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Rev, a framework for understanding the

This article is designed to help a Bible student better understand the book of Revelation. The articles will illustrate a method for making sense of the text and present a framework for interpretation.


An "Introduction" will discuss the following:

  1. The author and audience
  2. The date of writing
  3. First-century application
  4. Resolving a critical problem
  5. The stage set again
The next section, "What Happens in the Book", will begin looking at the specific details in the book. In particular, each chapter will be described in terms of its setting, the beings involved, and the action that takes place.


The author and audience

The book opens with a clear statement of who is revealing what to whom:
"The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John" (Rev 1:1).
The revelation (Gr "apokalypsis") is about Jesus, and by Jesus. God is the original source of the information (cf 2Ti 3:15). John is the recipient of the words and visions via the angel sent by Jesus. It will become plain that the Apocalypse is characterized by prophetic language and focuses on the imminent Coming of Christ.
"Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near. John to the seven churches that are in Asia..." (Rev 1:3,4).
The initial readers of the Revelation were members of the seven churches in Asia (today's western Turkey). In the first century setting, one person apparently read for many hearers. This resulted in a seven-part communication chain. By God's providence, that same apocalyptic message has been preserved for us to read and understand and obey.

God --> Jesus --> Jesus' angel --> apostle John --> 7 churches --> reader --> hearers (us!)

In the beginning and end of the book (Rev 1:4; 22:16), the seven churches are stated to be the intended audience. They are specifically addressed in detail in Rev 2; 3. They also seem to be brought into the story at key points in the message (eg, Rev 13:9,10; 14:12; 16:15). Therefore, the entirety of the book must have been relevant to them. Moreover, they would have been expected to understand what was written. To have received a prophetic message that was incomprehensible would be pointless.

Date of writing

There are no dates given in the book. This means the actual date of writing is unknown. But there are some reasonable arguments available to determine the approximate time.

First of all, it was written during the lifetime of the apostle John, which puts the date of writing sometime in the first century -- unless John was extraordinarily old.

Secondly, we know John was "on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Rev 1:9). Evidently, John had been exiled to Patmos because of his Christian faith. Furthermore, John states that he was sharing "the tribulation" with brethren (also v 9). Therefore, it is reasonable to think that John wrote during a time of widespread persecution of the Christians. The most likely times are the periods of intense persecution like those described in Revelation 2:9,10,13; 3:9,10, which interestingly enough seem to couple persecution by both Jew and Gentile.

The apostle Paul wrote about such persecutions (eg, 2Ti 2:11,12; 2Co 11:24-26) and indeed was imprisoned by Romans as a result of Jewish hostility and false accusation. Peter likewise wrote about the "fiery ordeal" to be experienced by "the brotherhood throughout the world" (1Pe 4:12-19; 5:8-10). The Christians in Jerusalem were reminded about their public abuse and affliction, the plundering of property and imprisonment, and exhorted to endure again (Heb 10:32-26; 13:3). If all of these are pointing to the same general time period, John may have been imprisoned for reasons comparable to Paul: in the defense and confirmation of the gospel (cf Phi 1:7,12-18). That argues a time when both Jew and Roman were persecutors of the Christians.

Going outside Scripture, the history books inform us about many times of persecution in the first century. Bible students tend to zero in on one of two periods: during the reigns of Roman Caesars Nero (AD 54-68) or Domitian (AD 81-96). Since the Jewish persecution effectively dried up after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, the only time period which reflected both Jewish and Roman persecution was during Nero's reign. Given the selection criteria of a concurrent, intense Roman and Jewish persecution, the date of writing the Apocalypse had to be proximate to AD 70, and most likely before.

A full discussion about the evidence for an early date of writing can be found in the article entitled "When was the Revelation written?" (see Lesson, Rev, date of). However, the debate about dates should not intrude upon the fact that John did write the book, and that he wrote it for our instruction.

Each person should decide what date makes the most sense from the internal, Bible evidence (this is given the most weight) as well as the external, non-Biblical evidence. While having one date or another in mind will undoubtedly affect the interpretation framework, it should not affect the lessons taught and the exhortation provided. And it definitely will not affect the certainty of Christ's return!

