Revelation of Jesus Christ (1:1-20)
The book of Revelation opens with the words, “Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him.” If John did not see the visions related in this book while on the island of Patmos (1:9), the messages would have no greater value to Christians than any other ancient apocalyptic writings.
If, however, God is the ultimate source of the uncovering or unveiling, the information in the book of Revelation is his word. Furthermore, when conveying the revelation to John through an angel, Jesus Christ provided his testimony to what he had received from his Father, and John, when faithfully reporting what he saw and heard in a series of visions, added his testimony. Therefore, anyone ignoring this message or “word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ” would miss out on the promised happiness, an enviable spiritual prosperity that promotes an inner sense of well-being from having the assurance of the Father’s and the Son’s care, aid, and guidance when faced with trials. There is an element of immediacy and an assurance of certainty in the words “must occur shortly.” (1:1-3)
To enjoy the enviable state of being Christ’s servants and blessed by his Father, believers would need to hear with understanding and act on the words that were recorded centuries ago. The information is for all of Christ’s slaves or servants, not just a select few. (1:3) The visions relate to past, then-existing, and future developments. (1:19) They would be of particular significance to those who, like John, experienced tribulation or distress because of being disciples of God’s Son. (1:9)
The manner in which the revelation was presented is indicated by the Greek word semaíno, which indicates that it was conveyed by signs or symbols, for the related nouns semá and semeíon mean “sign.” (1:1) This does pose a problem, for it is necessary to determine what a particular sign or symbol means. For a meaning to have reasonable validity, it should be verifiable on the basis of other biblical texts, harmonize with the message of the Scriptures as a whole, and be in full harmony with the context. When this is not the case, divine revelation is distorted and displaced by imaginative explanations that may impress others but provide nothing of substance. The recorded interpretations of Pharaoh’s dreams in the time of Joseph and those of dreams and visions in the book of Daniel illustrate that explanations should focus on the basic message the imagery conveys and not on minute details. Furthermore, the recorded explanations made good sense to those who initially heard them, and they were accepted as valid without hesitation. (Genesis 41:17-27, 38, 39; Daniel 2:31-47; 4:10-17, 20-26; 7:2-27; 8:3-14; 20-26) Therefore, any explanations of the visions of Revelation that would make people uncomfortable if discussed with persons outside their particular religious movement are highly questionable.
“Favor,” “unmerited kindness,” or “grace” would include all the divine blessings that children of God enjoy. “Peace” is the inner sense of calmness and tranquility that stems from having divine approval, which assures the possessors of receiving aid and guidance. Apart from the Father, the operation of holy spirit (in guiding, strengthening, and sustaining believers), and the Son, Christians would not be able to enjoy “favor and peace.” (1:4)
The Father is identified as “the One who is [Greek, ho ón] and who was and who is coming.” (1:4) This description may serve to convey the significance of the divine name (YHWH). As suggested by the words of Exodus 3:14, the divine name appears to be drawn from the Hebrew verb “to be.” The Septuagint rendering of the Hebrew ’ehyéh ’ashér ’ehyéh is egó eimi ho ón (“I am the One who is”). In Hebrew, ’ehyéh is in the imperfect state, and the expression ’ehyéh ’ashér ’ehyéh could be rendered “I will be who I will be,” suggesting that the Almighty would prove to be who he has declared himself to be. In the light of Exodus 3:14, the identifying expression “the One who is and who was and who is coming” indicates that the Most High would never be someone other than he is, was, or has stated he would be. He is the same One he was and will continue to be as the One who is to come, evidently to render judgment. (1:8; 4:8) He and his word are deserving of the utmost trust.
The Almighty additionally identified himself as “the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8). Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and omega is the last letter. This suggests that the Almighty is the One who brings all that he starts to a successful conclusion.
On account of the operation of God’s spirit upon him, John was enabled to see visions. (1:10; see the Notes section for comments about the Lord’s day.) In the imagery of the book of Revelation, the “seven spirits” are portrayed as “seven lamps of fire” before God’s throne. (1:4; 4:5) The numbers in this book repeatedly serve as symbols, and the number “seven” may be regarded as a number of completeness. Accordingly, the “seven spirits” would represent the holy spirit in the totality or completeness of its operation. Being before the “throne of God,” this powerful force is always at his disposal and under his control for the accomplishment of his will. (Compare Luke 1:35, where “holy spirit” is, in the parallel expression, called the “power of the Most High.”)
While there are and have been individuals and groups of individuals representing various movements saying or implying that they are specially guided by the spirit and appointed expounders of Revelation, an examination of their writings and history reveals that their claims amount to nothing more than self-promotion. Instead of stressing Christ’s role, they repeatedly try to impress others with their professed role as his appointees and thus diminish the truth that there is no salvation apart from Christ. Their attitude contrasts sharply with the opening chapter of Revelation, which leaves no doubt about the greatness of God’s Son and his unique role in the divine arrangement for salvation. Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the one whose testimony is always trustworthy. (1:5)
His being the “firstborn of the dead” could signify that he was the first to be raised to immortal life or that he occupies the position of firstborn with reference to the dead. The fact that sovereignty is highlighted when identifying Jesus Christ as the “ruler of the kings of the earth” would seem to favor understanding the expression “firstborn of the dead” to relate to his position respecting the dead. (1:5) This would agree with Romans 14:9, where Christ is identified as the Lord of the dead and the living.
As ruler of the kings of the earth, his authority is far greater than theirs. Even the most powerful rulers on the earthly scene are inferior to the Lord Jesus Christ. This clear identification of God’s Son as then being the “ruler of the kings of the earth” harmonizes with his statement prior to his ascension, “All authority has been given me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18) The possession of “all authority” left nothing to be added at a later time.
Although so highly exalted, Jesus Christ continues to have deep love for all who willingly accept him as their head. As John wrote regarding the Son, “to him that loves us.” (1:5) The verb for “love” (agapáo) is in the present tense, indicating that his love is of an abiding nature. That love guarantees that in times of trial or distress his helping hand will never fail to be available.
The superlative expression of Jesus’ love was the laying down of his life in sacrifice to effect a marvelous liberation from sin. According to the evidence of the most ancient Greek manuscripts, Jesus Christ “loosed us from our sins.” Under the control and condemnation of sin, individuals find themselves in the state of bound prisoners. Their situation is comparable to having every part of their body shackled so that they are unable to do the good that they, at heart, may really wish to do. It is a state of slavery that holds no promise of a release and a better future. Regardless of how hard a person may try to do what is right, kind, and noble, there is a painful awareness of falling short and of having hurt and disappointed others. Only when individuals suppress the inner voice of conscience do they become blind to their helpless state as slaves of sin, and their complete inability to live a life that is consistently pure in attitude, word, and action. Jesus Christ, however, loosed believers, effecting their liberation by his shed blood. By accepting his sacrifice in their behalf, they are no longer helplessly bound by sin but have righteousness imputed to them. (1:5; also see the comments in the Notes section.)
Collectively, believers constitute a royal realm or kingdom under their Lord Jesus Christ and, individually, they are priests to “his God and Father.” Anyone claiming to have a spiritual authority over believers thus would be denying their identity as priests, an identity which has been granted them by their Lord, “to whom be the glory and might for eternity.” (1:6)
Additionally, the opening chapter of Revelation points to Jesus’ return in glory. This event and its profound effect would not escape the notice of anyone then living on earth. (1:7) For those who failed to respond in faith to God’s Son, the event would lead to wailing.
John heard a voice like that of a trumpet directing him to write to the congregations of believers in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Everything about the personage who spoke to John (someone like “a son of man” or a man) reflected exceedingly great splendor. He wore a long robe, with a golden girdle at the breasts. This was not working attire. The high girding gave evidence of exceptional dignity. Snow-white hair and eyes that shown like flames of fire complemented the countenance of matchless brilliance. His feet glowed like copper or a similar metal or alloy in the fire of a furnace. As he spoke, apparently a flash resembling the blade of a two-edged sword proceeded from his mouth, and the impressive voice resounded like abundant waters in motion. His countenance beamed with greater radiance than the sun at its zenith. Overawed, John fell as dead at his feet. (1:10-17)
The speaker placed his right hand on John and reassured him with the words, “Fear not.” He then identified himself as the first and the last, the living one, and the one who had died but now lived. As the possessor of immortal life, he also had the power to restore others to life, for he had the “keys of death and of Hades.” (1:17, 18) In the ultimate sense, the Father is “the first and the last.” His unique Son, the one through whom all things came into existence and through whom all things are brought to their completion, could rightly thus also identify himself. (Compare Ephesians 1:3-12 and Colossians 1:15-20.)
In the vision, John saw seven lampstands and, in the right hand of the glorious personage, seven stars. These seven lampstands represented the seven congregations and the seven stars stood for the seven angels or messengers of these congregations. (1:12, 13, 16, 20) As believers are to let their light shine before others by maintaining laudable conduct and proclaiming the glad tidings that focus on Christ, a lampstand would be a fitting symbol. Early believers would have known whether the messenger of a congregation referred collectively to its elders or to the one person who originally received the recorded message that was to be read to all.
For pictures of and comments about the island of Patmos, see holylandphotos.org.
In 1:1, the expression “revelation of Jesus Christ” does not relate to his revealing himself in glory but probably to his doing the unveiling or uncovering. It could also mean a “revelation about Jesus Christ,” but this is less likely (as a considerable portion of the book of Revelation concerns judgments and, in an indirect sense only, could this aspect be regarded as pertaining to him).
The one doing the reading (1:3) would apparently do so when a group of believers (those hearing) were assembled. In this verse, fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and a number of later manuscripts have the singular “word,” but the majority of manuscripts read “words.”
In 1:5, third-century P18, fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus and a number of later manuscripts read lysanti (“loosed”), whereas many later manuscripts say loúsanti (“washed”).
The designation kyriaké heméra (“Lord’s day”) is only found in Revelation 1:10. The term kyriaké is an adjective in the feminine gender and not the noun for “Lord” (kyrios) in the genitive case, as in the expression heméra kyríou (“day of the Lord”) appearing in a context denoting a future time of judgment. (2 Peter 3:10) Therefore, the “Lord’s day” appears to be a day linked to Jesus Christ in the same way that the adjective form of the word for “Lord” is used in the designation “Lord’s supper” (kyriakón deípnon) in 1 Corinthians 11:20. That “supper” is one pertaining to him and what he accomplished through his death. Similarly, the Lord’s day apparently is a day that uniquely relates to him. For many centuries down to the present time, that day has commonly been understood to mean the first day of the week, as it was on that day Jesus rose from the dead.
The prophet Ezekiel often dated his visions, including the day of the week. (Ezekiel 1:1, 2; 8:1; 24:1; 29:1; 31:1; 32:1; 40:1) So it could not be considered unusual for John to refer to being “in spirit in the Lord’s day” or in the spirit on the first day of the week. Jerome (who lived in the third and fourth century), in his homily (94), dealt with the objection that the first day of the week was significant to pagans. He wrote: “The Lord has made all days, of course, but other days may belong as well to the Jews, and heretics too; they may even belong to the heathens. The Lord’s day, however, the day of the resurrection, the day of Christians, is our day. It is called the Lord’s day because on this day the Lord ascended to the Father as victor.”
It may be noted that Jerome considered the first day to have been the day of Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension to heaven. In The New American Bible, this is also the view expressed in a footnote on John 20:17 regarding Jesus’ statement that he had not yet ascended. “Therefore his ascension takes place immediately after he has talked to Mary. In such a view, the ascension after forty days described in Acts 1, 1-11 would be simply a termination of earthly appearances or, perhaps better, an introduction to the conferral of the Spirit upon the early church, modeled on Elisha’s being able to have a (double) share in the spirit of Elijah if he saw him being taken up (same verb as ascending) into heaven (2 Kgs 2, 9-12).”
The scenes in the book of Revelation often do not follow a chronological sequence. At times, different aspects of the same event are portrayed later in the book or an early occurrence is presented after happenings that would take place later. The birth of the male child destined to rule is an early event (12:1-5) but is portrayed after scenes depicting later developments. Aspects about the effect on those facing the wrath of God and of the Lamb (6:12-17) are, in different imagery, revealed in later visions (14:18-20; 19:11-21). Revelation 14:8 reports the angelic announcement about the fall of Babylon the great, whereas Revelation 17:1-18:24 provides more detail about this harlot and her doom.
In his messages to the seven congregations, Jesus Christ called attention to specific features about his glorious visionary manifestation to John. Each message concluded with the words, “Let the one having ears hear what the spirit says to the congregations.” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22) The messages were conveyed to John through the operation of God’s spirit (1:10), and thus the spirit did speak. The plural “congregations” indicates that the message directed to a particular group of believers in one of the cities of the Roman province of Asia (western Turkey) also had an application to believers in other locations. By heeding the messages, individuals would reveal themselves to be persons with attentive ears.
Being in Christ’s right hand, those represented by the seven stars were under his direction, emphasizing their responsibility to submit to him as their Lord. The fact that God’s Son spoke of himself as “walking among the lampstands” made it clear that he was fully aware of the conditions in each congregation. (2:1)
The “works” of believers in Ephesus are identified as their “labor and endurance.” Their toil involved strenuously resisting men who falsely claimed to be apostles. The Ephesian Christians had diligently exerted themselves to test the claims and then established them to be false. For the name of Christ or for his sake, they had faithfully endured. They continued to be his disciples, not growing weary or giving up when faced with opposition, hostility, and ill treatment from unbelievers. (2:2, 3)
Nevertheless, believers in Ephesus merited Jesus Christ’s disapproval for having abandoned their initial love. Apparently their love for God, his Son, fellow believers, and fellow humans had ceased to be what it once had been. They needed to consider their former condition and recall from what they had fallen because of their failure to let love have its full expression. This should have motivated them to repent and to change their ways, bestirring themselves to carry out the former works, works that were an expression of an intense love. If they failed to make the necessary changes, Jesus Christ’s special visitation would result in losing their place as a lampstand. The community of believers would cease to shed light through laudable conduct and would no longer, by word and deed, be making the glad tidings about their Lord known to others. (2:4, 5)
In their attitude toward the works of the Nicolaitans, Ephesian believers were one with Christ. The hatred of God’s Son respecting the teaching of those who followed Nicolaus suggests that it must have grossly misrepresented him and excused corrupt conduct. (2:6)
All heeding Christ’s admonition are assured of the blessings to be enjoyed by conquerors. By refusing to become part of a loveless world and letting Christ’s example and teaching serve to guide their thoughts, words, and actions, believers would prove to be victors. As such, they would be allowed to partake of the “tree” or “grove” of life in the “paradise of God,” signifying an eternity of life in an exalted heavenly estate as persons having divine approval. (2:7)
The message to the Ephesus congregation contains a sobering warning. Vigilantly resisting false teaching and not giving up one’s identity as a Christian are not enough for gaining Christ’s approval. He set the flawless example in manifesting love, surrendering his life for undeserving humans, and he expects his disciples to imitate him. (John 13:34, 35; 15:12-14; 1 John 3:16) How severe, therefore, will be the judgment upon members of religious movements who act hatefully toward persons who do not accept their unique doctrines and interpretations!
Jesus Christ called attention to two aspects of his glorious visionary manifestation—his being “the first and the last” and his being alive though he had once been dead. (2:8) This description may have served to reassure believers in the city of Smyrna that through him all of God’s promises would be fulfilled (2 Corinthians 1:20) and that they, too, would be restored to life if they remained faithful until death.
Fully aware of their suffering and poverty, the Son of God commended them for being spiritually rich. Apparently unbelieving Jews in the city blasphemed or maliciously slandered them, likely contributing to their becoming objects of intense hostility among the larger unbelieving non-Jewish population. (Compare Acts 14:1, 2, 4-6, 19; 17:5-9, 13, 14; 18:12-15.) When opposing Christ’s followers, the unbelieving Jews failed to live up to the significance of their name as God’s people (“Judah” meaning “praised” or “lauded”; Romans 2:29) and revealed themselves to be a “synagogue of Satan” (the opposer or resister). The poverty of the Christian community in the city may largely have been the result of persecution. (2:9)
Jesus Christ encouraged them not to fear future suffering. At the instigation of the devil (the “slanderer”), they would be imprisoned, an experience that would prove to be a test to them and could lead to their death. The reference to “ten days” is perhaps best understood as denoting “a mere ten days.” Tribulation or distress would not be prolonged indefinitely but would come to an end. Jesus Christ promised to crown them with life for remaining faithful until death, proving themselves to be victors as he had been. All victors are assured of an eternal future, for the second death (from which no restoration to life is possible) would never harm them. (2:10, 11)
The message to the congregation in Smyrna illustrates that godliness is not the sure path to material prosperity, as professing Christians associated with certain churches or movements have been led to believe. True riches are of a spiritual kind, and the possession of such cannot be gauged by the external circumstances of the individual. A focus on externals (growth in numbers, building projects, or reported activity) tends to mask the spiritual poverty existing among the members of various churches or movements.
Jesus Christ’s reference to the sharp two-edged sword suggested that he was not pleased with certain developments among believers in Pergamum. (2:12) It may have reminded them of the words of Isaiah’s prophecy (11:4), “With the spirit [or breath] of his lips, he will slay the wicked.”
Those addressed knew what it meant to be living where the “throne of Satan” is. Antipas, whom Christ acknowledged as his faithful witness (one who fearlessly testified about him) had been executed. Nevertheless, the community of believers in the city refused to deny Christ. They courageously held fast to his name, indicating that they continued to acknowledge him as their Lord, and they maintained their faith in him. (2:13)
Jesus Christ expressed his disapproval of those among them who held to the teaching of Balaam and that of the Nicolaitans. Shortly before the Israelites were to enter the land west of the Jordan and while they were encamped in the plains of Moab, the diviner Balaam taught the Moabite king Balak to use women to induce Israelite men to engage in idolatry and fornication. (Numbers 25:1, 2; 31:16) Evidently, therefore, adherents to the teaching of Balaam would have been guilty of engaging in idolatrous practices, including the moral corruption associated therewith. The teaching of the Nicolaitans must likewise have promoted God-dishonoring conduct. Only by repenting and changing their ways could the guilty ones escape having Christ war against them with the “sword of his mouth.” Otherwise, they would not escape his condemnatory judgment. (2:14-16)
To all who conquer, remaining devoted to him to the end, Jesus Christ promised to give the “hidden manna.” During Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, the miraculously provided manna served as their primary food. (Deuteronomy 8:3) Therefore, Christ’s giving the victors “hidden manna” suggests that he would impart to his faithful followers everything needed to sustain their life eternally. Believers in Pergamum knew the significance of being given a white stone inscribed with a new name, but Christians today do not know which, if any, of various possible explanations may be correct. (2:17) Based on the names he gave to Simon and the sons of Zebedee, the “new name” may reflect Jesus Christ’s intimate knowledge of the individual believer. (Mark 3:16, 17)
The message to believers in Pergamum highlights that courage in the face of severe persecution does not in itself lead to Christ’s approval. Christians are called upon to live lives of purity and will be judged for the way in which they use their bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:13-20; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Peter 1:14-17)
God’s Son reminded believers concerning the appearance of his eyes and his feet in his glorious visionary manifestation. (2:18) This may have served to call to their attention that nothing escaped his penetrating vision and that he required pure conduct. When Peter objected to having his feet washed, Jesus told him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” This prompted Peter to request that even his head and his hands be washed. Jesus then replied, “One who has bathed only needs to have his feet washed, but is completely clean, and you [plural, including the other apostles] are clean, but not all.” (John 13:8-10) In this manner, Jesus revealed that more than physical cleanness was involved in continuing to have fellowship with him. While his disciples during their earthly sojourn continue to be in need of the cleansing he made possible because their walk is not flawless, he is pure in the ultimate sense. The glowing feet in the visionary manifestation would never need to be washed but would remain absolutely pure. The Son of God would not “walk” where impurity prevails and his requirements for cleansing are not met.
