The First Seal:
Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer. (Rev. 6:1-2).
This is a picture of Jesus riding out on the Church, which is His horse, to conquer by evangelism. The first creature before the Throne, the Lion creature, summons it.
The Second Seal:
When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the land, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword. (Rev. 6:3-4)
The second living creature, the Ox, summons the red horse, the Church, which will remove peace and create interpersonal conflict among Israel. Just as Jesus said he would bring war between families, fathers hating sons and mothers their daughters, so it arrives after the proclamation of the gospel.
The Third Seal:
When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!” (Rev. 6:5-6)
The third living creature, the Man, calls forth the Church, seen as the black horse of sacramental power. A voice from the midst of the four living creatures (Jesus?) offers wheat and barley at high, inaccessible rates, and forbids harm to the oil and wine. All sacramental images.
The Fourth Seal:
When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the land, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the land. (Rev. 6:7-8).
The fourth living creature, the Eagle, summons forth the Church, seen as a green horse of judgment. This recalls to mind the Levites, who had spears and swords to kill anyone who drew near the Tabernacle in an unworthy manner or tried to violate the inner tent. The Church has been given the duty of guarding and tending the New Garden, the heavenly dwelling place of God, ordained to be priests at their baptism.1 The epistle to the Hebrews uses the rebellion of Korah as a typological example of Israel’s behavior now that Jesus has ascended.2 They are Korah and his sons, who refused to listen when God did a new thing and established a new priesthood; they assaulted the dwelling place of God, and were swallowed by the earth. After the establishment of the New Covenant, worship according to the Old Covenant was the equivalent of assaulting God’s house, and the Church is given authority to defend God’s house. This refers to the very real conflict between the persecuting Jews and the Church, which likely practiced forms of non-violent resistance and the preaching of the gospel, as witnessed in the book of Acts.
The Fifth Seal:
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. 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 land?” 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. (Rev. 6:9-11).
These saints wait beneath the altar of incense, and they had expected to ascend with Christ after their martyrdom. Instead, the seals are open, and the gospel’s going forth provokes interpersonal conflict, against which the Church wields the sacraments. This sparks a cosmic struggle between Israel and the Church, the Church called upon to defend the heavenly sanctuary with their lives. This is the conflicts of the book of Acts. Many are martyred. These are probably the martyrs of the initial persecution of the Church by Israel in Acts. Now that the seals have been broken, they expected to ascend to be with Jesus. They are told they must wait for a second harvest of martyrs, who are set aside in ch. 7, and killed in ch. 14. Then all of God’s people from Abel to the first century Church are avenged in the destruction of Jerusalem (Rev. 17-18). After this, they finally ascend to heaven in ch. 20.
The Sixth Seal:
Then he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the land as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the land and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev. 6:12-17).
The sixth seal breaks the restraint against the final judgment of the Old Creation. The judgment begins, paralleling Matthew 24 and its account of the destruction of Jerusalem to the letter. But as we shall see in chapter 7, the judgment is stopped, hovering in mid-air, until the second group of martyrs is sealed and they are killed. The judgment against Jerusalem begun here, in the sixth seal, begins again in the bowls poured out on Jerusalem (Rev. 16).
The Sixth Seal Postponed:
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the land, holding back the four winds of the land, that no wind might blow on land or sea or against any tree. 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 land and sea, saying, “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” (Rev. 7:1-3).
Just as the judgment begins in earnest in the Sixth seal, four angels stand at the four corners of the land and hold back the Spirit/wind from blowing on “land” or “sea” or against any “tree.” The land is Israel, the sea are the Gentiles, probably the Gentiles within Israel, and the “trees” are the people of God. Then another angel, Jesus this time, tells them not the harm anything until the saints of the martyr-harvest are sealed.
The Sixth Seal Delayed: The Saints Sealed
And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed. (Rev. 7:4-8)
These are the Jewish saints sealed, a symbolic number of completeness. They are slaughtered by the Judaizers/Circumcision in Revelation 14.
The Sixth Seal Delayed: The Gentile Converts
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, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 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, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “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. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 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.” (Rev. 7:9-17)
These are the Gentile converts to Christianity who will likewise be slaughtered, though by Nero and the Roman beast, in the Great Tribulation. They are pictured before the throne of God because that is where they will end up after martyrdom (Rev. 14:13). This mixed multitude pictures the completion of God’s work in salvation, to harvest the first generation of the Church, all ordained to serve as priests in the heavenly Tabernacle with Jesus.
The Seventh Seal:
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the land, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. (Rev. 8:1-5)
The seventh seal is opened by the Lamb, Jesus, and silence falls in heaven. This is so that the proclamation of the trumpets can be heard. The music begins again after the martyrdom of the saints in chapter 14. John sees seven angels standing before God, who are given seven trumpets. An eighth angel comes and stands at the altar of incense, which is made of gold. He is given incense to offer, which are the prayers of all the saints who are “on the golden altar before the throne.” This incense/prayer rises before God from the hand of the angel. He then fills the censure of incense with fire from the incense altar and hurls it to the earth. This fire is the fire of Pentecost, which is described as a New Sinaitic event, with thunders, lightnings and and earthquake.
The First Trumpet:
Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them. The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the land. And a third of the land was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. (Rev. 8:6-7).