First-century application

Members of the seven first-century ecclesias would have sought to understand and apply the apocalyptic message to their situations and lives, just as they would have done for any Scripture. In short, there was an actual, meaningful first-century application of the entire Revelation prophecy, which did not (because it could not) include the historical events of the next 1900 years.

Two suggestions emerge from this observation. First, any interpretation of Revelation should take into account what the initial hearers thought had happened or was about to happen in their lifetimes. Second, while every generation of believers would be right in applying the words of Revelation to their point in history -- just as we do today -- a legitimate understanding of the book cannot depend upon a knowledge of interim history. There was and is sufficient information in Scripture itself to provide a suitable interpretative framework for understanding and applying the Apocalypse.

Without doubt, a principal teaching of Revelation is the literal return of Jesus Christ to earth to establish the Kingdom of God and reward the faithful by sharing his throne and glory (eg, Rev 1:6; 5:10; 11:15; 20:4; 22:4,5; 2:26,27; 3:21). That glorious event has yet to happen. When the first-century readers pondered the Revelation, they surely believed that Jesus was to come in their lifetimes. But he did not. Does that mean the early believers had a wrong understanding of the book? No! How else would one interpret the following texts?:

Resolving a critical problem

So how does a Bible student reconcile the idea that the first-century believers were right to believe that Jesus was coming soon -- in their lifetimes -- with the fact that Jesus did not come? Several solutions have been offered to this very real dilemma. The following suggestion, which happens to go hand-in-hand with the viewpoint that the Apocalypse was written prior to AD 70, seems to be a reasonable solution.

In two parables, Jesus predicted the overthrow of the Jewish nation because of the Jews' wickedness, ie, their refusal to accept him as God's Messiah (Mat 21:43; 22:7). In his Mount Olivet prophecy, Jesus was specific about the desolation of the land and the destruction of Jerusalem (cf Luke 21:20-24). Like God did in the past, this method of prophetic teaching was designed as a last resort to bring the hearers to repentance (eg, 2Ch 36:15-17).

Jesus also declared, "You will not see me again, until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord' " (Mat 23:39). Notice carefully the placement of the "until": First they say, then they see -- not the other way around! This necessary repentance of the Jews as a prerequisite to Christ's return was also taught by the apostles (eg, Acts 3:19,20). Evidently, the Jews who experienced the Roman devastation of their land and cities, and underwent the horrible siege of Jerusalem, did not call out in faith to God to send the Savior. Likewise, the Jews surviving the Roman overthrow in AD 70 did not manifest the repentance required by God. Therefore, God did not send Jesus.

So the stage was set for Christ's return. Jesus could have come, as indicated in the Olivet prophecy (Mat 24:29-31; Mar 13:28,29), several of the New Testament letters (1Th 5:1-11; 2Th 2:1-8; 1Pe 4:3-5,17-19; 2Pe 3:1-13), and the Revelation (Rev 1:7; 3:11; 22:7). But unrepentant Israel postponed the fulfillment of that teaching.

Yet God's purpose has not been frustrated in the least (cf Isa 55:11). There was obviously an alternative way of fulfilling the prophecy. In this case, "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24) appear to have lasted a long time. But there also appears to be a limit set: "until the full number of the Gentiles come in" (Rom 11:25), ie, until they believe in Jesus Christ and thus come into God's household of faith. The context of this last reference in enlightening:
"Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, 'The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob', and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins" (Rom 11:25-27).
This passage indicates that there is a plan by God to save both Jew and Gentile. When the full number has been reached -- like in the days of Noah when the ark was finally filled with those people who were wanting to be saved -- the Deliverer will come! The wailing and mourning of the Jews who recognize Jesus as their Messiah suggests that they have finally perceived the mercy of God and come to repentance (Rev 1:7; Mat 24:30; Zec 12:10).

The stage set again

The stage has been set one more time for the imminent return of Jesus. The nation of Israel was miraculously brought into existence again by God in 1948. Many of the details of the Mount Olivet prophecy seem to fit the situation in Israel today. The first-century scenario, of Israel versus Gentile powers, is being played out again with modern counterparts. Scripture seems to have anticipated a third and final showdown (Eze 21:27): there was Babylon and its allies in 586 BC, Rome and its mercenaries in AD 70, and finally a last-days "beast" and "horns" in ????. We may well be that generation of people who experience the Coming of Christ!

