Prologue to Book of Revelation
Greetings and purpose of the Book of Revelation
The often difficult-to-understand Book of Revelation presents a rich, apocalyptic message full of symbolism that requires interpretation by the reader. Readers must understand, however, that apocalyptic literature’s primary intent is not to predict the future but to make clear once the events described begin to take place. We cannot attempt to stuff prophecy into a box before the events occur. Doing so risks creating erroneous interpretations. The interpretations below are merely examples of potential interpretations.
Attempting to consolidate Revelation into a single article is nearly impossible. The symbolism is far too rich and detailed to summarize effectively. Still, I’ve done my best to create a consolidated version of the book with my idea of potential interpretations. I’ve included chapter numbers and verses that you can click on to read the full chapter and more detailed studies.
Note that the events John saw are not necessarily in chronological order and some events appear to overlap others.
John begins his revelation with greetings from “him who is, who was, and who is to come – and from the seven spirits before his throne,” followed by an account of the second coming of Jesus and the events that will occur in the years preceding his arrival. As John points out, “All people on earth will mourn.” Then John begins to record the visions that God gave him.
The seven letters to the early churches were complex, poetic treatises to the early Christian leaders. John pointed out what each church was doing right – and what each church was doing wrong. Then he relayed what God had told him: “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”
Jesus Christ among the lampstands
Write what you see (Revelation 1:9-20)
John hears a loud voice behind him that commands, “Write on a scroll what you are about to see.” He turns and sees a man wearing a long robe with a golden sash across the chest. Around the man are seven golden lampstands. His hair was white as snow, and his eyes looked like blazing fire. His feet were like “polished bronze glowing in a furnace,” and his voice sounded like the roar of rushing waters. His face shone with the brilliance of the sun. John recognizes him as Jesus.
In his right hand, he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword, representing the extreme power of the word of God. He reveals the symbolism to John, paving the way for others to interpret the remainder of what John sees.
The Throne Scene
God on the throne (Revelation 4:1-11)
The 24 elders
John saw a person sitting on a throne. He had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow encircled the throne, surrounded by 24 other thrones, upon each of which sat an elder dressed in white with crowns of gold on their heads.
We later find that the person on the throne is God, surrounded by a rainbow representing everything happy and good. The 24 “elders” seen surrounding the throne may represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles, or they may represent 24 unknown entities.
The Seven Spirits of God
In front of the throne were seven blazing lamps, which he recognized as the seven spirits of God, and what looked like a sea of glass.
The seven spirits of God may be interpreted as the sevenfold ministry of the Holy Spirit. The sea of glass seen before the throne is difficult to translate from its original language. Remember, John is recording what he sees in his vision. What John saw may have been difficult for him to describe.
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures covered with eyes in front and back. One creature looked like a lion. Another looked like an ox. The third creature had a face like a man. The fourth creature looked like an eagle. Each creature had six wings covered with eyes. And they chanted, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God.”
The four living creatures surrounding the throne have generated much interest from scholars and play a significant part in the remainder of the story. A lion, ox, human, and eagle, each covered with eyes and all-seeing or all-knowing. Ezekial described similar creatures, but each had “wheels” covered with eyes. Ezekiel believed the creatures were cherubim, angel-like beings mentioned ninety-one times in the Old Testament. John does not tell us what he thinks they are.
Some believe the four creatures represent countries, specifically China, Iran, or Belgium (lion), Russia (ox), and the United States (eagle). At this time, these countries have some of the largest Christian populations on earth.
The Lamb worthy to open the seven-sealed scroll (Revelation 5:1-14)
Only the Lamb can break the seven seals
John saw the man on the throne holding a scroll. The scroll had writing on both sides and was sealed with seven seals. There was no one in heaven or earth worthy to open the scroll. The elders told John, “Do not weep! The Lion can break the seven seals and open the scroll.”
The man holding the scroll is, of course, God. The scroll he is holding represents his plan for mankind. John was previously told he would be given a glimpse of “all things that must be hereafter.” With nobody could open the scroll, he wept because he felt the opportunity was slipping away.
The 24 elders
A lamb that looked like it had been slain stood at the center of the throne. Four living creatures and the elders encircled him. The lamb had seven horns and seven eyes. He went and took the scroll from the man on the throne. The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders knelt before the lamb. Each held a harp and seven bowls of incense.
The lamb is, of course, Jesus. Only Jesus is worthy to deliver God’s message to mankind.
The mention of “seven horns and seven eyes” has long puzzled transcribers. In ancient times, “seven” represented completeness, so they likely represented immense power and all-seeing wisdom.
Opening of the Seven Seals
Opening of the first six seals (Revelation 6:1-2)
Jesus opened the book bound with the seven seals, and John saw the following.
The White horse rider with a bow
When the first seal was opened, John heard thunder. A lion-like animal shouted, “Come!” and a rider with a bow riding a white horse appeared. The rider was given a crown, and he went forth conquering.
The first white horse rider, called forth by the lion, represents conquest, the first leg of the Great Tribulation. The lion could be related to a strong person, country, powerful organization, or other entity. Countries associated with lions include:
- Burkina Faso
- Isle of Man
- Sierra Leone
- Sri Lanka
- United Kingdom (Britain specifically)
Companies with a lion in their logo include MGM, Saab, Royal Bank of Canada, Lions Club, ING Group (global bank), The Ritz-Carlton hotel group, and many more.
The crown hints that the rider may be a leader, and the bow, of course, represents some sort of warfare or violence. Some believe that since arrows are not specifically mentioned, possibly the conquest is achieved through peaceful means. Or, possibly, John could not recognize the type of weapon and chose to represent it as a bow that used no arrows. Maybe John did not think it relevant to include “arrows” in his description of the vision.
Some presume the White Horse Rider is Jesus, but given that the rider is carrying a bow and not a sword, it could represent someone similar to Christ – possibly even the Antichrist, a pale imitation of Jess Christ.
The Second Seal – the fiery red horse (Revelation 6:3-4)
The red horse rider carrying a sword
When the second seal was opened, John heard an ox-like animal say, “Come!” Another horse that was fiery red appeared. Its rider was given a large sword and was granted the power to take peace from the earth and cause people to kill each other.
The second of the four horses represents war. An ox-like creature calls for it. In Daniel, the second animal is a bear, similar in structure and appearance to an ox. Countries represented by an ox or bear include:
The red horse rider is allowed to take peace from the earth and cause violence, mayhem, and war. The sword in the rider’s hand likely represents military conquest or great power.
The Third Seal – the black horse rider (Revelation 6:5-6)
The black horse rider carrying scales
When the lamb opened the third seal, John heard a man-faced animal say, “Come!” John saw before him a black horse with a rider carrying a pair of scales. He heard a voice shouting, “Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages – and don’t damage the oil and wine!”
