Tribulation. He is one who stands both against Christ and who seeks to usurp Christ’s place as the false Messiah of the Jews (1 John 4:3b; Rev. 13:1-10).

Chiliasm

The belief in a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. Comes from the mention of the 1,000 (Greek, cilioi) years used in Revelation 20:2-7.

Daniel’s Seventieth Week

This is another title or Scriptural reference for the Tribulation. It refers to the last seven years of the seventy weeks of years (or 490 years) prophesied concerning the nation Israel in Daniel 9:24-27. The seventy weeks of years concerns God’s program for the nation beginning with the time of Daniel and extending to the second advent of Christ. The first sixty-nine weeks (483 years) were from 445 BC to the time of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (29 AD). The last week (seven years) is yet to be fulfilled and can’t be until the fullness of the Gentiles is complete and the Church is removed by means of the Rapture. It will begin with the signing of the peace treaty with Israel by the prince that will come, the final world ruler who rises out of the revived Roman empire (Dan. 9:26-27).

Day of Christ

The Day of Christ is that period of time which begins with the rapture of the Church (1 Thess. 4:14-18) and includes the events which follow in heaven as the Judgment Seat of Christ and the Marriage of the Lamb (1 Cor. 1:8; 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16). 2 Thessalonians 2:2 should be rendered “the Day of the Lord” and refers to a different period of time. The Day of Christ is a time of reward and blessing for the Church following the Rapture.

Day of God

This is the name based on the Greek Text behind the KJV that is sometimes given to those events which bring to a close the Day of the Lord and usher in the eternal state with the new heavens and the new earth. The events of the Day of God include the dissolving of the old heavens and the old earth (2 Pet. 3:10-14). This name is also used of the great war described in Revelation 14:16 and consisting of several battles, beginning with Antichrist’s campaign into Egypt (Dan. 11:40-45), including the siege of Jerusalem (Zech. 14:2) as well as the final battle of Armageddon (Rev. 14:16).

Day of the Lord

This is the period of time which begins with the Tribulation and extends through the millennial reign of Christ on earth through the destruction of the heavens and the earth and into the ushering in of the new heavens and earth and the eternal state. 2 Peter 3:10 gives authority for including everything from the Tribulation through the Millennium. This day begins as a thief (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10) being instituted by the signing of the peace treaty of Daniel 9:27 with mankind believing a new time of peace and safety has been ushered in.

Eschatology

The doctrine of “last things” or “things to come.” The word eschatology comes from the Greek, escatos, meaning, “last, extreme.” As used theologically, this word refers to those truths of Scripture that pertain to the end times, the coming of the Lord, the rapture, the Tribulation, the millennium, etc.

Exegesis

The study of the intended meaning of a passage of Scripture through observation of the essentials of the text as the context, grammar, meaning of words, literary style, and the cultural and historical background. Exegesis comes from the Greek word exhgeomai, “to lead out, explain, unfold.” Eisegesis is just the opposite. It means to read into the text one’s own ideas. We want to avoid eisegesis and do exegesis.

Fullness of the Gentiles

This refers to the completion of God’s purpose in the church age during which time God is calling out from among the Gentiles a people for His name, namely the Church (Acts 15:14; Eph. 1:22-23; Rom. 11:7-32).

Great White Throne Judgment

Often called, the “final judgment,” the great white throne judgment follows the millennial reign of Christ. Its purpose is not to determine whether one is saved or not, but rather to pass judgment on the works of the unsaved to demonstrate their unrighteousness and that they fall short of the holiness of God. The sentence is the second death: eternal separation from God in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15).

Hades

See Hell.

Hell (and related words)

Hell: In common usage, this term refers to the place of future punishment for the wicked. The word properly translated “hell” in the New Testament is the Greek Geenna or Gehenna, a place in the valley of Hinnom where human sacrifices had been offered and where continuous burning of rubbish made it an apt illustration of the eternal lake of fire (cf. Matt. 5:22). Other words like sheol or hades are improperly translated by this term.

Sheol: The general idea of this word is “the place of the dead” including the grave (cf. Num. 16:30,33; Ps. 16:10), and the unseen place of those who have departed from this life, the place of departed spirits or both the righteous (Gen. 37:35) and the wicked (Prov. 9:18).

Hades: This word is basically the New Testament counterpart of the Sheol. It refers to the unseen world in general, but specifically to the abode of the unsaved dead between death and the final judgment at the great white throne (cf. Luke 16:23 and Rev. 20:11-15). It differs from hell in that it is temporary while hell is permanent.

Lake of Fire: Refers to the eternal state of the wicked who are forever separated from God and consigned to a special abode of suffering because of their rejection of Christ or their lack of the righteousness of Christ. It is equivalent to and identified with the second death in Revelation 20:14.