Among believers in Thyatira, Jesus Christ had observed their noble works or activities, their love, faith, service, and patient endurance. Their more recent activity as Christ’s disciples showed marked improvement in relation to their past works. (2:19)
Still, in their midst was a woman who displayed the spirit of Jezebel of old, concerning whose baneful influence on Ahab the Kings account reports, “Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of [YHWH], urged on by his wife Jezebel. He acted most abominably in going after idols.” (1 Kings 21:25, 26, NRSV) The woman in Thyatira called herself a prophetess and led others to engage in idolatrous feasting and fornication. Although Jesus Christ had given her time to repent, she refused to do so. He determined to cast her upon a sickbed and greatly afflict those committing adultery with her if they did not repent. As for her “children,” he would kill them. In view of the severe punishment upon these “children,” it does not appear that they were her illegitimate offspring but likely were individuals who had so completely imbibed her spirit as to have gone far beyond the point of possible repentance. Christ’s severe judgment would demonstrate to all other congregations of believers that he searches “kidneys and hearts” (his eyes penetrating the inmost selves of all) and that he repays all according to their works. (2:20-23)
Not all in the Thyatira congregation had fallen for the insidious teaching, refusing to “learn” by experience the debased practices meriting the designation the “deep things of Satan.” God’s Son would not place upon them any other burden besides the commands they were required to observe. (Compare Acts 15:28, 29.) Until whatever time God’s Son might make his visitation, they were to be firmly determined to fulfill their obligations, abstaining from idolatrous feasting and the moral corruption associated therewith. (2:24, 25)
The conquerors (all adhering to his ways to the end) would share with Christ in the royal authority he had been granted by his Father. This authority over the nations included the right to execute judgment against those opposing his rule, shepherding them with an iron rod and smashing them like clay vessels. In 22:16, Jesus Christ calls himself the “morning star.” If the significance is the same here, his giving believers the morning star could refer to his granting them an intimate relationship with himself. On the other hand, the appearance of the morning star marks the end of the night and the start of a new day. This could point to the victors being liberated from all the distresses associated with the night of their earthly sojourn and granted the joys and blessings associated with the dawning of the new day as sharers in Christ’s royal authority. (2:26-28)
The message to the Thyatira congregation stands as a warning to women who have attained positions of prominence and influence among professing Christians and who condone and even engage in practices that Christ disapproves. (Compare Romans 1:26, 27; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 6:9-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8.) All who embrace their corrupt teaching and continue to engage in practices that are too shameful even to mention will not escape adverse judgment.
To the congregation in Sardis, Jesus Christ identified himself as having the “seven spirits” (the fullness of God’s spirit operating upon him) and the seven stars (representing the seven angels or messengers of the congregations that were under his control and direction). He knew the actual state of the congregation. It had a “name” or reputation of being alive, probably among other congregations and the inhabitants of the city. Although seemingly active, the congregation was dead spiritually. Perhaps many Christians in Sardis had settled into a comfortable routine and were not stirred to action by deep love for God’s Son and his Father. Believers needed to wake up and strengthen those who were about to die spiritually, those who were nearing the point of ceasing to be persons who, in word and deed, furthered the cause of Christ. The “works” of the congregation should have been a reflection of deep concern for others and love for God, his Son, fellow believers, and people in the community. Jesus Christ, however, found their works to be defective, not fully performed before his God. As the one who intimately knew his Father or his God, Jesus Christ was thoroughly acquainted with what his God required. (3:1, 2)
Believers in Sardis needed to recall what they received or accepted and what they had heard. They had heard the glad tidings about Jesus Christ and the responsibilities associated with being his disciples, and they had accepted or responded to the teaching and started to live in harmony therewith. From the standpoint of “receiving,” they had been richly blessed when God’s spirit became the force that directed their lives. Consequently, they needed again to act in harmony with what they had accepted or received and heard, repenting and actively promoting the cause of Christ in word and deed. If they failed to wake up spiritually, they would face an unexpected visitation from him. He would arrive like a thief at a previously unknown “hour” or time. (3:3)
Still, a few in the Sardis congregation had not defiled their garments by failing to live up to their responsibilities as Christ’s disciples. God’s Son assured these faithful ones of being worthy to walk with him in white garments, identifying them as approved persons who carried out his Father’s will in purity. (Compare 19:8.) He promised to all victors or those remaining faithful to the end that they would thus be arrayed in white and not have their names blotted out of the scroll of life. Before his Father and the angels, Jesus Christ would acknowledge the name of each victor, indicating his approval of the individual as one belonging to him. (3:4, 5)
The message to the Sardis congregation indicates that it is possible to be deluded into thinking that visible public activity is an evidence of being spiritually alive. Such activity may have as its prime objective gaining converts for a particular movement and persuading others to adopt a belief system or support an agenda rather than advancing the cause of Christ. Persons associated with a movement may expend much time and energy, seemingly suggesting the existence of a vibrant community. In actuality, however, the activity may amount to little more than an exercise in futility and, even worse, distort Christ’s example and teaching.
Jesus Christ identified himself as the one who is “holy” and “true.” As the one who is pure and trustworthy in every respect, he will always respond to the needs of his disciples and keep his word. Jesus Christ is the permanent heir of King David and in possession of the “key of David” or the full authority to admit persons into or exclude them from the kingdom (the realm where he is king). No one can alter whatever he opens or shuts. (3:7)
In the flawless estimation of God’s Son, the works of the congregation in Philadelphia deserved commendation. Apparently the open door Jesus Christ placed before believers in Philadelphia and which no one would be able to shut led to activity in advancing his cause. (Compare 1 Corinthians 16:8, 9; 2 Corinthians 2:12, 13.) Believers, likely because of their modest circumstances, possessed “little power” or carried little weight and had very limited influence in the city. Nevertheless, they heeded Christ’s word and did not deny his name or fail to acknowledge him as their Lord. Evidently they faced intense opposition from unbelieving Jews in Philadelphia. These Jews, like those in Smyrna, did not live up to their claim of being what their name stood for (“lauded” or “praised”), making them out to be liars. When opposing those whom God recognized as his approved people, they ceased to be an assembly of persons belonging to him and proved themselves to be the “synagogue of Satan” (the resister or opposer). Christ’s “giving” to believers those from that synagogue may mean that some of them would become believers or the giving may be in the sense that they would be made to bow down before the feet of believers, thereby humbly acknowledging that God is really among them. (Compare Isaiah 45:14; 60:14; 1 Corinthians 14:24, 25.) These Jews would also come to know that Christ loved his followers. (3:8, 9)
The expression “the word of my endurance” may be understood to mean Christ’s message to endure faithfully under test as he did. (Compare Matthew 10:22; 24:13; Hebrews 12:2, 3.) Because believers in Philadelphia had kept his word about endurance, Christ promised to keep them from the hour of test that would come upon earth’s inhabitants. This may mean that the distressing time to be experienced by others would not affect them in the same way. Although not exempted or immune, they would be safeguarded and sustained during the stressful time. (3:10)
Christ’s words, “I am coming quickly,” are timeless, assuring believers in every place and period of the certainty of relief from distress and encouraging them to regard his return with a sense of immediacy (not as being so distant in the future as to have no relevance for them). For believers in Philadelphia, his words added force to his admonition for them to keep fast hold on what they possessed as his disciples, resisting anyone who would cause them to forfeit their crown. This is a crown of victory, apparently signifying the glorious reward to be bestowed upon those who remain faithful to the end. (3:11)
In the temple of his God, Christ would securely position as a pillar the one conquering or proving faithful to the end. As a pillar, the victor would be identified as belonging to God, as a citizen of the new Jerusalem, and as belonging to Christ. This is indicated by the fact that God’s Son would write the name of his God, the name of the city of his God, and his own new name on the pillar or the victor. Christ’s new name may embrace all the power and authority granted him after his resurrection from the dead. (3:12)
The message to the congregation in Philadelphia illustrates that Christ can accomplish much with those who are devoted to him even though they may have “little power.” An open door stands before all who desire to advance his cause.
God’s Son identified himself as the “Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.” (3:14) The designation “Amen” signifies “surely” or “so be it,” and conveys the thought of absolute trustworthiness (an attribute believers in Laodicea had failed to display). Christ is the faithful witness, for his testimony always is reliable. Never does his testimony fall short of the truth, and so, in the ultimate sense, he is the true witness. Grammatically, the designation “beginning of the creation of God” could be understood to mean that the Son is the first of God’s creation. This, however, does not fit the context of the vision in which the greatness and transcendent splendor of the Son have been the focus. It appears preferable to regard “beginning” as meaning the start, source, or origin of God’s creation. This would mean that Jesus Christ identified himself as the one “through whom all things came into existence and, without him, nothing came into existence.” (John 1:3)
The Son of God was aware of the great lack among believers in Laodicea. Their works did not merit commendation. Believers in Laodicea were neither hot nor cold. Absent were the intense devotion and zeal associated with one’s being “hot.” As the opposite of “hot,” “cold” may refer to a state where nothing of a spiritual nature seems to exist. This is not a condition that Jesus Christ would have desired for those in the congregation in Laodicea. When, however, individuals, from all appearances, are cold (like the harlots, tax collectors, and persons living a life of sin during the time Jesus walked on earth), hope exists that they may yet come to repentance. Individuals in a lukewarm, self-satisfied, complacent, or halfhearted state are less likely to return to a flourishing spiritual condition. Jesus Christ found the lukewarm condition nauseating and threatened to spit out all existing in this state. (3:15, 16)
Laodicean believers imagined themselves to be rich, supplied with an abundance, and needing nothing. To Christ’s penetrating gaze, though, they were miserable, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. They needed to change, becoming fully devoted to Christ and obtaining from him everything needed to improve their sad plight (represented by refined gold, white garments, and ointment). This would result in their prospering spiritually and ceasing to be in a spiritually exposed and blind state. (3:17, 18)
Christ’s strong reproof and discipline revealed his love for them, for he earnestly desired that they would become zealous and repent in order to be approved. He had not distanced himself from them, but portrayed himself as being at the door willing to be invited in. With anyone who responded to him, he would choose to enjoy fellowship, depicted by mutual participation in a meal. (3:19, 20)
Jesus Christ had been granted royal authority, sitting with his Father on his throne. With the victor, the one who proved faithful, Jesus would share his royal authority, granting the conqueror to sit with him on his throne. (3:21)
The message to the Laodicean congregation highlights the grave danger of being deluded into thinking that one is thriving spiritually. The leadership in certain movements often contributes to this delusion, claiming that those associated are being supplied with spiritual provisions to overflowing. The reality, however, falls far short of the pretentious claims, blinding many to their wretched spiritual plight.
For pictures of the ruins of ancient Ephesus and comments about the city, see bibleplaces.com/ephesus.htm.
For pictures of the ruins of ancient Smyrna and comments about the city, see bibleplaces.com/smyrna.htm.
For pictures of the ruins of ancient Pergamum and comments about the city, see bibleplaces.com/pergamum.htm.
For information about Thyatira, including pictures, see holylandphotos.org.
For information about Sardis, including pictures, see bibleplaces.com/sardis.htm.
For information about Philadelphia, including pictures, see holylandphotos.org.
For information about Laodicea, including pictures, see bibleplaces.com/laodicea.htm.
The Greek name “Nicolaus” means “conqueror of the people” and seemingly finds a parallel in the name “Balaam,” possibly meaning “swallower of the people.” In their teaching, the Nicolaitans (2:6, 15) may have followed the path of Balaam in promoting idolatry and the moral corruption associated therewith. Hippolytus (170-236) wrote that Nicolaus “departed from correct doctrine, and was in the habit of inculcating indifferency of both life and food.” Victorinus, decades later, said that the Nicolaitans taught “to the effect that what had been offered to idols might be exorcised and eaten, and that whoever should have committed fornication might receive peace on the eighth day.”
John saw an opened door in heaven, and the voice of God’s Son, which he had heard at the beginning, resounded like a trumpet and invited him to enter. Beyond the open door, John, “in spirit,” found himself beholding a throne. Seated, the glorious personage, the Almighty God, appeared in radiant splendor, which resembled “jasper” (possibly semiprecious white jasper) and “sardius” (likely a precious gem that is red in color). This description is insufficient for arriving at even a vague picture of the one whom John saw. A halo resembling an emerald encircled the throne and the one seated thereon. (4:1-3; compare 1:10-13)
Twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes and with golden crowns on their heads, sat upon thrones surrounding the central throne. As at Mount Sinai when the law was given, lightnings, thunders, and voices revealed the divine presence. (Exodus 19:16-19) Seven lamps burned brightly before God’s throne (representing the “seven spirits” or God’s spirit in all its fullness of operation and under his control and direction). John also saw something resembling a sea of glass, like crystal, in front of the central throne. Perhaps this reminded him of the molten sea or basin at the temple and conveyed to him the need for absolute purity or cleanness in the case of all who would be granted approach to the central throne. (4:4-6)
Four living beings, fully covered with eyes and each having six wings, occupied the position closest to the throne. Based on his knowledge of the book of Ezekiel, John would have recognized them as cherubs. (Ezekiel 1:5-11; 10:20-22) A different face distinguished one living being from another. Perhaps, though not necessarily, the face itself called attention to qualities or attributes. If the face of a man represented the noble qualities humans possess, the other faces could represent features in which humans do not excel — strength (bull, Proverbs 14:4), boldness or fearlessness (lion, 2 Samuel 17:10; 1 Chronicles 12:8; Proverbs 28:1), and speed (flying eagle, Habakkuk 1:8). Ever awake, ever watchful (with nothing escaping the view of their many eyes), the cherubs unceasingly declared God’s holiness. This suggests that they are upholders and defenders of the Most High’s purity. As even their wings have eyes, this may denote that the living beings could use them with full awareness in flight or when providing protective covering. (4:6-8)
Whenever the living beings glorify or praise, honor, and thank the Almighty, the twenty-four elders join in worship. Their crowns are not royal crowns or diadems (diadémata), but crowns of victory (stéphanos, often the designation for a victory wreath). Removing their crowns and placing them before the central throne would have constituted an acknowledgment that their victory and honor came from God and had been obtained on the basis of his unmerited favor. Because elders can represent an entire congregation, these elders appear to be representative of God’s people as already having attained their future reward (dressed in white, crowned as victors, and enthroned). Based on the names later associated with the New Jerusalem, the number twenty-four may be linked to the twelve apostles and the family heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. (21:10-14) John heard them acknowledging God as being worthy of receiving glory, honor, and power because he created everything, and, by his will, everything exists and came into being. (4:9-11)
Note: The words méta taúta (“after these things”) either end the sentence in verse 1 of chapter 4 (“must take place after these things”) or start the next sentence (“After these things, I immediately came to be in spirit...”).
On the open right palm of the one seated on the central throne, John saw a scroll with writing on both the inside and the outside and sealed with seven seals. (5:1) (Probably because John could see writing on the outside, he would have concluded that there would have been writing on the inside or the usual location of the text.) Possibly the sealed scroll in the hand of the Almighty reminded him of the words in Deuteronomy (29:29), “the secret things belong to YHWH our God.”
An angel, strong in appearance, proclaimed with a powerful voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” This appears to be a question about who would be entitled to reveal the hidden things of God. When no one in heaven, on earth, or underneath the earth (evidently referring to all who had died) could be found to unlock the secrets of the scroll, John began to weep profusely. Apparently he thought its important contents would remain permanently concealed from Christ’s disciples because no one had been found worthy to open the scroll and look at what it contained. (5:2-4)
One of the twenty-four elders then told John to stop weeping, for the one who had conquered, “the lion from the tribe of Judah, the root of David,” could open the scroll and its seals. Based on what Jesus Christ had said to his disciples while on earth, the congregation did know that he alone could provide the complete revelation about his Father and enjoyed an intimacy that no one else had. (Matthew 11:27) So it was fitting for one of the twenty-four elders, as representing the congregation destined for future glory, to identify the worthy one. By flawlessly carrying out his Father’s will and laying down his life in sacrifice, Jesus Christ conquered the world. The world of mankind alienated from his Father and its god proved to be powerless in diverting him from his faithful course. He remained unconquerable and triumphant. (5:5)
As the “lion from the tribe of Judah,” he is the possessor of the rulership that was promised to remain in Judah’s line of descent and to which he became an heir as a man. (Genesis 49:9, 10) He is also the “root of David.” This designation may have reminded John of Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse [David’s father], and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Isaiah 11:1, NRSV) “On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:10, NRSV) Through Jesus Christ, as from a root, the royal authority in the line of David came to life.
The visionary form of the glorious victor, however, did not prove to be a lion but a lamb with visible evidence of having been slaughtered. This emphasized that God’s Son had triumphed through his sacrificial death. Horns are representative of power, and so the “seven horns” of the Lamb identified Jesus Christ as the possessor of ultimate God-given power or of all the authority in heaven and on earth he had been granted. (Matthew 28:18) He also had the fullness of God’s spirit resting upon him as represented by the “seven eyes” or the “seven spirits,” which make it impossible for any development on earth to escape his notice or to interfere with the aid and guidance he provides to his disciples. (5:6) By reason of the unlimited vision made possible through God’s spirit, Jesus Christ is the possessor of complete knowledge.
When the Lamb took the scroll from the one seated on the throne, heaven resounded with praise. The four living beings acknowledged the greatness of the Lamb, prostrating themselves before him. Each of the twenty-four elders also fell down before him. The incense in their golden bowls represented the “prayers of the holy ones,” suggesting that the prayers of all of God’s people are being heard as if they were personally present. With their golden harps, the twenty-four elders accompanied their singing of a new song. Possibly the reason for its being called a “new song” is its focus on the new development relating to the once-slaughtered Lamb and the scroll. “Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to open its seals,” they sang, “for you were slaughtered and with your blood you purchased for God [persons] from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And to our God, you made them a kingdom and priests, and they will reign [or, they reign] upon the earth.” Collectively, Christ made persons he purchased with his precious blood to be a kingdom or a royal realm under him as king. Individually, he made them to be priests. (5:7-10)
Greek manuscript evidence is divided about the tense of the word for “reign.” Fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus and numerous other manuscripts read basileúousin, (“they reign”), whereas fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and many other manuscripts say basileúsousin (“they will reign”). The present tense would allow for the meaning that, while on earth, believers reign in the sense that they are no longer under the dominion of sin because of what Christ has done for them. Regarded from the standpoint of the future, they would be sharing in royal authority with him. The Greek preposition preceding “the earth” is epí, which has the basic sense of “on” or “upon,” but the term is not restricted to this meaning. In Luke 1:33, for example, the angel Gabriel is quoted as saying to Mary concerning the Son of the Most High, “he will reign over [epí] the house of Jacob forever.” If the future tense of reign is original in Revelation 5:10, the meaning could therefore be that the reign of the redeemed would be over the earth, with their location not being the aspect under consideration.
Next John saw an innumerable host of angels and heard them acknowledging the once-slaughtered Lamb as being worthy to receive the power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and praise. Then followed a universal expression of praise, with every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth (apparently the realm of the dead), and in the sea uniting their voices and saying, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb [be] the blessing and the honor and the glory and the might forever and ever.” The four living beings added, “Amen!” (So be it!), and the elders apparently fell to their knees and bowed down with their faces touching the floor of heaven. (5:11-14)
In 5:6, fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus and a number of later manuscripts do not include the word “seven” before “spirits.”
The Greek verb proskynéo, in its basic sense, denotes “to prostrate oneself” (3:9; 4:10; 5:14). In the visions, John would have seen persons kneeling and then bowing low. The context indicates whether prostration constituted an act of worship.
When the Lamb opened the first one of the seven seals, one of the living beings (evidently the one having a lion’s face; compare 4:7), called out with a voice like thunder, “Come!” John then saw a white horse appear on the scene, but he provided no description of the rider. He only mentioned the rider’s having a bow and being given a “crown” (stéphanos, the common designation for a crown of victory). The rider rode forth as a conqueror to conquer. (6:1, 2)
In 19:11-16, white horses are associated with warfare conducted in the cause of righteousness or justice, and the one on the white horse in the leading position is identified as the Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords. This provides a basis for linking the white horse (6:2) with war waged in righteousness.
In the case of the other horses that appear on the scene after the opening of the next three seals, the riders are not personages and portray developments on the earth. Consistent with the imagery of the other riders, the rider on the white horse need not be identified as Christ but could depict the triumphs he would be effecting through his devoted disciples on earth. While on earth, Jesus Christ told his disciples that the glad tidings or gospel would be proclaimed to all nations and that they were to make disciples, teaching them to heed everything he had commanded them. (Matthew 28:19, 20; Mark 13:10) In Matthew 24:14, this good news is associated with the “kingdom,” indicating that its focus is on proclaiming Christ as the promised Messiah, the one to whom “all authority” in heaven and on earth had been granted. (For the content of the “glad tidings,” see Acts 2:22-36; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 8:30-35; 10:34-43; 13:17-41.) It should also be noted that no divinely granted authority exists for introducing elements that first-century believers would have perceived as going beyond the glad tidings they had accepted. [Compare Acts 26:12-19; Galatians 1:6-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10.])
The apostle Paul described the advancement of Christ’s cause in terms of warfare. In his second letter to the Corinthians (10:3, 4, NAB), he wrote: “Although we are in the flesh, we do not battle according to the flesh, for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” (Also see Ephesians 6:11-17.)
Against the background provided by other passages in the Scriptures, the conquests of the rider on the white horse may appropriately be regarded as the triumphant advance of the “good news” despite all the distressing developments earth’s inhabitants would be experiencing until Christ’s return in glory. Nothing would stop the victorious advance of the glad tidings, as people from all nations would continue to be “delivered from the power of darkness” and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. (Colossians 1:13)
Upon the opening of the second seal, the living being with the face of a bull (4:7) called out, “Come!” The fiery red color of the horse that then appeared on the scene suggested bloodshed. Its rider was empowered to rob earth’s inhabitants of peace, and the large sword he was given portended that they would be slaughtering one another on a horrendous scale. (6:3, 4; compare Matthew 24:6, 7; Mark 13:7, 8; Luke 21:9, 10.)
