The suffering Christian church.
Introduction: Christ appointed the aged apostle to John, now an exile on the isle of Patmos, to write "Revelation" in order to give hope and assurance to the suffering, persecuted evangelical Christian church. The Roman armies of Titus had destroyed the temple at Jerusalem in AD 70 in fulfillment of Christ's Olivet prophecy recorded in Matthew 24 and now the church needed to be assured that Christ was Lord of all in the "heavenly temple" and in complete control of the flow of history unto the day of His promised second coming in the clouds of heaven with all His holy angels. Using the same basic outline of history as Daniel and employing the same basic symbolism as Daniel, John points the believing evangelical Christians of every generation to the ultimate victory of the Lamb of God over the powers of Satan. The evangelical church of Christ must witness and suffer throughout her earthly sojourn of "1260 (metaphorical) days" at the hands of Satan's cruel and oppressive spiritual kingdom called Babylon. John assures the suffering church that the forces of Satan's kingdom will ultimately not prevail and will finally be destroyed by the "second death".
Revelation 1, 2, 3
The Seven Churches: In speaking words of comfort, encouragement and even rebuke to the "Seven Churches" of Asia Minor, our Lord addresses the entire evangelical Christian church of all ages. Jesus' warnings against sin and heresy strengthen us even today as we "earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints". The gnostic heresies which were brought into the infant church of the first century and vigorously opposed by the apostles are still the heresies of today. But now with the passing of time they have been venerated and given "respectability" by the "Man of Sin", the Papacy, which has usurped and taken over the Christian church. This "man of sin" sits in the "temple of God" and falsely claims to speak for Christ as His "Vicar" but is in fact the "Antichrist", the "false prophet". This is the Beast with two "horns like unto a lamb" which speaks "as a dragon" who directs the great "falling away" which Paul predicted in 2 Thessalonians 2.
Revelation 4, 5, 6
The Judgment Scene: John opens to the full view of the church the true meaning of history. Through nearly 6,000 years of blood stained history, men have asked why has all this suffering been permitted. With fists raised to the God of Heaven, men have blamed the God of infinite love for all the heart rending suffering of the human family. In the Judgment we see God's answer to the challenge of who is to blame for all the carnage of history. What is "revealed" in the Revelation is how the "mystery of iniquity" came to be; how it has manifested itself in history; how God has dealt with it in the gospel of Jesus Christ; and how it will ultimately be justly destroyed by the "second death".
We are shown the unsealing of the Everlasting Covenant of God. In the everlasting covenant is revealed how God has handled the sin problem. First in symbols and shadows in the books of Moses — the first or "Old" covenant — and then in the reality of God's full and final revelation — the "New" covenant in the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord. Before God can put an end to sin He first must be seen to be just and secondly the verdict of the judgment must be approved by all of God's loyal subjects
We see the 24 elders, the jury of witnesses in the trial of the ages. Two witnesses from each tribe of "spiritual" Israel, the 144,000 — the symbolic term for the evangelical church of our Lord Jesus Christ. The angels in unnumbered multitudes observe in awe as God deals with man in history. His mercy to undeserving sinners who respond to the proclamation of the gospel and call out for salvation and forgiveness brings forth the songs of highest praises from the angelic choirs of heaven. While these witnesses watch Satan's demonic hosts bring suffering and agony to the loyal followers of God, the Lord Jesus fights for the defense of His Church by means of sword, famine, pestilence, and wild animals — the "Four Horsemen", (see also Ezekiel and Zechariah).
At the beginning of this vision, John weeps because no man is worthy to stand in the judgment to answer and fulfill the one ultimate requirement of the Law of God — perfect righteousness — a sinless life to stand as the Representative, Substitute, and Redeemer for the Church. Then the Lord Jesus Christ enters the scene as the Righteous Lamb of God, who through His perfect, sinless life of obedience to the Law of God and His suffering and death on the cross has answered all the demands of the Law.