Imminency

This is a term used in connection with the return of Christ for the church. His coming for the church as promised in John 14:3 is imminent, without the necessity of any event that must take place before the Lord returns for His church. His coming for the church “is not qualified by description of any signs or prerequisite events.”28 By contrast, the return of Christ at the end of the Tribulation is preceded by a number of signs (Matt. 24:4-22). Scriptural evidence for imminency provides strong evidence for the pre-tribulation viewpoint.

Judgment Seat of Christ

This term describes that event when believers will be brought into an examination before the Son of God (1 Cor. 3:9-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10). The Greek word for “judgment seat” is bema which once referred to the platform where the umpire for the Greek games would sit and issue rewards to the athletes. Thus, the purpose for the judgment seat is not to determine whether the one judged is a believer or not, but rather to publicly assess, whether acceptable or worthless, one’s works (outward) and character (inward) for rewards or their loss.

Kingdom of HeavenKingdom of God, and Kingdom of Heaven

The word “kingdom” means “rule, reign.” Thus, the names kingdom of God and kingdom of heaven mean the rule or reign of God and the rule or reign of heaven. Some Bible teachers designate the eternal kingdom as the kingdom of God and the earthly program of God’s reign in the present mystery form and the millennial form of the future as the kingdom of heaven. Such a distinction, however, cannot really be supported by the use of these terms in Scripture.

The difference in the terms does not lie in the terms themselves as much as in the usage in the context. Both are used of the eternal kingdom (cf. Matt. 6:33 with 18:3-6; 7:21 and 19:14). Both are used in reference to the future millennial kingdom (Matt. 4:17 and Mark 1:14-15; cf. Matt. 3:2; 5:3, 10; 6:10; Mark 9:1, 47; 14:25; Luke 19:11; 21:31). And both are used in reference to the present form of the kingdom (Matt. 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10).

Some would say the differences in the terms are found in the following: (1) The Kingdom of heaven stresses the kingdom has its source and origin in heaven, is patterned after heaven and its perfection, and has eternal and lasting value. (2) The kingdom of God points to the spiritual character of the reign and dominion, i.e., the reign of God, and to the chief object and goal of the kingdom, the glory of God. (3) The kingdom of God when used of a spiritual kingdom includes only good angels and saved men. (4) The kingdom of heaven, when used of the earthly aspects of the God’s kingdom, deals with the external aspects of the kingdom, i.e., Christendom, and includes saved and unsaved.

Lake of Fire

See Hell.

Millennium

The word millennium means a thousand years and refers to the promise of Scripture that Christ would reign on earth for a thousand years. The millennium has come to be synonymous for not only Christ’s reign on earth, but for the fulfillment of all Old Testament hopes and expectations associated with the kingdom of God on earth—peace, no war, perfect seasons, Israel and Jerusalem the center of the earth, Gentile domination removed, etc. (key verses, Isa. 2:1-4; 9:7; 11:2f; Rev. 20).

Premillennial View: The second coming of Christ will occur before the Millennium.

Amillennial View: The second coming of Christ is at the end of the Church Age and there is no earthly Millennium. Strictly, amillenarians believe that the present state of the righteous in heaven is the Millennium, but there is no earthly Millennium.

Postmillennial View: The second coming of Christ is after the Millennium.

Mystery

Mystery, the Greek musthrion, is not something mysterious (in the modern sense) but something unknown until revealed to the initiate. In Scripture it refers to God’s secrets, His counsels and purposes, which are not known to man apart from His special revelation in Scripture or by His prophets. It is particularly used in the New Testament of truth unknown in the Old Testament, but revealed in New Testament times. Eleven different mystery truths can be distinguished in the New Testament (Matt. 13:11; Rom. 11:1-25; 1 Cor. 15:51-57; Eph. 3:1-11; 5:25-32; Col. 1:26-27; 2:2; 1 Thess. 2:7; 1 Tim. 3:16; Rev. 1:20; 10:7; 17:5,7).

Prophecy

As used here, prophecy refers to that part of God’s revelation in Scripture that is predictive, the revelation which God gives from His sovereign and eternal plans and foreknowledge of things to come. The prophet was one who spoke God’s message to His people. In this he was both a forth teller (preaching) and a foreteller (prediction). It is the predictive element we are concerned with here, however, we must always keep in mind that prophecy, though dealing with the future, carries a current message for godliness, peace, and comfort.

Rapture

Pretribulation Rapture: The rapture of the Church (i.e., the coming of the Lord in the air for His saints) will take place before the seven-year period of the Tribulation begins. Therefore, the Church will not go through any of the Tribulation period (the events of Revelation 6-18) according to this view.