The devastation brought about by warfare results in disrupting agricultural operations and produces serious shortages of food. Appropriately, the opening of the third seal is followed by a portrayal of this consequence of war. Upon the opening of this seal, the living being with the face of a man (4:7) cried out, “Come!” The black color of the horse may have been suggestive of the blackening effect on the countenance of persons suffering from lack of food. (Compare Lamentations 4:8, 9.) The rider held a pair of scales. Based on the announcement that John next heard, the scales seemingly indicated food supplies would be limited and available for extremely high prices. He heard a voice that appeared to come from the midst of the living beings, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not ruin the olive oil and the wine.” In the first century, a denarius amounted to a whole day’s wage. Though barley, viewed as the inferior grain, cost less than wheat, a denarius for three quarts would still be exorbitant. The command not to ruin the olive oil and the wine is probably best understood to be a directive not to draw too heavily on the limited supply and thus avoid exhausting it too quickly. (6:5, 6; compare Matthew 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11.)
Subsequent to the opening of the fourth seal, the living being with the face of a flying eagle (4:7) called out, “Come!” John then saw a horse of a sickly greenish color, and its rider was named “Death.” Hades, the realm of the dead, followed with him. John, however, said nothing about the visual representation of Hades in relation to the rider named “Death.” A considerable portion of earth’s inhabitants (one quarter) are revealed to be affected by the ravages of war (the sword) and the aftermath of famine and death-dealing disease. With the devastation of formerly inhabited areas, beasts of prey can pose a threat to humans, and this is also mentioned as one of the means “Death” claims victims. (6:7, 8; compare Deuteronomy 7:22; 2 Kings 17:26; Ezekiel 5:17; Luke 21:11.)
The opening of the fifth seal revealed the suffering that befell many of Christ’s loyal disciples. (Compare Matthew 24:9; Mark 13:9-11; Luke 21:12-17.) Underneath the altar, John saw the “souls” of those who had been executed because of the “word of God” and their testimony, evidently meaning that they had faithfully told others about their faith in the living God and the role of his Son in effecting liberation from sin. John did not say how he recognized them to be slain souls, but he did describe the sound of their cry as being “great,” suggesting that many had been slaughtered. Their lifeblood had been unjustly spilled, and their appeal for the execution of divine justice rested on God’s being holy (not countenancing wrong) and true (dependable respecting his promise to act justly). (Compare Luke 18:7, 8; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10.) They cried out, “Until when, O Sovereign, holy and true, will you not judge and avenge our blood on earth’s inhabitants?” In response to their cry, each one received a white robe. Seemingly with reference to the execution of divine vengeance, they were to “rest” or wait a little while longer. During this period of waiting more of their fellow slaves and brothers would be executed as they had been, completing the number of those who would be killed. The bestowal of the white robe may signify that those depicted as receiving such, the dead in Christ, would be resurrected to heavenly glory. (Compare 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 16) The words of Revelation suggest that, during the brief period remaining before Jesus Christ manifests himself in glory to execute judgment upon the ungodly and deliver all of his followers then living, a number of them would be executed for proving true to him and his Father. (6:9-11)
The opening of the sixth seal opened up to John’s vision a vivid portrayal of the upheavals portending the execution of divine vengeance. His description parallels the words of the ancient Hebrew prophets. A great earthquake shook the land. (Compare Isaiah 13:13; Haggai 2:6.) The sun looked black like sackcloth of hair (probably black goat’s hair) and the color of the moon like blood. (Compare Isaiah 50:3; Ezekiel 32:7, 8; Joel 2:31.) From the celestial dome, stars appeared to fall on the land like fruit from a fig tree shaken by a fierce wind. To John, “heaven” or the celestial dome would have resembled a scroll that touched the land. Like a scroll that is rolled up, the vault of heaven may have split at the horizon and then disappeared. (Compare Isaiah 34:4.) All mountains and islands moved from their respective places. Terror befell persons in all stations of life as they sought shelter in caves and mountain crags. Desperately they wished to escape the wrath of God and of the Lamb, preferring to have mountains and crags fall over them to avoid experiencing the dire consequences. (Compare Isaiah 2:10-21; Hosea 10:8.) The question that John heard from those seeking to escape was, “Who can stand?” (6:12-17) Yes, who would be able to survive the great day of the wrath of God and the Lamb? (Compare Matthew 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-28 for the similarity in language and note who will escape.) Developments depicted in the next scene answer this question.
Note: According to the reading of 6:1, 3, 5 and 7 in fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and a number of later manuscripts, the “come” appears to be directed to John, being followed by “and see.” There is considerable manuscript evidence, however, for “come” without the addition, suggesting that this imperative is a directive for the horses and their mounts to appear.
John next saw four angels, evidently standing at the four compass points of the land and sea visible to him. The “earth” at which he looked could not have been the globe as seen from outer space, for he would not have recognized our planet as did astronauts in the twentieth century. At their respective positions, the four angels were holding back fierce winds from blowing on the land and sea and against the trees. (7:1)
In the eastern location where the sun rises, John saw another angel ascending with the seal of the living God. He did not, however, describe this seal, which, like the scribe’s equipment in the prophecy of Ezekiel (9:3-6), would serve to place an identifying mark on those who would be spared from the effects of the destructive winds. With a loud voice, the fifth angel called out to the other four not to use their authority to harm the land and the sea until God’s slaves had been marked on their foreheads with the seal. This angel identified himself and the other four as sharing a precious relationship with those to be marked, for he referred to them as the “slaves of our God.” (7:2, 3)
In vision, John still found himself in the position of one who had passed through the open door in heaven. (4:1) He did not see any of those to be marked with the seal but heard their number — 144,000 from every tribe of the sons of Israel. (7:4)
Based on the angelic proclamation, John knew that all of those to be marked with the seal were slaves of God, Israelites, or God’s people in the real sense of the word. The earlier messages to the congregations in Smyrna (2:9) and Philadelphia (3:9) left no doubt regarding the radical difference between those who were Jews merely by natural descent and those who were truly Israelites or God’s people. Upon hearing the number of those to be marked with the seal as being “from” or “out of” every tribe of the sons of Israel, John would have understood that the true slaves of God were to be found among those professing to be his people. The manner in which the tribes are listed (Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin) seemingly would have alerted him to the fact that what was being presented to him in symbol did not apply to Israel according to fleshly descent. (7:5-8) In ancient Israel, the tribe of Levi occupied a special position in sanctuary service and was not listed as one of the twelve. With the inclusion of Levi, the name of one of the tribes of Israel had to be omitted, and this was Dan. The name Joseph is not the designation of a tribe, but he is represented by his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh in ancient Israel. The order in which the tribes are listed is distinctly different from the order in which the tribes variously appear in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Compare Numbers 1:5-15, 20-43; 7:12-78; 13:4-15; 26:5-50.) Moreover, the slaves of God or those whom he recognizes as his people do not have a distinctive tribal identity, and so those marked with the seal would not be able to identify themselves as belonging to any of the twelve tribes that John heard mentioned.
In relation to the number who returned from Babylonian exile, the number 144,000 is significant, much larger in fact. (Ezra 2:64; Nehemiah 7:66) As a multiple of twelve, the number 144,000 reflects the New Jerusalem that John later saw in vision, with its wall height of 144 cubits and its shape as a cube measuring 12,000 stadia on all sides. (21:16, 17) As a representation, therefore, the number 144,000 fittingly reveals that the complete Israel of God existing just prior to the execution of divine vengeance would still be a significant, though not necessarily a huge, number. Not a single one of them would be overlooked, for an equal number (paralleling the dimension of each side of the perfect city, the New Jerusalem) from each tribe would be marked with the seal of the living God.
It is noteworthy that, when asked whether only a few would be saved, Jesus Christ did not provide any hint about a number but replied, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” (Luke 13:23, 24, NAB) The message conveyed by the number 144,000 is in full harmony with these words, revealing that all who will have heeded Jesus’ admonition will be among those to receive their portion “in the kingdom,” whereas many who would claim to be God’s people would lose out. (Luke 13:25-30) Instead of having a specific numerical value that would suggest a limit to the number that would be spared the execution of divine vengeance, the words about the sealing of the 144,000 provide the assurance that, at the very end, the angels will find a significant number of slaves of God among those professing to be his people. Apparently regarding such ones, Jesus Christ told Peter, Andrew, James, and John (Mark 13:3) that, after the developments that would terrify unbelievers, he would send out his angels to gather his elect from every place where they may be found. (Matthew 24:30, 31; Mark 13:24-27)
The next scene John saw was one of an innumerable large crowd from every nation, tribe, people, and language group standing before God’s throne and before the Lamb. Unlike the 144,000 whom he did not see, as they were on earth, he did see this huge crowd in the location to which his being transferred beyond the open door in heaven had led him. Attired in white robes and with palm branches in their hands, they acknowledged salvation as coming from God and the Lamb. (7:9, 10) The palm branches may have reminded John about what the crowd did when acknowledging Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the “Son of David” and “the king of Israel,” when he rode on a donkey’s colt to Jerusalem. (John 12:12-15)
All the angels standing around God’s throne, the twenty-four elders, and the four living beings apparently fell to their knees and then bowed down, with their faces touching the floor of heaven. Their “amen” (so be it) expressed their full agreement with the acknowledgment of the white-robed crowd about salvation belonging to God and the Lamb. Prostrate before the Almighty, they continued with an expression of praise, “The blessing and the glory and the wisdom and the thanksgiving and the honor and the power and the strength [be] to our God for ever and ever. Amen.” (7:11, 12)
As at a previous time (5:5), one of the elders spoke to John. In reply to the elder’s question about the identity of the large crowd, John said, “You, my lord, know.” (Not all manuscripts include “my.”) As representing the congregation of believers, the elder would have known what Jesus Christ had taught and would have been in a position to answer accordingly. He told John that they are the ones who had come out of the tribulation or suffering and then referred to it as “the great one.” The elder explained that, because of having washed their robes and whitened them in the Lamb’s blood, the large crowd had been granted to be before God’s throne. Thus he indicated that their faith in the atoning value of Christ’s blood had made it possible for them to appear as acceptable before the Most High. There, where John saw them, they served continually (day and night) in God’s sanctuary. No more would they experience suffering, for God’s tent would be over them, assuring them of all the blessings and benefits associated with being his guests. No hunger or thirst or anything comparable to the intense, oppressive heat of the sun in summertime would ever affect them. Like a shepherd, the Lamb would lead them to fountains of waters of life, enabling them to enjoy life without end in an abiding relationship with him and his Father. Everything that may formerly have occasioned tears would cease to exist, for God would wipe every tear from their eyes. (7:13-17)
It logically follows that the people of God at the time culminating in the execution of his judgment would be appropriately represented by a much smaller number than would all those who have remained faithful to him throughout the centuries. Suffering or tribulation when in the past is often spoken of in a specific way as “the tribulation” or “the suffering.” The Contemporary English Version renders the elder’s words, “These are the ones who have gone through the great suffering.” This is consistent with the clear teachings set forth in other parts of the Bible about tribulation or suffering. (Luke 11:49; John 16:2; Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-4; Hebrews 10:32-36; 12:3, 4; 1 Peter 4:12-16) Moreover, the Scriptures do refer to two groups of believers—(1) those who have completed their earthly life and thus passed through tribulation or suffering in faithfulness and (2) those who are alive at the time of Christ’s return in glory and the execution of divine vengeance. (1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10) The vision of the slaves of God yet on earth prior to the execution of divine judgment and an innumerable throng before God’s throne, having entered upon their reward, appears to present this reality in vivid imagery.
The genealogical and census lists of ancient Israel primarily list males. Similarly, in 14:4, the 144,000 are portrayed as men who did not defile themselves with women. Just as the ancient Israelites, during military campaigns, refrained from sexual intercourse to remain ceremonially clean, all the members of the true Israel existing prior to the unleashing of the destructive winds maintain purity in all respects. (Compare 1 Samuel 21:4, 5; 2 Samuel 11:8-11.)
In his letter to the Galatians (4:26, 27), the apostle Paul quoted from Isaiah 54:1 and applied the words to the “Jerusalem above,” which would come to have many more children than did the Jerusalem of old. The promise to Abraham likewise pointed to his having a large number of children. After he had demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, he heard God’s promise: “I will increase your seed [to be numerous] like the stars of the heaven and like the sand of the seashore.” (Genesis 22:17) This “seed,” as Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians (3:29), came to include all who belong to Christ. (See the Commentary section for additional information.) Understandably, therefore, those before the throne of God proved to be a large crowd. (7:9)
In 7:12, a number of manuscripts omit the concluding “amen.”
A half hour of silence in heaven followed the opening of the seventh seal. This silence probably served to allow for the prayers of the holy ones or God’s people on earth to be heard. (8:1)
John saw seven angels standing before God. To signal the commencement of divine action, each one received a trumpet. (8:2)
Another angel, with a golden censer, stationed himself at the golden altar before the throne. The Greek reads “upon the altar,” suggesting that the angel stood and then leaned over the altar to offer up the prayers of the holy ones in combination with the large quantity of incense he had been given. From the angel’s “hand” (apparently from the censer he held in his hand), the smoke of the incense, combined with the prayers of the holy ones, ascended before God. (8:3, 4)
This scene appears to indicate that the incense made the prayers of God’s people acceptable. As humans, they were not free from sin but had righteousness accounted to them on the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for them. Because sin contaminates everything, the prayers, in themselves, are flawed expressions but are made acceptable to the Most High, the holy God. (Compare Haggai 2:13, 14; Romans 8:26, 27) The fact that the angel received the incense suggests that the means for making the prayers acceptable did not originate with him. He simply acted in a priestly capacity much like Israelite priests in the line of Aaron. So there is insufficient evidence for the deduction that the angel is a figure of God’s Son in his capacity of high priest.
The angel filled the censer with “fire” (probably burning coals) from the altar and then cast this censer on the earth. Apparently the angel’s action constituted a response to the prayers of God’s people. Whereas Jesus Christ admonished his disciples to pray for their persecutors, he also taught them to pray for God’s kingdom to come, bringing relief from suffering and seeing to it that justice is executed. (Matthew 5:44; 6:10) In view of developments on earth that followed the hurling of the censer, the prayers evidently include appeals for God to render justice. (Compare Luke 18:7, 8; Genesis 18:20, 21.) The peals of thunder, voices, lightning flashes, and an earthquake seemingly signaled divine action in the form of retributive justice. (8:5)
The Blowing of the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Trumpets
At this point, the seven angels prepared to sound their trumpets. (8:6)
After the blowing of the first trumpet, hail and fire, mixed with blood, rained down upon the earth, burning up a third of the earth, trees, and green grass. Although a third is a considerable portion, the disastrous consequences left most of the land untouched. Nothing in the context suggests that here (and thereafter) a third is to be understood as applying to a particular area of the earth or to a people having a specific identity. (8:7)
When the second angel trumpeted, John saw a large burning mountain crash into the sea, and it appeared to him that a third of the sea had been changed into blood. A third of the sea creatures died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. Possibly the imagery reflects what happens when a submarine volcano erupts, hurling a fiery mass into the sea, causing the water to look red, killing fish and other sea creatures, and wrecking any boats in the area. (8:8, 9)
Subsequent to the blowing of the third angel’s trumpet, a large star named “Wormwood,” burning like a torch, fell from heaven upon a third of the rivers and the springs and made them undrinkable. Many died from drinking the bitter waters. (8:10, 11)
A third of the sun, moon, and stars became dark after the sounding of the fourth trumpet. This could mean that their light was reduced by a third or that for a third part of the day and the night total darkness prevailed. (8:12)
Next John saw an eagle flying in midheaven and proclaiming with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to those residing on earth because of the remaining trumpet soundings of the three angels who are about to trumpet.” (8:13) The position of the eagle and its loud voice indicates that this large bird could be seen and heard over a wide area. Perhaps its speedy flight suggested to John that the judgments would follow quickly.
The calamitous developments that affected the earth resembled the plagues that befell Egypt in the time of Moses. (Compare 8:7 with Exodus 9:23, 24; 8:8-11 with Exodus 7:20, 21; 8:12 with Exodus 10:21, 22.) Because of failing to recognize the true God as the One who must be obeyed, Pharaoh and the Egyptians experienced devastating plagues, which came upon Egypt after the “outcry” of the oppressed Israelites. Like the Israelites in Egypt, afflicted Christians, in their distress, cry out to God. The plagues that come upon the unbelieving world are his answer to their prayers and are the precursors of the destruction of all who defiantly set themselves in opposition to God’s will. When humans disregard God’s ways, they bring ruin to themselves and their environment. According to Paul’s letter to the Romans (1:18-27), divine wrath is manifest in letting lawless humans experience the full brunt of their depravity. It may be preferable to regard the imagery in Revelation 8 and 9 in this light. Attempts to be more specific regarding the developments John saw amount to nothing more than conjecture, and the language does not permit a strictly literal interpretation (an eagle, for example, cannot make a loud proclamation).
The Blowing of the Fifth and Sixth Trumpets
After the fifth angel trumpeted, John saw a star that had “fallen” or descended from heaven. This star had received the key to the shaft of the abyss. Regardless of whether the star is to be viewed as representing a good or an evil agent, the one represented functioned as an instrument for removing a restraint, unleashing a terrible plague on unbelievers. When he unlocked the opening, thick, dark smoke ascended from the shaft, blocking out the light of the sun and darkening the air. (Compare Joel 2:10.) John saw hideous creatures resembling locusts come flying out of the smoke. Unlike locusts, they would not consume greenery but would torment unbelievers, those not marked with God’s seal on their foreheads. (Compare 7:3.) With the scorpion stingers in their tails, they would engage in tormenting activity for five months, the usual life span for locusts. The torment would be of such severity that unbelievers would prefer to die, but death would elude them. (9:1-6, 10)
John described the locusts as resembling horses. On their heads were what appeared to be golden crowns. The faces looked like men’s faces, with long (women’s) hair and lions’ teeth. Breastplates as those of iron served to protect them. (9:7-9; compare Exodus 10:12-15; Joel 2:4-11.)
The hideous appearance of the locusts suggests that they represent malevolent powers, probably of a demonic nature. (See Mark 5:2-5 for an example of the vicious nature of the powers of darkness.) Their crowns (stéphanos, often denoting a victory wreath) may suggest that they would succeed in their tormenting mission. The dreadful teeth resembling those of lions and the long hair, like women’s hair, seemingly are indicative of the locusts’ ferocity. Their strong breastplates suggest that any defense against their onslaught would be useless. The sound of their wings in flight resembled the noise of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. The king over this ferocious host is the “angel of the abyss,” called Abaddon (Hebrew) and Apollyon (Greek). Both terms mean “destruction” and could apply either to Destruction personified or to Satan, the ruler of the demons who has the power to cause death. (Hebrews 2:14) It should be noted that the star with the key to the shaft of the abyss and the “angel of the abyss” are represented in different roles, and there is no contextual evidence for viewing them as being identical. (9:7-11)
Dreadful as this woe would prove to be, two more (evidently more terrifying) were to follow. An announcement to this effect preceded the sounding of the sixth trumpet. (9:12)
The altar before God would have been the golden altar for offering incense. (8:3, 4) Accordingly, the voice from the horns of this altar (which John heard after the sixth angel blew his trumpet) could represent the prayers of God’s persecuted people, petitioning that the four angels bound at the Euphrates River be untied. These angels had been readied for a specific time (hour, day, month, and year) to slay a third of the men (less than half but still a large number of people). (9:13-15)
At its greatest extent, the dominion of Israel reached the Euphrates (Deuteronomy 11:24; 1 Kings 4:21), and invading forces would have come from the other side of this river. It appears, therefore, that the releasing of the four angels could signify their being liberated to allow an invasion to begin.
John described hideous horses, suggesting (as in the case of the locusts) a link to the powers of darkness. There would be nothing inappropriate about holy angels no longer standing in the way of an unleashing of demonic power. The books of Job and Daniel indicate that demons are not at liberty to carry out all they may desire. (Job 1:12; 2:6; Daniel 10:13) So, when a measure of restraint is removed, terrifying calamities follow. Without divine protection, a demonic assault would have devastating consequences. (Compare Matthew 12:45.)
The restraint, however, could not be removed (represented by the angels that were bound) until God’s appointed time. It is inconceivable that the voice coming from the horns of the golden altar would have been an appeal for the release of four bound demons. Rather, this voice would appropriately represent a petition for the execution of divine justice — retributive justice to be inflicted upon unbelievers when the powers of darkness are allowed to have free reign among them. No longer would the four angels be under restraint to keep the forces of darkness at bay.
