What is the Book of Revelation for? Part 3 – Neil Mackereth

Further to Part 1 and Part 2 Neil kindly sends the latest with his covering comment: “The mayhem continues apace and many continue to be challenged and surprised as more and more of Satan’s diabolical schemes are revealed. God has told us before-hand, and it is why His Wrath will be so dreadful for those who do not revere Him.”

WHAT IS THE BOOK OF REVELATION FOR? – Part 3: CHAPTERS 4-11

In this paper we will look at some of the key issues covered in chapters 4 to 11 of Revelation. It is not my intention to make a line-by-line exegesis, and a few chapters need little additional comment. However, before we tour God’s Headquarters and see the battle-plan unfolding, I want to give a little more background information.

John wrote (more accurately, he was instructed to record what he witnessed) the Book of Revelation during the era of apocalypticism.  This rather obscure term speaks more of a mindset than of a specific literary category, though certain works in the period 200 BC to 200 AD do share some common literary traits. Apocalypticism is primarily a way of viewing reality. The Greek word apocalypsis (from which we get the word apocalypse) denotes the action of: uncovering, unveiling, disclosing, or revealing something previously hidden or secret. In short, an apocalypse is a public disclosure of classified information.

Apocalypses often include esoteric (secret) information about the workings of the heavenly realms and how this influences the earthly realm. In biblical literature, this information is usually conveyed to a prophet who, sometimes, is transported to heaven and given a tour. What is witnessed is written down, for the benefit of a larger earthly audience. An angel may explain the visions: Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah include apocalyptic sections involving angelic guides (Ezekiel 40:3–4, 43:6–27; Daniel 7:15–28, 8:15–27, 10:10–21; Zechariah 1:9–2:13, 4:1–6:15).

Choosing sides: Dualism

Apocalypticism takes seriously the notion that there are two distinct powers or principles operating in the universe. This view is called dualism, and it exists in spiritual and earthly realms, at different levels of moral intensity: in other words, a fundamental divide exists between good and evil. In the book of Revelation, God himself is the ultimate source of all that is good; Satan, and his spiritual and mortal agents who refuse to submit to God, are the source of evil. This kind of personal and collective ethical dualism underlies the basic conflict throughout the book: it acknowledges that there are two realities; visible and invisible. The first is the natural realm that we can see and touch, which was created good. But behind the visible is the realm of the invisible, there are spiritual beings (God, Satan, and angelic beings, both good and bad, of various types and with different roles and status). In Revelation this kind of dualism is taken as fact.

The major theme of the book is God’s judgement on corrupt religion, corrupt government, corrupt materialism (Babylon) and corrupt society. As mentioned earlier, much of Revelation consists of a series of dramatic visions, which are not necessarily presented in what we would think of as a logical time sequence, and which many of us find difficult to unravel. So far, we have looked at the prelude; the Judge has appeared (Ch 1), and the seven letters (Ch 2 & 3) have been reviewed. We now move to the Throne Room of Heaven and the apocalypse drama starts to unfold.

In Chapters 4 and 5, John is first transported in the spirit to the throne room and describes the incredible scene of great beauty, worship and praise. He then sees that God is holding a scroll (the judgement) and it transpires that Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, is the only one worthy to take the scroll and open its seven seals.

In Chapter 6, Jesus opens 4 of the seals releasing the “4 horsemen of the Apocalypse” representing, conquest, war, famine and death. Some commentators suggest that the first horse, which is white and whose rider has a crown, represents Jesus riding out ahead for a final harvest of believers. Others believe it is a disguised figure (i.e., the antichrist) bent on conquest. The opening of the 5th seal reveals the souls of martyrs awaiting justice. The 6th seal releases a great earthquake and dramatic disturbances to sky, moon and stars that cause immense fear and trepidation.

Chapter 7 is like an aside, but may be designed to allay the fears of the believers who have just seen the 6th seal outpouring. Angels are instructed to put a seal on the heads of “the servants of our God”. The number sealed is 144,000 (figurative?) representing 12,000 from each of 12 tribes of Israel. This is immediately followed (v9) by the scene of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”.

