Lecture 30: Revelation
We’ve come to the lesson on the Book of Revelation. Let me say a few things by way of introduction starting with disclaimers. This is not my area of specialty, and I have never enjoyed the debate around the Book of Revelation much. I’ve not found it often to be very godly and have stayed away from it, so that’s my excuse. I’ve just never gotten that far into it. What I want to do is give an overview of the Book. Please understand this is an overview. Obviously you can’t handle everyone’s questions or objections or other ways to interpret it. If whenever I say something you have the thought go through your head, I wonder if anyone disagrees with that, the answer is probably yes, but what I’m going to do is to give you what I think the Book of Revelation is about.
I am pretty mainstream in terms of commentaries, there is nothing mainstream in Revelation, but in terms of the standard commentaries, my position is pretty mainstream. The Statement of Faith that we use for the Biblical Training Institute is very broad when it comes to this whole topic of Eschatology and what’s going to happen at the end of times. It allows for many views, except for Preterism, but we’ll talk about that when we get to it.
In terms of books there’s a great commentary on Revelation written by a fellow named Robert Mounce. It has been the standard commentary in Evangelical circles for 30 years, it has an amazing shelf life and dad did a very good job on it. He wrote another one that just got republished by a company called Wipf and Stock, and it’s called, What Are We Waiting For. It’s a little 70-page book and it is really good. You can read it in 45 minutes and it’s in big print so if you want to have a good overview or if you know of someone who says, “This book is so weird,” and they just want to get a general picture of it, it is an excellent book. Another book that has been recommended is Bruce Metzger’s book, Breaking the Code to Understanding the Book of Revelation, published by Abingdon. There’s one other really good source on BiblicalTraining.org, if you go to the Leadership Education section and choose the New Testament Survey, Bob Stein has four lectures on Revelation that he concludes his New Testament Survey Class with and they are really good. I’m quite indebted to Stein for what I’m going to say. If you want to hear more, he’ll do about double the depth that I’m going to be doing here, so it’s a very good place to go to get some more information.
Author and Date
Continuing on in the introductory section of authorship, most people agree that the Apostle John who wrote the Gospel and the Letters wrote the Book of Revelation. There’s not that much debate about that. In terms of the date, when he wrote Revelation it probably is about the mid-90s, so this very well could have been the last book written. We don’t know when his gospel was written for sure, but Revelation, if not the last, was one of the last books of the New Testament to actually be written. Some people date it in the 60s when Nero was persecuting the church, but Nero’s persecution was pretty localized to the city of Rome and it didn’t last very long. The persecution that would give rise to a book like Revelation feels more like, and this is a subjective guess, but it feels more like the Domitian persecutions when he was the Emperor from 81-96 AD. Most people put the writing of Revelation during Domitian’s Persecutions of the church where it was illegal just to be a Christian. Nero was 60s, and Nero had Paul killed in 67 AD. I’m not sure when Nero’s death was.
The only other thing I want to say by way of introduction has to do with Apocalyptic Literature. We talked quite a bit about this when we were in Mark 13, so I’m not going to take the time to review what we said. Apocalyptic Literature is literature that deals generally with the end times, the fight of good versus evil and it’s very miraculous and the literature itself is very symbolic. Because it’s symbolic, there’s an issue of interpretation and I’m going to deal with that in just a second. Revelation is the largest piece of Apocalyptic Literature there is in the New Testament. If you want more, you can go back to your notes on Mark 13.
Three Key Questions for Interpretation
There are three key questions that you need to answer, and really your interpretation of Revelation is going to come down largely on what you do with these three questions.
Symbolism: Metaphorical or Literal?
The first question has to do with the symbolism, and again how you understand the symbols in Revelation will determine most everything. The position that I’m going to take is that the pictures that John paints in the Book of Revelation are symbols, but they are symbols of real things. Now there are some people who interpret Revelation as just this general idea about good versus evil, and there’s not a concrete specific historical event or personage behind the symbols. I don’t think that accurate. I think that when the Son of Man comes on a white horse with his sword out of his mouth it refers to someone, Jesus. I think there’s reality behind the symbols, but I also think that it’s symbolic, and you have to be really careful when you have these symbols of understanding that they are almost always symbols of something, you can’t take them on face value.
For example, there are cosmic events—the stars are going to fall, what does that represent? I think it’s a symbol that signifies a significant event is happening. I don’t think necessarily a third of the billion of billions of stars in the galaxy are going to somehow fall. That’s just Apocalyptic language for saying something very significant is going to happen. There’s a lamb with seven horns, the horns represent power, so Jesus the Lamb is all powerful. The four beings that fly around the throne and call Holy, Holy, Holy have eyes all around. They’re all knowing. See the eyes are symbols of the fact that they know everything and in their knowing everything, they cry out that God is Holy. The sword that comes from Jesus’s mouth, it slays the nations at the end; I don’t think there’s a physical sword that’s going to come out of Jesus’s mouth I think it’s a symbol that says Jesus is going to be the victorious conqueror; he’s going to win.
The position that I’m going to take is that these pictures that John paints are symbols and are to be understood, symbolically for the most part, but they refer to real things. Obviously if you have a different take on the symbols your interpretation of Revelation is going to be totally different than mine. By the way this symbolism goes to numbers as well, he’s not just painting pictures that are symbolic, I think he uses numbers in a symbolic way. The number 7 is used 54 times, that’s odd if there really are 54 units of 7 in the Book of Revelation. The number 12 is used 23 times; the number 4 is used 16. That’s important because you get the things like the 144,000 that are sealed or the 666 mark of the beast, and some people are willing to see other things symbolic, but when it comes to numbers, they don’t think it’s symbolic they think it’s literal, and that’s an issue of interpretation. I think that the whole thing is symbolic so both the pictures and the numbers are symbolic.
