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Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 22–This is the End

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 22–This is the End

RevelationNow that John’s apocalyptic symphony is finished, he adds a few last things. In this last section of Revelation 22:7-21, a few things need to be mentioned.

“Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book”
What does this mean? I believe it is a call to live out the message of Revelation in our lives. It was a call John gave to the original audience, and it is a call that applies to us as well. Basically, when it comes down to it, there are fundamentally two messages in Revelation. The first is addressed to Christians facing persecution: stand firm, keep the faith; your suffering is the means by which Christ redeems the world. Now, let’s be honest, this message is not directly applicable to Christians in America today—we’re not going through persecution. But, this message directly speaks to Christians who’ve suffered under Communist regimes, or to the current Christians in the Middle East who are being slaughtered by ISIS. When news came last year about how ISIS beheaded those 20-30 Christians—and we saw pictures of those Christians in orange jumpsuits, being walked to their deaths on the beach—I immediately thought, of Revelation 6:9-11:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed.”

Let’s be honest, those verses don’t apply to Christians in America today. But that doesn’t mean Revelation doesn’t speak to Christians in America—this brings us to the second message of Revelation, found in 18:2-5:

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul spirit, a haunt of every foul bird, a haunt of every foul and hateful beast. For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury.” Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins, and so that you do not share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”

To be clear, I’m not saying that America is exactly like ancient Rome. We don’t have a megalomaniac emperor who demands we worship him as a god, or else we get killed. Despite what some may claim, modern America is not an empire that is continually trying to take over other nations and enslave them. But America is probably the most materialistic, rich, and powerful country in the history of the world. There is plenty that is wrong and shameful—just turn on your TV, get on the internet, listen to modern pop music…look at our presidential candidates.

It is very easy to get caught up in all that stuff; it is very easy to take part in the sins of America. Yet here John is, issuing a clear challenge: “Come out of her.” No, that doesn’t mean literally leave America. It means to live as citizens of the New Jerusalem, not the Whore of Babylon. Don’t get in bed with her; don’t compromise your morals, just so you can indulge in her adulteries. It’s up to each one of us to “hear what the Spirit is saying” in regards to how this specifically applies to our daily lives.

“Do not seal up the words of this prophecy, for the time is near”
The unique thing about Revelation is that it is an apocalypse that commands it not to be sealed up until the end of days. It should be obvious why—we are in the last days. From the Christian perspective, from the time of Christ’s ascension until he comes again are the last days. So, are we living in the “end times”? Yes…but not the way modern dispensationalism (or Hal Lindsey, or Tim LaHaye, or John Hagee) claims. From the New Testament perspective, the past 2,000 years have been the “end times.”

The Warning of Revelation 22:18-19
The warning is not to add or subtract anything from the book of Revelation—this is not about the entire Bible. Having said that, it doesn’t mean we have license to change things in the Bible! The canon of the Bible is set in order to preserve the teachings of Christ and the apostles.  Anything that someone teaches must be viewed in light of the canon and the rule of faith. Yet, John’s specific command here is simple: “Don’t change what I wrote here in Revelation!”

So why did John add this warning to the end of Revelation? I think it should be obvious if we just look at how Revelation has been misinterpreted and distorted throughout Church history—it has caused a lot of paranoia and damage. In the Middle Ages, if you wanted to justify killing an enemy, or disgracing other Christians, you just call them the anti-Christ! Martin Luther and the Pope called each other the anti-Christ, and the result was one of the most tragic divisions in Church history.  Today, people are so caught up in speculating about “end time events” that they miss the fact that Christ himself commands us NOT to do such things, and that the whole point of Revelation is to get Christians to focus on living their lives for Christ TODAY.

At the same time, so many Christians don’t read Revelation because it is so confusing—and the Left Behind Series certainly doesn’t help things or bring clarity to it. But once you understand Revelation, you realize that it brings the whole Christian life into focus. It forces us to look at our lives today, in the light of our ultimate hope—the consummation of the Kingdom of God.

There simply are things in Revelation that makes us uncomfortable—who wants to suffer and die? Who wants to be persecuted? And who is really comfortable with the idea that to imitate Christ means to accept and expect suffering and death? There is a strong temptation to look over that part of Revelation and take those parts out. There’s a temptation to actually make Revelation mean the very opposite of what it means, and look forward to when God will take us away from tribulation—no…Revelation is clear: if you are a Christian, expect tribulation.

John warns us not to take those difficult parts out, because that is how the script has been written. Those difficult parts are the means by which Christ saves the world. To change the script is to reject Christ’s plan of salvation.

At the same time, there are other parts in Revelation that we would really like to play up and expand, namely the destruction of the Babylon and the Beast. Great! Let’s fight against leaders we don’t like! Never mind the fact that Christ calls us to accept suffering at the hands of unjust leaders. Let’s call the Soviet Union “the evil empire,” and let’s call ISIS “a great evil,” and lets close our eyes to the clear evil and injustice that is present in America as well. To be clear, the Soviet Union was incredibly evil, as is ISIS—but we can’t pretend that America is all pure and good.

Conclusion
It should be obvious that Revelation is an explosive and dangerous book. Adding or subtracting from it easily perverts the Gospel that Christ preached, and that Christians are called to live out. That is why it is so important to read Revelation in its historical and literary context. That is why it is so important to understand what it originally meant. Only after we understand the original and inspired meaning of Revelation can we begin to relate its message to our lives today.

The pictures I have included are the visual aids that I developed to help understand the literary flow of the two parts of Revelation: Chapters 4-11 and Chapters 12-22. If you compare the two flow charts, you should be able to see that each part of Revelation follows the same pattern. The final picture is just a little drawing I did that helps us understand that the way salvation is pictured in Revelation, particularly at the end, is by means of Exodus and Exile imagery. If you have any questions about them, by all means leave a comment and question.

IMG_20160702_221720151    IMG_20160702_221733251  IMG_20160702_221750230

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 21–The New Jerusalem

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 21–The New Jerusalem

We now come to the climax of not only Revelation, of not only the New Testament, but of the entire biblical story itself—it is the climax of God’s entire creation project, from beginning to end. And by the time we get through this final section, you will see just how much this last chapter brings the entire biblical story full circle, and how much it brings us back around to the first three chapters of Genesis.

The New Jerusalem
New_JerusalemUp to this point in Revelation, there really has been only one dominant city: Rome, the “Babylon” of the early Christians’ day. And more than that, Rome was see as “the Great Whore.” Not only was it viewed as “the great city of the world,” but it was also seen as the idolatrous prostitute who leads all the other nations astray into spiritual adultery.

All through the New Testament, Christians are urged to live as “strangers and aliens” in this world (I Peter 2:11-12), and to realize that as citizens of Heaven, they have a heavenly home to look forward to (Hebrews 12:22-24/13:13-14). In times of suffering, Christians can get down, focus on their troubles, and forget to keep an eye on their heavenly home. By the same token, in times of prosperity, Christians can also get so comfortable with their lives that they are tempted to forsake their hope of a heavenly home, and simply be content with their temporal riches. A clear reminder of that future home is needed in both cases. And here in Revelation 21, John gives that picture to remind both suffering and prosperous Christians, “Don’t forget where your true home lies.”

The first thing to notices is that with the new Heaven and new Earth, there is no longer any sea. By now, this should be obvious: it is symbolically saying that the chaos and evil of Satan will be no more. God has put an end to Satan’s power forever, and Satan’s chaotic sea is no more. The second thing to notice is that the New Jerusalem that comes out of Heaven is described as a bride. This picture of the heavenly city of the New Jerusalem as a pure bride is in complete contrast to the earthly city of Babylon, the great whore. The choice cannot be any clearer. The question it all comes down to is this: Where is your home? Ultimately, there are only two choices.

Verses 3-4 declare the realization of the hope that was begun ever since Genesis 3, when the man and woman were cast out of God’s presence: God will once again dwell with His people. This hope was realized in part with the tabernacle in the wilderness in the Exodus, and then later with the temple in Jerusalem—God was with the people of Israel, but He dwelled in the Holy of Holies, and that was allowed to be entered only once a year by the high priest.

Verses 6-8 also declare the realization of other Old Testament and New Testament hopes. First of all, we are offered the water of life. Jesus mentions this in John 4:7-15 in his conversation with the Samaritan woman, and again in 7:37-39, at the Feast of Tabernacles.

Secondly, we are told that anyone who overcomes will inherit the Heavenly Jerusalem. “Inheritance” is one of those essential things we have to understand if we are to comprehend God’s promise of salvation. Way back with Abraham, God promised that his descendants would receive the Promised Land as their inheritance. The Promised Land was to the Jews the visible, concrete expression of God’s salvation; it represented the ultimate inheritance of eternal life in God’s heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, the ultimate Promised Land.

