Study On The Book Of Revelation – If you would like to comment on one of the lessons simply click on the title of the lesson and you will be take to the lesson page where you will find a comment section at the bottom.

*The material for these studies is from Jon Courson’s Commentary by Thomas Nelson Inc., R. Kent Hughes Preaching the Word series by Crossway, and Warren W. Wiersbe’s Commentary by Chariot Victor Publishing,  and  from James Montgomery Boice’s Expositional Commentary published by Baker Books, and from The Message of Romans, John R. W. Stott published by Inter Varsity Press, unless otherwise noted.

Revelation 11:3-14 The Two Witnesses

In our last study (vv. 1-2) we discovered John was told to measure the temple, with its altar and worshipers, depicting the true church of faithful believers. The outer court, depicting the false church of nominal Christians, was excluded. For forty-two months the nations will trample the church, though God’s protective barrier will preserve its spiritual life. This number depicts not a length of time but a kind of history, namely, one of violent opposition to Christ and His church. This was the very situation that John’s original readers faced in the late first century and that many Christians face in the early twenty-first century.

Verse 3 begins with “And,” showing that we are continuing the vision that began in verse 1. The church is described in the figure of “two witnesses” in light of the Bible’s requirement that truth be established by the testimony of two (Deut. 17:6). This emphasizes the legal validity of the church’s witness to the gospel, just as God often sent two angels to announce judgment or validate truth (Gen. 19:1; Luke 24:3-9; Acts 1:10-11). We realize as well that Jesus sent out evangelists “two by two” (Luke 10:1), so the emblem of two witnesses speaks of the church in its evangelistic calling.

John is told that the church “will prophesy for 1,260 days” (v. 3). In this context, to prophesy means to “declare God’s Word.” Some wonder why the time is here expressed in days rather than the months of verse 2. One possible answer is that verse 2 spoke of the siege of the church, and sieges are normally measured in months. The witness of the church, however, is a day-to-day endeavor.

Verse 4 describes the purpose of the church’s witness as “the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” Jesus described John the Baptist as “a burning and shining lamp” (John 5:35). A lamp does not shine its own light but reflects the light that shines on it. Christians likewise do not bear testimony to ourselves, but the church is a lampstand on which the light of Christ is to be seen. John the Baptist said of Christ: “I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel” (John 1:31). As lampstands stand “before the Lord of the earth” (v. 4), Christians are justified in God’s presence through the blood of Christ, and then reveal the truth of His Word and the grace of His gospel to the world.

By its testimony, the church not only serves the Lord but is kept safe in the presence of danger (v. 5). This is an allusion to the episode in 2 Kings 1:10-14, when the prophet Elijah called down fire from heaven to consume soldiers sent to arrest him. The point is that when the church witnesses boldly and faithfully, God’s Word has power over her enemies. Some Christians are tempted to shrink back from boldly declaring God’s Word as it comes into conflict with worldly values and practices. But we are reminded that we should not fear to declare God’s Word faithfully, since God protects those who valiantly stand for His truth.

Verse 6 speaks of the church’s witnessing power through prayer. The witnessing church of the gospel era will not be equipped with less power than the Old Testament heroes but through prayer will wield conquering power. The apostle James urged that the “prayer of a righteous person has great power,” and appealed to the example of Elijah: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth” (James 5:16-17).

Taken as a whole, John’s vision in Revelation 11 shows the power of the witnessing church, through the Word, sacraments, and prayer by the power of God’s Spirit. By these “ordinary means of grace,” the church is enabled to declare the truth of God’s Word, prevail over evil, and deliver sinners from judgment. Such is God’s power in the church that His witnesses cannot be defeated until Christians have given their testimony. But as verse 7 states, “when they have finished their testimony,” the world will wage violent war against them.

Verse 7 introduces a figure who will be prominent in the rest of Revelation, “the beast that rises from the bottomless pit,” who, once the Christians have given their witness, “will make war on them and conquer them and kill them.” Then “their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb.” (vv. 8-9).

John places this dreadful event in a location characterized by three biblical images. The slaying of the witnesses summarizes satanic opposition to the gospel throughout this present age, following the pattern that will be developed more fully in later chapters of Revelation. First is the city of Sodom, which represents perverse sexual abominations and idolatrous sin. Second is Egypt, where God’s holy people were kept in bondage and God’s message was hard-heartedly despised. Third is the crucifixion of Jesus outside Jerusalem, representing the rejection of God’s Messiah and His gospel. Verse 8 instructs that these images are to be taken “symbolically,” or, more literally, “in a spiritual manner.” The point is that they represent not a place in the world but the world itself in its sensual harlotry, violent persecution, and idol-worshiping false religion as it militantly opposes the gospel.

No doubt the beast in John’s vision believed he had finally defeated the Christian witness. The Jewish leaders thought the same when they had arranged Jesus’ crucifixion outside Jerusalem. Likewise, Saul of Tarsus perceived victory in the stoning of the first martyr, Stephen. But as with Jesus, so it is with His church, that crucifixion is followed by a resurrection through the power of God (v. 11). John’s vision, together with church history, shows that the world’s victories over the church are temporary and empty because of God’s resurrection power.

John’s vision further shows the church ascending to heaven in verse 12. We remember that this vision takes place between the sixth and seventh trumpets, and therefore it draws near to Christ’s return and the gathering in of the saints. Yet this is far from a “secret rapture,” since “their enemies watched them.” The gathering of Christ’s church in His return will see the vindication of His persecuted people. Accompanying the resurrection of Christ’s witness is a corresponding judgment on the wicked (v. 13). The symbolism of an earthquake shows the shaking and shattering of idolatrous power and worldly opposition to God. This effect occurs whenever the gospel is proclaimed in the power of God.

The angel concludes John’s vision by crying, “The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come” (v. 14). The third woe on the world will be the final judgment when the seventh trumpet is blown and Christ returns to end the age. Until that end in final judgment, the woe on God’s enemies means the continued blessing of the church’s gospel witness.

God preserves His gospel witness so that sinners can yet be saved. God’s preservation of the gospel offers salvation to you, if you will only repent and believe. This is the best way for you to give glory to God in light of His church’s mighty witness to the gospel: not in judgment through obstinate unbelief but in salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Then God will use you as His witness, and though you may suffer death for Jesus and His Word, God’s resurrection power will raise you up to never-ending life.

Revelation 11:3-14 Study Questions:

What are the tasks of the two witnesses, and what do they have the authority to do (vv. 3-6)? Why two witnesses?

How is God calling us to bear witness to Jesus today despite various obstacles?

If we understand the two witnesses to be symbolic for the whole of God’s people, in what way might it be said that they “tormented those who lived on the earth”?

What is the ultimate fate of the two witnesses (vv. 11-12)?

Why do the people remaining on earth suddenly “[glorify] the God of heaven” (v. 13)?

Revelation 11:1-2 Measuring the Temple

When John ate the scroll given him by the angel, an important change came over the narrative. From this point forward John is no longer a mere observer viewing the last days of mankind on earth as if watching a news broadcast. For the rest of this compelling story John himself becomes a part of the action.

Revelation 11 begins with two verses in which John is called on to participate in the action of the book. He was “given a measuring rod like staff,” presumably by the mighty angel who had met him in the preceding chapter. John was then told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple” (vv. 1-2). Our first challenge is to identify what is represented by the temple, its altar, and the outer court.

The vision of Revelation 11:1-2 centers on the image of the temple, which throughout the New Testament is primarily used to describe the Christian church. Paul told Christians that “you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you (1 Cor. 3:16). “For we are the temple of the living God,” he adds; “as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’” (2 Cor. 6:16. Peter said that Christians are together “being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

In this context, then, a literal understanding of temple is not that of a building like that which was replaces by Christ and His church, but, the focus is now on the whole covenant community forming a spiritual temple in which God’s presence dwells. Some of the visions of Revelation depict God in a heavenly temple, but without exception it is Christians who gather there to worship God and the Lamb.

