Until the Words of God Are Fulfilled.

But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; 10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. 11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

15 And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, 17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. 18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.” Revelation 17:7-18 ESV

mapromeempireatheightIt’s fascinating that John is somewhat chided by the angel for having found all the talk about the great prostitute a bit difficult to understand. The angel promises to make the mystery clear and yet, this has become one of the most disputed passages in all of the book of Revelation. It seems apparent that the great prostitute introduced in the first six verses is a representation of the apostate church that comes to power in the world during the tribulation. Led by the false prophet, this false religion will promote the worship of the Antichrist. And it will lead the charge in the persecution of both orthodox Jews and tribulation saints. Countless believers in Christ, who come to faith during the seven-year period of the tribulation, will be put to death for refusing to accept the mark of the beast and for their unwillingness to worship the Antichrist.

But the angel promises to give John further insight into the identity of the woman and the beast. Back in verse three, John describes seeing the woman “sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns.” Now, in verse eight, the angel provides John with a bit more information regarding the identity of the beast:

The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. – Revelation 17:8 ESV

The somewhat cryptic phrase, “it was and is not and is to come” shows up again later on in this same passage. But what does it mean? One of the things that makes it so difficult to determine just exactly who the angel is referring to in this passage is his use of the term, “beast.” Throughout the book of Revelation, that name is used to refer to Satan himself, the world ruler and the political government he sets up on earth. And because the three entities are so closely linked, it can become confusing as to which one is being talked about at any given time. In these verses, it seems that Satan, the Antichrist and his one-world government are all included in the angel’s description. The beast that was and is not and is about to rise from the bottomless pit seems to be a reference to the government or political system of the Antichrist. It will be a former world power that faded from the scene, but that will appear once again and become a the dominant political force on the planet – all because of the influence of Satan himself. The reference to the beast coming out of the abyss can only refer to Satan. The abyss or bottomless pit is his domain. It is from there that his power comes, and it is his power that makes possible this former world government to essentially resurrect and regain its former glory. And while Satan will be the invisible force behind this nation’s rise to former glory, the visible force will be Antichrist. And the people of the earth, those whose names are not written in the book of life, will marvel at his accomplishment. The unbelieving world will see the Antichrist as a political miracle worker and his kingdom as a sign of his divinity.

As always, when studying the book of Revelation, one must keep in mind other passages found in the book that can shed light on the seeming mysteries of John’s visions. Back in chapter 13, John was given another vision of the beast that coincides with what he is describing here.

1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” – Revelation 13:1-4 ESV

What is important to note is that the dragon, or Satan, is the one who gives his power to the the beast. And, just as in chapter 17, this beast is described as having seven heads and ten horns – a point that the angel tells John “calls for a mind with wisdom” (Revelation 17:9 ESV). This is going to be difficult to understand. It is going to require wisdom and discernment. And, as if the imagery is not already confusing enough, the angel informs John that the seven heads are actually seven mountains, on which the woman sits. And they represent seven kings. So, which is it? First of all, we need to notice the use of the number seven. As usual, it is a reference to completeness or wholeness. These seven kings or nations will represent seven empires that will form a comprehensive picture of mankind’s power and authority. The angel describes these seven kings or kingdoms as, “five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come” (Revelation 17:10 ESV). They would appear to be progressive or sequential in nature, with five of these kingdoms having existed at one time, but having faded from prominence. The one that “is” refers to the Roman empire that ruled the world when John penned the book of Revelation. And the one that “has not yet come” refers to the kingdom of the Antichrist, which will rise to power and prominence during the tribulation. It seems most likely that the five former kingdoms referred to by the angel include Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. If you add Rome and then the kingdom that was yet to come and would remain a little while, you have the seven heads, mountains of kingdoms portrayed by the vision. And what do all of these kingdoms share in common? They have all persecuted or will persecute the people of God. Each has a less-then-ideal track record with the people of Israel and this will continue into the tribulation.

But what about the eighth nation mentioned in verse 11? To what could this be referring? Once again, the seven kings or mountains represent seven separate and successive kingdoms that will rule on earth. The first six include Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and the Roman empire of John’s day. But the Roman empire has since faded from view. The world is made up of a conglomeration of various nations and world powers, many of whom are remnants of the former Roman empire. A look at a map of the Roman empire at its zenith reveals that its domain was primarily located around the Mediterranean Sea and encompassed all of the land of Israel and extended all the way East into the former land of Babylon and Assyria. It seems that this empire will be revived in some form or fashion not long after the rapture of the church. That resurrected or restored Roman empire will form the seventh kingdom. And during the period of the tribulation, the Antichrist will come to power, setting up what is essentially an eighth kingdom. His rise to prominence will be accomplished by robbing power from a confederation of ten kings who will jointly rule the restored Roman empire. The angel makes it clear that the ten horns represent these ten kings, who will “receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast” (Revelation 17:12 ESV). Their joint rule will be brief in duration, ending with the Antichrist taking over as the supreme ruler over all the earth. As the angel states, these kings will “hand over their power and authority to the beast” (Revelation 17:14 ESV) or the Antichrist. He will have sole authority and power over all the nations of the earth, overseeing his one-world government from the restored city of Babylon. And one of Antichrist’s primary objectives will be to make war on the Lamb. He will stand opposed to Jesus Christ, but He will lose in his effort to overthrow Christ’s rightful position as King of kings and Lord of lords. The rest of the book of Revelation will present this epic struggle between the forces of Antichrist and Jesus Christ. It will culminate in a final battle and with the removal from power of Antichrist, Satan, and the false prophet. But more on that later.

This chapter ends with the angel providing John with an understanding of the symbolism behind the waters described in the first six verses. They are “peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (Revelation 17:15 ESV). The great prostitute or false religion set up by the false prophet will have an overwhelming influence over the people of the earth. But Antichrist is not going to share his power and influence with anyone. So, under the divine instigation of God, Antichrist and his forces will turn on the apostate church, and destroy it. And the angel makes it clear that “God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled” (Revelation 17:17 ESV). God is going to cause Satan’s kingdom to divide and turn against itself. Even at the zenith of his power and influence over the world, Satan will not be able to resist the greater power of God. During the final days of the tribulation, there will be a religious and political form to the Antichrist’s rule. There will be an apostate church and an all-powerful government, but Antichrist will ultimately eliminate any and all competition to his rule, consolidating all power under him alone. Even the false church will fall, yielding all its power, influence and wealth to his cause. But John is given good news.

“…the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” – Revelation 17:14 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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The Great Prostitute.

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly. Revelation 17:1-6 ESV

In chapters 17 and 18, John is going to be given a detailed description of the destruction of Babylon, but as it represents the religious apostasy of the day (chapter 17) and the political power established by the Antichrist (chapter 18). Much of what John is being shown in these two chapters actually takes place before the events of chapter 16. The content of these two chapters provides us with a more precise understanding of just what will take place for the apostate church to rise to power and prominence during the first half of the tribulation. And chapter 18 will explain how Antichrist rose out of seeming obscurity to a position of global dominance.

An angel, who carried one of the seven bowls of judgment, appears to John and offers to introduce him to “the great prostitute.” As John will discover, this woman is actually the personification of the decadent and immoral religious system set up by the false prophet. We were first introduced to the false prophet in chapter 14, where he was introduced to John in a vision and appeared as the second beast.

12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. – Revelation 14:12-17 ESV

This individual will operate under the direct jurisdiction of Antichrist, and set up a mandatory religious system that worships the image of the Antichrist. Much like emperor worship during the days of the Caesar in Rome, the people living during the tribulation will be forced to bow down to the Antichrist and treat him like a god. And the angel describes this false religious system as a prostitute. This is a common metaphor used in Scripture to describe spiritual adultery and the sin of idolatry.