The battle's outcome is certain. Jesus will win. So the nearness of Christ's Coming and the importance to be ready for it was, is, and will be absolutely relevant to every generation of believers. True disciples will always be living as if it were "the last days". And if Christ does not actually return in their lifetimes and they die, in his service, they simply fall asleep, waiting the time of resurrection. And their next waking moment will be standing before their king, ready to be rewarded with the rest of "those who fear God's name, both small and great" (Rev 11:18).

What happens in the Book

Before developing a framework for understanding, it makes sense to become familiar with the contents of the book. A simple way is usually a good way. One helpful way is to take the chapters in order, and briefly describe the setting, the beings, and the activity of each chapter. This information will begin to dictate the framework requirements.

Chapter 1

Setting: The island called Patmos, off the coast of Asia Minor, 40 miles southwest of the city of Ephesus. John the apostle is in exile "on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus", ie, on account of his Christian faith.

Beings: God, Jesus Christ, the angel sent by Jesus, the glorified Jesus, and John.

Activity: God gives the revelation to Jesus, who then gives it to his angel to present to John, who is instructed to "write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches..." After the appropriate prologue (vv 1-8), John describes how he was "in the Spirit on the Lord's day" and finds himself in what appears to be the Holy Place of a temple, with seven golden lampstands in it. He then experiences the visitation of an extraordinarily glorious being (vv 9-18), which initially causes John to fall senseless to the ground.

From the given details, such as "I died, and behold, I am alive for evermore", this glorious being evidently represents the resurrected and exalted Christ. The glorified Jesus explains that the seven stars in his right hand are the "angels of the seven churches" and that the seven lampstands "are the seven churches". John is again instructed: "Now write what you see, what is, and what is to take place hereafter."

Chapters 2 and 3

Setting: John in the Spirit on the Lord's Day (same as Rev 1:10).

Beings: The glorified Jesus, the angels of the seven churches, the seven churches, and John.

Activity: John writes successive messages to each of the seven church congregations (via its angel), in the geographically clockwise order of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. In each message, the glorified Jesus introduces himself in terms of the characteristics listed in 1:13-18. Each congregation is commended, rebuked, and exhorted as appropriate; each is promised the rewards of being a spiritual conqueror; and each is told, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

Chapter 4

Setting: John, still in the Spirit, is transferred to God's rainbowed throne room in heaven.

Beings: God, 24 enthroned elders, four living creatures, and John.

Activity: John is invited to enter an open door in heaven: "Come up hither, and I will show you what must take place after this." In the heavenly throne room, John sees a Being on His throne (v 2), with four cherubim-like "living creatures" on each side of the throne, surrounded by twenty-four white-robed, golden-crowned "elders". The four living creatures never cease to sing the praise of the Lord God Almighty (v 8), and the 24 elders give round-the-clock worship to the Creator God, Who is worthy of all honor (v 11).

Chapter 5

Setting: Same as Rev 4.

Beings: Same as Rev 4, plus a strong angel, the Lamb, and -- by implication of their voices being heard -- myriads of angels and every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and in the sea.

Activity: John sees a scroll in the right hand of the Creator and weeps because a search throughout the universe fails to find anyone qualified to open it (even a strong angel?). His weeping is ended, however, when one of the elders assures him that "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."

When John takes a closer look, he sees a Lamb standing between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders. This Lamb takes the scroll from the Creator's right hand and becomes the object of a new song by the elders, who praise his sacrifice and his kingship to come: "Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth" (v 10). The angelic host and all creation join in the praise, and the four living creatures pronounce a climactic "Amen!" to the worship.

Chapter 6

Setting: The same as Rev 5. But from his vantage point in heaven, John is able to see events unfold on the earth below. Attention is focused on those scenarios.

Beings: He who is seated on the throne (v 16), the Lamb, the four living creatures, four horses and their riders, those involved in each seal scenario, and John.

Activity: John sees the Lamb open the first six seals on the scroll, one by one. Each of the first four seals in accompanied by a call, "Come!", from one of the four living creatures, whereupon a colored horse with a specially-equipped rider comes forth. The white horse and rider (with a bow) go out conquering. The red horse and rider (with a sword) take peace from the earth. The black horse and rider (with a measuring balance) bring famine. The pale horse and rider (named Death) kill with sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts.

