the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
by Peter Pett
Introduction (to be read before the book is considered and then after it has been studied).
There is no more exciting book than the book of Revelation. It follows to some extent the pattern utilised in what is termed ‘apocalyptic literature’, which itself is patterned on aspects of the book of Daniel. It uses visions of wild beasts and heavenly figures and fiendish monsters, with the aim of conveying ideas by vivid imagery, and by this imagery propounding mysteries hidden from the majority for the benefit of the few.
While those who were on the outside dismissed it as a fantastic conglomeration of other worldly creatures and mythical figures, those on the inside understood its deeper significance and rejoiced in its teaching.
The difference between this and other apocalyptic literature is that while the authors of most apocalyptic literature portrayed their work as produced by ancient figures of the past who had heavenly connections, (such for example as Enoch), with the author hiding his own identity, the Book of Revelation is written by John, an identifiable man on earth, to a specific group of people, as a revelation from God. It is intended to be a revelation not a mystery.
Furthermore he claims that what he writes about was what he saw in a series of mystical visions, and we have no reason to doubt his veracity. And these visions the early church saw as an inspired revelation from God. This why today we have The Book of Revelation in the Scriptures.
How far the book represents the rational views of the author and how far he owed it to mystical experience we can never know, but the visions came through the mind of John and even his mystical visions had to be written down, which required some degree of selection and interpretation by the author. In interpreting the book we therefore see it as the work of John under guidance from the Holy Spirit, with his ideas behind it, while also recognising that he saw things beyond full comprehension, heavenly realities revealed to him by God Himself, which John himself did not fully understand.
Combined with the vivid portrayals of his visions is the idea of numerals as containing specific significance, which may not always mean what we take them to mean. To the ancients numbers were adjectives which conveyed meanings, not just dull arithmetic. They were not necessarily to be taken literally. They conveyed ideas rather than quantity. (See the article, " ").
For example the number seven abounds in the book. This number conveyed among all ancient nations the ideas of divine perfection and completeness in a way beyond anything we moderns can begin to appreciate. Not only does it convey the idea of quantity, an idea which is secondary (it was not a mathematical world), but it also represents totality, the fullness of divine perfection. Thus the seven churches represent the whole world-wide church, the seven seals represent the whole of the future, and so on. This is the idea at its simplest. We must therefore approach the book cautiously, and, as far as possible, without dogmatism.
Some argue that because it is a difficult book the safest way is to treat it literally as far as possible, (although that is the last thing apocalyptic literature attempted to be) and to assume it to be chronological. They have then related the majority of the book to ‘the end times’, failing to recognise that ‘the end times’ began at the resurrection. But this ‘literal view’ denies itself, for when convenient, literalness is forgotten. Just to give one example. The promises to the church at Pergamum are treated as applying to the worldwide church. But that is not to treat them literally. And that there are many things which cannot be taken literally all would agree. In the end it must depend on judging each factor.
The fact that ‘the end times’ began at the resurrection is vital and is clearly stated in Scripture. ‘He was revealed at the end of the times for your sake’, says Peter (1 Peter 1:20), so that he can then warn his readers ‘ the end of all things is at hand’ (1 Peter 4:7). So to Peter the first coming of Christ has begun the end times. Likewise Paul says to his contemporaries ‘for our admonition, on whom the end of the ages has come’ (1 Corinthians 10:11). What could be clearer? The first coming of Christ was the end of the ages, not the beginning of a new age. The writer to the Hebrews tells us ‘He has in these last days spoken to us by His Son’ (Hebrews 1:1-2), and adds ‘once in the end of the ages has He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself’ (Hebrews 9:26-28). So those early writers saw their days as ‘the last days’, for this age is the culmination of all that has gone before and leads up to the end.
Others have seen in the book specific events of history. But the methods have been very selective of history, and there have been wide divergencies of interpretation. There are no real grounds for this method. Where it occurs in Daniel it is clearly stated. But there is nothing in Revelation to suggest it. However these are ‘modern’ approaches, taken without considering fully enough the nature of apocalyptic literature, and failing to acknowledge why John wrote as he did.