At the end of seventy years, the Lord will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. – Isaiah 23:17 ESV

19 Your evil will chastise you,
    and your apostasy will reprove you.
Know and see that it is evil and bitter
    for you to forsake the Lord your God;
    the fear of me is not in you,
declares the Lord God of hosts.

20 “For long ago I broke your yoke
    and burst your bonds;
    but you said, ‘I will not serve.’
Yes, on every high hill
    and under every green tree
    you bowed down like a whore.” – Jeremiah 2:19-20 ESV

And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
    graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
    and peoples with her charms.

Behold, I am against you,
    declares the Lord of hosts,
    and will lift up your skirts over your face;
and I will make nations look at your nakedness
    and kingdoms at your shame. – Nahum 3:4-5 ESV

This religious system, set up by the false prophet, is guilty of having lured and enticed the kings of the earth. In other words, other world leaders will “get in bed” with this false religion, seeing it to be to their benefit to do so. And the people of the earth will become drunk with the wine of her immorality. They will drink in all the lies associated with this religion and worship an idol in place of the one true God. And John is shown a vision of this woman or false religion “sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns” (Revelation 17:3 ESV). This is an almost word-for-word repeat of the description of the Antichrist, provided in chapter 13.

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. – Revelation 13:1 ESV

This false religious system will have direct ties to the rule and reign of Antichrist. They will have a symbiotic relationship, each benefiting the other. The false prophet will come to power only because the Antichrist has assumed supreme authority over the earth. And the false prophet will cause the people of the earth not only to submit to Antichrist’s leadership, but to worship him as a god. He will delude and deceive the people, performing signs and wonders, much like the Old Testament prophets of God did. But he will speak lies and blaspheme the name of God Almighty. Paul wrote about this coming day in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 ESV

The imagery associated with John’s vision of this false religion conveys the idea of luxury and royalty. She is “arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls” (Revelation 17:4 ESV). This religious system will be marked by wealth. It will have the trappings of financial success and be marked by pomp and circumstance. It is interesting to note that during the Reformation of the 16th-Century, many of the Reformers labeled the Pope as the Antichrist and the Catholic church as the false religion or apostate church. They did this, in part, because of its decadence, obsession with material wealth and for what they believed was false teaching regarding salvation.

Whereof it followeth Rome to be the seat of Antichrist, and the pope to be very antichrist himself. I could prove the same by many other scriptures, old writers, and strong reasons. (Thomas Cramner, Works by Cranmer, vol.1, pp.6-7).

Yea, to speak it in plain words; lest that we submit ourselves to Satan, thinking that we submit ourselves to Jesus Christ, for, as for your Roman kirk, as it is now corrupted, and the authority thereof, whereon stands the hope of your victory, I no more doubt but that it is the synagogue of Satan, and the head thereof, called the pope, to be that man of sin, of whom the apostle speaks. (John Knox, The History of the Reformation of Religion in Scotland, p.65).

…nothing else than the kingdom of Babylon and of very Antichrist. For who is the man of sin and the son of perdition, but he who by his teaching and his ordinances increases the sin and perdition of souls in the church; while he yet sits in the church as if he were God? All these conditions have now for many ages been fulfilled by the papal tyranny. (Martin Luther, First Principles, pp. 196-197).

You can see how they could have used the description provided by John in this chapter to reach their conclusions. But what John is seeing is something far greater and more significant than anything the Reformers could have ever imagined. This false church is described as having a name of mystery written on its forehead: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations” (Revelation 17:5 ESV). The name, Babylon, has a long association with false religions and idolatry. Throughout the Scriptures, Babylon is used to refer to the influence of pagan religions upon the people of Israel, but also the New Testament church. It represents any and all counterfeit religions that offer up alternatives to the way of God. Even several of the seven churches to whom Jesus addressed His words in chapters two and three, were guilty of succumbing to the influence of the false teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:14-15). The church in Thyatira was guilty of allowing the influence of a woman “who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20 ESV).

The deadly influence of Babylon, the false religious system that permeate our world, has been around since the beginning. Paul describes how it came to be.

22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. – Romans 1:22-25 ESV

And these individuals who chose to worship the creation rather than the Creator, have never been content to coexist with those who worship the one true God. From day one, they have stood opposed to all those who claim God as the one and only God. And the false prophet and his false religious system will not tolerate the people of God, the Jews, or the followers of Christ, including those who come to faith during the tribulation. John is told that this apostate religious system will be “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6 ESV). One of the greatest acts of rebellion on the part of this false religious system will be its role in the death of both Jews and Christians during the great tribulation. Satan, the power behind Antichrist’s rule, is ultimately opposed to anything and everyone associated with God and His Son. The whole purpose of the Antichrist’s rise to power is to marshal the forces of earth against the people of God. And the false prophet will create the ultimate one-world religion that unites the people of earth under one umbrella of religious expression, making illegal the worship of God or His Son, Jesus Christ. And while all of this is slated to happen during the days of the tribulation, we are already seeing the world’s slow, but steady shift in this direction. While we do not yet see the people of earth united under a single religious system, we do see the increasing hostility toward both Judaism and Christianity. The intolerance and hatred being expressed toward all those who worship the one true God is increasing exponentially. And the great tribulation will bring it all to a head.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

It Is Done.

17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. 21 And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe. Revelation 16:17-21 ESV

199-001On the cross, after having endured the wrath of God against the sins of man, Jesus spoke His final words, “It is finished.” He had been persecuted, ridiculed, rejected, spat upon, and tortured to the point of death. And just before He breathed His last breath, He declared that His work was done. He had completed what He had come to do. With His sacrificial death on the cross, He would make possible the redemption of sinful mankind by providing a means by which they could, through faith in His substitutionary death, have their sins forgiven and their relationship with God the Father restored. The apostle Paul provides us with the unbelievable significance of Christ’s sacrificial act.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. – Romans 5:10 ESV

Just a few verses earlier, Paul stated that “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6 ESV). But not every ungodly person accepted the free gift of salvation made possible by God’s grace through Christ’s death. There were many, including the majority of the Jewish population on earth at the time, who refused to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They preferred to remain in their sins. As John writes in his own gospel account: “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV). The work of Jesus, to make salvation available to all men, was finished on the cross. There was nothing left for Him to do. Except return to the earth one day. And all that John has been and will be shown in the visions recorded in the book of Revelation, are meant to be the preface for Christ’s second coming.

But it is interesting to note the words used to signify this last of the seven bowl judgments. John hears a loud voice coming from the temple in heaven and from the very throne of God. It shouts the three simple words, “It is done!” It is likely that these words came from the mouth of God Himself. He is declaring that the final judgment has come. The end of the tribulation period is getting ready to come to a close. There is more that will happen on earth after the seventh bowl is poured out, but this portion of God’s plan for earth and mankind is complete. Now the Messiah can return and set up His Kingdom on earth. But even more than that, His statement sets up an ever great moment that will take place at the end of the millennial reign of Christ on earth: The arrival of the New Jerusalem. John’s vision of that reality is recorded later in his book, and it envisions the days immediately after the completion of Jesus’ 1,000-year reign, the Great White Throne Judgment, and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth. John is allowed to see the arrival of the New Jerusalem, as it descends from heaven to earth, and on the throne sits God Almighty, who declares, “I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5 ESV). And then John hears those three simple words yet again: It is done!

And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” – Revelation 21:6-8 ESV

The pouring out of the seventh plague from the seventh and final bowl was not the end, per se, but it represented the completion of one thing and the beginning of another. God was now ready to send His Son back to earth. And this news is accompanied by remarkable signs and wonders:

flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. – Revelation 16:18 ESV

These are all signs of God’s divine judgment. But they also represent His holiness and almighty power. These same signs had all been evident when God descended upon Mount Sinai in the wilderness.

