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What I really want to do tonight is give a birds eye view of Revelation. We are not going into detail and interpreting every little thing, but instead we are trying to give an overall understanding of what Revelation is about and also an understanding of the structure and what it generally means. So it would be like seeing a play and then giving someone a 3 or 4 bullet pointed explanation of the jist of the plot based on what happened in each act without getting into every little detail. So let’s start by reviewing what we learned last week which is very important to understanding what we’ll talk about tonight.
- How to approach Revelation – As we seek to understand the strange content we find in this book of the Bible it is important to remember that Revelation is a picture book, not a puzzle. We are not suppose to approach it to decode some secret message, but instead to look at the visual imageries and allusions it gives us to understand the spiritual reality of the world we live in today and of what will come in the end. Revelation helps us to make sense of the things we see in our world today, it shows us that God and Christ are at the center of it all, and it points us to the second coming of Christ and the reality of eternity which those who believe in Christ will receive. What we read in Revelation is meant to encourage and nourish us as we live in a fallen world where evil and Satan are present and working, to help us to endure to the end because of the victory of God that is sure to come. Most of what is in Revelation is already in the New Testament but is present here in symbolic form. So to understand the message of Revelation is to have an eternal perspective on the things that happen in our lives today.
- What is the 2nd Coming – Another thing to remember, which this is all leading up to, is the Second Coming. The first coming of Christ was when He came to earth as a man and lived for 33ish years. So the second coming is when He will return to earth to gather believers. Matt 24:30-31 (also in Luke 17).
“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
So when Jesus returns he will gather those who belong to Him and user in the renewal of the earth.
- The 7 cycles of judgment – Look at the Handout. The area between the lines are the 7 cycles of judgments. The bulk of the book of Revelation is a repeating pattern of judgments, most of them carried out in a cycle of 7, and the pattern repeats 7 times. The significance of the number 7 throughout the Bible is that it signifies something that is perfect and complete. As Keeley told us last week, we are not suppose to understand these cycles as occurring in chronological order, but instead as parallel, repeating the same themes of God’s judgment leading up to the Second Coming of Christ. If you remember some of the themes are destruction of the earth, of our resources, of commerce, of those who do not believe in Christ (the inhabitants of the earth), and so on…all as a part of God’s judgment on the wicked. But each cycle offers a unique vantage point on God’s judgment and the later cycles focus more on the most intense phases of conflict and on the 2nd Coming. Keeley gave us a good picture of this by telling us to think of them as each being stacked on top of the other. And another aspect of the pattern of these cycles that we learned last week is that in each cycle there is a sort of interlude, between the 6th and 7th cycle of the numbered cycles, in which the people of God are given a promise to comfort them and encouraged them to endure.
CH. 12-14 THE SEVEN SYMBOLIC HISTORIES & FIGURES
We are starting tonight with the 3rd cycle of 7’s. This cycle is distinct from the first 2 in that rather than a series of numbered “events” focused on the judgments of God, we are given 7 un-numbered figures/characters and their histories which depict spiritual warfare. So let’s walk through these, and I want you to look at the verses as we talk about them. Beginning in chapter 12, verses 1-6 begin with a brief opening scene which introduces us to the woman and the dragon. Then the following verses unfold the story/history of each.
- The Woman – The Woman’s story is told in verses 13-17, but she is described in 12:1 as being clothed with the sun. She represents God’s people, the church. And the characteristic of the church that is depicted is that of being a witness of God’s light. And we also see a picture of the Messiah being born out of the people of God.
- The Dragon – In verses 7-12 we read about the dragon. We are explicitly told in 12:9 that the dragon is Satan, who is the head of the evil spiritual forces in our world. His actions represent his nature to constantly oppose the plans and people of God. His seven heads represent the different ways in which Satan manifests his power. When he fails to destroy Christ, he takes out his wrath on the woman, the people of God, but God protects those who are His.
- The Beast – In Ch. 13 we are introduced to the beast (v.1-10) and in v.2 it says the beast’s power and authority comes from the dragon, satan. Most likely the beast is not a person, but represents political powers. Powers that might demand worship and persecute those who won’t worship them. Or it could be more subtle in it’s insistence to be looked at as the cure to all earthly problems and trials, in a sense like a messiah. The beast is Satan’s replacement of Christ, what people are to look to instead of Christ. So the Beast represents human institutions that are created to have power and authority over people and to meet our needs instead of Christ.