In this view, some believe the second advent of Jesus Christ has two phases: one secret as a thief comes to take what is valuable to him (to the church only, 1 Thess. 4:13-18), and one open and manifest to all the world (2 Thess. 2:8, “the manifestation of His coming”). Others would say it is distinct from the second coming to earth.

Prewrath Rapture: The rapture of the church occurs prior to the wrath of God poured out on the earth, but in this view, the wrath of God does not occur until about or after the last quarter of the Tribulation. Thus the church will experience most of the events of the book of Revelation.

Mid-tribulation Rapture: The rapture will occur in the middle of the Tribulation, after three-and-a-half years.

Post-tribulation Rapture: The Church will be on earth during the entire Tribulation. Some would say the rapture is a part of the second coming, others that it is distinct from the second coming though separated by only a very short interval of time.

Partial Rapture: Only saints who are worthy will be raptured before the wrath of God is poured out; those who have not been faithful will remain on the earth to endure the Tribulation.

Sheol

See Hell.

Times of the Gentiles

This is an expression used by our Lord in Luke 21:24 of the period of Gentile domination over Israel when Israel has no king on the throne of David. It began in 586 BC with the captivity of Judah under Nebuchadnezzar (2 Chron. 36:1-21) and will continue until the return of Christ to earth. Daniel’s visions and prophecies foresee this domination under the pictures of the four beasts and the great image (Dan. 2:31f; 7:3f).

Tribulation

This term is used by most theologians to refer to Daniel’s 70th week, the seven-year period of unprecedented trouble that will occur on earth through a series of divine judgments to be poured out on the entire inhabited earth (Dan. 12:1; Rev. 6-19; Matt. 24:21,29). It begins with the signing of a peace treaty with Israel by the Roman prince that will come, the man of sin, the beast of Revelation 13 (cf. Dan. 9:26, 27; 2 Thess. 2:8). The Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21) refers to the last half of this seven year period. It is so called because of the increased wrath that will occur in these last three and half year.

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Seven Subtle Snares of Worldliness

(1) MATERIALISM

Explanation—Matter is all that matters.

Its Distortion—Deformed view of the world.

The Snare—I am what I own.

The Effect—Affluence, accumulation, occupied with things, consumer mentality, neglect spiritual things.

(2) ACTIVISM

Explanation—I must fill my life with activity.

Its Distortion—Deformed view of work. Seeking from work what only God can give.

The Snare—I am what I do, what I produce.

The Effect—Neurotic, consuming ministry. Seeking significance from work rather than from the Lord.

(3) INDIVIDUALISM

Explanation—I must depend on no one but myself.

Its Distortion—Deformed view of self. Produces a me-ism society.

The Snare—I am the source of my own life.

The Effect—Loneliness, resistance to authority, inability to work on a team.

(4) CONFORMISM

Explanation—Recognition by others is primary and necessary.

Its Distortion—Deformed view of the importance or the opinions of others.

The Snare—I am who others recognize me to be.

The Effect—Praise dependent, seeking significance from the approval of others.

(5) RELATIVISM

Explanation—It matters not what you believe as long as you believe something.

Its Distortion—Deformed view of truth. Refuses to recognize revealed truth.

The Snare—I am whatever I want to believe.

The Effect—Subjective approach to life, to Scripture; experience oriented, uncertain faith, emotional.

(6) SECULARISM

Explanation—Man has no need of religion. Man is sufficient.

Its Distortion—Deformed view of man. Fails to take into account man’s sinfulness.

The Snare—I am sufficient to handle my affairs.

The Effect—Sunday only kind of Christian. Fail to integrate God into all areas of life or reject God completely.

worldliness(7) RELIGIONISM

Explanation—If I am good, go to church, etc., I will be okay.

Its Distortion—Deformed view of God.

The Snare—I am okay because of my religious works and activities.

The Effect—Have some facts about God, engaged in some religious activity, but lacking in inner reality. Fail to integrate God into all areas of life.

Biblical Solutions

(1) MATERIALISM

Biblical Value—Spiritual and eternal values, treasures.

Responsibility—Renewal, reevaluation, trust in God rather than in things.

Result—Ability to follow God, ministry, laying up eternal treasures.

(2) ACTIVISM

Biblical Value—Christ-directed ministry, His initiative.

Responsibility—Fellowship, prayer, sensitivity, openness.

Result—Peace, fruitfulness, rest, absence of burnout.

(3) INDIVIDUALISM

Biblical Value—Body life, co-worker, no man an island.

Responsibility—Team work, submission to others, loving one another.

Result—Edification of the body.

(4) CONFORMISM

Biblical Value—Biblical sense of who I am in Christ. Accepted, belong, capable.