The fact is that John was writing to Christians in the midst of a Roman Empire that seemed all-powerful, that spasmodically bitterly persecuted Christians, and was hugely sensitive to any suggestions that it might be overthrown. He was shown by God that bitter persecution lay ahead at the hands of the Roman Empire. Under God’s hand he was therefore trying to give his fellow Christians encouragement in the face of adversity while at the same time seeking to avoid enflaming the authorities.
To have written what he did openly would have been to court persecution for both writer and reader alike, so instead he adopted the method of using apocalyptic imagery to get over his message to Christians who were undergoing, and would undergo, something of what he wrote. It was this aim that led on to his God-given visions. To fail to recognise this is to fail to understand the book.
This is not, however, to deny that what it describes also goes beyond those early days, and that particular aim, for it deals with events through history of all kinds with which God’s people would be faced time and again and its focal point is the second Coming of Christ and the establishing of a New Heaven and a New Earth. We can compare here the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:0; Mark 13:0; Luke 21:0 where He portrayed events which would take place through history, false Messiahs, wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilence, tribulation and persecution for His people, and the Gospel reaching out to the nations. The same thing is portrayed in Revelation in more vivid form.
As we have said the book contains a number of visions. Except where it is clear that one part must follow another, they are not necessarily chronological. Indeed, on the contrary, they are largely concurrent. Again and again in different sections we find ourselves brought up to the time of the Second Coming and the final judgment (Revelation 6:15-17; Revelation 7:15-17 with Revelation 21:3-5; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 14:17-20; Revelation 16:21; Revelation 19:19-21). What we must first do, if we want a chronology (and the ancients were not as bothered about chronology as we are, they were more concerned with impact), is to find points of contact so that we can fit the visions together as far as this is possible, while asking ourselves, what is the main message the writer is trying to get across?
Of course it is inevitably true that some things contained in it did happen in sequence. But this does not necessarily mean that that sequence should be everywhere applied. They are a series of visions received at different times, not just one vision, and the visions clearly overlap. The same ground is gone over again and again from a different perspective (something other views have to ignore). We move backwards and forwards in time. The Revelation comprises a series of overlapping visions, not one whole vision, interwoven with which are flashbacks to introduce the particular vision in question.
Ascertaining the main message is probably more simple than determining a chronology. We think that all will agree that the real purpose of the book is to make sense, from a Christian point of view, of what at first sight appears inexplicable, the most dreadful of happenings, the domination of the world by the most evil of forces, and to encourage Christians, in the face of the most terrible persecutions, with the thought that their affairs are watched over in Heaven. It seeks to reveal that however bad the situation might appear, God’s purposes are moving forward according to His time-scale and under His control. This has been its assurance to the church throughout the ages.
Those of us who live in countries where persecution has been, and in the near future is likely to be, relatively minor (with a few exceptions) find it natural to assume that the terrible things portrayed are mainly yet to come. It is not like the world as we know it. But we forget, or are unaware, that the world has seen and is seeing terrible things, and that in many parts of the world, especially the Bible world, persecution has been, and still is, more common. Christians there know what it is to go constantly in fear of their lives and to dread future events.
It is possibly not without significance that the main exponents of certain Second Coming teachings have lived in the countries where persecution of the most severe kind was not rife. (Not that we are suggesting that that has been the only issue to sway them, for many great Bible teachers have spent considerable time earnestly wrestling with the Scriptures in order to understand them and establish their views. But one may hopefully be forgiven for suggesting that had they lived through centuries of bitter, intensive continual persecution, enduring great tribulation as others have, they might have looked at things slightly differently and applied things more generally. Certainly they have not been able to reach a consensus of opinion on what they do teach, and this is partly because the genius of apocalyptic is that it is not too specific so that it can be applied to so many situations).
What is perhaps even more significant is the way in which, through the last two thousand years, different generations have been able to apply the visions directly to their own age, seeing fulfilment in what was happening around them, for this demonstrates clearly the usefulness of the method of portraying truth through vision. By this means they can be applied specifically to a thousand situations. This fact itself shows that on the whole the underlying events portrayed have happened again and again through history. The book is dealing with large ideas that are themselves the things which determine history.
