Revelation 1: To Seven Churches
There is debate over when Revelation was written and what the particulars refer to, but everyone agrees on this: Revelation demonstrates the defeat of God’s enemies and the victory of God’s people! This will be our stress. The first chapter sets the stage, showing that the language is highly symbolic. John writes to seven churches of Asia, but it is clearly Jesus who is addressing them. Pulling from the language of Daniel, Jesus is the Son of Man figure whose appearance is describe as being so great that John “fell at his feet as though dead.” Jesus laid His right hand on him and told him, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” He wanted John to write down what he sees and what will take place. John was about to enter a world he could not have imagined.
Revelation 2: First Love
Jesus begins specifically addressing churches in the region of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). He tells Ephesus that He knows they works and that they have tested certain teachers and found them to be false. They are patiently enduring difficulties for Christ. However, they had left their first love (“abandoned the love you had at first,” ESV). They needed to repent of this and go back to what they did at the first. Then Jesus tells the church at Smyrna that He knew of the tribulation they were suffering and warned that there was more to come. If they would stay faithful, they would receive the crown of life. He told the church at Pergamum that they were doing well in holding fast to His name. Even so, there were some there who held to the “docrtrine of Balaam” (to practice immorality), and they needed to repent. To the church at Thyatira, Jesus said He knew of their faith and service. Yet they had tolerated “Jezebel” who also was teaching immoral practices. They still had opportunity to repent.
Revelation 3: Alive but Dead
Jesus told the church at Sardis that He knew that they had a reputation of being alive, but in reality they were dead. He told them to wake up and strengthen what was about to die. There were some who had not given in, so these needed to stay faithful. The church at Philadelphia, Jesus said, was remaining faithful through great difficulties, and Jesus recognized them for this and urged them to hold fast what they had. Nothing negative is said to them. Then to the church Laodicea Jesus said He knew their works and they were neither cold nor hot (i.e., they were basically useless). They thought they were doing well but did not realize how poor they really were. Jesus told them they needed to be zealous and repent. “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
Revelation 4: Holy, Holy, Holy
John saw a door standing open in heaven, then he heard a voice telling him to come see what would take place. He saw a throne in heaven and one whose appearance is described in magnificent terms seated on the throne. Around him are twenty-four elders sitting on thrones (cf. twelve tribes of Israel and twelve apostles), and a great scene unfolded (please read it). There were fantastic “living creatures” who praised the one on the throne. “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” The elders would cast their crowns before the throne praising God. “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” We are getting a glimpse into the majesty of God.
Revelation 5: Worthy is the Lamb
Still before the throne, John saw that the one on the throne had a scroll in his right hand. He was asking, ““Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” It seemed as if none were worthy, so John began to weep. One of the elders told him not to weep because the “Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” John turned and then saw a “Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…” This was not an ordinary Lamb, but one “with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” This was the Son of God. He was able to take the scroll and open it, and so was praised: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” The living creatures fell down and worshipped.
Revelation 6: Wrath of the Lamb
The scroll had seven seals, and when the first was opened, John saw a white horse with a rider and bow. A crown was given to him and he went out conquering. The second seal revealed a red horse with a rider and great sword to take peace so that people would slay one another. The third seal revealed a black horse with a rider who had a pair of scales and a voice that said, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!” The fourth seal showed a pale horse, and its rider was named Death, and Hades followed. He went out to slay “with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.” The fifth seal revealed souls that were slain for the word of God under an altar, and crying out, “how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” In the sixth seal was the language of severe judgment: earthquakes, a blackened sun, the moon turning to blood, and so on. The people were terrified (including kings and the powerful), and they were about to experience the “wrath of the Lamb.” Who can stand?
Revelation 7: Washed in the Blood
Four angels were standing at the four corners of the earth restraining the wind. Another angel rose up with the seal of the living God and cried out, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” Then the number of those who were sealed was given: 144,000 (12,000 from each tribe of Israel). Then John saw a vast multitude “from every nation, tribe, people, and language,” standing before the throne and the Lamb, clothed in white robes. They cried out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” The angels around the throne along with the elders and four living creatures fell before the throne and worshipped God. John was then informed that those in the white robes were the ones who came out of the great tribulation and were washed in the blood of the Lamb. This chapter celebrates the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles by worshipping God.
Revelation 8: Woe! Woe!
When the seventh seal was opened, there was silence. An angel stood at the altar (see the temple imagery). He offered up incense with the prayers of the saints. The smoke and the prayers went into God’s presence. Then angel took the incense burner, filled it with fire, and hurled it to the earth causing peals of thunder, flashes, and an earthquake. The angels prepared to blow the trumpets that they were given. These trumpets represent various judgments that God made upon the earth, the sea, the rivers, and the celestial bodies. Those living on the earth, having rejected God, were to be judged for their wickedness. Indeed, it is terrifying to see what happens when God is despised.
Revelation 9: More Woes to Come!