16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. – Exodus 19:16-18 ESV

God was in their midst and it was unmistakable. And now, with the pouring out of the final judgment, it was also clear that God was behind all that was about to happen. This was the work of the almighty, all-powerful God of the universe. And all these fantastic sights and sounds were more than just a divine pyrotechnic show. John immediately sees “the great city” split into three parts. This is most likely a reference to Babylon, which John mentions just a few verses later. Babylon is the poster boy for all cities on earth, representing the age of the Gentiles and man’s rebellion against God. Babylon’s sordid history goes all the way back to the time of the tower of Babel, when mankind refused to obey God’s command to spread across the earth. Instead, they determined to build a high tower and a great city, from which they would create a great nation – all in open rebellion against the will of God.

“Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:4 ESV

Their arrogance and pride led to God creating multiple languages, making it impossible for them to communicate with one another. As a result they dispersed and gave up their building project. And yet Babylon would continue to exist as a city, becoming the icon for man’s pride and rebellion against God. And John sees this great city split into three parts, most likely as a result of the great earthquake. “God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath” (Revelation 16:19 ESV). God has a long memory. He doesn’t forget and always remembers to repay those who have stood opposed to Him and His people. But Babylon is not alone. John indicates that “the cities of the nations fell” as well. The age of the Gentiles is coming to an end. The domination of the Gentile nations over Israel is being brought to a close. And Jesus spoke of this very day.

Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. – Luke 21:24 ESV

It is interesting that the seventh bowl is mentioned as being poured out in the air, and yet the results of this judgment all take place on earth. Perhaps this has to do with Satan’s dominion over the air and the earth. Paul described Satan as “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2 ESV). This bowl is poured out in Satan’s domain and impacts the world over which he has been allowed to have dominion. John says that “every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found” (Revelation 16:20 ESV). Evidently, there will be dramatic changes to the topography of the earth. There will be cataclysmic changes to the earth’s crust, causing never-before-seen alterations to the seas and the land. As always, there are those who try to minimize or simply eliminate the literal interpretation of this passage, choosing instead to view this as a symbolic destruction of the political systems of the earth. But there is no reason to doubt that God could not or would not do exactly what John is seeing take place. The very stability of the earth is at the mercy of God Almighty. Nothing will remain as it once was. Mountains and islands will be removed. All that mankind has come to know as reliable and unchangeable, will come to an end.

And then, the 100-pound stones fall from the sky. This devastating and obviously destructive event will leave people cursing God. The death and damage caused by this divine display of God’s power and wrath will be unprecedented. Buildings, animals and people will be destroyed. Everything man has built will succumb to these massive stones falling from the sky. It is interesting to note that stones were used to build the tower of Babel and here, God uses stones to destroy the cities of men. And back in the gospel of Matthew, we have recorded the words that Jesus spoke to the Pharisees.

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” – Matthew 21:42 ESV

And Jesus goes on to tell them, “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:44 ESV). God is bringing His judgment upon the world. He is raining divine destruction upon the earth and all those who live on it. And “the plague was severe.” God will literally stone all those who have blasphemed His holy name. This is the penalty prescribed by God Himself for all those who blaspheme His name.

“Take outside the camp him who has cursed; then let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him.” – Leviticus 24:14 ESV

As we will see in the very next chapter, God will begin to deal specifically with the religious and political systems of the earth. He will mete out His divine wrath on the Antichrist and his kingdom, as well as the false prophet and his apostate church. Amazingly, after all the devastation and destruction brought by the seven bowl judgments, mankind will still oppose God. The Antichrist will still maintain his control over the nations of the earth. And the people of earth will still bow down to his image, giving glory to him that was rightfully owed to God alone. But those things are quickly coming to an end. Because, as God has said, “It is done!”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Unrelenting, Yet Unrepentant.

1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”

So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.

The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.

The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say,

“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
    for you brought these judgments.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
    and you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!”

And I heard the altar saying,

“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
    true and just are your judgments!”

The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.

10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish 11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.

12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. 13 And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. 14 For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. 15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) 16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. Revelation 16:1-15 ESV

199-001The seven bowls of God’s wrath are poured out in rapid succession. It seems that at this point on the tribulation timeline, things are moving at a rapid pace. We have already been told that these judgments “are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished” (Revelation 15:1 ESV). But while the last, they are certainly not the least. These judgments are unrelenting in their intensity and quite specific in their application. There has been an escalating aspect to all of God’s judgment so far. First, there were the seven seals and out of the seventh seal came the seven trumpets. Out of the seventh and final trumpet came what we are seeing now: The seven bowl judgments. And these seven bowls contain seven different plagues, the visible manifestations or outpourings of God’s wrath against mankind. These plagues are widespread and all-encompassing, impacting the entire world, but in some cases, they are very specific and directed at certain regions and against particular people groups, such as the worshipers of Antichrist. Here is list of the seven bowls and the plagues they contain:

First Bowl – sores on the worshipers of the Antichrist

Second Bowl – seas turned to blood

Third Bowl – fresh water turned to blood

Fourth Bowl – scorching heat from the sun

Fifth Bowl – darkness and pain within the kingdom of the Antichrist

Sixth Bowl – drying up of the River Euphrates

Seventh Bowl – earthquakes and hail

With the first bowl, all those who bear the mark of the beast and who willingly worship the Antichrist, find themselves suffering from unbearable sores. The Greek word is helkos, and it refers to some sort of ulcer. But this is not your everyday, run-of-the-mill ulcer. They are described as kakos and ponēros, two Greek words that both can be translated as “evil,” but that speak of the severity of these particular sores. The first word makes it clear that these sores are “of a bad nature; not such as it ought to be.” They are out-of-the-ordinary. And their effect is described by the second word. They are extremely painful. And it’s interesting to note that God chooses to inflict all those who have taken the mark of the beast, a visible sign that was placed on their hands or foreheads, with a highly visible plague that covers their entire bodies. Their sign was most likely obscured by sores. And yet, all those who refused to take the mark of the beast or bow down to the image of the Antichrist are spared. They are protected by God because of their faithfulness to Him.

With the second bowl, God pours out a plague that is far more universal in nature. This time, the waters of the sea become “like the blood of a corpse” and the end result is that every living creature in the sea dies. We are not told whether this is a reference to the Mediterranean Sea or to all the seas and oceans of the earth. But it would seem that God is expanding His judgments and that this particular plague is worldwide in scope. Unlike the second trumpet judgment (Revelation 8:8-9), which only impacted a third of the earth’s oceans, this one is all-encompassing, and the devastating outcome of such a disaster defies the imagination. The stench alone would be unbearable. The effect on the world-wide food supply was be unimaginable. The potential for the spread of disease would be off the chart. While we find it difficult to imagine the oceans of the world being turned into literal blood, we have to keep in mind that these are supernatural events. They can’t be explained by normal or natural means. These are the works of the God who created the entire universe in six days. Nothing is too impossible for Him. And His decision to turn the waters of the oceans to blood makes much more sense when you consider the words He spoke to the people of Israel concerning His prohibition against consuming blood.

23 Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. 24 You shall not eat it; you shall pour it out on the earth like water. 25 You shall not eat it, that all may go well with you and with your children after you, when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord. – Deuteronomy 12:23-25 ESV

The blood is the life. What are irony to consider that God is going to take the waters of the oceans, which contain the source of life for much of the world, and turn them to blood and fill them with death and decay. And it is important to remember that this particular plague is universal in nature, impacting all those who live on the earth, including all the unrepentant, unbelieving Jews who are alive at this time.

With the third bowl, God delivers an even more devastating blow to mankind, by turning all the sources of fresh water on the earth to blood. While there are some who choose to take these plagues as symbolic in nature, there is no apparent reason for us to do so. While they may seem too fantastic and far-fetched to believe, that does not mean they cannot and will not happen. We have to keep in mind that these are the final series of judgments and they represent the full wrath of God being poured out on a sin-stained earth and a stubbornly rebellious humanity. If we can accept the fact that there is a real place of eternal judgment reserved for all those who refuse to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, we should have no trouble believing that God’s anger against sin show up in unbelievable, never-before-seen ways that defy explanation and imagination.