Responsibility—Learn to live as unto the Lord while resting in Him for my significance.

Result—Content, relaxed, able to love others and put them above self.

(5) RELATIVISM

Biblical Value—Biblical absolutes based on the index of the Bible

Responsibility—Objective Bible study based on exegesis, /ˌɛksəˈdʒiːsəs/; from the Greek ἐξήγησις from ἐξηγεῖσθαι ‘to lead out’, Exegesis is the exposition or explanation of a text based on a careful, objective analysis. The word exegesis literally means “to lead out of.” That means that the interpreter is led to his conclusions by following the text. Not eisegesis, The opposite approach to Scripture is eisegesis, which is the interpretation of a passage based on a subjective, non-analytical reading. or is the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases The word eisegesis literally means “to lead into,” which means the interpreter injects his own ideas into the text, making it mean whatever he wants.

Result—Confidence, divine guidance, knowing truth which gives freedom.

(6) SECULARISM

Biblical Value—Biblical view of God and man.

Responsibility—Total dependence on God.

Result—Experience God in all areas of life.

(7) RELIGIONISM

Biblical Value—Finished work of Christ plus obedience.

Responsibility—Rest in Christ’s work, honesty, openness, worship, faith.

Result—Ability to truly love God and people.

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Who Are the Overcomers?

The promises to the overcomer in Revelation 2 and 3 present us with some important, but difficult questions that need to be answered in order to properly interpret and apply these promises. But as is so often the case with difficult passages, students of the Word are divided on the answers. The main questions as I see it are simply, who is the overcomer and what is the nature of the promises?

(1) Are these warnings against the loss of salvation as some have advocated?

(2) Is “overcomer” a title for all believers because of initial faith in Christ? In other words, does 1 John 5:5 define the overcomers of Revelation 2 and 3?

(3) Or is the overcomer equivalent to a special name for genuine believers because of the ultimate triumph of their faith?

(4) Is this a warning against false profession or is it a challenge and motivation to all believers to faithfulness for rewards?

These seven passages are not the only passages that touch on the issue of overcoming or victory over the conflicts and adversaries that we face in this life. Obviously, then, to get a better picture, it would be helpful to integrate these verses in Revelation with other portions of Scripture that speak of overcoming or similar terms such as “triumph” or “conquer” and that deal with issues that might shed light on the subject of victory. Even though we might not be able to agree on all the details, there will be certain truths that are self evident and very practical, exhorting and challenging to us in our Christian walk.

The Principle of Conflict

THE PRINCIPLE DECLARED

The term “overcomer” comes from the Greek nikaw, “to conquer, prevail, triumph, overcome.” This verb is found 28 times in 24 verses in the New Testament. This presupposes and calls attention to the presence of war, contests, battles, and conflicts in man’s struggle with evil. The New Testament clearly teaches us, as does life itself, that we are in a conflict, indeed, a holy war, with specific adversaries. Even after salvation, the conflict still rages in and against the life of the Christian. This is everywhere evident in Scripture and so obvious in life that one has to deny reality to ignore or disclaim it. Two key passages that illustrate the nature of our conflict with evil are Ephesians 2:1-2 and 6:12:

Eph. 2:1-2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.

Eph. 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

THE ADVERSARIES DEFINED

(1) Satan, our chief adversary, the devil: 1 Pet. 5:8-9; Eph. 6:12; John 16:11; Col. 2:15; but note 1 John 2:13-14.

(2) The world, a system and arrangement of the affairs of men and government under the control of the evil one and opposed to God and His purposes for man: John 16:33; 1 John 5:4; Eph. 2:2.

(3) Indwelling sin or the flesh and all its corrupting power and life dominating patterns: Rom. 7:15; 8:4-8, 13; Gal. 5:16-26.

(4) Other forms stemming from the above three: darkness (Col. 1:13), blindness (2 Cor. 4:3-4), death (Rom. 8:4f; Rev. 2:11), evil (Eph. 5:16), disobedience (Eph. 2:1), rebellion in every conceivable form (2 Tim. 3:1f).

The Provision of Victory

THE MEANS

(1) The Person and Work of Jesus Christ: That Christ is the Overcomer, that is, the ultimate source and means of victory is the great message of Scripture and everywhere evident in its pages. Note the following passages:

John 16:33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

Rev. 3:21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. (emphasis mine)

Rev. 5:5 and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.

Rev. 17:14 These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him {are the} called and chosen and faithful.

Rom. 8:37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

2 Cor. 2:14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.

Col. 2:15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

Closely related to Christ’s victory through His person and work on the cross is another aspect of the means of our victory, the work of the Spirit in regeneration and indwelling.

(2) The Ministry of the Spirit in Regeneration and Indwelling. Compare the following verses:

John 4:4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (cf. 4:2).