- The False Prophet – Starting in 13:11-18 we read that another beast comes who has authority on behalf of the first beast and who made the people worship the first beast. If the first beast is Satan’s replacement of Christ, who would the false prophet be? A replacement of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit leads believers to worship and know Christ, the false prophet leads non-believers to worship and know the beast. Just as God puts a seal on those who belong to Him, the false prophet marks those who follow the beast.
- The 144,000 – Again, we are given in 14:1-5 a description of God’s people but this time it is of the 144,000 who (v.4) “did not defile themselves with women, [but] kept themselves pure” So first the church is shown as those who witness to the truth, but now they are shown as those who have remained pure and separate from the way the world has become corrupted.
- 3 Angelic Messengers – In 14:6-11 we read that three angels come to offer three messages. Their role is to give a final warning that judgment is coming for those who have not repented. Not only will Babylon (who we will talk about in a little bit) fall, but those who don’t repent will face God’s wrath.
- The Son of Man – 14:14-20 provide us with the 7th figure, the Son of Man, Jesus. This is a vision of the Second Coming of Christ when Christ will come to harvest those who belong to him. We are also given a picture of God’s wrath on those who don’t belong to Him as grapes being trampled on in a winepress.
This clear picture is meant to give believers a strong picture that there are two sides to the spiritual battle that we live in. There is no gray. There are not “many ways” that lead to heaven, there is only one. In the end, we will be found to be on one side or the other. So part of having an eternal perspective is understanding the spiritual reality of the world we live in.
In 14:12-13 we read the interlude for this cycle. What encouragement is given to the saints? To endure patiently, to obey God’s commands, and to remain faithful to Christ. And then a reminder is given that those who die in the Lord are blessed, they will receive spiritual rest because of how they lived.
CH 15-16 THE SEVEN BOWLS OF GOD’S WRATH
Next we find another numbered cycle of 7 judgments. In chapters 15-16 we read of seven bowls of God’s wrath that are poured upon the earth bringing 7 plagues as judgment against evil-doers. The plagues are horrible and bring complete and final destruction upon the earth. They communicate to us again, that God’s judgment will come upon the earth and He will destroy evil and wickedness completely. And there are just a few interesting things here I want to point out:
16:5-7 In these verses the angel in charge of pouring out the bowl of wrath on the waters to turn them to blood, stops and proclaims….
“You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; 6 for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” 7 And I heard the altar respond: “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”
“The altar responded”, what does that mean? Who was under the alter in Rev. 6:9? The “altar” refers to those who had been killed for their faith in Christ.
Just as we recognize God’s goodness, His love, His mercy as being good and right. We must also too recognize, like the angel here, that His justice and judgments are good and right. As we talked about a couple weeks ago, we can’t just worship God because of ½ of who He is, we worship Him for the whole of who He is which includes what we read here. When we read of God’s wrath it should not cause us to question Him, but to stand in awe of Him.
16:15 Is the interlude, the encouragement for the saints. It says,
“Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.”
In light of these horrible plagues that will come upon the earth as a result of God’s wrath, the saints are encouraged to stay awake, to not become complacent or lukewarm, but to stay strong in their faith. Then they are told to keep their clothes on, which represents Christ, the truth, spirit, God’s Word, which covers over our sins so we will not be found to be naked and shamefully exposed. So in the midst of this terrifying description of what God’s wrath on the earth, mankind, and evil will look like, believers are suppose to hold fast to their faith and be clothed with the righteousness of Christ, knowing His wrath will not be directed at them.
CH 17-19:10 BABYLON JUDGED & CHURCH VINDICATED
So now we turn to the 5th cycle of 7’s. And it begins when one of the angels holding one of the 7 bowls takes John to see the fate of “the great prostitute.” So look at chapter 17 and we’ll figure out who this is referring to.