Understanding this vision symbolically, we realize that John is told to measure the temple to show God’s commitment to preserve the church through the tribulations of this age. This vision, then, is analogous to the sealing of God’s servants in Revelation 7. At the same time, John is told not to “measure the court outside the temple” (v. 2)., which stands for nominal Christians associated with the church but not truly belonging. This concern for false or merely outward faith, together with false teaching, was emphasized in Jesus’ letters to the churches. The “holy city” in verse 2 symbolizes the church community, which during this present age will be trampled by the nations, symbolizing the unbelieving world. John’s command to measure the church therefore assures true believers that they will be protected and saved during the persecutions of this world, whereas merely outward professors of faith not only will be unprotected but will even join with unbelievers to persecute the true church.

When John is told that the holy city will be trampled by unbelievers, the duration given to him is “forty-two months” (v. 2). This period will repeatedly occur in Revelation – in this form, as three and a half years, or as 1,260 days, all of which equal the same length of time. In keeping with the different approaches to interpreting Revelation, a far better way to handle the forty-two months of verse 2 is symbolically. The forty-two months refers to the persecution that Christians suffer throughout the ages. This interpretation matches the vision of Revelation 12, in which the church goes out into the wilderness for three and a half years (“a time, and times, and a half a time”), during which she is protected from the dragon and nourished by God (Rev. 12:14). This too, shows the present are in which God’s people face continued persecution but are kept safe by our Sovereign Lord.

It remains important for us to apply these verses as they speak to believers today. The message is that, living in an age that is hostile to Christ and His followers, Christians must draw close to God, trusting in Christ’s blood, calling on God in prayer, and gathering with fellow believers for worship. The Lord extends His measuring rod to encompass those who are close to His presence, establishing a barrier to keep them safe for a salvation that will be revealed at the end of the age.

A special warning is given here to merely nominal believers, those who attend church but do not belong to the spiritual body of Christ’s true followers. They are like the Gentiles who were admitted to the former temple’s outer courts. “Do not measure the court outside the temple,” John is told (v. 2), showing that those who are Christians in name only are not protected by God; in fact, the nominal, worldly church “is given over to the nations” (v. 2). The institutional church and its apparatus, apart from a living faith in Jesus and a commitment to God’s Word, is annexed by the world. It is the nominal church that much of the persecution is launched against true believers. This happens today in the false teaching pouring forth from unbelieving seminaries and worldly church pulpits.

Are you a Christian in name only, not having received the Bible’s message in an obedient faith and not embracing its message of judgment for sin and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? Are you one who attends Christian events and uses Christian language, but has never relied of Christ for your personal salvation or surrendered your life to Jesus your Lord? If so, not only are you outside salvation, but you will not tolerate true, biblical Christianity. Revelation 11:2 gives a dreadful description of those who occupy the periphery of the church but do not worship “in spirit and truth” in the temple of Christ’s true church (John 4:24).

Understanding not only how history ends but also the times in which we are currently living, we consider John’s vision as urging true Christians to dwell close to God’s presence. The altar that John mentions speaks both of our reliance on Christ’s atoning blood for forgiveness and of the altar of prayer where we call on God for help. He further mentions “those who worship there” (v. 1), speaking of our calling to join the body of Christ’s believers who worship in the holy place of the Christian congregation. There, safe in God’s presence, we are measured, known, and kept safe within the holy precincts of the Christian church.

Revelation 11:1-2 Study Questions:

What else does verse 1 say John is to measure besides the temple and the altar?

Why was John not to “measure the court outside the temple”?

Revelation 10:5-11 The Mystery of God and the Little Scroll

Now we approach the mystery of God Himself (vv. 5-7). Here is a glimpse of what lies in store for us in coming chapters of Revelation. The end of the Ultimate Mystery is at hand. The mystery of God is about to be revealed. In this scene the mighty angel begins by raising his right hand to heaven, which signifies that a solemn oath is being given, and important truth is about to be disclosed. The angel swears in this scene by God, the Maker of the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. The angel is swearing by the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – that the long delay is at last over and the mystery of God is about to be revealed. The question which has preoccupied the thoughts and hopes of believers for centuries is about to be answered.

Every generation of Christians has expected the imminent return of the Lord Jesus. We read in Acts that the Christians of the first century expected His return in their own lifetime. Read the letters of Paul, and you can see that he expected the Lord’s return in his own lifetime. Nearly 2000 years later, the Lord has not returned. Our generation of believers like every other before it continues to expect the Lord’s return. His return could easily take place before the end of this century – yet it may not. The Lord alone knows, and at this particular moment the mystery of God remains unresolved.

In verses 8 to 11, we encounter the mystery of the scroll. In this passage, the angel gives the apostle John a book to eat and it gives him a sour stomach. The symbolism of eating the Word is a way of indicating that the truth written on the scroll becomes personal. It is not merely read but it is actually assimilated. That is what happens when we eat food, is it not? There is a lot of truth to the old saying, “You are what you eat.” The food you eat becomes you! The food we eat becomes, in a very short time, the body we wear. And John experiences in his vision the symbolic act of metabolizing and assimilating the Word of the Lord. He is taking the Word of the Lord internally, becoming personally involved in it, becoming changed by it, and ultimately allowing it to become a part of his own makeup.

We find this same imagery in the prophecy of Ezekiel 2:9 to 3:3. Then Ezekiel was sent to deliver a message to Israel in Ezekiel 3:14. Note the striking similarity between what Ezekiel experienced when he ate the scroll and what John experienced in Revelation 10. In both cases the prophecy that is received and consumed tastes sweet at first, but leaves an unpleasant sensation in the stomach.

The little scroll John receives from the angel contains the methods of God in working out His purposes on the earth. There is an element of sweetness in the plan of God, when John first bites into it. But as he assimilates the truth of God, as he becomes more and more deeply and personally involved with it, a sour sensation arises within him. This symbolizes the fact that God’s truth has a painful and unpleasant dimension to it when we really apply it to our own lives. The truth of God tastes sweet as long as it is “out there,” in the realm of promise and hope and future glory. But once the truth of God trespasses “in here,” in the realm of conviction and judgment and the exposure of our sinfulness and nakedness before God, it becomes a sour and unpleasant experience.

God’s truth has that effect on us. It had that effect on John. When he ate the scroll, it was sweet in his mouth, but turned his stomach sour. But afterwards John was given a new assignment. “Then I was told,” he relates in verse 11, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.’” There is an instructive principle here: After you have personally entered into the painful yet cleansing experience of God’s judgment in your life, you are then prepared to speak to someone else about the program of God. John has been given the privilege of ministering again to nations, peoples, languages, and kings. This is a new ministry, and it is described for us in Revelation 11 through 14.

John is qualified to reveal to us the judgments of God because he himself has allowed God to enter into his own soul and search it with the light of truth. Have you and I made the same commitment before God? Have we exposed our inner secrets to the light of God’s Word, His truth, and His judgment? The beauty of God that rests upon us as we seek to win the lost for Him is the beauty of a life that has been opened, searched, cleansed, and made new by the transforming truth of God. When He has tried us, then we are prepared to go out into the world, armed with the convicting Word of His gospel, ready to impact other lives for God.

Revelation 10:5-11 Study Questions:

What is “God’s mystery” that will be fulfilled in the days when the seventh trumpet is sounded?

The Lamb has removed the seals; now the scroll can be read. And John is to be the one to do it. This, it seems, is the reason why he was invited into the heavenly throne room. How is John invited to participate in this (vv. 8-9)?

Why is it important for us to “eat” God’s Word before we speak it to others?

How does God’s Word sometimes seem sweet to us and sometimes sour?

What happens to the sweet-tasting scroll once it reaches John’s stomach and what might this symbolize (v. 10)?

