Challenge Group #5
End Times Prophecy Gives Purpose, Promise and Blessing
Revelation is called the Apocalypse which means the "Day of the Lord". It deals with the sins of the present age...The judgments of the end of this age....And the blessings of the time to come. John, the beloved disciple, was given these revelations by Jesus Himself--and he uses many symbols and pictures attempting to describe the indescribable--dealing with events about which no human being knows. This is why it is difficult for us to understand and yet it is a precise and accurate picture of things to come.
In v. 3 we are told that we are "blessed as we read and hear the words of this prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it".
This prophecy is the end of a series of prophecies contained in other prophetic books like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. The main message of this Apocalypse is the complete assurance that Christ will triumph over evil, and protect the eternal state of those who put their trust in Him. It depicts the rise of the Antichrist, the conflict between Satan and Christ (as the man of sin who is overthrown by Christ) and then the appearance of the New Heaven and New Earth where believers reign with Christ forever.
The person of Christ is the most important key to understanding Revelation--it's structure and meaning can be found as His Person and work are revealed. Three aspects are :
- Judgment - Jesus was given the authority to execute judgment (Jo 5:27) and here in Revelation "the hour of His judgment has come" (Rev 14:7) and paints the fate of a rebellious unrepentant world.
- Redemption - Revelation is dedicated unto Him "Who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood" (Rev 1:5). Christ is presented as a Lion (Judge) who is a "Lamb as if it had been slain" (Rev 5:5-6). These and other passages emphasize the purpose of redemption i. e. Christ does not want to judge the wicked, but save them and restore them to a relationship with Him. Primarily the judgments are to bring men to repentance.
- The Kingdom of God - Revelation is the final word on the establishment of the Kingdom of God which we have traced through time from Eden on. Rev 1:6 "He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father". The rewards promised to the faithful in the churches are all connected to this coming kingdom. It is finally announced by a great voice in heaven, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come" (Rev 12:10) and we "shall reign forever and ever" (Rev 22:5).
Chapters 2 and 3 are letters to seven churches from Jesus Christ. These churches represent the successes and failures of every church and Christ's view of them in all of history. The same lessons can be applied to individual's lives because the church, after all, is made up of people.
After the letters to the seven churches in ch 4:1 we see a "door open in heaven...after these things". The very first thing John saw was the throne of God and Him sitting on it in all His brilliance, color and clarity. Jesus is there and the 7 fold work of the H. S.
The identity of the 24 elders is not certain but they probably represent the church (i.e. with white robes and crowns): they worship God & throw down their crowns before Him agreeing with the 4 living creatures (cherubim who guard the throne of God) that He is worthy of worship since He created all things & by His will they exist.
In ch. 5 John sees a book with seven seals. It is probably the title deed of the earth which Adam signed over to Satan in the garden, now Satan rules the earth and the whole world system (2 Cor 4:4). Someone said: "God is not morally responsible to keep a rebellious planet running smoothly". But God loves us, His created beings, and so Christ came to redeem us, buying us out of Satan's slavery, and making us a "kingdom of priests to reign upon the earth". That's why everyone around the throne of God sang a new song of praise for the "worthiness of the Lamb" (vs. 11-14) to receive power and glory and wisdom and honor. John saw myriad's and myriad's, thousands of thousands, and every created thing in heaven, on the earth and under the earth and on the sea and all things in them praising & honoring the Lamb. What a scene that must have been!
In ch. 6 the Lamb starts opening the seals--the first 4 are the horsemen of the apocalypse: a preview of the tribulation period.
About 2600 years ago God revealed to the prophet Daniel many predictions about the "end of the age". But God also told him to "seal up" all of his prophecies until the end (Dan 12:4). Now here in Revelation the scroll is opened by Jesus to fulfill the last 7 years of the prophesied 490 in Dan 9:24-27 (483 had passed when Christ had presented Himself as King Messiah on Palm Sunday; he was rejected and then He was crucified. For nearly 2000 years so far, the 'mystery' of the church age has taken the place of God's Kingdom because the Jews rejected Christ).