Verses 1-6 describe for us who the “great prostitute” is. These verses tell us…
- kings of the earth committed adultery with her
- the inhabitants of the earth/non-believers got drunk on her adulteries
- sits on a 7 headed scarlet beast – look at 13:1, this is the beast!
- dressed in purple/scarlet, glittering gold, precious stones, pearls
- held a golden cup full of abominable things & filth of her adulteries
- Wore the title: Mystery, Babylon the Great, Mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.
- She was drunk with the blood of the saints
So what would this mean she represents in our world today?
- She represents the seductions of the world – worldliness, pleasure, sensuality, power, wealth, and so on.
- She is the worship of anything other than Christ – idolatry & false religions or beliefs
- And what does it tell us by describing her as riding the beast? That she is directly connected to the beast, has the same goals, and the same father: Satan.
- She seduced the world to give her allegiance
- Babylon represents everything apart from Christ which seduces us away from a life lived for Christ and according to God’s ways.
And, what we see next are 7 judgments against Babylon… 17:7-18:8 The judgment on Babylon begins with three messages/announcements
- Explains that war will be waged against he lamb but the lamb will overcome and Babylon will be destroyed. (17:7-18)
- Announces that Babylon has fallen. (18:1-3)
- Warns the saints to come out from Babylon to not take part in her sins or her fall. (18:4-8)
18:9-20 The judgment comes in the form of laments from those who were “friends” of Babylon, whose lives and lively hoods depended on her, who looked to her for their prosperity and well-being.
- The kings of the earth will be terrified and mourn over Babylon’s destruction (9-10)
- Merchants will weep and mourn over the loss of commerce and profit (11-17a)
- Sea Captains/Sailors will weep and mourn over the same and look longingly at the city burning (17b-19)
When Babylon falls their lives are ruined, their lives lose meaning, they are lost without her because they were dependent on her and had built their lives upon her foundation.
18:21-24 Then we read the 7th pronouncement against Babylon in 18:21-24. An angel announces the final destruction of Babylon and focuses on the finality of it, that it is irreversible and complete.
19:1-10 After the 7 proclamations of judgment against Babylon the vision is followed by a sound of celebration from heaven. As John looks upon this scene of utter destruction of Babylon, he hears rejoicing in heaven. In v. 1 it describes it as a roar of a great multitude shouting, in v.6 he says it was like the sound of rushing waters and loud peals of thunder. We could only imagine what it was like. But we can see what hearing this praise in heaven caused John to do in v.10, he fell to his knees and began worshipping the angel, which of course the angel stopped and told him to worship God!
How can we summarize the message of this 5th cycle? What is it’s unique vantage point? How is it different from the previous 4 cycles?
- It shows clearly that those who live for worldly things are living for something that is from Satan and is not eternal. And when it is taken away they will be left with nothing, lost and confused.
- As Christians we talk about this, but do we really believe that it will absolutely and definitely come to an end? That the destruction of worldly powers and institutions will be irreversible and complete?
- For those whose lives were built on the foundation of Christ and the truth there really will be incredible rejoicing and celebration.
- So when we are feeling left out from the things of the world because of our faith and the choices we make, this is where we should turn for encouragement knowing that what we live our lives for is eternal.
CH 19:11-21 THE FINAL BATTLE
Now the 6th and 7th cycles are different in structure than the first 5 and do not give us a “numbered” account of God’s judgment but instead focus on the final judgment. The 6th cycle which we find at the end of chapter 19 focuses primarily on the Second Coming of Christ and what happens immediately before and after it. And we are given a very vivid and tangible picture of the consummation of spiritual warfare and what it is about.
In the first half of this passage, verses 11-16, there is a detailed description of Christ. And each aspect of this description affirms His right and authority to judge the world and to conquer evil. When Jesus returns He will come to redeem those who are saved and renew the world, but part of that is the complete and final destruction of evil. So this passage focuses on that aspect of Jesus’ return before then turning to the redemption of His people and of the earth.