Perhaps one more point must be added here. When John speaks of ‘the world’ and ‘the earth’ he means the limited world as he knew it (see Acts 11:28; Acts 17:6; Acts 19:27; Romans 1:8; Romans 16:19). What he ‘saw’ occurred in that world. It is the world of the Near and Middle East and that is where the events were seen as centred. Great Britain was peripheral to the events and America non-existent. Thus while both may be considerably affected it may not necessarily so. Only time will tell. The persecutions and tribulations described pertained to that world and indeed are apparent in that world today. It is by their experiences and not by ours that the book must be interpreted.
It is clear, of course, where the book begins and ends. It begins with the position of the seven churches, continues with the activity of the Heavenly influencing the earthly, and the rebellion of the earthly against the Heavenly, among all of which move the people of God, and ends with the triumph of God through Christ. But at that point the unanimity ends, and this has caused many to say, ‘well, very good, let us leave it there’, but as this usually means, ‘let’s not bother with the book at all’, it is certainly not satisfactory.
We do not have to read far before we discover that John was clearly a man saturated in the Scriptures. His mind thought along Scriptural pathways. His ideas sprang from His knowledge of them. Old Testament Scripture lies directly at the back of every chapter. That is why we have interpreted in the belief that what he says is to be illuminated mainly by those Scriptures and not by external ideas. He was quite happy for the Romans to see the woman clothed with the sun (chapter 12) as somehow involved with the signs of the zodiac. But he wanted Christians to interpret it by using the word of God, remembering that the twelve patriarchs were seen as twelve stars, whilst Jacob and his wife were seen as the sun and the moon.
The book is quite remarkable in this respect. Revelation mirrors and reverses the situation in Genesis. It parallels the history of Israel with the condition of the churches. It is saturated with indirect references to the Psalms and the Prophets. We will endeavour to illustrate this further.
The Old Testament and the Book of Revelation.
1). Genesis and Revelation.
The close connection of Genesis with Revelation cannot be doubted. What begins in Genesis is finalised in Revelation. Thus:
· In Genesis 1:0
· We have the first creation (Genesis 1:1), in Revelation 21:1 the first creation passes away and we have the new creation.
· We have the establishing of night (Genesis 1:5), and in Revelation 22:5 night is done away with.
· We have the establishing of the seas in Genesis 1:10. In Revelation 21:1 there is no more sea.
· We have the sun to govern the day and the moon to govern the night (Genesis 1:16), and in Revelation 21:23 the sun and moon are done away with.
· We have sun, moon and stars established to provide light, in Revelation 6:12 sun, moon and stars no longer provide light, and in Revelation 22:5 God becomes the source of all light..
In Genesis 2-3
· We have the earthly Paradise, in Revelation 22:1-5 with Genesis 2:7, the heavenly Paradise.
· We have the earthly life-giving rivers (Genesis 2:10-14), in Revelation 22:1-2 the heavenly river of water of life.
· We have the marriage of the first man, the first Adam (Genesis 2:18-23), in Revelation 19:7-9 we have the marriage of the second man, the last Adam (compare1 Corinthians 15:45; 1 Corinthians 15:45; 1 Corinthians 15:47).
· We have the entrance of sin (Genesis 3:6-7), and, in Revelation 21:27 and context, the end of sin.
· We have curses pronounced (Genesis 3:14-17), in Revelation 22:3 there is no more curse.
· We have the entrance of great sorrows and suffering (Genesis 3:17), in Revelation 21:4 sorrow and suffering is no more.
· We have the entrance of death (Genesis 3:22), in Revelation 21:4 there is no more death.
· We have the cherubim preventing man reaching the tree of life. In Revelation 5:8-10; Revelation 7:11 with Revelation 22:2 we have the cherubim rejoicing in men reaching the tree of life.
· We have the tree of life forbidden (Genesis 3:24), in Revelation 22:14 the right to the tree of life is given.
· We have man driven out from the earthly Paradise (Genesis 3:24), in Revelation 22:0 men enter the heavenly Paradise.
· In Genesis 4:0 we have the establishing of a ‘city’ and the growth of ‘civilisation’. In Revelation 16:19 and chs.17-18 we have the destruction of all cities and the Great City and the end of ‘civilisation’. These are replaced by the heavenly city.