Thirdly, those who overcome will be God’s son (or daughter). Christianity doesn’t simply teach that God sent His son Jesus Christ to die for our sins, and to lead us into this ultimate Promised Land. It teaches that through Christ we become co-heirs and children of God Himself. To be “born again” isn’t just a term that means you’ve accepted the truths of Christianity; it means that you have actually been born again by the Holy Spirit—God’s Spirit lives in you, and you share in His life through Christ.

This is a concept that is just as hard to fully understand as trying to understand how Jesus could be both human and divine. We can’t fully comprehend how this can be, but we trust God, and believe somehow this is possible. In fact, this is a point that separates Christianity from other religions. In Judaism and Islam, God is very much separated from His creation. We are His servants, but definitely not in any real way “connected” with Him. To even speak of God as “Father” is blasphemous to a Muslim. On the other hand, with Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism), there is no idea of a real “personal” God to begin with. “God” is everything. Ultimately, everything blends together, as drops of water into an ocean—of course that’s the end of the drop. There really is no concept of ultimate individuality and personality. It is only in Christianity that there is a distinct, personal God, and distinct and personal creatures, and that somehow God is one with His creation, while at the same time retaining individuality and personality. Christianity is the only religion that teaches you can be “one in Christ,” and that Christ will be “all in all,” and yet you will retain your individuality…and God, His.

Verses 9-21 give us a picture of the outside of the Heavenly Jerusalem. The very city “shone with the glory of God”—God’s presence fills the city. All through the Old and New Testaments, there are passages that talk about this (Ex. 16:7-10; 24:16-17; 40:34-35; I Kings 8:10-11; Ezek. 10:4, 18; 11:23; 43:45; 44:4; Isaiah 35:2; 40:5; 51:8; 60:1; John 1:1-14; Hebrews 8:1-9:10). Also, we note that on the gates there are the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and that on the foundation, there are the names of the twelve apostles. The connection between the twelve tribes and twelve apostles already has been seen in the discussion regarding the 144,000 in Revelation.

Is the New Jerusalem Home to the Borg?
The BorgVerses 15-17 further emphasize this association with the number twelve. But first, we see that the city is in the shape of a cube: 12,000 square stadia. So, why a cube? No, this is not a precursor to the Borg from Star Trek. The reason is that it calls to mind the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle in the wilderness, and Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem—it was laid out in a perfect cube. The point is that, whereas with the tabernacle and temple, God dwelled with His people, but there was still a distinct separation between mankind and God because of sin, now the very city of the Heavenly Jerusalem serves as the Holy of Holies. The separation will be gone, and God will fully dwell with His people—all will be holy.

Also, the 12,000 stadia (12 x 1,000), and the walls are 144 cubits thick (12 x 12). Ancient writers simply used numbers to symbolically get their messages across: the 12 tribes of Israel x the 12 apostles to the Gentiles = the full people of God.

The final thing to point out in chapter 21 is 21:22-27. First of all, the reason there is no longer any temple should be obvious—there is no need for one. The LORD God Almighty and the Lamb are the city’s temple. God now dwells with His people. Listen to what Paul says:

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (I Cor. 3:16-17).

The “you” in these verses is not singular. Paul is not saying, “You, as an individual, are God’s temple.” He’s telling the Corinthians that they, as the body of believers, are God’s temple. Christians form the body of Christ; we are the temple of God. Sure, salvation is based on a one-on-one, personal relationship with Christ, but the Christian life is not an individualized thing. If you are a Christian, then you are a part of the Church. You are part of the body of Christ; you are part of God’s temple. That means that your relationship with other believers is just as important as your relationship with Christ.

One of my professors from Regent College, Gordon Fee, put it this way: “If you think that you can go through your life, only concerned with your one-on-one personal relationship with Christ, and have the attitude that the rest of the world can be damned, as long as you are okay with God, then you need to get saved.”

Secondly, 21:24 says that the nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. This echoes a constant theme in the Old Testament, that when God restores the fortunes of His people, that His people will be a light to the nations, thus fulfilling God’s promise in the Abrahamic covenant that through the nation that comes from him, all nations will be blessed (Isaiah 2:2-4; 60: 3, 5, 11; Micah 4:1-3; Zechariah 8:20-23; 14:16).

Revelation 22:1-5
Whoever came up with the chapter divisions didn’t know what he was doing here, for Revelation 22:1-5 clearly go with Revelation 21. These five verses echo the first three chapters of Genesis, and serve to bring the entire biblical story to its consummation. The dilemma that was spelled out in Genesis 1-3 is now rectified in these last few chapters of Revelation.

  • The creation that was subject to decay is now renewed in the New Creation
  • The paradise that was lost is now restored
  • The original fall and curse is not reversed and overthrown–there is no longer any curse
  • The promise of redemption of a suffering people is now fulfilled
  • The promise that evil (i.e. the serpent’s offspring) will be defeated is now accomplished
  • The River of Life is made available to mankind once again
  • There is access to the Tree of Life for the healing for the nations

The point is that all that was broken and cursed will be healed and made new. The promise Genesis 3:14-16, that God will eventually bring an end to the serpent, and all the promises made to Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, and to us, will be fulfilled. In the end, God wins, and we will see His face. We will be brought home out of our exile. That is what we long for.

In my final post on Revelation, I will offer some final reflections, and I will give some visuals that I think will help one to understand Revelation as a whole.

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 20– The 1,000 Years, the Great White Throne, and the Lake of Fire

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 20– The 1,000 Years, the Great White Throne, and the Lake of Fire

Without a doubt, Revelation is one of the most puzzling chapters in all of the Bible. There is little chance that every question can be adequately answered in such an abbreviated commentary, but I will do my best to give a general understanding of this very puzzling chapter.

Revelation 20:1-6 (The Binding of Satan; the 1,000 Year Reign of Christ)
In this section we are told two things: (1) Satan is bound and thrown into the Abyss for 1,000 years; and (2) The martyred saints come to life and reign with Christ for 1,000 years. There are a few literary connections we can make with other things in Revelation. First of all, in chapter 9, at the sounding of the 5th trumpet, a “fallen star” comes down out of Heaven with a key and opens up the Abyss. Here, another angel comes down out of Heaven in order to bind Satan, throw him into the Abyss, and shut the Abyss.

Second, the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus (19:4) is a clear reference to the martyred souls under the altar in 6:9-11, as well as 14:13; 17:6; and 18:24. Thirdly, echoes of 1:5-6; 2:11; 2:26-28, and 3:21 can be seen here as well.

But here is where things get confusing. First of all, why the 1,000 years? Why does Christ (and the resurrected dead in Christ) reign for only 1,000 years? Why is Satan released again after the 1,000 years? Are they a literal 1,000 years? What is going on here? There are no sure answers to these questions. What follows, though, is what I think is the most plausible explanation.

1,000 Year Reign of Christ
Four Views of End TimesSo, why 1,000 years? This gets us into the question of millennialism, of which there are basically four general views: Historical Premillenialism, Dispensationalist Premillenialism, Posmillenialism, and Amillenialism. Instead of going into a full-fledged discussion of each one, I will just provide the following chart. Instead, I will talk about what some of the prevailing Jewish apocalyptic views concerning God’s kingdom were during the time of John.

One idea saw history as a repeating of the seven days of creation, each day representing 1,000 years.  The six days of divine work were followed by God’s Sabbath rest—so the six “days” of human history will be followed by a Sabbath of the Messiah’s kingdom, which in turn would give place to an “eighth day” without end—the timeless age of the eternal kingdom. Hence, many viewed history this way: 2,000 years from creation to Moses; 2,000 years from Moses to the Messiah; 2,000 years of the Messiah’s kingdom; followed by 1,000 years of Sabbath for the world.

But for John, there was probably more to it that just this. He obviously used Ezekiel 36-48  as a pattern for his writing about the coming kingdom of God in Revelation 20-22. Ezekiel 36-37 describe a “resurrection” of Israel and the restoration of the nation to its land under the rule of a new David. After an unspecified period, the rebellion of Gog and Magog occurs (38-49), followed by the promise of a new Jerusalem with a new temple in the bliss of an untroubled kingdom (40-48). It is very possible, therefore, that John was telling the seven churches to re-interpret this prophecy of Ezekiel in light of the saving work of Christ.  The true Israel (i.e. followers of Christ) would one day be resurrected to reign with Christ. John simply took the unspecified time in Ezekiel’s prophecy and labeled it as the 1,000 years of popular apocalyptic thought of the time to emphasize the idea of the new creation, and that the time would be a Sabbath rest for God’s people.