The breaking of the final seal unleashed the Spirit upon the world at Pentecost, and permits Jesus to open the book of judgment and woe which was given to Him at His ascension. The seven trumpets are the declaration of the contents of this book. Because only a third of the land and the trees are destroyed, this is a warning blast of the trumpet. The hail and fire, mixed with blood, are references to the plagues of Egypt. Israel has become Egypt and will receive the plagues of Egypt because they refused to let God’s people go, but instead persecute and enslave them. This is a warning to the Circumcision/Judiazers to cease and accept the gospel.
The Second Trumpet:
The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. (Rev. 8:8-9).
The second trumpet angel sounds a warning against the Gentiles, who are always symbolically pictured as the sea and the things living in the sea, and the sea-peoples. The “great mountain” which burns with fire that is thrown into the sea, is a symbolic picture of mount Sinai, hurled into the deep waters, is inverted, and becomes the bottomless pit.
The Third Trumpet:
The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter. (Rev. 8:10-11).
The third angel blasts on his trumpet, and a “great star” falls from heaven. This star’s name is Wormwood, a poisonous plant, and refers to Satan. Satan lands on the “rivers” and “springs of water,” corrupting them, and many die because they have become poisoned. So what then are the rivers and springs which he pollutes? These are the rivers and springs of water that runs out of the Temple into the world (Gen. 2:10-14; Ezek. 47). Satan has polluted the Temple and its “waters,” the teachings thereof.
The Fourth Trumpet:
The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night. Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the land, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!” (Rev. 8:10-11).
The fourth trumpet sounds against the sun, moon, and stars. These symbolize human governors and rulers (Gen. 1:4-8). This is the proclamation that Jesus has been crowned King, and therefore all other rulers must bow before Him.
An eagle then appears and announces that the next three trumpets are also woes concerning the fate of “those who dwell on the land,” that is, unbelieving Israel and the Circumcision. These events all concern the history of the book of Acts.
The Fifth Trumpet (First Woe):
And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to the land, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the land, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the land. They were told not to harm the grass of the land or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them. In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon. The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come. (Rev. 9:1-12).
The fifth angel blows his trumpet, and Satan falls from heaven to the land of Israel, covering again slightly Satan’s fall of 8:10-11. The locust army is the consequence of the poisoned water of the Temple and its teaching. The bottomless pit is the inverted mountain of Sinai hurled into the sea. The locusts are the demons of the pit loosed upon the men of the Circumcision, to torment them, and the “five months” of the torment spans the time between Pentecost and the Feast of Trumpets. The men of the Circumcision are tormented by their own teaching, that one can be justified by faith and works, by a mixture of New and Old Covenants. The demonic army is specifically told not to harm the grass, plants and trees of the land, which are identified as those who bear the seal of God on their foreheads. This ends the first woe.
The Sixth Trumpet (Second Woe):
Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound. 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. (Rev. 9:13-21).
The sixth trumpet, like the sixth seal, bears three smaller visions. All three concern the Church. A voice from the midst of the four corners of the altar commands the loosing of the four angels who are bound at the Euphrates river. 200,000 thousand angels ride forth to kill a third of mankind (In Hebraic thought, “man” is Israel, the Gentiles are beasts. Thus, the men in view are Jews). They wear the ephod of the High Priest, and have the lion face of the cherubim, breathing fire and smoke out of their mouths. We have already seen a single rider riding out on a white horse to slay with the gospel in chapter 6. This idea is intensified here, where a host of myriads of angels ride out on horses to conquer with the fire of their mouths. Just as the horses previously have been the Church, so too is this the Church, the armies of Yahweh riding out to “kill” Israelites by conversion to the gospel. The fire and smoke that proceeds from their mouths is the fire of Pentecost, the pillar of fire and cloud of God’s fiery presence.
The Sixth Trumpet (Second Woe) (Second Vision)
Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the land and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets. Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” (Rev. 10:1-11)
Another Angel appears, this one a vision of Jesus again, holding a little scroll. This is a small segment of the “Big Book” Jesus received at His ascension, and whose seals He broke earlier. He sets his feet on the land (Israel) and the sea (Gentiles) and roars like a lion. At his voice, seven thunders sound, and John starts to write them down, but is told to stop by Jesus (the seven thunders will be revealed as the “Great Voice” events later in Revelation). Jesus, the angel pictured here, vows on Himself that in the time of the seventh trumpet, the “mystery of God” that had been promised to the prophets of old would finally be accomplished. This, of course, is the revelation that the Kingdom has been inaugurated and that the kingdoms of the world have become the Kingdom of Jesus.
The Sixth Trumpet (Second Woe) (Third Vision)
Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the land. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the land with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. And 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. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, and those who dwell on the land will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the land. But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come. (Rev. 11:1-14)
John is told to measure the Temple and altar, and this sets the stage for all the images that will come in this vision. This is a vision about the Temple in Jerusalem. He is to measure the Holy Place, symbolizing Israel, and the Holy of Holies, symbolizing God’s dwelling place. He is not to measure (evaluate) the courtyard, because the time of measuring the Gentiles has not yet arrived.
God will appoint two witnesses to bear witness to Israel in Jerusalem. These witnesses are symbolically the olive trees and lampstands that sit before the curtain of the holy of holies, facing the table of showbread. In the meaning of this set up, the lampstand symbolizes the seven-fold Holy Spirit watching over the twelve loafs of showbread on the table, which symbolizes Israel. Olive oil feeds the wicks of the lampstand. The lampstand is fashioned after a glorified almond tree, but in Hebrew the word literally means “watcher tree.” This is a glorified tree that watches over Israel. The presence of the two witnesses is actually the answer to the call to measure the Temple and altar. They are beacons of light in a world of darkness, watching over Israel. This imagery is taken from Zechariah 4.