The third black horse rider represents economic warfare and is announced by a man-like creature, winged, covered with eyes, with the face of a man. This animal is unique from the others – it looks almost human. Possibly this creature represents a hybrid organization such as the UN or NATO. Or maybe the man-like qualities represent intelligence, such as the ability to manipulate economic conditions using cunning and guile.
The scales carried by the black horse rider are generally believed to represent some sort of economic control or hardship. The prices quoted are exorbitant (as much as a 1,200% overcharge), while non-necessities that influential people would enjoy, like oil and wine, are unaffected. This could mean that the poor will starve while the rich continue to live in luxury or it could simply represent overall inflation.
The Fourth Seal – the pale horse rider (Revelation 6:7-8)
The pale horse rider – Death and Hades
The lamb opened the fourth seal, and John heard an eagle-like animal say, “Come!” John saw a pale horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades followed close behind. They were given the power over a fourth of the world to kill by sword, famine, plague, and wild beasts.
The fourth horsemen (fourth seal), announced by an eagle-like creature, represents Death himself. It is possible that this creature alludes to a country. Countries represented by the eagle include:
- South Sudan
- United States
Organizations with an eagle in their logo include Barclays banks, American Airlines, Gulf Air, The state of New York, The Independent newspaper, U.S. Air Force, United States Marines, Wilson Combat (gun manufacturer), and the CIA.
An eagle-like metaphor could also include entities high in the sky like satellites or a personal quality such as intelligence.
The pale horse that Death rides brings to mind illness and nausea. In fact, the original language describes a color closer to a sickly pale green. Since he is given the power to kill one-fourth of the world’s population, the result would be a catastrophe unlike anything witnessed before. It would be an easily recognizable clue that the end times prophecy was running its course. Or possibly the deaths of a major segment of the population result from more than one cause, making the sign more difficult to identify.
And, of course, as would be expected, following closely behind death is Hades. John’s vision creates an image of Death reaping humans and Hades following behind, scooping up their lifeless souls.
The Fifth Seal – the souls of those slain for God (Revelation 6:9-11)
The souls of the martyrs
When the fifth seal was opened, John saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, oh Lord until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
Each was given a white robe and told they must wait a little bit longer until the full number of their fellow servants had perished just as they had.
The souls wearing the white robes are the martyrs who have sacrificed their lives in service of God. They ask when their deaths will be avenged and are told they must wait a little longer.
Some believe the martyrs are souls saved during the Great Tribulation, not souls saved since the beginning of time. It certainly offers hope that some will be saved during the apocalyptic times and even rewarded, despite the evil spreading throughout the world.
The Sixth Seal – the apocalyptical destruction of the earth (Revelation 6:12-17)
Every mountain and island is moved and the people cry for death
When the sixth seal was opened, there was a great earthquake. The sun turned black, and the moon turned blood red. The stars fell from the sky, and the heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up. Every mountain and island was moved from its place.
The kings of the earth, the generals, the rich, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains,
“Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne! Hide us from the wrath of the Lamb! The great day of their wrath has come – and who can withstand it?”
An earthquake, black sun, red moon, stars falling from the sky, and the heavens receding – are all described in Joel as occurrences preceding the return of God to Earth.
The description of the devastation, along with the image of people hiding underground, leads many to think this describes atomic warfare, but the description would also aptly apply to the results of global warming. A sun and moon darkened by pollution, the altered movement of the earth as ice caps thaw, the ever-changing geography of the planet, and the dissolution of the ozone layer described as a receding sky – all point to the impact we suffer from human-induced climate change.
A blacked sun could, of course, represent an eclipse which could give us valuable timing information since most eclipses can be predicted beforehand. However, the sky’s darkening could be caused by supernatural events or even natural events such as clouds, smoke, or swarms of insects.
The red moon is not literally blood. The original language clearly describes the moon as red in color. This could happen for the same reasons the Sun turned black.
Stars falling from the sky is much harder to explain. It sounds much like a meteor shower but could also be burning rocks from a volcanic eruption, crashing satellites, military missiles, or some other bright object tumbling from the sky.
Similarly, the receding heavens are hard to envision. It could be a visualization of the sky hidden behind a mask of smoke, fire, or ash.
The order of the seals
Some ask, will the events described by the seven seals occur in the order John indicated? Given the seals are presented as being opened one by one, it is quite probable that the events do occur in the order that the seals were opened, but, like anything else in prophecy, don’t blindly assume that will be the case.
It is possible that the four riders are not individuals but rather various aspects of the Antichrist or his plan. For example, the white horse could signify an initial assault that is peaceful (carrying a bow with no arrows) but soon turns violent (red horse rider carrying a sword).
Sealing of the 144,000 on earth (Revelation 7:1-8)
Four angels holding back the winds of the earth
The Lamb opened the scroll that had been sealed with seven seals, and John saw four angels holding back the winds of the earth so no wind could blow on land, the sea, nor rustle the leaves of trees.
The four winds could be literal winds or possibly the four horsemen mentioned above (Zechariah describes the four horsemen as the “four spirits of wind sent from God”). If it references literal winds, it would be catastrophic for the earth if all winds stopped, throwing weather patterns into utter chaos.
Most translations say the fifth angel came from the “east.” It is more accurately translated as “from the rising of the sun.” Thus the angel could have literally appeared from the Sun.
The potential references to the sun and winds could be combined to symbolize overall weather changes such as those seen by climate change or some other alteration of weather patterns.
A fifth angel from the east commands 144,000 servants of God to be sealed
A fifth angel, having the seal of the living God, descended from the east. The angel called in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given the power to harm the land and sea. “Do not harm anything until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of God.” Then John heard the number of those who were sealed. They were 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes.
The identity of the 144,000 could literally be 12,000 descendants from each of the original tribes or a metaphor for “many” people “around the world.” Some believe the 144,000 represent ethnic Jews who have converted to Christianity. Still others believe the 144,000 are Jews in general.
Whether this includes Christians or not is unclear. A more accurate translation is “from the sons of Israel,” which could refer to Christians. Later John will see a “great multitude” of people from every nation, people, and language, so it’s hard to imagine Christians not being included in that group.
Of course, each person would like to think they will be “sealed” and protected from the wrath that follows the opening of the seventh seal. But being a Christian is not always easy. Remember, we must not attempt to mold symbolism too tightly into an interpretation before the events take place. The symbolism becomes clear during the events, not before.
Regardless, whoever the 144,000 are, we will see later that they are “redeemed from the earth” and follow Jesus wherever he goes.
A great multitude wearing white robes and holding palm branches (Revelation 7:9-17)
The multitude who washed their robes and made them white
John saw before him a great multitude that no one could count. People from every nation, tribe, people, and language stood before the throne and the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. An elder told John they were the people who came out of the great tribulation, those who had “washed their robes and made them white using the blood of the Lamb.”