Some view this as support for the idea that Christians will be “raptured” before the time of tribulation. (Rapture: The “gathering in” or “catching away” of God’s people in the air when Jesus returns (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). There is much debate about when the rapture will occur. The three main contenders are: pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation and post tribulation. Suffice it to say, it will be a wonderful event when Christians who have died will be resurrected and rise from their graves to meet Jesus in the air, followed by the Christians who are alive). Certainly v1–9 do seem to show that a multitude of Christians from all nations are in heaven while God’s chosen people Israel are being sealed for protection on earth. Whether the multitude in heaven “who have come out of the great tribulation” (v14) are martyrs or have been raptured, is not made clear.

Chapter 8 starts with the opening of the 7th and final seal, after which an angel with a golden censor hurls fire on the earth causing thunder, lightning and an earthquake. Thereafter the first of seven trumpets are sounded triggering hail and fire that greatly damages the earth. The 2nd trumpet instigates great harm to sea, fish and ships, the 3rd damages rivers, the 4th causes darkening of sun, moon and stars. Some suggest that the trumpets are a second look at the earlier similar judgments against the enemies of God, which are now seen to be worse than was first thought. As with so much in Revelation, the events are similar to those seen elsewhere in the Bible. In this case the same sort of plagues were brought against Egypt (Exo 7:20-21; 9:24-25; 10:21-23).

In Chapter 9 the 5th trumpet sounds. It is not clear whether Satan or an angel, fallen or otherwise, is the “star” that has fallen to earth. He is given the key to the abyss and releases a demonic army: Satan’s forces are mobilised. We see (again) in this chapter that Satan’s authority is limited. He was given the key, is told not to harm the earth or those with the seal of God, and his forces are only authorised to torment for 5 months. Perhaps more extraordinary is that these attacks are against unbelievers, so it appears that God’s judgement is being fulfilled by Satan’s demonic hordes. This theory is further confirmed by the 6th trumpet release of 4 “bound” (fallen) angels authorised to kill a third of mankind. Even so, “The rest of mankind, that were not killed by these plagues, still did not repent of the works of their hands” (v20). They continue in their idolatry, greed, lust, degradation and sorcery.

In Chapter 10, which is an interlude in the trumpet sequence, John sees a mighty angel and is reminded that all worship is due to God, who created all things, and who holds all power. The angel indicates that the trumpets do not tell the full story—God’s judgment is still partially obscured (v4-7). John is given the rest of the story, and is told to preach its challenging (bittersweet) message of salvation and judgement to: “many peoples, nations, languages and kings” (v8-11).

Chapter 11 continues the interlude with a measuring of the temple, which may symbolise the spiritual place of protection for the true believers, those who remain faithful to God. The two witnesses bear strong resemblance to Moses and Elijah and have similar powers. It may be significant that they were seen with Jesus at his transfiguration (Matt 7:1-17). The two witnesses provide a demonstration of the power of preaching, prophesy, prayer and their effectiveness in adversity and persecution. But people do not want to hear about, or recognise, their sinfulness: (v8 Sodom and Egypt represent depravity and oppression). The world rejoices when the two witnesses are killed: but the celebration is short lived! Believers should be greatly encouraged; even in death we are victorious and will rise again.

The interlude ends with the sounding of the seventh trumpet. Whether this is the same “last trumpet” as mentioned in 1 Cor 15:52 and 1 Thes 4:16, and therefore the time of the rapture, is not clear: Matt 24:31 may indicate that there is a subsequent trumpet call. The seventh trumpet marks the end of the partial, albeit severe, judgements. From this point on there is no escape (v18) for those who continue to refuse to recognise and accept in their hearts the authority and rule of Lord God Almighty.

In part 4 we move to the bowl judgements, but first we will see an altogether different style of visions that reveal in more detail of the battle between the forces of God and Satan, and in which Satan is seen in all his wickedness.

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