What in particular is John told that he must prophesy about (v. 11)?

How might John have felt after receiving this commission? How, specifically, is God calling you to “eat” and speak His message today?

Revelation 10:1-4 The Mighty Angel

In Revelation 8 and 9, we caught a horrifying glimpse of the cataclysmic future of our world. But beginning with Revelation 10 and continuing into part of chapter 11, we find a kind of intermission, an interlude that divides the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments. As we have already observed, in each series of judgments – the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls of wrath – there is always a break between the sixth and seventh judgments.

Beginning in Revelation 10, this vision depicts the church as receiving God’s Word, holding fast to it, and bearing testimony on God’s behalf despite persecution and even martyrdom. Chapter 10 concludes with a command for John to “prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings” (v. 11). John’s commission to preach, coupled with chapter 11’s vision of the two persecuted witnesses, provides an explanation for the world’s judgment. According to Revelation 10, Christ’s true church is defined as having received and treasured God’s revealed Word. Just as Israel was called to be “a light for the nations” (Isa. 49:6), the church is commissioned to bear testimony to the gospel in a hostile world. The vision of the “mighty angel” and his “little scroll” supplies us with reasons to accept this calling and remain always faithful to God’s holy Word.

The first reason why Christians must maintain our witness to Christ and His Word is the sovereign glory of the Redeemer whose message it is. The vision begins with John seeing “another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun and his legs like pillars of fire” (v. 1). This is the second “mighty angel” we have encountered in Revelation, and since they both deal with the scroll of God’s will, they are obviously connected. This angel “had a little scroll open in his hand” (v. 2), and we recall the scroll earlier opened by Jesus. Since this is a “little scroll,” it is not the entirety of God’s will but the portion that God is revealing to John.

The descriptions of this awesome angel include so many indicators of deity that many scholars believe the mighty angel is Jesus Himself (v. 1). It is unlikely that this figure is Christ, however, since in Revelation He is described as the conquering Lamb and since the word angel consistently designates Christ’s heavenly servants. At the very least, though, this mighty angel is intended to represent the glory of Christ whom he serves. The mighty angel reminds us that we, too, are to adorn our witness of Christ’s gospel message with lives that are being transformed into His holy image (2 Cor. 3:18).

The details of this glorious angel further depict Christ as Israel’s Redeemer in the exodus. During Israel’s sojourn from bondage in Egypt to kingdom in the Promised Land, God’s cloud descended on the tabernacle, Moses’ face shone with God’s radiance when he emerged from the Lord’s presence, and the pillar of fire guided and protected the people. The rainbow symbolizes God’s covenant mercy, signifying not only glory and power but also deliverance for God’s people. In this way, the angel communicates that Christ is going to lead His people to the new and better Promised Land.

The vision of this “mighty angel” emphasizes God’s sovereignty. In Daniel 7:13-14, the Son of Man comes “with the clouds of heaven” to receive His eternal dominion from God. Now this angel represents Christ “wrapped in a cloud” (v. 1). Moreover, the gigantic angel “set His right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land” (v. 2). In the Bible, to have something under one’s feet is to exercise dominion over it. Here, Christ’s angel depicts His sovereignty over the entirety of creation, land and sea. Later in Revelation we will see Christ’s enemy, Satan, raising beasts from the land and the sea. Here, in advance of those beasts, we are reminded that Christ already has His foot planted on the domains from which they come.

Finally, Christ’s sovereignty is depicted by the angel’s great shout, “with a loud voice, like a lion roaring” (v. 3). Jesus has already been revealed as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (5:5). It was because Jesus conquered as Lion and Lamb that He received the heavenly scroll, a portion of which the angel now holds out to John.

The angel’s exodus imagery reminds us that Christians are God’s holy people on a pilgrimage through this world toward heaven. Whatever else you may be – as defined by your family, job, race, or social status – if you are a Christian, you are the object of God’s eternal plan of salvation and a follower of the Sovereign Lord who redeemed you by His blood. As the pillar of cloud and fire guided and protected Israel in the desert, you are being led and protested by Christ so that you will arrive safely in the new world of the age to come. The key to following Christ, which you must do for salvation, is to receive, trust, and obey God’s Word, which is why the mighty angel came to John with the “little scroll” open in his hand,

The angel who depicts the glory of Christ as our sovereign Redeemer prompts us to treasure and uphold God’s holy Word because of the glory of the One who gives it. The book of Revelation begins by saying that Jesus has a revelation from God to give to His people, which He made “known by sending his angel to his servant John” (Rev. 1:1). This first point of the book is now vividly depicted by the angel who brings the scroll to John. His appearance reminds us that the Word of God that we read, believe, and proclaim today comes from the One who is sovereign over the entire creation and the Savior who is delivering us to heaven.

The world may call the gospel “hate speech,” but Christians must go on stating that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). How can we dare to hold fast to God’s Word before a scornful world, without capitulation or compromise? Because looking on Jesus as our Sovereign Redeemer, depicted by this “mighty angel,” we remember whose scroll it is and from whom God’s revealed Word came to us. To reject this message is to reject Jesus Himself, the only Savior, and willingly to compromise the Scriptures is to betray Jesus our Lord.

Chapter 10 begins with the appearing of the mighty Christ-angel, but its message about God’s Word is only heightened by the action that follows. John heard the angel shout with a lion’s roar, and in answer “the seven thunders sounded” (v. 3). In the Bible, thunder signifies the majesty of God in His coming (Ps. 29:3), together with power to shatter all opposition. The addition of seven thunders to the seven seals and seven trumpets, along with the seven bowls yet to come, can only speak of more judgment on the world. We were told after the sixth trumpet was blown that idolatrous mankind still would not repent and turn from false gods and from sin (Rev. 9:20-21). Therefore, the shout of the angel is answered by seven thunders foretelling more judgments that the rebel world deserves.

As John was preparing to write down what he heard from the seven thunders, he was unexpectedly stopped: “When the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down’” (V. 4). John was not to record the judgment of the seven thunders. Scholars suggest a number of reasons for this command. One suggestion is that this shows us that God has more plans for history that He has chosen to reveal to us in the Bible. Therefore, we should not be surprised when things happen that are not accounted for by Scripture.

The best explanation is the one given by the angel himself in the verses 5-7. The angel anticipates the seventh trumpet that is about to be blown and solemnly declares that Christ will immediately return to bring the final judgment and the conclusion of the age.

Revelation 10:1-4 Study Questions:

How is the mighty angel described in verses 1-3?

We’ve already seen, earlier in the book, several of the symbols mentioned in verses 1-3. We saw a cloud in 1:7, the sun in 1:16, a rainbow in 4:3 and a lion in 5:5. Look back at these passages. What clues do they give as to the significance of the angel described in 10:1?

The angel also stands with one foot on the land and one on the sea. Taken together, what do they signify?

Revelation 9:12-21 The Devil’s Horsemen

In verses 12 to 16 we hear the sounding of the sixth trumpet by the sixth angel. John now hears a voice that comes from the horns of the golden altar. We have already seen this altar in Revelation 8 – the altar of incense on which was offered before God the prayers of the saints who were then living on the earth. In that passage an angel took fire from the altar and threw it down upon the earth – and judgment followed. Here, in the terrible events of the sixth angel and the sixth trumpet, the prayers of the saints in Revelation 6 are finally answered.

Notice that God’s answer takes the form of releasing four powerful fallen angels who have been bound for centuries at the great river Euphrates. But these evil beings have not been given free reign in the earth. God’s control over them is sovereign, and His timing of this event is surgically precise. These fallen angels are released at the “very hour and day and month and year” God had long ago predetermined. No power, human or demonic, could change the timing of that event by as much as a second. Notice that these events are all linked with the Euphrates River, the ancient boundary between the East and the West. It is at this ancient and historic river that four evil beings are somehow bound at this very moment, awaiting the very hour and day and month and year that God has foreordained for their release.