The terrifying forces of cavalry numbered two myriads of myriads (two hundred million or, possibly, denoting a huge number that defies counting). John did not describe the horsemen but focused on their breastplates, the colors of which suggested destruction (red like fire, hyacinth or dark blue like smoke, and yellow like sulfur). The horses had heads like lions, with fire, smoke, and sulfur coming out of their mouths. These three elements plagued the unbelievers, depriving one-third of them (a considerable number but less than half) of life. The tails of the horses, resembling serpents, also had the capacity to injure. (9:16-19)
The unleashing of the terrifying plagues against unbelievers should have moved those who survived to repentance, abandoning their lawless ways and idolatrous practices. But they refused to do so. (9:20, 21)
John described the mighty angel he saw descending from heaven as clothed in a cloud, with a halo around his head, a face radiant like the sun, and feet (apparently including the legs) resembling fiery pillars. In his right hand, the angel held a small opened scroll, indicating that its contents were not secret. He placed his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. This may point to the universal nature of the message contained in the little scroll, for the scroll (though small in comparison with the mighty angel) is a significant feature in this vision. (10:1, 2)
The angel cried out with a powerful voice comparable to a lion’s roar, and then the “seven thunders” (possibly representative of God’s voice in the fullness of its strength) spoke. When about to write the message the seven thunders had uttered, John heard a voice from heaven, instructing him not to do so. This indicates that not all things are revealed and that it is God’s will for certain future developments to remain concealed. Therefore, attempts to map out the future on the basis of the book of Revelation are bound to fail, and there is ample evidence to this effect in the form of failed predictions linked to specific dates. (10:3, 4)
In a number of respects, the descriptions of the angel and the one like a “son of man” are similar. (1:14-16) Victorinus, in his commentary on Revelation (third century), concluded that the mighty angel “is our Lord.” In the centuries since then, others have drawn the same conclusion. It would appear preferable, however, to accept John’s identification at face value. This is especially because, in the book of Daniel, an angel is similarly described. “I saw a man dressed in linen with a belt of fine gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face shown like lightning, his eyes were like fiery torches, his arms and feet looked like burnished bronze, and his voice sounded like the roar of a multitude.” (Daniel 10:5, 6, NAB)
The strong angel raised his right hand to heaven and swore by the eternal God, the Creator of all things, that there would be no more “time” or delay but that the “mystery of God” would be fulfilled in the days or time when the seventh angel is about to blow his trumpet. Apparently the fulfillment is represented as being simultaneous with the commencement of the trumpet sound. The angel identified the “mystery of God” as having been “announced as glad tidings” to his slaves the prophets. (10:5-7; see the Notes section.)
The Greek for “announced as glad tidings” is a form of the verb euangelízo, and the related noun euangélion means “evangel,” “glad tidings,” or “good news.” Evidently it relates to the “good news” with its focus on Jesus Christ. Included in that “good news” is the promise of his return in glory to execute justice and deliver his disciples from suffering. (1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10) Much about the transferal of living believers then on earth and their entrance into the glorified state with Christ has not been revealed, nor has the outcome for all of earth’s inhabitants at that time been disclosed in detail. Moreover, the time (the “day and hour”) for this to occur remains one of the concealed things of God. (Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7; Romans 8:19-23; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 15:3, 4) Especially for suffering believers, however, the announcement that there would be no further delay respecting the fulfillment of the mystery of God is good news, for it means that their distress would end and that all who had demonstrated themselves to be God’s enemies would be overthrown. During all periods of history since the book of Revelation was committed to writing, the angel’s oath-bound assurance that there would be no delay has provided a basis for hope, aiding believers to endure severe trials.
John again heard the same voice from heaven, instructing him to take the opened scroll from the angel’s right hand. When he did so, the angel told him to consume the scroll and that it would be sweet as honey in his mouth but bitter in his stomach. John then found this to be the case. (10:8-10) Evidently his eating the scroll and swallowing it represented his assimilating the message contained in the scroll and may also have included the commission to proclaim the message contained therein. As in the case of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the sweet taste may have been associated with the joy of the divinely entrusted commission and the blessings promised to God’s faithful servants. Because John was personally affected by the sour or bitter taste, this could indicate that believers would face suffering. In the case of Jeremiah, the message with which he was entrusted as God’s prophet, although a source of joy to him, also brought him much pain and distress, for it was an unpopular message. (Jeremiah 1:9, 10; 15:10-18) Ezekiel, too, faced stubborn resistance when proclaiming the message entrusted to him. (Ezekiel 3:5-9)
John did not identify who next spoke to him. He only related the words directed to him, “You must again prophesy against [epí] peoples and nations and tongues and many kings.” Although the Greek preposition epí basically means “on” or “upon,” the prophesying of judgments to come would favor taking it to mean “against.” A proclamation of judgment, as proved to be the experience of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and other prophets, would not be favorably received among those to whom it would be directed, and so this “prophesying” seemingly implied something “bitter” or “sour” for all who would be sharing the prophetic message with others. (10:11)
Note: For verse 7, there are a number of different manuscript readings. The reading “his servants, the prophets,” has considerable manuscript support, although the oldest extant manuscripts (P47 and Codex Sinaiticus) say, “his servants and the prophets.”
John received a rod-like reed and was told to measure God’s temple, the altar, and those worshiping at the temple. As for the courtyard, he was instructed not to measure it, as it would be given to the nations and so would not have a sacred status. Furthermore, the nations would trample upon the holy city, the location of God’s temple. (11:1, 2; see the Notes section.)
Apparently this meant that John would be measuring the area around the temple that included the altar and where worshipers would be located. This may have reminded him of Ezekiel’s vision of a new temple and the extensive measuring an angel did there. In the case of the area around this new temple, the measurements included only the portion extending to the separating wall that served to distinguish the sacred from the common or the profane. (Ezekiel 40:1-42:20) Likewise, the instructions given to John applied only to the temple and the sacred area surrounding it, with the “nations” or those not recognized as true worshipers being able to access the court at will and also to trample throughout the holy city like any other place lacking a sacred status. This seems to indicate that God’s true people would find themselves in a situation comparable to being in the midst of what only appears to be a holy city and in the proximity of a “courtyard” filled with professing believers who are no different than people of the nations or unbelievers. This would agree with Jesus’ parable that his disciples, “the sons of the kingdom,” would be like wheat among weeds and humanly impossible to distinguish from those who were like weeds. (Matthew 13:24-43)
The 42 months during which the “nations” would trample upon the holy city and the 1,260 days during which the two witnesses would prophesy seemingly apply to the same period and may be regarded as paralleling the circumstances of an earlier time of comparable length. (11:2, 3)
In the first century, as evident from the writings of Josephus, the Jews understood the suffering experienced on account of Antiochus Epiphanes to have been a fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. Josephus commented on Daniel 8 as follows: “Daniel wrote that he saw these visions in the plain of Susa; and he [has] informed us that God interpreted the appearance of this vision in the following manner:— He said that the ram signified the kingdoms of the Medes and Persians, and the horns those kings that were to reign in them; and that the last horn signified the last king, and that he should exceed all the kings in riches and glory; that the he-goat signified that one should come and reign from the Greeks, who should twice fight with the Persian, and overcome him in battle, and should receive his entire dominion; that by the great horn which sprang out of the forehead of the he-goat was meant the first king; and that the springing up of four horns upon its falling off, and the conversion of every one of them to the four quarters of the earth, signified the successors that should rise after the death of the first king, and the partition of the kingdom among them, and that they should be neither his children nor of his kindred that should reign over the habitable earth for many years; and that from among them there should arise a certain king that should overcome our nation and their laws, and should take away our political government, and should spoil the temple, and forbid the sacrifices to be offered for three years’ time. And indeed it so came to pass, that our nation suffered these things under Antiochus Epiphanes, according to Daniel’s vision, and what he wrote many years before they came to pass.” (Antiquities, Book X, chapter XI, paragraph 7, William Whiston’s translation).
According to 1 Maccabees, the unfaithful Israelites initiated the action that led to the bitter persecution of those who endeavored to uphold God’s law. “In those days there appeared in Israel transgressors of the law who seduced many, saying: ‘Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us.’ The proposal was agreeable; some from among the people promptly went to the king [Antiochus Epiphanes], and he authorized them to introduce ordinances of the Gentiles. Thereupon they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem according to the Gentile custom. They disguised their circumcision and abandoned the holy covenant; they allied themselves with the Gentiles and sold themselves to wrongdoing.” (1 Maccabees 1:11-15, NAB, revised edition)
Regarding the terrible persecution of faithful Israelites that followed the desecration of the temple, the account in 1 Maccabees continues: “On the fifteenth day of the month Kislev, in the year one hundred and forty-five, the king [Antiochus Epiphanes] erected the desolating abomination upon the altar of burnt offerings, and in the surrounding cities of Judah they built pagan altars. They also burned incense at the doors of houses and in the streets. Any scrolls of the law that they found they tore up and burned. Whoever was found with a scroll of the covenant, and whoever observed the law, was condemned to death by royal decree. So they used their power against Israel, against those who were caught, each month, in the cities. On the twenty-fifth day of each month they sacrificed on the pagan altar that was over the altar of burnt offerings. In keeping with the decree, they put to death women who had their children circumcised, and they hung their babies from their necks; their families also and those who had circumcised them were killed. But many in Israel were determined and resolved in their hearts not to eat anything unclean; they preferred to die rather than to be defiled with food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. And very great wrath came upon Israel.” (1 Maccabees 1:54-64, NAB, revised edition)
It appears that the “time, times, and half a time” (three and a half years) mentioned in the book of Daniel came to be inextricably linked to the suffering of God’s people during the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. (Daniel 7:25; 12:7) Seemingly, therefore, the equivalent 42 months (1,260 days) may best be viewed as a symbol (not as a literal number of months or days), a symbol suggesting developments similar to those which faithful Israelites experienced during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes. Prior to the execution of divine vengeance, devoted disciples of God’s Son would face extreme distress, with many losing their lives. This would harmonize with the opening of the fifth seal, when the souls under the altar were told that more of their fellow servants would be executed. (6:9-11)
During the 1,260 days, two witnesses would be prophesying. They are called “my witnesses,” evidently meaning that Christ had commissioned them and that they would be acting as his witnesses. (Compare 12:17.) Their being dressed in sackcloth suggests their being in a state of mourning or distress and so engaging in their prophetic activity while undergoing affliction. (11:3; compare Genesis 37:34; Jeremiah 4:8; Hebrews 11:37.)
The two witnesses are also designated as two olive trees and two lampstands standing before “the Lord of the earth” or being in the presence of the Almighty God in an approved condition as his servants. (11:4) In the prophecy of Zechariah (4:11-14), Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the governor are likewise portrayed as two olive trees. At the beginning of the book of Revelation (1:20), lampstands are identified as congregations. This suggests that the two witnesses represent the entire body of Christ’s witnesses who, along with those serving as shepherds in their midst (represented by the two olive trees) let their light shine like lampstands. They do so by maintaining upright conduct and bearing witness about God’s Son to others. Possibly the reason for the reference to two witnesses (with the corresponding two olive trees and two lampstands) highlights the truthfulness or dependability of the testimony. (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19)
The activity of those represented by the two witnesses could not be stopped and they would succeed in carrying out their commission despite encountering intense hostility. (Compare Jeremiah 1:17-19.) This is indicated by their being empowered to consume their enemies with fire and having the authority to cause drought during the period of their prophesying. As often as they might choose to do so, they had the power to turn water into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague. (11:5, 6) Centuries earlier, Moses and Elijah did perform such miracles, and both of them did so among those who strongly opposed them. (Exodus 7:14-11:10; 1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 1:9-12)
After they completed their activity (their testimony about Christ), the beast coming out of the abyss would war against them, triumph, and then kill them. (11:7) According to the book of Daniel (7:17, 23), beasts are symbols of kingdoms, governments, or political entities. Based on this identification, the ruling element of the world would make an all-out effort to silence the testimony concerning God’s Son. Many of his loyal servants would be killed and the circumstances of others would become such that their testimony would be silenced.
The corpses of the “two witnesses” would lie in the main thoroughfare of the great city where their Lord was crucified. That city would be Jerusalem and is referred to as spiritually being called Sodom and Egypt, descriptive of moral corruption and opposition to God’s people. (Compare Isaiah 1:10.) Apparently Jerusalem is here representative of God’s professed people who are actually bitter enemies of those represented by the “two witnesses.” This circumstance parallels what happened among the Israelites during the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. That the portrayal in Revelation is not confined to a particular physical location is evident from the fact that peoples, tribes, language groups, and nations would be looking at the corpses of the “two witnesses” for three and a half days, not allowing them to be buried (which would denote extreme contempt). Earth’s inhabitants would rejoice, sending gifts to one another, on account of having been liberated from the torments of the “two prophets.” (11:8-10)
After three and a half days, the corpses came to life, stood on their feet, causing those beholding them to become very fearful. A voice from heaven summoned the two witnesses, and their enemies saw them ascending in a cloud. (11:11, 12; see the Notes section.) This event seemingly is a pictorial portrayal of the dead in Christ being raised to life and those alive at his return in glory being changed in order to be united with him in heaven. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52)
A great earthquake followed. One tenth of the city (evidently Jerusalem that had become a spiritual Sodom and Egypt and so representing God’s professed people who had failed in living up to his requirements) fell or was destroyed, and 7,000 perished. Filled with fear, the survivors gave glory to God. (11:13)
The number 7,000 appears to represent a considerable number and, as a complete number (incorporating the number seven), seems to indicate that none who deserve the execution of divine vengeance would escape. This number may have been included to show that the loss of human life would be considerable — something that would not necessarily have been indicated by the destruction of a tenth of the city. Faced with phenomena that left no doubt in their minds about having God as their source, individuals, on other occasions, became fearful and made reverential expressions or acted in a manner that acknowledged the living God. (Compare Jonah 1:7-16; Matthew 27:54.) The circumstance that is here depicted seems to parallel what happened in the case of unfaithful Israelites in the wilderness during certain times of judgment. Although the majority were guilty, the severest judgment befell only a portion of the nation, and the rest often manifested a proper fear. (Exodus 32:26-28, 30, 31; 33:1-6; Numbers 16:46-49; 17:2-13; 21:4-9) Although the account in Revelation does not say what the future for those who glorified God would be, possibly this is an indication that, even in the time for the execution of his judgment, individuals may still be shown mercy and be among those of the groaning creation to be set free from corruption. (Romans 8:19-21)
With the second woe (the great earthquake and associated destruction) having passed, the third one would follow quickly. (11:14)
In 11:2, the reading éxothen (“outside”) has the best manuscript support, including P47 of the third century C.E. Fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and a number of later manuscripts say ésothen (“inside”).
In 11:12, the reading ékousan (“they heard”) has the support of many manuscripts. The oldest extant manuscript (P47) and a number of other manuscripts, however, read ékousa (“I heard”).
Earlier, John heard the promise that the blowing of the seventh trumpet would see the fulfillment of the “mystery of God.” (10:6, 7) When the seventh angel trumpeted, John did hear a loud voice in heaven, confirming the fulfillment of this promise. Evidently because all defiantly opposing God and Christ would come to their end, the kingdom or rulership of the world of mankind would be fully in the hands of the one whom all in heaven acknowledged as “our Lord and his [God’s] Christ.” Never again would those who oppose the Almighty and his Christ be permitted to exercise dominion in any form, for Christ would “reign forever and ever.” (11:15)
The 24 elders (as representing all of God’s people) seated before the Almighty apparently kneeled and bowed down. With their faces touching the floor of heaven, they worshiped him, expressing their gratitude for everything that would be taking place. They thanked the Almighty for having begun to reign. This is apparently to be understood as his ruling by means of his Christ and through him taking action to reward deserving ones and to punish the ungodly. The 24 elders acknowledged that, in response to the wrath of the nations (as manifestly revealed by their defiantly resisting his will), the Almighty’s anger had been aroused. The time had come for the dead to be judged, for God’s servants the prophets and all others having reverential regard for his name to receive their reward, and for all ruiners of the earth (by their deliberate disregard for God’s ways) to experience ruin. (11:16-18)
John saw the sanctuary in heaven being opened, revealing the presence of the ark of the covenant. Besides seeing the ark, which symbolized God’s presence and his covenant promises, John also observed other evidences of the divine presence—lightnings, voices, thunders, seismic activity, and a great hail. (Compare Exodus 19:16-19.) All these manifestations of God’s presence served as an assurance that he would be turning his attention to the earth, bestowing rewards on his loyal servants and executing punitive judgment on all those meriting it. (11:19)
John saw a woman clothed with the sun, having the moon beneath her feet, and with a crown of twelve stars on her head. About ready to give birth, she cried out in pain. (12:1, 2)
Then he saw a large fiery-colored dragon with seven crowned heads and ten horns. Its tail dragged a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. Positioned before the woman, the dragon was poised to devour the child about to be born. This child, a son, was destined to shepherd the nations with an iron rod. The dragon’s aim was foiled, for the child was taken away to God and his throne. As for the woman, she fled into the wilderness to her divinely prepared place, where she would be nourished for 1,260 days. (12:3-6)
This scene was introduced with the words, “And a great sign was seen in heaven,” indicating that the woman is a symbolic figure. Developments surrounding her child appear to be the key factor in properly identifying her. The future role of her son involved rulership, and he ceased to be in any danger upon being taken to God and his throne. Only Jesus Christ fits the description. As the promised Messiah, he alone was foretold to shepherd the nations with an iron rod. (Psalm 2:8, 9) While on earth, he was threatened with death as an infant and later found himself repeatedly subjected to the attacks of the dragon (Satan the Devil), which were aimed to sway him from flawlessly carrying out his Father’s will. (Matthew 2:13-16; 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13; John 14:30) As a man on earth, Jesus was vulnerable like a child. That vulnerability is evident from the words in the book of Hebrews (5:7, NAB): “In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” After his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, however, the dragon could do nothing to him. Accordingly, the imagery regarding the male child portrays the situation of Jesus Christ while on earth and then his return to his Father as the possessor of all authority in heaven and on earth. (Acts 2:33-36; 7:55, 56; Hebrews 1:3)
Based on his knowledge of the writings of the Hebrew prophets, John would have known that a woman could be a symbol of a congregation of people. (Isaiah 51:17-23; 52:1-3; 54:1-17; 66:7-13; Jeremiah 2:2-37; Ezekiel 23:2-49; Hosea 2:2, 3; Micah 7:8-10) He also knew that faithful servants of God longed for the coming of the promised Messiah and that he would, as a descendant of David, be from the tribe of Judah. (Compare Luke 1:68-79; 2:25-32, 36-38.) Accordingly, a sound basis exists for identifying the woman as being representative of the true Israel of God, the servants of the Most High as a collective whole. This would make it possible to view the woman as the mother of the Messiah and, later, as the persecuted Christian congregation. Possibly, because the true people of God on earth and the faithful heavenly sons of God are members of the same family (12:10), the woman may be regarded as including the angels. The flight into the wilderness, however, may be indicative that the woman primarily is to be viewed from the standpoint of God’s servants on earth.
Neither by day nor by night is the woman in darkness, for she is clothed with the sun and has the moon beneath her feet. Possibly this is indicative of her glorious standing as the recipient of the light of God’s favor. (Compare Isaiah 60:20.) In Joseph’s dream, the stars represented his brothers (Genesis 37:9, 10), and so it could be that the twelve stars stand for the twelve patriarchal heads of Israel. The names on the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem, on the other hand, may suggest that the twelve stars could be linked to the twelve apostles. (21:14) Perhaps, as a “victory wreath” (stéphanos), her crown suggests the triumph that would be achieved through the child and in which God’s people as a whole would share. This would harmonize with the apostle Paul’s words to the Romans (16:20), “The God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet.” The woman’s cry on account of labor pains may not necessarily depict the groans and distress of God’s afflicted servants who longed for the relief to which the coming of the Messiah would lead. It may simply be part of the portrayal of what accompanies human birth.
In 12:9, the dragon is identified as the “Devil and Satan” (the slanderer and resister of God). The fiery color could point to a record of great bloodshed, for the devil does have the power to inflict death. (Hebrews 2:14, 15) As the ruler of the world alienated from and at enmity with God, the dragon is appropriately depicted as having seven diadems (crowns indicative of rulership). (John 12:31) The ten horns apparently denote the completeness of dragon’s power over the ungodly world, and the seven crowned heads the all-embracing rulership exercised through the governing elements of the world at enmity with God. On his side, the devil has “angels” (12:7) who have allowed themselves to come under his influence and control and may be depicted as a third of the stars (a considerable number but less than half).
It appears that the period of 1,260 days serves to recall the terrible persecution of the Israelites who endeavored to observe the requirements of God’s law during the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. They, too, found refuge in the wilderness. (1 Maccabees 2:19-30) In the case of God’s servants as a collective whole, there was no literal wilderness to which they could escape after Jesus’ ascension to heaven. In their case, the world of mankind in which they found themselves was like the wilderness in which the Israelites wandered before finally entering the land God had promised to give to them. Although in the world, God’s servants are no part of it. Accordingly, the woman’s place is one God has prepared for her in the sense that it is, according to his will, one distinctly separate from the world. As the Israelites were sustained in the wilderness, so the “woman” is nourished for the entire period represented by the 1,260 days and therefore is preserved alive.