Upon the opening of the fifth seal, John sees dead martyrs under the temple altar, hears their cry for vindication, sees them each given a white robe, and hears the promise that (after a further trial for living saints) their cry will soon be answered. The sixth seal opening brings monumental chaos: a great earthquake; portents in the sun, moon, stars, and sky; whole mountains and islands in upheaval; and terror among every class of people -- who seek to hide from the day of wrath of God and the Lamb. The picture fades out on this scene of impending disaster for the existing world.

Chapter 7

Setting: The same heavenly temple as in Rev 6. This time, the earthly scene changes to four angels holding winds that will soon be allowed to blow in judgment on the earth.

Beings: God who is seated on the throne (v 10), the Lamb, the four living creatures, the 24 elders, four angels who hold the winds, another angel who gives them instructions, a great multitude of people (represented by 144,000), and John.

Activity: Four angels are standing at the four corners of the earth (land of Israel?), temporarily holding back the four winds from blowing. A fifth angel calls out to them to keep holding "till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads". John hears the number of 144,000 spoken, 12,000 out of each of 12 named tribes of Israel. But when he looks, he sees a great multitude from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, which could not be numbered. They stand before the throne and the Lamb, clothed in white robes and with palm branches in their hands, thanking God for salvation.

Then one of the elders asks John about the identity and background of the 144,000. John replies, "Sir, you know." Whereupon the elder explains: they have spiritually survived "the great tribulation" and profited by the redemption made possible by the blood of Christ. Therefore, they are privileged to dwell in God's temple, serving Him day and night, and thriving in His presence. They will never be hungry or thirsty or afflicted or tearful again, for "the Lamb... will be their shepherd."

Chapters 8 and 9

Setting: The same heavenly temple as in Rev 7, but John looks down on another set of scenes on earth: six angelic trumpet blasts bring another series of God-sent disasters and destruction.

Beings: God, the Lamb, seven trumpet-carrying angels, another angel who carries a golden censer, those involved in each trumpet scenario, a flying eagle, and John.

Activity: The Lamb opens the seventh seal, and "there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." Each of the seven angels who stood before God (Rev 8:2, the same as the seven spirits in Rev 1:4?) is given a trumpet. Another angel who is carrying a golden censer comes and stands at the heavenly altar. He is given "much incense to mingle with the prayers of the saints". Then he fills the censer with fire from the altar and throws it on the earth, causing thunder, lightning, and an earthquake! This initiates the sounding of the seven trumpets.

The first trumpet blast brings hail and fire, mixed with blood to the earth. Result: a third of the land, trees and grass burn up. The second trumpet causes a great burning mountain to be thrown into the sea. Result: a third of the sea becomes blood, a third of the fish die, and a third of the ships are destroyed. The third trumpet causes a blazing star to fall on a third of the rivers and other water sources, poisoning the men who drink it. The fourth trumpet causes a third of the sun, moon and stars to be struck, so that both daylight and night light are darkened by a third.

An eagle then flies across the sky, crying "Woe, woe, woe" on earth's inhabitants to accompany the three remaining trumpets.

The fifth trumpet blast (also called the first "woe") reveals a star fallen from heaven to earth. It opens a bottomless pit from which a sun-darkening cloud of locusts emerges; they pour forth and begin to torment mankind for five months with their scorpion stings. The locusts resemble battle horses, with men's faces and women's hair. They are led by an angel king called "Destroyer".

The sixth trumpet blast (the second "woe") prompts a voice to call out from the temple altar, "Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates." Upon their release, John hears the number of the size of their army: 200,000,000! Lion-headed, serpent-tailed horses which breathe fire, smoke and sulfur carry riders with sapphire breastplates. They kill a third of mankind. Notwithstanding this terrible God-directed plague, the rest of mankind do not repent.

Chapter 10

Setting: The earth, at a spot where the sea and land meet.

Beings: A rainbowed angel and John himself.

