‘Dear Richard, Many thanks for broadcasting Part 3 and here is Part 4 – probably the most significant and certainly the most challenging to “encapsulate”. It is 3½ pages long, the second 3½ pages is a Glossary of End-Times Terminology, which you may wish to separate. May the Lord continue to guide and encourage you both, Neil’
I’m very grateful to him for his compilation of a very helpful glossary, which is published separately and most fittingly as a celebratory 100th static page of Richard’s Watch, and located in the About Signs hub (all copyright reserved).
WHAT IS THE BOOK OF REVELATION FOR? – Part 4, Chapters 12-18
In this part we will consider the key issues covered in chapters 12 to 18 of the Book of Revelation. As we approach the climax of the battle between good and evil (Jesus and Satan), there is a change of style and emphasis. John sees new visions which are very different from the seven-part series of letters, seals and trumpets, and his reporting style becomes more like a narrative.
I, too, will change to a format that is more in the nature of a story. But first, I must emphasise that there is a vast array of views and disagreements about when these events will happen, the whys and wherefores of the proceedings; what is and what is not literal, allegorical or symbolic, plus a myriad of opinions on the accuracy of subsequent translations and interpretations. In the interest of brevity, I have taken a line on various debatable points (for example, I take a pre-millennial view) but stress that readers should investigate for themselves and come to their own conclusions. I also need to make clear that timing in this apocalyptic narrative is often not sequential, in the way that our logical Greek mindset has come to expect. And, in light of the End-Times terminology that I have found necessary to include, I have added a glossary of terms below, at Annex A to Part 4.
Revelation 12 to 14 move through hope to despair and back to hope. John sees a pregnant woman, who we might think is Mary, mother of Jesus; but the woman is described as “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” i.e., the same as in Joseph’s dream, which he described to his father Jacob (Israel) (Gen 37:9-11): the 12 stars represent the 12 tribes of Israel. The woman represents Israel and the child is Jesus, from the line of King David of the tribe of Judah. John sees a red dragon, a representation of Satan, a beast from the sea represents the Antichrist and a beast from the earth represents the False Prophet.
The pregnant woman (Israel) is confronted by the dragon (Satan) who plans to destroy her child (Jesus), as soon as the woman gives birth. God steps in and rescues the child. There are, in fact, two rescues. First, Joseph is told by an angel of the Lord to take Mary and the baby to Egypt, to avoid the murderous intentions of Herod (Matt 2:13-15). Secondly, Jesus “was snatched up to God and to His throne” (Rev 12:5) after the resurrection.
There was a great war in heaven and Satan and his “fallen” angels were defeated and banished to earth. This is both good news and bad news! There is rejoicing in heaven, where Satan has no more influence, but woe for the earth, which is now his command centre (Rev 12:12). In his fury, and recognising that his time is short, the dragon pursues the woman (God’s chosen people) but his powers are limited and, by God’s strong arm, they escape to a place of sanctuary, where they will be safe for the duration of the great tribulation (3½ years, 42 months or 1,260 days). The dragon then switches his attention to the gentile followers of Jesus.
Revelation 13 introduces the unholy trinity of Satan, the Antichrist and the False Prophet, aka the dragon, beast and second beast. The latter is the instigator of a new, enforced world-wide religion and manager of the propaganda campaign, which includes great (counterfeit) miracles and a mock resurrection, all designed to lionise the Antichrist. It seems likely that the Antichrist will be a charismatic leader, and highly accomplished political manipulator, who brings together a global coalition to secure economic and political control of the world.
Initially, the world will be amazed and hugely grateful: he will be welcomed, worshiped and lauded as a hero. Everything seems wonderful but, as world domination is consolidated, a world-wide identification system will be introduced that requires a mark of allegiance to the Antichrist and which will also be used as a licence to buy or sell food and goods.
The mark will be on the right hand or forehead and involve “man’s number”, “His number is 666” (Rev 13:18). As yet, the significance of “666” is not clear. What is clear from Rev 14:9-11 is that it is vital that followers of Jesus remain faithful and do not take the “mark of the beast”.
The false prophet orders an image (statue?) in honour of the Antichrist, to be erected in the temple (therefore, by then the temple must exist!) and worshiped, on pain of death. The image is like an Antichrist doppelganger and has breath and can speak. This is the “abomination of desolation” described by Jesus in Matt 24:15, Mark 13:14, and by Paul: “He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God declaring himself to be God” (2 Thess 2:4).
In Rev 14 we are back in heaven and see a vision of Jesus on Mount Zion; the 144,000 redeemed, who have been sheltered and sustained through the time of tribulation, are with Him. Angel messengers prepare the way for the final judgement: the 7 bowls of God’s Wrath.
Here, I digress to comment that it can be useful to remember where John’s viewpoint is (earth or heaven) as we read through Revelation. He first “moves” to heaven at Rev 4. For Rev 10 and 11 he is back on earth; at Rev 12 he returns to a heavenly viewpoint; then to earth in Rev 13 and back to heaven in Rev 14 & 15.