The 200-million-man army described in verse 16 has been subject to various interpretations. Many Bible commentators have claimed that this army is composed entirely of soldiers taken from the vast populations of Asian nations such as China, India, Japan, and Indochina. It is certainly true that the reference to the Euphrates River suggests that a barrier has been removed so that armies from the East can cross into the West. But note the number of angels released at the Euphrates: four. Four is the number of worldwide human government. It symbolizes the four directions of the compass – north, south, east, and west. This fact strongly suggests that 200 million soldiers will come not from any one country or even any one direction, but from all directions. And they gather in one place. We find the name of that place in Revelation 16, and it is a name which has become associated with the end of the world: Armageddon.

Armageddon – the Hebrew word for the Mount of Megiddo – is a place in northern Israel, less than 20 miles southeast of the modern port city of Haifa. Revelation 9 gives us our first glimpse of the terrible forces of death and destruction that will gather in the plain of Megiddo. There the great armies of the earth will assemble from every point of the compass to fight the last and bloodiest war of all of human history.

A fascinating mystery surrounds the additional description of this gathering of armies in verses 17-19. John recounts the vividly colorful symbols and images of his vision of the final conflict. It hardly seems possible that John himself understood what he was looking at. All he could do was record his impressions of future warriors, armor, and weaponry far beyond his ability to imagine. In fact, the events are still in our own future and may be beyond our own ability to imagine as well.

Yet is seems clear that what John envisions is machinery of future military destruction translated into the military terminology of his own day. Breastplates of various colors seem to suggest armored chariots – that is, tanks, troop carriers, missile launchers, rocket batteries, artillery pieces, and aircraft of various countries bearing the identifying colors of their nations of origin. The lions’ mouths which spouted fire and smoke suggest cannons, mortars, rocket launchers, and even missiles killing great masses of people with fire, radiation, and poison gasses. The fact that one-third of the human race is destroyed in this conflict strongly suggests that weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, will be used.

Another intriguing image is that of the horses’ tails, described as being like snakes, having heads that inflict injury. These words could apply to various kinds of modern armament – helicopter gunships with rotors mounted on their long tail assemblies, or perhaps missiles which leave a snake-like trail of smoke in their wake and inflict injury with their warheads. Perhaps it is a description of weapons that are yet to be invented. Regardless of what the details of these images mean, the overall picture is clear – and frightening. This scene will become still clearer as future chapters of Revelation return to this horrific scene and fill in additional nuances and details of the total picture.

The final scene under the sixth trumpet judgment is the reaction of these events of unprecedented calamity and horror (vv. 20-21). Even after all the catastrophes and upheavals that have occurred, both natural and man-made, the human race remains unrepentant and hard-hearted. Notice that the first and foremost sin mentioned by John is that of demon worship. This one sin explains all the rest, as well as mankind’s irrational and self-destructive unwillingness to repent. These people have willingly and completely enwrapped themselves in a satanic delusion.

In studying Revelation 9, we should learn three important lessons. The first is that because of its idolatry and sin, our world is judged by God with spiritual torments and destruction. These plagues originate in the Abyss where demons dwell. There are times when Christian influence is strong and a wholesome culture may flower in secular society. But when society turns away from God and rejects His Word, God will respond by judging that idolatry with spiritual forces of evil torment. Verse 15 suggests definite, foreordained times when God unleashes conquest on the pride of secular powers. Because we are called to live differently from the world, Christians will be accused of being out of touch and out of style. But according to Revelation 9, our holy separation from the spirit of the age protects us from the judgments even now being inflicted on the world.

Second, fearful as these judgments are, Christians should have no fear of them. This passage is filled with signs of God’s complete sovereignty over these plagues and torments. The chapter begins with God’s granting the angel permission to open the Abyss (v. 1). Verse 10 shows that God restricts the extent of the locust plague. The sixth trumpet begins with a command that comes from “the four horns of the golden altar before God” (v. 13). We have previously seen that this altar is where the prayers of the martyrs and saints are offered, so that these judgments are God’s response to His people’s pleas for deliverance. Fearful as these trumpet plagues may be, they are under the complete control of our covenant-keeping God, and thus they are unable to harm us. Many believers, however, are afflicted by their sinful lives before coming to Christ. They may therefore bear scars and enter the Christian life with habits picked up from sinful influences. But what a hope they have in Jesus Christ.

Third, we find at the end of the chapter that the purpose of these judgments is to awaken sinners to their need to repent and return to the Lord through faith in Jesus Christ (vv. 20-21). There is no reason for you to follow this self-destroying example. To worship the idols of this world – money, pleasure, power, sex – is to be in service to demons and to receive the torments reserved in judgments for this world. God intends that through the misery of this life of sin, you will realize your need to be forgiven the guilt of sin and delivered from the power of sin. God offers all of these to you as a loving gift through faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

Revelation 9 is well summed up by a bumper sticker that you may have seen: “No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace.” Without Jesus – without the forgiveness and cleansing from sin that He gives – there is no peace in this world of sin. But if we come to know Him in saving faith, trusting His redeeming work to set sinners free from judgment and misery, we will know peace. “Peace I leave with you,” Jesus said; “my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

Revelation 9:12-21 Study Questions:

What happens when the sixth angel blows his trumpet (vv. 13-15)?

How are the riders and their horses described (vv. 17-19)? What do the horses and riders symbolize?

What is the response of the rest of humankind who are not killed by these plagues (vv. 20-21)?

What are the idols that we are tempted to worship, and how do we become like them when we choose to serve them rather than God?

How is God calling us to repent today?

Revelation 9:1-11 From the Bottomless Pit

In chapter 9, we arrive at the judgment of the fifth angel and the fifth trumpet (vv. 1-11). In the judgment of the third angel with the third trumpet we saw a great star fall into the sea. In this remarkable passage another star falls – but this time onto the earth. Here, as in previous depictions of judgment, we are probably witnessing a literal event – perhaps the fall of a brilliant meteor from the skies. The text makes it clear, however, that this is also a symbolic event. The star represents an individual who is given a key by which he opens up the gateway of hell, which is called here the Abyss.

In Luke 8:31, when Jesus cast the host of demons named Legion out of a man by the Sea of Galilee, the demons “begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.” The same Greek word for Abyss is used in this passage as in Revelation 9. By examining other passages of Scripture we can see that demons have already been imprisoned in the Abyss. Jude 1:6 tells us there are angels which are “kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.” It seems apparent that in these scenes in Revelation 9 we come to that “great Day” referred to in the book of Jude, for in this passage the “star” which falls to earth becomes a being who takes the key to the Abyss and opens it. Out of the Abyss come great clouds of billowing smoke, darkening the daytime sky. Then out of the inky clouds come hordes of locusts, so thick and numerous that they have the appearance of clouds – yet another image laden with literal and figurative meaning.

At the same time that we see a literal plague of locusts unleashed, we also see the release of demons – invisible spirit beings from the pit of hell. The demons are released to go out across the earth like a plague of locusts. As we shall see as we continue to explore this passage, the person represented by this second star is a Jewish religious leader who turns apostate and unleashes demonic forces, like clouds of deadly locusts, upon the earth. I believe this leader is Jewish because of the clues given in the passage.

The locusts/demons were told not to harm “the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” Clearly grass, trees, and plants represent people, as we have already seen in Revelation 7. More specifically, they represent Israel. Yet there is a certain group of them – the 144,000 who have been sealed by God – who are guarded and protected from demonic influence and control by the Spirit of God. Those unbelievers upon whom the locusts/demons are unleashed are not destroyed, but are instead tormented for a period of five months.