If anyone tries to harm these two witnesses, fire pours forth from their mouth and consumes their foes, and they can shut up the sky’s rain. This is a reference to the ministries of Elisha and Elijah, as well as that of Jeremiah (Jer. 5:14). Their ministry is a testimony against unbelieving Israel, the Circumcision, just as was Moses and Aaron’s, like the visit of the Angels to Sodom and Gomorrah. These witnesses are symbolically the 144,000 saints, and their death is the martyr-harvest of Rev. 14. When their time of bearing witness is finished, the beast from the bottomless pit (the locust-demon army) will overcome and slay them. Their bodies will lie in the streets of the city that is symbolically Sodom and Egypt—but this is not Rome. This is the city “where their Lord was crucified.” This is Jerusalem. But the Gentiles will look on at the witness of their death, and convert (11:13). Israel, on the other hand, rejoices at the death of the witnesses, and sends gifts to one another as they did in the days of Esther (Esther 9:19). But these slain are not the enemies of God, but the servants of God, and after three and a half days they rise again and ascend into heaven in the sight of their enemies. There is an earthquake and a tenth of Jerusalem falls. Seven thousand perish in the earthquake, and the rest (the Gentiles) give glory to God. This ends the second woe.
The Seventh Trumpet (Third Woe):
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.” And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 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. 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 land.” 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. (Rev. 11:15-19)
The seventh trumpet is blown, which announces that the kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of Jesus the Messiah, Who shall reign forever and ever. The silence that lasted in heaven when the seventh seal was broken is now ended, and the twenty four elder-angels of the heavenly Tabernacle leave their thrones and fall to their knees, worshiping God. The nations raged against His rule, but His wrath answered in return, and now many believe. It is time for the judgment of the old creation, and the reward of God’s servants up to that time, and those who fear him (God-fearers), and for destroying the destroyers of the land. At this moment the Temple of God in heaven was opened and the ark of his covenant was seen, and there is more thunder and lightning and earthquakes and hail.
The Woman and the Dragon (Third Woe):
And 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. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the land. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. 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, 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. (Rev. 12:1-6).
The trumpets cover the events from Pentecost down to A.D. 70 when the whole of the old creation was judged. The next section recapitulates this same period symbolically, addressing what was going on behind the scenes in the book of Acts, the epistles, and after the close of the events recorded in Acts. This recapitulation begins with a symbolic retelling of the incarnation and ascension. The woman clothed in the sun with the moon under her feet and has on her head a crown of twelve stars is Mary the mother of Christ, though seen here as a representation of the whole Church. The point of having a people for God was the production of the seed of the woman, Jesus, and for all that long history Satan, the great dragon, has tried to kill the woman, or lure her away from her husband so that he might mate with her instead, producing Satanic seed. His plan has always been about trying to stop the incarnation. His tail swept down a third of the stars, fallen angels, and casts them onto the Land. This is the locust-demon army loosed to torment Israel and the Circumcision. The woman, Mary-as-Church, gives birth to a male child, Who is taken away to heaven before the dragon can devour it (the ascension). The woman, now totally representing the Church, flees into the wilderness. The Dragon’s attempt to devour the child having failed, he turns on the woman, the Church, in the Jewish persecution (Acts 3-7). The Church flees into the wilderness, escaping his assaults. This flight represents the scattering of the Church in the diaspora following the initial persecution by Israel (Acts 8).3
The War in Heaven (Third Woe)
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world–he was thrown down to the land, and his angels were thrown down with him. And 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, who accuses them day and night before our God. And 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. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O land and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev. 12:7-12).
The child that was lifted up to heaven, the incarnate Jesus, takes on the office of Michael the Archangel, the Angel of the LORD, once more after the ascension. He defeats the Dragon, the Serpent, Satan, the Deceiver, who stands before the throne of God accusing the saints, trying to provoke God into turning against them. He is cast from heaven and falls to the land of Israel, him along with all his angels/demons.
A great voice in heaven announces that the defeat and exile of the Dragon marks the salvation promised from the beginning of the Bible to the end has finally come. It also marks the coming of the power and authority of the Kingdom of God. The martyr-saints who died in the persecution are said to have conquered the Dragon by their faithfulness even unto death itself. For this reason heaven and the heavenly beings are called upon to rejoice. But woe will be upon the “land and sea,” Israel and the Gentiles, for the Dragon has come to them in great wrath, to raze them to the ground, for his remaining time is short.
The Dragon in the Land (Third Woe)
And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the land, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. But the land came to the help of the woman, and the land opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea. (Rev. 12:13-17)
The Dragon hunts for the woman, the Church, in the land, but she escapes into the wilderness on the wings of eagles. This is the diaspora of Acts 8 as the Jerusalem church flees into the nations to escape the persecution of Israel against her.
The serpent belches water out of his mouth into the land to wash the woman away in a flood. This is Wormwood, the poisonous teachings of the Judaizers in the Church, which for a time really seemed to be washing through the founding New Testament churches. But the land came to the defense of the woman when God raised up Paul to wage war on the Judiazers and overcome them. When the Judaizers failed to corrupt and destroy the Church, the Dragon became furious with the woman/Church and left her alone to wage war on the rest of her offspring, the Gentiles. The sea always stands for the Gentiles, so when the Dragon’s plots against the Jewish church fails and she evades his corruptions, he turns his attention to the Gentile converts, standing on the shores of the sea.