Activity: Another mighty angel comes down from heaven. He is wrapped in a cloud, and has a rainbow over his head, a face like the sun, and legs of fire. He has a little scroll in his hand. And he sets his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and calls out with a loud voice which causes seven thunders to sound. However, John is not permitted to record what the thunders say. The angel swears by the Creator that "there shall be no more delay", and that the seventh trumpet will complete the fulfillment of the message of the prophets. He then instructs John himself to take and eat the little scroll, which proves sweet to John's taste but bitter in his stomach. Then he is told, "You must prophecy about many people and nations and tongues and kings."

Chapter 11

Setting: Primarily the earth: a temple, its outer court, and a great city. However, the chapter ends with a scene in the heavenly temple.

Beings: Two witnesses, the beast, others involved in the sixth and seventh trumpet scenario, God, the 24 elders, John himself, and Jesus.

Activity: John himself is given a measuring rod and asked to measure the earthly temple, but to leave out its outer court, which is to be given over to the Gentiles for 42 months. Two witnesses, symbolized by two combination olive trees/lampstands, enter the picture. They are further described as two prophets with powers much like those of Moses (eg, turning water to blood) and Elijah (eg, bringing fire down from heaven).

When they have finished their testimony for the Lord, "the beast that ascends from the bottomless pit" (the same place as Rev 9:2?) makes war on them and kills them. Their dead bodies are displayed for 3 1/2 days in the street of a great city (spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, where Jesus was crucified), to the great rejoicing of many peoples of many nations. Their celebration is abruptly ended when the breath of life from God enters the dead witnesses and the revitalized prophets ascend in a cloud up to heaven in the sight of their foes. The scene is climaxed by a great earthquake which destroys a tenth of the city, killing 7,000 people; the rest of the people "are terrified, and give glory to the God of heaven".

The seventh angel now sounds the seventh trumpet, and the third "woe" begins.

Loud voices in heaven proclaim, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever." The 24 elders join in the worship, declaring that the time has now come for God to take power and reign through Christ, who comes to judge the dead, reward the faithful, and destroy the destroyers of the earth. This scene ends with the heavenly temple being opened, showing the ark of the covenant. "And there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail."

Chapters 12 and 13

Setting: Heaven, though in a place different from the throne room. John continues to see events on earth as well, and there again appears to be interaction between heaven and earth.

Beings: Seven "dramatic personae": a woman, a dragon, a male child, Michael the archangel, the rest of the woman's offspring, a beast, and a second beast; God, John himself, and Jesus.

Activity: A great portent appears in heaven: a pregnant woman in travail, clothed with the sun, with a crown of twelve stars, and the moon under her feet. Then another portent appears: a great red dragon with seven crowned heads, ten horns, and a tail which sweeps down to earth a third of the stars of heaven. It is seeking to devour the child about to be born of the woman. A male child is born, but it is immediately caught up to God. The woman flees into the wilderness to a place prepared by god, and is nourished there for 1,260 days.

Now war in heaven breaks out. Michael and his angels fight against the dragon and his angels. The dragon, "that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world -- he is thrown down to the earth, and his angels are thrown down with him." His defeat prompts the rejoicing of a loud voice in heaven, declaring that his expulsion means the salvation of God, and that the triumph is made possible by the blood of the Lamb. However, the wrath of the dragon, who knows there is only a short time left, is about to fall upon the earth.

Thus the scene changes to earth, with an enraged dragon pursuing the woman. The serpent pours out a flood of waters to sweep the woman away. She is given eagle wings to fly into the wilderness, and the earth -- to help her -- swallows up the flood waters. Now even more angry with the woman, the dragon goes off to make war on the rest of her offspring, "on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus."

John then perceives himself standing on the sand of the sea (the same place as 10:9?). There he sees a seven-headed, ten-horned beast rising out of the sea. Its horns have crowns, its heads have a blasphemous name upon them, and its body is a composite of lion, bear and leopard. The dragon gives its power to the beast, and this -- along with a mortal head wound miraculously healed -- causes men to worship both the dragon and the beast. Uttering haughty and blasphemous words, the beast is given authority for 42 months, and allowed to make war on the saints and conquer them. All except those whose names are written in the book of life fall prey to the authority and worship of the beast. Here is a "call for the endurance and faith of the saints".

