A Call For Endurance and Faith.

1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear:

10 If anyone is to be taken captive,
    to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
    with the sword must he be slain.

Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. Revelation 13:1-10 ESV

In this section of John’s narrative, we are being introduced to a variety of characters who are going to play significant roles in the final days before Christ’s return. In chapter 12, we were given an introduction to Satan himself, the one who will be the force behind all the rebellion against God in those days. His hatred for God will be intensified because of his defeat at the hands of Michael and the heavenly forces, and because of his having been cast out of heaven to earth. He will increase his efforts to destroy both the people of Israel and any and all who have come to faith in Christ during the first half of the tribulation period, including the 144,000 witnesses. But chapter 12 ended with Satan standing on the sand of the sea, and with the opening of chapter 13, we are shown the significance of this location, because out of the sea arises a beast. He is described as having “ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads” (Revelation 13:1 ESV) At first glance, it would seem that John is describing what appears to be the representation of a kingdom or earthly power. It is very similar to what the prophet Zechariah described more than five centuries earlier.

24 “As for the ten horns,
out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise,
    and another shall arise after them;
he shall be different from the former ones,
    and shall put down three kings.
25 He shall speak words against the Most High,
    and shall wear out the saints of the Most High,
    and shall think to change the times and the law;
and they shall be given into his hand
    for a time, times, and half a time. – Daniel 7:24-25 ESV

It would appear that John is being given a glimpse of a particular world leader who will rise to power, having followed in the path of other kings and kingdoms of that time. The fact that the beast is seen coming out of the sea is an indication that these powers are foreign in nature. In other words, they come from some place other than the land of Israel. To understand what John is seeing, we must take into account a dream given to  Daniel, in which he saw four beasts, each representing four different kingdoms or world powers that would arise in succession. The first was a lion, representing Babylon. It was followed by a bear, representing Medo-Persia, which defeated the Babylonians and took over as the dominant world power. Next Daniel saw a leopard, representing Greece. With its speed, power and agility, Greece would eventually defeat the Medo-Persians and assume world dominance. And finally, there would arise the fourth beast. In this case, the beast is not described by using a comparative earthly animal. It is simply said to be “terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong” (Daniel 7:7 ESV). Daniel describes it as being “different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns” (Daniel 7:7 ESV). While the Roman empire eventually came to an end, it did not fall like the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece. It slowly faded from existence over a long period of time. And it was never replaced by any super-power that could claim world dominance or supreme power on earth. If anything, the time since the demise of Roman rule has been marked by a conglomeration of powers, all vying for superiority, and virtually all of them have arisen out of what used to be the domain of Rome.

This beast that John sees, coming out of the sea, has ten horns, representing ten different kings. These ten kings represent some form of a confederation that will mark the ends times. This will be an alliance of ten different nations that will represent that revival of the Roman empire. Notice that John describes this beast as having the characteristics of three different animals: a lion, a bear and a leopard. These are the same three animals Daniel saw in his vision. It would appear that this new kingdom or confederation of kingdoms, will represent all of the greatest kingdoms of the earth, including Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece. It will be a multi-national confederation. But make no mistake, this alliance will have one source of power: Satan.

to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority… – Revelation 13:3 ESV

And it will have one ultimate ruler: Antichrist.

And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast… – Revelation 13:4 ESV

The imagery in this chapter can be quite confusing. John sees a beast with seven heads and ten horns. And one of the heads receives a mortal wound, but is then revived or resurrected back to life. What do these seven heads represent? And what about the ten horns. Well, John is given a clear explanation of the ten horns later on the book of Revelation.

And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. – Revelation 17:12 ESV

The ten horns would appear to be a ten-nation confederation, each sharing power and ruling over the earth together. They receive authority, from Satan, to rule for a specific period of time: one hour. Not a literal hour, but for a relatively short period of time. And the beast will rule alongside them.

It would seem that the seven heads are meant to represent seven different kings or world rulers who will reign in succession. This is deduced from the description provided to John later on in the book.

…the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. – Revelation 17:9-10 ESV

The seven heads are seven kings or kingdoms that will rise and fall. But they will be followed by the confederation of kings, one of whom will be the Antichrist. And John is told that this beast “was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months” (Revelation 13:5 ESV). This confederation of kingdoms will be anti-God and anti-Christ. It will stand against the people of God and against all those who come to faith in Christ during the tribulation, especially during the second half of the tribulation, a period of 42 months or 3-1/2 years. These nations, led by the Antichrist, will blaspheme God, make war on the saints and conquer them, and be given authority over “every tribe and people and language and nation” (Revelation 13:7 ESV).

The book of Daniel tells us, “this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them” (Daniel 7:21 ESV) “and it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces” (Daniel 7:23 ESV). The second half of the tribulation will be a difficult time. The Antichrist will be given supreme power over the earth and its inhabitants. He will dominate all those who live, demanding worship of himself, and controlling all commerce on the earth. He will appear to be unstoppable, taking captive whoever he wants to and putting to death any he so chooses. And John ends this section with the sobering words: “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Revelation 13:10 ESV). There will be believers on the earth during those days. The 144,000 witnesses will be alive during the reign of the Antichrist and he will direct much of his anger against them. We know from earlier visions given to John, that there will be many who are martyred for their faith during the second half of the tribulation. Believing and unbelieving Jews will be put to death. Gentiles who have come to faith during these last days will also die for their faith. And John states that the darkness of these days will require endurance and faith. It will be a bleak time. It will difficult to see the hand of God in the midst of all the suffering and death. But God is not done. It will appear as if Satan is winning the war, but this is not the final battle.

The words of William Cowper, written in 1774, are appropriate here:

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

 

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Satan’s Last Gasp.

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea. Revelation 12:7-17 ESV

There is a common misconception regarding Satan, that when he rebelled against God, he was cast out of heaven and relegated to earth. From there, he no longer had access into God’s presence. And yet, as these verses make clear, when of Satan’s titles is “the accuser of the brethren.” The name, Devil, literally means “accuser.” And we know from Scripture, that Satan has had and continues to have, access to God’s presence, where he hurls false accusations against God’s people. The prophet, Zechariah, was given a vision of just such a scene.

Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling. Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. – Zechariah 2:13-3:1 ESV

The book of Job records a time when Satan was called to appear before God with all the other angels.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” – Job 1:6-7 ESV

It was at that time, Satan raised doubts before God concerning the righteousness of Job.

Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” – Job 1:9-11 ESV

Then the author of Job says quite plainly, “So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord” (Job 1:12 ESV). And, after having taken all of Job’s property and killing all of his children, Satan was allowed to come back into God’s presence, where he leveled additional charges against Job.