· In Genesis 10:8-10; Genesis 11:1-9 we have the establishing of Babel (Babylon) as man’s rebellion against God and his environment grows, in Revelation 18:0 we have the final end of ‘Babylon’ as man’s rebellion is quashed.
There are many more contrasting parallels between the two books.
Consider The Seven Letters to the Churches and the Old Testament.
One of the patterns that among others have influenced the construction of these letters is that of the events of the Old Testament. John is warning the churches to take to heart the lessons of history in the Old Testament. We can put these simply in order.
· Man lost his first love in Eden (Genesis 3:0) - the church’s first love is lost (Revelation 2:4) - the promise to the overcomer is Paradise restored (Revelation 2:7).
· Man is connected with the assembly of people in Cain’s new city, away from the presence of the Lord (Genesis 4:16), who were responsible for the first death (Genesis 4:8) and the second death (Genesis 4:23), who are Adam’s seed and yet are not - the church is connected with the ‘assembly of Satan’, who say they are Jews and are not (Revelation 2:9) - the overcomer will escape the Second Death (Revelation 2:11).
· Man sets up Satan’s throne in Babel, a dwelling place of the gods (Genesis 11:4) - the church dwells where Satan’s throne is, a dwelling place of the gods (Revelation 2:13) - the overcomer will share the Heavenly Tabernacle where the hidden manna is hid in the Ark of the Covenant over which is God’s throne (Revelation 2:17).
· Israel is taught by Balaam to commit idolatry and sexual perversions (Numbers 25:1-2) - ‘Balaam’ teaches the church to commit idolatry and sexual perversions (Revelation 2:14) - the overcomer will receive the white stone carrying Christ’s new name (Revelation 2:17), they will be clean from idolatry and sexual perversion.
· Jezebel, the foreign queen, teaches Israel sexual perversion and idolatry (1 Kings 16:31; 1 Kings 21:25; 2 Kings 9:7) - ‘Jezebel’ teaches the church sexual perversion and idolatry - (Revelation 2:20) - the overcomer will stand in judgment on the nations (Revelation 2:26-27).
· Israel had a name to live but is now dead (Hosea 13:1; Amos 5:2; Amos 7:8; Amos 8:2; Amos 8:10; Amos 9:10; Ezekiel 23:10), its name is blotted out (Exodus 32:33; Psalms 69:28; Psalms 109:13), and it is no more remembered before God (‘our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, we are clean cut off’ (Ezekiel 37:11 compare v. 2-3)) - (see 2 Kings 18:11-12; Hosea 1:6-9; Hosea 8:8; Hosea 9:16-17; Amos 7:11; Amos 7:17; Ezekiel 36:19) - the church has a name that it lives and is dead (Revelation 3:1) - the name of the overcomer will not be blotted out but will be remembered before God.
· In contrast to Israel, Judah (under Hezekiah) opens the door of the house of the Lord (2 Chronicles 29:3) which had been shut up (2 Chronicles 27:2; 2 Chronicles 28:24), thus an open door is set before Judah, and Hezekiah’s steward opens and no man shuts (Isaiah 22:22) - an open door is set before the church (Revelation 3:8) by Him Who opens and no man shuts (Revelation 3:7) - the overcomer will become a pillar in the Temple of God (Revelation 3:12) and will receive a new name.
· But Judah in their pride and arrogance at their wealth (‘I am rich, I have found me wealth’ - Hosea 12:8; compare Ezekiel 16:15-17; Zechariah 11:5; Isaiah 2:7; Isaiah 39:2; Hosea 2:5) are advised to buy true wealth (Isaiah 55:2) and not trust in their beauty (Ezekiel 16:15) or they will be stripped naked (Ezekiel 16:39; Hosea 2:3). They are poor (Ezekiel 22:18; Isaiah 1:22; Jeremiah 5:4) and blind (Isaiah 59:10; Isaiah 42:18) and naked (Lamentations 1:8) and are therefore effectively ‘spewed out’ (Leviticus 18:28). They are defeated and led captive into Babylon and the house of the Lord is destroyed and the walls of Jerusalem broken down (Jeremiah 52:14) and there is no more a throne (Jeremiah 52:10-11). From now on the throne is in Babylon (Jeremiah 52:32) . Their wealth and their failure to see their true state has destroyed them and they receive the punishment threatened from the beginning, they are spewed out of the land (Leviticus 18:25-28) - Similar accusations are made of the church (Revelation 3:17-18) and a similar fate threatened, they will be spewed out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16) - those who overcome will receive a throne within God’s kingdom (Revelation 3:12).