John then sees another beast which rises out of the earth. "It has two horns like a lamb and speaks like a dragon." It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the inhabitants of the earth worship the beast. Imitating Elijah-like signs from heaven, this second beast deceives men and convinces them to make an image of the first beast, which -- being able to speak by the cunning of the second beast -- then becomes the focus of worship. Anyone who does not worship the beast is killed. Finally, an identification system is set up so that no one can buy or sell unless they have the 666 mark of the beast.

Chapter 14

Setting: First, Mount Zion, on earth. Next, mid-heaven, with flying angels. Finally, the earth again, this time being reaped by two angels with sickles.

Beings: The Lamb, the 144,000, God, the four living creatures, the 24 elders, an angel flying in mid-heaven to proclaim an eternal gospel, a second angel declaring the fall of Babylon, a third angel warning those who worship the beast, a crowned sickle-bearer on a cloud, another angel who gives instructions to reap, another sickle-bearing angel, an angel who has power over fire, and John.

Activity: John sees the Lamb standing on Mount Zion with the 144,000. These redeemed ones learn a new song which only they can learn, and which they sing before the throne and before the four living creatures and the 24 elders.

Then John sees a flying angel who warns earth-dwellers with this message: "Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the fountains of water." Another angel follows, saying that Babylon the great has fallen. A third angels follows, saying that if anyone worships the beast and its image, or receives its mark, he shall suffer the wrath and destruction of God. (Here again is a call for the faithful endurance of the saints.)

Now the scene changes to a white cloud. Upon it sits "one like a son of man", with a golden crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. He is instructed by another angel to "put in your sickle, and reap." So he does, and the earth's harvest is reaped.

Then the vision changes to the heavenly temple. Another angel with a sharp sickle comes out and is instructed by yet another angel -- one who comes from the altar and has power of fire -- to "put in your sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth..." So the ripe grapes are cut and thrown into the great winepress of God's wrath.

Chapter 15

Setting: Heaven. Then the temple of the tent of witness in heaven.

Beings: Seven angels with seven plagues, those who have conquered the beast, the four living creatures, and John.

Activity: John sees another portent in heaven: seven angels with seven plagues. They represent the last of God's wrath to come on the earth. Then John sees a sea of glass, and standing beside it those who have conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name. They have harps in their hands, and sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.

After this, John looks and sees the temple of the tent of witness opened. Out of it come the seven angels with the seven plagues. They are robed in pure bright linen and girded with golden girdles. One of the four living creatures gives each of them a golden bowl filled with God's wrath. Then the temple is filled with the smoke of God's glory, and no one is allowed access until the seven plagues are ended.

Chapter 16

Setting: The heavenly temple, but from there John looks down on another set of earthly scenes: the seven angels pour out their bowls of wrath, bringing God's final disasters and destruction.

Beings: Seven angels with bowls, those involved in the seven plague scenarios, the angel of the water, the people under the temple altar, and John.

Activity: A loud voice from the temple tells the seven angels, "Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God." And they do.

The first bowl is poured on the earth, causing foul and evil sores to break out on the men who serve the beast. The second bowl is poured into the sea, turning it to blood, and killing everything in it. The third bowl is poured into the fresh water sources, and they too become blood. This action prompts the angel of the water to state the justice of God's doing this, while the altar (ie, the souls under it: see 6:9) cries out: "Yea, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are thy judgments!"

The fourth bowl is poured on the sun, causing it to scorch men with fierce heat. They respond by cursing God, and do not repent. The fifth bowl is poured on the throne of the beast, turning its kingdom into darkness and causing men to gnaw their tongues in anguish. Again they respond by cursing God and do not repent.

The sixth bowl is poured on the great river Euphrates, drying up its waters and thereby preparing the way "for the kings of the east". Three demonic spirits issue from the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, gathering "the kings of the whole world" and assembling them for battle against Almighty God at a place called Armageddon. Against this background of a "man versus God" showdown, the faithful are reminded: "Lo, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake, keeping his garments that he may not go naked and be seen exposed!"

The seventh bowl is poured into the air, prompting a great voice in the heavenly temple to declare, "It is done!" There are simultaneous flashes of lightning, loud noises, peals of thunder, and a great unprecedented earthquake, which causes the great city Babylon to split into three parts and the cities of the nations to fall. The tidal waves generated by this earthquake smash every island and even every mountain on earth. Huge, hundred-pound hailstones fall on men, who curse God for this terrible but obviously heaven-sent plague.