It’s easy to interpret the great multitude as Christians who have accepted Jesus as their savior. But we are told they have just come from the great tribulation, the events just described. This brings to mind the event Christians call “the rapture.”
The rapture is a fairly recent Christian belief as it is not specifically referenced in the Bible. It is primarily derived from 1 Thessalonians 4 in a letter from Paul in which he says:
“13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
Paul reiterates this in 1 Corinthians 15.
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
The rapture is not to be confused with the “Second Coming of Christ.” The rapture is an instantaneous event where all Christians are taken to heaven. The Second Coming is Jesus’ return to earth to conquer Satan once and for all.
When will the rapture take place?
Some believe the rapture will not occur until Jesus rescues humanity at the end of the 7-year trial. Others believe Christians will live during the great tribulation, choosing to maintain their faith and die. It is best if all Christians are prepared to defend their faith at all costs.
The seventh seal – silence in heaven (Revelation 8:1-5)
Seven angels with seven trumpets
When the seventh seal was opened, heaven became silent. John saw seven angels standing before God. Each angel was given a trumpet. Another angel holding a golden censer approached the altar. He was given incense with the prayers of God’s people to offer.
Although John only mentions Michael, Enoch identifies seven angels who stand before God: Uriel, Raphael, Raquel, Michael, Saragael, Gabriel, and Remiel.
The censer filled with fire and hurled to earth
Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth. There were rumblings of thunder and flashes of lightning, and the earth shook. Then the angels prepared to sound their trumpets.
The fire hurled to Earth represents divine judgment.
Sounding of the Seven Trumpets
First Trumpet – third of all vegetation is destroyed (Revelation 8:7)
Hail and fire mixed with blood are hurled on the earth
The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth, trees, and grass were burned up.
“Thirds” in ancient Israel does not mean a literal quantity. Just as we may say, “I’ve told you a dozen times before,” a third, in ancient speak, implies a large quantity or portion of a whole.
The events initiated by the first angel suggest a volcanic eruption, but it could also represent a weather anomaly or even climate change.
Second Trumpet – third of all sea creatures and ships are destroyed (Revelation 8:8-9)
A fiery mountain is thrown into the sea
The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a giant mountain all ablaze was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned to blood, a third of all living creatures died, and a third of the sea’s ships were destroyed.
An asteroid, comet, or meteor are all possibilities in this instance. Another potential airborne object could be a manmade weapon that, purposely or not, contaminates the earth’s waters.
The sea “turning into blood” does not necessarily imply the waters were converted into organic blood, but rather that the waters turned red in color. Algal blooms such as a “red tide” turn the waters red and occur when the ocean’s balance is interrupted. Also, meteorites are commonly made of iron metals which could also turn water red.
Third Trumpet – third of all rivers turn bitter (Revelation 8:10-11)
A fiery star, Wormwood, turns the freshwaters bitter
The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star blazing like a torch fell from the sky into a third of the rivers and springs (the star’s name is Wormwood). A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters.
The fiery star sounds similar to the events released by the second trumpet. However, this trumpet strongly suggests people die from drinking or touching the waters. Also, this trumpet event seems to impact freshwater, not oceans and seas, as seen with the second trumpet.
Wormwood is a bitter herb (Artemisia absinthium) used today in absinthe. Consuming it in large quantities causes kidney failure (and convulsions).
The blazing light could be a missile, airplane, asteroid, or even a UFO/UAP-type object.
Fourth Trumpet – third of sun, moon, and all stars are struck (Revelation 8:12)
A third of the sun, moon, and stars turn dark
The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.
Since a “third” is a relative measure (see the discussion above about “thirds” in ancient languages), it is unclear how much of the sky will become dark or how dark it will become. Since it seems unlikely that only a part of the sun, moon, and stars could be blackened or destroyed, the darkening may be due to a large object passing through the heavens. Remember, John only describes what he sees, not what he knows.
Three-fold woe announced by the eagle (Revelation 8:13)
An eagle warns of the devastation about to come
John saw what looked like an eagle flying overhead, calling out loudly, “Woe to the inhabitants of Earth because of the trumpet blasts that are about to be sounded!”
Note that none of the first four trumpets cause complete destruction. Hope remains. Mankind still has an opportunity to seek salvation.
An eagle is mentioned in other parts of Revelation – to describe the fourth living creature, and later when the pregnant woman clothed with the sun is given wings to escape to the wilderness.
The “inhabitants of the earth” could include Christians, but in other parts of Revelation, it refers to non-believers only. Since only a portion of the population is impacted, likely, the events do not directly impact Christians. Plus, Christians may have been “sealed” already, as described earlier.
Fifth Trumpet – locusts from the bottomless pit torment men (Revelation 9:1-12)
The plague of locusts tortures mankind for five months
When the fifth angel blew the fifth trumpet, John saw a star falling from the sky to Earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose, darkening the sun and the sky.
Out of the smoke came locusts which were given power like scorpions. They were told not to harm the plants or trees but only those who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to kill and torture their victims for five months.
The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads were something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. They had hair like a woman’s, and their teeth were sharp. They wore breastplates like iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails with stingers like scorpions.
They had as king over them, the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon – the Destroyer.
Note that the swarm of locusts is only allowed to harm those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads – Christians will be protected from the torment of the final three woes.
The star that falls and releases the locusts could be an astronomical object but seems more likely to be a living entity. This is further supported when we are told the “star” is given the key to the Abyss. This “star” could be a celebrity or ruler who has lost their popularity (“fallen to earth”)
The Abyss is referred to again in later verses as the place where the Beast arises. It appears to be a sort of underworld for the dead and a container for demonic entities or fallen angels. The “key” to open it is almost certainly metaphorical and not a physical key.
Although we often envision the underworld as some type of underground cavern full of evil, it is more likely an otherworldly location or even another dimension that we are unaware of or otherwise cannot conceive. We must be careful not to twist or force the interpretation of biblical prophecy into a preconceived expectation.
That the locusts are told not to harm plants is unusual since they typically reap devastation on vegetation. However, as John describes them, they appear to be some sort of different creature altogether – or possibly a machine. The description sounds much like a helicopter (which John, of course, would have been unfamiliar with). The five-month span they are allowed to torture non-believers, however, does fall close to the lifespan of a normal locust.
Sixth Trumpet (second woe) – four angels kill a third of mankind (Revelation 9:13-21)
Four angels bound to the Euphrates are released
Next, the sixth angel sounded his trumpet. John heard a voice emanate from the horns of the golden altar. “Release the four angels bound at the great river Euphrates.”
We know from previous verses that the golden altar of incense was used to present the prayers of God’s people to God. Thus the voice emanating from the altar could be seen as the answer to their prayers.
The angels are bound at the great river Euphrates. This river is often considered the easternmost border of the Roman empire, and in many instances, Israel’s enemies came from the areas around it. It would make sense that angels would be stationed there.