This is an important detail regarding Satan and his character, if we are going to understand what we read in this chapter. It will explain how a battle could take place between Satan, the demonic forces under his control and the forces of heaven. And that is exactly what John sees in this portion of his vision. He is given a never-before-seen look at an as-yet-to-happen event. Near the end of the great tribulation, the last 3-1/2 years of the period of tribulation, an epic battle will take place in heaven, between the heavenly forces of God and the forces of Satan. This will be the final battle in the long-standing war that has been taking place in heavenly realm. The apostle Paul describes the nature of this war in no uncertain terms.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 ESV

There has been a battle waging in the heavenly realms ever since the fall. But the day is coming when Satan and his forces will be defeated once and for all, then cast out of heaven for good. Jesus Himself spoke of this very day.

The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. – John 12:31 NLT

And that is the very scene John is allowed to witness. And accompanying Satan’s defeat and his expulsion from heaven, was the announcement: “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God” (Revelation 12:10 ESV). This event signals the second coming of Christ and moves the battle from the heavenly realms to earth. That is where the final defeat of Satan will take place. This will be a time for rejoicing in heaven, but on earth, the news of Satan’s fall will not be good news. In fact, John hears a voice from heaven, saying, “woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:12 ESV). Satan will see his fall as the beginning of the end. His name, Satan, means “adversary” and he will retain that role to the very end. He will never stop opposing God and attempting to overthrow the rule and reign of God.

And one of the first things Satan will do as a result of his defeat and fall will be to intensify his attack on the people of God, the nation of Israel.

…he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. – Revelation 12:13 ESV

But John is told that Israel will be protected by God, “for a time, and times, and half a time.” This formula works out to be a year + 2 years + 1/2 year for a total of 3-1/2 years. This is a reference to the second half of the tribulation period, when Israel will be hidden by God and provided with a place of safety, protecting them from the attacks of Satan and his forces, both heavenly and earthly. The intensity of Satan’s vengeance against Israel will be great. And Jesus warned His disciples about this day:

16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. – Matthew 24:16-21 ESV

Some will flee to the mountains where they will find shelter. But many will remain in Jerusalem. The prophet Zechariah makes this clear.

For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. – Zechariah 14:2 ESV

God is going to preserve a remnant of His people, because He has plans for them. He will preserve and protect them, keeping them safe from the attacks of Satan and his forces.

In the whole land, declares the Lord,
    two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
    and one third shall be left alive.
And I will put this third into the fire,
    and refine them as one refines silver,
    and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
    and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” – Zechariah 13:8-9 ESV

In order for the return of Christ to take place, there must be a remnant of the people of God still alive on the earth, who will call out for Him for deliverance. But before they reach the point where they will call out to Jesus in desperation and despair, they will feel the full weight of Satan’s wrath. He is described as pouring “water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood” (Revelation 12:15 ESV). Whether this is a literal flood or figurative language describing a torrent of evil acts disseminated upon the people of Israel, we do not know. But whatever it is, it will fail. God will use the earth itself to protect his people, and Satan’s inability to destroy this remnant will leave him furious and force him to focus his wrath on “the rest of her offspring.” And we are given an explanation as to just who this group is: “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 12:17 ESV). These are Jews who come to faith during the tribulation, which includes the 144,000 first mentioned in Revelation 7. There will be additional Jews who become believers during the second half of the tribulation, and it is against these individuals that Satan will turn his attention and focus his wrath.

The chapter ends with an image of Satan standing on the sand of the sea. We know this is a reference to Satan, because the very first verse in the very next chapter opens up by stating: “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea” (Revelation 13:1 ESV). Satan is pictured as standing poised on the edge of the sea, awaiting the arrival of the beast. And we will discover more details about this individual as John’s vision continues in chapter 13.

But this chapter sets up all that is to come. Satan, still adamantly and stubbornly defiant, will exhaust all his energies and resources in his attempt to thwart God’s plans. In spite of his defeat at the hands of Michael and the heavenly forces, Satan will continue his ill-fated efforts to prevent the return of Christ and to destroy the people of God. He will not give up. And as the days of the great tribulation come to a close, his efforts will only intensify. Like a trapped animal, he will lash out with greater fury and anger. But his days are numbered. His fate is sealed. His full and final defeat is certain. God is in complete control of the circumstances.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Woman, the Child, and the Dragon.

1 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. Revelation 12:1-6 ESV

With the beginning of this section of his book, John records yet another sign that is given to him, but his time he describes it as a great sign (mega sēmeion). This one is particularly significant because it provides John and his readers with a backdrop or explanation to all that is about to happen. It is the program that provides the identity of each of the primary actors in the great drama that is about to unfold. In a sense, God is providing us with the back story so that we can better understand all that is going to take place. First, John describes seeing “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). And while John sees this sign in heaven, it is actually a representation of an earthly reality. This sign is being provided by God from heaven, but it relates to all that has happened and will continue to happen on earth.

The woman is presented as wearing regal apparel, having a crown (stephanos) on her head. But she is pregnant and clearly experiencing the pains of childbirth. In order to discern this woman’s identity, we must look further into John description of the sign, where he says, “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Revelation 12:5 ESV). This is an unmistakable reference to Jesus. It ties directly to this Messianic passage found in Psalm 2:

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. – Psalm 2:4-8 ESV

Just to make sure that we understand this as a reference to Jesus, John uses a similar expression later on in his letter.

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. – Revelation 19:15 ESV

So, it would seem that the pregnant woman John sees is a representation of the nation of Israel. It is not the church, because the church did not give birth to Jesus. It was Jesus who gave birth to the church. The most logical and likely explanation is that John is being given a vision of Israel, represented as a pregnant woman. And this imagery is consistent with the rest of Scripture. Israel was often pictured as a pregnant woman.

Like a pregnant woman
    who writhes and cries out in her pangs
    when she is near to giving birth,
so were we because of you, O Lord – Isaiah 26:17 ESV

“Before she was in labor
    she gave birth;
before her pain came upon her
    she delivered a son.
Who has heard such a thing?
    Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
    Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?
For as soon as Zion was in labor
    she brought forth her children.
Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?”
    says the Lord;
“shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?”
    says your God. – Isaiah 66:7-9 ESV

It was the nation of Israel that gave birth to Jesus, the Messiah. He was born a descendant of Abraham. And Jesus’ Hebrew lineage is further portrayed by the reference to the woman being adorned with sun, the moon under her feet, and her crown of 12 stars. This imagery is reminiscent of the second dream that Joseph, the son of Jacob had.

Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me. 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” – Genesis 37:9-10 ESV

God gave Joseph a second dream that predicted events that were to come. Eventually, his father, mother and brothers did bow down to him. He would be sold into slavery by his brothers, out of jealousy, and he would end up the second-highest official in the land of Egypt. And his family would come to Egypt seeking relief from a famine in the land of Canaan, only to find that their long-lost son and brother was now in charge of their fate and their future.