That might be a bit confusing, so let me try to sum up. John clearly believed that in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, that the promised Kingdom of God had finally come to mankind, and that the New Messianic Age had broken into the old age of sin and death. But John also realized that the Kingdom was not fully consummated yet: it had come, but it wasn’t yet completed. Like the invasion at Normandy in WWII, the vital victory had been achieved, but there still was a “mop up operation” that had to be done to complete the ultimate victory.

Hence, the current time of suffering and tribulation of Christians was seen as that kind of “mop up operation.” The Kingdom of God had come, and through the suffering of the followers of Christ, the Kingdom was gaining control over Satan’s kingdom (much like how the Allies slowly took back France from the Nazis after Normandy). Once the mop up operation was complete, once “the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed…had been completed (Rev. 6:11), that would signal then defeat of the beast, the binding of Satan, and the ushering in of God’s Sabbath rest for creation.

Pretty simple, eh? It actually makes sense, if you think about it. (You can chew on how I Corinthians 15:20-28 relates to this as well, if you’re up for it!). Anyway, given this explanation as to what the 1,000 years is, the next question is, “Who gets raised in this ‘first resurrection’?” Is it just those who have been martyred, or is it the whole Church? The implication is that those who have died in Christ will be raised to rule with all the believers in Christ. Verse 4 says that John saw (a)those who had been given authority to judge (see 2:26-28; 3:21—this implies all believers), and (b) those who had died in Christ. The result is that the whole Church reigns with Christ during this “1,000 year Sabbath Rest/Reign of Christ.” The rest of the dead, therefore, does not refer to the rest of the Christian dead, but to the rest of the dead, outside of Christ. Those who have taken part in the first resurrection (the dead who have been raised and the living who will be transformed—I Cor. 15:50-57), therefore, have nothing to fear from the second death, for death will no longer have power over them, just as it had no power over the resurrected Christ.

Revelation 20:7-10 (Actually, a bit like Genesis 1-3!)
Binding of SatanBut why is Satan released again? A simple answer is this: it is very likely that Genesis taught John (as well as Ezekiel) something about the paradise of God. In Genesis, in the first paradise, the serpent was allowed to tempt man in order to expose the nature of man’s heart. In Genesis 3, man clearly failed the test. In God’s new creation, therefore, Satan will be allowed once more to test man, in order to expose the nature of man’s heart. The first time resulted in exile from the Garden of Eden; the second time results in the entrance into the New Jerusalem, a return to the Garden, and the ultimate defeat of the dragon.

Revelation 20:11-14 (The Great White Throne and the Lake of Fire)
Great White ThroneAfter Satan’s defeat, the “rest of the dead” are raised up to judgment. Here, we see a “great white throne”—this should remind us of the first thing John saw in Heaven, back in 4:2. The point is quite simple: these dead, who have not been raised to new life in Christ, are judged according to what they had done, because they refused the grace offered to them through what Christ had done.  The Lake of Fire, the second death, the eternal judgment for Death itself, still has power over them.

One should note that the reference to “Death and Hades” being thrown into the Lake of Fire relates to I Cor. 15:20-57. With the resurrection power of eternal life in Christ, the power of Death is dead, and to quote John Donne, “Death, thou shalt die.”

Finally, there has always been a question and debate whether or not unbelievers will be “tortured in hell-fire” for eternity. I wrote a post or two on this very topic last year. I’d encourage you to read them.

Oh Hell…or Hades…or Gehenna…or Sheol! Will there be an Eternal Crispy Burning Sensation there? (Part 1)

Oh Hell…or Hades…or Gehenna…or Sheol! Will there be an Eternal Crispy Burning Sensation there? (Part 2)

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 18-19–Flee Babylon, Come to the Lamb’s Wedding Banquet, and Don’t Get Caught Being the Supper of God!

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 18-19–Flee Babylon, Come to the Lamb’s Wedding Banquet, and Don’t Get Caught Being the Supper of God!

Fortunately, Revelation 18 does not need much explanation. Most of what is said in chapter 18 repeats the things said in the previous 17 chapters.

Revelation 18:1-8—The Call to Come Out of Babylon
Verses 1-8, the declaration that Babylon the Great has fallen, echoes many passages in the Old Testament (Isaiah 13:1-14:23; 21:1-10; Jeremiah 25:12-38; Jeremiah 50-51; Ezekiel 26-28). The idolatrous/adulterous Babylon will be laid waste by the hand of the LORD.  So too will idolatrous/adulterous Rome; so too will any city or nation that stands against the LORD and persecutes his people.

Verses 4-8 are particularly interesting. First: “Come out of her, my people.” This echoes passages such as Isaiah 48:20: “Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it, send it forth to the end of the earth; say ‘The LORD has redeemed his servant Jacob!’” And also Jeremiah 51:45: “Come out of her, my people! Save your lives, each of you, from the fierce anger of the LORD!” In both passages there is judgment pronounced against Old Testament Babylon and redemption for God’s people. The declaration to the seven churches is the same: Rome will eventually be laid waste, and the children of God will be vindicated and redeemed from this evil world.

Finally, verse 8 is interesting. The plagues obviously echo the plagues of the Exodus against Egypt. The fire also not only echoes the judgment of Sodom, but many early Christians would have undoubtedly seen the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 AD (just 25 years before Revelation was written) as a sign of God’s judgment of Jerusalem for their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.

Revelation 18:9-23—The Lament of Commercialism
In this section consists of the laments by the kings of the earth, the merchants of the earth, and the sailors of the sea. In every case, they weep and mourn, stand far off, and are terrified by Babylon’s torment. Why? Because all three represent the commercialism, commerce, and materialism that Rome supported.  In a modern context, John might very well tell Christians in America to “come out of her” and “don’t commit adultery with her”—meaning don’t get wrapped up in the materialism, commercialism, immorality, and sex-driven consumeristic society that we live in. Instead of kings, merchants, and sailors, there would probably be CEOs, Wall Street bankers, business moguls, lawyers, UPS workers, and people who do business on the internet. Just as Rome was the superpower back then, so too is the USA the superpower today. It is worth contemplating what Revelation is saying to America today? No, there is not a persecution of Christians going on, but my oh my is there the seductive temptations of materialism.

One final thing to notice is the list of cargoes of the merchants—the last cargo mentioned is “the lives of men.” Although it is first and foremost referring to slavery, I think we can also see it as a reference to the dehumanizing effect materialism and commercialism has on society.  Back then there was forced prostitution in pagan temples, gladiator games in the coliseums, as well as flat-out slavery. In America we still have prostitution, and we have sweatshops in third world countries, making goods for American citizens to buy cheaply.  America too has its own cargo of human lives.

Revelation 19:1-10—Heaven Rejoices Over Babylon’s Destruction/The Wedding
In contrast to the merchants’ lament over Babylon’s destruction, Revelation 19:1-10 gives the rejoicing in Heaven over Babylon’s destruction. Specifically, in 19:7-8, we are told that the wedding of the Lamb has come, and that his bride has made herself ready with fine linen, which is the righteous acts of the saints. This picture of a weeding supper is very important.

Wedding SupperBack in Genesis 1-3, the picture we have is that of a banquet: God and mankind together in a garden of food—it was a picture of communion of God and mankind. Also, in the gospels, one of the things that Jesus did that was so scandalous was that he shared table with the kind of people who were not considered to be particularly religious. “Sharing table” had incredible significance in that society—it meant that you accepted that person’s love and fellowship. The fact that Jesus accepted the love and fellowship of tax-collectors (seen by the Jews as traitors to Rome), prostitutes, and common “sinners” (and not the Temple priests and Pharisees!) was one of the reasons why Jewish religious authorities wanted him killed. He was saying that the Kingdom of God was being offered, not to the outwardly religious, but to the people the religious leaders had deemed to be “sinners”!

Jesus was always sharing table with people. He was enacting what the Kingdom of God was about. The Last Supper was a meal, after all, not just a strict religious ceremony. In other words, Jesus was giving a glimpse of what the ultimate Wedding Supper of the Lamb would be like (Mark 2:15-20). Simply put, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb points all the way back to Genesis 1-3, and Jesus’ sharing table with “sinners” (including the Last Supper) points forward to the Wedding Supper here in Revelation 19.

Revelation 19:11-21—The Defeat of the Beast
Verses 11-21 give us the picture of the defeat of the beast and the kings of the earth at the hands of Christ. The way in which Christ, the rider on the white horse, is described reflects the way he is described in the very beginning of Revelation—both in John’s vision of 1:12-16, and in the seven letters to the seven churches.