Although there may be controversy over detail the main line is clear. The churches are seen to be again repeating history, and are to take warning from the Old Testament Scriptures. (Which explains why they can be seen as paralleling the history of the church. Man as a whole does not change).
It is important as we approach the book that we take this lesson to heart. The churches are the new people of God, sprouting from the old, made up of the true Israel (John 15:1-6) and the Gentile Christians who were adopted by God and grafted into Israel (Romans 11:17). Israel was outwardly seen as the people of God, but it was only the faithful in Israel who were the true people of God as the prophets (and Paul in Romans 9:0) made clear.
The same is true of the church. Outwardly they are one people. Within that people there are those who are faithful to God and there are those who are renegades. But the true church and the true Israel is composed only of those who are faithful. The unfaithful have been cut off from Israel.
Paul makes this clear in Romans 9:6 following. And it important to recognise that the Apostles did not see the church as replacing Israel but as being the true Israel. In Ephesians 2:0 Paul tells the Gentiles that in the past they ‘were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise’ (Ephesians 2:12). Thus in the past, he says, they did not belong to the twelve tribes. But then he tells them that they are now ‘made nigh by the blood of Christ’ (Ephesians 2:13), Who has ‘made both one and broken down the wall of partition --- creating in Himself of two one new man’ Revelation 2:14-15). Now therefore, through Christ, they have been made members of the commonwealth of Israel, and inherit the promises. So they are ‘no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God, being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets’ (Ephesians 2:19-20). Thus as with people in the Old Testament who were regularly adopted into the twelve tribes of Israel (e.g. the mixed multitude - Exodus 12:38), Gentile Christians too were seen as so incorporated. That is why he can call the church ‘the Israel of God’, made up of Jews and ex-Gentiles, having declared circumcision and uncircumcision as unimportant because there is a new creation (Galatians 6:15-16). ‘The Israel of God’ can only mean that new creation, the church of Christ, otherwise he is being inconsistent.
The point behind both of these passages is that all Christians become by adoption members of the twelve tribes. (There would be no point in mentioning circumcision if he was not thinking of incorporation into the twelve tribes. The importance of circumcision was that to the Jews it made the difference between those who became genuine proselytes, and thus members of the twelve tribes, and those who remained as ‘God-fearers’, loosely attached but not accepted as full Jews. Paul says that circumcision is unnecessary for men’s acceptance into the Israel of God).
Again in Romans he points out to the Gentiles that there is a remnant of Israel which is faithful to God and they are the true Israel (Romans 11:5). The remainder have been cast off (Romans 10:27, 29; Romans 11:15; Romans 11:17; Romans 11:20). Then he describes the Christian Gentiles as ‘grafted in among them’ becoming ‘partakers with them of the root of the fatness of the olive tree’ (Romans 11:17). They are now part of the same tree so it is clear that he regards them as now being part of the faithful remnant of Israel. For ‘those who are of faith, the same are the sons of Abraham’ (Galatians 3:7).
The privilege of being a ‘son of Abraham’ is that one is adopted into the twelve tribes of Israel. It is they who proudly called themselves ‘the sons of Abraham’ (John 8:39; John 8:53). That is why in the one man in Christ Jesus there can be neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3:28). For ‘if you are Abraham’s seed, you are heirs according to the promise’ (Galatians 3:29). To be Abraham’s ‘seed’ within the promise is to be a member of the twelve tribes. The reference to ‘seed’ is decisive.