A Battle in Heaven (12:7-17)
Michael and his angels battled with the dragon and his angels, resulting in total defeat for the dragon. The dragon, the old serpent (called the Devil and Satan), the deceiver of earth’s inhabitants, was ousted from the place he occupied in the realm above the earth and, with his angels, was cast down to the earth. (12:7-9) The dragon’s being referred to as the “old serpent” evidently links him to his having used a serpent to deceive Eve. (Genesis 3:1-6)
The name “Michael” means “Who is like God?” In the book of Jude (9), he is called “the archangel” and, in the book of Daniel (10:13, 21; 12:1), “one of the chief princes” and the “prince who stands for the sons of your people” (apparently meaning standing as a defender or protector of God’s people). The Septuagint (12:1) says, “Michael the great angel who is standing over the sons of your people,” whereas the version of Theodotian reads, “Michael the great ruler who is standing over the sons of your people.” In Daniel 10:21, the Septuagint refers to Michael as “the angel,” but the version of Theodotian calls him “your ruler,” that is, the ruler of Daniel’s people. Jewish apocalyptic literature (1 Enoch, dating from before the time of Jesus’ birth) includes Michael along with six other angels of the same rank, two of the others being Gabriel and Raphael (mentioned in the book of Tobit). In 2 Esdras 4:36 (included in the Greek and Slavonic Bibles), Jeremiel is called an “archangel.”
While there have been numerous commentators over the centuries who have linked Michael with Jesus Christ, it would appear preferable not to introduce this interpretation. At other times in the book of Revelation, the descriptions clearly identify the Son of God. Therefore, it would seem unusual that, in this case, the identity would not be obvious but would be concealed by calling him “Michael the archangel,” an angel whom John would have recognized as “one of the chief princes” and not, specifically, as the preeminent Son of God who is greater than the angels. (Compare Hebrews 1:3, 4.) It may also be noted that a cry of command, an archangel’s voice, and the blast of God’s trumpet are evidently referred to as heralding Christ’s return in glory. Just as the Son of God would not be blowing God’s trumpet, he would not be announcing himself with a cry of command and an archangel’s voice. (1 Thessalonians 4:16; compare 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52.)
Based on his familiarity with the book of Daniel (10:13, 20, 21), John would have known about conflicts in the superterrestrial realm, with Michael coming to the rescue in support of another angel. Therefore, the war in heaven likely suggested to John the dragon’s desperate, hostile attempt to interfere with Jesus Christ’s exercising the full authority he had been granted.
The triumph Jesus attained through his death, as the apostle Paul wrote, “disarmed the rulers and authorities.” (Colossians 2:15, NRSV) While on earth, Jesus specifically referred to Satan’s future fall from heaven and his being cast out. (Luke 10:17, 18; John 12:31) Consequently, it would appear that the battle in heaven basically depicts the enforcement of Christ’s victory, ejecting Satan and his demons from the realm above the earth. No longer could they exercise the kind of superterrestrial tyranny from which people of the world of mankind alienated from God could not be freed. By accepting what Christ had done for them in laying down his life, people who once feared the powers of darkness above them and were enslaved to them gained their liberty. The total defeat of the powers of darkness meant that they could not again make involuntary slaves of those who had been freed or stop the flow of more people into the exalted realm where Christ is Lord. (Compare Ephesians 2:1-7; Colossians 1:13, 14.)
John heard a loud voice in heaven announcing what the defeat of the powers of darkness had accomplished: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ, because the accuser of our brothers (who accuses them day and night before our God) has been cast out. And they have conquered him by the Lamb’s blood and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their souls [when faced with] death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and those dwelling in them. Woe for the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great rage, knowing he has little time.” (12:10-12)
The defeat of the powers of darkness signified salvation or triumph and proved to be a manifestation of divine power. God is the Supreme Sovereign, and the decisive action against the dragon and his angels revealed undeniably that God’s kingdom had come against its enemies. Moreover, Christ’s all-embracing authority had been displayed in the conflict that vanquished the powers of darkness.
The victory over the powers of darkness also opened up salvation or deliverance for people of all races, nations, tribes, and language groups. As God’s spirit became operative toward all who responded in faith to what Christ accomplished by his death, the workings of a tremendous power became evident in the dramatic changes produced in their lives. (Compare Ephesians 1:17-2:10.) In ever-increasing numbers, people chose to be willing subjects of God’s kingdom and to submit to the authority of his Christ.
The dragon’s accusation seemingly is the slander hurled against the “brothers” of the faithful angels, claiming that they were impure in their motivations and actions. (Compare Job 1:9-11; 2:3-5; Zechariah 3:1-4) As humans, they were sinners and not without blemish. By having the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice applied to them on the basis of their faith in his shed blood, however, any accusation made against them amounted to slander. So it would indeed be by the Lamb’s blood that they would conquer the false accuser, maintaining loyalty to God and Christ while trusting fully in the cleansing that had been effected in their case. (Compare Romans 8:1, 17, 33, 34; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; Revelation 1:5.) The triumph of the brothers even in the face of death, not loving their souls or lives when the “word of their testimony” concerning Christ could lead to death (from which they could have saved themselves by denying him), would reveal them to be unconquerable by reason of their faith in Christ’s shed blood and its benefits for them personally. Perhaps the proclamation about the triumph of the brothers is to be regarded in an anticipatory sense, as Christ’s loyal disciples would find themselves facing death for their testimony. Another possibility is that the brothers include even those servants of God before Jesus Christ came to the earth. The one sacrifice of Christ did cover all sins — past, present, and future. By reason of their faith in the coming Messiah, God’s ancient servants could be said to have conquered by the Lamb’s blood. (Compare Hebrews 11:4-12:1) One’s considering the woman to represent all of God’s servants would allow for the possibility that the brothers include all who proved themselves to be persons of genuine faith. (Compare Luke 13:28.)
While the defeat of the powers of darkness meant great rejoicing in the heavens, the dragon and his angels were not destroyed and were still in a position to wreak havoc on the earth or among humans. The devil’s fury was great, as he knew his time was limited, and this portended woe or calamity for the land and the sea, or people everywhere. God’s servants would become the special object of the devil’s rage.
Expelled from the superterrestrial realm, the dragon pursued the woman. To enable her to flee quickly into the wilderness and away from the serpent, she was given two large eagle wings. There, in the wilderness, she would be nourished for three and a half times. The serpent’s efforts to destroy her by spewing forth water like a river to drown her failed, for help came from an unexpected source. The earth opened up and swallowed the water. Apparently this image of the woman’s escape served to show that God’s people as a collective whole or a congregation would not be destroyed. (Compare Matthew 16:18.) As individuals, however, they would experience the devil’s rage, for he would war against the “seed of the woman” or those who observe God’s commands and bear witness concerning Jesus. (12:13-17)
Standing upon the sand of the seashore, the dragon evidently summoned his agents to launch his attacks against God’s servants, the “seed of the woman.” A beast with seven heads and ten horns ascended out of the sea. This beast had ten diadems (crowns denoting rulership), and blasphemous names on its heads. It looked like a leopard and had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The beast derived its power, throne, and great authority from the dragon. John noted that one of the heads appeared to have been slaughtered but had recovered from the death blow. All of earth’s inhabitants were amazed, apparently on account of the healing that had taken place, and followed after the beast. They venerated the dragon because of having given power to the beast and they adored the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can war with it?” (12:18; 13:1-4)
In a number of respects, this beast is a composite of the four beasts mentioned in Daniel chapter 7 and which beasts represent kingdoms or governing powers. Accordingly, the beast ascending out of the sea evidently represents the governing element of this world, which has the dragon as its god. Its ten horns would represent the totality of its power. The blasphemous names on its heads apparently denote the honors it takes to itself and demands that it be accorded. These “names” are blasphemous, evidently because of belonging rightfully only to the Most High. If regarded as a number of completeness, the seven heads could represent all the ruling elements through which the beast exercises its control. It would appear that the seemingly fatal blow would have been directed against the governing authority of the world in John’s time. The recovery from the fatal blow mimics the death and resurrection of Christ, and the question “Who is like the beast?” blasphemously parodies the meaning of Michael (“Who is like God?”).
When Jesus Christ, by his death in faithfulness, conquered the world and was revealed to have been triumphant upon his resurrection from the dead, it appeared that a fatal blow had been dealt to the beast. This was evident from the rapid increase of those who accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord or King. As revealed in the book of Acts, the dominant world power of that time, Rome, did not try to hinder the proclamation of the glad tidings about Jesus Christ. Thus, initially, it appeared that the power of the world had been vanquished as respects his disciples and their activity. The beast, however, though having experienced a seemingly fatal blow, continued to live, recovered from the mortal wound to one of its heads, strengthened itself against what it regarded as a serious threat to its existence and began a vicious campaign of persecution against Christ’s disciples. The world of mankind alienated from God fully endorsed the beastly attacks against Christians, thereby actively supporting the dragon’s objective and that of the beast. This anti-God stance and the granting of unqualified allegiance to the state in its role as a persecutor constituted worship of the dragon and of the beast. The deluded masses looked upon the governing element as the ultimate authority. So, in their estimation, the beast had no equal and no power existed anywhere that could possibly wage a successful conflict against it.
As the instrument of the dragon, the beast had been given a mouth to speak “great things and blasphemies,” probably indicative of arrogant, defiant expressions against the Most High and a demand for honors to which God alone is rightfully entitled. The period of 42 months is the same as the length of time the two witnesses prophesied and is reminiscent of the time of distress godly Israelites faced during the extreme oppression of Antiochus Epiphanes. The governing element of the world, represented by the beast, would continue to blaspheme God, his name, and his tent, including those tenting in the heavens. (13:5, 6) The Greek word for “tent” (skené) often designates a temporary shelter, and so may refer to the Christian congregation where the Almighty dwells by means of his spirit. By reason of their heavenly citizenship, Christ’s disciples are tenting in a heavenly estate. (Compare Ephesians 2:1-6.) To the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and [that] the spirit of God resides in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) “We are the temple of the living God, just as God said, ‘I will dwell and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people.’” (2 Corinthians 6:16)
It is noteworthy that what is said about the beast bears a striking similarity to the language in the book of Daniel, which described the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes. “He will speak words against the Most High, and will harass the holy ones of the Most High. He will think of changing times and laws, and they will be delivered into his power for a time, times, and half a time.” (7:25, Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) A “horn,” representative of Antiochus Epiphanes, “grew as high as the host of heaven and it hurled some stars of the [heavenly] host to the ground and trampled them. It vaunted itself against the very chief of the host; on its account the regular offering was suspended, and His holy place was abandoned.” (Daniel 8:9-11, Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “He will have great strength, but not through his own strength. He will be extraordinarily destructive; he will prosper in what he does, and destroy the mighty and the people of holy ones. By his cunning, he will use deceit successfully. He will make great plans, will destroy many, taking them unawares, and will rise up against the chief of chiefs.” (Daniel 8:24, 25, Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “The king will do as he pleases; he will exalt and magnify himself above every god, and he will speak awful things against the God of gods. He will prosper until wrath is spent, and what has been decreed is accomplished. He will not have regard for the god of his ancestors or for the one dear to women; he will not have regard for any god, but will magnify himself above all.” (Daniel 11:36, 37, Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition])
During all the time Christ’s loyal disciples would be bearing witness to him, the beast or the ruling power of the world would continue to war against them and, finally, would conquer them, apparently from the standpoint of silencing their testimony. As a governing power, the beast would exercise its granted authority over every tribe, people, language group, and nation. All earth’s inhabitants alienated from God would adore the beast, but the names of these worshipers would not be found written in the Lamb’s book of life. From the founding of the world or from the very start, none who would defiantly refuse to acknowledge the Most High and render to someone or some thing veneration belonging to him alone would be in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. They would not benefit from Christ’s sacrificial death and so would not be granted life through him. (13:7, 8)
In the Greek text, the words “from the foundation of the world” follow the word “slaughtered” or “slain,” and so could be read to mean “slain from the foundation of the world.” The Son of God, however, did not die at the time of the founding of the world, and so it appears preferable to render the words of Revelation as a number of translations have. (See also Matthew 25:34; Ephesians 1:4; Revelation 17:8.) “All the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, all whose names were not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life, which belongs to the Lamb who was slain.” (13:8, NAB) “All the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.” (NRSV) “The beast was worshiped by everyone whose name wasn’t written before the time of creation in the book of the Lamb who was killed.” (CEV) These renderings would also harmonize with the command given to the first man, revealing that disregard for the Creator and his ways would lead to the forfeiture of life and all the blessings having their source in an abiding relationship with him. This command rested on a prior divine determination, for “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad” existed before the first man was settled in the garden of Eden. (Genesis 2:16, 17)
All having an attentive ear are admonished to listen or pay attention, apparently to the words that follow. “If anyone [is meant] for captivity, into captivity he goes; if anyone [is destined] to be killed by the sword, by the sword he is to be killed.” (13:9, 10) This indicated that Christ’s disciples would face banishment and execution, but they were not to rise up in revolt, arming themselves against the ruling power of the world. (Compare Matthew 26:52; 1 Peter 2:21-23; 3:16-18.) Faced with the vicious assaults of the beast or the ruling authority and the resulting suffering, they, the “holy ones,” would need endurance and faith, remaining loyal to God and Christ and trusting fully in them and the certainty of attaining the eternal reward. (13:10)
John saw another beast. This beast ascended out of the earth and had two horns like a lamb but spoke as a dragon. (13:11) Like the beast that ascended out of the sea, the one ascending out of the earth is a tool of the dragon. Possibly the reference to their ascending from the sea and the land is representative of the universal nature of the attack against God’s people. Later, the two-horned beast is referred to as the “false prophet.” (16:13; 19:20; 20:10) This suggests that, unlike the ten-horned beast that represents the governing power of the world, the two-horned beast represents a religious power. This two-horned beast claims to be a prophet, gives the appearance of being a lamb, presents itself as speaking for God but actually speaks like a dragon, being in the devil’s service. (Compare Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Corinthians 11:13, 14.)
The two-horned beast functioned before the ten-horned beast with like authority and induced or forced earth’s inhabitants to adore the ten-horned beast that had recovered from the fatal blow to one of its seven heads. (13:12) In its role as a false prophet, the two-horned beast mimics the activity of the two prophets representing God’s devoted people as a whole, performing great signs, causing even fire to descend from heaven for all to see. (11:5, 6; 13:13) These signs would deceive earth’s inhabitants and give credence to the two-horned beast’s proposal to make an image of the beast that had recovered from the sword stroke. The two-horned beast was permitted to grant spirit to the image, giving it life and enabling it to speak and cause those refusing to worship it to be killed. It is the two-horned beast (rather than the image) that would force persons in all stations of life — insignificant and great, rich and poor, free and slave — to receive a mark on their right hand or their forehead. Without the identifying mark, the name of the beast (the one with ten horns) or the number of its name, a person would not be able to buy or sell. The individual’s means for making a living would thus be ruined. (13:14-17)
An image is a lifeless thing, an unreality. Any putting of life into an image would really be a fraud or a deception. Likely the giving of life to the image is from the standpoint of those who are deluded into believing that it is something real. Those who are thus deceived are openly identified as being slaves of the beast, marked as supporting it with either their hand or their mental faculties. It appears that the image is the deceptive delusion the religious power creates that causes people to adore the ruling power of the world as if such veneration were the fulfillment of a divine duty. Because of the fanaticism associated with such adoration, the rage of those idolizing the political state is directed against those who remain faithful to God, refusing to fall for the deception that would make them worshipers of the ten-horned beast. By reason of what the deluded worshipers do, the image (the means by which they have been deceived into adoring the beast) causes persons loyal to God and Christ to be killed. History is replete with examples where individuals have been deprived of their livelihood and suffered death for refusing to revere the political state.
Wisdom is needed to avoid being deluded, making it possible to identify the beast for what it really is. The beast has an identifying number, 666, and that number is a man’s number. (13:18) Spiritual discernment (the possession of a properly directed mind) is needed to make the right calculation respecting the number, seeing the beast for what it is and acting accordingly. The number “seven” represents completeness or perfection (as seven days are a complete week). As a man’s number, 666 is multiple of six and highlights that which is seriously flawed (for man is sinful) and so falls far short of that which is godly. The threefold appearance of the number six emphasizes just how defective all ruling power of this world is.
Throughout the course of human history, some governmental systems have been better than others and varied in the manner in which they treated God’s servants. Still, the book of Daniel portrayed all of them as beasts. The beastly nature especially rears its ugly head in time of war or national crisis when defenseless humans are ruthlessly maimed and slaughtered or innocent victims are treated like criminals, incarcerated, and tortured. All the beasts in the world have never caused the kind of suffering and carnage among humankind as have the wars and oppressive measures undertaken by the ruling powers of this world—conflicts and other violent actions the ecclesiastical authorities usually supported. Furthermore, to the masses, those wielding powerful religious influence have often represented the participation in war and repressive actions as a divine duty.
Disciples of God’s Son need to be on guard against thinking that the ruling power of the world is anything other than a beast. While remaining law-abiding and exemplary subjects of whatever governmental authority under which they may find themselves living, they do not forget that the kingdom of their Lord is not of this world. The most vicious anti-God and anti-Christ development is still future, climaxing in the deadly assault on those represented by the two witnesses. The pages of history provide sufficient glimpses of how terrifying that climax may be. (11:7) Will any of the believers marked with the seal of God succumb to the extreme pressure and lose out? (7:2-4) Or, will all of them be safeguarded by God’s power and share in the inheritance he has promised them?
In 12:18, the reading estáthe (“it stood,” referring to the dragon) has superior manuscript support. A number of manuscripts, however, say estáthen (“I stood,” referring to John).
The “image” (13:14, 15) is not portrayed as existing as an entity. Whereas the “beast” and the “false prophet” are later spoken of as being cast into the lake of fire, no mention is made of a like fate for the image of the beast. (19:20)
In 13:18, the number 666 has the best manuscript support. There is limited manuscript evidence for the reading 616.
On Mount Zion (evidently the heavenly Mount Zion [Hebrews 12:22]), John saw the Lamb with the 144,000. Earlier, he had heard this number as applying to those who would be marked with the seal of the living God. (7:4) He now saw them with the name of the Lamb and the name of his Father written on their foreheads, indicating that they belonged to him and to his Father. (14:1) This also suggests that the seal of the living God had thus identified them. (Compare 2 Timothy 2:19.) Not a single one of them had been lost. All had endured to the end and maintained their faith, having received needed help from above while the powers of darkness launched their fierce attack against them. (Compare Matthew 24:9-13; John 10:27-30; 17:12; 18:8, 9; Revelation 13:10, 11.)
Coming from the heavens, John heard an impressive sound comparable to the roar of abundant waters in motion and peals of thunder. It was a melodious sound like that of “harpists harping on their harps.” Before the throne of God, the four living beings, and the twenty-four elders, a great throng (probably the entire heavenly host) sang a composition that John perceived as being a new song. The 144,000 had no problem in learning it. As the only ones who had been purchased from the earth before the destructive winds began to blow, they were also the only ones able to learn this song. Apparently their aptitude for learning it rested on their relationship with the Son of God and their having remained faithful to the end when faced with severe trials. They had maintained their virgin purity, not defiling themselves with “women.” (14:2-4) This indicated that they had not amorously attached themselves to any part of the world alienated from God, which would have constituted an act of unfaithfulness to him or adultery. (Compare James 4:4.)
The 144,000 are revealed as having an intimate relationship with the Lamb, following him wherever he may go. (14:4) This is the kind of intimacy the apostles enjoyed while Jesus Christ was on earth. (Compare Mark 3:13, 14.)
John referred to the 144,000 as having been purchased from among humankind as “firstfruits” to God and to the Lamb. (14:4) The term “firstfruits” need not be understood as signifying that the 144,000 were just a small part of a far larger harvest that would eventually follow. In the Septuagint, the term for “firstfruits” (aparché) can simply denote an “offering” (Exodus 25:2, 3) and may have this meaning here — a significance that would agree with Paul’s words that the “offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by holy spirit.” (Romans 15:16) Another possibility is that aparché could denote a choice or precious portion devoted to God and the Lamb.
The 144,000 proved themselves to be upright. They did not make themselves guilty of deceiving others with lies and lived blameless lives. In word and deed, they were without blemish. (14:5; compare Ephesians 1:3, 4; 4:25-5:5, 25-27; Philippians 2:14, 15.)
In 14:3, the oldest manuscripts and numerous later manuscripts omit hos (“as” or “like”) before “new song.” The word is, however, found in many other manuscripts, including fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus.
On 14:4, see the Notes section on Revelation 7.
John saw an angel flying in midheaven, evidently so that his proclamation could be heard far and wide. As the messenger of an eternal evangel or good news for all of earth’s inhabitants (every nation, tribe, language group, and people), he proclaimed with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come, and worship the Maker of heaven and earth and sea and springs of water.” (14:6, 7) The specific content of this evangel belongs to the realm of eternity, as the abiding obligation of all who owe their life to the Most High is to have reverential regard for him and accord him the glory or honor that is rightfully his. At the time of judgment, when the final hour arrives, earth’s inhabitants apparently will still have an opportunity to humbly submit to the Creator and thus escape the frightful judgment that will befall all who defiantly set themselves in opposition to him. (11:13; compare Acts 14:15-17; 2 Peter 3:9.)