1 John 5:4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world.

We should note the emphasis here. The text does not say, “He that overcomes,” as the NIV translates (the participle is neuter), but “everything or whatever is born of God.” Overcoming is specifically non-personalized in order to stress a point: it is never the man that overcomes, but his birth from God and what that brings into his life; this is that which overcomes or gives capacity to overcome the world.

So, 1 John 5:4-5 gives us some insightful principles regarding those who overcome the world, namely: (a) the source of victory is the new birth and the new life that it brings, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world”; (b) the method for appropriating victory is faith, “and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith”; (c) the object of faith must be Jesus Christ because He is the real victor, “And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

THE METHOD

This too is clearly marked out for us in the Bible.

(1) Faith (1 John 5:5; 2 Cor. 5:7; Gal. 2:20; 5:5; Eph. 3:17). 1 John 5:5 makes it abundantly clear. “And this is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith.” Since victory was accomplished by Christ and not by what we have done, victory always comes by faith in the work of God through Christ. Our victory is not a victory to be won, but by one to be claimed by faith.

(2) The Filling of the Spirit: Appropriating the Manifold Ministries of the Spirit (John 14:16f; 1 John 4:2-4; Eph. 3:16; 1 Cor. 12:12-13; Rom. 8:1f; Gal. 5:16f). Though saved and identified with Christ in His life and death, all believers would be helpless to overcome because of the presence of the flesh without the Holy Spirit who is God’s provision for strength and victory.

(3) Biblical Insight Through the Knowledge of the Word (Ps. 119:9, 11, 45; John 8:32; 17:17; Rom. 10:17; Eph. 6:17; 1 John 2:13-14; Heb. 4:12; Col. 1:9-12). Obviously, if I am going to believe God’s message of grace, trust God with my life, and deal with my inner man, I must know the Word. Faith and the ministries of the Spirit do not exist independently of God’s precious Word. They are directly tied to knowing the Word. The Word builds my faith, directs it, and the Spirit speaks to us through the Word.

But there is another element of victory and one that is vital for victory and fruitfulness; it’s human responsibility as the next point shows.

(4) Diligence, Discipline (Rom. 13:14 [put on]; 1 Tim. 4:7 [discipline yourself]; 2 Pet. 1:3-10 [applying all diligence]; Gal. 5:16 [walk]; Eph. 5:18 [be filled]). There is a fine balance that must be observed in Scripture. Salvation and victory is completely of the Lord. We are to put no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:3). We do not overcome by our works, by the energy of the flesh, or by our sincerity, or by our effort, or by our will power because we are powerless. Nevertheless, victory requires our cooperation with God’s operation. It means discipline, diligence, commitment to draw near to God and to act on His promises and provision by faith. Note also 1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:12-13.

The Meaning of the Overcomer Passages

LEXICAL CONSIDERATIONS

There are five Greek words that should be considered: “Overcomer” and “conquer” are translations of nikaw, “to overcome, to conquer, prevail, come through victoriously.” “Victory” is nikh, the noun form of nikaw. “Overwhelmingly conquer” is upernikaw (Rom. 8:37), a compound of nikaw and the preposition uper, “over, beyond, above.” “Triumph” is qriambeuw, “to triumph over, to lead in triumphant procession” and hence to make a public spectacle of a conquered enemy (Col. 2:15). One other word, httaomai, is translated “overcome” in the NASB and KJV. This word means “be defeated by, or succumb to a person or thing” (2 Pet. 2:19-20). The only other occurrence is 2 Corinthians 12:13 where it means to be treated as an inferior.

INTERPRETATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

It appears that there are four primary views of the overcomer passages of Revelation 2 and 3:

(1) The loss of salvation view: According to this interpretation, the promises are written to believers to encourage them to overcome lest they lose their salvation. To fail to overcome is to lose salvation.
But the loss of salvation view contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture that believers are kept secure by the finished work of Christ. It is His record that keeps us not ours. A large portion of the New Testament demonstrates such a view to be wrong. The following passages illustrate this truth: concerning believers, Jesus said, “and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29), they “shall not come into judgment” (John 5:24), and “have [already] passed from death into life” (John 5:24). The apostle Paul declared that “neither death nor life … nor things present nor things to come … shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph 2:8-9). He even told the believers at Thessalonica that “whether we wake or sleep [i.e., whether we are morally alert or spiritually slothful], we should live together with Him” (1 Thess. 5:10).