It is clear that the sun is a reference to Jacob, the grandson of Abraham and one of the patriarch’s of the Jewish nation. The moon is a picture of his wife, Rachel. And the 12 stars are the 12 sons of Jacob, who would become the 12 tribes of Israel. So, the woman in the sign revealed to John is none other than the nation of Israel. As a Jew, all of this imagery would have been very familiar to John and unquestionable as to its meaning. And the woman’s obvious pain from childbirth is an indication of Israel’s pain and suffering before the first advent of Jesus. For more than 400 years the nation had suffered the loss of their sovereignty as a nation, having been subjected to repeated subjugation at the hands of various nations, including that of the Romans at the time of Jesus’ incarnation. They had no king. They were powerless as a people. And as John revealed in his gospel, they were a people living in darkness.

19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:19-20 ESV

But there was another character revealed to John and while this one would have been disturbing, it would have been no less obvious in terms of its meaning. He saw “a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems” (Revelation 12:3 ESV). And John will leave no question as to the identity of this dragon, because he spells it out in no uncertain terms in verse 9: “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” The term “dragon” is found 12 times in the New Testament and in each case it occurs in the book of Revelation and always in relation to Satan. All the imagery associated with this character convey his power and aggressive nature. He is pictured as having seven heads and ten horns, and upon each of his seven heads is a crown (diadema). Much of this imagery will be unpacked later on in John’s book. But the seven heads are thought to represent seven nations that are to come to power in the ends times. The ten horns, according to Revelation 17:12 “are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast.” These ten kings will operate under the power and influence of Satan himself. And, according to Daniel, there will rise up one who will defeat three of the kings, leaving only seven remaining.

I considered the horns, and behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots – Daniel 7:8 ESV

As for the ten horns,
out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise,
    and another shall arise after them;
he shall be different from the former ones,
    and shall put down three kings. – Daniel 7:24 ESV

John describes seeing this dragon using his tail to sweep a third of the stars from heaven, which then fell to earth. This is a picture of Satan’s rebellion against God and his eventual fall. This event is recorded for us in the book of Isaiah.

12 “How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!
13 You said in your heart,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
    I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
    in the far reaches of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 But you are brought down to Sheol,
    to the far reaches of the pit.” – Isaiah 14:12-15 ESV

Satan attempted to overthrow God and somehow encouraged a third of the heavenly beings to join him in his rebellion. But he was defeated and cast down to earth, along with all those who chose to side with him. And verse 4 tells us that Satan attempted to “devour” the child born to the woman. This would seem to be a description of Satan’s repeated attempts to thwart the plan of God for the redemption of the world by trying to eliminate Jesus was the means by which that salvation came. First, he led Herod to try and kill Jesus while He was still an infant. Then he tried to sway Jesus from His mission by tempting Him. When that failed, Satan enticed the Jews to crucify Jesus, hoping to end and hopes of Him becoming Israel’s Messiah. But it all failed. And the woman’s “child was caught up to God and to his throne.” Jesus died, but rose again and returned to His Father’s side in heaven. And John is shown that the woman, Israel, will flee “into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days” (Revelation 12:6 ESV). The 1,260 days is 3-1/2 years, an indication that during the second half of the 7 years of tribulation, the nation of Israel will be protected by God and provided with some form of refuge from the attacks of Satan. We know that during the first half of the tribulation, Israel will experience relative peace because the Antichrist or world ruler will make a covenant or peace treaty with them, allowing them to rebuild the temple and re-institute the sacrificial system. But at the midway point, he will turn on them, persecuting and putting them to death. But God will protect His people.

With these signs, John is given a backdrop against which to view all that is about to happen. Satan and Israel will be major players in all that is to come. The chosen people of God, Israel, are prominently portrayed in the end times chronology. God is not done with them yet. And while they rejected their Messiah when He came the first time, there will be a remnant who turn to Him and are restored to a right relationship with God because of His second coming.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Kingdom Comes.

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying,

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
    who is and who was,
for you have taken your great power
    and begun to reign.
18 The nations raged,
    but your wrath came,
    and the time for the dead to be judged,
and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
    and those who fear your name,
    both small and great,
and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”

19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. Revelation 11:15-19 ESV

As believers, we are used to thinking of Jesus as our Savior, but also as our King and Lord. To us, He already reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords, in our hearts and lives. At least, we like to think so. We are familiar with passages like Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV:

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

But notice what this passage says. It prophecies that Jesus will rule and reign from David’s throne and over his kingdom. That has not yet taken place. Daniel also prophesied about this coming day.

And the kingdom and the dominion
    and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
    shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High;
his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
    and all dominions shall serve and obey him. Daniel 7:27 ESV

This is an important distinction that we oftentimes overlook. Even Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 ESV). This was a prayer of aspiration and anticipation. Jesus was not just speaking of a spiritualized kingdom, a kingdom within the hearts of men, but of a literal kingdom here on earth. And that kingdom would be marked by God’s will being done throughout the earth. And the prophet Zechariah also spoke of a day when that prayer will be answered in full and in literal terms.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one. – Zechariah 14:9 ESV

In his commentary on the book of Revelation, Robert L. Thomas writes:

The whole theme of Revelation is the purging of evil from the world so that it can become the domain of the King of kings. Only a physical kingdom on earth will satisfy this. – Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary

And with the blowing of the seventh trumpet, the ushering in of that day arrives. In conjunction with the trumpets blast, John hears the sound of voices from heaven shouting, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” The long-awaited prophecy concerning His Kingdom finally becomes reality. And the 24 elders fall down before God in worship, acknowledging the significance of this day, saying, “you have taken your great power and begun to reign” (Revelation 11:17 ESV).

This is the beginning of His reign. And we must understand that at this point, Jesus will be returning to a world marked by sin and filled with rebellious people who have repeatedly refused to bow the knee to God. Even in the face of His judgments, they have longed for death, but not for a restored relationship with Him. Jesus’ return to earth is going to be accompanied by conquest and warfare against the physical kingdoms of this earth. The seven bowl judgments have yet to take place. There is much more that must happen before His Kingdom is fully established. And even when His millennial reign begins, the thousand year period of time in which He will sit on the throne of David and rule from Jerusalem over all the nations of the earth, it will not be the full and final form the His Kingdom rule. The apostle Paul reveals that Jesus will finalize His reign when He has subjected all under His sovereign rule, including Satan himself. Then Jesus will turn over the Kingdom to the Father.

24 After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. 25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) 28 Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere. – 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 ESV

At the end of the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth, there is another major event that will take place. John reveals it later on in his book, providing us with details concerning the arrival of the heavenly Jerusalem.

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:1-4 ESV

This is the climax to it all. The return of Christ will ultimately bring about the restoration of all things. Men will once again enjoy the intimate, unbroken fellowship with God enjoyed by Adam and Eve in the garden. Sin, sorrow, evil, pain and the very potential for repeating the rebellion that led to the fall will be eliminated once and for all.

With the blast of the seventh trumpet, the restoration of all things will be closer than it has ever been. The reign of Christ will have begun. But there will be much that has to happen before the new heavens and the new earth can come into existence. Satan will still wield his power and influence over the world. The Antichrist will still hold sway over the nations and control everything from commerce to the worship of the people. Even Satan and his minions will recognize the threat posed by Jesus’ arrival. They will see Him as an enemy and usurper to their power and will respond accordingly.