The fifth angel blew his trumpet and John saw a star that had fallen to earth. The key for the shaft to the abyss was given. When the shaft was opened, smoke came up so much that the sun was darkened (a sign of judgment). Locusts came out of the smoke to earth and power was given to them (more judgment). They were not to harm God’s people, but those being judged would seek for relief. The description of the locusts was terrifying as John describes the judgment they were bringing upon the earth. Then the angel blew the sixth trumpet, and the angels bound at the Euphrates were released. They brought a great army, again with terrifying descriptions. Many were killed in this judgment, and those were weren’t failed to repent of their idolatries and wickedness.
Revelation 10: Sweet and Bitter
Another mighty angel came from heaven with in a cloud and with a rainbow over his head. His face was like the sun and legs like pillars of fire. He held a scroll, and he placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land, then cried out. Seven thunders spoke, and voice from heaven said to seal up what the thunders said. The angel raised his right hand to heaven and swore by God that there were be no delay of the revelation of God’s mystery as announced to the prophets (i.e., Jesus Christ). John was told to take the scroll from the angel and eat it. It was sweet to taste but bitter in his stomach. He was then told that he would prophesy about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings. John’s eating the book symbolized his imbibing it. The message of God is sweet to believers, but it includes the bitterness of trying to warn others of the judgments of God.
Revelation 11: Witnesses Overcome
John was given a measuring reed and told to measure the temple of God and count those who worship there. Two witnesses were granted authority over many things, perhaps symbolizing those who doggedly testified of Christ and were martyred for their efforts. The “beast” that killed the witnesses then wreaks havoc on God’s people, persecuting and killing them. However, the witnesses were resurrected and this caused great fear on those who saw them. God was then glorified as the truth of their message was vindicated. At this point, the seventh trumpet was sounded, and loud voices in heaven testified to the reign of Christ. The twenty-four elders once again fell facedown to worship God. God had avenged His people. The temple was opened again with the ark of the covenant, accompanied with lightning, thunder, and earthquake, and severe hail. God’s people were victorious over death, Christ was the throne, and judgment belonged to God.
Revelation 12: War Broke Out
Now the battle for God’s people is seen from a different angle. A great sign appears, a woman described in magnificent terms, who was pregnant and about to give birth (think seed promise). Another sign appeared with a great fiery, terrifying dragon who was waiting to devour the child (think the devil seeking to thwart Jesus). The woman gave birth to a son (i.e., Jesus) who would rule all nations. He was caught up to the throne and the woman fled to the wilderness. War broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought the dragon, who was unable to prevail. This dragon (now identified as the devil and Satan) was thrown down, but he was still able to deceive the world. A voice from heaven praised God for salvation, power, the kingdom, and authority of Christ. The devil’s time would be short, but he severely persecuted the woman. She was given wings to fly to the wilderness where she was nourished. The dragon was furious, so he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” Both Jews and Gentiles who belong to the Lord were persecuted for their faith, but victory would soon be theirs because Christ would rule.
Revelation 13: The Beasts
Two great beasts are described. The first came up out of the sea with ten horns wearing ten crowns and seven heads. The dragon gave this beast great authority. This represented the government (likely the Roman Empire) that persecuted God’s people. The beast was blasphemous, powerful, and waged war against the saints. Unbelievers would worship this beast, but the saints needed to remain faithful unto death. The second beast came out of the earth, symbolic of false religion (or the enforcer of emperor worship). It compelled the people of the earth to worship the first beast, deceiving with great signs. However, the number of the beast was 666, an indicator of something less than perfection. They were human after all. While the dragon and two beasts appeared invincible, God would soon show otherwise. The Lamb would be victorious!
Revelation 14: The Lamb Standing
John saw the Lamb, standing on Mouth Zion, and with Him the 144,000 who had the Father’s name on their foreheads. They sang the song of the redeemed as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb. These stand in contrast to the deceived and unbelievers of the last chapter. An angel flew overhead proclaiming the eternal gospel to the inhabitants of the earth. Instead of worshipping the beast, they were called upon to worship the Creator of heaven and earth. Another angel appeared, crying out that “Babylon the Great has fallen.” (Babylon stands for the great city that opposes God, likely Rome.) Another angel appeared warning that those who continue to worship the beast will be judged by God’s wrath. Yet the saints are called to endure to the end, and the blessing follows that those who die in the Lord will rest from their labors. One like the Son of Man appeared seated on the throne (see Daniel 7:13-14). He used a sickle to reap of the harvest of the earth (judgment again). Another angel with a sickle came out of the temple, and another with authority over fire. They were told to use the sickle to harvest the ripe grapes and cast them into the winepress of God’s wrath, from which blood flowed. Salvation had come, and so had judgment.
Revelation 15: Moses and the Lamb
Seven angels with seven plagues appeared to complete God’s wrath in judgment. However, those who were victorious over the beast were standing on a sea of glass and singing the song of Moses and the Lamb, a song of victory and praise. The temple was opened and out came the angels with plagues along with one of the four living creatures with seven golden bowls filled with God’s wrath. The temple was filled with smoke from God’s glory and power, and no one could enter until the plagues were completed. Seven, representative of completeness, indicates the completeness of God’s judgment, which stands in contrast to the victory of the redeemed.