The Beast from the Sea (Third Woe)
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole land marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on the land 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. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. (Rev. 13:1-10)
This beast is the fourth beast of the vision given to Daniel in Daniel 7. When Israel sinned and God exiled her from the land of promise, He raised up the four beasts of Daniel to be guardian-protectors of His people. The beasts are not initially evil, but they will each in turn begin to oppress and persecute God’s people. When that happens, each beast will be replaced by a new beast-protector. When Nebuchadnezzer and his heir were converted, they protected the Jews. But Balshazar mocked God and so He raised up Cyrus and the Persians. When they turned bad on the Jews, God raised up Alexander the Great. So the third beast and sixth head of Daniel 7 are Hellenistic Rome, and the fourth beast and seventh head are Imperial Rome. Throughout the book of Acts, Rome is still in its Hellenistic stage when it protected the Church from Israel. But when Nero takes the Throne, Rome has begun its imperial stage. Under Nero, Rome turns on the Church, persecuting her. This is the sea beast of Revelation 13.
The wound that the “head” of the Beast receives is the death of the old Hellenistic Rome and the mortal wound that is healed is the rise of Imperial Rome. The Land, Israel, worships the sea beast of Rome. While any Jew of the period would deny it, in fact, Israel had indeed thrown their lot in with Rome and worshiped it. They wanted a Messiah after the heroes of the beast, mighty men, repeating the sin of wanting a King after the other nations. They will receive a Greater Saul. But after every Saul, there is a Greater David. Israel even said at the crucifixion, “We have no King but Ceasar!” They worshiped the beast, and rejected Jesus precisely because He wasn’t the sort of warrior-messiah leading a bloody revolution like they had expected. Israel at this point worships power and political influence.
The sea beast is given authority to make war over and conquer the Church, killing and persecuting many. It is given authority and power over every tribe, language, people and nation (the Gentiles). All of those in the Land who have not been sealed and written in the Lamb’s book of life will worship the beast. But against these great trials John calls for endurance to the beleaguered Church, even unto death.
The Beast from the Land (Third Woe)
Then I saw another beast rising out of the land. 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 land and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to the land in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on the land, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 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, 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. 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. (Rev. 13:11-18)
This second beast rises out the land. As always, the land refers to Israel. This is a Jewish beast, but it speaks like the Dragon. It has all the authority of the sea beast, and causes the land and all that live in it to worship the sea beast. It has two horns like lamb horns. From this we can see that this Jewish beast speaks like and has the authority of the Dragon and Sea Beast, Satan and Rome. It makes all the inhabitants of the land worship Rome, and has two horns. This is a reference to the Circumcision, the priestly-kings of Israel, who teach corruptions of God’s word. This Land Beast has horns like a Lamb, but speaks like the Dragon—this is a counterfeit religion to the religion of the Lamb. The two horns are the Herodian dynasty and the Jewish priesthood. The Herods are, of course, Edomites who enforced Roman law and order in Israel, the face of Rome to the Jewish people, and who appoint the High Priest.4 Thus, the corruption of the Sea Beast, Rome, is mediated to Israel through the Herodian line, who enforce Roman law and who appoint corrupt priests that poison the Temple and their worship. This Land beast is identical to the False Prophet and the Man of Lawlessness of 2 Thess. 2.
This Land Beast brings fire down from heaven in a counterfeit image of the Pentecostal fire of Rev. 8:5. This fire is also a counterfeit of the heavenly fire God sent upon the Temple and Tabernacle when they were finished (Lev. 9:24; 2 Chron. 7:1). The Pentecostal fire was a sign that God had completed His new Temple of human stones in the Church. Thus, the counterfeit fire the Land Beast brings down is, significantly, the completion of the Temple in A.D. 64. This is what is pictured in 13:14; the image of the Sea Beast, Rome, which Israel is compelled to make is the Temple, controlled by the Herodians and the poison of the corrupt priests and the Circumcision. To the Jews, the completion of the Temple was the great sign that Jesus was not the Messiah and the Church not the long-awaited people of God. Had Jesus not promised to destroy the Temple in three days? To Israel, this is a clear demonstration that the Church must be put to death according to Deut. 13. Persecution intensifies, harvesting the martyrs, the two witnesses, and 144,000. But Israel is now now burning strange fire in the Temple and must be destroyed entirely according to the law.
The mark of the beast that allows people to buy and sell is not primarily economic, though this stands in the background. It is actually a reference to the buying and selling of sacrificial animals and money-changing in the Temple—the same issue that Jesus confronted in His own ministry.
The number of the beast is the number of a “man.” But in Scripture and to any Jew, “men” always refer to Jews, while the Gentiles are pictured as animals or beasts. The number of the beast, 666, is a Jewish number. In the OT, the Israelite Kings were prohibited from accumulating horses, gold and armies (Deut. 17). Solomon breaks this law, and falls into corruption and sin (1 Kings 10:14). The rulers of Israel are also called Kings in Revelation. John is trying to get us to see that these first-century rulers of Israel are New Solomons falling into sin, and just as Solomon lost his Kingdom, so too will these new False Solomons. The number of the beast has nothing to do with Rome, politics or Nero at all. It deals with the Herodian corruption, and particularly its corruption of the Temple worship.