These last 7 years start the countdown as God proves He is the One and only Sovereign Ruler of the universe, and that Jesus Christ is His Messiah--the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This scroll with seven seals reveals all the sequence and the judgments of the end of the age.
These judgments have three distinctives:
- The Seven Seals reveal the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse (Rev 6:1-8:5).
- The Seven Trumpets--the earth itself is devastated (Rev 8:6-9:12).
- The Seven Bowls of the wrath of God--the most severe judgments of all on mankind and the earth (Rev. 16:19-21).
These principles help in understanding the sequence.
- The first principle is that the general order, apart from the parentheses, is the real sequence of events, e. g. the 4 horsemen appear in the same order he gave in Rev 6.
- The unity of a section depends on it's central concept, e. g. in the 2nd series of trumpets, it is the Lamb and the throne.
- The sequence of the whole tribulation must be determined by cross-referencing, e. g. the uncounted multitudes came out of the great tribulation. Therefore ch. 7 must be part of the tribulation and be describing what it will be like. The Great Tribulation begins with the sixth seal. The trumpets are specific, and drastic judgments, the first 4 are physical in character; the last three are produced by spiritual forces, e. g. the 5th brings Apollyon from the abyss with scorpion stings to torment men with his demons. The seven bowls follow each other in rapid succession, they parallel the trumpets in action but are more intense, and are terminal, marking the end of man's present regime.
- The three series of judgments are parallel in some respects and not in others. All of them have an identical terminus: e. g. "The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ: and He shall reign forever and ever". To which the elders reply, "Thy wrath came and the time came for the dead to be judged and the time to give their reward to Thy servants, the prophets and to the saints and to those who fear Thy name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth" (Rev 11:15, 18).
To sum up the judgments:
- The seals express the historical principles or trends that bring judgment on the world.
- The trumpets are the judgments that introduce and bring about the terrible distress at the end.
- The bowls are the intense climactic judgments that close earth's history.
I. The Seven Seals
- White Horse - the first seal is the counterfeit: the antichrist, the prince of Daniel's prophecy, the "lawless one" (II Thes 2:8). This is Satan's incarnated man wearing a crown, offering peace, deceiving the world so they will all willingly subject themselves to his rulership. The sad fact is that the world which rejected God's Christ, willingly accepts the devil's antichrist just as Jesus predicted (Jo 5:43).
- The Second Seal is the Red Horseman which represents bloody warfare. The antichrist (the rider of the white horse) reveals his true identity demanding worship, then the slaughter begins (fully developed in ch 16).
- The Third Seal is the Black Horseman representing famine. There will be financial catastrophe with only the elite rich able to eat (the antichrist's retinue). Millions starve to death.
- The Fourth Seal - the Pale Horseman kills 1/4 of the world's population through plagues and epidemics, part of the way that over 2 billion people die.
- The Fifth Seal shows the Souls under the altar. These are those who came to belief during the tribulation and are martyred by the antichrist and his forces.
- The Sixth Seal is a world-wide catastrophe caused by an earthquake. The first 4 seals were caused by the antichrist, but the 6th seal is supernatural. All the inhabitants of the earth were terrified and helpless before the wrath of the Lamb, trying to get the rocks and mountains to fall on them to hide them from the "wrath of the Lamb".
Chapter 7 is a parenthesis between the opening of the sixth and seventh seal to show us God's mercy which He always extends in a special way before His judgment, this time before the Trumpet judgments which begin the Great Tribulation.
These 144.000 Jewish evangelists do in a few short years what we have failed to do in 2000 years--they will evangelize the whole world. They are sealed by the H. S. for empowerment, and sealed on their forehead by God who will supernaturally protect them from death as the antichrist and his forces persecute them, hounding them and ridiculing their message.
The harvest of believers is a great multitude which no one can count from all around the world and all nations. They must be martyred because they are standing before the throne of God in white robes praising Him and He wipes away their tears, having released them from their suffering. These believers are the ones who will go into the Millennial Kingdom in their mortal bodies, and have families etc.