Troops of the four angels kill a third of mankind
The four angels kept ready for this very hour were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand. The horses and riders had breastplates that were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and sulfur. Their tails were like snakes, having heads that inflicted injury.
The number of men John sees in this army totals 200 million soldiers – nearly three times the number of troops that fought in World War II. It’s an impossibly huge number of troops indicating many, if not all, may be supernatural beings.
Fire, smoke, and sulfur from the horses’ mouths kill a third of mankind
A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke, and sulfur from the horses’ mouths. The rest of mankind not killed by these plagues still did not repent and continued their evil deeds.
God does not want to hurt us – all he wants is for us to repent and agree to his plan. It is hard to imagine how people can continue to refuse to repent, choosing to continue leading immoral lives, but they do.
The angel with the little scroll (Revelation 10:1-11)
Seal up what the seven thunders said
John saw another angel descend from heaven. The angel was robed in a cloud with a rainbow above its head. His face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars. He was holding an open little scroll in his hand.
The angel planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land and shouted with a voice like a lion. John was about to write what the angel said, but a voice from heaven stopped him. “Seal up what the seven thunders have said – do not write it down.”
The angel’s stance, one foot on land and the other on the sea represents the “entire world.” We can presume the voice from heaven was God speaking.
The mystery of God
Then the angel shouted, “There will be no more delay! The mystery of God will be accomplished.”
The “mystery of God” is unclear. In other biblical verses, it refers to the inclusion of Gentiles in God’s plan. It could also represent God’s kingdom. Whatever it is, it is secret enough that God did not wish to reveal it to his enemies but has given us enough information to recognize the “mystery” when it occurs.
John eats the little scroll
The voice from heaven told John to take the scroll from the angel. The angel said, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth, it will be as sweet as honey.”
John took the scroll and ate it. He was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.”
The scroll represents a sweet message about bitter justice. John consumes it, presumably to absorb the message with all his being so he can deliver it to mankind with authority.
The Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:1-14)
John measures the temple
John was given a reed and told to use it as a measuring rod to measure the temple and the altar with its worshippers. The angel told John, “Exclude the outer court from the measurement. It will be given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.
The measurements may be representative of God’s protection of those inside his “temple.”
The identity of the “Gentiles” may not necessarily represent Christian followers. The original word is ambiguous and difficult to translate. It may refer in general to “nations,” or it may refer to anyone who does not believe in Christ, including unbelieving Jews. Also, note that 42 months is mentioned later as the length of time the Antichrist will reign over the earth.
The identity of the “holy city” is unknown. It is natural to assume the verses refer to Jerusalem, but at the time this was written, Jerusalem had already been destroyed by the Romans. Thus some believe the “holy city” may refer to a future city.
Some believe the “holy city” refers to an unnamed modern-day city where Christianity has lost its importance, where evil runs rampant (it is compared to Sodom in the later verses), and commerce reigns supreme (Egypt is also mentioned in the later verses). Using this theory, it could be any modern-day Western nation/city.
Still others believe the “holy city” could refer to the Christian church.
The two witnesses
And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and consumes their enemies.”
The two witnesses may be two physical people, or they may represent the church. If this is the case, their resurrection after 3 1/2 days could represent the rapture of the Christian church.
The two witnesses are killed
The angel told John that the two angels would possess great power. “They will have the power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying. They will have the power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.”
The angel told John that, ultimately, the two witnesses would be killed. “When they have finished their testimony, the beast from the Abyss will overpower and kill them. Their bodies will lie in the street in the great city (figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified). For three and a half days, many people will gaze upon their bodies and refuse to bury them. The people will gloat over them and even send gifts to each other because these two great prophets had tormented those who live on earth.”
The two witnesses must have driven the Antichrist crazy with anger. Three and a half years of unabated public testimony intended to be one last chance to save sinners. The Antichrist must have been livid.
The two witnesses rise from the dead
“But after three and a half days, the breath of life from God will enter them, and they will stand on their feet and strike terror in those who see them. Then John heard a loud voice from heaven say to them, “Come up here.” And they went into heaven in a cloud while their enemies watched.
At that very moment, there was a severe earthquake, and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to God.
The third woe (seventh trumpet) is coming quickly.
The timing of the events is difficult to determine. However, there have been several theories proposed. One theory proposes that the 3 1/2 years period during which the two witnesses preach occurs during the woman’s time in the desert. Thus, the death of the two witnesses would mark the beginning of the Beast’s 3 1/2-year reign. Of course, this presumes the times mentioned are literal and not symbolic.
Seventh Trumpet (third woe) – Christ’s victory (Revelation 11:15-19)
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven that said, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Messiah, and he will reign here forever.” The twenty-four elders fell on their faces saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God. The nations are angry, and your wrath has arrived.”
The time has come for judging the dead and rewarding God’s servants. God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within the temple was the ark of this covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a severe hailstorm.
At this point, victory is declared, and the world prepares for the return of Jesus before the revelations continue.
The Great Conflict
The Woman, the Child, and the Dragon (Revelation 12:1-17)
The pregnant woman in heaven
A great sign appeared in heaven – a woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in labor.
The woman could be Mary (Jesus’ mother) but more likely represents Israel, the crown of twelve stars being the twelve tribes that birthed the country. However, John calls the woman a “great sign,” so indeed, she is symbolic, representing a target of Satan’s anger and wrath.
The Sun represents glory, while the moon represents stability or permanence. The twelve stars, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, were also seen in one of Joseph’s dreams.
The red dragon with seven heads, ten horns and seven crowns on its heads
Then another sign appeared in heaven – an enormous red dragon with seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to earth.
The dragon, of course, is Satan. The description of seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns is the same description used for the beast from the sea and the beast associated with the adultress. This is a difficult section to interpret, but you could probably envision what John saw as a dragon with seven heads, each wearing a crown, with heads having two horns, many of which have been broken off.
The dragon stood in front of the woman so that it might devour her child the moment it was born. The woman gave birth to a son, one who would rule over all the nations with an iron scepter. Her child was snatched up to God and the throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
The birthed son is no doubt, Jesus. The vision of him being “snatched up to God” could represent his crucifixion or perhaps the church’s rapture.
The woman was kept safe in the wilderness for 1,260 days, the same amount of time the two witnesses were protected. As for the wilderness she fled to, it is unclear.
War breaks out in heaven
Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down – the serpent who leads the world astray that we call the devil.
Michael the angel is the guardian of God’s people, one of only two archangels mentioned in the Bible (the other is Gabriel). He plays a major part in Satan’s fall from heaven.
The dragon pursues the woman
Then a loud voice from heaven spoke. “Woe to the earth and sea because the devil has gone down to you! His is filled with fury because he knows his time is short.”
When the dragon saw the woman had been hurled to earth, he pursued her. The woman was given two wings of a great eagle so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness where she would be taken care of, out of the serpent’s reach, for a time, times, and half a time.