The 144,000 And Their Song (Third Woe)
Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless. (Rev. 14:1-5)
Having seen the sea beast and the land beast and what they are trying to do, John’s attention is turned to the fate of the Church of this period, now that the land beast has been given the authority to slay the Church in the great tribulation. We find them here standing on Mount Zion, and in Rev. 15:2 they are in heaven, so what lies between is their martyrdom. The voice from heaven that sounds like many waters and great thunder may be the voice of the Father. Recall that no one has ever seen the Father, only heard Him. Then again, it could be this great voice is the manifold voice of the martyred Church singing before the Throne. These martyrs have not defiled themselves with women, a comment which we must understand not as a general comment (sex is defiling), but rather understand this as referring to women outside of marriage. It is also important to note that they are fulfilling the command of Paul to remain in their estate, whatever it might be, and not to marry and worry about loved ones when the Son of God appears. This is the reason Paul encouraged these Christians not to marry—they were soon to by martyred. These martyrs are the firstfruits of the new vine of God and the Lamb; they are probably the representatives of the first generation of the Church.
The Three Angels (Third Woe)
Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on the land, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and the land, the sea and the springs of water.” Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. (Rev. 14:6-12)
This first angel is a picture of Jesus, Who proclaims the eternal gospel to those who dwell on the land and to the Gentiles together. For John, this good news (or “gospel”) is the proclamation of judgment. The hour of judgment on the Jew and Gentile beasts has come. The second part of the good news is to worship God, who made heaven, the land (Israel), the sea (Gentiles) and the springs of water (the Temple).
The second angel is one of the archangels who cast their crowns before the throne. He follows Christ, proclaiming this judgment on Babylon the great, who has caused the nations to drink and become drunk in the passion of her sexual immorality. In Scripture, sexual immorality is a frequent metaphor for Israel’s idolatry and apostasy. Babylon is wayward Israel, who provokes the nations against God’s Church.
A second archangel follows the first. Just as Jesus pronounced the good news as judgment against Israel and the call to worship God, so the first angel that follows pronounces the judgment, and this angel declares the consequences of not worshiping God. Anyone who worships the image of the beast (the earthly Temple) will drink of God’s wrath, tormented with fire and brimstone before the Throne of the Lamb. The smoke of their torment will go up forever and they will have no rest day or night, all these who worship the beast and its image. These are Israelites, and the torment spoken of would appear to be the destruction of Jerusalem and the massacre of Israel which preceded and followed it. This declaration is a call to endurance from the saints to be faithful even unto death.
The Harvest of the Martyrs (Third Woe)
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the land is fully ripe.” So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the land, and the land was reaped. Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the land, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle across the land and gathered the grape harvest of the land and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia. (Rev. 14:13-20)
Another heavenly voice declares the dead who die in the Lord are blessed, and the Spirit affirms what this voice said, that they will have their rest. This is the harvest of the first-century Church. Immediately following, a white cloud, and riding upon it is Jesus, one like the Son of Man (from Daniel 7).
The angel that comes out of the Temple tells Him to reap the land with His sickle, for the hour has come and the harvest is ripe. So Jesus reaps the land. Then two more angels appear, one from the heavenly Temple and one from the altar, and they tell Jesus to reap the grape clusters of the land, for they are ripe, and He does so. The grapes are thrown in the grape press of the wrath of God, and the grapes are trodden outside the city, and the blood of the grapes covers the whole land. Some think this is the harvest of the wicked, but the fact is that this is the harvest of the Church, and is pictured in a harvest of bread and wine. These are the martyrs, the 144,000, the first generation of the Church, the firstfruits of God’s harvest of the Church. They are trampled in the winepress outside the city just like Christ was (Heb. 13:11-14). This winepress is not a press of the wrath of God, but a winepress that carries the wrath of God. The land cries out for the avenger of blood, and so the blood of the martyrs cries out to God for vengeance against those who slew them (Israel).
The Opening of Heaven (Third Woe)
Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished. And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire–and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. (Rev. 15)
In response to the slaughter of the saints, the final seven archangels come forth from heaven to take vengeance. These represent the end of God’s wrath against Israel. After this seven-fold bowl judgment, the judgment will be ended. As these angels come forth from heaven, the martyrs are now seen in heaven, standing on the firmament-sea of glass and fire that surrounds the Throne of God, praising Him and singing—of all things—the song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb. This song includes the promise that all nations shall worship God. Now, these saints have crossed out of Abraham’s Bosom to stand upon the firmament-sea, but the sanctuary itself is not yet open. When they finish the song, the doors of the heavenly Tabernacle open, loosing the seven angels with the seven plagues. These seven angels are clothed like priests, and they leave the sanctuary empty. They are given the seven bowls of the wrath of God, and after they depart none of the martyrs can enter yet until the bowls have been finished.
The First Bowl (Third Woe)
Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the land the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. (Rev. 16:1-2)
The angels are commanded to pour out their bowls of the wrath of God on the land of Israel. The first angel pours out his bowl and harmful and painful sores came upon all those who wore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image, which is the Herodian Temple.
The Second Bowl (Third Woe)
The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea. (Rev. 16:3)
The second angel pours his bowl of wrath into the sea, the Gentiles, and the water becomes blood as it did when Moses turned the Nile to blood. Everything in the sea died. The seas, as we have noted, always represent the Gentiles. The Gentiles as a category is destroyed, because it only exists in relationship to “Israel.” Just as Israel as the people of God is coming to an end, so too are the Gentiles as those outside or in opposition to that. Jews and Gentiles are both now able to be incorporated into the people of God. Specifically, it is God signifying the end of Gentiles (Rome) as guardian beasts of Israel, which is seen as the special priestly people.