Understand that I don’t know of anyone who goes to either end of this continuum. On the one side there is the literalistic, the face value, on the other is the symbolic. I don’t know of anyone that is completely and totally literalistic—that understands every single thing as a literal. Literal is not a good word because if you understand something literally that means you’re understanding exactly how the author intended you to understand it. That’s what the word literal means. If I say something and I want you to understand it symbolically what’s the literal way to understand it? Symbolically, and so English doesn’t really have a good word for “literal,” but on that the far end, when it says there’s a sword coming out of Jesus’s mouth, this means there’s six-foot hunk of steel coming out of Jesus’s mouth. I don’t know of anyone that thinks everything is literalistic and I don’t know of anyone that thinks everything is symbolic. There are very few people, certainly in the Evangelic Camp that wouldn’t say that the Son of Man at the end, the rider of the horse, isn’t Jesus, that it’s a symbol for Jesus. Where you fit on this continuum is one of the fundamental questions you have when it comes to the Book of Revelation.
The key for all of this I think is in the book itself because time after time John interprets certain symbols for us. When he interprets the symbols for us, it’s clear what he intends. For example, in Revelation 1:20, there have been seven stars and seven golden lamp stands and an angel says to John in verse 20, “As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands,” here’s the interpretation, “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches” that he writes to in the first three chapters “and seven lampstands are the seven churches.” He’s saying the lamp stand isn’t a lamp stand, it’s a symbol for the churches. There are quite a few other times that John does this in the Book of Revelation, where he interprets the symbols, so we’re on pretty safe ground to say that he intends things to be understood symbolically. That’s the first of the major question and probably the hardest of the questions to solve.
Relationship of the Three Cycles: Linear or Cyclical?
The second question that has to be dealt with is, what’s the relationship of the three cycles of seven? There’s a cycle of seven seals, there is the cycle of seven trumpets and there’s a cycle of seven bowls. What is the relationship of those three cycles?
Many people understand them as all consecutive. In other words, John is describing roughly twenty-one events that are going to happen in a linear fashion. I don’t hold this position, and so if I were going to take a position that was at all not mainstream this is going to be it, but again most of the commentaries hold to this position, but you may not be aware of it. I think that the seals, trumpets and bowls are the same thing. I think, and you’ll see this when I walk through it, I think that John is going through and describing that reality gets worse and worse and then it comes to a completion, and he says let me tell you the same thing again, and so he does another cycle and it comes to completion with the final judgment. Then he does it again and what he’s doing is he’s painting the same picture with intensifying circles, and you’ll see how that works out. One of the reasons for that is that, what was the seventh seal? The seventh seal is the seven trumpets. There is no seventh seal. When the seal is broken, the trumpets are there and so you have a cycle that moves smoothly into the next.
The main reason I hold this is that at the end of each of these cycles, at the end of the cycle of the seals and the trumpets and the bowls it sounds like judgment. It sounds like final judgment. Let me give you an example. In Revelation 7:9, the sixth seal has been opened, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands (9), and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb (10)!’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God (11), saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen (12).’ Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come (13)?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.’” Well that’s interesting I thought the great tribulation wasn’t until the end of the book, but “‘They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (14). Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence (15). They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat (16). For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (17).’”
That sounds like Heaven to me, it sounds to me like the end of the tribulation. The judgment isn’t explicit in there, but we’ll see it at the end of the other cycles, and you have Heaven. The way I’m handling specifically these passages is that you have a cycle that ends in judgment in Heaven and reward and then the picture is painted all over again. Apocalyptic Literature is random. It can do this without batting an eye. Apocalyptic Literature isn’t sequential in the least. That’s the position that I’m going to take, I could be wrong, others could be right, but that’s the position that I’m going to take and why.
What is the Central Theme?
The third key question, I don’t think anybody would really debate this, it’s just a matter of how far do you want to push it, and that’s what is the central theme of the book? If the book of Revelation was primarily designed to give us a ton of detailed information heralding the end of time, then we’re going to read it a certain way. I don’t think that is the central theme of the book and I’ve already told you what I think it is.
I think the central theme of the book is that it’s going to get worse, God is going to win, so be faithful. I think that’s the Book of Revelation. In Dad’s book, What Are We Waiting For, he says in the preface, “The Book of Revelation is the easiest book in the Bible to understand,” which normally gets a few chuckles. He says, sit down and read it straight through, it takes 45 minutes. “What do you come away with? If you see it all in one grand swoop, it’s going to get bad, God wins, and so you and I must be faithful in the midst of our persecution.” I really think that is the primary theme and I don’t think anything else is at the same level. In my mind, everything else is secondary. Now there are other things that he is teaching no doubt, but I think the problem is when those secondary get the attention. The primary theme is that Eschatology is ethical. We are taught about the end times so that we can know that God is going to win, and so we will be encouraged to be faithful. That’s why all the way through the Book of Revelation, sometimes even in parenthesis, John says, therefore be faithful; hang in there; don’t leave the faith.
This is illustrated with a rather unusual phrase of “conquering.” In the letter to the seven churches, he talks about “he who conquers” and there will be rewards for that person. What’s going on in the letters to the seven churches is that all churches except Philadelphia are going to experience suffering. In the midst of the suffering, they are called to persevere and if they conquer, they will be given a reward, and conquering doesn’t mean they won’t die, conquering means they will be faithful to the point of martyrdom. Let me give you an example. The Church of Smyrna in Revelation 2:10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death,” which is the lake of fire. What you have in the seven letters and you have all the way through the vision is this message that it is going to get bad, but you must conquer. You must persevere in the midst of suffering even to the point of dying because after your death you will be rewarded.
I think everything else is secondary. Someday I would like to go to a prophecy conference and hear this be the keynote address and not the last twenty-seven antichrists or the last three interpretations of 666 or the latest and greatest charts. I wish I could hear a debate on Revelation that it is helping me to persevere in the midst of trial. Bob Stein in his lecture on Biblical Training makes an interesting point. He says a man named Virgil Olson who was the head of missions for the Baptist General Conference was in Ethiopia. He came back and Stein met him and they were chatting and Olson said, “What do you think the two favorite biblical books are for the Ethiopian Christians?” Stein said, “Well certainly it would have to be Romans, certainly Romans has to be everyone’s favorite book—the clearest exposition of justification by faith there is in Scripture and I would imagine one of the Gospels.” Virgil Olson said, “No, Daniel and Revelation.” Stein was stymied. He just wasn’t ready for it at all. The Ethiopian church was under tremendous persecution and they wanted to know that it was worth it to stick it out and Daniel and Revelation—that’s what they teach. Whatever you do with charts and 666, let’s remember what the primary gist of this book is: it’s going to get bad, God wins, so we must be faithful until then. I think in this crowd we can all agree on that.
Letters to the Churches (Rev. 2:1-3:7)
Let’s just jump into the book, and again all that I can do is to give a general overview and push and prod you in certain directions and we will see what happens. There is an outline of Revelation in the back of your notes and you may want to pull that out and look at it as well. John starts in chapter 1 with a prologue, it’s John’s vision. He has this vision and it sets the groundwork for what’s going on.
Then in chapter 2 through the first part of chapter 3, we have seven letters written to each of the seven churches; these churches form a circle in the southwest corner of Asia Minor, modern Turkey. There are a lot of tours you can take and visit the seven churches of Revelation and it’s a wonderful tour because they are wonderful sites to go to. I’m just going to say a couple of general things because these letters that Jesus is writing through John are quite self-explanatory. I think these are real churches, I don’t think they are symbols of some idea, I think they actually are physical churches. All the letters have the same basic structure and message: Jesus identifies himself, he says this is what’s going on, it’s bad in your church and I call you to persevere to the point of death, to conquer. If you do, then there will be a reward; there will be Heaven for those who are faithful. That’s the message that he gives to each one, but each one is fine tuned based on what was going on and the problems it was facing. It’s self explanatory and you can look at those on your own.
Vision of the Future
The difficult stuff happens when we get to 4:1. John writes, "After this," in other words, after all the business of the letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor are done, "I looked, and behold, a door standing open in Heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “'Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.'” This is a good place to stop and talk again about some general issues. “After this”—what does that mean? Immediately? A day later? 50 years later? 2,000 years later? There are four basic positions, and again which of these you take will greatly affect how you understand the Book of Revelation.
The first position is called the Preterism; they are called Preterists. This is something that has been around in bits and pieces for awhile and it’s gaining a little ground. It’s a bit shocking, but the Preterist view says that all of the events from chapter 4 to the end of the book were fulfilled by 70 AD when Rome destroyed the Temple, including Jesus’s return. In other words, according to Preterism, there is no future for us as far as the Book of Revelation is concerned. Jesus might come or he might not come, but everything that was promised was fulfilled up to the time of AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem. There are many problems, but the main problem is that according to the other apocalyptic discourses like Mark 13, Jesus’s return can’t be secret; it can’t be spiritual, and Preterism has to have a secret or spiritual return of Christ because no one knew he came back. There are a lot of problems with Preterism. You know how I handle Mark 13, and that I think that most of it did happen before AD 70, but I’m not a Preterist, and don’t let anyone tell you that I am, because Jesus hasn’t come back yet. This is why in our Statement of Faith it says, Jesus will return personally, physically, visibly to all, and suddenly. Preterism is one of those things that we were trying to say is simply outside the Statement of Faith.
Church Historical School
The second, it’s an awkward name, but it’s called the Church Historical School. What this approach says is that the events that you have in 4:2 up to the time of Christ refer to different historical events throughout the history of the world: World War I, the rise of Russia, those sorts of event. In other words, they spread the Book of Revelation out over, at least to date, a 2,000-year period. People who say “I can tell you for sure who Gog and Magog are; it’s Iraq and Iran,” that’s generally from this camp where they think the symbols in Revelation refer to events throughout the history of the church. One of the problems of this position is that they can’t agree. They are in radical disagreement with each other. What symbol does the pale rider stand for? That’s World War I; no, that was the Korean Conflict. When you can’t find an agreement, that’s a pretty good indication that the methodology is wrong.
There is a third position called futurism or futurists, and this is my understanding of where Scofield and early dispensationalism fit. I think Stein puts Scofield in number two; he was one of my teachers and I rarely disagree with my teachers. What the futurists say is that everything is in the future. In other words, there’s a huge time gap between the end of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4, and none of it is in reference to John’s original audience. That’s really important—all of the events refer to the distant future. John is writing this, but none of it applies to AD 60, 70, 80 or 90; it all refers to the future. Saying “dispensationalists believe” is like saying “Charismatics believe” or “Catholics believe”; there’s a huge variety in this.
My understanding is and catch me if I’m wrong on this because I’d rather be embarrassed than wrong, is what I was told by my dispensationalist friends in college was that 4:1 is the rapture of the church, that it’s at that point that the Gentile is taken out of the world, and so from here on it’s God working with the Jewish nation that’s becoming Christian and the end of the world. Part of the argument is that the church isn’t referred to. There are many other words that refer to the church, I think. Dispensationalists will put the rapture at 4:1. One of my problems with doing this, and again these are just my problems, they don’t have to be your problems, is it makes Revelation irrelevant to John’s audience. I can’t do that; I can’t bring myself to think that in the middle of Domitian’s persecution, John is writing an Eschatology discourse to encourage the people to persevere and, in fact, according to this interpretation it has no relevance to them. I think it has to have some relevance.
The fourth position, there is no phrase for it, so I called it the middle position, which is biased because normally the middle position is right. Here’s what I think is going on, I think that most of the prophecies in Revelation where fulfilled by AD 70. I’ve explained that when I’ve talked about Mark 13, but I also believe in multiple fulfillments of these prophecies. I think the same thing happens over and over and over again. I believe there were many antichrists, starting with Nero. John says in 1 John that there had been many antichrists, so I have the flexibility to say that. As I said we talked about Mark 13, I think you have an additional fulfillment of most of Revelation as well as most of Mark 13 by AD 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, except that Jesus didn’t come back again. I think it probably would have caused them to scratch their heads and go, I wonder what this is all about? Then I think that you have cycles all the way through history—cycles of persecutions and people who meet the qualifications of the antichrist and the beasts. What happens in Rome typifies what happens cyclically through history. For example, when they talk babble in the city, they talk about a city built on seven hills. That’s Rome, and it was famous for a city being built on seven hills and so you have this initial fulfillment, the cycle of prophecy in Rome, and then that same cycle continues.
Please hear this, I think there is going to be an ultimate final fulfillment and the antichrist is going to be worse than Nero and the persecution is going to be worse than the persecution there was in AD 70. It’s going to be modeled on what happened with Nero, but it’s growing in intensity and it’s going to come to its final fulfillment at the end of time. That’s my position. The middle position. Jesus will return then. That’s when he comes back. Depending on what you want to do with that those are the basic approaches.
Have you heard much of this cycle theory before? It’s really amazing how many commentaries you pick up will say it’s cyclical, but it hasn’t made it into the popular mainstream speaking and preaching. It’s not unusual at all in the commentaries. That’s not actually why I believe it though. I heard a buddy of mine that teaches at Southern, and I sat in one of his lectures and he gave a lecture on Revelation. I had never heard it before this way and it made so much sense to me that I went back and started reading.
Throne Room Scene (Rev. 4-5)
Let’s start marching through the content. We start with the 7 seals in chapters 4-7. In chapters 4 and 5 we have a wonderful throne room scene and all the imagery is meant to describe the holiness and the grandeur and the majesty and the power and everything that is God’s. This is an unreal place. Down to verse 8, you have these four living creatures that look like weird things, 4:8, “The four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within,” they are covered with eyes, it would make a good science fiction movie, “and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” and the elders fall down and worship him whenever they hear this. You have this throne room scene, this is all God the Father.
Then in chapter 5 you find out that God has a scroll in his hand starting at verse 2, “I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals (2)?’ But no one in Heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it (3), and I began” this is John “to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it (4). One of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,’” you can hear the Old Testament prophecies being applied to Jesus “‘has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals (5).’ And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb (6)” see the metaphor changes, he’s not a lion any longer he’s a lamb “standing, as though it had been slain,” and of course it’s Jesus, and so he comes and he takes the scroll and he’s going to open it. There is this wonderful throne room scene of God and all his power and then Jesus in his sacrificial death for us.
Cycle #1: Seven Seals and Interlude (Rev. 6-7)
We start to break the seals, see the scroll is sealed with seven seals so you can’t open the scroll until all seven are broken. He starts to break the six seals, and if you want a good example of Apocalyptic Literature this is it, because the first seal is broken and it’s a rider on a white horse, and he goes out and he conquers by raging war. The second seal is a rider on a red horse and he removes peace from the world; people start to kill each other. The third is a black rider and he is the devastation of war, which starts to take place especially financial devastation. The fourth rider of course corresponds to the fourth seal, is pale. The pale rider kills with a sword and with famine and pestilence, what often happen after a war.
The fifth seal isn’t anything at all, I mean it’s not another rider and everything moves and now you’re looking at everything from Heaven. It’s a totally different seal in 6:9-11, “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.” All of a sudden, John’s seeing things from Heaven’s point of view instead of seeing all of the devastation on earth that God is allowing through these riders, and he goes to those believers who have died. “
They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth (10)?’” These are the saints in Heaven, I believe, calling out for vengeance which is a good thing, as long as it is a God thing. “Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”
You have this elastic nature in Apocalyptic Literature where you have these four seals then the fifth seal all of a sudden is up in Heaven, and what John is doing is reminding us while all this evil and pain is happening on earth, there are saints in Heaven and God is still in control. He is so much in control that he’s saying, this is going to keep going until I’ve finished what I want to finish. He’s in absolute control. Then you come back down to the sixth seal and you have judgment that comes with great cosmic signs in verses 12 and following. It’s a good example of Apocalyptic Literature.
You have these seals, it’s getting worse and worse, and then this happens several times in Revelation, he hits an interlude, that’s what Stein calls it anyway. Chapter 7 is an interlude, it’s a pause, it’s a break, and you can imagine being a First Century Christian and hearing there’s going to be war and peace is going to be removed and there will be financial devastation, we’re going to be killed by the sword and the famine and pestilence and…. What the interlude is doing is saying basically, take a breath, I’m still in control, God says, I’m not out of control, I know exactly what is going on and you are safe. That’s the function of the interlude. In chapter 7 you have this sealing of the 144,000 starting at verse 2, “Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.’” I would say “the servants of God” is an example where the word church may not be there, but that’s biblical language for a Christian, in my opinion, “I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” Then in very methodical details, that’s 12,000 from each of the tribes.
What happens when you seal a document? You not only mark ownership, but you protect its contents, don’t you? As long as the seals are there, you can’t open up the letter and read it or in a sense, destroy it. What’s going on is an interlude, is John is telling us God has sealed those who are his, he is protecting them. Yes, it is going to get horrible, but you’re safe with him. Hang in there—persevere—you’re safe with God. That’s the function of the interlude.
One of the interesting questions is, is the number literal? the Jehovah Witnesses for a long time argued that it was until their membership exceeded 144,000 then they decided that the number was not literal. It’s just 12 times 12,000. It’s the number of completeness. The church, I believe, is the new Israel, and here would be one of the proof texts for it. You have 12 tribes, 12 x 12,000, he’s saying everyone who is mine has been sealed. Everyone who is God’s is being protected, 12 x 12,000—from every tribe. Many people understand the 144,000 to be a figurative number.
You have this interlude where there’s the sealing of the 144,000 and then you get to verse 9, and this is the passage that I read earlier. The way I look at Revelation is what you have here is the final judgment at the end of the six seals. You have your judgment, and salvation is God’s, and you have this Heavenly scene, and you have people with God living in his presence and the Lamb is in their midst. This is language reminiscent of the last chapter in Revelation as well, and what the writer is saying even if you don’t agree that it is cyclical, what the writer is certainly saying is that there is reward lying ahead. If you persevere in the midst of all these persecutions, there is reward, and the reward is living in the presence of God and living with the Lamb and living with that joy. It functions as an encouragement to a persecuted church to persevere. This process has happened many times, but I think that what is being described is all going to happen again, in its fullest and its worst at the end of time. I’m not one for saying the pale rider is this or the third seal is that; it’s just guess work and I don’t think it’s right.
A. Revelation 7:1 : Jer. 49:36; Dan. 7:2
B. Revelation 7:1 : [ver. 3]
C. Revelation 7:2 : ch. 16:12
D. Revelation 7:2 : ch. 9:4
E. Revelation 7:3 : ch. 6:6; 9:4
F. Revelation 7:3 : ch. 14:1; 22:4; Ezek. 9:4; [ch. 13:16; Ezek. 3:8, 9]
G. Revelation 7:4 : ch. 9:16
H. Revelation 7:9 : [Rom. 11:25]
I. Revelation 7:9 : ch. 5:9
J. Revelation 7:9 : ver. 14; See ch. 3:4
K. Revelation 7:9 : [Lev. 23:40; John 12:13]
L. Revelation 7:10 : ch. 12:10; 19:1; See Ps. 3:8
M. Revelation 7:11 : ch. 4:6
N. Revelation 7:11 : See ch. 4:10
O. Revelation 7:12 : ch. 5:14; 19:4; [1 Chr. 29:10, 11]
P. Revelation 7:13 : [See ver. 9 above]; ver. 14; See ch. 3:4
Q. Revelation 7:14 : See Matt. 24:21
R. Revelation 7:14 : ch. 22:14; [Isa. 1:18; Zech. 3:3-5]
S. Revelation 7:14 : [Dan. 12:10; 1 John 1:7]
T. Revelation 7:14 : ch. 1:5
U. Revelation 7:15 : ch. 22:3
V. Revelation 7:15 : ch. 21:3; [Isa. 4:5, 6]
W. Revelation 7:16 : Isa. 49:10
X. Revelation 7:16 : Ps. 121:6
Y. Revelation 7:17 : Ps. 23:1, 2; [Matt. 2:6]; See John 10:11
Z. Revelation 7:17 : ch. 22:1; [Ps. 36:8, 9; John 4:14]
AA. Revelation 7:17 : ch. 21:4; Isa. 25:8
Cycle #2: Seven Trumpets and Interlude (Rev. 8-11)
Having finished with the seven seals, we move into the next cycle which is the seven trumpets in chapters 8-11. In chapters 8 and 9 you have the first six trumpets and again it is interesting, if you look to see what the seventh seal is; the seventh seal includes seven trumpets. So I think you have this cycle, not necessarily an identical message being taught, but a very similar message.
The first four trumpets talk about all the natural disasters that are going to happen. The fifth and sixth trumpets talk about demonic plagues. It's interesting that 9:4 says, "They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads." In other words, we have a series of plagues that are not going to be affecting the Christians, but the point again as you go through this cycle, is that the non-Christians still don’t repent. Revelation 9:20-21: “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” You have a series of plagues that the Christians are not being affected by and yet the non-Christians are not brought to repentance.
In the midst of all this pain and this hurt, you again have an interlude. This is the interlude that is before the seventh trumpet it is in chapter 10 and it is an interesting passage. John eats a little scroll and it’s the scroll about what is going to happen in the future. The scroll is sweet because it talks about what is going to happen, but it’s bitter because it talks about judgment. There’s the measuring of the Temple, which again, we are the Temple and it’s about our protection. Then there’s the two witnesses, which I believe is the witnessing church. So you have this interlude that once again is doing what the other interlude did: it’s saying God is in control, God is going to keep his people safe, so don’t forget that in the midst of all the problems.
Then in chapter 11 starting at verse 15 you have the seventh trumpet, and you have what I believe to be the final judgment that is in this cycle. Starting at verse 15, “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in Heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever (15).’ And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God (16), saying, ‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign (17). The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth (18).’ Then God’s temple in Heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail (19).” This sounds to me like the end of time; it sounds to me like the final judgment, and we get to be with God forever.
The Dragon and the Two Beasts (Rev. 12-14)
The Birth of Jesus (Rev. 12:1-6)
You have the seven trumpets and then you come to the next section where he is talking about a dragon and two beasts; this is chapters 12-14 and again in the cyclical view of looking at Revelation, there are not seven things being opened, but you have this cycle historically starting over again because look at what happens in chapter 12:1, “A great sign appeared in Heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars (1). She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth (2). And another sign appeared in Heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems (3). And his tail swept down a third of the stars of Heaven and cast them to the earth. The dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it (4). She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne (5), and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days (6).”
Who is the child? It’s Jesus. How can you have the birth of Jesus in chapter 12 if Revelation is sequential? See even if you don’t want to accept my understanding of the cycles, it just can’t be sequential because you are in 4-6 BC in chapter 12:1. You have the birth of Jesus coming out of the messianic community, you have Satan trying to destroy him, you have his ascension—being caught up to God in his throne—and then you have the spread of God’s kingdom in the midst of all this persecution. I think what is happening is that John is starting the cycle over again, starting with Jesus and the clash of Jesus and Satan during his life.
Michael and the Dragon (Rev. 12:7-17)
Then you have this rather bizarre story of Michael, the Angel, and the dragon, who of course is Satan, in verses 7-17. Again remember Apocalyptic Literature isn’t sequential. What you have in verse 7 is not even the time of Jesus, it’s way back before anything, because you’ve got this war between Satan and his angels and Michael the archangel and his, and what you have is Satan’s defeat in Heaven. He’s cast down to earth and when he’s on earth, he’s going to persecute the church, but the promise here is that the persecution is going to fail. Look at verse 10, “I heard a loud voice in Heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down,’” (to earth), “‘who accuses them day and night before our God. They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death (11),’” talking about Christian martyrs. Then he adds this part in verse 12, “‘But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!’”
John is not being sequential; he’s popping throughout history and prehistory. Satan was defeated in Heaven, he was cast to earth, he knows that his doom is sure, for he knows his doom is sure, he knows he’s going to lose at the end, but he’s going to make a real stink in the process of going out. What does he do when he’s on earth? Verse 13, “When the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child,” and later on in verse 17 he continues to pursue all of her offspring. Here’s this mighty battle of Satan and Michael in Heaven, Satan looses—he and his minions come down to earth, and they know they are going to be destroyed, but while they are here they are going to persecute the church, Jesus, and all the rest of this woman’s offspring.
This is scary picture of what’s going on; it is a scary picture of the verse that says we struggle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities. This is one of those things that I would guess, by its very nature, can only happen once. You have to understand John is in an ecstatic state, he’s in a visionary state, and he’s having an out-of-body experience and these things are flashing at him. He’s like, “what’s this and what’s this?” and he’s writing this and he’s asking the angel for help and it’s not this nice quiet writing of the Book of Romans. There are visions flashing and John’s writing and so timeframes are getting skewed—there are cycles, but in this case he just goes way back pre-time. My assumption is that Satan’s defeat was before anything, I would guess before Adam and Eve. It’s this ecstatic state, and he’s just writing as fast as he can and asking for help. He’s all over the place. We know that Jesus is born and that Satan is going to do everything he can to destroy him and his followers.
The First Beast from the Seas (Rev. 13:1-10)
Then in chapter 13, you have the first of two beasts. This particular beast rises out of the sea and he’s given authority and power by the dragon, so he’s demonically empowered, and people are made to worship him, everyone except the elect, verse 8, “And all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” Elect just meaning Christians. You have this beast, who is powerful, given power by Satan, and people are called to worship. He’s even going to be able to do miracles. What’s the point that we are supposed to hear on this beast? Is it, “I’m scared”? Look at the second half of verse 10, “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” See John wants to keep encouraging us even when it looks scary and frightening; don’t give in to the fear, endure. T
The Second Beast (The False Prophet) (Rev. 13:1-10)
Then in verse 11 we have this second beast, and this is the beast that rose out of the earth; later on in chapter 16 he’s called the false prophet so we generally talk about the beast and the false prophet; the false prophet is this second beast. “Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed (12).” Up in verse 3, it says, "One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed," in other words, this guy has power even over death. Verse 13, “It performs great signs, even making fire come down from Heaven to earth in front of people (13), and by the signs that it is allowed to work” (see God’s always in control) “in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth (14).” What you have is the second beast, the false prophet, who is able to do miracles and calls people to worship the first beast, but it not only calls them to worship the first beast, he calls them to have the mark of the beast. This is where all that 666 stuff comes from.
Starting at verse 16, “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead.” Now remember we’ve already been sealed, haven’t we? This mark is the antithesis to the sealing that the faithful have, and the marking is “so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name (17).” John knows that even he is being confusing at this point and so he tries to help us and doesn’t help a whole lot. “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666 (18).” If you’re a literalist that means you’re going to have branded 666 on your forehead in order to buy and sell. This is one of those kinds of interesting things, how symbolic is this? What is the reality behind it? It says if you don’t have the mark you can’t buy and sell. Is that part of the symbol or is that how the symbol works itself out? Is there something that the symbol stands for, but the way it’s worked out in real life is that we won’t be able to do business without giving our allegiance to the beast? I suspect so. I suspect that’s the reality behind this symbol.
The 666 is called a cryptogram where you assign different number values to different letters. If you listen to Stein’s lecture he teaches how you can take Nero Caesar and come to 666, N is 50, E is 0 since it’s a vowel, R is a 200, and so on. I have no idea where Dr. Stein is getting the numbers from. Dad in his commentary says that Nero Caesar doesn’t work and that’s what I had always been taught, that you have to misspell the Hebrew version of it and put it back in Greek or Latin to get close. What does 666 stand for? I’ll tell you, are you ready? The Anti-Christ. The 666 is my father. (He says this all the time). He’s the Anti-Christ. You know why? He has three names, Robert Hayden Mounce—six letters in each name; obviously Dad’s the Anti-Christ and if you don’t believe that, our address in Bowling Green, KY was 666 Windmill Way. I do not lie; Obviously Dad’s the Anti-Christ, and we can all go home.
Here’s what I think is going on with 666. You can take it or leave it. The hint is back in 2 Thessalonians 2. The man of lawlessness, the man of rebellion comes in and in verse 4, he is one “who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” The Anti-Christ, the man of lawlessness, is a man who claims to be God. The other hint is in Revelation 13, “For it is the number of a man,” here’s what I think, is, the number 7 in cryptograms is the number of perfection, so 7 is the number for God, 6 is one less than God, so 6 is the number for man. The triune God would therefore be 777, so someone who claims to be God will be 666. Whatever the mark is, I don’t know, but we’ll know the Anti-Christ, the beast, when we see him because he will be a human being who had a mortal wound who did not die, and is going to claim to be God and by the power of Satan will do many miraculous things.
If you don’t like that pick my dad, it’s ok. Supposedly, you can pick any major world leader that you don’t like; there’s a way to spell his name 666. During the Reformation it was the Pope. In the 70s it was Kissinger. Some Christian minds are very creative, and they can define 666 if they really look long and hard enough. I suspect that the first Anti-Christ was Domitian because Domitian demanded to be called Lord God, that was a formal title that he demanded that everyone in the Roman Empire use of him. If you didn’t, he killed you and hence the martyrdom of many Christians. I think Domitian was that first trinity of imperfection, the trinity of manhood or whatever you want to call it, and I believe there have probably been quite a few men who claim to be God and tried to use the church and religion as a political power tool to accomplish their ends and who would fit in this category. It starts in the Roman Empire and cycled through history with one final fulfillment.
The View from Heaven (Rev. 14)
We’ve had this dragon and the two beasts. We have the first beast and the second beast and then in chapter 14, in an attempt to encourage us, the view shifts again just like it did with the fifth seal, and the view goes up to Heaven. Again the whole idea is to encourage us to be faithful in the midst of all the persecution, because there you have the 144,000, they are safe with God. You have three angels who go around proclaiming that Satan is going to be defeated and anyone who worships the beast is going to be destroyed as well. What’s the point? The point is in verse 12, “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” Again, it’s like another interlude—it’s just a pause to put this whole cosmic thing in perspective: it’s getting really horrible down here—God’s still on his throne, God’s still in charge. Nothing is happening that he doesn’t allow to happen.
Cycle #3: Seven Bowls and Judgment (Rev. 15-18)
In chapter 15-18 you get this third cycle of seven. In this case it’s seven bowls, and as the bowls are poured out their plagues and God’s wrath is being visited on the world. In chapters 15-16 you’ll have the seven bowls; I think the third formal cycle and the last cycle, the bowls are God’s wrath. Still the people don’t repent, chapter 16:9.
Then you head into chapters 17-18, which again I would say is final judgment. You had the bowls, but you had all the persecutions that have come on Christians during this timeframe and then you have this final judgment. In chapter 17, you have a description of the great prostitute which is Rome, it’s identified as a city in verse 9, “The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated”; it has to be Rome. Verse 18, “The woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.” You had Rome, the center of power and the power for the Anti-Christ.
Then in 18 he talks about the fall of Babylon; it’s the same thing as the prostitute. Babylon is the same thing. Their destruction is all done to contrast with the victory of the faithful. You have the seven bowls being poured out, you have the judgment on the prostitute, the fall of Babylon and then the victory of the faithful. I’m talking about the first cycle of fulfillment up to beginning of the second century. When Domitian died, the persecution was removed, so it was a persecution specifically during his Emperorship. Domitian is a Roman Emperor like Caesar that lived until the end of the first century. It was a crime to be a Christian under Domitian’s rule so the persecution was intense. I mean they would stick Christians on posts and tip them in tar and light them to have lights to go to the Olympic Games. It was really bad. The destruction was ordered in 67 and was accomplished in 70s by Titus. I forget which Emperor was ordered it, but Nero was dead and Domitian was not around yet. We hear more about Nero’s Persecution, but that persecution was limited to the city of Rome and it was a pretty short duration. Domitian’s went on much longer, and again Nero, if you were a law abiding Christian, you probably weren’t going to be persecuted unless you just ticked him off. With Domitian, if you were a Christian, you were killed.
Final Victory (Rev. 19:1-20:10)
Hallelujah, Marriage, and Judgment (Rev. 19)
In chapters 19-20 then, in balance of that judgment you have this final victory and it’s a wonderful set of passages. In the beginning of chapter 19, you have the “hallelujah of the redeemed,” where the redeemed in the midst of all this pain are crying out “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God (1), for his judgments are true and just (2).” You have the marriage supper of the marriage between the bride, which is us, and the Lamb, which of course if Jesus. It is this wonderful picture of our marriage and coming together and eating.
Then you have in chapter 19 starting at verse 11 you have the judgment of the other people. This is when Jesus comes on a white horse with a sword coming out of his mouth as a victorious conqueror. He destroys the false beasts and he destroys the false prophet; they are thrown into the lake of fire.
The Millennium (Rev. 20:1-10)
Then you have in chapter 20 the millennium in verses 1-10. What happens during this millennium, this 1,000-year reign (the word millennium just means a 1,000), is that first of all Satan is bound: “Then I saw an angel coming down from Heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain (1). And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years,” there’s the millennium (2), “and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while (3).”
You have this binding of Satan, and then you have the martyrs, the people who were killed during the Great Tribulation, come back to life and they are going to reign on earth: “4Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.” Here’s the scene where you have this promise to people who are being persecuted that if they are martyred for their faith during the tribulation, when Satan is put in the pit, they are going to come to life and they are going to reign with Jesus for a 1,000 years.
I think there are a lot of problems in millennial theology and one is, what happened to everyone else? How come it’s just the martyrs that get to reign with Christ? That question is for another time. What happens then at the end of the 1,000 years? Satan is going to be released again, there will be a final battle and he’ll be finally destroyed. Now the millennium is another topic in Revelation that has engendered much debate; people love to argue about this. This is the only place where the millennium is explicitly taught in Scripture; it does not come anywhere else. It’s not taught, I would argue, in any real clear way. To me Romans is clear, I like to argue Romans—it makes sense to me, but this is highly symbolic, and there are all kinds of problems. Like 1,000—is this the only number that’s literal in Revelation or are all the numbers literal? There are all kinds of problems.
Now by saying that what I’ve told you is I’m not a dispensationalist. In dispensationalist theology there are two fundamental truths that control dispensational thought. One is that here are two peoples of God—there are the ethnic descendants of Abraham and then there are those who believe by faith, the church. In dispensational theology, those two have to be kept separate. The other thing you just have to believe, and if you don’t believe it you can’t be a dispensationalist, is that there is literal fulfillment of prophecy. I have lots of good dispensational friends and I don’t like that phrase literal because for me if the prophecy was meant to be understood figuratively then I’m understanding literally when I understand it figuratively. Some of my happiest memories in grad school were Thursdays when we got together, the students, Darrell Bock (who is one of the research professors at Dallas now), and Craig Blomberg (who is one of the research professors at Denver). We would get together and argue for hours, and we had more fun doing it because Darrell was a dispensationalist and I wasn’t, and Craig was somewhere in the middle. My comments to Darrell were, “You are the most non-dispensationalist I have ever met.” He would say “you are the most dispensationalist non-dispensationalist I’ve ever met.” That’s normally how we ended our discussions. I have many happy memories arguing on these things and we are very good friends. I say that for a reason.
When push comes to shove, there used to be a lot of things taught in dispensational theology; now, these are the last two core things and if you give up this you can’t be dispensational. Here is why this is so important. If you have to have literal fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, if the lion and the lamb must lie down together, if the temple must be rebuilt (Ezekiel), when is all of that going to happen? There’s no timeframe unless you have the Gentile church removed at Revelation 4:1 and everything that’s happening since 4:1 is for Jews who are becoming Christians. You get to the millennium and then the promises that were made to the ethnic descendants of Abraham are literally fulfilled in Israel, and the lion will physically lie down with the lamb and the temple will be rebuilt. Thankfully now the argument is that the sacrifices are made of praise. There were some that actually were taught that the blood sacrifices that would bring about atonement were going to be reinstated, which is horrible theology. I don’t think the millennium is a big deal. In dispensational theology it’s almost everything because all of that is core to what a dispensationalist believes comes true in the millennium. Darrell and I are very good friends and we all get along at this point; this is not an issue of orthodoxy, even though other people might tell you that it is.
There are three basic positions on the millennium: First is post-millennialism. This is a belief that Jesus is going to come back after the millennium is over. This is the idea that the Gospel is going to be spread throughout the earth, and that the world, through the work of the church and the power of the Spirit, is going to become Christian. That’s what many would say that chapter 20 is all about. When this happens, Jesus returns. Jesus’s return is post-millennial—it’s after the millennium. This was really big in the 19th century, because it was a time of optimism and of people thinking, we can do this, we can change the world. But this optimism was destroyed by World War I. All of a sudden, people realized that we weren’t going to be able to make the world into God’s Kingdom.
There still are very conservative people that are post-millennial. When I at Gordon Conwell, we had a thing called “grapple in the chapel,” and we had a post-millennial, a pre-millennial and a pre-tribulationist all arguing. It was a lot of fun. Jack Davis the post-millennialist, the students all said, won the argument. Post-millennialism is normally associated with liberalism, but it doesn’t have to be. Most post-millennialists are very liberal in their theology. It’s not much of a force these days.
The second position is pre-millennialism and that the belief that Jesus is going to return before the millennium and he’s going to reign in the millennium for a 1,000 years. Obviously you have to interpret Revelation differently to get these different positions.
You can break pre-millennialism down into 2 categories: pre-tribulation and post-tribulation. Both the pre-tribulational rapture and post-tribulational rapture are going to fit in the pre-millennial camp, because both say it happens before Jesus comes back, before the millennium happens. There’s also a mid-tribulational position and many other variations. When I was younger I would say, I don’t believe in the rapture, then I realized I really do want to believe in a rapture when I read 1 Thessalonians 5; I do want to be one of the elect caught up and be with the Lord forever so I decided I liked the rapture. The rapture just means you’re caught up. It’s that phrase in 1 Thessalonians that when Jesus comes back again we will all be caught up with him to be with him forever—that’s the rapture. Some people think it’s going to happen before the tribulation, before the things described in Revelation happen. Some of us think it is going to happen after the tribulation and so Christians are the ones going through all this horrible stuff, but both of those positions are pre-millennial.
The third position is amillennialism, which doesn’t mean you don’t believe in a millennium. Amillennialism is a belief that we are currently in the millennium. If you were to pick one doctrine that historically has described the church the most, it’s amillennialism. The church is mostly amillennial. Now if you go back to the history, especially up to a 1,000 AD, you thought there were Y2K fears you can imagine Y1K fears, but the church was highly amillennial. The argument is that Satan is contained; he can still destroy and wreak havoc, but he has limitations that are placed on him. When this time period is done, then he will be released and we’ll have all of the final bad stuff and Satan will be destroyed. I tell people that some of the more interesting arguments I’ve ever heard between my Mom and my Dad were about this, because my Dad’s pre-mil and my Mom’s amillenial. They finally agreed for the sake of their marriage to quit arguing about it about 15 years ago. I can still remember when I was in high school and Dad was working on the commentary and hearing Mom and Dad in living room hearing Dad say, “Jean, I’ve read every major book on Revelation and nobody says that.” That was about when they decided to stop arguing about the millennium. Those are your basic positions.
Final Judgment and Heaven (Rev. 20:11-22:5)
Let’s finish off Revelation. Chapter 20:11 is when it gets really cool. You have the final judgment and you have all of us going to Heaven. It starts with the great white throne judgment. Everyone is brought together and we are judged by if our names are in the Book of Life; we’re judged on the basis of what we have done, and you have this major judgment scene that corresponds to the major judgment scene, for example, that Jesus shared about the goats and the sheep being separated.
In chapter 21 you have this creation of the new Heaven and the new earth. I have no idea what this is going to be like. I find myself hoping that when God recreates the world there still is a Little Spokane Valley because I know the place I want to live—I walked there today so I hope in the new one it’s there. These are great passages: Rev. 21:2: “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (2). I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man (3).’” That’s Heaven right? That was the Garden of Eden; that was what God’s intention was all along—for us to be able to dwell with him. What’s happened is that sin has now been fully taken care of and God’s initial creative desires are being fulfilled. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,” you can hear the 2 Samuel 7:14 promises, “and God himself will be with them as their God.” You can hear the covenant promises from Moses: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Who is going to be in this place? Verse 7: “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” You have starting in verse 22, there’s “no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord (22), the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb (23). But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false (27),” because they are all going to be in the Lake of Fire they can’t.
Then what I think has got to be one of the top two or three images in all of Scripture starts in chapter 22: The Garden of Eden is back—we’re back where it all started. You have this scene, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (1) through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life”; that’s a pretty big tree—it spans this huge river. This is the other of the two trees in the Garden of Eden—there’s the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life—and Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden lest they eat of the tree of life and live forever. This tree is waiting for you here in Revelation 22 “with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (2). No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him (3). They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more (4).” I’m a little sad about that because then I can’t see the stars—oh, wait, I’m not a literalist, that’s right. “Night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” God’s purpose in creation is fulfilled.
Here is a quick epilogue; let me just in closing read what we have in the Biblical Training Statement of Faith for Eschatology, you should understand all the words here: “Jesus will return” (I thought about just saying Jesus will return period and leaving it at that) “personally, visibly to all, suddenly, and all disciples living and dead will be bodily caught up” (there’s your rapture) “to meet him. At the final judgment, the unrepentant will be raised to the resurrection of judgment and everlasting punishment in Hell. Believers, while already having passed from darkness to light,” (John’s dualistic language) “will be raised to the resurrection of life, and will enjoy the everlasting, personal presence of God in his Heavenly kingdom. God’s plan of creation, redemption, and glorification will be complete.”