(2) The perseverance or ultimate triumph of the saints view: According to this view all genuine believers persevere and overcome the world by living godly and obedient lives. Overcoming is equivalent to faithfulness or obedience which proves the genuineness of salvation. MacArthur is a proponent of this view. He writes: “John was so confident of the ultimate triumph of faith over sin that he had a special name for the believer: ‘the one who overcomes’ (1 John 5:5; Rev 2:7, 11, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 21:7).” MacArthur is interpreting these passages according to what has come to be called the ‘Reformed Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints’ which states that all true believers will persevere in a life of godly obedience. They admit that there may be temporary setbacks and bouts with sin, but that ultimately, true believers live victorious, holy lives to the end.

Concerning this view, Bob Wilkin writes:

There is a major problem with this interpretation. The Bible does not promise that all true believers will live victorious, holy lives. Believers may have more than temporary setbacks and bouts with sin. It is sadly possible for believers to backslide terribly and to remain in that backslidden state until death. Certainly the church at Corinth was hardly a picture of believers experiencing ultimate victory over sin in their lives (cf. 1 Cor 3:1-3; 11:30; see also Gal 6:1-5; Jas 5:19-20; and 1 John 5:16)!

I’m not saying that eternal security is not true… What I am saying is that there is no guarantee in Scripture that eternally secure people will live overcoming, victorious lives here and now. Believers can fail.

It should be noted that some of the Christians at Corinth had died in a state of carnality as a direct result of God’s judgment which Paul carefully defined as God’s disciplinary action. This shows God was dealing with them as His children (cf. 1 Cor. 11:29-32 with Heb. 13:5-11).

(3) The view that all believers are overcomers: According to this view, all believers become overcomers the moment they believe in Jesus Christ. The very act of believing overcomes the world: “Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5). Faith, not faithfulness is the primary focus point in this position.

Ryrie writes:

An overcomer is not someone who has some special power in the Christian life or someone who has learned some secret of victory. John himself defined an overcomer as a believer in Christ (I John 5:4-5). Thus every Christian is an overcomer, though the various promises in these seven letters are addressed particularly to each local believing group, and tailored to the special circumstances found in each church.

Walvoord agrees and writes: “This promise should not be construed as reward for only a special group of Christians but a normal expectation for all Christians.”

Wiersbe also agrees:

Note that a special word is spoken to the “overcomers” in each church (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). These “overcomers” are not the “super-saints” in each church, a special group that will receive special privileges from Christ, but the true believers in each of these churches. We dare not assume that every member of every local church in every period of history is a true child of God. Those who truly belong to Christ are “overcomers” (1 John 5:4-5). In every period of history, there have been true saints in the professing church (often called “the invisible church”). Christ speaks a special word of encouragement to them, and certainly we may apply these words to ourselves today.

I appreciate and highly respect the views of each of the above writers, and while this view appeals to me and I wish I could hold to it, there are certain problems with this interpretation that I have not been able to reconcile in my own thinking. Does John’s use of the overcomer expression in 1 John 5:4-5 dictate its meaning in Revelation 2 and 3?

It is true that 1 John 5:5 teaches that our faith overcomes the world. It is a mistake, however, to conclude that because John so used that expression in one place, he must have used it the same way in all other places. The contexts in which the expression is found in Revelation 2-3 are greatly different than the context of 1 John 5:5.13

The messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 present very different contexts than that of 1 John 5. 1 John 5:4 teaches us that the means of victory over the world is “our faith.” Then verse 5 declares that the only ones who can overcome the world by faith are those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Why? Because only these have experienced the new birth of God in spiritual regeneration and it is that regeneration that gives the power for victory (vs. 4a). But the context of the seven letters suggests that John is there admonishing believers to overcome specific trials and temptations by faithful obedience through faith in their new life in Christ. Consider the following examples from each of these messages:

  • Revelation 2:7b reads, “To him who overcomes I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.” But the context for this is the admonition in 2:5 which reads, “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first …”
  • The admonitions “Do not fear …” and “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10) form the immediate context for the promise, “He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death” (2:11).
  • The call to repent in 2:16 precedes the promise to the overcomer in 2:17.
  • “Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him i will give authority over the nations” (2:25-26). Again, the promise is in a context of two admonitions for faithfulness. While some versions leave out the “and” that begins verse 26, the Greek text contains this connecting particle and shows a relationship exists between the promise and the admonition.
  • The promise of 3:5 is directly connected to the concept of faithfulness described in 3:4. “But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white; for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; …”
  • Again, an admonition, “Hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown” (3:11) forms the context for the promise of 3:12, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, …”
  • Finally, the last promise to the one who overcomes (3:21) is set against the context of the Savior’s invitation for fellowship (3:20). Believers cannot overcome without dining intimately with the Savior in daily fellowship.

(4) The rewards view: According to this view, the overcomer passages are promises of rewards given to believers to encourage them to overcome the trials of life through faithfulness.