The Third Bowl (Third Woe)
The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” (Rev. 16:4-7)
The third angels pours his bowl into the rivers and springs of water, which become blood. This is a judgment against the Temple and the poisonous counterfeit springs of water that flow out of it as a false laver in a counterfeit Ezekiel’s Temple (Ezek. 37). The angel in charge of the waters announces the justice of God in the destruction of this counterfeit Temple and those who worship in it, for they (apostate Israel) have slain the saints and prophets, and He has given them blood to drink in vengeance, in fulfillment of Jesus’ words (Matt. 23:35). The martyred saints in the altar cry, “Amen” to this announcement of God’s judgment on the Temple.
The Fourth Bowl (Third Woe)
The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch men with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. (Rev. 16:8-9)
The sun and moon were originally set in the heavens to set times and seasons. They represent rules and governors. That the sun’s heat is magnified is a symbol of political oppression. God permits the sun to scorch “men,” Jews, with fire. They curse God instead of repenting.
The Fifth Bowl (Third Woe)
The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds. (Rev. 16:10-11)
This bowl of wrath is poured out on the sea beast, not the land, and so our focus is on Rome, not Israel. This probably refers to the chaos of the “year of three emperors,” from A.D. 68-69, when three emperors rose and were killed in quick succession. These pagans do not repent either. So we have refusal of both pagan Israel and pagan Gentiles to repent in the face of judgment.
The Sixth Bowl (Third Woe)
The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. (Rev. 16:12-16)
The sixth bowl concerns the battle of Har-Magedon, which in Hebrew means “Battle of the Mountain of Festival Assembly,” and refers to a battle at Mount Sinai, Mount Zion, the Church. We are to think, in particular, of the battle against Amalek before the mountain of God (Ex. 17). It is depicted in Rev. 19. The two armies are the army of the saints, who cross the river Euchartes with the kings of the east. In contrast, out of the mouth of the beast, false prophet, and dragon comes a frog army of demons.
The Seventh Bowl (Third Woe)
The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe. (Rev. 16:17-21)
The judgment halted in midair in 6:12-17 now resumes. This marks the end of the 40 year period between the ascension and the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the old creation order. That end has now come. God comes to Jerusalem as He did on Sinai, with lightning, thunders, and earthquake. He comes with such ferocity that the “great city” Jerusalem is broken into three parts, and all the cities of the nations fall with it, and God remembers Babylon the great, Jerusalem, and ensures that she drinks every last drop of the wine of God’s wrath that is to be poured out. Every island flees away, and the mountains are no more. Great hailstones fell from heaven on “men,” that is, Jews, and they cursed God because of the plague. The vanishing of every island and mountain is a further picture of the end of apostate Israel and her Great City – the city breaks into pieces, and all of the outposts of the circumcision among the Gentiles are put to an end as well—these are the islands, pockets of land in the sea/gentiles. The end of mountains figures the end of Sinai and Zion as earthly worship centers. Now man must worship in the Spirit and in truth by way of the Church.
The Great Harlot (Third Woe)
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the land have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on the land have become drunk.” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of the land’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly. But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on the land whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. (Rev. 17:1-8)
One of the bowl-angels comes to John and tells him that he will be shown the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the “kings of the land” have committed sexual immorality, and upon whose wine the dwellers of the land have become drunk. This harlot is Jerusalem and all apostate Israel, wherever she is to be found. She is seated on many waters, which represent the Gentiles and is parallel to the beast upon which she is riding, which is the sea beast of Rome. We also know this is Israel because in Scripture, it is Israel who is described as a whore when she goes after other gods; one of the central metaphors for Israel in the Old Testament is the wife of God. Further, the harlot is wearing the colors and carrying the implements of priests. She has writing on her forehead, just as the High Priest had inscribed on his “Holy to Yahweh,” only hers is a counterfeit.
The angel carries John away in the Spirit, and he sees Jerusalem/Babylon, the great harlot, in the wilderness. This is parallel to the women who gave birth to the Messiah and was carried into the wilderness. The wilderness as it is used here is typologically speaking the wilderness in which Israel wandered forty years before entering the promised land.5 John sees both women in the wilderness, facing the choice of following the greater Joshua into the Greater Promised Land or rejecting Him and perishing in the wilderness. The great harlot has chosen to reject him and his conquest of the whole earth, and so she will perish in the wilderness. Numbers 13-14 stands heavily in the background.
The harlot, Jerusalem/Babylon, is drunk on the blood of the saints, which was previously poured out to bring judgment upon the land. The harlot has gorged herself on the blood of the saints, calling down judgment upon her even to her innermost parts (Num. 5:11-31). The meaning is total destruction, of skin, flesh, and innermost parts, which are parallel to the poisoned springs of water flowing out of the Temple.
The beast she rides upon is a combination of the Red Dragon, Satan, and the Sea Beast, Rome which supported the harlot by way of the Herodian line. This beast “was” when he provoked the Circumcision against the Church (Rev. 9:1-11; 12:15). Then he “was not” when God raised up Paul to defeat the Circumcision definitively (though not totally) at the end of the book of Acts, around A. D. 60-62. Shortly this beast will return from the bottomless pit for his final assault on the early Church (11:7; 13:15-17).
The Dragon-Beast (Third Woe)
This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the land.” (Rev. 17:9-18)
John says that the next passage calls for a mind of wisdom, because it must be deciphered. The seven heads are seven mountains that are also seven kings. These have nothing to do with the seven hills of Rome or seven Roman emperors. They have to do with the progression of the beast-empires from the point they were set up in the exile. Five of them have fallen (Babylon, Persia, Alexandrian Greece, Greek Egypt, Greek Syria). One “is,” which represents Hellenistic Rome, and one is soon to come, when Nero ends Hellenistic Rome and initiates Imperial/Demonic Rome as it turns on the Church in A.D. 64.