Revelation 16: Bowls of Wrath
The bowls of wrath are now poured out on the earth. Several plagues are described: painful sores, the sea and rivers become blood, the sun scorches with fire, darkness overcome the earth, and the river Euphrates was dried up. Unclean spirits like frogs came from the dragon’s mouth, the beast’s mouth, and the false prophet’s mouth. These spirits performed signs and called the kings of the earth to get ready for battle, for “the great day of God, the Almighty” was upon them. They assembled at Armageddon (lit. the hill of Megiddo, a place where many decisive battles were fought in Palestine). The seventh bowl was poured out and the wrath of God was severe. The descriptions given here show the terrifying nature of God’s judgments.
Revelation 17: A Woman and the Beast
Another woman is now described, a great harlot with whom the kings of the earth had committed immoralities. She sat on a scarlet beast, on the sea (i.e., reigning over people), and covered with blasphemous names. She was dressed in purple, scarlet, with gold, jewels, and pearls. She held a golden cup filled with everything detestable. On her forehead was written, “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth's abominations.” She was drunk with the blood of martyrs, and John was greatly astonished. The angel explained that the beast was about to be destroyed. The description given fits well the Roman Empire with the city of Rome as the crown jewel (and Rome was built upon seven hills). Regardless, the description indicates that those powers persecuting God’s people would be judged for it. They make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb conquers them “because He is Lord of lords and King of kings.” God would carry out His plan and fulfill His word for His people.
Revelation 18: Babylon has Fallen!
An angel with great authority came out of heaven and called out with a mighty voice that Babylon the Great has fallen. The nations had drunk of the wine of her immorality, which brings wrath. Then another voice from heaven cried out to God’s people to come out of her so that they would not share in her sins or receive the plagues. The sins of Babylon were piled up to heaven. She had glorified herself, indulged her excessive ways, and thereby brought judgment. The kings of the earth would mourn over seeing the city fall because their business would be affected. The seafarers would cry out over the loss of their ability to trade. Yet the judgment would be sure and swift, as in her “was found the blood of prophets and saints.”
Revelation 19: The Word of God
A voice again cried out from heaven, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” God is praised for His works and preparations are made for the marriage of the Lamb with His bride (the church). John was so overwhelmed that he fell down to worship the angel, but was quickly told not to do that. “Worship God…” John saw heaven opened again, and a white horse with a rider called “faithful and true” appeared. He went out to judge. His eyes were like a fiery flame, He wore many crowns, He wore a robe dipped in blood, and His name was the Word of God. The armies of heaven with Him, and a sharp sword came from His mouth that He might strike the nations. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. The beast along with the kings of earth gathered their armies together. The beast and her armies were thrown down into the “lake of fire.” Christ is victorious … which is the point of the book!
Revelation 20: A Great Judgment
The angel with the key to the abyss came down from heaven with a great chain. He seized the dragon and bound him for a thousand years (the devil is not sovereign, but is also judged by God). The identity of the thousand years is long debated, but remember that this book is filled with great symbolism, so the number is not meant literally (it could be figure for completeness, as 1,000 is a heightened form of 10, or perhaps an indefinite time-frame beginning with Christ’s resurrection). The point should not be lost. Satan is not all-powerful, but comes under limitation from God and is judged. The saints then are said to reign with Christ. They share in the “first resurrection” (likely referencing the point at which they are saved; see Rom 6:1-5). Satan is then released to deceive the nations and gather Gog and Magog for battle. While Satan had some limited power, his final defeat was sure. Gog and Magog (see Ezek 38) represent wicked nations fighting for Satan as his final efforts will fail. After this is a great judgment scene before God’s throne. Books were opened and people were judged. The book of life contained the names of God’s people, and those not found therein are cast, with Satan, into the lake of fire.
Revelation 21: New Heaven and New Earth
John saw the new heaven and new earth, as the first had now passed away. He saw the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, like a bride adorned for her husband (representing the glorified people of God). Herein is the destiny of God’s faithful. God dwells with His people and wipes away their tears and pain. All things are made new. The Alpha and Omega has conquered, and His faithful will inherit these blessings. However, the faithless will share in the lake of fire, the second death. One of the angels showed John the wife of the Lamb. He was carried away to a great mountain and was shown Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, arrayed with God’s glory. The description is magnificent (go re-read it!). Yet in it John saw no temple “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” The nations walk by the light and nothing unclean enters, “but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.”
Revelation 22: Light and Life
John sees the river of the water of life flowing from God’s throne. The tree of life was on each side of the river bearing its fruit. The leaves were for the healing of the nations, and there is no longer a curse (reversing what happened in Genesis 3). The throne of God and the Lamb are in the city, and His people worship Him. There is no night and no need for other sources of light, for the Lord Himself gives the light, and they reign forever. John now concludes this message of victory. Jesus promises to come again. “‘Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!