The angel who pours out this third judgment has a few words to say as he does so.

5 “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
    for you brought these judgments.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
    and you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!” – Revelation 16:5-6 ESV

He wants us to know that God is just and right for what He is doing. These judgments are well-deserved and the people of earth are receiving their just punishment. They are not innocent. They are not victims. They have played a major role in the deaths of countless tribulation saints who refused to take the mark of the beast and who chose to follow the Lamb (Revelation 14:4). And the angels words are echoed from the sanctuary in heaven.

“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
    true and just are your judgments!” – Revelation 16:7 ESV

God is completely just in doing what He is doing. His motives and His actions are not to be questioned. He is the just and righteous judge of the universe, who is delivering a sentence upon the world that is right and without fault in any way.

The fourth bowl somehow causes the sun to become more intense, delivering scorching rays that make life on the earth unbearable. The unbelievers, those who have taken the mark of the beast, curse God, but more importantly, they refuse to repent and turn to God. Even the increased intensity of the sun’s rays and the pain that results from its effects will not cause them to confess their sins and turn to God. Imagine the suffering they will have to endure as a result of the lack of fresh water and the unbearable heat. But in spite of all this, they will stubbornly continue to reject God.

And then God will turn His attention to the kingdom of the Antichrist. Because the Antichrist will be the world ruler, this is a reference to all the earth. But the description makes it clear that this is a direct attack on the Antichrist’s rule and reign. His kingdom, the earth, will be plunged into darkness. Now, along with all the pain, suffering and agony the people of earth have had to deal with by virtue of the first four plagues, they will find themselves in perpetual darkness. The spiritual darkness of their lives will be accompanied by physical darkness. And John describes them as gnawing their tongues in anguish. The very tongues they used to worship and praise the Antichrist will be parched for lack of water and chewed raw because of their pain. And yet, they still refuse to repent. The words of the apostle Paul seem appropriate here.

…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9 ESV

But rather than use their tongues to confess, they will gnaw them in agony.

The sixth bowl is the most specific of all. When poured out, it results in the drying up of the River Euphrates. While this judgment has no immediate ramifications for the people of earth, it will have long-term implications. Because it will ultimately set the stage for war. The River Euphrates is one of the most prominent and well-known rivers in the world, and it has a long and vital history in the Scriptures. We know from the book of Genesis, that the Euphrates was one of our rivers associated with the Garden of Eden.

10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. – Genesis 2:10-14 ESV

And it was also associated with the nation of Babylon. And it also formed the eastern boundary to the land that God promised to give to Abraham and his seed (Genesis 15:18). With the drying up of this great river, God is preparing the way for the kings from the east. He is removing a natural barrier and setting the state for a future war that will be waged during the final days of the great tribulation. And John is shown three frogs, which are defined as three demonic spirits, who will cause the kings of the earth to join in an alliance to do war against God. This event is called “the great day of God the Almighty” – which is also known as the battle of Armageddon. And John is presented with a parenthetical statement, delivered from the lips of Jesus Himself.

“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” – Revelation 16:15 ESV

The apostle Paul warned about this coming day:

…the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. – 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 ESV

Each of these six bowls and their associated plagues, are simply setting the stage and preparing the world for the return of Christ. And while the plagues themselves will be unrelenting in their intensity, they will have little impact on the unbelieving world. They will remain unrepentant and stubbornly opposed to God and His Son. So much so, that they will choose to wage war with God rather than bow their knee to His Son and honor Him as King of kings and Lord of lords.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Great and Amazing.

1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
    O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
    O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
    and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
    All nations will come
    and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. Revelation 15:1-8 ESV

199-001When reading the book of Revelation, one can begin to feel as if the onslaught of judgments coming on earth and its inhabitants will never come to an end. It seems as if each new chapter brings with it yet more devastating news of unbelievable and unbearable trials that will befall mankind. But in these chapters, Even in this chapter, John is given yet another sign in heaven, one he describes as “great and amazing,” that will involves seven plagues. These are the seven bowl judgments. But John is informed that these will be “the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished” (Revelation 15:1 ESV). There is a certain finality to this vision. He is being provided with a much-needed reminder that there is an end coming to all of God’s judgments upon the earth. There will be a climax to all that John has seen and that will be the second coming of Jesus Christ. The seven seals, the seven trumpets and the seven bowl judgments are nothing more than a preface, preparing the way for return of the Son of God. And He will bring with Him the final phase of God’s judgments, completing that portion of the divine plan for the redemption and restoration of the world. Christ will return immediately after the seventh bowl has been poured out.

John is being given a much-needed reminder that this seemingly endless wave of judgments has not only an end, but a purpose. None of what he has witnessed has been indiscriminate or arbitrary in nature. These are not the actions of a petty and impetuous deity who simply enjoys taking out His anger on the weak and defenseless. These are the acts of a holy, righteous and sovereign God who is obligated by His very nature to deal with the insurrection raised against His rightful rule and reign. We have seen over and over again the unrepentant nature of those who find themselves suffering under His righteous anger. He brings well-deserved judgments upon them, but they refuse to repent and acknowledge Him as God. They stubbornly cling to their false god, willingly worshiping the Antichrist, giving to him the glory only God deserves. John has been shown the gracious and merciful nature of God as He provides 144,000 Jewish converts to Christ who spend their entire lives during the tribulation, spreading the good news regarding Jesus Christ and God’s offer of salvation made possible through Him. But the vast majority of the people of earth will refuse this offer. They will turn up their noses at God’s gracious gift, choosing to remain in open rebellion against Him, rather than humbly turn to Him in humble repentance and submission. So, the seven bowls will be poured out and the final judgments of God will be meted out. But His judgments, like His patience, have an end. As we have seen repeatedly, the number seven is the number of perfection or completion. Just as there were seven seals and seven trumpets, there are seven bowls containing seven plagues. They represent God’s perfect and complete judgment against mankind. This is not a case of overkill on God’s part. Everything He has done and will do is perfectly righteous, without fault and in keeping with His blameless character.

John sees a sea of glass, like the one he saw in chapter four, but this one is mixed with fire. The sea of glass, that extends before the throne of God, is meant to reflect the glory. of God. But here, John sees God’s glory mixed with fire, a symbol of judgment. The seven plagues are “are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.” You cannot separate God’s glory from His wrath and judgment. A holy and righteous God cannot and will not tolerate insurrection and insubordination on the part of those He has created. He is obligated by His very nature to deal with the blatant rebellion of mankind to His sovereign will.

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
    evil may not dwell with you.
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
    you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
    the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. – Psalm 5:4-6 ESV

God does not view man’s sin as simply an alternative lifestyle or a decision to take a different path than the one He prescribes. He knows that sin is not only rebellion against His will, but an act of self-destruction, leading to death, not life. And sin, like a communicable disease, is contagious and deadly. It spreads like a cancer, infecting everyone with whom it comes in contact. It damages and destroys, and there is no end to its destructive influence. So, God must act. He must eliminate sin once and for all, and John is being reminded that this is exactly what God is going to do.

John sees, standing beside the sea of glass, a crowd of individuals who most likely represent all those who will come to faith in Christ during the days of the tribulation and suffer martyr’s deaths as a result. They are described as having “conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name” (Revelation 15:2 ESV). Having refused to take the mark of the beast and worship the Antichrist, they were executed. But now, John sees them, holding harps in their hands and singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. These are most likely two different songs, but both containing praise for God’s salvation and redemption. In Deuteronomy 32, we have recorded one of the songs of Moses which speaks of God’s power and deliverance of His people.

For the Lord will vindicate his people
    and have compassion on his servants,
when he sees that their power is gone
    and there is none remaining, bond or free. – Deuteronomy 32:36 ESV

“‘See now that I, even I, am he,
    and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
    I wound and I heal;
    and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.’” – Deuteronomy 32:39 ESV

One of the things recorded in the song of Moses found in Deuteronomy 32 is the reminder that God is righteous and just.