That is why Paul can say, ‘he is not a Jew who is one outwardly --- he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and the circumcision is that of the heart’ (Romans 2:28-29 compare Romans 2:26). In the light of these passages it cannot really be doubted that the early church saw the converted Gentiles as becoming members of the twelve tribes of Israel. They are ‘the seed of Abraham’, ‘sons of Abraham’, spiritually circumcised, grafted in to the true Israel, fellow-citizens with the saints in the commonwealth of Israel, the Israel of God. What further evidence do we need?
When James writes to ‘the twelve tribes which are of the dispersion’ (James 1:1) (Jews living away from Palestine were seen as dispersed around the world and were therefore thought of as ‘the dispersion’) there is not a single hint that he is writing other than to all in the churches. He sees the whole church as having become members of the twelve tribes, as the true dispersion, and indeed refers to their ‘assembly’ with the same word used for synagogue (James 2:2). But he can also call them ‘the church’ (James 5:14).
There is not even the slightest hint in the remainder of the epistle that he has just one section of the church in mind. In view of the importance of it, had he not been speaking of the whole church he must surely have commented on the attitude of Jewish Christians to Christian Gentiles, especially in the light of the ethical content of his letter, but there is not even a whisper of it. He speaks as though to the whole church.
Peter also writes to ‘the elect’ and calls them ‘sojourners of the dispersion’ and when he speaks of ‘Gentiles’ is clearly assuming that those under that heading are not Christians (1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 4:3). So it is apparent he too sees all Christians as no longer Gentiles, but members of the twelve tribes (as above ‘the dispersion’ means the twelve tribes scattered around the world). Good numbers of Gentiles were becoming members of the Jewish faith at that time, and on being circumcised were accepted by the Jews as members of the twelve tribes (as proselytes). In the same way the apostles, who were all Jews and also saw the pure in Israel as God’s chosen people, saw the converted Gentiles as being incorporated into the new Israel without the need for circumcision.
Today we may not think in these terms but it is apparent that to the early church to become a Christian was to become a member of the twelve tribes of Israel. That is why there was such a furore over whether circumcision, the covenant sign of the Jew, was necessary for Christians. It was precisely because they were seen as entering the twelve tribes that many saw it as required. Paul’s argument against it is never that Christians do not become members of the twelve tribes (as we have seen he argues that they do) but that what matters is spiritual circumcision, not physical circumcision, and that we are circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:0). Thus early on Christians unquestionably saw themselves as the true twelve tribes of Israel.
The end of Revelation also reverses the pattern of Genesis 1-11. In Genesis 1-11 man shares Paradise with God (Genesis 2:0), he directly faces Satan, sins and is separated from God (Genesis 3-4), wicked man sets himself up away from the presence of the Lord and builds ‘a city’ (Genesis 4:0), rebellious man builds a great city and a sanctuary to the gods with a view to domination (Genesis 11:0). In Revelation 17-18 the great city is destroyed, wicked man still continues his rebellion and turns directly to Satan (Revelation 17:16-17 with Revelation 19:19) and is also destroyed, sin is removed for the repentant and man is restored to God, man is instated in a new Paradise.
With regard to the remainder of the Old Testament, the writer was steeped in the Old Testament and every page reflects what is written there. These references will be dealt with in the Commentary as they occur.
We offer all our thoughts in a spirit of helpfulness, not controversy. We consider ‘love of the our Christian brothers’ to be more important than winning an argument over matters that have been debated throughout history. We do not pretend to have all the solutions, nor to exhaust the meaning of the book, but we do believe that what we have to say is fair to what the book says and will give some meaning to the book for our day, and for every day.
Finally we will seek to present a panorama showing how what we are to read fits into a total picture.
A Summary of the Message of Revelation.
The first chapter portrays Jesus Christ in His glory and demonstrates that all is to be seen as happening in preparation for His coming. He is near, even at the door (as He is always represented). Now to John that portrayed one thing. Like all the early church he saw things in terms of the past (the old dispensation which was no longer), the present, the things that the church was going through and would go through prior to Christ’s return, and the future, the coming of Christ and the everlasting glory. Their view had originally been that the present would not last for too long. Christ would soon return. But gradually they began to recognise that perhaps it would last longer than they had at first expected, so that Peter could write in terms of ‘a thousand years’, indicating by this a possibly long but unmeasured period of time (2 Peter 3:8-9). This is confirmed in Revelation chapter 20.