As the Divine Substitute, Jesus has allowed the curses of the Law — the punishment which all sinners deserve (see the blessings and curses of the covenant in Deuteronomy 11:26-29) to fall on Him so that the blessing of Eternal Life might fall to those who repent and put their trust in the blood of Jesus for their acceptance with God.
The judgment scene having now set the stage and the backdrop for the history of the Christian Church, the question rings through Heaven "The terrible day of God's wrath has come and who will be able to stand". The scenes and visions which follow answer that question.
Spiritual Israel: The first scene is that of the "sealed" servants of the Living God, the 144,000 — the symbolic title for the evangelical Christian church, the new "Israel" of God. Who is this great multitude which is clothed in white linen and is gathered from every nation, tribe, people, and language which is symbolically called the 144,000 and where do they come from? The answer is given at the close of the scene and then portrayed in the scenes which follow. "These are they which have come out of great tribulation and have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb." God will wipe away all their tears from their eyes.
Revelation 8, 9
The Seven Trumpets: The next scene symbolically depicts the great sufferings and woes through which the inhabitants of the earth must pass. From apostolic times to the end of time the sufferings resulting from sin and rebellion are graphically symbolized using imagery borrowed from the Tabernacle service of the Old Testament. The "Seven Trumpets" call to mind the Feast of Trumpets which called ancient Israel to prepare for the great Day of Atonement. On this day the people of God would assemble at the Tabernacle in deep repentance for their sins in order to be covenantally "sealed" in the book of life. Those who refused the trumpet call to "afflict their souls" on the Day of Atonement were "cut off" from the book of life — the covenantal record containing the names of all the families of Israel.
Thus the "trumpet call" of the evangelical gospel of Christ which is proclaimed throughout the world can be a joyful invitation to forgiveness and eternal life to all those who heed the call or — if rejected — it can be a warning of imminent doom and woe to all those who refuse the call to repent and trust in Christ's atonement on the cross.
As God's people live through the era of the Seven Trumpets, Satan and his demons afflict and persecute the servants of God causing many tears to flow. Between the sixth and seventh trumpets we are given an overview of the entire Christian era.
Revelation 10 and 11
The Overview of the Seven Trumpet Era: The mighty angel with the "little scroll" (the everlasting covenant of grace) reveals to John that even though no man can make known the day or hour of the end (this is what is sealed up and not revealed to the Church, see Matt. 24:36) the Gospel message must go to the ends of the world before the end shall come. And thus the "bitterness" of the long delay through which the church must not only endure but also prophesy for 1260 symbolic days is portrayed. The apostles understood that sacred history could be symbolically divided into two great eras — the era of the "Old Covenant" with its earthly Temple — and the era of the "New Covenant" with its heavenly "Temple" where Jesus our great High Priest mediates His blood and righteousness before the Law of God for us. The Old was "ratified" by the blood of bulls and goats.The New was "ratified" by the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus history can be said to be symbolized by seven years. The first half of history, or "three and a half years", was seen as that era from the fall of the First Adam to the incarnation and vicarious atonement of the Second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ. The second half of history, or "three and a half years", was identified as the time from the cross of Christ to the second coming of our Lord in power and glory.
This command of Revelation 11:1 to "measure the temple of God and those who worship therein" begins the series of visions which more narrowly focus upon the evangelical Christian church — the "temple" of the Living God in which the Spirit of God dwells.
The persecuted evangelical Church will "prophesy" or proclaim the Gospel to all nations, people, languages, and kingdoms throughout the Christian era, here called the "forty-two months". The unbelieving world (the "gentiles") will persecute ("trample under foot") the church (the "holy city") throughout the symbolic "42 months" or "1260 days" of her sojourn here on earth (42 months = 1260 days = 3½ years). Luke in his gospel account refers to the Christian era as when "the times of the 'Gentiles' be (are) fulfilled".