The being represented by the second star, then, is that person the apostle Paul refers to in 2 Thessalonians as “the Man of Sin,” a crucially important individual who arises in the last days. This man sits in the temple of God and claims the worship of Israel and of the entire earth. He is well known, even among casual students of the Bible and biblical prophecy. He is sometimes called the Antichrist.

In verses 3 and 5 where John writes that the locusts/demons “were given power like that of scorpions of the earth” – power not to kill the unbelievers on the earth, but rather “to torture them for five months.” And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes a man.” The Antichrist has loosed a horde of demons upon the earth, and these demons afflict the human race with their agonizing “sting.” This “sting” is the demonic propaganda of the Antichrist, the hellish lies he uses to ensnare the minds and hearts of those who are naked to demonic attack because they have not been sealed by the Holy Spirit. The metaphor of a scorpion’s sting speaks of the lies which the Antichrist inflicts, deceiving and mentally tormenting the world on a massive scale.

In verses 7 through 11 John goes on to describe, in metaphoric terms, the locusts/demons from the Abyss and the horrible delusion they bring upon the earth. At first glance, the symbols in this passage may seem difficult to understand, but they are really not difficult to interpret. They are consistent with symbols used elsewhere in Revelation and other prophetic books of Scripture. The locusts take on the appearance of war-horses wearing something like crowns of gold, which speak of authority. As people hear the teachings and claims of this magnetic leader, he gives the impression of speaking with authority and power. The locusts wear human-like faces, suggests intelligence. The teaching of the Antichrist will appear reasoned and appealing to the mind. Hair like women’s hair suggests that which is alluring and attractive, which the Antichrist’s propaganda will be.

But his propaganda will also be like lions’ teeth – penetrating, cruel, and frightening. Iron breastplates speak of hardness and callousness of heart, for the demonic forces behind the Antichrist’s power are the most pitiless, merciless beings in the universe. Once their torment begins, there is no relief and no escape. The sound of the locusts’ wings is like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. His message will appear as an overpowering sound, symbolizing the fact that it will come forcefully and overpoweringly. This speaks of the fact that it will be irresistible to the masses, so that the Antichrist himself will become widely popular. The stings in the locusts’ tails, like the stings of scorpions, speak of the terrible aftermath of the Antichrist’s influence:  mental, emotional, and spiritual torment inflicted by demonic powers upon all those who opened themselves up to their oppression.

Revelation 9:1-11 Study Questions:

John’s concept of the present creation includes a bottomless pit which, like a black hole in modern astrophysics, is a place of anti-creation, anti-matter, of destruction and chaos. What happens when the bottomless pit opens up (vv. 2-3)?

Why do you think John describes the super-locusts that emerge from the pit in so much detail (vv. 7-10)?

Where do we see evidence of this kind of widespread, cosmic harboring of rebellion and destructiveness in our own times?

What are the limitations of the locusts’ authority (vv. 4-5)?

Why such drastic measures are sometimes needed in order to bring about repentance?

We too have seen terrible things in our day such as using sophisticated military equipment to strike terror into human hearts. If we suppose that such destruction ultimately comes, like the insect-on-steroids in John’s vision, from the bottomless pit, under the direction of the Antichrist, what is our proper response?

Revelation 8:6-13 The First Four Trumpets

Revelation 8:6 launches the third cycle of visions with angels blowing seven trumpets. In the Bible, trumpets are blown for a variety of reasons. They are sounded as a call to the people of God to assemble for an important occasion. The feasts of Israel were hailed “with blasts of trumpets,” as “a holy convocation” (Lev. 23:24). Trumpets hailed Solomon’s ascension to David’s throne (1 Kings 1:34, 39).  According to the New Testament, a trumpet blast will herald the second coming of Christ, summoning the elect to join Him from all over the earth (Matt. 24:30-31). Against this background, verse 6 tells us that “the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them,” we can expect to see God intervening in history to defeat His enemies.

Let us now see what the trumpets of the angels signify. The description in verse 7 is reminiscent of the seventh plague that befell Egypt during Moses’ confrontation with Pharaoh, when hail and lightning came upon the whole land. In Revelation 8 we see hail and lightning mingled with blood.  This is not a new phenomenon. Scientists and historians have recorded other times when red rain fell from the sky. Revelation 8 foresees a time when hail and fire, mingled with blood, will descend not on some isolated region of the earth, but over great portions of the land. It will devastate much of our natural world.

Notice that the plagues of the first four trumpets all fall on creation, causing massive environmental damage. It is as though the Lord were saying, “You have taken the natural world for granted, abused it, and plundered it. You want a devastated world? Very well then, you shall have it.” As always, the worst judgment God can mete out to sinful humanity is to give humanity what it demands. But the destruction that is depicted here doesn’t just have a literal dimension. It is also powerfully symbolic. It is designed to teach us a truth of God that is invisible to the eyes of men at that time. I believe this passage depicts a judgment that is directed not only against the natural world and the environment, but upon Israel – both its leaders (symbolized by the trees) and its people (symbolized by the grass). Old Testament prophets pointed to a future time when God would judge His people Israel, an example is in Zephaniah 1:12-13.

Next, John describes the judgment brought about by the second angel and the second trumpet (vv. 8-9). The first trumpet judgment assaulted the earth. The second attacks the sea. A great blazing mountain-like object falls into the sea. This could be the result of an unimaginably violent volcanic eruption or it could be a massive meteor falling out of space and flaming through the atmosphere, landing at last in the sea. Whatever this mountain-like object is, it will cause the sea to become blood-red resulting in leaving a third of all marine life dead and a third of all shipping destroyed.

If these are literal events, there is also a symbolic dimension to them. The image of the great mountain, blazing with fire and tumbling into the sea, symbolizes a great kingdom aflame with revolution. The prophet Jeremiah records some strikingly similar imagery when he conveys the Lord’s judgment against Babylon (Jer. 51:25). As we gather by comparing this passage with other passages of Scripture, the symbol of the mountain-like object falling into the sea probably symbolizes the influence of what is popularly called “the revived Roman Empire,” the ten-kingdom coalition of Western European and Western allied nations that will be prominent, under the leadership of the Antichrist, during the Tribulation period. So the symbolic image of these verses suggests a time when the Antichrist-led coalition will fall upon the Gentiles of the world like a flaming, destroying mountain, conquering the Gentile nations while destroying many Gentile lives.

As happened in the first trumpet judgment, and as will happen again and again throughout these seven judgments, we see the repetitive use of the term “a third.” Under the seals of judgment, the losses were limited to “a forth,” but here we see losses of “a third,” again and again. What is the difference between the judgments of the seven seals and the judgments of the seven trumpets? Four is the number of human government. Under the seal judgments God was indicating that He uses human government to limit the onslaught of the four terrible horseman of Revelation 6. Human government will still retain some vestige of restraining power during those days. But in Revelation 8, even that limited amount of restraint has been removed. Under the trumpet judgments, God alone restrains. Three is the divine number, the symbol of God’s attributes. By the repeated phrase “a third” God is indicating that only His mercy and grace limits these terrible apocalyptic judgments to one-third of the earth.

Now John describes the judgment brought about by the third angel and the third judgment (vv. 10-11). This great star which falls into the rivers and the fountains of the earth is very likely a comet or comet-like object which breaks up when it enters the atmosphere and scatters itself throughout the earth, falling into the rivers and springs and poisoning them. It is interesting to speculate that the form of poisoning described in these verses might actually be a form of radiation. In fact, we may have already witnessed a fore gleam of such an event when a nuclear reactor experienced a melt down at Chernobyl. It is no mere coincidence that the word Chernobyl is actually Russian for “Wormwood”! I believe God was desperately trying to warn us during that terrible nuclear accident – but, as usual, humankind refuses to listen.