As we will see, the seven bowl judgments will bring additional pain and suffering on the earth, and result in Satan and the enemies of God declaring war on Jesus the rightful King.

13 And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. 14 For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. 15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) 16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. – Revelation 16:13-16 ESV

The establishment of Christ’s Kingdom will not take place without a fight. Satan will not give up his domain easily or willingly. The nations of the earth will rebel against Christ rather than repent of their sins and accept Him as their sovereign King and Lord. And John hears the voices of the 24 elders shouting: “The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged” (Revelation 11:18 ESV). Jesus will ultimately destroy the destroyers. He will conquer the nations and bring to an end the rule of Satan on the earth.

The last thing John sees in this chapter is the opening of the temple in heaven. In the Holy of Holies, John sees the ark of the covenant, the symbol of God’s faithfulness and righteousness. On top of that ark is the mercy seat, the place of atonement, where Christ paid for the sins of man with His blood.

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:11-12 eSV

24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 11:24-28 ESV

The temple in heaven in open. The mercy seat is seen, reminding us that Christ has paid the price necessary for all things to be fulfilled and the final consummation of all things to take place, just as God has planned. There is nothing left to be done, except the pouring out of the bowl judgments and the final victory over Satan and his allies. The victory of Christ is assured. The outcome has been predetermined and there is no question as to which side wins. His Kingdom will come and His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Two Witnesses.

1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. 11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. 13 And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come. Revelation 11:1-14 ESV

There are a wide range of interpretations to this particular portion of John’s book. But most of the disagreements come over whether we should interpret what John describes as figurative or literal. There are those who interpret what John sees as symbolic in nature. And this is where the confusion arises, because it leads to a great deal of speculation and second-guessing as to what is meant in this passage. But if we simply take what John says in a literal sense, the passage becomes quite easy to understand. There is no need to guess as to the identity of “the great city” because John is commanded to measure the temple, which existed in the city of Jerusalem. And the time periods John describes should be taken as literal time periods. The two witnesses should be seen as two literal individuals whom God commissions as His witnesses. And their subsequent deaths and resurrections are literal, not figurative and representative of something else. Even the earthquake is a literal earthquake.

At the end of chapter 10, John received a commission to “prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings” (Revelation 10:11 ESV). This is in keeping with the words given to John at the very beginning of his book, when he was told to “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches” (Revelation 1:11 ESV). Throughout the book, John is being given additional insight and information regarding the future and God’s unfolding plan for the judgment of mankind and His restoration of His chosen people, Israel. All that John is being shown is a preface for the second coming of the Son of God. It is all preparing the way for His eventual return and the final days of the tribulation. But before Jesus can come back, there is much that will have to happen. First of all, John is given a measuring rod, a bamboo-like cane, and told to measure the temple of God. Now, it is important to note that this task assigned to John is symbolic in nature, because at the point at which John was writing his book, the temple no longer existed. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. And to this day, there has been no temple in Jerusalem. Jesus had predicted the temple’s destruction.

1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” – Matthew 24:1-2 ESV

So, when John is commanded to measure the temple, he is sent to measure what must be a future site, where the temple has been rebuilt. It is an earthly temple in the city of Jerusalem, not a spiritualized or symbolic temple. We know from the book of Revelation and from other passages in Scripture, that there will be a temple in Jerusalem during the days of the tribulation, because the Jews will be given permission by the world ruler to once again offer sacrifices in the temple. But then he will change his mind and desecrate the temple by placing an idol in the temple and commanding that everyone worship him as the one true god.

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.  – 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 ESV

11 And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. – Daniel 12:11 ESV

John is told to measure this newly constructed temple. But he is specifically told to “not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months” (Revelation 11:2 ESV). This court outside the temple refers to the court of the Gentiles. John is restricted to measuring the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, the inner parts of the temple. John is told that the outer court is to be trampled by the Gentiles for 42 months. This is a literal 3-1/2 year period of time, the second half of the tribulation period, when the intensity of Gentile persecution of the Jews will reach its zenith. The Antichrist or world ruler, will come to power at the beginning of the seven-year period of tribulation. One of his first acts as the recognized world leader will be to broker a peace agreement between the Jews and the Muslims, allowing for the reconstruction of the temple on the temple mount, where the Dome of the Rock now stands. He will sign a covenant with the people of Israel, allowing them to re-institute the sacrificial system. And for 3-1/2 years, things will go relatively well for the Jews in Jerusalem. But at the midway point of the seven years of the tribulation, the Antichrist will reveal his true colors. He will turn on the Jews and desecrate their temple by erecting an idol to himself in the temple. Then he will turn his wrath on the people of God. 

But John is told to measure the temple, symbolically signifying God’s ownership of this property. The Antichrist may assume it belongs to him and set up his false idol as a means of staking his claim to the temple, but God is assuring John and us, that this is His property. The temple is His dwelling place.

And God lets John know that there will be two witnesses who show up on the scene during the second half of the tribulation. They will be sent by God, as evidenced by their supernatural powers. These two individuals will have the ability to perform miracles, even exhibiting the ability to consume their enemies with fire. It is most likely that they will be able to call forth fire from heaven, not actually spew fire from their mouths. But they will be divinely endowed with supernatural powers that will protect them against the threats of the Antichrist and all those who will oppose their mission and message. While there has been much speculation as to the identities of these two witnesses, we are not told who they will be. There is no reason to identify them as Moses and Elijah or Moses and Enoch. There is nothing that requires them to be former prophets called back to perform this special duty during the end times. They are most likely men who God raises up during these last days, just as He raised up other, unknown men during the days of Israel’s past.

Whoever they will be, they will killed by the Antichrist. The beast mentioned in verse seven is most likely a reference to Satan himself. He will work through the powers that be, namely Antichrist, the one-world ruler, to see that these two witnesses are eliminated. And their deaths will be celebrated by all. Their bodies will remain unburied and on display for 3-1/2 days. The people of Jerusalem will rejoice over their demise, even turning their deaths into a holiday where presents are exchanged. It will be a distorted kind of Christmas. And John makes it clear that their bodies will like in the great city, a reference to Jerusalem. He refers to the city as “Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.” These two comparisons to Sodom and Egypt indicate the wickedness of Jerusalem and its treatment by the people of God as a place of refuge and security. Sodom was recognized by God for its rampant, unchecked immorality and eventually destroyed. Egypt was the place where the Israelites tended to turn for help and hope when facing difficulties. It had become a substitute for God Himself. And for the Jews, the city of Jerusalem had become their haven, the place where they put all their faith, rather than in the God who gave them the city in the first place.

At the end of the 3-1/2 days of celebration over the deaths of the two witnesses, God will breath new life into them, raising them back to life and calling them to be with Him. And with their departure, a great earthquake will strike the region, taking the lives of 7,000 of the city’s inhabitants. We are told that those who survive this epic event will be terrified by what they witness and give glory to the God of heaven. This does not mean that they come to believe in God or worship Him. But they most certainly will recognize that His power is great and they will marvel at what He has done. This is a similar response that Jesus encountered when He performed signs and wonders among the people. They were amazed at what they saw and gave Him glory, but they didn’t necessarily give Him their hearts and lives.