“The Rock, his work is perfect,
    for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
    just and upright is he. – Deuteronomy 32:4 ESV

He always does what is right. He never acts unjustly or reacts to His people undeservedly. And that is exactly the message John hears in the song being sung by the martyred saints.

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
    O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
    O King of the nations.” – Revelation 15:3 ESV

These saints vindicate the actions of God, proclaiming His righteousness and ascribing to Him holiness. They sing, “your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:4 ESV), an unapologetic defense of all that God has done and will do. All the world will ultimately come to fear and worship Him for who He is, because He alone is holy.

And then John sees the seven angels carrying the seven plagues, coming out of the sanctuary of God. This is yet another, not-so-subtle-reminder, that these judgments are coming from the very throne room of God in heaven. They are divinely ordained and ordered. And one of the four creatures, who stand around the throne of God, give each of the seven angels a golden bowl containing the “full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever” (Revelation 15:7 ESV). It is a bit confusing that the angels are described as carrying the seven plagues, but are then given the seven bowls. And the bowls are described as holding the wrath of anger of God. As we will see in the very next chapter, the seven bowls will be means by which the plagues are poured out on the earth. So perhaps, what John is being shown is that the angels walked out of the sanctuary of God, holding the form of God’s judgment – the plagues – but were then given the means by which those judgments would come – by His anger. The plagues would flow forth, mixed with the anger or divine wrath of God. Again, the song of Moses, recorded in Deuteronomy 32, speaks of this wrath of God coming upon all those who stand opposed to Him.

“Rejoice with him, O heavens;
    bow down to him, all gods,
for he avenges the blood of his children
    and takes vengeance on his adversaries.
He repays those who hate him
    and cleanses his people’s land.” – Deuteronomy 32:43 ESV

God’s righteous anger will be “poured out” in the form of seven very real and very devastating plagues. The wrath of God will take concrete and recognizable form. And like the people of Egypt, who suffered from the plagues that God poured out on them, the people of the earth will know that God alone is God. They will unmistakably recognize the power of God Almighty as He makes His anger both felt and known. And John ends this chapter with the statement that “the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished” (Revelation 15:8 ESV). Access to God is completely cut off until the full extent of His judgment on earth is complete. This is a vivid and sobering reminder of God’s holiness. He is not to be trifled with. He is not to be treated flippantly or contemptuously. The sanctuary in heaven will be off limits to all until the full extent of God’s wrath is poured out and the final portion of His judgments are meted out.

And in the very next chapter, John will see each of those seven bowls poured out on the earth and its inhabitants. The focus will turn from heaven back to earth. The final days of God’s judgment have come and the return of His Son is closer than ever before.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Behold, the Son of Man.

14 Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.

17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia. Revelation 14:14-20 ESV

Jesus with sickleOnce again, John uses the phrase, “Then I looked, and behold.” This signals another change in scene as well as another aspect of the coming judgment on the earth. John is given a vision of a white cloud on which sat “one like the son of man.” While John does not provide us with the identify of this individual, the title “son of man” is most typically used in Scripture as a title referring to Jesus’ humanity and also when speaking of his future rule over earth and its inhabitants. Daniel used the same title when referring to Jesus and His second coming.

13 “I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven
    there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
    and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
    and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
    that shall not be destroyed. – Daniel 7:13-14 ESV

John had also described Jesus in this same way when he first saw Him in the vision of the heavenly throne room.

13 …and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. – Revelation 1:13-16 ESV

Jesus Himself used the same term when referring to His future return to the earth.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. – Matthew 25:31 ESV

So, it is quite easy to deduce that the one John sees coming on the cloud is a representation of Jesus as He returns to the earth for the final time. He is described as wearing a golden crown (stephanos) which was typically awarded to victors. And He is carrying a sharp sickle, which is an instrument symbolic of judgment (Mark 4:29). Then John sees an angel coming out of the temple in heaven, calling out in a loud voice and telling Jesus that the time to reap or judge has come. The fact that the angel has come from the temple is an indication that this message is from God Himself. He is telling His Son that the harvest of the earth is “fully ripe.” It is more than ready. In a sense, the harvest is overly ripe and past due for harvest. The term “fully ripe” actually means “to wither away” and pictures fruit that has been on the vine too long. It is in a less-than-ideal state. So, God commands Jesus to begin His judgment of earth’s inhabitants. And John reveals describes seeing Jesus swing his sickle and the earth was reaped. The Greek word is therizō, and it infers that the harvest was “cut down.” It may be that this harvest, using the imagery of wheat or grain refers to the judgment of the unbelieving Gentiles. The second harvest, which John sees next, uses the imagery of grapes, a common symbol in the Old Testament of the people of Israel. So, it may represent that judging of unbelieving Jews. But both judgments or harvests take place at the end of the tribulation with the return of Christ.

John sees a second angel coming out of the temple in heaven and he too is carrying a sharp sickle. And yet a third angel, coming out from the alter in the temple, calls out to the second angel, commanding him to “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe” (Revelation 14:18 ESV). Once again, the fruit or harvest is described as ripe, but John uses a different Greek word, akmazō, which means “fully mature.” It describes grapes that are virtually bursting because of their fullness. It is another image describing the past due nature of mankind’s sin and rebellion. John is being given a preview of what is to come when Christ returns to the earth. As the Son of God, He will be given the authority to judge the unbelieving inhabitants of the earth. And, like overly ripe grapes, virtually bursting with the juice of their sin and rebellion, they will be gathered together and thrown into “the great winepress of the wrath of God” (Revelation 14:19 ESV). And the juice or blood of these unbelieving individuals will overflow the winepress to such an extent that it will be up to four-feet deep in some places. This imagery is shocking and difficult to comprehend. But it is meant to reveal that the judgment of God will be severe and sudden. And the prophet Joel used similar imagery to describe the final days of the tribulation.

12 Let the nations stir themselves up
    and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
    all the surrounding nations.

13 Put in the sickle,
    for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
    for the winepress is full.
The vats overflow,
    for their evil is great.

14 Multitudes, multitudes,
    in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
    in the valley of decision. – Joel 3:12-14 ESV

The prophet Isaiah gave us a prophecy concerning this final judgment as well.

1 Who is this who comes from Edom,
    in crimsoned garments from Bozrah,
he who is splendid in his apparel,
    marching in the greatness of his strength?
“It is I, speaking in righteousness,
    mighty to save.”

Why is your apparel red,
    and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?

“I have trodden the winepress alone,
    and from the peoples no one was with me;
I trod them in my anger
    and trampled them in my wrath;
their lifeblood spattered on my garments,
    and stained all my apparel.
For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
    and my year of redemption had come.
I looked, but there was no one to help;
    I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold;
so my own arm brought me salvation,
    and my wrath upheld me.
I trampled down the peoples in my anger;
    I made them drunk in my wrath,
    and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.” – Isaiah 63:1-6 ESV

The second coming of Christ will be marked by several major battles where countless millions will die. The enemies of God will resist His Son and refuse to acknowledge His rightful place as King. But He will defeat them. Later on in his book, John will describe yet another vision of Jesus, seated on a white horse and leading the host of heaven in a victory procession.

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

The son of man, Jesus Christ, the risen Lord and coming King, will one day reclaim His rightful place on David’s throne and rule the world in justice and righteousness. But first, He will judge the world, meting out the wrath of God on all those who have refused to honor Him as God. His Son will vindicate His name. The rebellion waged against God, attempted by all those who refused to worship Him as God, will be put down once and for all. John is being given a glimpse into the final days of God’s judgment, as His Son brings to a close the period of the tribulation, in preparation for the setting up of His millennial Kingdom on earth.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Good News and Bad News.