The seventh head/mountain/kingdom is also an eighth head, and represents the Herodian line, parallel with the Little Horn of Daniel 7. The Little Horn is a head atop the seventh head of the beast in Daniel 7, making him an eighth, little head. The Little Horn uproots three of the ten heads, when the Herods seize power in Judea and represent Rome there. Herod the Great marches on Rome to demand control of Israel from Augustus, who grants his request. Herod Antipas was given power by Tiberius, and killed John and Jesus. Herod Agrippa I was given power by Claudius, and killed James.
The ten heads are ten rulers of Rome, who all symbolize the gradual transformation of Hellenistic Rome (the Republic) into Imperial Rome (tyrannical). These ten heads are Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius (Caligula), Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian. The Sea Beast ends in A.D. 70, just after Vespasian ascends the throne in A.D. 69, after the leveling of Jerusalem. No more Jerusalem to protect means no more need for Rome to be a beast to protect her.
This beast, the many waters which the Harlot sits upon, are the ten heads of the Emperors of Rome. Before A.D. 70 when Rome finally transitioned out of its Republican stage into its Imperial stage, it had granted Israel special priveleges and generally handled her with restraint and forebearance compared with other territories, generally considered. This line of ten emperors all are said to hate the Harlot and finally destroy her (in A.D. 70), accomplishing God’s will for the apostate harlot. Historically speaking, these ten emperors had more trouble with Judea than any others, a series of escalating incidents that finally result in the devastation of the Destruction of Jerusalem.
Judgment Upon the Harlot (Third Woe)
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the land was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the land have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the land have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Pay her back as she herself has paid back others, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed. As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.” (Rev. 18:1-8)
Another angel exits heaven to hover over the land, proclaiming that Babylon the Great has fallen. She is described in the same way as Jerusalem was described in the proclamations of judgment by the prophets when Israel was taken into exile, a haunt for demons and satyrs and wild beasts. The nations have become drunk on the wine of her sexual immortality, and the “kings of the land,” the Herodian line and their alliance with the priestly Circumcision, have committed immorality with her. The merchants of the land (the traders of sacrificial animals and money-changers concerned with the Temple) have grown rich off of her wealthy lifestyle (and implied, a lifestyle that oppressed the people of God by way of her exploits). The angel calls the Christian church out of Israel and her Temple (until the war of the Jews and the persecution, the Christians would still go to the Temple and synagogues for worship), lest they suffer the same calamities about to fall upon Israel and her Temple. These judgments will come upon her because she denies she is a widow, denies that God has divorced her, and claims to be a queen when she is not. Usurpation in heaven is the crime, one which God does not take lightly.
The First Lamentation: The Kings of the Land (Third Woe)
And the kings of the land, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.” (Rev. 18:9-10)
The first lamentation over the land will be by the kings of the land, the Herodian line and chief priests and Pharisees, whose alliance with her had made them rich.
The Second Lamentation: The Merchants of the Land (Third Woe)
And the merchants of the land weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls. “The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again!” The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, “Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.” (Rev. 18:11-17a)
The merchants of the land now lament the fall of Babylon/Harlot/Jerusalem, but only because “no one buys their cargo anymore.” Their reasons are purely utilitarian, and more to the point, illustrate that this economic metaphor is entirely focused on the Temple and the traders who made their living selling animals and making money in the courtyard thereof. This has nothing to do with Rome. All the descriptions of their cargo reinforce this fact; these are all items used in the construction of the Temple (Ex. 25:4-7; 1 Chron. 28-29).
The Third Lamentation: The Seafarers (Third Woe)
And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?” And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out, “Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste. Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” (Rev. 18:17b-20)
These are the Gentile “sea-farers” who supported Israel in various ways. Specifically, they are Gentile proselytes who rejected the Kingdom, probably referring to those Gentile “God-fearers” who abandoned the Christian church in favor of Jerusalem, and have now seen the end of their hopes. Once again, their mourning is less for her, and more for the benefit she gave to them: “all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth!” This is followed by an exclamation that heaven, saints, apostles, and prophets should rejoice over her destruction, because God has acted in vindication of them against her.
The End of the Land (Third Woe)
Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more; and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters, will be heard in you no more, and a craftsman of any craft will be found in you no more, and the sound of the mill will be heard in you no more, and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more, and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more, for your merchants were the great ones of the land, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on the land.” (Rev. 18:21-24)
In the climactic last moments of the Old Covenant, a mighty angel, the very last of the twenty-four archangels that left the heavenly thrones, heaves a great millstone into the sea, proclaiming that Babylon/Jerusalem will be thrown down with violence and be found no more, the liturgical musicians will play no more, and the craftsmen (designers of the Tabernacle and Temple) will also be no more. The stone thrown into the sea signifies the Jews being scattered into the Gentile nations, possessing a land no longer. The light of the lamp will shine in her no more, just as Jesus had said that if you conceal your lamp it will be taken from you and put out. The “voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more,” because Yahweh has divorced her. Within her, Jerusalem/Babylon, was found all the blood of the prophets and saints and all who had been slain on the land, from Abel to the massacre of the New Covenant martyr-witnesses.