In ch 9 God protects the 144,000 from the 4 demons who sting like scorpions. The 144.000 are still ministering at the end of the tribulation miraculously (ch 14).
In chs 10-11 there is another parenthesis between the 6th and 7th Trumpet (10:1-11,11:14). Here Christ is preparing to return to earth, the temple has been rebuilt, the antichrist has placed himself in the holy of holies to be worshipped, so it must be the last 3 1/2 years of the tribulation.
Christ sends His two witnesses:
- One is Elijah--he did not die on earth, but was translated & he is going to prophesy before the "day of the Lord" (Mal 4:5).
- The second one may be Moses, since God buried him on Mt. Nebo.
They are powerful, mete out judgment of fire and famine and turn water into blood plagues.
They are killed by the antichrist after they finish their testimony & the whole world will rejoice.
They will not be buried for 3 1/2 days so that the world will see that the antichrist (The Beast) is more powerful than Christ's two witnesses: people exchange gifts to celebrate. Then on international satellite TV, the whole world will watch in terror and consternation as the 2 Witnesses come back to life, stand up, and ascend up to heaven before everyone's eyes: the world will have to believe in a literal resurrection of the body! It will be scientifically proven as the world watches! In fact the watching world gives glory to God in heaven (v. 13), but they do not necessarily believe, any more than Israel did in Elijah's day when he defeated the Baal prophets. Or in Jesus' day when He healed the paralytic. In both instances the people gave glory to God, but then in Jesus' case they plotted His death. Unbelief when clung to, leads to blindness, and finally to the Insanity of Unbelief.
Ch 12 The Woman here is Israel (Isa 66:7-8) with the 12 stars (tribes), bearing the man-child (Christ) who will rule with a rod of iron (v. 5). Satan (the dragon) has always hated and opposed the Jews ever since Eden and God's prophecy in Gen 3:15. Here Satan's hatred is intensified especially after he and his demons are thrown out of the heavenlies by Michael and the angelic hosts.
Satan's fury is like a flood against the fleeing Jews, but God protects them in the wilderness and miraculously preserves their lives just as He did so many years before when He brought them out of Egypt (Ez 30:35).
During the last 3 1/2 years of the tribulation Israel will come to belief in Christ through : Read Ez 38:10-39:22
- The King of the North being destroyed ( Ez 39:22--5/6ths destroyed on 1st time through?...or on return trip from Egypt?)
- The 144,000 sealed Jews evangelizing and being preserved
- The 2 witnesses
Now they have been grafted back into the olive tree and "hold to the testimony of Jesus" (12:17).
Ch 13 Antichrist and False Prophet The Antichrist gets his power from Satan and heads up a ten-nation confederacy. He promises peace, economic security and religious freedom and will construct a world-wide government with the willing cooperation of all people.
Since Satan gave the Beast his power and authority (v. 2) for the first time in history Satan will get what he's been after all these years--world-wide worship.
v. 3 Satan will gain this worship either by performing a fantastic miracle or by simulating one: by healing an apparent mortal head wound suffered by the antichrist.
A second beast (called the false prophet, a Jew) rises to power as the antichrist's representative and he enslaves the minds and souls of mankind. The False Prophet forces people to worship the antichrist whose image he has placed in the holy of holies, he performs great miracles, he forces all people to receive the "mark of the beast" (v. 16) in order to buy or sell. This mark will be on their right hand and forehead, everyone who refuses to worship the Beast and receive the Mark will be cut-off from economic survival and eventually killed by the false prophet. This is called the "abomination of desolation" by Jesus and Daniel, when the Antichrist blasphemously imitates God.
In ch 15 God closes the door to heaven and prepares to release the seven final climactic bowl judgments on the earth. (:1: 'in them the wrath of God is finished')
As God judges, the people "blasphemed the name of God...and they did not repent" (16:8-9).
The final conflict of the world is getting ready to take place with this scenario:
- Arab-Africa confederacy (King of the South) attacks Israel.
- The King of the North sweeps through Israel to Egypt.
- The antichrist and his army rush to Israel's defense 16:13-14
- King of the North quickly returns to Israel and sets up his command post in Jerusalem.