Chapter 17

Setting: The wilderness.

Beings: One of the seven angels of Rev 16, the great harlot, the beast, the Lamb, and John.

Activity: John is taken by one of the seven angels into wilderness to see a great harlot, who has fornicated with the kings of the earth and whose promiscuous activity has made the "dwellers on earth" drunk. John sees a woman seated on a seven-headed, ten-horned scarlet beast. She is arrayed in purple and scarlet, bedecked with jewels, and holds "a golden cup filled with abominations and the impurities of her fornication". Her forehead carries a name of mystery: "Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth's abominations". The woman is drunk with blood of the saints and the martyrs of Jesus.

John is evidently awestruck and mystified by the woman's appearance and behavior. But then the angel explains: The woman is "the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth". The beast is the same seven-headed, ten-horned monster encountered before (13:1), and continues to fascinate its devotees, who marvel because "it was, and is not, and is to come". The seven heads are interpreted to be "seven hills on which the woman is seated" and also "seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one which is, and the other which has not yet come". The ten horns are stated to be "ten kings... who are to receive authority for one hour, together with the beast". The waters where the harlot is seated are interpreted to be "peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues".

The beast and the ten horns come to hate the harlot, and to "make her desolate and naked, devour her flesh and burn her up with fire", according to God's predetermined plan. Afterwards, they will make war on the Lamb, but he will conquer them. Details of this battle are provided in Rev 19.

Chapter 18

Setting: From his location on earth (still in the wilderness?), John hears and watches the destruction of the Babylon harlot.

Beings: An angel with great authority who will pronounce the destruction, a voice out of heaven, those associated with the destruction and lamentation of Babylon the great, those who rejoice over the fall of Babylon, a mighty angel who will cast the millstone, and John.

Activity: An angel with great authority comes down from heaven to the earth, making it bright with his splendor, and bringing the announcement of Babylon's fall. Another voice from heaven makes an appeal to the faithful: "Come out of her, my people, lest you take part of her sins, lest you share in her plagues." The reasons for God's judgments upon her are then made very clear.

The kings of the earth who committed fornication with the harlot weep and wail when they see the smoke of her burning, and stand afar off in fear over her torment. The merchants of the earth likewise weep and mourn over her demise and torment. Shipmasters and seafaring men who traded with Babylon also cry out when they see the smoke of her burning: "Alas, alas, for the great city, where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! In one hour she has been laid waste."

In striking contrast, the saints and apostles and prophets are urged to rejoice over Babylon's fall, "for God has given judgment for you against her!" Then a mighty angel throws a great millstone into the sea as a symbolic end of the great city (guilty of the blood of the prophets and saints), declaring that "it shall be found no more."

Chapter 19

Setting: The same location as in Rev 18, although there are also visions of what is happening in the throne room.

Beings: A great multitude in heaven, the 24 elders, the four living creatures, God on his throne, the angel who has been speaking with John, Jesus manifested as King of kings and Lord of lords, the armies of heaven, the beast, the false prophet, and their armies, an angel standing in the sun, and John.

Activity: John hears the mighty voice of what seems to be a great multitude (of angels and martyrs? see Rev 5:11; 16:7) in heaven rejoicing in the judgments of God and the destruction of the great harlot. The 24 elders and four living creatures fall down in worship and add their "Hallelujah!"

A voice from the throne calls for more praise, and the "Hallelujah!" response is tremendous. The voice of the great multitude is augmented by the sound of many waters and mighty thunder peals. It is time for great rejoicing, "for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready..." She is clothed with fine linen, bright and pure, as evidence of her righteous deeds and her surviving of the tribulation.

The angel who has been speaking with John now instructs him: "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." He assures John that that statement is wonderfully true. John falls down at his feet, wanting to worship the angel, but he is told not to do so, since the angel is likewise a servant. Rather, John is told: "Worship God."

A new scene begins. John sees heaven opened, and a white horse comes forth carrying a rider with flaming eyes, many crowns, and a blood-dipped robe. "And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses." Their leader is called Faithful and True, the Word of God, King of kings and Lord of lords, "and in righteousness he judges and makes war." From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations; he will rule them with a rod of iron.