John ends this section with a sober warning that this is just the second of the three woes, and that there is one yet to come. God is not done yet. But the end is coming quickly and the return of Christ is near. The intervention of God into the affairs of men is increasing exponentially. His power is being revealed with ever-growing intensity and it is becoming increasingly more difficult for the world to argue against His reality or to reject His sovereign will. He is the God of heaven and the power of heaven is making itself progressively more apparent on earth.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Bitter Sweet.

Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” 10 And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. 11 And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” Revelation 10:8-11 ESV

From the moment John was transported to the throne room of God in chapter one, he has experienced a virtual assault on his senses. The sights and sounds have come at him in relentless succession. He has repeatedly stated, “And then I saw” or “then I heard” as yet another heavenly insight has been revealed to him. But in this chapter, John will be required to use his sense of taste for the first time. The little scroll or book he saw in the hand of the mighty angel now comes into play. If you recall, verse two revealed that the diminutive scroll was open. It was not sealed like the first scroll. And while John has been commanded to seal up what the seven thunders said and not to reveal the content of their messages, the same will not be true of the scroll. In fact, he hears a voice from heaven commanding to take the scroll from the angel’s hand and eat it.

“Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” – Revelation 10:9 ESV

This is a new experience for John. Rather than acting as a spectator, silently taking dictation and taking in all that is being revealed to him, he becomes an active participant. And this scene is reminiscent of one found in the book of Ezekiel.

1 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.

And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. – Ezekiel 3:1-4 ESV

Like Ezekiel, John was to consume the scroll and then divulge its contents. And also like Ezekiel, John would find the contents of the scroll to be as sweet as honey. But he is warned that it will not set well with him. It will upset his stomach. John will find the words pleasant, because they come from God. But their ultimate outcome will leave him upset. Perhaps the imagery of an upset stomach conveys the idea of John needing to vomit up its content, spewing it out in an uncontrollable, reflexive manner. He will not be able to keep it inside. The message contained in the scroll is intended to be dispersed abroad so that others can know it.

“You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” – Revelation 10:11 ESV

The mighty angel had come from heaven, carrying a small scroll in his hand. That scroll contained a message from God and John was commanded to consume that message. In the Bible, the word of God is often referred to as sweet. Consider Psalm 19:9-11:

the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

But while God’s Word is sweet to consume, it can be difficult to hear at times. If we meditate on its content and consider what its truths say to us about our lives, we can find it convicting or to put it another way, bitter to the taste. Paul reminded Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV). Sometimes, we can find what God has to say difficult to hear. And as a prophet for God, John was going to discover the bitterness that comes with speaking the truth of God and finding no one willing to listen. And he would not be alone. All of the prophets of God had experienced that disappointing realization. They willingly proclaimed God’s revealed will only to find the people unwilling to hear and heed what they had to say. In fact, God had warned Ezekiel that the people to whom he would speak, would refuse to listen

“But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.” – Ezekiel 3:7 ESV

John, like Ezekiel, had an obligation to share what he had been “fed” by God. He was not to keep it to himself. The content, while sweet going down, because it came from God, John would find impossible to keep down. And it would be anything but sweet to those who heard it from John’s lips. But John had a God-ordained obligation to share what he had been given. And as God had told Ezekiel, John was to warn the world of what was to come.

“…if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” – Ezekiel 3:19 ESV

The book of Revelation is a book that is sweet to some and bitter to others. Some read its content and find their faith in God stirred and enhanced. Others read it and come away questioning the love of God and wondering how He could perpetrate such heinous acts against His own creation. And still others write it off as nothing but fantasy and nonsense. But John’s job was to tell. He is not told to convince or convict. That is the role of the Word of God with the help of the Spirit of God.

We are never told what the exact content of the scroll was. It could be that it contained the rest of the message revealed in the remaining pages of John’s book. Some have conjectured that it was the Word of God in its entirety. But whatever it was, John found it sweet to the taste. It contained the grace and mercy of God. It revealed the divine will of God. Because it was from God, it was deliciously received by the servant of God. But to those apart from God, it would be repugnant. The Word of God is full of difficult-to-digest statements about sin and God’s judgment. It contains words of warning and calls to repentance. It is intended to reprove sinful men and to call them to repentance. But there will always be those who reject what God has to say. Jesus told His disciples, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me (Luke 10:16 ESV). We have already seen that, even the judgments of God, were insufficient to turn the hearts of the people to God. His punishment for their sin made them desire death, but not Him. Their pain and agony, brought on them by the sovereign hand of God, drove them to consider suicide, but not to consider turning to God. 

John was eventually going to write down all that he saw and heard. Even that which he had tasted. We find it all in the book of Revelation. And over the centuries, millions upon millions of people have read its content. Some have been driven to the cross by what they have read. They have been convicted and called to turn to the offer of forgiveness made available through the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God. Yet, others have heard the warnings found in John’s book and, while intrigued by its message, have remained unmoved and have refused its call to “keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:4 ESV). And yet, the apostle John, like the prophet Ezekiel, is given the responsibility to take what he has heard and to share it with any an all.

“Thus says the Lord God. ‘He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house’” – Ezekiel 3:27 ESV

John will not be held accountable for the response of his audience. They will be free to do with the message of God as they see fit. And many who hear it will rebel against it. Others will simply ignore it or write it off as unimportant or non-applicable to them. But there will be some who hear and who heed the warnings found in God’s Word. They will repent and return to the Lord in humble submission to His will and in gratitude to His gracious offer of salvation from the judgment to come.

The scroll was small, but the message it contained was massive in terms of its importance. The remainder of the book of Revelation will reveal all that is yet to take place before the second coming of Jesus Christ. The stage has been set. The grand play that tells the story of man’s existence is coming to a close. The final act is about to begin and as it unfolds, God will still be offering those who are willing to hear, one last chance to heed His call to repent and return.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

No More Delay.

1 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets. Revelation 10:1-7 ESV

John saw yet another angel. And while some have conjectured that this particular angel must be a representation of Jesus, it seems to make more sense that it is as John says, just “another angel.” It is a mighty angel, but an angel nonetheless. The Greek word translated as another is allon, and it mean “another of the same kind.” In verse five, John describes this angel raising his right hand and swearing “by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it” (Revelation 10:5 ESV). Since Jesus played a major role in the creation of all things and is Himself God, it would make no sense for Him to swear to Himself (see John 1:2-3).