John then saw a second angel. He made the announcement, “Fallen, fallen [is] Babylon the great, which made all the nations drink the wine of the passion of her fornication.” (14:8) At the coming hour of judgment, this Babylon will be the first to be punished for her God-dishonoring actions that put people everywhere into a state comparable to a drunken stupor. The identity of “Babylon the great” and the severe judgment to be executed upon her is revealed later. (17:1-18:24)
With a loud voice, the third angel proclaimed that anyone worshiping the beast and its image and accepting its mark on his forehead or on his hand would drink of the wine of God’s fury, poured full strength into the cup of his wrath, and would be tormented with fire and sulfur before the holy angels and before the Lamb. The smoke of the torment would ascend forever and ever, with no rest or relief from the torment either day or night for the worshipers of the beast or for anyone accepting the identifying mark of its name. (14:9-11)
For those who adore the beast or the ruling power of this world and oppose God’s will, their having to drink from the cup of his anger would mean their having to experience his unmitigated anger, an irreversible condemnatory judgment. The torment with fire and sulfur evidently is to be understood against the backdrop of similar images of divine judgment. Regarding Edom, the prophecy of Isaiah (34:9, 10, NIV) says about YHWH’s day of vengeance: “Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! It will not be quenched night and day; its smoke will rise forever.” The portrayal is that of eternal ruin (comparable to what happens in an area of dried-up vegetation that is engulfed in flames and transformed into a wasteland). This is evidently also the way in which the imagery in the book of Revelation is to be viewed. The worshipers of the beast will be sentenced to eternal doom, with no possibility of any relief or release. Like ascending smoke that gives evidence of a destructive fire, the evidence of their torment or everlasting loss will remain eternally. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah the fires ceased burning long ago, but their end came with such finality and thoroughness that Jude (verse 7) could speak of the cities as undergoing a judgment of eternal fire. The dreadful judgment to be executed on the worshipers of the beast will not be hidden from the holy angels and the Lamb. (Compare Isaiah 66:24.) Moreover, when the time for the execution of the final judgment arrives, those who will be facing their eternal doom apparently will become fully aware of just how great their loss will be. This is suggested by references to “weeping and gnashing of teeth” resulting from the pain or torment of unalterable loss. (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28)
Apparently because the pressure to join in worshiping the beast will be intense, God’s people, or the “holy ones” who observe his commands and have the faith that focuses on Christ, would need endurance so as not to give in. (14:12) A full awareness of how severe the judgment will be for those who side with the beast would serve as strong encouragement not to yield and to endure faithfully.
John again heard a voice from heaven, telling him to write, “‘Fortunate are the dead dying in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the spirit, ‘they will rest from their labors, for their works accompany them.’” (14:13) Those dying in the Lord are believers who are at one with him, united to him as members of his body. They are pronounced fortunate, blessed, or in a highly desirable situation evidently because of immediately receiving their heavenly inheritance. Whereas the worshipers of the beast have no rest, those who remained loyal to God and Christ rest from their earthly labors. The record of their godly deeds accompanies them, leading to a favorable judgment. (Compare 2 Corinthians 5:8-10.) Apparently the “spirit” is referred to as speaking because John received the message of the vision through the operation of God’s spirit. This particular message seems to relate to the climax (the time of judgment). Those represented by the two witnesses would be killed by the beast, and any who may then perish would be resurrected and united with their Lord in the heavens. Others who may escape death but whose testimony would basically have been silenced would be changed and thus come to share in their heavenly inheritance. (Compare 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, 58; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10.)
John saw someone like a son of man seated on a white cloud. This one had a golden crown (stéphanos, commonly designating a victory wreath) on his head and a sharp sickle in his right hand. An angel then came out of the heavenly sanctuary, evidently to convey the Father’s message to his Son. That message was for him to use his sickle to reap, for earth’s crop was then ripe. The one seated on the cloud then harvested the earth with his sickle. (14:14-16)
This picture appears to relate to the time of Jesus Christ’s return in glory, which is elsewhere in the Scriptures referred to as his coming on the clouds. (Daniel 7:13; Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27) His crown seemingly identifies him as the one who had conquered the world. This particular harvest apparently relates to the gathering of the “elect,” the faithful servants of God and devoted disciples of Jesus Christ, who will then receive their heavenly reward. (Matthew 24:31, 40-42; Luke 17:34-37) That the announcement respecting the time for this to commence is portrayed as being conveyed to the Son of God harmonizes with his words, “Of that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Mark 13:32)
John saw yet another angel, carrying a large sickle, coming out of the heavenly sanctuary. Another angel, with authority over the fire, came from the altar. With a loud voice, he told the angel with the sickle to use it for harvesting the grape clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes were ripe. The angel harvested the vine and cast the grapes into the wine press of God’s anger. The press was then trodden with horses outside the city, and the “blood” came up to the bridle of the horses and flowed for a distance of 1,600 stadia or approximately 200 miles. (14:17-20)
This particular harvest involves the ungodly, and the imagery indicates that angels will share in the execution of divine judgment upon them. (Compare 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8.) As one having authority over the fire, the angel had control over a destructive element, an element indicative of a severe judgment. The grapes that are harvested represent the ungodly who will be facing their doom as if trodden by horses in a large winepress. Suggestive of the large number whom the adverse judgment will affect is the reference to the tremendous amount of “blood” the treading operation would yield. John did not identify the city near which the winepress was located. Based on 11:2, the city could be Jerusalem.
John saw another great and astonishing sign in heaven. Seven angels had been entrusted with the seven last plagues, and these plagues would bring God’s anger against lawless humans to its completion. (15:1) John later saw the effect the plagues were to have on ungodly humankind. (16:2-21) Possibly the sign is described as being “great” because developments on earth would be reaching a climax and therefore would be of great significance. In relation to the final plagues, the sign may be regarded as inspiring awe, astonishment, or amazement.
Those who had triumphed over the beast and its image and the number of its name (the number that revealed its true identity) stood at what appeared to be a glassy sea mingled with fire. Although fire is a destructive element, it, like water, also can be used for cleansing purposes. According to the law, metal items were purified by first passing them through the fire and then the water of cleansing. (Numbers 31:21-23) So the glassy sea mingled with fire could indicate that all who approach God must be clean from his standpoint, for he is holy or pure in the absolute sense. (15:2)
With “harps of God” (divinely provided instruments suitable for rendering praise and thanksgiving to him), the victors sing the “song of Moses the slave of God and the song of the Lamb.” (15:2, 3) As conquerors who refused to adore the beast and its image, they are portrayed in the presence of God, indicating that they have been either resurrected or changed to be with the Lord Jesus Christ. This suggests that the outpouring of the final plagues occurs after all of Christ’s loyal disciples have been glorified, for it is not until the conquest has been completed that individuals can be called victors. The reference to the “song of Moses” would recall how the Israelites, on the eastern side of the Red Sea, sang a song of thanksgiving after being delivered from Pharaoh and his armies. Like the Israelites at that time, all the victors had experienced a marvelous deliverance. The song is also a “song of the Lamb,” for he conquered the world and made it possible for them to be fellow conquerors. (John 16:33; Hebrews 2:16-18) The complete focus of the song is on God. “Great and astonishing [are] your works, O Lord God the Almighty. Righteous and true [are] your ways, O King of the nations [O King of the ages (eternity), according to other Greek manuscripts]. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone [are] holy; for all the nations will come and worship before you, because your just judgments have been revealed.” (15:3, 4)
All of the Almighty’s deeds are outstanding and give rise to wonderment or amazement. In all his ways, he is just and adheres to the ultimate standard of truth, judging and acting on the basis of actuality and not appearances. He is the Sovereign.
The conquerors’ expressions of thanksgiving and praise indicate that, in view of the Almighty’s greatness and ultimate purity, a reverential fear or awe, coupled with praise, is the only proper response before him. At the same time, the song appears to reflect hope regarding humans yet on earth. The effect of God’s righteous judgments would be that persons from all nations would be moved to worship him. Even when expressing his wrath, the Almighty continues to be the God of love and compassion. (Compare Romans 2:4.)
Next John saw the temple, that is, the tent of witness in heaven opened. Seven angels, clothed in bright, clean linen and with golden girdles, then came out. They had been entrusted with the last seven plagues. Possibly the opening of the temple occurred when the screening curtain was pulled aside. Evidently because the ark of the covenant or the ark of the testimony was in the sanctuary, the sanctuary is called the “tent of witness.” In this case, the designation “tent of witness” could suggest that God would fulfill his testimony or solemn promise and would prove true to the covenant he had made. By reason of his covenant with his people and his testimony, he would render justice, and the pouring out of the final plagues served this very purpose. (15:5, 6; see the Note section.)
One of the living beings, likely the one initially mentioned first (the one with the lion’s face [4:7]), gave each of the seven angels a bowl filled with the wrath of the eternal God. Then the sanctuary became filled with a cloud from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until such time as the seven angels had completed their commission respecting the seven plagues. (15:7, 8) Evidently the cloud, because of being a manifestation of God’s presence, gave evidence of his glory and power about to be revealed through the execution of justice resulting from having humans experience the final plagues. That no one would be permitted to enter the sanctuary may have indicated that no prayerful appeal for mitigating the judgment would be heard. The portrayal may serve the same purpose as the Almighty’s words to Jeremiah (15:1, NRSV): “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people.”
It may be noted that, with the loyal disciples of God’s Son no longer being on the earthly scene, this would leave the world of mankind without the wholesome influence for good that believers exercise and so with even less restraint to pursue their God-dishonoring ways. The Most High’s totally abandoning humankind to the terrifying consequences of their disobedience would be an expression of his wrath. (Compare Romans 1:18-32.) The pouring out of the seven bowls of God’s wrath may simply be a pictorial manner of revealing the horrors that would come upon humankind as they reap what they have sown. There is every reason to believe that the final crop of wickedness will yield frightful results. (Compare Luke 23:30, 31.)
Note: In 15:6, the reading línon (linen) has the oldest and best manuscript support. There are later manuscripts that say líthon (stone).
John heard a loud voice coming from the sanctuary, directing the seven angels to pour out the bowls of God’s wrath upon the earth. Evidently this action is thus represented as occurring at God’s command. (16:1)
The pouring out of the first bowl brought suffering to those having the mark of the beast and worshiping its image. Their affliction came to be a bad and painful sore or ulcer. (16:2) This may well have reminded John of the plague of boils that came upon the Egyptians in the time of Moses. (Exodus 9:8-11; the Greek word in Revelation 16:2 for “sore” is the same word found in the Septuagint in Exodus 9:9, 10, 11.) Apparently the hurtful result from following a God-dishonoring course is here revealed as being like a serious ulcerous condition having a deadly outcome.
When the second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, the water came to be like the blood of a corpse, and all the creatures in the sea died. (16:3) The plague is depicted as far more devastating in proportion than the one occurring after the blowing of the second trumpet, which only affected a portion of the sea creatures. (8:8) This apparently serves to illustrate that the final plagues (or consequences from a God-defiant course) are of far greater severity. The plague is also reminiscent of one of the plagues that came upon Egypt. There is a difference, however. In ancient Egypt, the sea was not affected, and so the resemblance is closer to what occurred upon the pouring out of the third bowl. (Exodus 7:17-21)
Subsequent to the pouring out of the third bowl, the rivers and springs of water turned into blood. (Compare 8:10, 11, where the reference is to a similar plague on a smaller scale.) The “angel of the waters” (likely signifying the angel having control over the waters) then declared, “You are righteous, the one who is and who was [see 1:8], O Holy One, for you have executed justice [regarding] these things. Because they have shed the blood of holy ones and prophets, so you have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” A voice from the altar, probably representing the blood of the holy ones and prophets that had been shed (compare Genesis 4:10), added a confirmatory response, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and righteous are your judgments.” (16:4-7)
The angel’s proclamation and the voice from the altar thus confirm that the plagues are expressions of retributive justice. All who have defiantly set themselves in opposition to God’s ways would experience the dire consequences of their abhorrent course. Divine judgments are just and in harmony with truth (the actual state of affairs).
The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun. As a result, the heat from the sun became so intense that earth’s inhabitants found it unbearable. Instead of repenting of their evil ways and giving God glory or humbly acknowledging him as having rightly executed justice, they blasphemed the name of God or cursed him on account of their suffering. (16:8, 9) The reference to God’s “authority over these plagues” suggests that those defying God would be aware that they were experiencing the outpouring of his anger. Their refusal to repent and glorify God appears to indicate that, even at this crucial time, they could have changed and become recipients of divine mercy.
The pouring out of the fifth bowl upon the throne of the beast led to its kingdom being darkened. As in the case of the plague of darkness that affected ancient Egypt, apparently the entire realm over which the beast exercised control would be plunged into darkness. (Exodus 10:21, 22) This could point to an intensification of cruelty and ruthless oppression from the beastly ruling authority and its total inability to deal with the consequences of retributive justice. The “throne of the beast” may designate the location from which power is exercised. Those under the beast’s control bit their tongues in pain. Again, instead of repenting of their deeds, they blasphemed or cursed the God of heaven on account of their pains and sores. (16:10, 11) Already following the pouring out of the first bowl, earth’s inhabitants were plagued with a painful sore. This suggests that the effect of the plagues is cumulative and, unlike the plagues that affected ancient Egypt, continue in force.
The sixth angel poured his bowl upon the Euphrates River and its water dried up, evidently preparing the way for the kings from the rising of the sun to vanquish “Babylon the great.” In the case of ancient Babylon, Cyrus diverted the waters of the Euphrates that served as part of the city’s defenses, and this made it possible for his forces to take the city. (Isaiah 44:27, 28; 45:1, 2) Greek historian Herodotus of the fifth century BCE wrote (I, 191, 192) that, by his diversion of the Euphrates, Cyrus “made the stream to sink till its former channel could be forded. When this happened, the Persians who were posted with this intent made their way into Babylon by the channel of the Euphrates, which had now sunk about to the height of the middle of a man’s thigh.” John would have known that Cyrus came from the east and was designated as God’s “anointed” or appointed one and served as his instrument for bringing about the fall of Babylon. Later, John heard a proclamation that credited the destruction of “Babylon the great” to the Most High. (17:17; 19:1, 2) So it may be that the “kings from the rising of the sun” designate the Almighty and his “anointed one,” Jesus Christ. (16:12)
Next John saw three unclean spirits that looked like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet (evidently the two-horned beast [13:11]). According to the terms of the law, frogs were unclean creatures. Appropriately, therefore, the unclean spirits were portrayed as resembling frogs. These demonic spirits performed signs, apparently designed to delude people and garner their support for defying the Most High. The three unclean spirits went forth to the kings of the whole habitable earth to assemble them for “the war of the great day of God the Almighty.” Such a gathering of the kings or rulers would include their subjects. (16:13, 14)
Apparently because the execution of divine judgment would come suddenly and unsuspectedly upon all opposers of the Almighty, John heard the announcement, “Look! I am coming as a thief. Fortunate is the one remaining awake and keeping his garments, that he may not walk naked and people see his shame.” (16:15) These words evidently serve both as encouragement and as a warning, emphasizing the need to be awake and prepared before the execution of God’s vengeance in order to be among the fortunate, blessed, or happy ones because of being found in a divinely approved state. (Compare Luke 21:34-36.) The Scriptures indicate that Christ’s genuine disciples would have been found in this approved condition and then removed from the earthly scene just prior to the decisive time. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10; 4:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10) Accordingly, professed believers who are not identified as genuine and approved by their course of life and activity would find themselves on earth during the time for executing judgment. The shame of their nakedness would then be exposed, revealing them to be persons who were spiritually asleep and unprepared.
The place to which the unclean spirits gather the kings of the earth and their armies is called Harmagedon in Hebrew, meaning “Mount Megiddo.” No location in ancient Israel was called “Mount Megiddo,” but anciently the valley lying to the west of the city of Megiddo proved to be the scene for decisive battles. The name, therefore, may call attention to the fact that those defying the Most High would suffer total defeat. (16:16)
The seventh angel poured his bowl upon the air. A loud voice out of the sanctuary, directly from the throne (apparently from the one seated on the throne or the Almighty), declared, “It has been accomplished,” evidently indicating that his wrath has been fully expressed. Manifestations of God’s presence for judgment followed. There were lightnings, voices, thunders, and an earthquake of unparalleled strength in human history. Babylon the great, the “great city,” split into three parts, totally devastating it. The cities of the nations or cities other than those represented by Babylon the great fell or crashed in ruins. For her guilt, God would remember Babylon the great and make her drink from “the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.” This would mean her complete end, with no hope of recovery. No place would provide refuge from God’s wrath, for all islands fled and mountains as places for hiding disappeared so as not to be found. Huge hailstones, weighing a talent each (perhaps weighing about 75 pounds [if the talent is reckoned according to its weight among the ancient Hebrews]), descended upon rebellious humans. The tremendous weight of the hailstones appears to serve as a pictorial representation of the intensity of the final plague. Unlike the more positive response of some of the Egyptians when Moses announced the impending plague of hail (Exodus 9:13-25), the ungodly persisted in an unrepentant state and blasphemed or cursed God. (16:17-21)
One of the seven angels who participated in pouring out the bowls of God’s anger invited John to come and then see the judgment to befall the great harlot who sits on many waters. With her, the kings of the earth whored, and she made earth’s inhabitants drunk with the wine of her harlotry. In spirit, John was transported into the wilderness and saw a woman seated on a seven-headed, ten-horned, scarlet-colored beast filled with blasphemous names. The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. In her hand, she held a golden cup filled with the abominable and impure things of her harlotry. The name written on her forehead, “Babylon the great,” was designated as a mystery. She was both a harlot and the mother of harlots and of earthly abominations. John observed that the woman was drunk with the blood of the holy ones and the witnesses of Jesus. Upon seeing her, he was struck with great astonishment. (17:1-6)
Earlier, John had seen the woman that gave birth to the baby boy flee into the wilderness. (12:6) He knew how the once-approved people of God, under the figure of a woman represented by the capital city Jerusalem, had in previous centuries become a harlot. The word of YHWH through the prophet Isaiah (1:21, NRSV) was, “How the faithful city has become a whore!” (See also Ezekiel 23:5-45.) The course of the many among those professing to be God’s people was one of unfaithfulness to him. Instead of relying on the Most High for aid and protection, they looked to foreign nations and their military strength for security. They failed to remain exclusively devoted to their God and engaged in idolatry and the moral corruption associated therewith. In failing to live up to their covenant obligations that bound them to their God as a wife is bound to her husband, they, as a corporate whole, proved themselves to be a prostitute. Still, individual Israelites continued to be loyal to God.
Seemingly, the great astonishment to which John gave way came about from his perceiving the change that had taken place regarding the woman he had earlier seen flee into the wilderness and the enormity of her guilt. Like unfaithful Jerusalem, she had entered into a partnership with the beast, the ruling element of the world, and evidently for the same reason — protection. She had exchanged the heavenly light or glory with which she had once been adorned for worldly splendor — purple, scarlet, gold and gems. Like unfaithful Jerusalem, “the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent to her” (Matthew 23:37), she had made herself guilty of shedding the blood of “holy ones and the witnesses of Jesus.”
She was drunk with blood, the blood of God’s faithful servants (wheat among weeds) in her midst. That holy ones and witnesses of Jesus were to be found as part of the changed woman (just as a faithful remnant existed in the midst of unfaithful Jerusalem) is shown by the later command, “Get out of her, my people.” (18:4) She was still a woman, outwardly appearing to be Christ’s congregation or church but, in practice, she was a blood-spilling harlot and friend of the world. As the mother of harlots and abominations, she was responsible for disobedience and unfaithfulness to God among many and gave birth to movements that manifested her adulterous and murderous spirit. Instead of being a strong influence for good, the transformed woman would make herself the handmaiden and prostitute of corrupt rulers, aiding and abetting them in their ruthless oppression, and stupefying people with the wine of her harlotry and contributing to their wayward course.
The seven heads, ten horns, and blasphemous names (names to which only God is entitled) suggest that the beast on which the harlot sits is the same one that ascended out of the sea. Her partnership with the beast evidently would not mitigate its fierceness, as its scarlet color is likely indicative of much bloodshed.
The angel noted John’s astonishment and told him that he would reveal to him the mystery of the woman and the seven-headed, ten-horned beast. This beast, the angel explained, “was and is not and is about to ascend out of the abyss, and is to go into destruction.” The ascending out of the abyss appears to parallel the recovery from the fatal blow to one of the seven heads. (13:3) Apparently because of the beast’s ascent as if raised out of the abyss and restored to life, earth’s inhabitants would be amazed. Those who give way to worshipful wonderment would not have their names written in the scroll of life. (17:7, 8) From the foundation of the world or before the world of mankind came into existence, the Most High’s determination has been that life would be forfeited whenever his ways are deliberately disregarded. It may be that the description of the beast’s being in the abyss represents a period during which the ruling element of the world does not function as an active persecuting power. In its final phase, however, before it heads for destruction, the beast would rise from the abyss as a vicious persecutor, ruthlessly directing its initial fury against Christ’s loyal disciples.