This view is held by some very outstanding expositors of the Word. For instance, J. Sidlow Baxter writes:

But the promise is to “the overcomer.” Are all believers “overcomers”? Let him think twice who would answer a dogmatic “Yes” to this question. The letters to the seven churches, at least, suggested otherwise to an unprejudiced reader. Our standing in Christ is no artificial position of immunity. As there are degrees of punishment [in hell] so there are degrees of reward [in heaven]. One is made ruler over ten cities, another over five. “One star differeth from another star in glory.”

Barnhouse has a similar view which sees the promises to the overcomer as promises of rewards for faithfulness and writes:

Some have said that eating from the tree of life was the equivalent of receiving eternal life, but this is most evidently a false interpretation. Eternal life is the prerequisite for membership in the true Church. Eating of the tree of life is a reward that shall be given to the overcomer in addition to his salvation. His work, built upon the foundation that is Christ Jesus, abides the test of the Lord’s appearing, and he receives over and above his entrance into eternal life, a place in the Heavens in the midst of the paradise of God.

These men, along with others, would heartily agree that all believers are overcomers in one sense, in the sense they have become children of God, have been translated out of darkness into the glorious light of Christ, have been taken out of Adam and placed into Christ. In this glorious position, they have become identified with Him as to His person and work, etc., and enjoy many other marvelous blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3; Col. 2:10). Every believer is an overcomer in that sense (1 John 5:4-5). But these expositors would also insist that all believers do not overcome absolutely. Christians can fail to live for the Lord and overcome the desires of the flesh (1 Cor. 11:28f; 1 John 5:16-17). Furthermore, while the failure to overcome may be an indication of false profession, the fact a believer does not overcome the struggles of life, does not automatically prove they are not true Christians. If they have truly believed in Christ, they cannot lose their salvation, but they will lose rewards as the Lord warns in Revelation 3:11 and the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. Those holding to the rewards view would say the overcomer passages are promises given to believers to encourage and kindle love and obedience in view of who they are in Christ and what they posses in Him. These are not warnings against the loss of salvation, nor necessarily warnings against false profession, though that could be one application of these promises. Furthermore, they are not statements affirming the preservation of the saints. Instead, they are guarantees of special blessings or rewards for faithful service and lives of faith.

OvercomersThe Problem Discussed

Does 1 John 5:4-5 define who the overcomers are in Revelation 2 and 3? In other words, do the overcomer promises apply to all believers regardless of the kind of lives they live? At this stage in my study of the issues here, I have become convinced that 1 John 5:4-5 is not synonymous with the statements of Revelation 2 and 3.

They occur in different books, with different contexts that contain a number of differences and the differences are such that they suggest that the references to overcoming in Revelation 2 and 3 are not defined by 1 John 5.

In 1 John the apostle affirms that through believing in Jesus Christ there is a permanent victory over the world in one sense. When a believer exercises faith in Christ, he does overcome the world in the sense that the world system is intrinsically hostile to God’s commands, to faith in Christ, and is satanically blinded to the truth and under his dominion of control and death (2 Cor. 4:3, 4; Eph. 2:1-3; Heb. 2:14), but through faith in Christ, the believer has overcome that condition in that he is made a child of God, has been rescued from the domain of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:12-13).

In Revelation, however, the overcomer concept is restrictive within the realm of the daily conflicts and battles of the Christian life according to the context of each of the seven letters. Here are illustrations of the battles that believers must overcome and for which rewards are promised for overcoming. “But this is a long way from saying that all Christians live ultimately victorious lives. In fact, that is something the New Testament does NOT say.” Regardless, as demonstrated above, many use 1 John 5:4-5 to interpret the overcomer promises of Revelation 2 and 3 because of the similarity of terms.

Overcoming and the promises of these passages find their root in the Lord’s statement in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” The Christian life is full of conflict, tribulation, but victory awaits all believers through the victory accomplished by the Savior, but it is a victory that must be appropriated by an active faith that is fed though fellowship with the Lord.

While all believers have overcome the world in the sense of 1 John 5, conflicts and trials come to the believer in a variety of different shapes and degrees. When we turn to Revelation 2 and 3, we find each church with its own particular conflict and problems with specific rewards that are in keeping with or somehow related to the problem faced. No two Christian’s lives are the same in terms of their struggles and triumphs. The basis of victory is the same, faith in the person and work of Christ and our blessings in Him, but the struggles are different and it seems that God tailors the rewards accordingly.

These letters do not present victory as a certainty, but rather as an aspiration which each individual should pursue. The Savior’s words are never to them who overcome, but to him who overcomes. Victory is not a collective right, but an individual attainment … Clearly, the promises to the overcomers are rewards for obedience to the commands of the Lord of the Church.