As as been the case before, John describes this powerful angel in dramatic terms. He is “wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head” and his face was as bright as the sun, and his legs shone like pillars of fire. All of this imagery is important and tells us something, not only about the angel, but about the nature of his mission. He come down out of heaven, a clear indication that he has been sent by God. He is operating under the sovereign authority of God. And he is wrapped in a cloud. The Greek word is periballō, which literally means “to wrap oneself with.” He is surrounded by a cloud. It is the same kind of scene Jesus says will take place when He returns,

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” – Luke 21:27 ESV

Clouds are closely associated with Jesus and His return. In verse seven of chapter 1, John provides a powerful reminder to the seven churches, telling them, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds.” When Jesus had given His disciples their final commission, He departed from them, and Luke records, “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9 ESV). And the angels assured the disciples, that He “will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 ESV). So, this angel arrive wrapped or cloaked in a cloud is a not-so-subtle reminder that Jesus is coming. It is a preface to the greater moment to come. And the rainbow over the angel’s head is a symbol of God’s faithfulness and mercy. His feet and legs appear to John like twin pillars of fire, indicating God’s purifying judgment. He stands with one foot on the sea and the other on the land, creating a contact point with all of God’s creation. There is no region of earth that will not be impacted by what is to come. And from his position of authority and divine power, he calls out in a loud voice, like a lion roaring. It is loud and fearful sounding. And accompanying the voice of the angel were the sounds of seven separate thunders.

This is yet another one of those indescribable, yet unforgettable scenes that John is given the privilege of witnessing. It is awe-inspiring and intended to be attention-getting. Something big is about to happen. And while John has already witnessed and described some of the most unbelievable scenes imaginable, there is more to come. And John stands ready to record what he sees and hears. But something strange happens. As John stand poised with pen in hand, a voice calls out from heaven, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down” (Revelation 10:4 ESV). Evidently, John was able to discern the messages in the seven different thunders. but he was forbidden to write them down. Instead, he was told to seal them. The Greek word is sphragizō, and it conveys the idea of sealing with the intent of concealing. This poses an interesting dilemma. Did John write them down and then seal them? It would seem from the text that John was about to write them down, when the voice had sounded. So, if he never had the opportunity to write down what he heard, what was it he sealed? It would appear that John was forced to keep the content of the seven thunders sealed in his own mind. He had heard their message, but was not allowed to convey their content. 

And there is another aspect to John’s vision that is easily overlooked in the fantastic imagery surrounding the angel’s arrival. In his hand, the angel held a biblaridion, a little scroll or book. But its content is never divulged. It most obviously contained information, but we are never told what it was. And as far as we can tell, the message contained in that little book are never revealed to us anywhere in the book of Revelation. It remains a mystery. And while the entire book of Revelation can easily come across as one giant mystery, there is much that God reveals to us in its pages. He graciously conveys to us His once-hidden plans for the future of the world. But there are still things that God keeps hidden from our view. He does not divulge all that He knows or all that He has planned. We are still His creatures and, as such, we are incapable of comprehending all the mysteries of God. As it should cause us to cry out with Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33 ESV).

We may not know the content of the little book or the messages behind the seven thunders. but we do know the purpose behind the angel’s vow or oath sworn before God. He pledges that there will be no more delay. The mystery of God is about to be fulfilled. Things are about to heat up and speed up. The coming day of God’s final judgment are nearing. Everything John has seen up to this point has been nothing more than a precursor to the main event. And all the anticipation and expectation of creation will be met. Paul tells us that even nature longs to see this day’s arrival:

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. – Romans 8:20-22 ESV

There is yet one more trumpet to sound and, with it, the end will be ushered in. The long-anticipated day of the Lord’s return will arrive, and He will bring the judgment and justice of God to bear on the earth. There will be a grand climax to all the calamities befalling earth and its inhabitants. The judgments will end with one final, irrevocable judgment. And the mystery of God will be fulfilled. There is much about God we do not understand or know. There are aspects of His divine plan that have remained hidden from our view. And while John has been given the privilege of looking into the heavens and seeing the things that are to come, there is much that remains unknown to him and us. But one thing we do know about the mystery of God is that our future is secure. Our judgment by God has already taken place, because we have been restored to a right relationship with Him due to our faith in His Son’s finished work on the cross. Paul told the believers in Ephesus:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. – Ephesians 1:7-10 ESV

We have already been redeemed. We already enjoy complete forgiveness for our sins. We are already united with Him. But the day is coming when all of creation will be restored and redeemed. God will fix all that is broken. He will judge all who are worthy of condemnation and place upon them the sentence they deserve. God’s righteous wrath will be finally and fully unleashed on a disobedient world, meting out His divine justice on all. And all in keeping with the prophecies provided by God thousands of years before. Daniel wrote of this very day.

And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the stream; he raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven and swore by him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished. – Daniel 12:7 ESV

We can look at all that is about to happen from two different perspectives. We can see it from the viewpoint of helpless mankind cowering under the hand of an angry, all-powerful God. We can stand back and wonder at the sheer terror of the coming days of God’s judgment. Or we can recognize that all of this is the outpouring of the sovereign will of a loving, holy, gracious and merciful God. He has been more than patient. He has given the world ample time. He sent His prophets and they rejected their messages. He sent His Son and they killed Him. And as we have seen, He will one day send His judgments, and they will long for death, but they won’t turn to Him. And yet, through it all, God will continue to bring to Himself a remnant of mankind, whom He will redeem and restore. He will keep His promises to His people throughout the ages, including His church and the people of Israel. He will remain faithful and true. He will do all that He has promised. And one day, the mystery of God will be completely revealed. No more secrets. No more wondering about what comes next. And John will be given a glimpse into this day, which he will share with us, for our encouragement and edification.

6 “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” – Revelation 21:6-8 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

They Did Not Repent.

13 Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. 16 The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. 17 And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. 18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. Revelation 9:13-21 ESV

How bad does it have to get before the world will recognize that God is not to be trifled with? What will it take to bring the nations to their knees before their Creator God? According to the book of Revelation, quite a lot. In this second half of chapter nine John reveals his vision of the sixth trumpet judgment. And what he is about to describe is going to be far worse than anything he has mentioned thus far. And it was set up by his warning in verse 12: “The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come.

This sixth trumpet blast will signal the beginning of the second of the three woes. And while the first woe brings demonic persecution upon the unbelieving population of the earth, it will not result in their deaths. In fact, John noted that those whom the locusts or demons torment “will long to die, but death will flee from them” (Revelation 9:6 ESV). But with the second woe, death comes with a vengeance. One-third of the earth’s population will suffer death at the hands of God. During the five months of relentless torment by the demons, many will want to die and even attempt to take their own lives, but they will fail. Death will escape them. But with the second woe, death comes calling and it is all on God’s time table and according to His divine agenda.

John mentions that he heard something from heaven. This time, instead of a vision, he hears a voice calling out “from the four horns of the golden altar before God” (Revelation 9:13 ESV). We’re not told how he knew the location from which this voice called, but based on his description, it may be that the voice was that of the angel mentioned in Revelation 8:3:

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne

John heard the voice call out to the sixth angel, commanding him to “release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates” (Revelation 9:14 ESV). But who are these angels and why are they bound? Due to their description as being bound, it would seem that these are fallen angels. The book of Jude provides us with insight into their identity.