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” Revelation 14:6-13 ESV

John is shown yet another vision or scene. He starts out this section with the familiar “then I saw”, which in Greek is kai eidon. It signals a change in content marked by a change in what John is seeing. He sees “another” angel, which means another of the same kind. This is another and different angel other than the seven introduced in verse 2, and it will be the first of six angels introduced in the rest of this chapter. This angel is described by John as flying in mid-heaven and proclaiming “an eternal gospel.” When we hear the term “gospel”, we most often associate with good news and the proclamation of salvation made possible through Jesus Christ. But in this context, it has to do with God’s coming salvation, but His judgment as well. It is eternal in that the impact of its message is ageless and not restricted by time. It was good news to the believers living in John’s day and remains good news to all of us hearing its message today. The angel is proclaiming the good news “to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people” (Revelation 14:6 ESV). He is flying through mid-heaven, so evidently, as he circumnavigates the globe, all on earth will hear what he has to say. And the content of his message is very specific, leaving no doubt as to what God demands.

“Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” – Revelation 14:7 ESV

He calls on the people of earth to fear God. They are to reverence Him for who He is. He is God Almighty, the God of the universe and the creator of all things. In his book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote of the kind of fear this angel was demanding.

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV

Notice that the fear of God is accompanied by obedience to His commands. This angel is letting the inhabitants of the world know God demands obeisance and obedience, reverence and submission to His will. And that will require that they give Him glory, repenting of their wrong perceptions regarding Him. They must turn from worshiping the Antichrist and acknowledge God as the one true God, who alone is worthy of glory and honor. They must worship Him alone as their God. And the motivation for their worship is His coming judgment. And as we will see in the remaining chapters of John’s book, there will be those who hear and heed this message, bowing down before God in worship.

Who will not fear, O Lord,
    and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
    All nations will come
    and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed. – Revelation 15:4 ESV

But there will also be those who refuse to listen to the angel’s message, rejecting his call to worship the one true God.

…and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. – Revelation 16:9 ESV

People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds. – Revelation 16:11 ESV

…and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe. – Revelation 16:21 ESV

As has been the case throughout the centuries, the good news regarding God and His offer of salvation from the wrath to come will be rejected by many. They will curse Him rather than repent and turn to Him. Instead of worshiping and glorifying Him, they will utter blasphemous curses against Him.

This angel is followed by a second one who is proclaiming yet another message.

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” – Revelation 14:8 ESV

This is a message of premonition, revealing what is about to happen. As of the moment John heard this angel’s message, Babylon had not yet fallen. But it would. It was inevitable and unavoidable. God was going to judge Babylon. And that begs the question: What exactly does the angel mean by “Babylon”? Is it the literal city of Babylon or a more figurative reference to something else? The answer is probably, “Yes.” It appears that during the period of the tribulation, the ancient city of Babylon will be restored and reassert itself as a global player during the end times. It will also become synonymous with the political and religious powers of the day. Throughout the Scriptures, the name, “Babylon” has become closely associated with ungodliness and rebellion against God, ever since the fall of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).

God announces the coming destruction of Babylon. Not only will the city itself be destroyed, but all that it represents, including the religious and political systems that arise out of the city. The angel describes Babylon as an immoral woman, who has seduced the people of the world, enticing them to commit spiritual adultery against God. Chapter 17 will deal with the guilt and well-deserved destruction of Babylon in greater detail.

“Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” – Revelation 17:1-2 ESV

Then John sees yet another angel, whose message is directed at all those who chose to take the mark of the beast or Antichrist and worship him. And it is difficult to see the content of this message as good news, because the angel clearly states to all who bear the mark of the beast, “he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:10 ESV). As bad as this sounds, it is not a reference to hell or the Lake of Fire. This is going to be some form of temporal punishment meted out by God on all those who rejected His offer of salvation and turned to the Antichrist as their false messiah. These people will suffer unparalleled pain and suffering and it will be in the very presence of Christ and the holy angels. Their suffering will take place while they are forced to look on the one who offered His life as a sacrifice for their sins. But they rejected Him.

John is told that their torment will be eternal, “forever and ever.” They will have no rest from their punishment. And this stands in direct contrast to the statement made by Jesus. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV). Jesus came to earth, offering weary sinners with eternal rest and comfort. And the first angel offered them a form of rest, complete with “springs of water”, but they refused. Now, they will “have no rest, day or night.”

But this angel has a call to all of those who have placed their faith in Christ during the great tribulation. This includes the 144,000. They are to remain faithful to the end. All of this is to be good news to them, because it reveals that their God is going to deal justly and righteously with all the injustice in the world. Their suffering will soon end. Their persecution as a result of their faith will be eliminated once and for all. The tables will turn. So, they are called to endure. To remain strong and not lose faith. God is going to act on their behalf.

Finally, John hears a voice from heaven, proclaiming a message to all those who will suffer and die during the great tribulation. He is told to put this message in writing, so that it will last.

“Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” – Revelation 14:13 ESV

This is both a warning and a blessing. John is being told, in no uncertain terms, that there will be many believers who die in the remaining days of the great tribulation. They will die as a result of their faith in Jesus. Their faithfulness to Him will merit the wrath of the Antichrist. Their refusal to accept the mark of the beast and to worship the Antichrist will bring about not only their persecution but, ultimately, their deaths. But they are told that they will be blessed. They will receive rest from their labors. This is not saying these believers will receive blessing or salvation because of their labors. It is not promoting a kind of works-salvation. It is simply saying that their efforts to remain faithful on this earth during the dark days of the tribulation will be followed by the blessing of eternal rest. Their good deeds will follow them in the sense that they are the proof of their salvation. Jesus refers to this in His Olivet Discourse.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ – Matthew 25:24-40 ESV

These believers, living during the final days of the tribulation, will exhibit their faith through acts of kindness to others. They will reveal their transformed hearts through clear signs of transformed living. Even at the risk of great persecution, they will show love to others. It is not their acts of kindness that will save them, but those acts will be the proof that they have been saved. And their visible expressions of love for others will be tangible proof of their love for Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

A New Song.

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless. Revelation 14:1-6 ESV

MtZionAreaELocationJohn is now given a new vision that is meant to stand in stark contrast to all he saw and recorded in the previous chapter. In place of Satan (the dragon) standing on the sand of the sea (Revelation 12:17), John sees the Lamb standing on Mount Zion. And in place of the unbelievers who have received the mark of the beast on their foreheads, John now sees the 144,000, who have received the seal of God on their foreheads (Revelation 7:3). And while everyone on earth worshiped the Antichrist (Revelation 13:8), and blindly followed his leadership, John is shown that not all bowed their knee to the Antichrist or received his mark. The 144,000 worship Jesus Christ and follow Him wherever He goes.

John is being given an assurance that God will still be in the redeeming business during the dark days of the tribulation. Even when Satan, the Antichrist and the false prophet will seem to be gaining the upper hand and having their way with the nations of the earth, God will be doing a work among the peoples of the earth. And not only that, God will bring a great victory over Satan and his forces. John is being given a foretaste of what is to come. He sees the Son of God standing on Mount Zion. This is not meant to be the second coming of Christ, but John is being shown what will happen in the future, at the end of the great tribulation. He is being given a preview of coming attractions. The day is coming when Jesus will return to earth and stand on Mount Zion, along with the 144,000 who will be preserved through the trials and tribulations of the second half of the tribulation. The scene John is shown takes place on earth. It reveals the day when Jesus comes back to earth as the conquering king, determined to take His rightful place on the throne of David in Jerusalem. The prophet Zechariah wrote about that coming day.

On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. – Zechariah 14:4 ESV

Mount Zion is the designation for the entire mountain on which Jerusalem sits, and it includes the Mount of Olives. Jesus Christ will return to the Mount of Olives, the very place where He left the earth when He ascended back into heaven.

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:9-11 ESV

The very next verse of Luke’s account tells us that this scene took place on the Mount of Olives. And John’s vision reveals the day when Christ will return to that very same spot in order to begin the final phase of God’s judgments and to accomplish His victory over the forces of evil on the earth.