Rev 14 ends with imagery of a harvest and destruction of evil and rebellious humanity, now under the control of the unholy trinity.
The short Rev 15 concentrates our minds for the final outpouring of God’s wrath. We see the faithful martyrs, who refused to give homage to the Antichrist, singing the song of Moses. Then seven angels, dressed in priestly garb, emerge from the temple and are given the seven bowls of wrath. Some see these actions as following the pattern of a purification ritual, and the chapter concludes with the scene of the heavenly temple filled with God’s glory: God’s intention is to render His creation holy.
Another digression: as recorded in the NT, Jesus established a new covenant by his death, which atones for sin (Luke 22:14–20; 1 Cor 11:23–26). The infilling of the Holy Spirit empowers believers, both Jewish and gentile, to stand firm through the great tribulation. This new covenant features the ultimate fulfillment of the OT sacramental rituals: Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Therefore, the primary image for Jesus in the book of Revelation is that of “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered” (Rev 5:6). Subsequently, Jesus stands on Mount Zion with the redeemed (Rev 14:1). Jesus “rescues us from the wrath that is coming” (1 Thess 1:10). This promise should sustain true believers through the ordeals depicted in Rev 14:12–13. We can interpret the New Jerusalem (Rev 21–22) as the new covenant equivalent of the Promised Land: to get there we must persevere through a wilderness of trials and tribulations.
In contrast to the seals and trumpets of Revelation 6–8, the pouring out the seven bowls of God’s wrath (Rev 16:1–21) occurs without interruptions, except for a brief comment on the justification for God’s judgement (16:5–7). There are four principal views about the bowl judgments:
- Preterist seek to connect these bowls with various historical events in the first century;
- Historicists seek to link with events over a much longer time, from the first century to the second advent of Jesus;
- Idealists don’t attempt to link to historical events: they view Revelation as figurative or symbolic, depicting the ongoing struggle between good and evil;
- Futurists believe the bowl judgments will occur just prior to the second advent of Jesus.
The plagues coming from the bowls are, as with the trumpet events, reminiscent of the plagues of Egypt. The most notable difference is their scale and intensity; even so, many citizens of earth continue to curse God and refuse to repent. Are believers affected? No one can be certain, however, believers may have been raptured or, like the Hebrews in Egypt, protected (Ex 8:22, 9:6, 9:26, 10:23, 11:7). God seals and shields His people from “a fearful prospect of judgment” (Heb 10:26)
The sixth bowl describes the last battle: the location name, Armageddon, has become synonymous with any event that is so catastrophic that it might destroy the world. The unholy trinity mobilise their forces against the Lamb. The seventh angel pours his bowl, causing an unprecedented earthquake and a massive hailstorm
Rev 17–18 provide a pause, and a reverse time shift, to examine the mysterious Babylon in more detail. Rev 16 ends with the destruction of Babylon. We now have a review of the wicked “city”, portrayed as a prostitute who represents the sinful excesses of our corrupt world. At this stage, the world will be under the authority of the Antichrist, in a “New World Order”. We see immoral and unjust commercial activity, described as “fornication”. When Revelation was written, Rome had replaced Babylon, in the eyes of the Jewish people, as the epitome of wickedness and exploitation. Now, much of the world is like the Roman Empire: many of those with power or wealth revel in luxury and sensuality, funded by corruption, manipulation, mistreatment and cruel abuse of those who are, in worldly terms, less fortunate.
The phrase “sitting on a scarlet beast” (17:3) reveals what underpins this decadent society. The beast with seven heads, which represent hills and kings (the seven hills are thought by many to signify Rome and the seven kings to be past rulers), and ten horns that represent a further ten kings (leaders) who will give their allegiance and authority to the beast. Suffice it to say, there are innumerable theories as to who the seven kings and the ten kings or leaders might be: time will tell!
The beast and the ten kings turn against the “prostitute” and bring about her destruction. Why they do so is not explained, but we are told that God puts into the hearts of the kings the desire “to give the beast their power to rule” (17:17). What we also know is that God’ purposes will be fulfilled: He decrees the total destruction of Babylon: her fall is prescribed (18:1-24). God’s people are told to come out of Babylon and not become emersed in her attitudes and lifestyle (18:4).
As the destruction unfolds, John witnesses and reports what equates to a world-wide collapse of stock markets, and associated commercial and economic infrastructure. In Rev 18:9–20, John describes a catalogue of the finest merchandise and sees the terror and despair of Kings, merchants, shipmasters, seafarers and sailors, as all the riches and splendour, and means of attaining them, go up in flames. There is great weeping and wailing at this unmitigated disaster. In one hour, everything that supported the immoral world political and economic system is brought to nought.
The people of God, “saints and apostles and prophets” (18:20) are encouraged to rejoice, as Babylon is charged and found guilty of many crimes, including the murder of many saints (17:6, 18:24).
To be continued: In Part 5 we will look at Rev 19 to 22 and finish this review with some thoughts on where we are on the End-Times time-line.
Annex A > GLOSSARY OF END-TIMES TERMINOLOGY (click link to read)
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