Again, I believe the destruction depicted has a symbolic as well as a literal dimension. It is designed to teach us God’s truth about the invisible realm of man’s internal being. Rivers, of course, symbolize great masses of people moving together in one direction – entire populations caught up in one idea, one mindset, moving predictably and inexorably like a river toward a single destination. The springs symbolize the sources of moral or philosophical leadership. The star symbolizes a prominent leader. It appears from these symbols that the great person, widely recognized as a leader, will suddenly reverse his policy. He will, in essence, fall. Many people will be embittered by the turnabout of this influential leader. In the mass struggle that ensues, many will experience moral and spiritual death. This is exactly the scene that is described for us later in Revelation under the rule of the Beast that comes from the earth.

Next John describes the judgment brought about by the fourth angel and the fourth trumpet (v. 12). Now compare this verse with the words of the Lord Jesus from His Sermon on the Mount in Luke 21:25-26. There is no question that Jesus here describes the same event that John relates as the judgment of the fourth trumpet. But not only is this a literal event in which the sun, moon, and stars are darkened or fail for a time to give their light, this is also a powerfully symbolic event.

The sun, moon, and stars are used in various places in Scripture to symbolize earthly authorities. The highest such authorities – kings, prime ministers, dictators, and presidents – would be portrayed as the sun. Lesser authorities would be portrayed as the moon and stars. Thus, we see depicted here a hierarchy of civil authority – authority which somehow is eclipsed under judgment of the fourth trumpet. The darkening of these heavenly bodies means that these authorities will be morally darkened. Instead of displaying sound moral judgment, their judgment will be darkened and evil. They will display no ethical restraint, no compassion, and no justice. People under their government will experience only deceit, cruelty, treachery, oppression, and merciless exploitation. By the grace of God, this darkening will still be limited to a third. Some restraint of evil will still be possible in those evil times, but only by the sovereign grace of a sovereign God!

In verse 13, an eagle appears with a message of warning and lament. If you study in the King James Version, you will find the word “angel” instead of “eagle,” but the more authoritative and reliable Greek manuscripts use the Greek word for “eagle.” After the woes that have already befallen the earth, it is difficult to imagine what could follow in the next three trumpet blasts that could be any worst – yet as we shall see, the eagle’s threefold cry of “Woe!” is well-deserved.

As we examine this passage, we should note that there is a mistranslation in the text. The phrase “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth” would be better translated “Woe to those who make their home on earth.” This may seem a small difference at first, but it is actually an extremely important distinction. During the days of the Great Tribulation there will be many converts, redeemed followers of Christ, who are inhabitants of the earth but do not make their home on earth. They will live and act as though their citizenship is in heaven. Those “who make their home on earth” are a moral and spiritual class of people who live only for the present life and care nothing for the things of God and the life to come. They care only about the present, about their own immediate and self-centered needs, their own pleasures, their own will. They give no thought to others. They give no thought in the purpose of life or the meaning of their own existence. They give no thought to God.

The warning of the eagle is that a terrible doom is coming upon all those who live for the moment, who live for self, who have no larger framework for their lives than today’s pleasures. This is the kind of moral decay that will exist in that day. The first four trumpets, which should have been “loud” enough to awaken anyone with ears to hear, appear to have fallen on deaf ears among those “who make their home on earth.” The next three trumpets shall bring unimaginable woe upon those who live only for the moment and for self.

Revelation 8:6-13 Study Questions:

What do the first two trumpets bring (vv. 6-9)?

The idea of a huge mountain being thrown into the sea is an image used by Jesus himself on occasion, for example, Mark 11:23, and was familiar in other Jewish writings of the time. Why is it significant that this vision uses symbols and ideas that were already familiar to John’s readers?

What plagues do the third and fourth trumpets bring (vv. 10-12)?

The picture of a giant star falling from the sky (v. 10) has resonances with the ancient story of a fallen angel being cast out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12). By including this detail, how might John be pointing us to the ultimate meaning of what is being revealed in these plagues?

How does Revelation 8 underscore the seriousness of evil in our world?

There is nothing wrong with being an earth-dweller. But the point John is making, again and again, is that there are many who have lived on earth as though there were no heaven, or as though, if heaven there be, it was irrelevant. In what ways do we still see the tendency to think this way in our own day?

How might we set a counter-example as those who do embrace God’s re-establishment of the rule of heaven on earth?

Revelation 8:1-5 Silence in Heaven

At the end of Revelation 7, the apostle John had been treated not merely to a great musical performance on earth but to the mixed choir of saints and angels in heaven, giving glory to God and to the Lamb. The opening of the first four seals on God’s scroll had showed the riders of woe going forth into the earth. The fifth seal sounded the souls of the martyrs crying out for justice, followed by the sixth seal and the unleashing of God’s judgment. Chapter 7 cut back and forth between heaven and earth, showing how God’s servants are sealed below and glorified above. John’s angel interpreter finally looked ahead to the ultimate bliss awaiting Christ’s people, with God sheltering them with His presence and the Lamb leading them to springs of living water.

There remained one seal to be opened, however, and Christians naturally expect it to bring Jesus’ appearing to end the age of judgment. At the start of chapter 8, the seventh seal is opened, yet instead of a glorious vision of Christ’s return, “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (v. 1). At the brink of the very end, the music above is stopped and every breath is held. “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord,” commanded the prophet Zechariah, “for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling” (Zech. 2:13).

We should understand the silence of Heaven at the opening of the seventh seal in two ways. First, it reflects awe at the glory and majesty of the Sovereign Lord who comes in splendor and light. In the Old Testament, awed silence is commanded before the coming of God to judge: “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near” (Zeph. 1:7). In addition to expressing awe, the silent pause of the seventh seal serves the literary purpose of John in writing the Book of Revelation. If we were listening to it being read for the first time, we might think that the book was concluding with the opening of the seventh seal. Yet there is more to reveal: more contours of history and more details of God’s plan to save His people. Therefore, just when Christ is about to step out from the clouds of glory onto the earth, Revelation pauses with only the silence that attends His coming.

The opening of the seventh seal produces more than silence in heaven. Immediately, John is shown “the seven angels” who will appear in the next section, who “stand before God,” and to whom “seven trumpets were given” (v. 2). We are not told the identity of these seven angels. However, in Scripture we find two angels “who stand before God,” Gabriel (Luke 1:19) and Michael (Jude 9). Jewish aprcryphal writings supply the names of the other five as Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Sariel, and Remiel (1 Enoch 20:2-8). Since John identifies these angels as “the seven,” it’s probably best to understand them as the seven archangels.

Before any trumpets are blown, however, another angel “came and stood at the altar with a golden censer.” This bowl or fire pan contained “much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne” (v. 3). As he made his offering, “the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel” (v. 4). Having performed this ministry, the angel “took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were pearls of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (v. 5).

In Luke 12:49, Jesus said, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and I wish that it were already burning!” The flaming judgments of Revelation 8:5 correspond to the opening of the seventh seal, the silence of which signifies Christ’s return and the fiery cleansing of the world to which Jesus looked forward. It is further obvious that His fire is cast down in response to the prayers revealed by the fifth seal (Rev. 6:10). In judgment of the seventh seal, Christ has responded to their pleas and avenged His martyred church.

The emphasis on prayer in this passage makes a number of important points. First and foremost, we see that prayer is the means by which God accomplishes His purpose in history. This is the point that we are to notice in verses 3-5, a point so important that the seven archangels are interrupted from blowing their trumpets. God reveals the strength of His covenant bond with His people and His attention to their prayers by first sending the angel to offer up the prayers of the saints and only then using their container to cast fiery judgments on the world. One reason that this needs to be emphasized is that Christians tend to rely on our own activity and to focus on what we can do against sin and evil, while we often neglect the far more important resource of prayer. In contrast, the biblical idea of holy warfare places prayer first and our own activity second.