A number of things should be pointed out. First, his name, the Word of God, echoes John 1:1-18, where John says that “the Word was made flesh.” What did he mean by this? He meant that God’s Spirit, who promised salvation way back in Genesis 3, who bound himself to the promise in the covenant with Abraham, who expanded it through Moses and David, and who inspired the prophets to prophesy about a New Covenant—was “fleshed out” in the person of Jesus Christ. God promised salvation and “gave his word,” so to speak. He then made good on that promise, kept his word, and fleshed it out in the person of Jesus Christ, who initiated the promised New Covenant.

Given this fact, one thing should be clarified. When Paul (Eph. 6:17) or the writer of Hebrews (4:12) refers to “the word of God,” they are not referring to the Bible. At the time they wrote their letters, there was no such thing as the New Testament yet. They are referring to the power of the Spirit of God himself. When Jesus began his ministry, he read Isaiah 61:1 and 58:6 in his hometown synagogue: “The Spirit of YHWH is upon me…” God’s Holy Spirit was not fleshed out in Jesus. Then, after Jesus’ ascension, at Pentecost, his followers were filled with that same Holy Spirit. The Kingdom of God came through Christ, and was spread through his followers, by means of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Rider on White HorseTherefore,  as we get back to Revelation 19:11-21, we notice that Jesus, the Word of God, strikes down the nations with a sharp sword from his mouth. The sharp sword is the power of the Holy Spirit. We also notice that the rider on the white horse—Jesus Christ, the Word of God—is the one who treads the winepress of God’s wrath (see Rev. 14:17-20). This rider on a white horse is very different from the rider on Rome’s white horse from the first seal.

Next, we see a reference to the Great Supper of God in 19:17. But this isn’t the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. This verse echoes Ezekiel 39:17, in which the beasts of the earth are called together to feast on the flesh of God. The point is simply that everything in Revelation seems to come in pairs of two:

  • The Heavenly Jerusalem vs. Babylon the Great
  • The Woman clothed with the sun vs. the Great Whore and the Dragon
  • Christ vs. the Beast
  • The woman’s offspring vs. the Dragon’s offspring
  • And now, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb vs. the Great Supper of God

Finally, in 19:19-21, we have the defeat of the two beasts and the kings of the earth by the rider on the white horse and his armies (i.e. the saints). The two beasts are thrown into the Lake of Fire, and the kings of the earth are killed by the sword that comes out of the mouth of the rider on the white horse. So, the oppressors of God’s people are gone, and their leaders—the two beasts—are thrown in the Lake of Fire. There is one enemy left to be conquered: the Dragon, Satan himself. And with Revelation 20, we see his end.

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation–Revelation 17: The Whore of Babylon

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation–Revelation 17: The Whore of Babylon

Chapters 17-19:10 form somewhat of a parenthesis to the basic action of Revelation. Now that Babylon has been split apart in chapter 16, John takes a timeout to tell just exactly who this Babylon the Great really is: who is the great prostitute? Before we get into the details of chapter 17, we will present the answers up front.

If the sea beast is the Roman Emperor Domitian, seen as sort of a resurrected Nero, and the land beast is the Imperial cult that impelled people to worship the emperor as a god, then Babylon the Great is the city of Rome itself—to John and the early Christians, Rome was the great city of the world; it symbolized everything that was opposed to Christ.  It must be pointed out, though, that for Christians throughout the centuries, “Babylon the Great” has taken on different incarnations: for Christians in WWII Germany, it was Berlin; for blacks in South Africa during Apartheid, it was Johannesburg, where the racist government was; for Christians today in America, what can we say? Las Vegas? Hollywood? New York? Washington D.C.?

In any case, “Babylon the Great” can be any empire, any city,  that oppresses God’s people and promotes spiritual adultery. For Christians in 95 AD though, it was pretty clear: “Babylon” was code for Rome (I Peter 5:13).

Specifics of Revelation 17
Whore of BabylonThe first thing to point out regarding Revelation 17 is that John is told that Babylon, the “great prostitute,” sits on many waters. This relates to two things. First, as alluded to in Jeremiah 50:38; 51:13, the actual Old Testament city of Babylon stood on the banks of the Euphrates River—it was known as the city that sat on many waters. Second, one must also see the reference to “many waters” as having echoes of the waters of chaos from which the dragon called the sea beast.

Secondly, when John is taken to the wilderness to see the woman who had fled, we must ask, “Why a wilderness?” Possibly because the waters of the Euphrates were dried up with the sixth bowl of wrath? An allusion to the wilderness wandering during the Exodus? It’s ironic that just as the woman clothed with the sun fled to the wilderness to escape the dragon—and that woman represents God’s people Israel—that John goes out to the wilderness to see this woman—the great prostitute Babylon.

In any case, what John sees in astonishing: the woman is dressed in purple and scarlet, glittering with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She holds a golden cup filled with the filth of her adulteries, and she is drunk on the blood of the saints. She definitely looks like a gaudy prostitute, doesn’t she? The way she is dressed is contrasted with how the bride of the Lamb, the New Jerusalem, is dressed in Revelation 21. One is pure and undefiled, and the other is filthy and corrupt.

Thirdly, the woman is not alone. She is sitting on a scarlet beast that is covered with blasphemous names. So who is the beast? Need we ask? The way he is described (i.e. 7 heads/10 horns) makes it obvious: it is the beast that the dragon had called up from the sea; the Roman Emperor…Domitian, the “resurrected Nero” of sorts. Now, there is a lot of complex stuff going on in 17:8-12, so we will only briefly address a few things.

  • The beast “once was, now is not, and yet will come”—this is a parody of the divine name YHWH, which means “who was, who is, and is to come (Rev. 1:4, 8; 4:8) The beast is a parody and mockery of God—he is the antichrist.
  • The beast comes up out of the Abyss and goes to his destruction—this spells out his Satanic origins (i.e. the one who kills the two witnesses in Revelation 11/the one who received power from the dragon in Revelation 13) and his ultimate end.
  • The seven hills on which the woman sits—wait, wasn’t she sitting on many waters? Isn’t she sitting on the beast? Yes…but in apocalyptic literature, the symbolism can be rather free. Here, the seven hills represents the city of Rome, for it was built on seven hills.

One final thing to point out in Revelation 17 deals with 17:15-18. We are told that the beast will hate the prostitute, bring her to ruin, and leave her naked. This, John says, is according to God’s purpose. This picture is strikingly similar to Ezekiel 23:25-25, where Ezekiel prophesies that because of Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness to God, that God would allow Jerusalem to be destroyed at the hands of Babylon:

I will direct my indignation against you, in order that they may deal with you in fury. They shall cut off your nose and your ears, and your survivors shall fall by the sword. They shall seize your sons and your daughters, and your survivors shall be devoured by fire.They shall also strip you of your clothes and take away your fine jewels.So I will put an end to your lewdness and your whoring brought from the land of Egypt.”  (Eze 23:25-27)

[They will] “leave you naked and bare, and the nakedness of your whorings shall be exposed. Your lewdness and your whorings have brought this upon you, because you played the whore with the nations, and polluted yourself with their idols.You have gone the way of your sister; therefore I will give her cup into your hand.” (Eze 23:29-31)

This is how God dealt with unfaithful Jerusalem in the Old Testament, and this is how He will deal with the great whore of Babylon, clearly identified with Rome.

One Final Comment
We must remember that John was a prophet, inspired by the Holy Spirit to get his readers (the seven churches who were undergoing persecution under Domitian) to look at their historical situation in light of the assured promises of God that were proven to be trustworthy through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Simply put, what John is saying throughout Revelation is this:

Rome isn’t going to last; her persecution of you is only for a time. Don’t give in to her temptations; don’t be seduced by her idols and immorality, no matter how attractive it may look. Stay faithful to Christ, because when all is said and done, Rome won’t last. Your home is the New Jerusalem and the New creation, not the earthly city of Rome, or Jerusalem, or any other city—so stay faithful. Even if Domitian is a resurrected Nero, even if he destroys you, he’s not going to last. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega—not Rome, not Domitian, not even Satan. Their kingdom is only for a short time, but the Kingdom of God is forever, and it is being established even now. So stay faithful and remain true to Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior—not Rome, not Domitian, not Satan.

John was not into far-off future predictions or fortune-telling, no matter what Hal Lindsey or Tim LaHaye, or John Hagee might claim. He was trying to get his readers to see the bigger picture of God’s plan. That is what we need to do also.

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 16–The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 16–The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath

In Revelation 16, we have the seven bowls of God’s wrath—these are very similar to the seven seals and the seven trumpets. The only thing to point out here is that the seven seals affected ¼ of creation, the seven trumpets affected 1/3 of creation, the seven thunders (which were passed over) would have undoubtedly affected ½ of creation, and now here, the seven bowls affect all of creation. Throughout Revelation there is a slow, intensification of God’s judgment.