The serpent’s mouth spewed water to overtake the woman and sweep her away, but the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon released from its mouth.
The water spewed from Satan’s mouth may represent lies or deceit made to discredit Jesus and his message. The earth simply swallows up those lies.
The dragon wages war against the woman’s offspring
Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring – those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.
Satan’s rage is important to recognize. Why would Satan continue a battle he knows he is going to lose? He may believe that by chance, maybe God’s plan doesn’t work out, but more likely, he knows his defeat is imminent. His rage drives him to take as many souls with him as he can – an act of revenge against God.
The beast from the sea (Revelation 13:1-10)
The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. From the sea rose a great beast with ten horns and seven heads with ten crowns on its horns. On each head was written a blasphemous name. The beast resembled a leopard but had feet like a bear and a mouth like a lion. One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal head wound that had healed.
This beast mentioned here is what we know as The Antichrist. The description (ten horns, seven heads, ten crowns) is similar to the dragon described earlier (ten horns, seven heads, seven crowns). The Antichrist has 3 more crowns than the Dragon. Later we will learn that the seven heads are seven hills and seven kings, while the ten horns are ten kings who have “not yet received a kingdom but who will give their authority to the Beast.” Since crowns typically represent authority, the slight difference in count here may indicate the Antichrist has slightly more authority than the Dragon, which is surprising given the Dragon sounds much like Satan himself.
It may be worth noting that he rose from the sea and appeared to have some sort of wound on his head. This scar is a topic of much discussion. We do not know why the wound appeared “fatal.” Possibly the beast boasted about surviving it, or maybe it’s a scar from a near-fatal injury. Possibly John saw a healed wound that we would consider minor today but would have been impossible to imagine in John’s day (e.g., surgical wounds). Maybe the Antichrist was a noteworthy person, and people were familiar with his injury. Or possibly, the Antichrist is not a single human entity but rather a country or organization, and the “scar” represents a major failure that the entity survived.
it should be mentioned that the fatal head wound could be a symbolic representation of the antichrist loss of a leadership role, the head symbolizing a leadership role and the wound some sort of damage, threat of damage, or hindrance to that role.
The dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. People worshipped the dragon and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?”
It is difficult to imagine, but for some reason, people will love the Antichrist despite his hateful, evil deeds.
The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for 42 months. It was given power to wage war against God’s people – and to conquer them. All inhabitants of Earth whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will worship the beast.
From earlier verses, we know the beast attacks and kills the Two Witnesses, that he will form a coalition with world leaders, and that he will ultimately be conquered.
Early Christianity surmised the Beast/Antichrist was Rome’s Nero. This was based on the Redivivus Legend, which proposed Nero would return from the dead. Some versions of the legend even proposed Nero’s suicide was a facade and that he really escaped to an isolated island.
The beast from the land (the Antichrist) (Revelation 13:11-18)
Then John saw a second beast rise from the Earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast.
The second beast is the one we know as The False Prophet. It is unclear if this will be a person, country, group, or something else altogether (e.g., Artificial Intelligence). However, most believe the second beast will be a single person.
The False Prophet’s support of the Beast is strong. This could come across as adulation or even worship.
The “horns like a lamb” hint that the False Prophet may be somewhat akin to Jesus, possibly with an appearance of kindness or gentle meekness. The False Prophet’s true persona is exposed via his “tongue like a dragon.”
And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of the people. Because of these signs, it deceived the inhabitants of Earth, ordering them to set up an image in honor of the beast. The second beast was given the power to give breath to the image of the first beast so the image could speak and cause all those who refused to worship the image to be killed.
It’s easy to imagine this as John’s interpretation of people fervently watching the beast on television, cheering him/her on, much as many celebrate political leaders, media moguls, and celebrities today. It would have appeared magical, uncanny, inexplicable to someone in John’s day.
This “image” of the beast sounds much like a photo, television image, or artificial intelligence, none of which John would have recognized or understood. To John, the image appears to be alive, much like you would expect someone to react who had never seen a TV.
Whatever the form, the image of the Beast, prompted by the False Prophet, will appear to speak to the people. Imagine someone like John seeing a TV for the first time. The description of what he saw could be something as simple as an overzealous TV reporter (or someone else who strongly supports the Antichrist) introducing the Beast on a television show.
It also caused all people, great and small, to receive a mark on their right hands or foreheads so they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. Let the person with insight calculate the number of the best, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.
Famously, it is the second beast that forces those who follow the Antichrist to take the “mark of the beast.” Its relationship to 666 may be a form of Gematria, an ancient system of code or cipher that could be applied to words, names, or phrases. There were several popular gematria methods in ancient Israel. Possibly it is a triangular number of 36 (the sum of the numbers 1 through 36) or some other mathematical calculation.
Some believe 666 is a sign of imperfection. With the number 7 representing perfection or completeness, John may be using 666 to indicate a profound level of incompleteness or imperfection. In this instance, it could be compared to 777, a number that could represent the perfection of the holy trinity (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit).
Whether the mark is a physical altering of the skin (e.g., a tattoo) or something indescribable by John (e.g., a chip embedded under the skin) is unclear, given the translation for “mark” is somewhat problematic.
The original prose says, “Whoever has ears, let him hear.” That implies this section of Revelation is very important. We learn that Christians will be held captive and die and that the only recourse will be to endure the trauma while remaining faithful to God.
There may, however, be some consolation. Depending on how Revelation is interpreted, the Rapture could occur before, during, or after the Great Tribulation. Some believe the Rapture will occur before the tribulation period, sparing Christians from the agony to come.
Regardless, times may be bad, bad things will happen, and they may test the faith and resolve of Christians. The disciples went through it. It wouldn’t be completely unfair if we had to endure something similar.
The Lamb and the 144,000 on Mount Zion (Revelation 14:1-5)
John saw standing on Mount Zion the Lamb and the 144,000 who had his name and the Father’s name written on their foreheads. He heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and loud thunder. Then he heard a sound like harps, and the 144,000 sang a song. No one could sing the song except the 144,000 who had been sealed. They were those who did not defile themselves with women; they remained virgins. No lie was found in their mouths; they were blameless.
Mount Zion is a hill just outside Jerusalem. Accompanying Jesus (the Lamb) seems to be the 144,000 who were earlier sealed with God’s protection. However, they are described as “virgins” in this instance. Furthermore, John refers to their sexual relations as “defilement with women,” which is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. John may be referring to immoral sexual relations, not sexual relations in general.
Proclamations of three angels (Revelation 14:6-13)
Then John saw an angel flying through the air. He said loudly, “Fear God and give him glory because the hour of his judgment has arrived.”
There is one last plea for the followers of the Beast to turn from evil and follow God.