The Saints Enter Heaven (End of Third Woe)
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the land with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”– for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. (Rev. 19:1-8)
After this definitive defeat of apostate Israel, John turns and hears the voice of the multitude once again, only this time they are in heaven. Before this, the saints had gathered outside the gates of Heaven and the last of the archangels had left it empty, bearing the final eight judgments on Jerusalem and the Old Creation. No one could enter heaven while the seven bowl judgments were executed (Rev. 15). Now that the judgments are finished, the saints are seen “in heaven,” having entered at this time. Then the twenty-four archangels fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne. Having finished their judgments on the Old Creation, these archangels return to the heavenly Temple and praise Yahweh once again. They have delivered their judgments and have relinquished their thrones. The saints have now taken their place in heaven, though they have not yet been enthroned. The great multitude now declares that “the marriage of the Lamb has come.” Everything that follows in chapter 19 is the marriage supper of the Lamb.
The Battle of the Mountain of Festival Assembly
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the land with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. (Rev. 19:9-21)
The angel then reinforces the reading of chapter 19 as a picture of the marriage supper of the Lamb, declaring it to be so. John attempts to worship this angel, mistaking it for Jesus. Then we see a vision of Jesus—heaven opens and He comes riding on a white horse. With Him comes the army of heaven, all astride white horses. This army is the Church, who have replaced the angels as God’s instruments in the world. They ride forth with Him conquering and to conquer. It is vital to note that Jesus and His army slays the nations with a sword that proceeds from His mouth, and that His name in this passage is the WORD OF GOD. Jesus and the Church slay the nations with the sword of the Word of God, the Scriptures.
Another angel standing in the sun calls out to the birds and summons them to the supper of the Lamb, which is presented as a feast of corpses which cleanses the land.6 The first of the nations to fall is the sea beast (Rome) and the kings of the land (Herodians). Given that this is a conquest by conversion, this pictures the conversion of Rome to the Christian faith, an event which finally happened under the Emperor Constantine. That the beast is thrown into the bottomless pit does not mean Rome as a nation ended, but that its place as a guardian-beast has been ended. Rome-as-guardian-beast is destroyed, while Rome itself will continue for some centuries. Though the means of its fall is evangelism and that it is the first to so fall, we know that this at least opaquely refers to Rome’s conversion during the reign of Constantine. This answers the question of why none of the early Christians seemed concerned that the Church was “compromising” with Empire—the Church’s conquest of Empire had already been promised. The suggestion that the Church had already grown so corrupt or greedy as to be unable to resist the temptation of “compromise” with Empire is not a valid reading of the situation.7
The Binding of Satan
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 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. (Rev. 20:1-3)
This angel is Jesus, Who we already know possesses the key to death and Hades. Jesus here binds Satan for a thousand years, chaining him up in the bottomless pit. This thousand years is not intended to be taken literally, and presents us with the span of the “church age.” Contrary to most expectations, the peace of this millennium is limited by the text to one particular area: “that he might not deceive the nations any longer.” This means that Satan cannot prevent the gospel from going out into the nations and bearing fruit there. He cannot deceive the nations forever, nor all of them at once. His power is neither eternal nor infinite. But he will be loosed once again for a short time at the end of the era of the Church, which is far in our future.
The Saints Enthroned
Then 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. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:4-6)
John now sees thrones in heaven, but those seated on them are no longer the archangels of the Old Creation. These cannot be the same elders of Rev. 4-5, because they were the archangels who left heaven to deliver the seals, trumpets, bowls and cast the millstone into the sea. In the New Creation, the Church is appointed to judge, even to judge the world and the angels with it. John does not describe those seated on the thrones as “elders,” but as those “to whom the authority to judge was committed.” This is the Church. Specifically, this is the harvest of the first-century generation, the totality of the firstfruits of the Church. It is these who are raised to life to serve as the priests of God and Christ in the heavenly Tabernacle of the epistle to the Hebrews. Given that Hebrews wants us to see this as a very physical, though heavenly Tabernacle, in which a very physical Jesus serves as High Priest, I am inclined to take this “first resurrection” as (or at least including) a physical resurrection of these first-generation saints, who are restored to their bodies and transformed after the likeness of Jesus, and who now serve in this heavenly Temple. They will reign there with Jesus for the “thousand years” of the age of the Church. Resurrection, after all, means resurrection. Yet, those saints yet alive are given to participate partially in this resurrection, until the last day, and this is in particular a reference to Baptism as a resurrecting rite. Ezekiel 37 and national resurrection is also in view as a reference to the resurrection of the Bride.
The Final Apostasy
And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Rev. 20:7-10)
After the end of the era of the Church and the going forth of the gospel to disciple the nations, Satan will be loosed and deceive the nations once more. Ezekiel 38-39 lays behind the reference to Gog and Magog, which refers to the prince and the people. This is a totality of deception. The army that marches against the saints is like the sands of the sea shore, a people numerous as the sands of the sea. Since this promise was given to Abraham, this army is an anti-Abrahamic force which surrounds the people of God. Fire comes down and consumes them just as it did when Elijah called fire from heaven on the altar against the priests of Baal. The Satan is hurled in climactic fashion into the lake of fire to join the beast and false prophet, where they will be tormented day and night.
The Final Judgment
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:11-15)
Jesus judges from the throne as earth and sky flees away but cannot hide. All of the dead are judged as the books are opened. Then the book of life is opened and they are judged by what is found there, according to their deeds. The sea gives up its dead, as does Death and Hades. Then Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire. Anyone whose name is not found in the book of life is also thrown in the lake of fire.