The second and third chapters comprise letters written to seven churches (on behalf of the whole church) with warnings, instructions, commendations, words of preparation for what they are to face and promises for the eternal future, showing their state at that time.
The chapters from 4 to 19 mainly deal with the panorama of history, revealing what the churches and the world are to face before His return, ‘the things which shall be from now on (hereafter)’. These are seen first in the light of the heavenly activity that causes them (chapters 4-5) with the resultant consequence on earth following.
It is portrayed in terms of a sealed document, sealed with seven seals, the breaking of which will bring its words into effect (just as the seals of a will may be broken when it is to be read out and its provision carried out). As each seal is broken history unfolds. In chapter 6 the four horsemen of false religion, war, famine, death and suffering ride (and they have ridden throughout history), the people of God suffer persecution, the world suffers tumult and then the day of wrath and revelation of the glory of God comes. Thus chapter 6 ends with the second coming. The following chapters then cover the same ground from different perspectives, with, intermingled, insights into God’s special provision for His people, both at the beginning when He seals them (Revelation 7:1-8), through the period as He receives them to Himself (Revelation 7:9-17), and at the end when He raptures His people and brings history to an end (Revelation 11:12; Revelation 14:1-5).
The seventh seal that is opened (and they are opened in quick succession so that the activities in each occur alongside each other following the pattern in Matthew 24:0; Mark 13:0; Luke 21:0) results in the blowing of the seven trumpets which show the more direct activity of God in judgment both through natural catastrophes and the release of spiritual forces of evil (chapters 8-9). It probably also includes much of what follows, for the seven sealed book incorporates the purposes of God. Thus the march of history and the evil that it reveals, and climactic events through history, are all shown to be under final God’s control. This again leads up to the final judgment portrayed by the seventh trumpet (which further demonstrates that the trumpets are contemporaneous with the seven seals).
The great Beast representing ‘world’ empire, and his confederate second Beast representing ‘world’ religion and ‘world’ trade, then arises from the sea (again contemporaneous with what has gone before) (chapter 13). This represents primarily in the first instance the Roman Empire, and then ‘world’ empire and world government as it follows on from Rome and is represented in the first instance by Rome. It is in constant conflict with the people of God. Its persecution of the people of God results in the pouring out of the seven bowls of the wrath of God on the world. These are ‘the last, for in them is finished the wrath of God’. This may mean simply the last of the ‘series of sevens’ of judgment to be described (no more will be described as they represent completeness of judgment - three times seven), completing the total judgment, and not necessarily the last chronologically. They describe an intensification of the judgments of the trumpets and again lead up to the final judgment. Whereas the seventh seal results in the blowing of the trumpets (Revelation 8:1-2) there is no indication that the bowls are connected with the seventh trumpet.
A second great Beast from the Abyss comes on to the scene at an early stage (chapter 17), although intrinsically there from the beginning (chapter 12), which manifests itself through the first which thus becomes more directly Satanically inspired, demonstrating that the power of Satan is at work through world empire, world religion and world trade. And this leads on to the destruction of civilisation as man knows it and the final denouement in terms of the quashing of man’s (and Satan’s) rebellion against God by the second coming of Christ (chapters 18-19). This results in the Final Judgment and the eternal glory pictured in terms of a New Jerusalem and a new Eden (chapters 20-22).
The approach of the time of the end is signified:
· Once the sixth seal is opened (Revelation 6:12-17).
· After the sixth trumpet has blown (chapter 10), with its consequent effect in intensified persecution of the people of God leading up to the rapture (chapter Revelation 11:1-13), followed by the blowing of the seventh trumpet depicting the final judgment (Revelation 11:15-19).
· By the picture of the final Judgment itself (14).
· By the sixth bowl in which we have the final gathering of the world against God (Revelation 16:12-16) followed by the seventh bowl which again depicts the final judgment, and again in the gathering of the people against God as Christ returns (Revelation 19:11-21).
Thus the end itself is portrayed in Revelation 6:15-17; Revelation 11:15-19; Revelation 14:0; Revelation 16:12-16; Revelation 19:11-21. Thus the narrative splits into separate sections, each leading up to the final judgment.