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Are you feeling a sigh of relief?
Two relatives have told me recently: “I’m a few days behind, but I am going to make them up and complete this reading.”
I’m confident they will. There’s nothing like the feeling of completion – especially when that completion is accompanied by knowing you’ve read God’s word all the way through.
I find it interesting that in these last chapters of Revelation, John is so overcome with emotion that he falls down and worships at the feet of the angel who brings him the Revelation. In fact, he does it twice, and both times, the angel rebukes him.
It’s really our problem too isn’t it?
We lean away from God when we begin to worship something other than God – and sometimes, what we choose to worship is even religious – perhaps “Christian” – in nature. Nothing, absolutely nothing, should get in our way of bringing glory, honor, and praise to God every day of our life. In our private thoughts, in our words to others, in our demeanor, in our ethics – all should be done with the goal of bringing the Lord glory, honor, and praise. And when we are tempted to neglect, or do otherwise, let us hear the angel of the Lord say: “Do not do it. Worship God!”
The final section of the Revelation, chapters 17 – 22, give us a much more detailed description of the end of the world as we know it than we have seen thus far.
But first remember something: this book was written in troublesome times to first century people. The book has maintained that the kingdoms of the world, particularly the empire of Rome, is being influenced by Satan but everything is under the control of God. At the end of chapter 19, the power and influence of Satan is drastically reduced as Satan is thrown into the abyss. A long period of time follows, described in Revelation as a thousand years (chapter 20).
During this long period of time – not “just” a thousand years since few of the numbers in this book are literal – those who have been martyred for their faith enjoy an exalted status with Christ, a status promised to all Christians but realized early by the martyrs. At the end of that time, Satan will be released to inflict unbridled pain on God’s people. But he will not succeed. Before a final planned conflict begins, he will be removed by God forever.
If he is going to be removed forever, why not remove him now?
I do not know. The point is, everything is subject to the eternal plan and power of God.
Are we in the long period (thousand years), or is it to come?
It would seem to me that since the long period began with the end of the Roman empire, we are now in that long period. Satan may be restrained (bound with a chain), but we can expect his influence only to continue and become stronger. We can also expect that God will, in His time, bring it all to an end.
Chapter seventeen begins a new section with a new vision. Remember as you read: symbols with meaning are always explained. Symbols that are not explained should be considered as “color,” and their meaning should not be guessed at. We’ve enough to do to consider the meanings revealed.
The vision is that of a woman named “Babylon” sitting on a red beast with seven heads and ten horns. She and the beast ride over “many waters.” The waters stand for “people, multitudes, nations, and languages.” The beast “once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss only to go to his destruction.” I believe the beast is either Satan, or a deputy of Satan – both described similarly in 12:3 and 13:1. Either way, neither has the authority of God who is first and last and lives for ever and ever (1:17).
The seven heads of the beast stand for seven hills on which the woman also sits. This description seals it for us: the woman is the ancient city and empire of Rome. She is drunk on the blood of God’s people. The seven heads also stand for earthly kings who likewise derive their power (life) from Satan.
Satan, his henchmen, and kings of the earth will eventually turn on Rome and destroy her. No one should imagine this to be a “natural course.” It is all by the purpose and will of God. If all things are guided by that purpose and will, the people of God, whose blood is often consumed by their opponents, should not imagine God has abandoned them, but is working out His will for them and all things. As the old hymn says: “The Kingdoms of earth pass away one by one but the kingdom of heaven remains. It is built on a rock and the Lord is its king and for ever and ever He reigns.”
Note the parallels between chapters 4 – 11 and 12 – 17
* Both begin with a scene in heaven (chapters 4, 12)
* Both continue with a conflict between the people of God and the forces of evil (chapters 5, 12)
* Both anticipate God stepping into the picture (chapters 8 and 14)
* Both have God identifying His people as the 144,000 (chapter 7 and 14).
* Both have God acting to discipline the earth for its evil (chapters 8-9 and 15-16).
* In both sections, the discipline fails to change the behavior of mortals (9:21; 16:9).
* Both sections end with the end of the world, signified by lightning, peals of thunder, earthquake and hailstones (compare 11:19 and 16:17-21).
Chapter fifteen serves to introduce us to the coming judgment of the earth. The judge is just and true. He alone is holy, and all nations will, if not submit to His will, succumb to His power.
In the first section of Revelation, chapter one, we are introduced to the major players in the book and are told why it has been written. In the second section (chapters 2-3), the Lord addresses Revelation’s recipients directly and lists his concerns about their behavior. For most of them, there needs to be change.
In chapters 4 – 11, The Lord tells why there should be change, and the main reason is that He is going to hold the inhabitants of the earth accountable for their sins – including His own people.
Chapters 12-16 say much the same thing, but with the addition of some details left out of 4 – 11. This section even begins much the same way as the last. Both open with a look into heaven. Both open with conflict – in chapter 5 the conflict is between earthly forces bent on conquest that hurt the lives of Christians. In chapter 12, the conflict is in heaven between forces of evil and the army of God. What is revealed to us is that the struggles of God’s people on earth are caused by a conflict that began in heaven. Because the forces of evil were defeated in heaven, we can be confident they will be defeated on the earth.