Apparently for those having a mind guided by wisdom, the angel’s explanatory words that follow would clarify matters regarding the beast and the harlot. The beast’s seven heads are seven mountains and represent kings or ruling powers. Of the seven, five had already fallen, one existed, another was yet to come but remain only a short time. As for the beast that was and is not, this is an eighth king or ruling power and has its source in the previous seven and, as the embodiment of the entire beast, would be the most vicious and God-dishonoring phase of the ruling power of the world. (17:9-11)
The ten horns are ten kings, seemingly a complete number of governing powers that had at that time not as yet received ruling authority, but they would receive such for a short time, “one hour,” with the beast (in its final and worst phase of existence). These ten kings would have one thought or be of one mind in the decision to yield their authority to the beast, apparently acting out of self-interest so as to share in the beast’s all-embracing authority. As part of the persecuting power of the world that directs its rage against Christ’s disciples, these “kings” range themselves in battle against the Lamb. But the Lamb has powers far greater than theirs. He is King of kings and Lord of lords and will conquer them. Those with him or his followers are “called” (out of this world), “chosen” (as his disciples and servants and sons of his Father) and “faithful” (to God and Christ) and share in the victory. (17:12-14)
The angel’s explanation leaves the impression that the harlot has been sitting on all seven mountains, representing kings or ruling powers of which the majority (five) had already fallen. In the first century CE, Rome occupied the position of dominant ruling power. It was preceded by other successive powers (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece). All these earlier ruling powers had a significant impact on the lives of God’s faithful servants and those who merely professed to be his people. Throughout the centuries, professed servants of God or those falsely claiming to be his people, repeatedly allied themselves with the dominant political powers, adopted their practices, and persecuted and oppressed God’s faithful servants in their midst, making themselves guilty of harlotry and bloodshed. (Compare Isaiah 1:10-17, 21; 3:14, 15; 30:1-3; 31:1-3; Jeremiah 2:18, 19; Ezekiel 20:4-9, 27-38; 23:2-49; Hosea 7:11; Zephaniah 1:4-9; Matthew 23:29-37.) As a corporate whole, therefore, the harlot could be regarded as having existed in prior centuries. In the stage of development in which John saw her, however, she appears primarily to represent the faithless and worldly portion of the Christian congregation, the adulterous friend of the world. (Compare James 4:4.)
“Seven” is a number of completeness, and so the seven heads of the beast do not necessarily mean seven distinct world powers. They could simply represent all the successive powers that have dominated and would dominate humans. That the majority are represented as having fallen apparently should not be taken as an indicator of the closeness of the end. The final manifestation of the beast in its most vicious state is yet future, and the time for that event has not been disclosed. (Compare 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3.)
The waters, where the harlot sits, signify peoples, crowds, nations, and language groups, indicating her extensive influence and the many who are part of her domain. She is described as a great city having a kingdom over the kings of the earth, suggestive of the tremendous power she wields. The “ten horns” (all the ruling powers) that give their authority to the beast and the beast itself (the monstrous final stage of the worldly ruling authority) will hate the harlot, strip her naked, devour her flesh, and burn whatever may be left of her. This indicates that every vestige of the harlot will be destroyed, nothing will remain of her former worldly splendor. Although the horrific judgment is portrayed as being carried out by the beast and the ten horns, it is actually God’s judgment. He is the one who will put it in their hearts to act against the harlot, carrying out his will respecting her even though they would not of themselves be inclined to execute divine judgment but would act in their own interests. (Compare Isaiah 10:5-7.) According to God’s will, future developments will cause the “ten horns” to come to be of one mind in yielding their authority to the beast, making it possible for the full power of the beast’s fury to be unleashed against the harlot and thus to fulfill God’s judgment against her. (17:15-18)
Note: The focus is on the final development of the “beast” in relation to the destruction of Babylon the great. This final phase, the “eighth king,” is “out of the seven.” (17:11) If the number seven is representative of all the ruling powers, as seems likely based on the way numbers are used in the book of Revelation, the final development is not being portrayed as an immediate successor of seven specific ruling powers but only as arising from all the ruling powers that preceded it. The Scriptures do not place the final phase within the framework of a fixed timetable. (Acts 1:7) Therefore, in the absence of a fixed termination point, the reference to “seven,” with five having fallen, does not provide a basis for determining the nearness of the destruction of Babylon the great. Of necessity, the “five” would not be specific fallen world powers if the number “seven” is to be regarded as being representative. The mention of the “five” would then only serve to indicate that a significant portion of the ruling powers had already fallen.
John saw an angel, vested with great authority, descending from heaven. The glory or radiant splendor of this angel was of such magnitude as to illuminate the earth. He cried out with a strong voice, “Fallen, fallen [is] Babylon the great, and she has become a haunt of demons, and a prison for every unclean spirit, and a prison for every unclean bird, and a prison for every unclean and detested beast. For from the wine of the passion of her whoredom, all the nations have drunk, and the kings of the earth whored with her, and the merchants of the earth enriched themselves from the resources of her luxury.” (18:1-3; see the Notes section.)
This portrayal is of an uninhabited city in ruins, and parallels the foretold fate of ancient Babylon. “And Babylon, glory of kingdoms, proud splendor of the Chaldeans, shall become like Sodom and Gomorrah overturned by God. Nevermore shall it be settled nor dwelt in through all the ages. No Arab shall pitch his tent there, no shepherds make flocks lie down there. But beasts shall lie down there, and the houses be filled with owls; there shall ostriches make their home, and there shall satyrs dance. And jackals shall abide in its castles and dragons in the palaces of pleasure.” (Isaiah 13:19-22, Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Wild animals shall live with hyenas in Babylon, and ostriches shall inhabit her; she shall never again be peopled, or inhabited for all generations.” (Jeremiah 50:39, NRSV)
In the case of Babylon the great, the reason for this severe judgment would be her baneful influence on earth’s inhabitants, causing them to be stupefied so as to conduct themselves in a divinely disapproved course. Corrupt, oppressive rulers would find pleasure in her presence as from the caresses of and sexual relations with a prostitute. Because she would amass great wealth from her supporters, she would provide a lucrative market for the commercial element of the world.
Another voice from the heavens resounded with the call, “Get out of her, my people, so as not to share in her sins and so as not to receive of her plagues, for her sins have reached the sky and God has remembered her injustices.” (18:4, 5)
The time for departure from Babylon the great is before the severe judgment befalls her. As in the case of ancient Babylon on the Euphrates, Babylon the great is an enemy of God’s people who may find themselves in her midst. (Compare Psalm 137:1-9.) Once the opportunity to depart opened up, God’s people exiled in ancient Babylon were able to act on the prophetic directive, “Go forth from Babylon, flee from Chaldea!” (Isaiah 48:20, NAB)
Over the centuries, many have reached the conclusion that Babylon the great represented Rome in its role as a vicious persecutor of Christ’s followers, paralleling Babylon on the Euphrates (the seat of a dominant political power in ancient times) with Rome (the seat of the dominant political power in the first century). In many respects, the language of the Hebrew prophets regarding ancient Babylon parallels the description in Revelation 18. (Compare Isaiah 21:9 and Jeremiah 51:8 with Revelation 18:2; compare Jeremiah 51:7 with Revelation 18:3; Jeremiah 50:8; 51:6, 9, 45 with Revelation 18:4, 5; Jeremiah 50:15 with Revelation 18:6; Isaiah 47:7-9 with Revelation 18:7, 8.) Historically, however, Rome did not fall like ancient Babylon nor did it become an uninhabited city. The earlier scene of the woman riding the beast (representative of a ruling power) in the wilderness does not match Rome, for Rome was the dominant governing power in the first century. Furthermore, the command for God’s people to get out of Babylon the great does not fit Rome, for merely being a city resident in the first century or in years thereafter would not make one a participant in its sins. To incur guilt, one would have to be a resident who actively shared in God-dishonoring practices.
The portrayal of a change from a woman representative of God’s people to a woman representative of a people disloyal to him does have historical and biblical support. The apostle Paul warned elders in the Ephesus congregation, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock. And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them.” (Acts 20:29, 30, NAB) To Timothy, he wrote that there would come to be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:4, 5, NIV) In his first letter (4:1, 2, NRSV) to him, Paul said, “In later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron.” Jesus Christ revealed that the “sons of the kingdom” would become so intermingled with the “sons of the wicked one” as to become humanly indistinguishable. (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) He also indicated that there would be those who would seize authority to which they were not entitled, treat believers abusively, and in other ways conduct themselves in a God-dishonoring manner. (Luke 12:42-48) Upon his return in glory, Jesus said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Matthew 7:22, 23, NAB)
A review of past and present history confirms that the various religious systems and movements claiming to be Christian have not made a commendable record for themselves. Prominent ones in their midst have courted the favors of the ruling authorities and supported their unworthy aims (with resulting bloodshed), have incited rulers to imprison and kill those not agreeing with them, resorted to bribery and subterfuges to protect assets and to advance church or organizational interests in other ways, concealed the debased practices of those in high positions to protect their image, accumulated wealth to support a lavish life style, emotionally abused others by making them feel guilty for not giving more of their time and money to support the church, assuming the role of lords instead of humble servants, and labeling anyone not agreeing with their interpretations as a heretic deserving the worst punishment imaginable. While certain movements may claim that they are clean respecting bloodshed and friendship with the world, they often have a leadership in place that has no qualms about demanding that the membership treat those disagreeing with their unique doctrines worse than hardened criminals. In their attitude, they reveal the murderous spirit of the harlot and are no different than the hypocrites who adorned the tombs of the righteous and said, “If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.” (Matthew 23:29, 30, NAB)
For those who seek to live upright lives as loyal disciples of God’s Son, getting out of Babylon the great may mean what it did for Levites and many other Israelites when Jeroboam instituted calf worship. They left the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. (2 Chronicles 11:13-17) Mere physical separation from a movement because of being mistreated, witnessing hypocrisy, or coming to see error in doctrines and practices, however, does not in itself constitute an exodus from Babylon the great. Lot’s wife left Sodom, but her attachment to the corrupt city remained. There must be a rejection of the God-dishonoring attitude and worldliness of Babylon the great and an ardent desire to be loyal to God and Christ. It is not an exchange of the flaws a person may see in one particular movement for a different set of errors and wrong practices in another movement, but it is an action that becomes necessary because of needing to be out of an environment that misrepresents God and Christ and proves to be spiritually harmful.
Because the weeds and wheat are intertwined, there are godly persons who have not felt the need for a physical separation from a church, denomination, or nondenominational body with which they may have serious disagreements. Like many in the ten-tribe kingdom who continued to serve God faithfully and did not move to the kingdom of Judah, they do not abandon the group with which they have had a long history. They continue to live godly lives within the system and bring honor to God and Christ by their genuine display of love for others and making expressions about their faith. In attitude, word, and action, they demonstrate that they do not have the spirit of Babylon the great and condemn her works (just as Noah condemned the world in which he lived). (Hebrews 11:7)
According to the angel’s proclamation, the record of Babylon the great’s sin reached up to the sky and deserved twofold retribution. As she had rendered to others, she should be repaid. In keeping with her abominable actions, she should receive twice as much in the way of retribution. As to the cup from which she made others drunk, she should be forced to drink a double portion. Instead of continuing to live in splendor and luxury, she should experience corresponding pain and mourning. Within herself, she imagined herself to be secure, sitting as a queen who would never experience bereavement or loss. On account of her arrogant attitude, plagues would come upon her quickly, in “one day,” death, mourning, and famine, and complete destruction by fire. There would be no escape from or defense against the severe judgment to befall her, for God, the one executing justice, is strong. (18:6-8)
Rulers who benefited from their intimate relationship with Babylon the great would be grieved about her fate and fearfully stand at a distance. They would lament about the suddenness with which impressive Babylon the great had come to an inglorious end. (18:9, 10)
Babylon the great is portrayed as having piled up great wealth and having provided a lucrative market for traveling merchants. This would cause them to mourn over the ruin of their commercial interests. These merchants who enriched themselves through trade with her would fearfully stand at a distance, weeping and mourning their sudden loss. “In one hour,” her wealth would cease to be. (18:11-17)
Those involved in transporting the abundant goods from distant places would likewise give way to mourning over the sudden end of Babylon the great. No longer would they be able to increase their riches through dealings with her, and this would make them weep and mourn. (18:17-19)
Among the angels of heaven, the holy ones or God’s faithful servants, the apostles and prophets, such mourning would have no place. They are invited to share in appreciative rejoicing, for God had executed the deserved judgment on Babylon the great. (18:20)
John saw a strong angel who lifted a stone, like a large millstone, and cast it into the sea. This act represented how Babylon the great would completely disappear as if quickly plunged to the bottom of the sea. All the sights, sounds, activities and functions associated with city life would permanently cease. (18:21-23)
The reason for the severe judgment is again set forth. With her sorcery, she caused nations to go astray. This could mean that she drew them into a God-dishonoring relationship with herself or made them wander in divinely disapproved ways. Only the future will reveal just how great the corruption among the faithless portion of those claiming to be God’s people will yet come to be and the kind of worldliness that will grow to shocking proportions. History is filled with sufficient examples that portend a frightful time prior to the execution of divine judgment. Babylon the great’s record of bloodshed is already extremely shameful, including the blood of prophets, holy ones, and many others. (18:23, 24)
In verse 2, the words “prison for every unclean beast” are missing in many manuscripts, including fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus.
In verse 3, manuscript readings include “have drunk,” “have fallen” and “she has made drink.”
With a unified loud voice, a great throng in heaven cried out, “Hallelujah!” This Hebrew expression means “Praise YHWH!” Then John heard this large crowd ascribing salvation, glory, and power to God because his judgments are true (always in harmony with the actual state of affairs) and just, for he had judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her harlotry and exacted vengeance for his slaves’ blood that she had shed. (19:1, 2)
Again, from the large crowd, John heard, “Hallelujah!” Apparently with reference to the permanent nature of the judgment against Babylon the great, the mighty throng added, “and her smoke ascends for ever and ever.” (19:3; compare Isaiah 34:9, 10 and Jude 7.)
The twenty-four elders (representing the congregation of God’s servants) and the four living beings apparently fell to their knees before God and bowed down with their faces touching the floor of heaven, adding their expression of agreement and praise, “Amen [so be it]. Hallelujah!” (19:4)
John then heard a voice come from the throne, saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, and you who fear him, small and great.” (19:5) As the Son of God is portrayed as being at his Father’s right hand (Acts 2:33; 7:56), likely his voice is the one coming from the throne, inviting all having reverential regard for his Father to praise him.
From a great throng, John heard a united voice that sounded like abundant waters in motion and like the sound of mighty thunder, saying, “‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, has undertaken to reign. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him the glory; because the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has readied herself. And it has been granted her to be dressed in bright, clean linen’ (for the linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones).” (19:6-8) By executing judgment on Babylon the great, the Almighty manifested his authority as Sovereign and thus revealed that he reigned. Unlike the purple and scarlet of the harlot and her sky-high record of sin, Christ’s bride is dressed in the radiant splendor of bright, clean linen (representative of a record of upright deeds). Her being united to the Lamb is rightly an occasion for boundless rejoicing and giving God glory or praise.
The angel, probably the one initially sent to John, told him, “Write, ‘Fortunate are those invited to the marriage banquet of the Lamb.” No greater joy could there be than to be found divinely approved to share in this grand event. Fortunate, blessed, or in an enviable state of unbounded happiness would all such persons be. The angel added the solemn assurance, “These are the true words of God.” (19:9)
Seized by deep emotion and overwhelmed by what he had seen and heard, John apparently dropped to his knees at the feet of the angel and prostrated himself or assumed an attitude of worship. The angel refused to be thus honored, telling John, “Do not [do that]. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brothers entrusted with the testimony of Jesus. To God, prostrate yourself. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (19:10)
As a messenger in the service of God’s Son, the angel did provide testimony about him. The “testimony of Jesus” evidently is the witness that centers on him and is the testimony with which John and his brothers had been entrusted. (Compare Acts 1:6-8; 4:1-20; 5:29-32; 26:12-19.) As a fellow servant, the angel filled a role like theirs, testifying concerning the Son of God. This testimony about Jesus Christ is the “spirit of prophecy,” that is, its aim or objective. In this case, the emphasis apparently is not on the predictive element of prophecy but on the content of the proclamation. It is a proclaiming of Christ. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “We are not proclaiming ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.” (2 Corinthians 4:5) In the role of a fellow proclaimer of Jesus Christ, the angel refused to accept reverential honors from a fellow slave. His words serve as a strong reproof to all humans professing to be Christ’s disciples but who accept and even require honors that are unbecoming for a servant. (See Acts 10:25, 26 regarding Peter’s commendable example in this respect.)
Note: Basically, the word proskynéo (19:10) denotes “to prostrate oneself.” Forms of this verb occur 24 times in Revelation (3:9; 4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 9:20; 11:1, 16; 13:4 [twice], 8, 12, 15; 14:7, 9, 11; 15:4; 16:2; 19:4, 10 [twice], 20; 20:4; 22:8, 9). The context determines whether the ones prostrating themselves are engaging in an act of worship.
John next saw heaven opened up and beheld a white horse. Its rider, the glorified Son of God, is called “faithful and true,” indicating absolute trustworthiness and dependability. His judging is righteous, and his warfare is conducted in the cause of right. In possession of penetrating vision like eyes of fire, he is not deceived by outward appearances. His unequaled royal authority is revealed by his having many diadems. This harmonizes with his having been granted all authority in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18) The name which only he knows evidently relates to his unparalleled royal authority to be expressed in his punitive actions against the nations, for the name written on his garment and on his thigh is, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” Apparently calling attention to the fact that he had poured out his blood to redeem humankind, his garment is portrayed as having been “dipped” in (or, according to another manuscript reading, “sprinkled” with) blood. The name “Word of God” evidently calls attention to the fact that he is the one who fully reveals the Father (just as a person makes himself known to others by what he says). The angelic forces he leads are depicted as clothed in clean, white linen and mounted on white horses. (19:11-14, 16; see the Note section.)
Indicative of executional authority, a sharp sword issued forth from the mouth of God’s Son. With it, he would strike the nations, and he would shepherd them with an iron rod, executing all who defy his royal authority. He would act in harmony with his Father’s will, treading the “winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” (19:15)
The angel whom John next saw may have been positioned in such as way as to appear that he was standing in the sun or on the sun. With a loud voice, this angel invited the carrion birds to feast on those who would fall before the King of kings and Lord of lords for choosing to battle against him. (19:17, 18)
John saw the beast (representing the governing power of the world) and the rulers and their armies assembled for the fight. The beast and the false prophet (through whose signs earth’s inhabitants had been deceived so as to accept the mark of the beast and adore its image) were seized alive as functioning entities and tossed into a fiery lake burning with sulfur. This lake is later identified as representing the “second death.” (20:14) As for the defiant rulers and their forces, they fell by the sword of the “King of kings,” and carrion birds were satiated with their flesh. (19:19-21)
Note: In 19:16, a number of later manuscripts read “upon the forehead” instead of “upon the garment.”
John saw an angel descending from heaven. This angel had the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand (literally, “upon his hand,” suggesting that the chain was ready for use). The need for a great chain could indicate that the dragon possessed tremendous strength and was fierce. (Compare Mark 5:2-4.) Earlier, the Son of God had identified himself as having the keys of death and of Hades. (1:18) The fact that the angel was seen with the key of the abyss, however, would not require that he be identified as a figure of the Son of God. The angel would simply be the agent for carrying out Christ’s purpose and, ultimately, that of his Father respecting the dragon and, therefore, would need the key of the abyss. John identified the personage as an angel, and there is no contextual reason for adopting a different meaning. (20:1)
The angel seized the dragon, the “old serpent” (recalling the use of the serpent to deceive Eve), the Devil (slanderer of God) and Satan (the resister or opposer of God), and bound him for 1,000 years. He then cast the bound dragon into the abyss, thereafter locking and sealing it shut to prevent the dragon from misleading the nations. At the end of the period of confinement, the dragon would be released for a short time. (20:2, 3)
The period of 1,000 years may simply be descriptive of a long time, as the numbers in the book of Revelation are symbols. Subsequent to the banishing of the powers of darkness, with no possibility of breaking free, the nations (apparently the people from all nations who are not among those perishing because of defiantly fighting against the Son of God) would enjoy a long time under Christ’s beneficent rule and without any satanic influence.
John then saw thrones. The ones seated on them were granted judicial authority. Evidently regarding this development, the apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world?” (1 Corinthians 6:2) Among the ones sharing in doing this judging would be those (the souls) who had been executed for their testimony concerning Jesus and “the word of God” (faithfully adhering to it and making it known to others). Furthermore, these faithful ones are identified as not having venerated the beast or its image and accepted the mark on their forehead and their hand. As Christ’s loyal disciples, they would be restored to life and share with him in his reign for the full period designated by the 1,000 years. (20:4; 6:9-11)
The reference to the coming to life of the rest of the dead at the end of the 1,000 years is missing from fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest extant manuscript preserving this portion of Revelation. If the words are original, they are parenthetical, for they do not apply to the words that follow, “This is the first resurrection.” (20:5) According to the sequence in the vision John saw, the judging of the dead (other than those sharing in the first resurrection) takes place after Satan is released from confinement, and the parenthetical expression is apparently to be understood accordingly.