A second angel followed and said, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great which made all nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”
Babylon is symbolic throughout the Bible as a representation of evil. It is a common theme throughout history – once immorality takes hold, civilizations fall apart. We cannot know who “Babylon” refers to, but we can be certain it is a civilization with degraded immorality and a culture replete with sin.
A third angel followed and said in a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives the mark on their forehead or their hand, they too will drink the wine of God’s fury. They will be tormented with burning sulfur, and the smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever. There will be no rest, day or night, for those who worship the beast and its image or for anyone who receives the mark of its name. This calls on patient endurance from God’s people who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.”
People are instructed to reject worshipping the Beast and refuse the mark of the Beast. For those who follow the beast or accept his mark, the consequences will be severe.
Then John heard a voice from heaven proclaim, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
Reaping the Earth’s harvest (Revelation 14:14-20)
John saw a white cloud. Seated on the cloud was one like a son of man wearing a crown of gold on his head and holding a sharp sickle in his hand.
“Son of man” is a common reference to Jesus in the New Testament. In fact, Jesus references himself as such many times. The description sounds a lot like Jesus.
However, John says the entity looked like “A” son of man, not “the” son of man. Also, the angel gives the son of man a command which does not coincide with the expected hierarchy. It may be that the entity seated on the cloud was someone with the appearance of a human, but not necessarily Jesus himself.
Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”
So the one seated on the white cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.
Is this a harvest of the wicked or a harvest of the good? It is unclear. The Old Testament mentions similar harvests of the wicked, but someone resembling Jesus conducting the act of harvesting wicked people does not align with Jesus’ peaceful nature. Plus, in Matthew 9:30, Jesus is described as the harvester of “salvation.” Whether the first harvest is a judgment or salvation harvest is arguable.
Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still, another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to the one holding the sharp sickle, “Take your sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine because its grapes are ripe.”
The angel swung his sickle on the earth and gathered its grapes, and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath outside the city. Blood flowed from the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for 184 miles.
The second harvest is undoubtedly a harvest of judgment, and although a flow of blood 7 feet high and 200 miles long may be symbolic, it certainly indicates a violent and bloody battle.
The city John refers to is uncertain. Old Testament prophecies foresee a final battle near Jerusalem. Later verses in Revelation describe a battle at Armageddon, but the location of Armageddon is not known.
Seven Plagues and Seven Bowls of Wrath
Prelude to pouring out the seven bowls of wrath (Revelation 15:1-8)
John saw what looked like a sea of glass glowing with fire. Standing beside the fire were those victorious over the beast and its image. They held harps given to them by God and sang praises.
Then John saw in heaven the temple, and it was opened. Out of the temple came seven angels with seven bowls of plagues. They were dressed in clean, shining linen and wore golden sashes about their chests. One of the four living creatures gave the seven angels the seven bowls filled with the wrath of God. No one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.
Interestingly, the word translated as linen could be translated as “lithon” or “stone.” If this is the correct translation, the angels would appear to be “dressed in clean white stone.”
John heard a loud voice from heaven say, “Go, pour the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.”
The first two woes occurred while sounding the fifth and sixth trumpets. Now the third and final woe begins during the sounding of the seventh trumpet.
Earlier, the breaking of the seven seals destroyed one-quarter of all people, and the sounding of the trumpets killed one-third of the earth. As God reaches the end of his judgment on earth, the seven bowls will bring destruction like never seen before.
First Bowl – sores on those who worshipped the beast and his image (Revelation 16:1-2)
The first angel poured out its bowl on the earth, and ugly and painful sores appeared on the people who had the beast’s mark and worshipped his image.
This judgment is the same imposed on Pharaoh and his citizens for not allowing Moses and the Israelites to leave Egypt. Although these verses say the sores appear on people who accepted the mark of the beast “and” worshipped his image, other verses seem to indicate that accepting the mark of the beast is enough to ensure damnation.
Also, previous verses say “all” who refused the mark and worshiped his image would be killed. It may be that, at this point, only evil worshippers of the beast remain on Earth.
Second Bowl – Sea turns to blood and all sea creatures die (Revelation 16:3)
The second angel poured out its bowl on the sea, and it turned to blood. Every living creature that was in the sea died.
The verses more specifically say the sea was turned to blood “like that of a dead person.” This may imply water that is a darkened, muddy color, similar to the color of water plagued by red algae. It obliterates every living sea creature.
Third Bowl – Rivers and springs turn to blood (Revelation 16:4-7)
Then the third angel poured out its bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they, too, turned to blood. John heard the angel of the waters say, “Because they poured out the blood of your saints and prophets, so you have given them blood to drink.”
Like the second bowl, the third bowl turns the waters into “blood,” except this time, freshwaters, such as rivers, streams, and lakes, are impacted.
When a similar event happened in Exodus to the Egyptians, all life in the waters died, leaving behind putrid water that no one could drink.
The third bowl judgment is also like the second trumpet judgment in which “something like a huge mountain” is hurled into the sea, turning a third of the sea into blood. However, the second trumpet only causes partial destruction of the ocean. The third bowl judgment may be a replay, but this time, the destruction is much more severe.
Fourth Bowl – Men scorched by the Sun (Revelation 16:8-9)
Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was permitted to scorch the people with fire. The terrible heat burned people, and still, they blasphemed the name of God, who has ruling authority over the plagues. They continued to refuse to repent and give him glory.
It is hard to imagine how people could accept the judgment that came from God but still refuse to worship him. However, when Moses brought forth the plagues on Egypt, Pharaoh stubbornly continued to rebuke him despite recognizing the plagues would end if he only followed God’s instructions.
Fifth Bowl – Pain and darkness upon the beast and his kingdom (Revelation 16:10-11)
The fifth angel poured out its bowl on the beast’s throne so that darkness covered his kingdom. People began to bite their tongues because of their pain. Still, they blasphemed God because of their suffering and refused to repent.
Having just been burnt by the sun (created by the fourth bowl judgment), this time, the bowl causes the sun to turn dark. It is unclear why the bowl was poured on the beast’s throne. Possibly the “darkness” mentioned is a symbolic darkness within the beast’s realm.
Sixth Bowl – Three unclean spirits gather kingdoms of the Earth for the battle at Armageddon (Revelation 16:12-16)
Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, which dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the east. John saw three unclean spirits that looked like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are spirits of the demons performing signs who go out to the kings of the earth to bring them together for the battle that will take place. The spirits gathered their kings and their armies to a place named Armageddon.
The impact from the sixth bowl, the drying of the River Euphrates, is similar to what was earlier seen as a result of the sixth trumpet when the sixth angel was commanded to “release the four angels who are bound at the river Euphrates.”
Since the frogs come from the mouths of the dragon, beast, and false prophet, they could symbolize lies, possibly lies that serve to gather the “kings of the whole world” to prepare them for the final battle.