But John hears a new song, coming out of heaven. The designation, “new song” is important, because in the Old Testament Scriptures it was typically used to celebrate something great that God had done on behalf of His people.

He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord. – Psalm 40:3 ESV

Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
    tell of his salvation from day to day. – Psalm 96:1-2 ESV

Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made known his salvation;
    he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
    to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God. – Psalm 98:1-3 ESV

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise from the end of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it,
    the coastlands and their inhabitants. – Isaiah 42:10 ESV

But the new song that John hears has to do with a victory that is yet to come. But it will come, as John’s vision makes clear. And this new song will only be one that the 144,000 can learn. In other words, they alone will be able to appreciate the full meaning behind its words. They will have lived through the great tribulation, and only they will be able to comprehend the incredible nature of God’s deliverance, made possible through His Son’s second coming. Of all people on earth, they alone will be able to rejoice in the victory that is about to take place. For the first time during the bleak days of the tribulation, they will find themselves standing alongside their Savior, ready to mete out justice and enforce righteousness on all those who have persecuted and sought to destroy them.

All the way back in chapter seven, when John was first introduced to the 144,000, he also was given a vision of the myriads of martyred saints standing before the throne of God and singing, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10 ESV). And he also heard the angels singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 7:12 ESV). We are not told the words of the new song John hears in this vision, but it is doubtless a song of victory and praise for God’s deliverance. It will be something new and unprecedented: The final elimination of all sin and wickedness from the earth and the establishment of justice and righteousness in the form of Christ’s earthly kingdom.

One of the unique aspects of the 144,000 is their corporate virginity. They are all males and not a single one of them will have married or had relations with a woman. They will remain sexually pure and undefiled. This will allow them to dedicate themselves to their primary role as God’s witnesses on earth during the days of the tribulation. With no cares for a wife or family, each of them will be able to concentrate all their time and attention on serving God and spreading the word about Jesus Christ to Jews and Gentiles alike. And there will be many who come to faith in Christ as a result of their efforts. The apostle Paul spoke about the preference of singleness over marriage when considering service to the Lord.

32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 ESV

These 144,000 Jewish men are described as having been faithful, truthful and blameless. Even during the darkest days of the tribulation, they will have followed the Lamb, faithfully serving Him and telling the world about Him. And they represent the firstfruits, a special offering to God. And while they are a unique group, they will not be the only ones who God redeems from among the people of Israel. There will be many more believing Jews who enter into the millennial Kingdom alongside the Messiah. But these 144,000 are unique in that they were set apart by God during the days of the tribulation and given the task of witnessing to the truth regarding Jesus Christ. And John is now seeing them at the end of the tribulation, as they stand next to their Savior, ready to assist Him in setting up His earthly Kingdom. And they will have met the requirements the apostle Paul describes in his letter to the Philippian believers:

…blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life. – Philippians 2:15-16 ESV

The book of Revelation is full of bleak imagery and foreboding news regarding the last days on earth. But it is a book that is meant to encourage us by reminding us that the outcome has already been determined. The victory is assured. While the enemy may appear to have the upper hand and evil may seem to be increasing in strength, the ending to the story is not up in the air. The battle between God and the forces of Satan is not really a battle at all. It is a last-gasp effort on behalf of an already defeated enemy to try and prolong his power and influence over the earth. But he will fail, because Christ will return. And nothing and no one will be able to stand against Him. All will kneel before Him.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 ESV

That day is coming. A new song will be sung. A new work of God will be done on the earth that will bring an end to all sin and the rebellion of mankind – once and for all.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Unholy Trinity.

11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666  Revelation 13:11-18 ESV

John sees yet another beast. But this time, the beast is rising up out of the earth, not the sea. Yet, John describes it as “another” using the Greek phrase, allo therion, which means “one of the same kind.” These beasts are similar in nature, but distinctively different. This one has two horns like a lamb, and yet speaks like the dragon. He is not described with the same scary imagery as the first beast, but in spite of his less-formidable appearance, he is under the influence of the dragon, or Satan himself. While the first beast was described as having the features of a leopard, a lion and a bear, three ferocious and predatory animals, the second beast appears as a lamb, seemingly innocent and harmless. He has two horns, perhaps symbolizing his power, but it is limited in scope and authority. No one fears the horns of a lamb. But because of his association with the first beast and the influence of Satan on his life, this individual will prove dangerous.

He will operate as a second-lieutenant to the first beast, the Antichrist, and will exercise “all the authority of the first beast in its presence” (Revelation 13:12 ESV). He will use his power and influence to cause the people of the earth to worship Antichrist. During the first 3-1/2 years of the tribulation, there will arise an apostate church, a false church that will set itself up as the replacement for the true church that has been raptured. This false church is described by John in Revelation 17.

3 I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. – Revelation 17:3-6 ESV

During the first half of the tribulation period, the Antichrist will allow this apostate church to exist, but at the midway point, he will turn against, demanding that all worship be directed at him alone. Antichrist will use his power and his military might to destroy the false church.

16 They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, 17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. – Revelation 17:16-17 ESV

We know from the book of Daniel, that the Antichrist will come to power in the first half of the tribulation period. He will make a peace treaty with the people of Israel, allowing them to rebuild the temple and reinstitute the sacrificial system. But at the midway point, he will turn against them, breaking his agreement with them and putting an end to the sacrifices.

“And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” – Daniel 9:27 ESV

Jesus refers to this as the “abomination of desolation,” a phrase he picks up from Daniel.

15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” – Matthew 24:15-21 ESV

This will mark the beginning of the “great tribulation” or second half of the tribulation period. And as Jesus makes clear, it will be a difficult time for all living on earth. And Daniel lets us know that it will last for 1,290 days or 3-1/2 years.

And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. – Daniel 12:11 ESV

This second beast is going to act as a kind of prophet for the Antichrist. He will be a religious figure, replacing the leadership of the apostate church and guiding the people of earth to worship Antichrist. Verse 14 seems to indicate that the abomination that takes place in the temple will be the erection of an idol to the Antichrist. This false prophet will cause the people to worship this idol, using powers provided by Satan to convince them. He will have the ability to call down fire. With his seemingly miraculous powers, he will be able to convince the people to make an idol, set it up in the temple, and worship the Antichrist. And it seems that he will have the power to cause this idol to come to life and even speak. It will all be a deception, because Satan is the father of lies and can only imitate, not replicate, what God can do.

There is much debate as to the meaning of verse 14. John refers to the first beast as having died and come back to life. Verse 12 states that the first beast receives a mortal, death-inducing wound, but that he somehow comes back to life. He dies, but is resuscitated. There are those who say this is simply an indication that the first beast represents a resuscitated world power, the once-fallen Rome. But it would seem that all Satan is doing in these days is meant to replicate and mimic the work of God. Satan is setting himself up as the god of this world. And Antichrist becomes his stand-in for Jesus, the Messiah. Like Jesus, who is worshiped because He died and came back to life, the Antichrist will be worshiped for the same reason. John describes him as having been “wounded by the sword and yet lived” (Revelation 13:14 ESV). There are those who argue that this is impossible, because only God can give life. They reject that idea that Satan could resurrect a dead body, having no power to do so. But all that happens in these days will be under the direct supervision of God. Perhaps He will allow Satan to have the power to give life to the Antichrist, all so that the nations will show their true colors and fall down in worship of this false messiah. Or perhaps, Satan will only imitate the power of resurrection, deceiving the people into believing a lie. 

Whatever happens, the second beast, or false prophet, will cause the people to worship Antichrist. And, according to Daniel 3:11, all those who refuse to worship himwill be put to death. He will take that worship a step further, demanding that all people be marked with the symbol of the Antichrist.