The problems that most have with this view come in the nature of the rewards mentioned in these promises and admittedly, these are difficult. The rewards in Revelation 2 and 3 are usually viewed as blessings all believers will automatically receive as, for instance, the right to the tree of life. This is associated with possessing eternal life, but as we will see, this is probably not the case.

An investigation of the promises in Revelation 2 and 3 will seek to show that these are not promises all believers experience because every believer is an overcomer, but that these promises are special rewards to believers who overcome specific conflicts in the Christian life through faith and obedience in their daily walk.

The Proof or Evidence

THE EXEGETICAL EVIDENCE

There is exegetical evidence within the letters themselves which restrict the meaning of the overcomer.

(1) In Revelation 2:26 the Greek text contains the conjunction “and” (kai) at the beginning of this verse. It reads, “And he who overcomes, …” This links the promise to the overcomer back to verse 25 and the statement, “Nevertheless what you have, hold fast (kratew, a strong word meaning ‘to hold firmly to something so that it is not lost’) until I come.” This both connects overcoming to the preceding admonition and makes it dependent on holding fast.

(2) In Revelation 2:26 overcoming is also connected to what follows or to keeping Christ’s works until the end. The Lord says, “And he who overcomes and (italics mine) he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him i will give authority over the nations.” This clearly shows that the overcomer here is not only a believer, but one who keeps the Lord’s deeds in contrast to the evil deeds promoted by the Jezebel like false prophetess being tolerated in the church at Thyatira.

(3) In Revelation 3:5, the promise to the overcomer is tied into verse 4 by the word “thus,” the Greek adverb, outws. It may look at what follows, or it may draw an inference to what precedes as here. This shows us that the overcomer is restricted to those who have not defiled their garments in their earthly walk and are thus worthy of reward—the reward of being clothed in white garments. This is not the garment of salvation or the imputed righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.

In support of this, let’s compare Revelation 19:8. This verse shows that the wedding garment mentioned in this verse consists of the “righteous acts of the saints.” The Greek word here is dikaiwma. Instead of imputed righteousness, this Greek word refers to the state or virtue of righteous character. In this context, it refers to the acts or deeds or works of righteousness for which rewards are given, i.e., the wedding garments. Two different Greek words, dikaiwsis and dikaiosunh respectively are used in the New Testament to refer to imputed righteousness. It should be evident, then, that the white garment in 3:5 is a reward for works of righteousness that occur after salvation.

(4) In Revelation 3:12 the promise to the overcomer is again connected to a crown of reward for holding fast (kratew) at least by implication or location. And this fits with the thrust of 2:25-26 where the overcomer reward is specifically linked to holding fast by the word “and” in the Greek text.

(5) In Revelation 21:6-7 we find an important contrast. The waters of life are free. All believers partake of this, but eating of the tree is for overcomers in the broader sense. Compare 22:14 with 15. In the light of Revelation 3:4-5 and 19:8, access to the tree of life through the New Jerusalem is restricted for those who cleanse their lives through fellowship with Christ.

In 22:14 John pronounces a blessing on those who wash their robes, who lead the clean and pure Christ life, for they thereby have the right and privilege of entering into the gates of the city and partaking of the tree of life. This means not only immortal existence, but such relations with Jesus Christ and the Church that each has unrestricted access to all that is good in the universe of God.

THE CONTEXTUAL EVIDENCE

The context of the letters restricts the meaning of the overcomer from all believers to rewards to faithful believers who overcome in the specific conflicts of their lives. Each letter without exception moves from an address to the church as a whole, of the church corporate and individual groups in each church, to the individual aspect with a personal appeal to the one who has an ear and to the one who overcomes.

THE APPLICATIONAL EVIDENCE

To apply these promises to all believers seems to rob them of their force as promises. As Hodges points out, “a command that everyone keeps is superfluous, and a reward that everyone receives is nonsense.”

THE ANALOGICAL EVIDENCE

Evidence from the analogy of Scripture is consistent with the teaching of the New Testament in other places; a Christian may lose or gain rewards according to what he does with the stewardship God has given him (1 Cor. 3:11f; 9:27; 2 Cor. 5:10; Luke 19:11-26). In fact, if the promises of Revelation 2 and 3 are not restrictive, then we have what appears to be a contradiction between Luke 19:11f and Revelation 2:26 and 3:21. Many believe there is a difference in the New Testament between entrance into heaven and being an heir of the kingdom (cf. Rom. 8:16-17).

True, some of the promises are hard to explain and understand as rewards and not as general gifts that go with eternal life, but because of the above evidence we should give strong consideration to the view that these are promises that pertain to rewards. In the exposition of the messages to the seven churches of Revelation I will cover each of the overcomer promises in their contexts.

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