Where Armageddon is geographically located is unknown. Popular theory says it is located in the city of Megiddo. However, others believe the location is symbolic. In Hebrew, the word seems to mean “hill of Megiddo.” Megiddo is a flat plain. Megiddo was indeed the location of hundreds of battles though, and would make sense as a final apocalyptic battleground.
Seventh Bowl – the great earthquake (Revelation 16:17-21)
Finally, the seventh angel poured his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple saying, “It is done!”
There were flashes of lightning, roaring and crashes of thunder, and a tremendous earthquake unequaled since humanity began on Earth.
The great city was split into three parts, and the nations’ cities collapsed. Every island fled away, and no mountain could be found. Giant hailstones weighing almost 100 pounds fell from heaven onto the people. But they blasphemed God because the hail was so horrendous.
Upon conclusion of the seventh bowl events, God pronounces, “It is done.” This brings about an interesting question. If we are given the clues to end-times through this prophecy, why can’t Satan use those clues to his advantage?
It may be that God sees the future, an unbending timeline that will happen and cannot be altered. Satan may understand this too, which would account for his rage and attempts to bring about as much destruction as possible before his ultimate fate is met.
The Fall of Babylon (The Harlot)
The Great Prostitute intoxicates Earth’s leaders (Revelation 17:1-5)
One of the seven angels who held the seven bowls said to John, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute who sits by the waters. With her, the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”
The angel carried John away in the Spirit into a wilderness. John saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet and was glittering with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery: Babylon the Great, the mother of prostitutes and the abominations of the earth.
Outwardly the woman sitting on the scarlet beast is beautiful but inwardly, she is filled with evil. The words that identify her may not be literally tattooed on her head. In ancient Rome, prostitutes often wore ribbons around their heads to identify who they were.
Babylon is the central theme throughout this chapter. It is described as the city that rules over the earth’s leaders. The city’s name is written on the Great Prostitute’s forehead. Its symbolism is broken down into seven kings with ten lesser leaders who temporarily give their power to the beast.
Babylon is used throughout the Bible as a symbol of evil. As such, Babylon, in this case, could refer to evil in general rather than a specific place.
Some have proposed Rome as the Babylon mentioned here. The seven heads would represent the seven Roman leaders. The seven hills would represent the seven hills of Rome. The beast could be Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Vespasian, or even Nero.
However, several attributes do not fit entirely with Rome – nor Egypt, Sodom, Gomorrah, Nineveh, Jerusalem, or any other city. It may seem minor, but ancient readers would have immediately noticed any discrepancies.
John learns that the waters the Great Prostitute sits by represent many nations, and the Great Prostitute is the city that rules over all. She could be a symbol of all evil, fallen people, a geographical city, country, culture, or planet-wide group. The symbolism is so vague it’s impossible to ascertain beforehand (as is expected of prophecy).
The earth’s leaders are “intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.” In other words, they revel in the culture led by the Great Prostitute, her pride, boastfulness, wealth, and violence.
The mystery of the Woman and Beast (Revelation 17:6-18)
John saw the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When John saw her, he was astonished.
This tells us that the Great Prostitute is responsible for the death of Christians.
The angel said to John, “Why are you surprised? The beast on which the woman rides once was, now is not and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The earth’s inhabitants whose names have not been written in the Book of Life will be astonished when they see the beast because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.
The scarlet beast “once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss.” The description is indeed enigmatic. This appears to be a timeline of the beast’s life. Possibly the beast once was, then suffered a mortal wound and now is not, then was resurrected from out of the Abyss by healing of a wound.
Possibly it refers to an evil like Satan that once was an angel, was banished (and is not), and will arise from Hell to wreak havoc on mankind.
It seems as if only people whose names are not written in the Book of Life will be influenced by the Beast. This suggests that Christians may be able to recognize the Beast’s deceptions and rebuke his miracles.
This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are the seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also the seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. The beast is the eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destination.
The ten horns are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom but who, for one hour, will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them.
The scarlet beast’s seven heads represent the seven hills on which the woman sits, the seven heads represent seven kings – five of which have fallen, one that is currently a king, and one that has yet to serve. Rome indeed was known as the city built on seven hills. But the word used in Revelation for “hill” is more akin to a mountain, not a hill. It, along with the reference to seven heads/kings, hints at a representation of seven world leaders.
The ten horns represent the kings who have not yet received a kingdom. They are lesser leaders who will be given temporary authority alongside the Beast. The number 10 could be literal or, since it is often used to represent general multiplicity, could be symbolic, just as the statement that they will rule for one hour is almost certainly symbolic of a “brief time.”
The waters you see where the prostitute sits are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked. They will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. God has put into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority until God’s words are fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”
This verse causes much confusion among readers since it appears contradictory that the beast would hate the prostitute. This could symbolize conflict within Satan’s ranks or possibly cohorts turning against the Beast’s empire.
The fall of Babylon (Revelation 18:1-19:8)
John saw another angel come from heaven, one that had great authority and illuminated the earth by his splendor. The angel shouted, “Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a dwelling for demons and a haunt for every impure spirit, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”
John heard another voice say, “Come out of her, my people, so that you do not share in her sins, so that you do not receive any of her plagues. The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their goods anymore.”
Then an angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “With such violence, the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. In her was found the blood of prophets and God’s holy people who had been slaughtered on Earth.
Babylon the Great, aka the Great Prostitute, is painted as a wicked city full of excess luxuries that must be punished. The city refuses to concede and accept God. As we see here, ultimately, the city is destroyed, which causes much distress among the sinners who have lost a critical economic center.
The angel throws a massive boulder into the sea and compares its landing to how the great city will be “thrown down” and destroyed. A similar event was reported in Jeremiah 51, where Jeremiah threw a stone into the Euphrates to symbolize the fall of Babylon.
Alas, the description throughout Revelation of the city as a place of prostitution, arrogance, pride, riches, and violence could be applied to almost any large city worldwide. The lesson here though is clear: spend too much time in a snake pit and you will be bitten by a viper.
The marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9-10)
After the fall of the wicked city (the Great Prostitute) that spilled the blood of God’s people, John heard a sound like the roar of many people in heaven shouting, “Hallelujah! He has avenged the blood of his servants.”
The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell to their knees and worshipped God. Then John heard what sounded like many people shouting, “Hallelujah!”
Then the angel told John, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”
At this, John fell to his knees before the angel, but the angel stopped him, saying, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God. For it is the spirit of prophecy, which bears testimony to Jesus.”
Multitudes praise God for his judgment of the wicked city. When John falls to his knees before the angel, the angel quickly corrects him. “Worship God,” the angel says. In John’s day, some churches worshipped angels as well as God. We are quickly told that this is wrong.
The defeat of the Lamb’s enemies
A white horse ridden by Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11-18)
John saw heaven open, and before him was a white horse rider called Faithful and True. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.
The armies of heaven followed him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of God. On his robe and his thigh is written, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
John saw an angel standing in the sun who cried out in a loud voice to all the birds flying in the air, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, the mighty, their horses and their riders, and the flesh fo all people, great and small.”