16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. – Revelation 13:16-17 ESV

This mark will be a sign of ownership. Back in chapter 7, John was given a glimpse of the 144,000, the servants of God who had been chosen out of the people of Israel. These Jewish believers were given a mark on their forehead that designated them as belonging to God (see Revelation 7:3). And here in the second half of the tribulation, the false prophet will demand that all those who worship the Antichrist bear a sign of their allegiance to him. But all those who take the mark of the beast will do so willingly. It will allow them to buy and sell goods, providing them with certain rights and privileges that will be denied to all those without the mark. And we know from the next chapter, that there will be those who refuse to take the mark. But bearing the mark of God will prove to be dangerous and, ultimately, deadly. Many believers will be persecuted and die as a result of refusing to bear the mark of the beast and to bow down before him.

In this unholy trinity of Satan, the Antichrist and the false prophet, you have Satan’s attempt to replicate the persons and power of the holy trinity. Satan is making a futile attempt to set himself up as God, with the Antichrist serving as his false messiah or savior, and the false prophet acting as the Holy Spirit, influencing people to worship the resurrected Antichrist. But it is all a lie, a pathetic replication of the real thing. And God will allow it to happen, revealing man’s ongoing susceptibility to the lies of the enemy. Millions of people will willingly take on the mark of the beast. And John warns “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666” (Revelation 13:18 ESV). He is not telling us that we can somehow figure out who the Antichrist is or will be by carefully deducing the meaning of this number. It would appear that John is saying that no one will be able to discover the identity of the Antichrist until he appears. But those believers who are alive when the end times take place, will be able to discover this individual’s identity. Early on in the tribulation period, they will be given the ability to determine who this man is so that they might avoid his deceptions and escape his wrath.

But as bad as all this sounds and as difficult as these days are described to be, we must not lose sight of the fact that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit will all three be in full control of all that is going to happen in those days. Satan’s power, while formidable, is not comparable to that of God. Antichrist’s ability to provide for the needs of mankind, while significant, cannot compete with that of Jesus. And the false prophet, while highly influential, cannot begin to replicate the life-changing, Christ-honoring influence of the Holy Spirit. Satan and his forces will fail in their attempt to supplant God. All that he and his companions accomplish will take place only because God allows it to happen. They will be on a short leash, operating under the sovereign hand of God Almighty. And their power and influence will end when He deems it so.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

A Call For Endurance and Faith.

1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear:

10 If anyone is to be taken captive,
    to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
    with the sword must he be slain.

Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. Revelation 13:1-10 ESV

In this section of John’s narrative, we are being introduced to a variety of characters who are going to play significant roles in the final days before Christ’s return. In chapter 12, we were given an introduction to Satan himself, the one who will be the force behind all the rebellion against God in those days. His hatred for God will be intensified because of his defeat at the hands of Michael and the heavenly forces, and because of his having been cast out of heaven to earth. He will increase his efforts to destroy both the people of Israel and any and all who have come to faith in Christ during the first half of the tribulation period, including the 144,000 witnesses. But chapter 12 ended with Satan standing on the sand of the sea, and with the opening of chapter 13, we are shown the significance of this location, because out of the sea arises a beast. He is described as having “ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads” (Revelation 13:1 ESV) At first glance, it would seem that John is describing what appears to be the representation of a kingdom or earthly power. It is very similar to what the prophet Zechariah described more than five centuries earlier.

24 “As for the ten horns,
out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise,
    and another shall arise after them;
he shall be different from the former ones,
    and shall put down three kings.
25 He shall speak words against the Most High,
    and shall wear out the saints of the Most High,
    and shall think to change the times and the law;
and they shall be given into his hand
    for a time, times, and half a time. – Daniel 7:24-25 ESV

It would appear that John is being given a glimpse of a particular world leader who will rise to power, having followed in the path of other kings and kingdoms of that time. The fact that the beast is seen coming out of the sea is an indication that these powers are foreign in nature. In other words, they come from some place other than the land of Israel. To understand what John is seeing, we must take into account a dream given to  Daniel, in which he saw four beasts, each representing four different kingdoms or world powers that would arise in succession. The first was a lion, representing Babylon. It was followed by a bear, representing Medo-Persia, which defeated the Babylonians and took over as the dominant world power. Next Daniel saw a leopard, representing Greece. With its speed, power and agility, Greece would eventually defeat the Medo-Persians and assume world dominance. And finally, there would arise the fourth beast, which is believed to be a representation of the Roman Empire. In this case, the beast is not described by using a comparative earthly animal. It is simply said to be “terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong” (Daniel 7:7 ESV). Daniel describes it as being “different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns” (Daniel 7:7 ESV). While the Roman empire eventually came to an end, it did not fall like the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece. It slowly faded from existence over a long period of time. And it was never replaced by any super-power that could claim world dominance or supreme power on earth. If anything, the time since the demise of Roman rule has been marked by a conglomeration of powers, all vying for superiority, and virtually all of them have arisen out of what used to be the domain of Rome.

This beast that John sees, coming out of the sea, has ten horns, representing ten different kings. These ten kings represent some form of a confederation that will mark the ends times. This will be an alliance of ten different nations that will represent the revival of the Roman empire. Notice that John describes this beast as having the characteristics of three different animals: a lion, a bear and a leopard. These are the same three animals Daniel saw in his vision. It would appear that this new kingdom or confederation of kingdoms, will represent all of the greatest kingdoms of the earth, including Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece. It will be a multi-national confederation. But make no mistake, this alliance will have one source of power: Satan.

to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority… – Revelation 13:3 ESV

And it will have one ultimate ruler: Antichrist.

And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast… – Revelation 13:4 ESV

The imagery in this chapter can be quite confusing. John sees a beast with seven heads and ten horns. And one of the heads receives a mortal wound, but is then revived or resurrected back to life. What do these seven heads represent? And what about the ten horns. Well, John is given a clear explanation of the ten horns later on the book of Revelation.

And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. – Revelation 17:12 ESV

The ten horns would appear to be a ten-nation confederation, each sharing power and ruling over the earth together. They receive authority, from Satan, to rule for a specific period of time: one hour. Not a literal hour, but for a relatively short period of time. And the beast will rule alongside them.

It would seem that the seven heads are meant to represent seven different kings or world rulers who will reign in succession. This is deduced from the description provided to John later on in the book.

…the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. – Revelation 17:9-10 ESV

The seven heads are seven kings or kingdoms that will rise and fall. But they will be followed by the confederation of kings, one of whom will be the Antichrist. And John is told that this beast “was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months” (Revelation 13:5 ESV). This confederation of kingdoms will be anti-God and anti-Christ. It will stand against the people of God and against all those who come to faith in Christ during the tribulation, especially during the second half of the tribulation, a period of 42 months or 3-1/2 years. These nations, led by the Antichrist, will blaspheme God, make war on the saints and conquer them, and be given authority over “every tribe and people and language and nation” (Revelation 13:7 ESV).

The book of Daniel tells us, “this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them” (Daniel 7:21 ESV) “and it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces” (Daniel 7:23 ESV). The second half of the tribulation will be a difficult time. The Antichrist will be given supreme power over the earth and its inhabitants. He will dominate all those who live, demanding worship of himself, and controlling all commerce on the earth. He will appear to be unstoppable, taking captive whoever he wants to and putting to death any he so chooses. And John ends this section with the sobering words: “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Revelation 13:10 ESV). There will be believers on the earth during those days. The 144,000 witnesses will be alive during the reign of the Antichrist and he will direct much of his anger against them. We know from earlier visions given to John, that there will be many who are martyred for their faith during the second half of the tribulation. Believing and unbelieving Jews will be put to death. Gentiles who have come to Christ during these last days will also die for their faith. And John states that the darkness of these days will require endurance and faith. It will be a bleak time. It will difficult to see the hand of God in the midst of all the suffering and death. But God is not done. It will appear as if Satan is winning the war, but this is not the final battle.

The words of William Cowper, written in 1774, are appropriate here:

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

 

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson