Revelation (part 3)
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Main ideas in Revelation chapters 6-13.
IV. The Seven Seals 6:1-8:5 (cont)
V. The Seven Trumpets 8:6-11:19
VI. Signs in heaven and earth 12:1-14:20
Lecture 31: Revelation Part 3
This is the 31st lecture in the online series of lectures on New Testament Survey by Dr Thomas Schreiner. Recommended Reading includes: Article on Divorce and Remarriage – Craig Blomberg, Trinity Journal, 1990; The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris; Are there Two Will in God by John Piper; Two views on Women in Ministry by James Beck and Craig Blomberg; Word Bible Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Volume 46, by William D. Mounce and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood, by Wayne Gudem and John Piper (article by Vern Poythress entitled, ‘The Church as a Family’)
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IV. The Seven Seals 6:1-8:5 (continued)
We are in the middle of chapter 7. I ended the last lecture by saying that I think the 144,000 was the church throughout history; those who were sealed and spared from the wrath of the Lamp. They are protected by God himself. I think this refers to all of us. Then in verses 9-14 of chapter 7, we see this great multitude. This multitude and the 144,000 are the same entity in my view. It is the same group being from every tribe and nation and people and tongue. They are standing before the throne and before the lamp in heaven I believe in this vision. They are in God’s presence and clothed in white robes because they stand before God. They have palm branches in their hands because they are rejoicing and they are crying out, ‘salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ This is another statement about the deity of Christ. Salvation belongs to our God and to our lamp and so this is the deity of Christ. The angels, the four living creatures and the elders are together; maybe another hint that those elders are angels because they have the multitude, angels, living creatures and the elders there. They are worshiping God which is what Revelation is all about. They are saying, ‘Amen! Blessings and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!’
Will we be praising God is heaven? Yes, I believe we will. This will not be boring; it will be beautiful and lovely to stand before God in praise forever. In verse 13, one of the elders addressed John asking those who were clothed in white robes and where did they come from. They came out of the great tribulation and I believe this relates to the situation in John’s day. I don’t just take this to refer to the end of history. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; this is the Gospel in Revelation. This is the centrality of the Cross of Christ. It is due to the cleansing blood of the Lamb that people are allowed in the throne room of God. Verse 15, therefore they are before the throne of God in heaven. These verses are apocalyptic language in regards to a temple in heaven. Remember now that in chapter 21, we are told that there is no temple in heaven. They are in God’s presence. This matches what we will see in Revelation 21 when we talk about the New Heavens and New Earth. They will neither hunger nor thirst anymore, nor will they suffer from the heat. Verse 17, ‘For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ This is what is going to happen in heaven. So those who are sealed by God will be able to stand at the end times. Their destiny is to stand in the presence of God.
We now come to chapter 8 and the unleashing of the 7th seal. I would argue that this is a literary device; this unleashing. John could have ended the book at this point because the saints are in heaven and it seems to be all finished. The literary device is saying that he wants to tell us more; the introduction to the seven trumpets. As he opens the seal, there is a silence in heaven. When there is silence in heaven, it is usually before a great judgement. The seven trumpets are given to the angels and they are standing at the altar of incense which is a representation of the prayers of the saints. The judgement that will be poured out on earth is the answer to God’s people praying. God’s people have been praying all through history for God to bring in his kingdom. Of course God has been answering those prayers throughout history but there will be a consummation. So when the angel takes the censor in verse 5 and throws it on the earth resulting in thunder and lightning and earthquakes; God will answer to his people. Now the Trumpets are blown.
V. The Seven Trumpets 8:6-11:19
So what are the first four trumpets? For the first trumpet, a third of the earth was burned and a third of the trees were burned along with the grass. Then for the second trumpet a third of the sea becomes blood. For the third trumpets a third of the living creatures in the sea die along with a third of the ships. Finally, for the fourth trumpet, the sun, moon and stars were darkened. In everyone, it is a third. These are interpreted in different ways and you have to look at the commentaries and different interpretive views to see what other people think. My own opinion is that these judgements don’t refer to a seven year tribulation period at the end of history, however most likely most evangelicals do. I understand that these are the kind of judgements that are typical of world history. So throughout world history there are significant judgements taking place on the earth. I don’t take these thirds as literal. Some of these points are a way of describing different kinds of devastation. As I have mentioned, I take Revelation to be apocalyptic literature.
In regards to chapter 9 and the fifth trumpet, a star falls to earth and a key is given to the bottomless pit which is opened with smoke coming out of it. The Old Testament background for this is Joel 1 and 2 for these locusts which are different beings, like scorpions going after people that don’t have the seal of God on their foreheads. Their tails provide them with power to hurt people who are tortured for five months so much so that they want to die. These locusts were like horses prepared for battle with heads like golden crowns and human faces with hair like a women and teeth like a lion. They had breastplates like iron and their wings made a noise like that of chariots and horses rushing into battle. Their king was Apollyon. I believe that these things are symbolic, not literal. Their king is demonic and thus this is a way of talking about demonic forces. I don’t believe the five months to be literal either. If you take Revelation literally, your interpretation will be very different than what I believe it to be. So I understand this to relate to demonic influence on earth and I think this is a psychological torment of godless people. Life is so miserable that they wish they were dead. But I have to say that it is difficult to interpret apocalyptic literature. There are clues that indicate that it isn’t a literal fulfillment.
For the sixth trumpet there is a voice commanding the release of the four angels who are bound up at the great river Euphrates. These are released to kill a third of mankind. I don’t think that this is the army of China as some would believe. I think that these are unusual creatures that will kill many using demonic powers. The twentieth century fits into this but then again perhaps all of history fits into this. Even today, huge amounts of people are being slain around the world surly through demonic rulers. We have seen Stalin, Hitler, Polpot and it continues in the Middle East, Africa, etc. The people that have been killed are staggering and beyond our ability to grasp. I have no problem in saying that this has been taking place all through history. Of course believers see this and it should open the eyes of nonbelievers. Many unbelievers are spared but the remaining people did not repent but continued in worshipping demons and idols and murdering and sexual immorality and thefts. Seeing this, we see that there is a judgement and consequence for sin.
So we want to look now at the significance of chapters 10 and 11. It seems to be an interlude. So there is a mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud. He has a rainbow over his head and his face is like the sun and his legs are like pillars of fire. He has a scroll in his hand placing his right foot on the sea and left foot on the land. He dominates the world so to speak. He is like a lion roaring and then the seven thunders sounded. He was told not to write it down so it seems there are things that are about to happen that will be hidden from us and will be revealed as it happens. So the angel says when that seventh trumpet sounds, history finishes. Meanwhile, John is to eat this scroll which reminds us of Ezekiel where Ezekiel is told to eat a scroll in chapters 2 and 3. Being the Word of God, it is sweet but being judgement, it is bitter.
Chapter 11 is like much of the rest of Revelation, a controversial chapter. I have changed my mind over the years of what it might mean. So he was given a measuring rod and was told to rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there. I don’t believe that this refers to a literal temple but many do think it to mean a literal temple. I believe the temple refers to the church here as per usual New Testament teaching. Measuring means that they will be protected by God but they will be persecuted by unbelievers during these forty two months. So God will protect his people but that doesn’t mean that they will not be mistreated. Many people take this to refer to the last three and a half years of the tribulation where persecution gets so intense. With seven being the perfect number, three and a half is not the perfect number. I think this might refer to the cross to the resurrection. So in my estimation, we are living in those forty two months now and will have been since the Cross. So since the Cross and Resurrection, the church has been persecuted. So this relates as well to the first readers and it does today. So we see that God is protecting us but Christians are being persecuted and it’s tough to be a Christian and we may be put to death because of who we are as have previous martyrs. So now we have the two witnesses who are to prophesy during this time. There have been guesses as to who these two witnesses are and I think this refers to the Church. We are the two witnesses. The background is from Zechariah chapter 4 with the King and the Priest of which we have become kings and priests. Again, this is symbolic language he is using. So the church will be witnessing between the Cross and the second coming. We will be proclaiming God’s Word to the world.