John then sees a rider on a white horse descend from heaven accompanied by a heavenly arm. The rider on the white horse is, of course, Jesus, followed by an army of angels. Symbols such as the color white and fine linen symbolize his purity. This is the event we refer to as “The Second Coming of Christ.”
The rider is described as “Faithful and True,” implying the judgment about to take place is justified. The robe dipped in blood tells us with certainty that this is Jesus, who died a violent death to bring about God’s new covenant with mankind.
The verses are clear that the angel stands “in” the sun, not around it or illuminated by it. The immense power of the angel is clearly illustrated.
The beast, his armies, and the false prophet are defeated (Revelation 19-21)
Then John saw the Beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the white horse and his army. But the Beast was captured and with it, the False Prophet. They were thrown into the lake of fire. The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the white horse – and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.
The rider leads the army in a war against the Beast, the False Prophet, and the armies of the earth. The Best and False Prophet are captured and thrown into a lake of fire. Then the battle reaches a crescendo, and the earthly armies are killed—good wins over evil.
Earlier, the Beast was defeated by Michael the angel and thrown from Heaven. Now we see the Beast utterly defeated and with it, the pain and anguish associated with mankind’s existence. It may be worthy to note that we are not told how the Beast was defeated – nor are we told if a great battle ensued with the Earth’s armies, only that they were struck down with the “sword coming out of the mouth of Jesus.” They may have been defeated with a single smite from God.
The Dragon is bound for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-6)
John saw an angel come down from heaven holding a key to the Abyss and a great chain. He seized the dragon and bound him for one thousand years. He threw Satan into the Abyss and locked and sealed it over him to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.
John saw those who had been given the authority to judge sitting on thrones. He saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus. They had not worshipped 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.
Revolution 20 is one of the most difficult chapters in Revelations to interpret – and is likely one of the most important chapters in the book.
The Beast and False Prophet have already been thrown into the Abyss. Now we see Satan join them – for 1,000 years. Whether the one-thousand-year rule of Christ is literal or not is unclear. The number 1,000 can symbolize “completeness.” However, evidence seems to point toward a literal period of time. If so, here is the sequence of events:
- Satan is bound and thrown into the Abyss for 1,000 years
- The martyrs are resurrected and rule with Jesus for 1,000 years
- End of one thousand years
- Satan is released from the Abyss and gathers nations for battle
- Fire comes from heaven and destroys Satan’s armies
- Satan is thrown into the lake of fire
- The dead are judged
- The remaining Christians are resurrected and judged
- The end.
- Death and Hades and thrown into the lake of fire – the second death.
John does not identify “those who were given the authority to judge,” but in Luke, Jesus tells the disciples, “You will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Where are the raptured people during the 1,000-year reign? Possibly they are among the martyred people John sees, or they may be considered martyrs simply because of their morality.
Satan is released to deceive the nations once more (Revelation 20:7-10)
When the thousand years end, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations and the four corners of the earth – God and Magog – and gather them for battle. In number, they are like the sand on the seashore.
They marched across the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them, and the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of fire where the Beast and the False Prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
It is unclear why Satan would be released to reform an army. It appears as if those ruling on earth with Jesus for one thousand years may still include sinners or, at the very least, persons who will still try to rebel against God and his will. Possibly the martyrs reign with Jesus to help these with this last line of resistance.
The imprisonment and subsequent release of Satan is unexpected. But since those who ruled on Earth with Jesus seem to have wicked ways still, it may demonstrate that not all evil derives from Satan but from the soul of man himself.
Satan sets out to deceive all nations – God and Magog. Gog and Magog are mentioned in other verses in the Bible. In some instances, the two words symbolize mythical locations and are seen as symbols of all lands, nations, and religions beyond Judaism or Christianity.
The Final Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15)
Then John saw a great white horse with a man sitting on it. The earth and heavens fled from his presence – there was no place for them. John saw the dead standing before the throne, and the books were opened. The dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.
It seems as if this is a second act of judgment following the resurrection of the martyrs. But a careful reading reveals that this could be a judgment of the damned only, an event referred to as “the resurrection of the wicked dead.”
The earth and heavens flee from Jesus’ presence. This could represent evil retreating from God’s presence. Some believe this references the destruction of the Earth and replacement with a “new earth.”
The eternal destiny of the redeemed
The new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1-8)
John saw a new heaven and earth (the sea had gone away). He saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, come down from heaven prepared like a beautifully dressed bride. He heard a loud voice from the throne say:
“God’s dwelling place is now among the people. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and he will be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has ceased to exist.”
The one on the throne said, “Write this down. It is done. I am making everything new! Those who are victorious will inherit all of this, but the unbelieving, the vile, and the sexually immoral will be consigned to the fiery lake of hell. This is the second death.”
It appears as if the new heaven and earth are truly new, but the reason for the disappearance of the sea is not explained. This new arrangement however, hints that worldly concerns such as food and water will no longer be needed.
The New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-27)
The angel carried John away in the Spirit to a tall mountain and showed him Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a precious jewel. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on each side. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles.
The angel took a measuring rod of gold and measured the city., It was square, 12,000 stadia in length and as wide and high as it is long. The angel measured the wall. It was 144 cubits thick.
The wall was made of jasper, and the city was pure gold. The foundations were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls. The great street was paved with gold.
John did not see the temple because God and Jesus are its temple. The city does not need the sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.
John sees Jerusalem, fully formed, descend from heaven, just as Jesus had promised earlier. When Jesus left Earth, he said, “I am going to prepare a new place for you.” Now we see this promise fulfilled.
The number 12 is used prominently in John’s account (even the thickness of the wall, 144 cubits, is calculated as 12 times 12) and is explained as representing various entities, such as the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 disciples. The traditional meaning for the number “12” is “completeness.”
The twelve stones mentioned as the foundations (jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, ruby, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, turquoise, jacinth, and amethyst) are mentioned in Exodus 28:17, which describes the breastplate of the priests’ garments.
We see the conclusion of God’s plan – God himself dwells with men in a new heaven and earth. This likely occurs after the millennium period following Jesus’ second coming.
The water of life, the tree of life, and the throne of God and the Lamb (Revelation 22:1-11)
One of the seven angels who held one of the seven bowls of plagues showed John the river of the water of life. It was as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and down the middle of the street. On each side of the river stood the tree of life bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of nations. The throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city, and they will reign there forever and ever.
A new Eden arrives, and Man is once again allowed to walk with God.
Conclusion to the Book of Revelation
The time is near (Revelation 22:12-21)
The angel told John, “God sent his angel to show his servants what things must soon take place and to tell them, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.
Do not seal up the words of this prophecy because the time is near. The one who does evil must continue to do evil, and the one who does good must continue to do good, and the holy one must continue to be holy.”