- King of the North and his army annihilated. Ez 38-39
- Kings of the East attack Antichrist. 16:12
- All the rest of the world's armies unite under Antichrist to fight the Kings of the East on the plains of Armageddon (Rev. 16:13-16).
- Wholesale carnage of soldiers and cities with unbelievable loss of life (Mt 24:21).
In Chs 17 and 18 John deviates from his chronological review of future history and deals with Babylon, the harlot. The woman symbolizes an enormous false religious system that is a perversion of the true worship of God. It is so appealing that the "harlot" has been able to seduce all the kings of the earth with her deceptions.
This harlot was lavishly decked out in jewels and rich garments and riding on a scarlet beast (the antichrist), holding a golden cup full of abominations and immoralities, drunk with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.
What could possibly seduce the world so completely? It must be an occult religious system which includes mysticism, miraculous materializations, magic and has great appeal to mankind's sensual nature; it must include parts of all the world's false religions in order for the "kings of the earth" to be involved.
In ch 17:16-17 the beast (antichrist) throws off the control of the religious system and proclaims himself god in the temple in Jerusalem. He hates and destroys the harlot and confiscates all her wealth, then consolidates all power in himself--religious, economic and political.
Ch 19 This chapter resumes the chronological picture of the future and the setting is the original heavenly scene of the 24 elders around God's throne. This last act of the drama of redemption is the chorus of rejoicing announcing that "God has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality" (v.2). There are 4 Hallelujahs which mark the transition from sin to righteousness, from corruption to purity, from death to life. It marks the pivotal point in God's climactic dealing with earth. From this point forward He will assert His power and will bring about His long cherished purposes which have been so carefully worked out in the total scheme of redemption.
Unlike the storms of judgment on earth, this view of heaven is all praise and peace. The multitude in heaven understand what God is doing and know that victory is certain. One purpose of the Revelation is to create this confidence in us. In the perspective of God's plan for the ages the troubles of the immediate present seem less alarming.
The last hallelujah announces the marriage supper of the Lamb to His bride--the church. The bride is to clothe herself in fine linen which are the righteous acts of the saints (19:8). The bride is without any spot or wrinkle or blemish (Eph 5:27), so that means everyone is pure and blameless. But the amount of the white linen robe is the believer's righteous deeds. 1 Cor 3
The robe will be woven with gold and silver and studded with precious stones to the degree we performed our works by the power of the Spirit and not the flesh. We need to realize we are preparing our garments for eternity right now.
V. 11-16 The description of Jesus given here reveals Him as the great warrior executing judgment as He charges forth on a white stallion, his eyes flashing, many crowns of His royal and divine titles, and King of Kings, Lord of Lords on His thigh.
Zechariah 12:10 and Rev 1:7 predict that the scars of His crucifixion will be visible to the whole world, and that all the people, especially the Jews will mourn over Him. A sharp sword comes out of His mouth and He is called the Word of God--with His sword and His Word He'll destroy all His enemies and deliver the Tribulation believers who are still living. The Mt. of Olives will be split in two as His feet touch the ground (Zech 14:4-8).
The first two who are judged are the beast and false prophet; they are immediately cast into the lake of fire, the evil of these two is so great that their guilt is beyond dispute.
Then Christ turns to judge all those still alive, their judgment is described in Mt 25:31-46. The sheep and goats judgment is based on the treatment of "these brothers of mine", probably the 144,000 Jewish evangelists. To help them and feed them would place anyone at risk because the antichrist hated them and was always trying to kill them. These "sheep" and the 144,000 will live on earth during the thousand-year kingdom. The "goats" will be judged at the great white throne.