Also, it should be noted that the imagery of “the cup of God’s wrath” undoubtedly comes from Isaiah 51:17-23, particularly verses 21-23:

Therefore hear this, you who are wounded, who are drunk, but not with wine: Thus says your Sovereign, the LORD, your God who pleads the cause of his people! See, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; you shall drink no more from the bowl of my wrath. And I will put it into the hand of your tormentors, who have said to you, “Bow down, that we may walk on you”; and you have made your back like the ground and like the street for them to walk on.

The First Five Bowls
Revelation BowlsAs for the bowls of wrath themselves, it is clear that the first five bowls correspond to the plagues of Egypt during the Exodus:

  1. 1st Bowl: Painful sores (Ex. 9:8-12)
  2. 2nd Bowl: The sea turning to blood (Ex. 7:14-24)
  3. 3rd Bowl: The rivers turning to blood (Ex. 7:14-24)
  4. 4th Bowl: The sun scorches people with fire (opposite of Ex. 10:21-29)
  5. 5th Bowl: The throne of the beast is plunged into darkness (Ex. 10:21-29)

There is an interesting thing to point out concerning what the angel of the waters says in 16:5-6. He says that those who have shed the blood of the saints and prophets “deserve” the blood (i.e. God’s wine of wrath) that God has given them to drink. The word “deserve” really is a bad translation of the Greek word. A better translation of 16:6 would be: “Because they poured out the blood of the holy ones and the prophets, you have also given them blood to drink! That is what they are worthy of.”

Now certainly, “deserve” works here, but if you realize that the angel is saying the ones being judged are “worthy” of God’s wrath, you will see the connection to 5:2, where another angel asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” The point is that just as Jesus is the only one worthy to open the scroll, the only thing those who persecute Christ’s followers are “worthy” of is God’s wrath.

Another thing to point out is that at the end of both the fourth and fifth bowls, the result is the same: the people cursed God and refused to repent. It is ironic that they curse God for the judgment that they brought upon themselves. Just as in the Exodus, when Pharaoh brought the plagues upon himself by not letting the children of Israel go free, so do the worshippers of the beast bring judgment upon themselves by persecuting and killing the saints.

The Sixth Bowl
The sixth and seventh bowls of wrath correspond incredibly with the sixth and seventh trumpets. The sixth bowl (like the sixth trumpet) gives a picture of a great army coming from the Euphrates River. Now, whereas the sixth trumpet only hinted at the fact that this army was ultimately Satanic, here with the sixth bowl there is no doubt: the army is to be gathered by the three evil spirits (that look like frogs!) that come out of the mouth of the dragon, the beast from the sea, and the “false prophet” (i.e. the beast from the land).

FrogsIn ancient times, frogs were associated with evil. Another thing to point out with the sixth bowl is that the armies are gathering for “the battle on the great day of God Almighty.” The Great Day of YHWH was seen throughout the Old Testament as the time when God would come to redeem His people and defeat evil. In the prophets in particular, this was seen as “the 15th round of the ultimate title fight,” if you will. Just read Zechariah 14 for just one example.

But what is being said in 16:15? “Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed!” What does this mean? Simply, this is a warning that falls in line with other warnings in the New Testament about the coming day of the Lord (Matt. 24:3-25:13; I Thess. 5:2; II Peter 3:10). Just as Jesus said in Mark 13:5-8, 21-23, and 13:32-37, his followers aren’t to be taken in by the chaos of the world (i.e. talk of wars and rumors of war). They aren’t to be alarmed by such things because the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night—not with a great, obvious political battle.

In addition, the reference to keeping one’s clothes, so that one won’t go naked when the Lord comes, should call to mind echoes of Genesis 3, when God clothed the man and the woman’s nakedness. It was a form of grace. Now in Revelation, the saints have been given white robes, and the warning is to not let go of God’s grace, and get sucked into the adulteries of Babylon the Great.

Finally, in 16:6, there is that famous reference to Armageddon. Armageddon was an actual, strategic place in Israel during war time (Judges 5:19; II Kings 9:27; 23:29; II Chron. 35:22-25). Anyone invading Israel from the north had to pass through a narrow plain near the town of Megiddo. This, then, was an extremely strategic place, much like Normandy was for WWII. Armageddon, therefore, was for John’s readers symbolic of the battle on the great Day of YHWH. They did not think there was going to be a literal battle at that literal place, just as they did not think Satan was a literal dragon who would vomit up a frog. It was simply a symbolic reference to the ultimate confrontation between YHWH and Satan, between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent.

The Seventh Bowl
Seven BowlsThe seventh bowl truly consummates God’s wrath, for it is poured out on the very air—every living, breathing thing will be affected. And the words, “It is finished!” clearly echo the very words of Christ on the cross (John 19:30; Matthew 27:45-53). What happens in 16:18-21 is language that we should be familiar with by now: the lightning, thunder, and earthquake are images associated with the very throne of God (Revelation 4:5; 8:5; 11:19; as well as Exodus 19:16-19 at Mount Sinai). Elsewhere on the Old Testament, the great Day of YHWH was associated with a great earthquake (Ezekiel 38:18-19; Haggai 2:6-7; also Hebrews 12:18-27). The earthquake at the time of Christ’s crucifixion (Matthew 27:51) has to be seen in this light as well. It was the “first tremor” of the ultimate earthquake of God’s coming day of wrath.

Finally, we learn that the great city (i.e. Babylon) is split into three parts, and the cities of the nations (i.e. the ones that followed Babylon) collapsed. There are ultimately two cities in Revelation’s landscape: the New Jerusalem, coming down from Heaven, and Babylon, the head city of all other evil cities on earth. Here we see the Lord God finally giving Babylon the Great the cup filled with the wine of the fury of His wrath. The city of Satan is judged and destroyed.

Why the huge hailstones? All throughout the judgments, beginning with the seals and ending here with the bowls, God’s judgments have intensified. The plagues and judgments of Revelation are an intensification of the plagues of Egypt during the Exodus. In short, everything in the first Exodus is a foreshadowing of the ultimate Exodus here in Revelation.

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 15–The Ultimate Exodus…Get Those Bowls of Wrath Ready!

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 15–The Ultimate Exodus…Get Those Bowls of Wrath Ready!

katyperryBefore we get into Revelation 15-16, I want to emphasize something about the two beasts from Revelation 13 that I should have earlier. Over the past 100 years or so, particularly within Evangelical-Dispensationalist circles, there has been somewhat of an obsession of trying to figure out who the beast is. This obsession is based on an assumption that Revelation is John’s prediction and “God’s blueprint for the future end-times/tribulation period.” Therefore, if your assumption is that Revelation is “end-times history told in advance,” you’re going to try really hard to figure out who the beast is. Over time there have been some quite extraordinary claims: Hitler, Stalin, Ronald Reagan, the Pope…and yes, even Katy Perry (well, technically, this crazy picture is claiming she’s riding the beast at the Super Bowl). Such an endeavor is futile, because John isn’t predicting some future end-times beast/one world ruler/head of the European Union figure. He is simply describing  the anti-Christ of his day: the emperor of Rome.

That being said, this does not mean that Revelation has no relevance for today. Quite the contrary—it has tremendous relevance. By describing Domitian as the anti-Christ beast of that time, John is essentially giving us a description of how we should view any leader at any time in history who goes about trying to destroy God’s people. In this sense, we can say that tyrants like Hitler and Stalin, and currently ISIS, embody the beast of Revelation. Or in other words, Revelation 13 is applicable to tyrants like that, but John wasn’t predicting the rise of Hitler, Stalin, ISIS…etc.

Hopefully that is clear. Now, on to Revelation 15.

The Preparation of the Seven Bowls of Wrath
Given everything that John has shown us up to this point, chapter 15 gives us a picture of the seven bowls of God’s wrath being prepared.  After these are poured out, God’s wrath will be completed.  But the overall image of the chapter is something that screams out Old Testament imagery: it is the scene of Israel during the Exodus, just having crossed the Red Sea, just after God had delivered them from the Egyptian army. The scene, though, is in Heaven. This is the heavenly perspective of the redemption of the saints, seen in the light of the Exodus. Here is what we see in 15:2-4:

  1. The saints who had been victorious over the beast are standing beside the sea
  2. The saints are singing the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:1-18)

The imagery of the sea should be self-evident by now. It is the Sea of Chaos (Genesis 1:1), the sea that the children of Israel passed through (Exodus 14), the sea from which the four beasts of Daniel 7 came, and the sea of the dragon and the beast—all rolled into one.