In verse 7, when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt where their Lord was crucified. The beast in John’s day was the Roman Empire and it was killing the saints, the witnesses and unbelievers are happy about this and are sending gifts to one another. But for today, I don’t think we can point to any particular country or empire but there are and have been governments that fit the spirit of the anti-Christ, clearly Stalinists Russia and Maoist China and many Islamic countries. Unbelievers hate the people of God and we know there is a great war going on in our own country and even this country could turn out to be the anti-Christ.
Ultimately the church will be vindicated and raised from the dead. So the church is bearing witness during this time from the Cross and the second coming. In verse 15, we have the seventh trumpet with sound of voices in heaven. The twenty four elders fell on their faces and worshiped God. So it is over and the kingdoms of the world have become the kingdom of God. We could end the Book of Revelation right here. But Revelation is not in chronological order; it seems to recapitulate over and over again. I think he is seeing what he tells us he saw.
VI. Signs in Heaven and Earth 12:1-14:20
In chapter 12 through 14, we have these signs in heaven and on earth. The woman gives birth to this child and I believe that the woman represents God’s people but there is a lot of debate over this point. The child is Jesus and is also an opponent, a dragon. And of course everyone says that the dragon is symbolic, representing the devil. The seven heads and ten horns with seven diadems is a symbolic description. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. I can only guest that this means Satan’s domination of earthly powers. The dragon wants to destroy the woman’s son. He wants to destroy the Messiah for he knows that this is the person that can destroy him. 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 this throne. So the devil lost as Jesus was caught up to God and his throne. The woman is related to Israel by some but I think that this again refers to God’s protection of his people where it says that she was to be nourished for three and a half years.
We see that there was war in heaven in verse 7. This is where Michael and his angels are fighting the dragon and his angels, and we see that the dragon was defeated and then thrown down along with his angels to earth. Was this a pre-fall battle? I understand that it happened at the Cross of Christ because the central point of history is the Cross. So Michael won the battle because of Jesus Christ and the Cross. So he was defeated and now on earth he goes after the woman who is the church. The woman and the seed are the same entity. The wings of an eagle that the woman uses to escape refer back to Exodus and God’s protection of his people and she is to be nourished for three and a half years which again represents the time from the Cross to the second coming. It would really be difficult to take these verses literally. Again, I think this is saying that Satan will try to destroy the church during this time, but God will protect the church however there will be persecution. Satan will do and is doing everything he can to destroy the church. This is what he is saying to suffering believers; God is with you.
Satan then calls up out of the sea a beast in chapter 13. Now remember, I don’t think this is chorological; it is apocalyptic. This is a way of looking at the battle; Satan is going to get help now. The ten horns and seven heads and diadems, I believe to be the Roman Empire. These are countries and institutions that want to restrict the preaching of the Gospel, then and now. Most countries around the world are putting more and more restrictions on preaching the Gospel: Islamic countries, China, Russia, Europe, Israel, even America. This comes from the spirit of the beast. We see again from Daniel 7 speaking of these empires as beasts with these kingdoms having these different animal characteristics. So the beast here is the fourth beast of Daniel 7 with its feet like a bear, its mouth like a lion; but with an image of a leopard. These animals are ravishing and ferocious and destructive. I am not sure about the head with the wound, but the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. This point is very unclear. People worship the dragon and that is what Satan wants. They worship the empire sort of speaking and what it represents. The beast is blasphemous against God and those in heaven and he is killing the saints and persecuting believers. Now is verse 8, the earth dwellers (non-Christians) worshipped the beast. This represented everyone whose name is not written in the book of life of the Lamb. In verse 10, we are to be ready; we need to endure and have faith in God. We will not necessarily be delivered from the persecution and you may even be put to death. You are not to be surprised by this.
Then there is the false prophet who has two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. He does signs and miracles and wonders to get people to worship the beast. And if you don’t worship the beast you will be economically persecuted. So what about the 666? There have been so many guesses as to what this is all about. I just think it means that this kingdom is demonic; it is not the perfect number. I don’t see any more than that in it.