Sharers in the first resurrection are pronounced fortunate and holy. Theirs is a fortunate, blessed, or an enviable state of happiness as divinely approved persons, and they are holy by reason of their faithfulness to God and Christ and having the benefits of his sacrifice applied to them. As such blessed and holy ones, they would never be subject to the second death, which denotes the death from which no resurrection is possible. They would serve as priests of God and of Christ (functioning in priestly capacity for those then living on earth) and reign with Christ. (20:6)
At the end of the period designated as being 1,000 years, Satan is released from his confinement and goes forth to the four compass directions of the earth to mislead the nations, Gog and Magog, and to assemble them for war. The host the dragon is able to marshal is referred to as being numerous as the sand of the seashore. (20:7, 8)
This suggests that, during the time satanic influence ceased to exist on earth, there would be those who distance themselves from Christ’s rule and choose their own ways so as to be styled nations bearing the name “Gog and Magog,” representative of enemies of God’s people. (Compare Ezekiel 38:1-39:20.) They will yield to Satan’s temptation and rebelliously seek to break free from divine rulership. This revolt is portrayed as a military march and the subsequent encirclement of the camp of the holy ones and the beloved city. The beloved city is the holy city New Jerusalem, and the holy ones are here depicted as forming a military encampment around the city to protect it from enemy forces. No defensive battle, however, is necessary, for fire from heaven consumes the assembled enemy forces. As for the devil who had deceived them, he would be cast into the lake of fire, where the beast and the false prophet had been hurled earlier. (19:20) No release from this final doom will be possible, for they will be tormented eternally and without letup, night and day. The torment signifies everlasting doom, for the lake of fire is representative of second death. Thus the adversary will be brought to nothingness, with no vestige of the powers of darkness remaining and with absolutely no potential for reviving. (20:9, 10)
Note: In verse 9, there are various manuscript readings, including “out of heaven,” “from heaven,” “from God,” “out of heaven from God,” and “from God, out of heaven.”
John saw a large white throne, the white color suggesting justice in the absolute sense. Before the face or presence of the one seated on the throne, the Most High, earth and heaven fled and seemingly disappeared, for John perceived that “no place was found for them.” (20:11) In view of the fact that the judgment of the dead follows, aspects of the old form of the world (represented by the earth and the visible sky or celestial dome) still remain as those raised to life were once a part of that old form of the world and must face judgment for their deeds. As everything will be made new, nothing of the old, not even a painful memory, would be allowed to remain and all accounts would have to be settled. In view of the complete renewal of everything, the picture of heaven and earth fleeing is most appropriate. (Isaiah 65:17-25; 21:4, 5)
John saw persons from all stations of life before the throne, great and small or insignificant. Scrolls were opened, and the judgment was based on the written record of their deeds. This visionary representation reflects other statements in the Scriptures. “On the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” (Matthew 12:36, 37; 2 Corinthians 5:10, NAB; see also Romans 2:11-16.) Another scroll was also opened. This scroll, the “scroll of life,” evidently listed all who would be granted life, whereas the scrolls containing the record of deeds explained the absence of certain names in the “scroll of life.” (20:12)
The judgment scene may have reminded John of the one in the book of Daniel (7:9-11). In that case, too, books or scrolls were opened, which apparently contained the record made by the beastly ruling power and on the basis of which punitive judgment was executed.
In order to be judged according to their deeds, the dead everywhere would need to be raised — those who perished in the sea, the dead in Hades or the realm of the dead, and anyone else in the grip of death. Death and Hades are then cast into the “lake of fire,” signifying the annihilation of death and the realm of the dead. As “death and Hades” are not conscious entities, this reveals that the “lake of fire” and the torments associated therewith are not literal. In the case of those whose names are not recorded in the scroll of life, they, too, would be cast into the lake of fire or have the punishment of second death imposed on them. (20:13-15)
In the scene of judgment (20:11-15), the focus is on a large white throne and the one seated thereon, but none of the elements of the earlier heavenly scene (4:1-3) are mentioned. John did not say anything about the location of the throne. Possibly, as in Daniel’s vision (7:9-14), the throne was seen under the visible sky, perhaps in midheaven.
The concept about a 1,000-year probationary period followed by a judgment based on post-resurrection deeds for persons who do not share in the first resurrection cannot be supported contextually. Moreover, references to judgment elsewhere in the Scriptures relate to deeds committed prior to death, and understanding the scrolls to contain the record of pre-resurrection deeds requires no interpretation outside the framework of the immediate context of Revelation 20.
Earlier, John had seen heaven and earth disappear (20:11) and now saw a new heaven and a new earth. In addition to the passing away of the former heaven and earth, John observed that there was no sea. (21:1)
Based on his knowledge of Isaiah’s prophecy, he would not have understood the passing away of the former heaven and earth to have meant the destruction of the universe and its being replaced by an entirely new creation. Isaiah’s prophecy pointed to a transformation of the former heaven and earth, with an end to everything that had given rise to sadness and suffering. (Isaiah 65:17-25) As evident from 2 Peter 3:13, believers in the first century looked forward to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. In his letter to the Romans (8:19-21, NAB), the apostle Paul wrote: “For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Human sinfulness has adversely affected the whole environment (the realm in which humans live, or the earth and the visible sky or celestial dome). Accordingly, the liberation of the creation from the baneful effects of human sinfulness and the creation’s enjoyment of the “glorious freedom of the children of God” could not possibly mean destruction but must mean a grand renewal or transformation.
The absence of the sea could signify that the dangers with which the sea was associated in ancient times would cease to exist. Another possibility is that the element from which the beast rose would be no more. (13:1)
The scene John next saw confirms that this renewal or transformation is related to the revealing of the children of God. Out of heaven from God, the holy city, New Jerusalem, descended. That city is the Lamb’s adorned bride or the entire body of God’s beloved children. (21:2, 9)
A loud voice from the throne (probably from the Son who is at his Father’s right hand, as God thereafter is referred to in the third person) revealed the kind of transformation that would follow the descent of the New Jerusalem or the start of the city’s beneficent rule over the earth. Humans would enjoy the blessing of God’s presence, for he would tent among them and acknowledge and treat them as his people. He would wipe away all tears, removing all causes of sadness. Death, mourning, wailing, and pain would cease to be, ending everything associated with the old form of the world. (21:3, 4)
John heard the assurance of the Almighty, the one seated on the throne, “Behold, I am making all things new.” The Most High then directed John to write, evidently what he had heard, and added still another assurance, “These words are trustworthy and true,” leaving no doubt respecting the dependability of the promise and its certain fulfillment. (21:5)
So sure is the fulfillment respecting everything revealed to John that he heard the one seated on the throne say, “They have come to be.” As the one who is the originator and the one who brings all that he starts or initiates to a successful conclusion, the Almighty identified himself as the “Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” To anyone “thirsting,” probably in the sense of earnestly desiring an abiding relationship with him, he would give them free drink from the fountain of water of life. This would assure the thirsty one of an eternal future and an abiding relationship with the Most High. For anyone who conquers, remaining loyal to God as did his Son Jesus Christ while on earth, the promised blessings are a sure inheritance. To the victor, the Most High says, “To him, I will be God, and to me, he will be a son.” (21:6, 7)
Cowards (persons who out of fear deny God and Christ and abandon the way of uprightness), faithless ones, those indulging in filthy, degrading deeds, murderers, persons persisting in a life of sexual immorality, practicers of occult arts, idolaters, and liars who mislead and harm others with their falsehoods are permanently excluded from any relationship with the holy God. They are destined for the lake of fire, condemned to second death (from which no resurrection is possible). (21:8)
One of the seven angels involved in pouring out the seven last plagues spoke to John, telling him that he would show him the Lamb’s bride. In spirit, John found himself transported to a very high mountain, enabling him to see the holy city, New Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. The city, representing the entire company making up the composite bride of Christ, proved to be one of unsurpassing splendor. It had the “glory of God,” a radiance like that of a precious gem, resembling jasper (perhaps white in color), with every facet reflecting like crystal. The city’s high wall had twelve gates (three on each of its four sides), with an angel stationed at each gate. Indicative of the city’s link to God’s servants prior to Jesus’ time on earth, each gate bore the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The city’s wall rested on twelve foundation stones, with each oblong stone supporting one twelfth of the wall and being inscribed with the name of one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (21:9-14)
The angel serving as John’s guide had a golden measuring rod to make known to him the dimensions of the city, its gates, and its wall. In the shape of a cube, the city measured 12,000 stadia (approximately 1,500 [c. 2,400 kilometers] ) in width, length, and height. (It is possible that the 12,000 stadia refer to the sum of the north, south, east and west sides of the city. If so, the city would be smaller but still of colossal proportions.) The measurement of 12,000 stadia parallels the number from each tribe of Israel marked with the seal of the living God. (7:5-8) Similarly, the 144-cubit wall height suggests a link to the total number of 144,000. The measurement of the wall is specifically identified as being according to a man’s measure and identical to the standard the angel used. As the city ascended many miles upward, the wall height of 144 cubits or some 200 feet (over 60 meters) was comparatively low, suggesting that it basically served to indicate that the city needed no defenses and that the wall kept out any unworthy ones from entering the city. The jasper wall surrounded a city of pure gold, clear like glass (or possibly meaning having a reflective quality like that of a polished mirror). Each of the twelve sections of the jasper wall stretching for many miles on each side of the twelve gates rested on a different precious or semiprecious stone—jasper (perhaps white), sapphire (blue), chalcedony (milky white, gray, or pale blue), emerald (green), sardonyx (possibly reddish brown), sardius (red), chrysolite (golden yellow), beryl (bluish green or green), topaz (yellow), chrysoprase (golden green), hyacinth (blue), and amethyst (purple or violet). Each gate consisted of one pearl, and the city’s main thoroughfare was gold, transparent like glass (possibly meaning that the gold reflected like a polished mirror). (21:15-21)
The city had no need for a temple, for God himself resided in the city and so did the Lamb. By their presence, the Almighty God and his Son constituted the city’s temple. With the glory or splendor of God serving as illumination and the Lamb shining like a lamp, the city was not dependent on light from the sun by day or from the moon at night. Divine illumination would provide what the nations needed to guide their path. Portrayed as a capital city exercising unlimited authority, the city would be receiving tribute from the “kings of the earth,” which would contribute to its glory or magnificence. Constantly illuminated and thus always in a state of absolute purity and free from any negative trait associated with darkness, night would never be experienced in the city and its gates would never need to be closed. Everything that is magnificent and honorable or noble from the nations would have free access, but nothing of a profane nature or anyone guilty of degrading behavior or lying would be able to enter. Entrance would be reserved only for those recorded in the Lamb’s scroll. (21:22-27)
The colossal proportions of the city, including incomprehensible quantities of the finest gold and precious gems and semiprecious stones of huge dimensions, provide a powerful visual image of the inestimable value the Almighty God and his Son assign to the faithful ones. During the time of their alien residence on earth, many of them were treated with contempt, like refuse. In God’s eyes and those of his Son, however, they proved to be very precious. For persecuted believers, the visual image would have served as a strong motivator to continue living a life of faith.
Note: Eight of the precious and semiprecious stones mentioned in Revelation 21:19 and 20 are the same ones the Septuagint lists for the high priest’s breastpiece. They are sardius (sárdion), topaz (topázion), emerald (smáragdos), sapphire (sáppheiros but a different spelling in Revelation [sápphiros]), jasper (íaspis), amethyst (améthystos), chrysolite (chrysólithos), and beryl (beryllion, which is the diminutive form of the term appearing in Revelation [béryllos]). (Exodus 28:17-20; 36:17-20)
The angel showed John a crystal-clear river of water of life, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Apparently trees of life lined both sides of the main thoroughfare of the New Jerusalem and both sides of the river as it flowed outside the city. The trees produced fruit each month, and the people of the nations could also use the leaves for healing purposes. As a holy city, the New Jerusalem would not be subjected to any curse. Located therein is the throne of God and of the Lamb, and the servants of the Most High would serve him and be identified as belonging to him by having his name (YHWH) on their foreheads. With God’s light shining upon them in the New Jerusalem, his servants would not need the light of the sun nor of the moon, and night would never settle down upon the city. Besides serving God, they would also reign for ever and ever. (22:1-5)
This scene doubtless would have reminded John of a similar vision seen by the prophet Ezekiel (47:1-12) In Ezekiel’s vision, the river flowed from the temple and its life-giving properties resulted in making it possible for fish to flourish in the Dead Sea. Based on Ezekiel’s vision and what John saw, the river of water of life evidently represents the provision for life having God and Christ as its source, and the trees yielding fruit each month and their leaves would be part of that provision. For people of the nations to benefit from what issues forth from the New Jerusalem, they would need to acknowledge their indebtedness to God and his Son in making it possible for them to be liberated from the death-dealing effects of sin on the basis of his Son’s sacrifice. The continuance of an abiding relationship with God and his Son would rest on availing themselves of all the divine provisions for life indicated by continuing to eat the fruit from the trees and making use of their leaves for healing purposes. People of the nations would also benefit from the services of those portrayed as residents of the New Jerusalem, as these servants of the Most High would be reigning and, in the capacity of associates of Christ in rulership, would be ministering to their needs.
The angel assured John that what he had revealed to him was deserving of absolute trust, saying, “These words are trustworthy and true.” This was so because the “God of the spirits of the prophets” had sent his angel to make known to his servants what would shortly take place. The expression “God of the spirits of the prophets” evidently indicates that the Most High is the source of true prophetic inspiration. The certainty of the fulfillment of the revealed prophetic message is set forth in the words, “the things that must take place shortly.” Those hearing the message were not to regard its fulfillment as being so distant as if it were never to be realized but were to consider it with a sense of immediacy and allow themselves to be comforted and strengthened by it during the course of their alien residence on earth. (22:6)
John heard the words, “Behold, I am coming quickly. Fortunate is the one who observes the words of the prophecy of this scroll.” (22:7) The speaker is not identified, but a number of translations insert Christ. Either the Father or the Son could be intended, for John did hear first-person expressions about coming from both the Father and the Son. (1:4, 8; 2:5, 16, 3:11; 16:15) In view of the angel’s focus on God as the source of prophetic inspiration, there is a basis for concluding that John may have heard the words of the Father or that his words were conveyed through his angel. All who would choose to live in harmony with the prophetic message would indeed be fortunate or in the enviable state of being among those to share in the resulting blessings. The coming would relate to the coming to execute judgment and to reward those then found to be approved. (11:17, 18; compare Malachi 3:5.) As this coming is by means of his Son, the basic meaning with respect to the results does not change if the words are understood as having been those of Jesus Christ.
John heard and saw all the things he recorded. Again moved emotionally by all the angel had shown him, John fell to his knees and prostrated himself before the angel’s feet. As earlier, the angel reminded him not to do so, as he was but a fellow servant of his and his brothers the prophets and those living in harmony with the words of “this scroll” (evidently containing the words John progressively had been writing). As the time for the fulfillment was near and not to be regarded as coming in the far distant future, the angel directed John not to seal the words of the prophecy recorded in the scroll, making it accessible to all who wanted to consider the message contained therein. The next statement indicates that individuals have a choice of either responding in a positive way to the prophetic word or ignoring it and pursuing a ruinous course. “Let the one practicing unrighteousness practice unrighteousness still; let the filthy one be filthy still; let the righteous one practice righteousness still, and let the holy one be holy still.” (22:8-11)
The one who promises to come quickly, repaying each one according to his work, identified himself as “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” At the outset of the revelation of which he is the ultimate source, the Almighty God revealed himself to be the Alpha and the Omega, the one who brings to a successful end all that he promises and initiates, and as the one who is coming. (1:8) Fittingly, like the opening of the book, the concluding part of the book includes the expression of the Father, and there is no contextual evidence for viewing it otherwise. According to 11:18, the Almighty is declared to be the one who will reward his servants the prophets, the holy ones, and those having reverential regard for his name. In harmony therewith, the one who is the Alpha and the Omega provides the assurance, “my reward is with me.” (22:12, 13; see the Notes section.)
The reward is sure for faithful ones. Fortunate, blessed, or in an enviable state of joyous well-being are those who do not defile their garments but continue to live upright lives. They will be granted to eat of the tree of life (denoting a never-ending relationship with the Almighty and his Son) and permitted to enter the city, the New Jerusalem, to share in all the joys and blessings associated with being part of Christ’s bride. Outside the city or cut off from all that an abiding relationship with the Father and the Son signifies would be those conducting themselves like vicious and promiscuous scavenger dogs, the practicers of occult arts, sexually immoral ones, and persons who prefer lies to truth, habitually lying to deceive others so as to take advantage of them or to escape deserved punishment. Their lot will be eternal doom. (22:14, 15; see the Notes section.)
Having received the revelation from his Father, Jesus identified himself as the one who sent his angel to testify to John and all believers in the various congregations who would be receiving the information that it came from God. When referring to himself as “the root and offspring of David,” Jesus Christ revealed that, besides being the “offspring” of David by reason of his human descent, he was also the “root” of David, the one through whom the royal authority of David came to life, fulfilling all the divine promises and godly hopes to which those earnestly looking for the coming of the Messiah held fast. As the morning star, he is the herald of a new day and the one through whom the darkness of former afflictions and distresses will vanish forever, not even being a lingering, painful memory. (22:16)
Possibly, in response to Jesus and the certainty of his coming and all that this would mean for believers, the spirit operating within the prophets moves them to cry out, “Come!” And Christ’s bride, the entire body of believers collectively, says, “Come!” And, individually, all those hearing the spirit-inspired call of the prophets and that of the bride, as from one united voice, are to take up the cry, “Come!” All thirsty ones are invited to come, to come to the one who can satisfy their thirst, making it possible for them to be refreshed and enjoy a newness of life. (22:17; see the Notes section for additional comments.) As Jesus Christ said when on earth, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” (John 7:37, 38, NRSV) Through him alone, all thirsty ones can obtain water of life free. This is what Jesus made clear to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. “Everyone who drinks of this water [from the well] will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13, 14, NRSV)
Seemingly, the Lord Jesus Christ is the one who added his warning: “I solemnly charge all who hear the words of the prophecy of this scroll [which John appears to have written progressively as he saw the vision]. If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the things written in this scroll. And if anyone takes away from the words of the scroll of this prophecy, God will take away his share from the tree of life and from the holy city.” (22:18, 19) The message about faithfulness to God and Christ was not to be diluted or altered in any way that would weaken its force, suggesting something contrary to its intent. At the same time, the marvelous promises were not to be altered to mean something else, depriving the afflicted believers of the comfort and hope they needed to sustain them.
The concluding assurance of God’s beloved Son is, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” To this, John responded, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.” (22:20)
For believers in every generation, this has been the message that brought them comfort. Christ will return. The beastly power of the world may rage, and many claiming to belong to Christ may actually, in attitude, word, and deed, reveal themselves to be his bitter enemies. Wars, famines, and dreadful diseases may plague earth’s inhabitants. Still, Christ’s cause continues to be victorious. No human has ever had more than a few decades of life on earth. For all God’s devoted servants, awakening from death means being with Christ and sharing in witnessing his triumph over all the forces of evil. As for those then alive, they will experience the relief from distress that they awaited and be united with him.
Meanwhile, the fulfillment of the prayerful expression with which the book concludes, is one in which all believers earnestly desire to continue to share, “The favor of our Lord Jesus [be] with all of you.” (22:21; see the Notes section.) That “favor” or grace includes all the help and guidance believers need in their daily walk regardless of whatever external pressures and trials they may face. As Jesus Christ told Paul when the apostle sought to be relieved from his “thorn in the flesh,” “My favor is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Many commentators dogmatically state that, in 22:13, Jesus Christ identifies himself as the Alpha and the Omega. The designation, however, is not preceded by “I, Jesus” (as are the words in 22:16). Moreover, up to this point, the focus has been on God. (22:9) In the absence of a specific identification of the speaker, insufficient evidence exists for the interpretation that, in the concluding chapter of Revelation, Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. It would appear that the passage unmistakably identifying the Alpha and the Omega as the Almighty should govern the way the same designation is to be understood in a less specific context.
In 22:14, the earliest extant manuscripts contain the reading “wash their robes,” but numerous later manuscripts say “do his commands.”
In 22:17, the Greek verb “come” is singular, providing a basis for concluding that it is directed to Christ. Another possibility is that the “come” serves as a personal invitation for others to come to the water of life or to the one through whom this life-giving water is available. In the vision, the river of water of life proceeds from the throne of God and of the Lamb (22:1), identifying the Father as the ultimate source of this river and revealing that the Son figures prominently in this arrangement for life. God is the one who made the provision for life through his Son, and all who would come to enjoy the life of an abiding relationship with him must come to the Son. Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, eternal life is impossible.
For verse 21, manuscript readings include “Lord Jesus,” “Lord Jesus Christ,” “our Lord Jesus Christ,” “with all,” “with all of you,” “with all of us,” “with the holy ones,” “with your holy ones,” “with all of the holy ones,” and “with all of his holy ones.”