An angel standing in the sun calls for the birds of the air to gather to eat the flesh of men and horses, as the scene changes to a showdown between the beast and its armies and the Lord and his armies. The beast is captured, along with the false prophet, and the two of them are thrown alive into the lake of fire. their army is slain, and the birds gorge themselves on the carcasses.

Chapter 20

Setting: Earth (the same location as Rev 19?), with scenes of the dragon's binding, a judgment seat, the dragon's loosing, another battle scene, another judgment, and the final end of Death and Hades (the grave).

Beings: An angel with a key and chain, the dragon, judges on thrones, martyrs of Jesus (see Rev 6:9-11), the nations deceived by the dragon, a being on a great white throne, the resurrected dead, and John.

Activity: First John sees an angel come down from heaven with the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. He seizes the dragon, that ancient serpent, and binds it in the pit for a thousand years, knowing that it must be loosed again for a little while.

Next, John sees a judgment seat convened. Those who have lost their lives for the sake of Jesus and who have not worshipped the beast "come to life and reign with Christ a thousand years". A special blessing is given to those who share in this first resurrection.

The scene changes. When the thousand years are ended, the dragon will be loosed from its prison, and come out to deceive the nations again. The dragon's army march over the earth and surround the camp of the saints. Fire comes down from heaven and consumes them. The dragon is then thrown into the lake of fire where the beast and false prophet are.

John then sees a great white throne and another judgment take place, this time of all the resurrected dead. "If any one's name is not found written in the book of life, he is thrown into the lake of fire." Significantly, Death and Hades are themselves thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death.

Chapter 21

Setting: Still earth (the same location as Rev 20?), the initial scene being a holy city coming down out of heaven. John is then taken to a great high mountain to see this holy city more closely.

Beings: God on his throne, one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls of plagues, the Bride (the holy city), and John.

Activity: John sees "a new heaven and a new earth", with focus being on a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, pictured like a bride. John hears a great voice from heaven announcing that God himself has come to dwell with men, and will remove every tear and sorrow, and even death itself.

God declares, "Behold, I make all things new." He then states how He will reward the faithful (those who conquer -- recall Rev 2; 3) but punish the faithless, cowardly, polluted, etc. by extinction in the lake of fire.

The one of the seven bowl-angels speaks to John: "Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." He carries John "in the Spirit" to a great high mountain, where John again sees the holy city coming down out of heaven from God. The radiant, crystal city -- with gates of pearl and streets of gold -- is 15,000 miles long and equally wide and high! This city represents the people of God from both Old Testament and New Testament times (eg, gates with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel; foundations with the names of the twelve apostles). Only those whose names are written in the book of life shall enter it.

The city has no temple, "for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb." Similarly, it needs no sun or moon to shine upon it, since it has God as its light and the Lamb as its lamp. The city is open 24 hours a day for the nations to come for enlightenment.

Chapter 22

Setting: Earth. John finishes his tour of the new city and concludes with the final words of the angel and Jesus.

Beings: God on his throne, the Lamb, their servants (the Bride), Jesus' angel, and John.

Activity: John is shown the river of the water of life flowing out from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flows through the middle of the city, and has the tree of life (which bears fruit every month and leaves for healing) on each side of it. The redeemed of God -- here called servants -- manifest the reward of God's name on their foreheads, and begin their reign with Christ.

Jesus' angel assures John of the certainty of this victorious and glorious outcome, and restates, "Behold, I am coming soon!" John responds intuitively: "Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book." Then once again, John attempts to worship the angel, who -- likewise again -- reminds him that as a fellow servant, he should direct his worship toward God instead.

In quick succession, there follow sober warnings and stirring exhortations. "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil... and the righteous still do right." "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay everyone for what he has done." "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life..."

Then Jesus repeats what was said in the opening chapter, that he has sent his angel to John "with this testimony to the churches". He explicitly declares one last time that "Surely I am coming soon," and invites all those who wish for the return to join in and say, "Come."

A solemn warning is given to anyone who might think to tamper with the contents or message of the Book. Then John declares his own "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus", and ends with a benediction.


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