Lecture 57: Revelation - Chapters 13-22
Lecture: Revelation: Chapters 13-22
After we’ve had this “mythical” message, you now have it continued with a beast rising out of the sea with ten horns, etc. We have here a description of what is probably the Roman Empire. There is no Roman Empire any more of course, but we’re talking about people in the time of AD 90, when Rome is now an ally of Satan – the hand servant of Satan, carrying out his work. And this evil beast is seeking to persecute the world and humanity. We have in 13:18 a number that is given to this beast, and there has been all sorts of speculation about this number. However, the easiest way to understand this is, I think, as a cryptogram for Nero Caesar. If you add the letters together of Nero Caesar, and give numerical value to them [as per the Hebrew practice of Gematria], the N in Nero is worth 50; the E is a vowel so isn’t counted; the R is worth 200; the W (or the O at the end – an omega in Greek) is worth 6; the final N (in Greek, there is a final N on Nero’s name) is another 50; K is 100 points; S is 60 points; R is again 200 points; and this comes to 666.
There was a well-known myth that existed at the time of Revelation’s writing, that Nero really had not killed himself, but that he was alive. He had gone into the east to Persia, and would be leading the Parthian army against Rome, and that the wound he had received was not mortal and had not really killed him. It seems that the writer of Revelation is alluding to this myth, and is talking about this one who is Nero Caesar as 666. Why not just name Nero instead of referring to him as a cryptogram? The same reason he refers to Rome as Babylon. If you’re a persecuted group, chances are that this group who is persecuting you doesn’t want you to say nasty things about them, so you avoid if possible offending them unnecessarily. And later on, he’ll use the word Babylon, which clearly is Rome, even though there is a city of Babylon. The city of Babylon did not sit on seven hills; and the seven hills or mountains which this great city sits on means that it has to be Rome. So we have this symbolism being used here. So here, you have this ally of the Romans and in 13:18 another beast coming, a second beast, which looks like it’s an ally. Whereas one is the Empire, the other may be the Emperors as such. And you have all this ugliness that takes place.
And then, we have another change in scene. We go to heaven, and look at all of this from a heavenly perspective, and we see things very differently. We see the 144,000 who are united with God; we have God’s glory being proclaimed; and we know that in v. 8 Babylon is going to be destroyed. So, lifted up from the persecution and the animosity taking place on earth, now we go to heaven and see things from the divine perspective, and we see his elect, the 144,000, and nothing can happen to them. And you see that those who are persecuting, those who are the allies of this evil empire, that they will receive judgment. And the judgment is portrayed a couple of times, especially in vv. 17, ff.
In 15:1, ff. now we get to the last, or the third of the three-fold events. We’ve had the seals and trumpets, and now we have the bowls. In 15:1-16:21 we have a repetition of the kinds of things that happened earlier, only in the form of bowls being poured out.
And then in chapter 17, after that, we have a description of the fall of the great harlot or beast. The harlot is described here as making the world drunk – she’s drunk, not with wine, but with the blood of the martyrs. In 17:9, there is a call for wisdom, and reference to the seven heads or seven mountains on which the woman is seated (it has to be a description of Rome here). And those who are part of the harlot’s lineage (v. 13) are of one mind, and they make war on the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are called and chosen are faithful. Babylon is described further in chapter 18, and all the world mourns with her because this brings economic collapse to the whole world.
After that, beginning at chapter 19, we have the final victory. We’ve seen this already a couple of times. But now he deals with it once again (19:1-10),
“After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.’ Once more they cried out, ‘Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.’ And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, ‘Amen. Hallelujah!’ And from the throne came a voice saying, ‘Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.’ Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God.’ Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.’ For the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.”
Then you have the final judgment being portrayed again (v. 11-16),
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood [not the blood of his enemies, but his own. He’s the savior of the world], and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
And we have Jesus in the final judgment, but the judgment is by his word. He speaks, and the judgment takes place, because the sharp sword which smites the enemies comes from his mouth.
Then we have the description of that judgment, and then in chapter 20, we have the description of the millennial kingdom (20:1-2), “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.”
Much is said about the millennium. In the New Testament, this is really the only passage that refers to a thousand-year reign. Everything about millennialism comes from Revelation 20 --that’s where the thousand years is found, and it is a major issue in various theological circles. In fact, in some, the particular view you have of the millennium will allow you to be a member of that church, or exclude you from membership in that church. And, there are essentially three main views about the millennium. I’ll go over them briefly, but you’ll hear more about them in your theology class. There’s post-millennialism, pre-millennialism, and a-millennialism.