Then, in verses 17-21 we are given an image of what this destruction will be like… Verse 20 tells us that the beast and the false prophet will both be thrown alive into the lake of burning sulfur, which is hell. The lake of burning sulfur is always final and irreversible….so they are destroyed fully and finally when Christ returns. Then verse 21 says those who followed the beast and the false prophet, will be killed by the sword in the mouth of Christ, which is the Truth/God’s Word. Their death will come as a result of their rejection of Christ. And verses 17 & 21 tells us that the birds of the air will eat the dead remains of kings, generals, mighty men, and so on. And throughout the OT this is the picture of a dishonorable death. Jezebel and Ahab’s bodies were eaten by dogs as if they were animals themselves. This is the same, those people who lived for the things of this world and for themselves and were “honored” in this world will die in the most dishonorable way.
So this passages reminds us that Jesus will return, that He will conquer evil, and that those who have not put their faith in Him and who live for the things of this world will be judged by His Word and face eternal death because of it.
CH 20: REIGN OF THE SAINTS & THE LAST JUDGMENT
The final cycle is found in chapter 20 and it is going to focus on the destruction of Satan and the judgment of mankind. If you remember from chapters 12-14 we were first introduced to the dragon/Satan, then the beast, then the false prophet, then in chapter 17 to the prostitute/Babylon. Each is in a way built upon the other. And their destruction has happened in the opposite order, leading us to the foundation of them all, Satan. If you look at chapter 20 we can basically divide it into two sections.
The Fate of Satan – 20:1-10
The first section deals with the fate of Satan. In verses 1-6 we learn that Satan is bound for 1000 years and during this period of time he is kept from deceiving the nations and those who have been martyred in Christ are resurrected and reign with Christ in heaven.
Again, we are not going to get into the little details for now, but what we need to do is understand overall what is going on here. The first week we presented to you the different views of the 1000 years called the Millennium. (handout on the dresser). So we know that there are many different takes on what this 1000 years refers to and if it chronologically will follow the Second Coming of Christ or not.
But if you follow the view that these cycles are not chronological but instead develop and unfold the principals and concepts of God’s judgment leading to the Second Coming and that these cycles are symbolic not literal – then we would believe that we are living in the time of Satan being bound now. While he is active and working on earth, because of the death & resurrection of Christ, his power is limited and the gospel of Christ is being spread and the kingdom is growing. The reign of Christ on earth began at the resurrection and continues in the hearts of all believers until the Second Coming of Christ.
Then verses 7-10 tell us Satan’s sure fate. He will gather his followers in all the nations to war against Christ, but Christ will destroy them all. And, satan will be thrown into the lake of burning sulfur where the prostitute, the false prophet, and the beast have all been thrown. So regardless of your view of the millennium the overall message here is the same. Satan will be fully and finally defeated.
The Fate of Non-Believers – 20:11-15
All of evil has been destroyed. But now each and every person will be judged “according to what they have done as recorded in the books” that are in heaven. And we are told in verse 15 that these books include the book of life which holds the names of those who belong to Christ. Chapter 21 will deal with the fate of believers but first we learn what is the fate of those who did not put their trust in Christ, of non-believers.
v.12 Gives us an image similar to that of a courtroom. Where every person stands before the judge and is held accountable for how they lived.
v.15 But what it says in verse 15 is really what seals the deal. For those whose names are not listed in the book of life, their sins are not covered over with the blood of Christ. And because their sins are not atoned for, and they are unable to atone for their sin, they too are thrown into the lake of fire. Verse 14 tells us this is the second death. The first death was physical, but this death is spiritual and final.
And again, the message we hear in this final cycle is that God has the greatest authority, that all He has said will happen will come to pass, that evil will be judged, He will conquer and destroy all evil, and all of mankind will be held to account and face an eternal fate. While the passage we ended on tonight is sort of a downer, for those who have put their faith in Christ it is meant to be an encouragement. When we stand before the throne, if our names are in the book of life, we will not face the second and final death. This is meant to give us hope and encouragement in our lives today no matter what we are facing so that we will stand fast and hold tight to our faith.
Questions for discussion & Application:
● The beast, the false prophet, and Babylon all represent the things we are tempted to turn to and worship aside from Christ, the things that seduce the people of the world. What are some of those things in our world today and what do you struggle most with?
● If the main message of the book of Revelation is to give us hope as believers, how can we apply what is in Revelation to the struggles and temptations that we face today? Try to offer an example of something you are struggling with right now.