As Christians in America face mounting threats to religious liberty and furious assaults on moral decency and truth, we must therefore recommit ourselves to the ministry of prayer. Worldly powers advance, and Christians have tried to meet them with worldly means: through the legislature, the media, and the courtroom. These are legitimate means, but means that the world is able to use more effectively than Christians can. These are the arenas in which the spirit of unbelief has power. Prayer is the arena in which Christians have a greater power than that of the world. While our own activity must fail without prayer, prayer alone in the hands of God is mighty to bring God’s judgment on the enemies of His kingdom.

A second vital point from this passage is that the prayers of Christians are certain to be received and answered by God. This is the point of the incense that the angel mixed with the censer of prayers to offer before God. The function of the incense was to make the prayers sweet-smelling in God’s presence. There is no doubt that something needs to be done to make our prayers acceptable to and effective with God, as were the prayers brought to God’s temple by this angel. All our prayers are defective, many are selfish or foolish, and all are corrupted in some way by the sin that makes them unacceptable in God’s presence.

What will not only get our prayers through but make them sweet-smelling in God’s presence? The answer is not found in the angel himself, since angels cannot mediate for God’s people, which is why we should never pray to them. The answer is found in the mediation of Jesus Christ, through His perfect life and sin-atoning death, and by means of His present intercession on behalf of the church (Rom. 8:34; Heb 7:25). The Bible teaches that “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Jesus told His disciples, “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he [will] give it to you” (John 15:16).

Finally, the vision of the seventh seal shows that the great prayer of the church is prayer for the kingdom of Christ to come. The prayers placed in the angel’s golden censer came from the martyrs who sought God’s judgment to avenge them (Rev. 6:10). Jesus’ teaching on prayer placed a similar priority of His kingdom (Matt. 6:9-10). Christians are encouraged in the Bible to pray for our own needs and for those of friends and neighbors. But the priority of our prayer lives should be given to the spread of the gospel, the preservation and strength of the church, the ministry of God’s Word, and the thwarting of godless and wicked powers in our world. These are the prayers that according to Revelation matter the most, the prayers that God will answer with power from heaven at the time of His choosing, and the prayers that we should be most privileged to offer in Christ’s name.

Will you commit to pray for the kingdom of Christ? Praying in His name for the cause of His gospel and for His judgment on rebellious evil, we may be heartened by the vision of the angel gathering our prayers into a golden censer, sweetened with the incense of Christ’s atoning work, and offered up before God’s throne, awaiting the day when our most fervent prayer will be answered. This is the prayer with which the entire book of Revelation – and the whole Bible – concludes. “Come, Lord Jesus!” we pray. He answers with words most precious to our hearts: “Surely I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:20).

Revelation 8:1-5 Study Questions:

What mood and feeling is created by these opening verses of chapter 8?

How does the pause of chapter 7, as we wait for the seventh seal finally to be opened in chapter 8, heighten the drama and add emphasis here?

What role do you think the trumpets will play in this vision? What is the role of the angel with the censer (vv. 3-5)?

How does the picture of the prayers of the saints being offered up before the throne at this crucial moment challenge the way we think about prayer?

Revelation 7:9-17 The Great Rescue

Now we see what takes place as a result of the preaching ministry of the 144,000. Remember that John is in heaven, and he sees all these things from an eternal point of view. As we have already discussed, there is no chronological sequence, no time limitation, no past, and no future in the heavenly orientation. From our earthly standpoint John sees events that are taking place at the close of the seven-year week. He seems to see ahead to the end of the seven-year period, witnessing a great multitude, too great to be counted, that has come through the Great Tribulation. They are not only Jews, but come from every tribe, people, and language. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. And they have palm branches in their hands (v. 9).

When was the last time a crowd of people stood with palm branches in their hands, giving praise to Jesus as their King? Palm Sunday of course; that is the day Jesus rode on the back of a donkey, down a mountainside and into the city of Jerusalem. In this vision of John, there is a clear prophetic link between the events of Revelation 7 and the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Israel was given the opportunity to receive her King – but tragically, the leaders of Israel rejected Him. But a day will come when Jesus is welcomed by a vast, innumerable throng of both Jews and Gentiles, people from across the planet. They will welcome and worship their King with palm branches, just as the throngs that lined the streets of Jerusalem did 2000 years ago – only this time, the King will not be rejected and crucified. Moreover, this event will be intimately associated with the final restoration of Israel.

The white-robed multitude in heaven is occupied in the praise of God for their salvation (v. 10). The word ‘salvation’ in verse 10 literally means ‘rescue’. But often in the Old Testament the word seems to mean ‘the victory through which rescue is won’. So it seems to be here. The church above is centered on the sovereign grace of God and the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross! This is what Christians should be excited about now as well, while still suffering the trials of earth. Not only does the church give praise to God for salvation, but the angelic host gathered around responds with their own adoration (vv. 11-12). How unbelievably great will be the joyful adoration of the heavenly host when all the redeemed stand before their God! If you can see yourself in this throng – and you can through faith in Jesus Christ – doesn’t the hope of glory strengthen you for the trials of your life?

As so often happens in Revelation, John’s vision becomes more animated as one of the worshiping elders turns to ask him a question to ensure that he got the point (vv. 13-14). At first, John’s vision was intended to show the suffering Christians of earth who they are as the glorified church of Christ. Now the elder wants to make clear how the church got there, highlighting the great deliverance achieved through Jesus.

The elder makes two points for John and his readers to emphasize. First, the church arrives in heaven, having come “out of the great tribulation” (v. 14). Christians on earth should realize that trials and persecutions are likely to occur and that we will be saved only by persevering in faith against all opposition. The elder’s second point directs us to the Lamb: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v. 14). The saints in heaven did not save themselves. It was not by their own prowess that they conquered through tribulation. With clarity that belongs to those already in heaven, the elder ascribes the salvation of believers to the cleansing power of Christ’s blood.

John’s vision has given us a glorious perspective on the heavenly reality that corresponds to the suffering church on earth. Yet even these saints in heaven have a future. John has shown the heavenly destiny of believers and has learned of their deliverance through Christ’s blood. He now concludes the chapter, and this entire cycle of visions that began in Revelation 4, with a spectacular description of the eternal destination to which this great multitude of Christ’s people are headed. For those who have trusted in Christ the vision of our future destination is the most uplifting source of encouragement, enabling us to endure the trials and tribulations of this life with joy and hope in service to Christ. If you have not turned to Christ, the blessings awaiting His people urge you to consider the future that you will never know unless your sins are washed clean through faith in His blood.

First, John hears of the shelter that God provides with His own glorious presence (v. 15). The saints are admitted before the throne of the holy God because their sins have been washed clean and they are justified in Christ. Worshiping in God’s sanctuary, they have immediate access to the glory of His presence. They are now, as Paul put it, “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19). On His part, God receives the church as His own dearly beloved children. The Sovereign Creator spreads His presence over them like a tent, so that they dwell in Him forever. As a kingdom of priests, the believers fulfill the purpose for which they were made and then were redeemed in the unending adoration of a God whom they more fully know as eternity stretched on forever.

Second, John is told of the blessing that attends Christ’s people in the shelter of God’s love (v. 16). Here is the bliss of the salvation rest to which Christ’s people now journey in the wilderness of a sinful world. On earth, believers are subjected to every kind of deprivation and hardship, but the promise is held before us that our struggle will not be in vain. In the age to come, there is no hardship, trial, or loss, but only the gain of fullness and joy. David anticipated this bounty in the closing words of Psalm 23 (Ps. 23:5-6).

Psalm 23 connects with the third feature of our eternal destination: Christ’s eternal shepherding (v. 17). All through this vision, believers have stood before God on His throne and the Lamb. In eternity, just as God makes His presence a tent for us, the Lamb shepherds us to the fullest experience of eternal life, guiding us “to springs of living water.” “Come,” he summons, “everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…, that your soul may live (Isa. 55:1-3).

Revelation 7:9-17 Study Questions:

Who makes up the great multitude that John sees (v. 9), and how does this crowd seem to differ from those described in verses 4-8?

How does this passage help us understand how God is involved in our lives in the midst of great suffering or difficulty?

What is the response of the multitude to what God and the Lamb have done for them (vv. 14-15)?

What does it mean that God will “shelter” those gathered around Him “with his presence” (v. 15)?

At this point, John glimpses the further future, the vision of the New Jerusalem itself (Rev. 21). In a wonderful role reversal the Lamb will turn into a Shepherd, assuming the royal role of John 10 (the “good shepherd”) and indeed the divine role of Psalm 23. This Lamb-turned-Shepherd guides the flock of His people to springs of living water (v. 17). What does this symbolize?

When in your life have you experienced God as Lamb or God as Shepherd?

Revelation 7:1-12 Sealed for God’s Service

The central place of Israel in history, in current events, and in God’s plan for the future is abundantly clear: Israel occupies a central place in God’s program of human history and God will not let the world forget or ignore the Jewish people. Yet as I have studied various commentaries on the book of Revelation and on other books of the Bible, I have been struck by the fact that a surprisingly large number of Bible scholars ignore the important place God has reserved for this great and historic race of people. The same grace which God has shown to His church (to Christians like you and me, and to these Bible scholars) God is still in the process of displaying toward His people, Israel – yet so many scholars seem blithely unaware of God’s grace toward Israel. Across the span of history and throughout the pages of His Word, God has plainly stated His eternal plan for the people of Israel. Now, as we open the pages of Revelation 7, we shall see the culmination of that plan.

In Revelation 6, we saw the opening of the six seals of judgment. But as we come to Revelation 7, we come to a pause between the first six seals and the seventh and final seal. It is as though God declared an intermission after the terrible scenes of judgment in Revelation 6. In this beautiful interlude in Revelation 7, God treats us, the viewers of this astounding vision recorded by the hand of John, to a kind of a flashback. What we essentially have in Revelation 7 is a flashback that supplies a missing piece of the Revelation puzzle. We are taken back to the beginning of the judgments of the seven-year tribulation period to see the working out of God’s plan from a different vantage point. What we will see in this flashback is the selection of a special group of Jews who will be given a special mission during the last days.

The book of Revelation is an unusual blend of literal events and symbols, and there are certain symbols to be found in the opening of Revelation 7. One such symbol is the phrase “the four corners of the earth.” This phrase simply refers to the four compass directions, north, south, east, and west. In verses 1-3 four angels are depicted as holding something that is about to come upon the earth. They have been commanded to restrain the four winds, which symbolize the devastating power of natural forces. The land, the sea, and the trees also appear as symbols in these verses. The land or the earth is frequently used as a symbol for Israel throughout the Old Testament. The symbol of the sea is often used throughout Scripture to describe the Gentile nations in general and the pagan nations in particular. The symbol of the trees frequently speaks of individuals in various places in Scripture.

The four angels who hold back the winds are the first four of the seven angels which sound their trumpets in the following chapters of Revelation. If you carefully compare what takes place under the judgments of the seven angels you will see that the first four of the seven angels control events which affect the land, the sea, and the trees.

In this passage, the four angels are commanded to hold back the winds of destruction until a very important group of people has been sealed by God. The angel which seals this group is described as “coming up from the east,” or more literally “from the rising of the sun.” This is an allusion to the prophecy of Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament. There the prophet predicts that for those who revere the name of God, “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” This is a poetic description of the coming of Jesus Christ in glory and in power. Thus it is in relationship to the coming of Christ that this special group is marked by the angel of the rising sun with the seal of God’s ownership.

There is no mystery about what it means when this special group is “sealed” by God. Today, all believers are sealed by God in a special way. That is why Paul tells us, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” The presence of the Holy Spirit in us as Christians is the unmistakable mark of God’s ownership upon our lives; as Paul declares in Romans, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:16). The same Holy Spirit who has sealed us as God’s children will also seal this chosen group that is described in these verses. These are thus Spirit-filled, Spirit-led people. The seal is placed upon their foreheads, which indicates that the Spirit rules over their minds, their thoughts, and their will. They are governed by the mind of Christ.

Together with the vision of the angels, John heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel. The first question about this body concerns its identity. The 144,000 sealed servants are to be taken symbolically rather than literally. The number is achieved by multiplying twelve, for Israel, by twelve, for the apostles, to signify the entirety of the redeemed church. This matches the heavenly city of chapter 21, with twelve gates for Israel’s tribes and twelve foundations for the apostles (Rev. 21:12-14), signifying the entirety of the redeemed church. This number is multiplied by a thousand probably to show the great multitude of Christ’s people. The idea of the Christians’ being numbered like Israel’s tribes may suggest that the church forms an army, carrying forth the banner of the gospel. With the winds of judgment and calamity being restrained for their passage and having being sealed by God, the church triumphantly advances to heaven.

When we think of the church in terms of Israel marching from Egypt to the Promised Land in the days of the exodus, we are reminded of the necessity of or perseverance in faith. Most of the Israelites who departed from Egypt under Moses never entered the Promised Land because of their rebellion and unbelief. Hebrews 4:2 warns that many who attend church today are like the outward members of Israel who never entered salvation, explaining that “the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” This warns us that mere membership or attendance at church does not grant us salvation, but only by true saving faith and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Revelation 7 assures us that true believers are sealed by God so as to persevere all the way to heaven.

The question is: “Are we true believers, and do our lives bear testimony to the presence and power of God’s Spirit?” The first application of Revelation 7, then, is for us to know the reality of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, rather than a mere outward Christianity. Have we embraced Christ in a living faith, which alone can attest to our sealing by God for salvation?

Two more applications flow from these visions. Verses 9-10 show the church above praising God for its salvation. We should notice that this scene matches that of the Feast of Tabernacles in Israel, which celebrated both the successful completion of the exodus and the ingathering of the annual harvest. We see this especially in the waving of palm branches, which was one of the chief features of this festival, praising God for the ingathered harvest. How appropriate this worship will be in heaven, when the entire harvest of Christ’s people will have been gathered in. John’s vision continues in verses 11-12 with the angels of heaven worshiping God because of what they have learned through our salvation. Knowing this, we should endeavor to live now in such a way that watching angels will marvel at the power of God’s grace in our lives so as to praise our Savior forever.

Finally, we are reminded of the gospel imperative that shapes the calling of every Christian. Why has judgment not yet come? Why are the angels restraining the four winds? The answer: so that the full number of God’s elect people may come in. Our present history exists for the saving of the great multitude that will worship above. Like the twelve tribes in marching order, the church is sent through history on a gospel mission, to take the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world so that countless millions will be saved. Do we have a missional mind-set and zeal that fits this picture? What role are you playing in the great harvest of the gospel for salvation? Do you pray for specific people to be saved? Do you warmly invite neighbors to church? Are you prepared to explain the gospel message of Jesus to others, and are you willing to do so? What a joyful privilege it is for us to be His servants on earth, sealed and protected by His Spirit, to carry the gospel to the lost. “The harvest is plentiful,” Jesus told His disciples, but then sadly regretted that “the laborers are few” (Matt. 9:37).

Revelation 7:1-12 Study Questions:

What are the angels at the four corners of the earth doing and why?

The idea of “harming” the earth, the sea and the trees in verse 3 is harsh. Why then, has the authority to harm God’s creation been given to these angels?

The “seals” on a scroll were the kind of sticky wax whose purpose, in the ancient world and sometimes in the modern as well, was to keep important documents secure against prying eyes. You could always tell if the seal had been broken, since it would be stamped with the mark of the one who had sealed it up.  How does the term seal take on a new, though somewhat related, significance here (vv. 2-4)?

Who makes up the 144,000 that John hears will be sealed (vv. 4-8)?

What benefit might the “seal” offer to those marked with it?