• Post-millennialism saw what happens here in chapter 20 as taking place after the gospel has spread throughout the world, and the world has repented and become essentially believing. This may seem like a strange view, but it’s interesting how many evangelicals in the nineteenth century held this view. In the nineteenth century, there was a mood in the air of evolutionary optimism -- not only with regard to biology (Darwin); not only with regard to economics (Marx); but also a social kind of evolution. A lot of evangelicals had gathered together and formed Christian groups that fought for better conditions on earth. Child labor laws were enacted, and other social things that were helpful, and people became very optimistic about this. They thought they would bring about the millennial kingdom upon earth. So you had this optimism, and post-millennialism teaches that after, through Christian influence, the world essentially responds positively and welcomes Jesus so that he can return, and he will come and reign for a thousand years. That’s post-millennialism, and it was very popular in the 1900’s. The twentieth century torpedoed all of that. Once World War I came, it became very difficult to be optimistic. The cannons and slaughter of World War I made it clear that it wouldn’t work. The other two alternatives are (I think) the only viable options, one or the other.
• Pre-millennialism is the view that Jesus will, at the end of history, return personally, and he will bring about a reign on earth for 1000 years. During that year, justice will be done, and you have an aspect of this now that dispensationalism adds to it, and this will bring about a new vibrant Israel -- a new temple will be built, and in many ways the sacrificial system will be re-instituted. And this pre-millennialism is very popular among dispensationalists. Non-dispensationalists who are pre-millennialists also argue for this 1000 years when Jesus will reign.
• With the a-millennialists, this term is somewhat misleading. The prefix a- here means non-, e.g., a theist is one who believes in God, while an A-theist doesn’t believe in God; a Gnostic believes he has knowledge of God in some unique way, while an A-gnostic doesn’t have that knowledge. If you’re a millennialist you believe in a millennial reign; so you would think that an a-millennialist doesn’t believe in the millennial. But this doesn’t work well, because they DO believe in a millennial. But, they understand Revelation 20 as indicating that with the coming of Jesus and his death and resurrection, that reign of the kingdom of God, that millennium, has begun already. They believe that we are living in the millennium now, because through his Spirit God is at work, and the Kingdom of God is a present reality. So, a-millennialism is a misnomer, I think, but we’re not going the change the name of it. But for a-millennialism, the kingdom of God has already started with the coming of Jesus Christ.
This view also holds that you should understand these things symbolically, that Satan has been bound in the sense that he’s been defeated, and he doesn’t dominate because Jesus is here through the church. The slaves and those oppressed by Satan can be delivered, and this is referred to as a “spiritual resurrection” of some sort. The whole thing would be that the spiritual resurrection here in the millennium (if you’re an a-millennialist) means the dying to sin and being raised to newness of life. So it’s not an actual, physical resurrection. If you are a pre-milllennialist, then you talk about whether those who also share in this millennium will be those who are martyred as such. And I doubt very much that the Book of Revelation wants to make a distinction between faithful Christians who are and aren’t martyred, where one group gets something that the others don’t. I don’t think that would be my understanding at all.
My own understanding of the millennial issue is, it’s found once in the New Testament. I usually don’t make a once-occurrence in the New Testament (or in the Bible as a whole) a key issue in my theology. The second thing is, it’s found not in Paul’s writings, like in Romans, but in Revelation. Of all the books, this is the most difficult one to take literally. It uses all sorts of figurative terminology, and it’s in the midst of all sorts of things that are hard to understand. When Bruce Metzger talks about the millennial system, he adds an interesting comment here. I’m sure it’s not going to satisfy a lot of people, but after describing it, he says, “Each of these interpretations involves serious difficulties [I agree]. But the central truth of all three is clear and direct affirmation: Christ will return, as he has promised, and will destroy the forces of evil and establish God’s eternal kingdom.” That’s what the millennial is about. I believe it.
All of these existed in the third and fourth century. Pre-millennialists led by the Montanists (that were a particular group in Rome), were really eschatological extremists. And they went to excess in this, and brought embarrassment to the church. The result of this was that there was a tendency for those who opposed the pre-millennial excesses of the Montanists to become a-millennialists. And I think that Augustine became an a-millennialist in that regard. We have to always be careful that our theology is not primarily shaped by a reaction to somebody else. So a-millennialism became quite popular. Among a lot of Reformed scholars, a-millennialism became pretty popular.
The church that I came to know Christ through had a pre-tribulation, pre-millennial stance. And as a young Christian in college, I was reading my Scofield Bible, and I began to have questions on pre-tribulation rapture issues. I could not join the church that I was saved in, that I was baptized in, over an issue of whether at the end of history, Jesus comes seven years before or after another event. Now I look back and see how stupid that was. At the time it wasn’t – I wasn’t mature enough to do that. At that time, I was wondering whether I was losing my faith. If you meet somebody who believes and longs for Jesus’s return, they are brothers and sisters in the Lord. And if you have little chart differences, that’s trivial compared to what you have in common. Because the whole world out there thinks we’re all crazy, right? And we crazies need to stay together a little, and rejoice and have that as a living hope. It’s interesting – I have in my theology become more and more aware of the importance of the hope of the second coming – that it’s essential. It’s part of the gospel, not that Jesus died for our sins; not that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead; it’s not even that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples. But it’s that Jesus died for our sins, he rose from the dead, he appeared to the disciples, and he’s coming again. That’s the message of the church, and if you lose that, something big is missing. And if you minimize it, it may mean that you and I are more in love with this world than we realize. Because this world should make us want to long for the second coming. But I’ve become less and less interested in the debates of when and how long, etc. (the pre-, the post-, etc.). I’m not into that any more. The living hope has to be there. (The pre-tribulation pre-millennial meant that before the tribulation came, Jesus came and we’re raptured out .After that, there’s a terrible tribulation, and after that is the second, second coming (something like that), and the millennium is established.)
Virgil Olson was the Dean who hired me to my first teaching position. He was the Dean of Bethel College, and he’ll always be my Dean. I saw him just two weeks ago, and I still call him “Dean”. He’ll never be “Virgil”, but will always be “Dean Olson” to me. After he left Bethel as Dean, he became the Executive Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board of the Baptist General Conference. I think it was around 1990 or so when I saw him in the cafeteria, and we had lunch. He had just returned from Ethiopia, which was a Communist country at that time. Christians there were experiencing severe persecution, and he shared things that were going on there. He asked me to guess what the two favorite books of the church in Ethiopia were. I speculated on Romans (because they needed a good systematic work), and John (because they need a gospel). But he told me that they weren’t Romans and John, but Daniel and Revelation. I gulped. If someone in America had told me that these were their favorite books, I’d gulp even more now. But he told me that this was also his reaction, so he asked them why these were the favorites. And they told him, “These are our favorite books because God wins in the end.” They know these books. God wins in the end, and that’s what Revelation is about. God wins in the end. And so you have time and time again, over and over, the judgment of evil, the bliss of the righteous, and you go through this scene over and over in repetition: God wins in the end. He who endures to the end will be victorious, and they will share in the glory that is to come. And that’s what they needed to know. And those uneducated Ethiopian Christians had a much better understanding of the Book of Revelation than some of these television evangelists who talk about Revelation.
It’s not about reading newspapers and trying to find out charts as to what’s going on in the world; it’s not a matter of listing the events of the end times. If you and I were arrested today, and we were going to lined up to be shot tomorrow, and we’re given the Book of Revelation, how many of you are going to want to say, “Could I have some pencil and paper so I can chart out the time and the events and the order of these things?” Or, do you want to know that he who endures to the end will eat of the tree of life, and he who suffers and conquers by the blood of the Lamb will see God? Isn’t it that? So when you read the Book of Revelation, this is what the author is trying to get through. And the doxologies that come from it, the Hallelujah Chorus that comes from it, the “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!” that comes from it – those are capturing the flavor of the writer of the Book of Revelation. But charting out events I don’t think is anywhere near where he’s at. Is it legitimate? There are lots of things you can do when you read the Bible. You can count the word “the” in the Bible if you want, or you can count the number of times the letter alpha appears if you want. I don’t know if that’s really profitable. I think you want to know what the Biblical author is trying to share with his readers. And in this constant repetition over and over, he’s repeating God’s judgment. God’s judgment will come upon evil, because he is a holy God. And those who remain faithful and endure to the end will see God.
The last judgment again is portrayed in several ways. After the millennium is described, in 20:12-15 the last judgment takes place,
“I saw the dead great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Then in chapter 21, he describes the final resting place, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” You may like sailing on the ocean, but the sea was a frightening place for people in the first century. It was a scary place, because it was not a safe place with the kinds of ships you had in those days. So those who worked on the sea or traveled on the sea were always in danger. There will be no sea in heaven – none of that kind of danger. Continuing, 21:3, ff. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them .…” And you have this glorious scene here of the new Jerusalem described in various ways, beginning with v. 16, the city lies foursquare, the length is 12,000 stadia [12 again], the wall is 144 cubits [12 times 12], built of jasper, like pure gold, clear as glass, the walls of the city are adorned with various kinds of jewels, the gates are 12 pearls, etc.
I remember my daughter when she was about ten asking me what heaven was like. How would you answer a 10-year-old girl as to what heaven is like? Would you say that the walls are all these kinds of jewels, and the streets are like pure gold, etc.? What the writer is trying to do is talk about the precious-ness of heaven, and the only thing he has to go with are “this-worldly” kinds of analogies. So it’s precious because the streets are made of gold. That would mean that they’d get rutted pretty quickly, because gold is pretty soft stuff. Are there paving crews that re-pave the gold all the time? What he’s trying to say is that people struggle for a few gold coins, but in heaven, we pave our streets with that stuff. Wow!
And then chapter 22 continues that description, and then in v. 6, ff. we have the epilogue,
“These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place. And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.’ I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that!’ [You don’t worship anyone, even the emperor.] Worship God.’ … and he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega [God is referred to that way in 1:8, but Jesus is also referred to as the Alpha and the Omega, interestingly enough]…. Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.’ The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! [This is the Greek translation of what we have at the end of 2 Corinthians 13, Maranatha!, which is part of the early church creed, “Come, Lord Jesus”.] The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all of his saints. Amen.”
And the book comes to an end at that point.