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day – Jude 6

These fallen angels have been kept in confinement by God, awaiting the very day that John is describing and he tell us they “been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year” (Revelation 9:15 ESV0. This is yet another clear reference to and reminder of God’s sovereign hand over all things, including the coming day of judgment. These four fallen angels had been locked away by God and with a future purpose in mind. Their confinement had been preordained and the timing of their release perfectly orchestrated to occur precisely as God had planned it. And the purpose behind their release is unquestionably clear: “to kill a third of mankind.” They will not torment. They will not harass. They will not possess. They will bring death.

The location of their captivity and place of release is important to note. The river Euphrates had formed a natural barrier between Israel and their enemies to the northeast, the nations of Assyria and Babylon. This river plays a significant part in the end times story, and is referenced a second time by John later in his book. He describes seeing this same river drying up, creating an entry point for the enemies of God to being their assault on Jerusalem.

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. – Revelation 16:12 ESV

The river ran through the land most closely associated with Babylon, and that city figures prominently in the end times chronology. We know from the Genesis account, that this particular river and the region through which it flowed, provides a link all the way back to the creation story.

10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. – Genesis 2:101-14 ESV

Everything is coming full circle. God is returning to the scene of the crime, where Adam and Eve rebelled against God. And Babylon stands as the poster boy for mankind’s moral, religious and political rebellion against God. This land, long associated with the Garden of Eden, became a wild garden where idolatry and immorality grew unchecked, and the pride of man became personified by the nations who rose up out of its sin-saturated soil.

And God is going to deal with the wicked and rebellious. He calls for the release of the four fallen angels, who will bring with them an army of unprecedented and almost unfathomable size. John states that they will number 200 million. Is this a literal army? Is it made up of human beings or demons? John doesn’t tell us. But he does say, “this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths” (Revelation 9:17 ESV). What is it that John is seeing? We can’t be sure. But the fantastic nature of his description would seem to indicate that these are not human soldiers, but demonic forces of some kind. What’s interesting to note is that these forces, whoever they are, do not wield swords or spears. John states that fire, smoke and sulfur came from the mouths of the horses. It is these three things, which John calls plagues, that will bring death to one-third of the earth’s population.

There are many who believe John’s mention of fire, smoke and sulfur is a reference to modern weapons of warfare, including guns, tanks, aircraft, etc. But there is no reason to assume that God must accomplish this event by ordinary means. He is not obligated or relegated by our existing technology. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah without help from modern-day weapons of mass destruction. If anything, the book of Revelation seems to imply that God is going to reduce to insignificance the achievements of mankind. He will bring forces to bear that no man has ever seen or could have ever imagined or invented. God’s destructive powers are on the same level as His creative powers. The God who spoke forth the universe has more than enough power to call for its destruction without the help of human technology or the latest advancements in state-of-the-art weaponry.

Who God uses to enact His judgment and what resources He calls forth to bring it about are far less important than the John’s sad assessment that the two-thirds of those who survive this devastation will remain stubbornly unrepentant and unwavering in their commitment to reject God.

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. – Revelation 9:20-21 ESV

Millions upon millions of their fellow citizens will die right in front of their eyes, but the survivors will remain unmoved and unrepentant. It will be business as usual. They will continue to worship their false gods and to live their immoral lifestyles just as they always have. What a stunning statement regarding man’s stubbornness and self-destructive bent. Rather than bow the knee to God, they will prefer to die at His hands. What is truly sad is that idolatry is essentially the worship of anything other than the one true God. There are no other gods. And all that we worship in this world is nothing more than a false representation of or stand-in for God. In his first letter, John warned us:

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 ESV

These people will love the world more than God. They will worship the things of this world. In essence, they will worship the demonic forces that control the things of this world. The book of Deuteronomy makes it painfully clear that this is true.

16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
    with abominations they provoked him to anger.
17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
    to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
    whom your fathers had never dreaded. – Deuteronomy 32:16-17 ESV

And those who survive this coming destruction will continue to worship the very source of their own misery. Rather than turn to God in repentance, they will turn back to those things that brought God’s judgment upon them. They will worship the creation instead of the Creator. They will continue to love the things of this world, even as they see the world disintegrating before their eyes.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

A Desire for Death, But Not Deliverance.

1 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.

In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10 They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.

12 The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come. Revelation 9:1-12 ESV

Chapter eight ended with the pronouncement of three woes.

“Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!” – Revelation 8:13 ESV

Now, in this first half of chapter nine, John will describe what the first of those three woes will be. It comes in conjunction with the fifth trumpet blast and brings with it even more horrific judgments upon the earth – this time aimed at the people living on the earth. John records that he saw “a star fallen from heaven to earth” (Revelation 9:1 ESV). This is not the first time John has seen such a vision. Back in chapter eight, verse 10, he describes seeing “a great star fell from heaven” (Revelation 8:10 ESV). This was in conjunction with the third trumpet. And in chapter six, he records that, with the opening of the sixth seal, “the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale” (Revelation 6:13 ESV). But in this chapter, there is something different about this particular star. In this case, John repeatedly refers to this fallen star as an individual.

he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. – Revelation 9:1 ESV

He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit – Revelation 9:2 ESV

This would appear to be a person or some form of angelic or demonic being. The fact that he is described as having fallen from heaven would seem to eliminate the possibility of this being a human. And John does not describe seeing the star actually falling from heaven, but only as a star “fallen to earth from heaven.” In Luke 10:18, we have the words of Jesus describing Satan in this same fashion: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” So, this could be a reference to Satan. Others believe that this is simply an un-fallen angel, sent by God on a divine mission. But the use of the Greek word, piptō, would seem to eliminate this option. It is a word that, in most cases, seems to be used to convey either a position of worship (falling prostrate) or the process of being cast down from one place to another, as a form of judgment. So, it seems more likely that John is seeing either Satan himself or a fallen angel, whom God is giving authority, in the form of a key, to open the bottomless pit. The actual word in the Greek is abyssos, and it is a sort of prison for demons. In fact, we are told later in the book of Revelation, that Satan himself will be confined in this same place during the 1,000 years of Christ’s millennial reign on earth.

1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. – Revelation 20:1-3 ESV

This “fallen star” is allowed to open up the bottomless pit and, in so doing, he releases a horde of locust. There are so many that they appear like smoke swirling up out of the pit. Like bats exiting a cave at dusk, these demonic creatures will swarm the earth, wreaking havoc and destruction upon the earth. But notice that the focus of their activity will be directed at human beings. Unlike normal locusts, that destroy vegetation, this demons will specifically target “only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (Revelation 9:4 ESV). Anyone who has come to faith in Christ during the days of the tribulation will be protected from this menace. It will be only those who have rejected Christ as their Messiah and Savior, who will suffer the effects of these demonic creatures. And it is hard not to deduce that these are demons based on John’s bizarre description of them.