Who are the 144,000 of Revelation 7?
It’s strange that we ask that question, since John seems to know precisely who they are, or if not, he is not interested. What he really wants to know is the identity of the innumerable host dressed in white robes before the throne of God.
Unless, of course, the 144,000 and the innumerable host are the same people.
How would these first readers, Christians in Asia Minor at the end of the first century, regard the 144,000?
First off, we might ask why the 144,000 are divided into the twelve tribes of Israel – especially since ten of them were part of the northern kingdom. Second, we might wonder why the tribe of Joseph is included, since in the Old Testament, Joseph as a tribe is seldom mentioned being replaced by the tribes of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
The twelve tribes stand for all of Israel. Not, by this time, the Jewish people, but the people of God, made up of those from all nations who have placed faith in Christ. The fact that they are numbered indicates that God knows who and how many they are. We are reminded of Paul’s more pointed assurance in 2 Timothy 2:19 – God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his . . .”
It makes no sense to say that “only 144,000 will be saved” when, in point of fact, the rest of the chapter details the salvation of more people than can be counted. To be in their number however, at least at this point, requires two things: cleansing in the blood of Christ, and perseverance through the difficulties that allegiance to the great Lord are likely to entail. In the word of chapters 2 and 3, they have “overcome.”
There are five major divisions of the book of Revelation:
First comes the introduction in chapter 1. Then, chapters two and three address the specific behaviors God wants each of the seven churches to deal with. Chapters 4, 12, and 17 each begin new sections, all saying the same thing but each with a little more detail. Chapters 4 and 12 both begin with scenes in heaven.
Perhaps you will remember the movie The American President where president Andrew Shepherd (played by Michael Douglas) tells Sydney Ellen Wade the Oval Office was designed to intimidate foreign dignitaries. I’ve visited the Oval Office several times (after hours, guided tours) and while is was not originally designed with intimidation in mind, it is definitely impressive.
The scene in chapter four is that of God’s “Oval Office,” though it is usually referred to as the “throne room scene.” Its depiction is without doubt designed to impress. In the ancient world, you would expect the presence of aged advisers (elders) and you would expect it and the presence of the king to be breathtaking. That’s exactly how John depicts it. Don’t get lost in the imagery. You will see something similar in Ezekiel 1, and another description in Hebrews 12. You have, in chapter four, come into the presence of God.
Who are the four living creatures?
We do not know, except that they are to strike awe in the minds of the readers. The creator of heaven and earth might not be expected to have normal attendants. The elders are not just esteemed advisers. They represent kings, all of whom bow before God, and everyone confesses the worthiness of God because He is, after all, the creator of all things.
Does God carry a grudge?
I ask the question because of Jesus’ words in Revelation 2, repeated three times: “I have this against you.”
The heart of the Revelation is found in chapters two and three, for there, up front, is what the book is really all about: changing behavior.
The letters of the New Testament usually have the same format. They open by laying a foundation which will encourage the behavioral change specifically desired later in the letter. Revelation however differs. It requires the change first, then details the reasons for change in the rest of the book.
Though they are only two in number, chapters two and three are full of important teaching. First, each body of Christians (a “church”) is as much the Church as all Christians everywhere. Whether at Laodicea or Smyrna or Pergamum, each is called the church. Second, it is possible for a church to lose its status as a church. It’s called, “removing” the candlestick. Jesus is the one who does it and it is behaviorally determined.
Third, there appears to be no individual judgment in this book. Our normal picture of judgment is that we each appear before the judgment seat of God to be evaluated individually. But as Revelation opens, we are judged as a group in our local congregations. This is why congregational membership and involvement is important, and also why we must each assume responsibility for the direction our community body of Christ takes and our participation in that direction.
In the closing hours of Jesus’ life, John offers us insights we do not find in the other gospels.
Only John tells us the Jews abandoned the rule of God for the rule of Caesar (19:1-15). Only John tells us the Jews’ objected to the sign on Jesus’ cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (19:20-25). Only John tells us about the spear stuck in Jesus’ side and the extravagant anointing of Jesus’ body by Joseph and Nicodemus (vss. 39-42).
Three points stand out to me about John’s account.
First, the whole scene was scripted by God. You see it in the four times John refers to the events and tells us scripture had already foretold of the events (vss. 24, 28, 36-37). You see it in Pilate’s fear when he hears Jesus has called himself the “son of God” and when Jesus rather rebukingly tells him the only power Pilate has is the power given to him “from above.” You see it also in Pilate’s continued desperate attempts to release Jesus.
There is, secondly, the persistent theme that Jesus is king. Pilate, though for him, tongue-in-cheek, ironically confessed the kingship of Christ with his sign above the Lord’s head. And notice the spices Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea used. The amount they brought is an amount befitting a king. In fact, an amount befitting a hundred kings.
Third, there is the denial of Jesus’ kingship – a denial that remains in our own world but never mind the world. The persistent denials in John’s gospel are from those who claim to be God’s people. Which do you think is of less importance: that the Jews verbally denied the kingship of Jesus in their lives by their words, or our own denial of Jesus’ kingship in our unwillingness to submit and be obedient to him?