But how were the saints victorious over the beast? Weren’t they killed and conquered by the beast? The answer is yes. But this scene shows the ultimate oxymoron of the Christian faith. Jesus Christ brought eternal life through death and crucifixion. In the same way, Christians are victorious over the beast by letting themselves be conquered by the beast—but they’re not really conquered, because they will share in Christ’s resurrection. A crucified Messiah is the savior of the world; and his followers overcome the beast by letting themselves be conquered by him—and this is how salvation comes to the world.

Exodus SeaFinally, the “Song of Moses” here is a condensed version of the complete “Song of Moses” in Exodus 15. This simply reinforces the point: the historic Exodus from Egypt and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army foreshadowed the ultimate New Exodus from sinful Babylon, and the evil, dragon-given power of the beast.

Verses 5-8 show a picture of yet more Old Testament imagery: the tabernacle was the tent where God’s Presence dwelled with the children of Israel while in the wilderness during the Exodus (Exodus 25:8). The temple in Jerusalem was also the place where God’s Presence dwelled among Israel once they inhabited the Promised Land (I Kings 8:10-13). The picture of the temple being filled with smoke from the glory of God echoes Exodus 40:34-35, as well as I Kings 8:10-13. The point is this: we get a glimpse of God’s glory, yet things are not complete. Now that God has trampled the grapes of wrath, He still has to pour out the seven bowls of that wrath upon the earth. And in Revelation 16, we see just that.

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 14–Here Comes the 144,000…AGAIN!

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 14–Here Comes the 144,000…AGAIN!

Back in Revelation 6, with the breaking of the fifth seal, we were introduced to the martyred saints under the Altar of Souls. They were told to wait until the full number are killed. Then in Revelation 7, we saw the full number of saints who made it through the great tribulation—the 144,000/Great Multitude. They had been sealed and protected by God before the seven trumpets of judgment were sounded.

Now here in Revelation 14, we meet the 144,000 again (vs. 1-5). In chapter 7, we were told that the 144,000 had come through the great tribulation. How did they do it? Chapter 14 gives us a clearer picture, for it tells us a number of things about them:

  1. They have the name of the Lamb and of his Father on their foreheads (7:3)
  2. They are with the Lamb on Mount Zion
  3. They were redeemed from the earth
  4. They did not defile themselves with women; they kept themselves pure
  5. They were purchased from among mankind, and were offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb
  6. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless

What? No Women?
So what does it mean that “they didn’t defile themselves with women”? Are the only Christians men? Are the only Christians virgin men? Well, newsflash—something else is going on. First of all, you must take into account the imagery of two women in Revelation we haven’t yet met. In this sense, what we read here in Revelation 14 is foreshadowing what is coming.

144,000 2First, there is the Bride of the Lamb, the Heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21). Second, there is the Whore of Babylon (14:8; chs. 17-18). All through the Old Testament, unfaithful Israel was compared to an adulteress. To be unfaithful to God is to go after false gods and commit spiritual adultery. And, in 95 AD, the big temptation was to commit spiritual adultery with the Roman Empire: to engage in its debauchery and perversion and to worship any one of its gods, particularly the emperor.

The 144,000 who had not defiled themselves with women are the Christians who have not committed spiritual adultery. Also, the picture of the 144,000 on Mount Zion is that of a gathering army. It has also been pointed out that in ancient Israel, the men had to be ritually pure and not have sex with women before a holy war (Deut. 23:9-14; I Sam. 21:5; II Sam. 11:9-13). That same idea is found here: before the final holy war with Satan, the followers of the Lamb must be pure.

Firstfruits?
What are firstfruits? They are a sacrifice to God before the harvest was reaped. The first batch of grain, grapes…or whatever…of the season was offered to God in a burnt offering. Here, we are told that the 144,000 are the actual firstfruits. By virtue of them being martyred for the sake of Christ, they are the ones sacrificed before the full harvest of the world (see I Cor. 15:20-23; 16:15; Romans 8:23; 11:16; 16:5; Lev. 23:9-14). The point is simple: the followers of Christ who are martyrs are seen as the firstfruits sacrifice before the final harvest and judgment of the world.

The Three Angels
After this vision of the 144,000, three angels make declarations. The first makes a call to those who live on the earth (i.e. the unbelievers) to fear God and give Him glory. In short, it is a call to repentance (and based on the previous refusals to repentance, we can imagine how this will be received). The second angels makes the first reference to a very important figure in the rest of the book: Babylon the Great. The angel accuses her of making the nations drunk with the wine of her adulteries. And finally, the third angels declares that anyone who worships the beast and his image will drink the wine of God’s wrath.

All these three things will be fully explained later. But for now, you should see that there is going to be some kind of connection between Babylon the Great and the beast. Verses 12-13 once again gives a call for patient endurance and faithfulness of the saints of God.

The Harvest of the Earth
We have just been told that the 144,000 are the firstfruits. So what do we have now? The harvest of the earth. These are two images found within this picture of the harvest of the earth: the grain harvest and the grape harvest. Each harvest has a different outcome.

The first thing to quickly point out is that the figure of one like the Son of Man comes from Daniel 7:13-14, a passage that is critical to understanding Revelation, and one that we have looked at before. The picture in Daniel is that of God’s Messiah coming to set up his rule, to judge the nations, and to destroy the little horn on the fourth beast in Daniel 7.

HarvestThe second thing to point out concerns the grain harvest (vs. 15-16): the Son of Man reaps the harvest, and the earth is harvested. This is the full harvest of salvation of which the 144,000 were the firstfruits. Reaping here does not mean judgment, but rather to salvation. (Matt. 13:39-42; Mark 4:29; John 4:35-38). And we all know Matthew 9:37-38: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Trampling, though…well that means something else…namely judgement.

The third thing to point out concerns the grape harvest (vs. 17-20): an angel gathers the grapes and throws them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They are trampled in the winepress outside the city, and the blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,6000 stadia. Let’s unpack this.

Grape HarvestJohn does some very poetic things here. All through the Bible (Jer. 51:33; Micah 4:12-13; Hab. 3:12; Hosea 13:3; Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17; Psalm 1:4-5; 35:5; Isaiah 17:13; 29:5; Daniel 2:35) there are references to the gathering and trampling of the chaff—the useless stuff left over from the grain harvest. What John does here, though, given all the images of blood and Babylon’s adulterous wine, and the cup of God’s wrath, John transforms the trampling of the rejects of the grain harvest into a trampling of grapes. The image of trampling grapes works better, given the overall context of Revelation:

  1. Babylon is drunk on the blood of the saints, so God will make her drink the wine of His wrath;
  2. Just as the nations trampled the holy city for 42 months (11:2), in the same way they will be trampled in the winepress of God’s wrath;
  3. Babylon’s wine corrupts the nations with her adulteries (Jer. 51:7), so God’s wine brings wrath and judgment on Babylon and the nations.

The overall point is very similar to what we saw with the 5th, 6th, and 7th seals: God’s people suffer tribulation; God promises redemption; and God brings with that redemption of His people, wrath for His enemies.

Joel’s Revelation Commentary: Revelation 13–THE BEAST…wait…TWO BEASTS!

Joel’s Revelation Commentary: Revelation 13–THE BEAST…wait…TWO BEASTS!

At the end of Revelation 12, after we are told that the dragon went off to make war against the rest of the woman’s offspring, the chapter ends with the dragon standing on the shore of the sea. No, it is not the Mediterranean Sea. It is none other than the Sea of Chaos—the mythical sea that represents evil and chaos. You see it in Genesis 1:1 (“darkness was on the face of the deep), as well as Daniel 7:1-3 (four beasts come out of the sea).  If you keep in mind what started in Genesis 3 (i.e. there would be a war between the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring), you should be able to guess what happens next.

Having failed to destroy the “Old Testament Church” (i.e. Israel), having failed to destroy kill Christ, and having now been cast out of Heaven, the dragon goes off to make war with the rest of the woman’s offspring. Who would that be? It is the reconstituted Israel in Christ (i.e. the Church). The rest of the woman’s offspring is every Christian who makes up the Church. So who is going to be the dragon’s/serpent’s offspring? Welcome to chapter 13…introductions are in order.

The Beast Out of the Sea
I mentioned earlier Daniel 7, when Daniel has a vision of four beasts coming out of the sea. The first three beasts represented Babylon, Media, and Persia, and the fourth beast represented Greece. But on this last beast there is a little horn that “makes war with the saints.” In the original context, this was about the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes IV in the 2nd century BC, and his attempt to destroy the Jews. But the imagery in Daniel 7 is intentional: these empires were depicted as evil. That is why the beasts come up out of the sea. In the ancient world, if a beast came up out of the sea, it was going to be evil.