In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10 They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. – Revelation 9:7-10 ESV

What John sees defies explanation or description. He has difficulty putting into words what he is seeing. But it is clear that these are evil and inhuman creatures who are bent on tormenting mankind. And that torment, while only five months in duration, will be so intense, that the people on earth will long to die, but they will be prevented from taking their own lives. Verse 11 tells us that they have a leader. “They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.” Abaddon is a Hebrew word and Apollyon is its Greek equivalent. They both mean “destroyer.” Some have assumed that this is a reference to Satan himself. But this could just as easily be a reference to a particular demon who has the title of “destroyer” and is responsible for leading this demonic horde as they torment humanity. The bottom line is that this presents to us a vivid picture of the spiritual warfare that is going to take place in the last days. The forces of Satan will be released upon the earth, and their destructive power will be targeted on the unbelieving world. Those who have placed their faith in Christ will be protected. This is reminiscent of the plagues that fell on the land of Egypt. God protected the people of Israel, preventing the full brunt of His wrath, in the form of ten plagues, to fall on them.

But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die. – Exodus 9:4 ESV

Only in the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel were, was there no hail. – Exodus 9:26 ESV

In spite of all the persecution these tribulation saints had to endure, they were being protected by God. The enemy can do nothing to them without the express permission of God. But for all those who have rejected Jesus as their Messiah, the forces of evil will have a field day with them. They will long for death. They will wish for relief from the torment they suffer. But they will not cry out to God in repentance. They will prefer death to salvation and eternal life. Even in these difficult days, the lost will stubbornly refuse to call out to the only one who could save them. And yet, these demonic forces can only torment, not destroy. They cannot take the lives of their victims. That is God’s prerogative. Only He can give life and take life away. And there is more in store for these people. This is only the first of three woes, and the intensity of God’s judgment is only going to increase. And John warns: “behold, two woes are still to come.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Woe, Woe, Woe.

The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.

12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.

13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!” Revelation 8:8-13 ESV

It is impossible for us to know exactly how the events in these chapter will unfold. We were not there to see what John saw. His descriptions of the events transpiring before his eyes are fantastic and otherworldly. They are difficult for our senses to comprehend and, as each successive trumpet is blown, the accompanying judgment will be increasingly more intense and devastating. With the sounding of the second trumpet, John sees “something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea” (Revelation 8:8 ESV). Notice his use of the word, “something.” John is doing the best he can to use well-known, recognizable imagery in an attempt to describe the indescribable and never-before-seen. We cannot be certain of what John saw, but there is no doubt that what transpired before his eyes was shocking and disturbing. When dealing with these judgments of God, the easy route to take is to write them off as nothing more than symbolism. Thus, the mountain becomes nothing more than a physical or natural representation of something more significant. Many have speculated that the mountain symbolizes a government or kingdom. But, other than the unbelievable nature of John’s description, there seems to be no reason for us to allegorize what John is seeing. It is obviously not a mountain but, as John said, something like a mountain. Whatever it was, it came down from heaven, indicating its the divine nature of its origin. God had sent it. And this blazing mountain-like object plunged into the sea, turning all the water to blood. Once again, our natural inclination is to write off the literal nature of this description, and simply relegate it to allegory or symbolism. And while there is much symbolism in the book of Revelation, the context in this chapter does not seem to justify taking these fantastic sights as anything less than literal.

God brings judgment on the oceans of the world, turning a third of them to blood, and resulting in the deaths of a third of the creatures living in them. Once again, this is reminiscent of the plagues brought by God upon the land of Egypt. Through Moses His servant, God turned to waters of the Nile into blood. This devastating miracle would last for a full seven days, turning the Nile, the source of all life for the Egyptians, into a stinking, river of death. So, it should not surprise us that God brings a similar, equally impactful judgment on the nations of the world during the last days. This phenomena will also result in the destruction of a third of the world’s ocean-going vessels. One can only imagine the impact this will have on global commerce. And it doesn’t require much imagination to understand that the death of a third of the sea creatures and the destruction of a third of the ships that sail the seas, is going to have dire consequences on the quality of human life. One of the major food sources for mankind will become a third-less reliable, and the means for transporting goods around the world will be  dramatically reduced.

With the blowing of the third trumpet, John sees “a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch” (Revelation 8:10 ESV). As before, John struggles to describe what he is seeing and he finds himself relegated to using human words to help us understand the supernatural events taking place. He describes seeing a star falling from heaven. Was it a comet, a literal star, or simply a symbol for something natural and explainable? It seems best to take John at his word and view this as some kind of literal extraterrestrial object that falls from the sky, another indication that this judgment is from the very throne room of God. It turns a third of the waters of the world bitter, causing great sickness to the earth’s population, and leaving many dead as a result.

With the fourth trumpet, God brings judgment on the world by reducing the intensity of the light produced by the sun, moon and stars by one-third. In other words, the world and all those who live on it, will experience a reduction in light, but also global temperatures. The subsequent results will be dramatic and devastating. And there will be no one who does not witness this particular judgment. All will see the sun, moon and stars decrease in intensity, clearly indicating that this judgment is from the hand of God. The very things mankind takes for granted: Food from the sea, the ability to transport goods across the oceans, fresh water and light, will feel the hand of God upon them. In the end times, these gifts that had been given to mankind by God, will become unreliable and even harmful. Creation will turn on man. The things we take for granted will be taken from us by God, all in an attempt to remind fallen mankind that God alone is sovereign and worthy to be worshiped.

And as is all this was not enough, John describes seeing an eagle flying through the sky and crying out, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!” (Revelation 8:13 ESV). In other words, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. And the truth is, it’s not going to get better at all. There are three more trumpets to be sounded and three more judgments to fall on the world. And the cumulative effect of these judgments will be devastating. Jesus Himself predicted that the judgment of God will be so great that, if He does bring them to an end, the entire world will be destroyed.

And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. – Matthew 24:22 ESV

The prophet, Joel, provides us with a vivid description of these days.

1 Blow a trumpet in Zion;
    sound an alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near,
a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains
    a great and powerful people;
their like has never been before,
    nor will be again after them
    through the years of all generations. – Joel 2:1-2 ESV

The day is coming when the sinfulness of mankind will be dealt with once and for all. God will bring His judgment on the world. He will no longer put up with man’s open rebellion against His leadership. He will no longer tolerate their rejection of His Son and their refusal to accept His gracious gift of salvation. And the visions of John provide us with a powerful and sobering reminder that our God is in control and will one day right all wrongs. The words of John are difficult to read. The images of death and destruction he describes are hard for us to fathom. They even seem to contradict our understanding of the loving nature of our God. But we must never forget that our God is holy, righteous, and just. He has patiently put up with man’s stubborn rebellion against His authority for centuries. But the day is coming when He will put up with it no longer. Justice will reign. Righteousness will be meted out by the hand of our holy God. He will restore the world He created to its original perfection. He will punish the wicked and reward the righteous. He will end the dominion of death and Satan once for all.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson