So far we have been able to put Revelation into context despite its symbolism and style: written by John the Apostle to early churches with the goal of encouraging them to persevere under Roman persecution, provide ongoing encouragement to every generation concerning the ever present power of evil and Christ's ultimate victory.
We began with John's vision of Jesus and His warning to the church to prepare for struggle and to persevere in suffering if they wanted the prize of eternal life.
In his first vision John sees Jesus addressing the church in its predicament here on earth (letters to the seven churches).
The next vision, which is the longest, is the vision that John has of Christ as He takes His position in heaven. So far we have only seen Jesus in human form, in humiliation and death with a brief moment of glory at the resurrection. Now John will describe the glorious Jesus in the heavenly realm where He reigns.
Vision II – Christ in Heaven – 4:1-11:19
1. Chapter 4:1-2
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things." 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.
- Revelation 4:1-2
With chapter 4 begins a vision of heaven and a revelation of what will shortly take place on earth. I said that one device often used in apocalyptic literature was action played out in the celestial realm. True to form, John's vision is one that sees the characters and symbols in a heavenly scene, however, the action taking place there will describe the things that are soon to happen on earth.
Chapter 4 establishes the scene of the vision which is heaven and God's throne. It does so to confirm that what will happen and what will be said are of divine origin, not human.
The idea of God's throne is the central idea or image of the book and suggests power and sovereignty:
- The jewels mentioned refer to beauty and value.
- 24 elders mentioned represent majesty and authority. Elders may be angels who are the spiritual counterparts to the 12 patriarchs and 12 apostles, leaders of a heavenly chorus of praise.
- Golden crowns are emblem of dignity and honor.
- Thunder and lightning represent signs of a sudden display of God's power and authority in spiritual or supernatural ways.
- The crystal sea is the heavenly counterpart for the Red Sea. It represents anticipated actions of God's salvation. Salvation for the Jews first was at Red Sea with Moses. Remember that what is on earth in the story of the Jews as well as Christ and the church is a shadow or an image of what exists in heaven. We are seeing, in a symbolic way, the real things which are reflected here on earth.
- The four living creatures with many eyes and wings are not meant to be grotesque or a "horror" movie with beasts and creatures. These symbolize real things:
- OX = service
- LION = strength
- MAN = intelligence
- EAGLE = swiftness
- These characters are the attendants of the heavenly worship.
The scene is set, and with chapter 5 the action begins that will tell a story. This story will be, in essence, the prophecy of the things that will happen to the church in its struggle with Rome and its ongoing struggle with the principle of evil embodied by Rome in the future until Jesus returns. This evil will be embodied by other things until the time when in its final manifestation (antichrist) it will be destroyed for all time.
2. Chapter 5:1-14
1 I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?" 3 And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. 4 Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; 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."
6 And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7 And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,
"Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
10 "You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."
11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,
"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing."
13 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever."
14 And the four living creatures kept saying, "Amen." And the elders fell down and worshiped.
- Revelation 5:1-14
The storyline is that there is a sealed book that no one was found who was worthy or able to open and read. Then a lamb appears to whom all characters give homage and He is found to be worthy of opening the book. Of course the lamb is Christ. Here are some of the symbols:
- Scroll – a message, written front and back suggests a full message.
- 7 seals – very secure. Future message (because it is sealed).
- Lion/lamb – both sides of suffering servant and victorious messiah fused into one image.
- 7 horns/eyes – horns are for strength. Eyes represent spiritual nature. 7 spirits is Holy Spirit. One who is part of the Godhead.
- Harp – symbol for praise.
- Bowls of incense – prayers of the saints (Psalms 141:2).
The Lord Jesus, in heaven being worshipped there in authority and praise, will Himself reveal the things about to take place.
3. Chapter 6:1-17
1 Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, "Come." 2 I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.
3 When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, "Come." 4And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.
5 When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, "Come." I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. 6 And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine."
7 When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come." 8 I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.
9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.
12 I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. 14 The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?
- Revelation 6:1-17
The action starts as the lamb begins to break the seals which each in turn reveal various characters and events to take place. We see with the beginning of this chapter a combination of things presented like a parade in review. Some countries have military parades showing their weapons and manpower. This scene is like that, except here God begins to display the power at His disposal in order to bring judgment on the enemy.
Each horse is paraded to show a facet of God's power not yet unleashed – it is a preview, a show of strength.
In verses 9 to 11 there is the image of the martyrs who had been persecuted. This is done to remind the reader of reason why God is preparing this show of force to bring about judgment: here is a demonstration of my power and judgment and this is the reason why it will be used!
The reference to natural disasters also is a reference to His power to use nature for His own purposes and that man is helpless.
Remember I said that the style of apocalyptic literature was always very dramatic. The rescue of the good and punishment of the evil is always very dramatic and emotional. This is not to say that God's judgment is not sure, but Rome did not fall in one crushing or climactic moment as described here. It fell gradually over a period of decades with a dynamic collapse at the end. Apocalyptic literature compresses the time and makes things happen in a much more rapid and spectacular fashion, much like movies tell in only two hours a story that takes place over a number of years.
- While horse, bow, crown – victory, authority
- Red horse – persecution
- Great sword – butchering, killing
- Black horse – forerunner of death
- Scale with wheat – economic choices, necessities, oil, etc.
- Pale horse – death and hell
- Souls – life
- White robe – purity
- Heavenly signs, natural phenomena – judgment of nations (i.e. moon and blood, Joel, Acts – beginning of end of Jerusalem)
The lamb is revealing God's power and the reason why He is about to bring judgment.
4. Chapter 7
In the previous chapter the lamb has been opening the seals, six so far, and all show the awesome power that God has and will unleash on His enemy and the enemy of His people.
In chapter 7 there is a break in the action as he reassures the faithful that His judgment will not indiscriminately fall on them as well. To destroy Rome with all the fire power described would make one think that they would also be taken out by "friendly fire," that God is judging them too. God assures the church that He is able to judge and destroy Rome without destroying the Christians who live in the Empire. He is able to do this for two reasons:
- Verse 3, the saints are sealed (protected, identified) by God Himself.
- Verse 14, the saints are part of God's kingdom and the kingdom is indestructible.
Here they are described in their already glorified state in heaven, but the ones described as having white robes, singing around God's throne are the saints, the church, Christians.
- Seal – shows ownership, protection against tampering, also denotes genuineness.
- 144,000 – Refers to the church or Christians.
- The number 12 is the symbol of God working in the world or organized religion [3 (God) x 4 (world)]
- 12 x 12 = the total of all possibility.
- 1000 = 10 (completeness) x 10 x 10 = most mature and complete.
- 144 x 1000 = the most complete number without exception.
- Palm branches – symbol of victory.
God reassures the saints that despite the great tribulation or judgment to come, He will watch over them because they are sealed and counted by Himself (He will not lose one).
144,000 = perfect and counted by God.
This does not mean that they will not be persecuted or affected by the things that will happen to Rome, but rather that no matter what happens they are safe with God and will be part of that heavenly group.
5. Chapters 8 – 11
These chapters will describe the opening of the seventh seal. The first six demonstrated God's power to judge and destroy. When the lamb opens this one there is silence in heaven, then this opened seal reveals seven trumpets. Like the horses, the trumpets announce more power at God's disposal to destroy His enemy. The horses were paraded by and the trumpets sounded to announce.
The first four describe natural calamities that God will use as instruments of His punishment (hail, fire, storms, etc.). Trumpets five and six describe the internal and external decadence that God will permit which will lead to the weakening and eventual destruction of the Roman Empire (chapter 8:13-9:21).
Then in the middle of this description there is another interlude where God's judgment is pronounced and then three other elements are introduced:
The little book
8 Then the voice which I heard from heaven, I heard again speaking with me, and saying, "Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land." 9 So I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. And he said to me, "Take it and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey." 10 I took the little book out of the angel's hand and ate it, and in my mouth it was sweet as honey; and when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. 11 And they said to me, "You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings."
- Revelation 10:8-11
The prophecy that John has to make concerning Revelation is that it is good to see the future but bitter to have to tell the church of the suffering to come.
Measurement of the temple
1 Then there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, "Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it. 2 Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.
- Revelation 11:1-2
This is another way of saying the church will be protected. Before he referred to 144,000 sealed; now the same promise is made but in terms of a temple strictly measured and protected.
3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth." 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.
- Revelation 11:3-4
This symbolizes the gospel. The two witnesses preach successfully, are killed and then resurrect and go to heaven. Moses, Elijah (Old Testament), Peter (Jews), Paul (Gentiles) (New Testament). This all takes place in 1260 days which is 3½ years. Now 3½ years refers to a short period of time (½ of seven, ½ of a week).
The episode of the two witnesses is a symbol for the story of the church from its foundation until the destruction of Rome. It begins preaching powerfully, is persecuted and martyred, finally resurrects to victory as Rome falls, all in about 3 centuries.
After this interlude describing the little book, temple and two witnesses, the seventh trumpet is sounded and reveals great rejoicing at the victory of the saints. God judges the people. The Ark is placed in heaven. There is a final scene of victory and rejoicing.
Symbols (chapter 9)
- Key – authority
- Locusts – effects of immorality
- Abaddon and Apollyon – Satan
- Euphrates – furthest border of Rome
- Hoards of troops – barbarians invading Rome
- Rainbow – mercy
- Measuring rod – way to know the truth
In dramatic fashion we see Christ reveal the future destruction of Rome and the preservation of the saints through this. The book does this by:
- First revealing the many aspects of God's power in controlling natural and supernatural forces to use in destroying Rome.
- It also reveals the continued suffering of the saints but provides a promise that despite this, God has numbered and will bring to heaven every single one of them.
- Through several devices it gives a scenario of how it will happen: the church beginning strong, being almost or seemingly destroyed and then overcoming a fallen Roman enemy.
In the following chapters we will see how this struggle is described once again, but this time using different symbols (like Daniel using different symbols to describe the same four kingdoms).