Revelation 13Here in Revelation, it is no different: a beast comes up out of the sea. This beast is, if you will, one of the dragon’s offspring he’s going to use to make war with the Church, (i.e. the woman’s offspring). So the logical question would be, “Whom did the early Christians in 95 AD have understood this sea beast to be?” Spoiler alert—not Nicolae Carpathia from the “Left Behind” series!

The early Christians would have easily seen this beast out of the sea as either the former Roman Emperor Nero, or Emperor Domitian, the man who was emperor at the end of the first century. There are basically two things that show this is how John wanted his readers to understand who the sea beast was:

  1. The blasphemous names on its heads. One of the major points of conflict between the early Christians and Rome was the fact that the Roman emperors were called by such titles as “Lord and God,” or “Lord and Savior.” The Christians would not call the emperors by these titles, and were thus suspected of being traitors. To the Christians such titles belonged only to Christ, therefore to attribute them to Roman emperors was blasphemous. Caesar isn’t Lord and Savior—Christ alone is.
  2. The beast has a fatal wound that was healed. This is a blatant reference to Nero, who committed suicide in 68 AD. When this was reported to the Roman people, although they were overjoyed that the tyrant was dead, they thought it was too good to be true. Consequently, many imposters tried to use this fear to their advantage. Imperial edicts were issued in Nero’s name, as though he were still alive, and no less than three men claimed to actually be Nero. One lead a rebellion in Rome in 69 AD; another was welcomed by Rome’s major enemy, the Parthians, in 80 AD; and one nearly persuaded the Parthians to march with him against Rome in 88 AD.

Finally, the belief that he was still alive and would return to take vengeance on Rome was replaced by the belief that he had, in fact, died, but would return from the dead to lead armies against Rome. Consequently, at the time of John’s writing of Revelation in 95 AD, this was a legitimate fear in the Roman Empire—that the destruction of their world would come at the hands of a Nero who had come back from the dead—the anti-Christ in Christians’ eyes.

Blakes Sea BeastThe Christians had deep fears about Nero. He was the first emperor to savagely persecute Christians. His persecution was limited to Rome itself. One of his atrocities is that he used Christians as human torches to light his garden. The fact that in 95 AD, the emperor Domitian unleashed the first empire-wide persecution of Christians, no doubt had Christians seeing him as sort of a Nero 2.0.

And so, in 13:3-10, this sea beast is described as having dominion over every tribe, people, language and nation. We are told that the entire world followed the beast and worshipped the dragon. At that time, only one man fit that description: the Roman Emperor. Verses 5-8 would have been particularly disturbing for Christians: the sea beast, the very embodiment of the dragon’s evil, would be allowed to exercise his authority for 42 months. Again, this corresponds to the two witnesses in Revelation 11, as well as the woman’s time in the wilderness.

No, this is not to be taken as a literal 42 months. The point is simple: it is ordained by God that His followers go through suffering and tribulation for a time at the hands of Satan’s representative on earth. In fact, the beast was allowed to make war against, and even conquer, the saints—those who have their home in Heaven (13:6)…this is just like when the beast is allowed to kill the two witnesses of chapter 11.

Not only that, but one more thing is said: the inhabitants of the earth will actually worship the beast. The distinction is now made: the people of God are no longer Jews, as opposed to Gentiles, but rather the saints of God who have their names in the Lamb’s book of life, and whose home is in heaven, as opposed to everyone else, who lives on the earth. Ultimately, there are only citizens of Heaven, and citizens of earth. The saints live in Heaven and worship the Lamb, whereas the inhabitants of the earth worship the beast, and ultimately the dragon himself.

Finally, 13:10 gives a downright chilling statement to the seven churches to whom John was writing: “He who has an ear, let him hear! If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” Basically, John is telling these churches that some of them are going to die, so they had better be prepared to be either killed or uprooted from their homes—this is what is means to follow Christ, so endure and be faithful to Him.

There is no “Don’t worry! You’re going to be raptured out of the coming tribulation!” There is no “Don’t worry! This doesn’t apply to you! This will happen 2,000 years from now, during a 7-year tribulation period, when Christians who only become Christians after the rapture will be persecuted!” All there is, is John warning those seven churches that the persecution under Domitian is going to get worse, so be faithful.

Let me just stop and say here that such a passage is hard for Christians in 21st century America to relate to—we’re not undergoing persecution. That is why, I believe, people assume this is a prediction of yet future events. But it’s not—it’s a description of what Christians should expect in this world, be they first century Christians, Christians who suffered under the Communists, or Christians now who are being slaughtered by ISIS. Such a message has direct revelatory relevance to Christians who are being persecuted. We need to remember that.

The Beast from the Earth
There’s another beast! Here is what John says about it:

  1. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon (v. 11)
  2. It made the inhabitants of the earth worship the sea beast (v. 12)
  3. It performed miraculous signs and deceived the inhabitants of the earth (v. 13-14)
  4. It had an image made of the sea beast, and made it talk (v. 15)
  5. It killed anyone who didn’t worship the image (v. 15)
  6. It made everyone take a mark on their foreheads or hands in order to buy and sell (v. 16)

Revelation 13 Two BeastsSo who the heck is this second beast? Well, it sure seems that the earth beast is in the service of the sea beast, doesn’t it? So if the sea beast is the Roman Emperor (Nero or Domitian), who is the earth beast? Since the chief objective of the earth beast is to get people to worship the sea beast, scholars agree that the earth beast is a reference to the official cult of the Emperor throughout the Roman Empire—it was the state-sponsored worship of the Roman Emperor as a god, as the “Lord and Savior” of the world.

The Emperor Domitian, for example, actually claimed the title “Lord and God” while he was still alive. Most of the time, once an emperor died, the Senate would declare him to be a god, but for an emperor to claim that for himself while he was still alive, well, that’s just a bit megalomaniacal, don’t you think? In any case, not all emperors encouraged this imperial cult. The early emperors of the first century discouraged it, but later emperors like Caligula, Nero, and Domitian, embraced it. In fact, throughout the Roman Empire, it was common to have the huge images of various gods (and presumably god-emperors!) that were set up in pagan temples to have hollowed out heads, so that the priests could actually climb inside these idols and give the impression that the image of the “god” actually spoke.

In any case, it is no wonder that Domitian unleashed an empire-wide persecution of Christians—they wouldn’t address him as “Lord and God.”  John’s point here is thus clear. He saw this growing fascination of emperor worship as the work of Satan. The Roman emperor had become the “lamb of the dragon” so to speak—hence the reference to having two horns like a lamb, yet speaking like a dragon. He was utterly hostile to Christ, the Lamb of God. The persecuting Roman emperor, and the cult of emperor worship, embodied Satan’s war against the woman’s offspring…the Christians. The war of Genesis 3 is being played out.

One Final Thing: What’s 666 All About?
Mark of BeastThe “mark of the beast”—what is it? Here in Revelation 13 it is said that anyone who did not have this number on their foreheads or hands could not buy or sell. No, it’s not about bar codes on merchandise at your local store. Back then, many Roman coins had the title of the Emperor on them, and undoubtedly many Christians would have a big problem buying something with a coin that said, “Caesar is Lord and Savior” on it.

By why “666”? No, it’s not some kind of secret computer code. Here’s the most likely explanation. In Greek and Hebrew, they didn’t have numbers—that is why they used letters to denote their numbers (i.e. x = 10; vii = 7). Therefore, every name also had a numerical value. And it just so turns out that the name “Nero Caesar” had a numerical value of…yes, you guessed it…666. It is likely that the early Christians would have identified 666 as referring to Nero or the “second coming of Nero,” if you will—i.e. Domitian. In addition, there is something else significant about 666: it is a triple failing of 777. “7” is the divine number of God, and therefore “666” (possibly a reference to the dragon, sea beast, and earth beast) is a triple failure of trying to defeat God and his Christ.

Revelation 12-13 have been two chapters that have terrified many good Evangelicals for the past 50 years, and have been the focus of many bad Christian movies like “The Thief in the Night” and, obviously, the books and movies of “Left Behind.”

Now that you understand what Revelation 12-13 really are about, you can now put your fears away. You’re welcome!

Joel’s Revelation Commentary–Revelation 12: A Woman, a Child, and a Dragon…O My!

Joel’s Revelation Commentary–Revelation 12: A Woman, a Child, and a Dragon…O My!

I best some of you were wondering when I would get around to tackling the second half of Revelation. Well, here it is.