Ch. 20 The Kingdom which Christ will bring and reign over is the fulfillment of the O. T. covenants to Abraham and David. It is described by most of the O. T. prophets:
- where men will beat their swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks and learn war no more (Isa 2:4)
- the wolf will lie down with the lamb
- a man will be a child when he is 100 years old (Isa 11:6, 65:2)
- there will be justice for all and the whole world will be filled with the knowledge of God (Isa 11:9)
- Jesus Himself will rule from Jerusalem and there will be a perfect one-world government (Zech 14:9, 16-21)
First, the earth will have to be restored by Christ. Just think about it:
- the whole animal and vegetable environment will be perfect and enjoyable
- no pollution, no refuse, no thorns and thistles, no destructive bacteria or viruses, no killer storms or earthquakes, beautiful gardens, flowers, birds--on and on and on...
- most importantly: peace among men enforced with perfect justice and +R by Christ
V. 1-3 Satan is cast into the bottomless pit or the abyss and sealed there so he cannot deceive the nations for a thousand years. God will not permit Satan to come out of the pit until his time and for a specific reason.
V. 4-6 Those who were martyred during the tribulation will be raised from death and reign with Christ for this thousand years along with those "sheep" and 144,000 Jewish evangelists.
In some way all believers will help Christ govern the universe with all it's diverse responsibilities.
V. 7-10 Satan is released again after the 1000 years? Why?
- to prove to all created beings that it is the heart of man in rebellion against God that is the cause of sin (Jer 17:9).
- with peace, equality, prosperity
- with perfect ecology and safety
- with +R government and just rule
- with no Satan to deceive or tempt
Even with all this perfect environment there will be those who reject Christ, refuse His forgiveness, and secretly rebel in their hearts. These people will follow Satan to fight against Christ and will be immediately destroyed: such is the blindness of unbelief and the foolishness of man's rebellion against God.
This event ends the Devil's career of evil. God casts him into the lake of fire with his evil companions, the antichrist and false prophet. Satan was God's beautiful created angel in eternity past, yet here he ends in eternal banishment having challenged God's right to rule for eons of time.
V. 11-15 This is the great white throne judgment where all unbelievers are judged "according to their works". The purpose of this judgment is to clearly demonstrate why the unbeliever is not in heaven with: it is always because that person did not want God's provision of forgiveness, they would not bow to God, repent, and ask for eternal life: people choose their own destiny.
The New Heaven and Earth will replace the present one which is burned up after the great white throne judgment (II Pet 3:10). God re-creates the earth in perfection as the Garden of Eden was except that He Himself will be the light. The New Jerusalem will be the center of the new universe with a beauty we can hardly fathom. Rev 21 and 22 describe the glories of this city.
John used precious stones to describe the beauty of the New J with its 12 gates of pearl, streets of clear gold, walls of jasper and all sorts of jewels in the stones. God designed the city to give us the greatest pleasure -- and joy. Then there is the Tree of Life and River of Life--the same Tree of Life that was in the Garden of Eden--the very everlasting life that Christ gave us at salvation. The River of Life: the streams He promised from the Holy Spirit flowing through us.
As we serve the Lord and reign with Him it will be pure delight and completely fulfilling. This restoration of Paradise will be the final realization of all that for which believers have struggled and of all for which the martyrs have died: God's eternal purpose..."Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them and they shall be His people...and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall no longer be death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain...He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new" (Rev 21:3-5).
Conclusion - Application
The book of Revelation has been a definite source of spiritual strength for the church in all ages. It is the one book that is given wholly to the consideration of the plan of God for His people's future, tying all the prophecies from the O. T. and N. T. together and fulfilling God's unconditional covenants. Within it's pages is the pattern for our behavior, exhortations to godliness and zeal, and an appeal to renew our spiritual life. The book is a rebuke to complacency, a challenge to prepare for "the things which shortly come to pass", and thus a powerful incentive to holy living. Remember Christ's words to church at Laodecia...how can we live complacent lives?
Christ's imminent return brings imperatives for our individual life: "repent" (2:5), "fear not" (2:10), "be faithful" (2:10), "hold fast" (2:25), "return to your first love" are all positive stimuli given by Christ to His church for holy living. There is also a note of comfort that God is in control of history. Christ is coming to take us to Paradise and we will live forever in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
Challenge Group Assignment #6
Study the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3.
- List Christ's commendation, condemnation and challenge for each church in your own words.
- How would you apply the lessons Christ teaches to an individual believer?