Revelation 12 marks the beginning of another major section of Revelation. When one compares it to chapters 4-11, one should notice a number of things. First, the basic unfolding of events falls into the same patter as chapters 4-11. In both sections:

  • The scene begins in Heaven, then shifts to earth (Ch. 4-5; 12:1-12)
  • There is turmoil on the earth (Ch. 6; 12:13-13:18)
  • Then there is something mentioned about the 144,000 (Ch. 7; Ch. 14)
  • The seven trumpets (8:1-5) and seven bowls (Ch. 15) are prepared
  • The first six trumpets are blown (8:6-13) and the seven bowls are poured out (Ch. 16); the result of both is that there is no repentance, and the people curse God
  • A pause in the action in 17:1-19:10 has no parallel in part one
  • The events in chapters 10 and 11 correspond to 19:11-21 and 20:1-15 respectively
  • Finally, the consummation of God’s salvation comes (11:15-19; 21:1-22:6)

Chapters 12-22, though, are not simply a rehashing of 4-11. Yes, the basic structure and “tune” is the same, but there is a definite intensification of events. In short, if chapters 4-11 are like a string quartet, chapters 12-22 is the entire symphony—everything is on a grander scale.  The scope of chapters 4-11 is simply that of the servants of God being persecuted by the kings of the earth (although in 9:11 we are given a hint that something bigger is going one—this is where we are told that the locusts from the Abyss have a king over them—the angel of the Abyss, whose name is the Destroyer). The scope of chapters 12-22 tells us that the battle is not simply between Christians and the evil kings of the world, but is ultimately between the Lamb of God and the Dragon himself. The stakes are much higher than first expected. In short, chapters 12-22 show the cosmic significance of this earthly struggle between the saints of God and the evil kings of the earth.

The Scene in Chapter 12
That being said, chapter 12 opens with quite an interesting sight: a woman clothed with the sun is giving birth and is in great pain, while an enormous red dragon with 7 heads, 10 horns, and 7 crowns stands ready to devour the child as soon as it is born. The child, though, is snatched up to God, and the woman flees to the wilderness. Meanwhile, there is a great war in Heaven, and the dragon and his angels are hurled down to earth. Once on earth, the dragon pursues the woman, but she (as previously stated) escapes to the wilderness. And so, the dragon goes off to make war against the rest of her offspring.

So what does that all mean?

In short, chapter 12 gives us the cosmic significance of the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The easiest way to go through chapter 12 is by identifying the main characters in it. But before we do, it would be best to quickly review something in Genesis 3:15-20. After the man and woman sin, the LORD God tells the serpent that He would put enmity between the serpent and the woman, and between the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring. The woman was told that her pains in childbearing would increase, and later on we learn that she is named Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.

This small section in Genesis 3 has a tremendous impact on everything in the Bible, especially here in Revelation 12. Old Testament Israel saw themselves as the woman’s offspring, and the Gentiles who persecuted them as the serpent’s offspring. In addition, the king of Israel was seen to represent all of Israel—he was the figurehead. He was the one “offspring” who represented the entire number of the woman’s “offspring” (i.e. Israel). Therefore, when the Jews began hoping for a future Messiah (i.e. a future Davidic king who would make Israel great again), they  viewed this future Messiah as the embodiment of all Israel who represented them all.

If you don’t yet see the relevance of that to Revelation 12, hang on…you will.

The Woman Clothed With the Sun
Woman_of_the_Apocalypse_(Hortus_deliciarum)Any Jew would have recognized this woman to be symbolic of the Heavenly Zion (12:1-6), of which the Old Testament people of God (12:13-16) represented. Her crown of 12 stars alludes to the 12 tribes of Israel. Not only that, but the scene here has echoes all the way from Genesis 3:15-16. She is also seen in light of Eve, the mother of all the living who gives birth to the offspring who strikes the serpent’s head. To simply say that the woman is Old Testament Israel, though, is not to fully understand the scene. More accurately, it is the Heavenly Zion, the true people of God, of whom Old Testament Israel was a representation. Consider what we see here also as an allusion to Isaiah 66:7-9:

“Before she was in labor, she gave birth; before her pain came upon her, she delivered a son. Who has heard of such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be delivered in one moment? Yet as soon as Zion was in labor, she delivered her children. Shall I open the womb and not deliver? Says the LORD; shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb? Says your God.”

Reddragon
The Red Dragon and the Woman (William Blake)

The Dragon
We are told who the dragon is: Satan, the ancient serpent, who leads the whole world astray. The fact he is pictured as a dragon, and is called the ancient serpent, should call to mind images of Genesis (and if you’re a really learned Old Testament scholar, other Old Testament references like Job 3:8; 41:1; Psalm 74:4; 89:10; Isaiah 27:1; 51:9). The great serpent obviously relates back to Genesis 3, for it is a serpent that deceives the woman, and it is between the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring that war is declared. God will defeat Satan in a war fought through the woman’s offspring, whose representative is ultimately Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, and through the serpent’s offspring, whose representative (as we shall see) is ultimately the Beast.

But the dragon in Revelation represents much more than just the serpent in Genesis 3. The serpent was a mythological symbol used in the ancient world to denote the great sea monster, the ruler of the watery chaos and evil: Leviathan, Rahab. Let’s just look at one instance of this elsewhere in the Old Testament: Isaiah 27:1—“On that day, YHWH with His cruel and great, cruel, and mighty sword, will punish Leviathan, the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and He will kill the dragon that is in the sea.”

This is a promise that on the Great Day of YHWH, when He comes to redeem His people, He will kill the great serpent (Leviathan), defeat evil, and put an end to the war that was begun back in Genesis 3.

Let’s also consider Isaiah51:9-11—9Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD! Awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago! Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? 10 Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to cross over? 11 So the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

RedDragon WomanAgain, this is a promise that, just as YHWH delivered the children of Israel from Egypt, and made a way for them to escape through the great sea (i.e. the Red Sea in this case), so will He once again provide a way of salvation for His people—this time out of the Babylonian exile. Rahab here is a reference to Egypt, the nation who oppressed Israel. It is also a term used to describe the great serpent. Consequently, by calling Egypt “Rahab,” Isaiah is saying that the oppressive power of Egypt ultimately comes from Satan himself. “Just like God saved Israel back then,” Isaiah is saying, “so will He again save His people.”

There are many more Old Testament references that show how Old Testament Israel, and the early Christians as well, viewed Satan. We in the modern world see him as a horned devil with a tail and pitchfork. They saw him as the great and terrible mythological sea serpent of chaos.

The Male Child
Woman and DragonThe child born to the woman is Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. The mention of the fact that he will “rule all the nations with a rod of iron” is a reference to Psalm 2:7, a psalm that looks forward to the coming Messiah. Early Christians would have easily seen the child being taken up to God’s throne as a reference to the ascension, vindication, and glorification of Christ. The point is simple: Satan tried to defeat and kill Christ all through his life (and particularly at the cross), and failed. Christ has now ascended to the throne of God, Satan has been defeated in Heaven (12:7-9), and is hurled down to earth. The battle in Heaven is already decided, but now the battle has to be played out on earth.

A Brief Statement on 12:10-12
This little declaration by a voice in Heaven is quite significant. The declaration, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ,” echoes a similar declaration in 11:15: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.” The point is this: with Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension, the decisive battle in Heaven is won, and the Kingdom of God has now come to earth.

A good example of what is going on here is that of D-Day, when the Allies invaded Normandy, beat back the Nazis, and got a foothold on the European continent. Once the Allies won D-Day, once they had gotten that foothold in France, the war against Hitler was all but over. There was still going to be months of hard fighting, but for all practical purposes, the war had been won on D-Day, on the beaches of Normandy. The rest was just a mop-up job. With the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the decisive battle was won. Satan’s power was broken, and death was overpowered. The Kingdom of God had come, it was just a matter of time to finalize the job.

What comes next in 12:11 is this: “How is Satan defeated?” By three things: (A) the blood of the Lamb (Christ’s saving work on the cross), (B) the word of the saints’ testimony (our witness and faithfulness to Christ, and (C) the fact that the saints did not shrink from death (our willingness to sacrifice our lives, just as Christ did). This is very important to realize. Yes, Christ defeats Satan, but we have a part in the war, too. We cannot sit back and do nothing.

Final Comments on 12:13-17
A few things must be mentioned here. First, this passage clearly shows that although Satan is defeated, he’s not dead yet.  He’s wreaking havoc on the earth, the earth in which we are living today. Second, hopefully you noticed the reference to the woman being cared for by God in the desert for 1,260 days, or “a time, times, and half a time.” Does that sound familiar? Three and a half years? 42 months? It should. This is the time of the “trampling of the Gentiles” (11:2), and the time of the two witnesses (11:3). This is the time, as 12:17 clearly states, when the dragon makes war “against the rest of the woman’s offspring”—namely the followers of Christ. The point is that ever since Christ’s ascension, we have been living in the “1,260 days.” Christians have been in tribulation, and are warring against Satan. One last thing, isn’t it kind of ironic that the way the dragon tries to destroy the woman is with…a flood? Hmmmm….

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