The first vision of this series is the vision of the "two witnesses" who testify for 1260 symbolic days while the Holy City (the true invisible evangelical Church) is trodden down by the "Gentiles" (the unbelieving world). These "two witnesses" are able to withstand their enemies by the power of their testimony ("fire from their mouth") and the "plagues" which God causes to fall upon those who seek their harm. But ultimately at the end of their time of testimony their witness is silenced and the unbelieving world totally rejects their testimony. Finally, however, after a brief period of "three days" (in the symbolism employed here the church symbolicly dublicates Christ's three days "in the heart of the earth", that is--His death, burial, and then His resurrection and vindication) God Himself vindicates the two witnesses by "resurrecting" them and exalting them before the eyes of the world.
Revelation 12 This vision gives even more details of Satan persecuting the Church. The Christ child is born into the world as the Savior and sin bearer and then ascends into heaven. Then the evangelical Church is forced to flee into the "wilderness" (Elijah also fled into the "wilderness" for 3 ½ years) of persecution, exile and poverty. We see that Satan, as the result of Christ's victory over death and the grave, is now cast out of heaven and down to the earth where as the "great red dragon" he vents his great wrath against the Woman for 3½ years or "times" (1260 symbolic days).
This vision gives even more detail regarding the temple of God, the Church. Now we see John employ another symbol from Daniel the 7th chapter. The terrible fourth "Beast" of Daniel 7:7 — the Roman Empire — is again brought to view as the power which devours and deceives the whole world of John's day . This seven headed Beast is the power which rules the world of John's day and dares to seek to fulfill the wrath of the Dragon by making war with the saints of Christ, the suffering evangelical church. Again we see repeated that the persecution lasts "42" symbolic months (there are 30 days in the Hebrew month thus 42 x 30 = 1260 symbolic days).
This vision of the Roman Empire here introduces in verse 3 a strange twist which will be mentioned again in verse 11. This great Empire is mortally wounded but he does not die! The deadly wound is "healed" and he lives on again! How does the Beast, the Roman Empire, come back to life?
We see that another power arises which is a lamb-like power, with the two horns of a "Lamb", a deceptive power which breathes renewed life into Rome, but this time as a religious power. This "false prophet" (see Revelation 16:13, 20 and 20:10) which revives Rome is an actual duplicate of the old Rome after its fall in the 5th century AD. This is the same apostate power, the "mystery of iniquity" or lawlessness of which Paul spoke in 2 Thes. 2:7 which would arise after the power which "restrained" it would be "taken out of the way".
After the Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th century AD, the great "falling away", the apostate Roman church, "the false prophet", took over control of the fragmented Roman Empire, now known as the "Holy" Roman Empire, headed by the new pontiff calling himself " Pope", the Bishop of Rome. How is the number of his name 666? The title of the Pope, "Vicar of the Son of God" in Latin is "Vicarivs Filii Dei". The roman numerals contained in this name add up to 666.
Lord enables His people to identify this power which would seek to make war with the church of Christ and seek to overthrow the truth of the evangelical Gospel by introducing a false gospel — a "gospel" which causes sinners to look to man for eternal life rather than the Lord Jesus Christ who is the only Mediator between God and man. A sinner must always confess his sins directly to Jesus and never to any earthly priest! Any religion which places ceremony above simple faith in the finished Atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ is Antichrist. The final deceptive unbiblical teachings of Satan which are being exposed in the finishing up of the Protestant reformation are: 1.) the blasphemous belief in the intercession of the "Saints" and Mary, 2.) the blasphemous belief in the sinless perfection of the "Saints" and Mary , 3.) the blasphemous teaching of transubstantiation in the saying of the "Mass", 4.) the blasphemous belief in "purgatory", 5.) the blasphemous belief in celibacy for "nuns" and "priests", 6.) the blasphemous practice of priestly absolution of sin, 5.) the blasphemous belief in meritorious sacramentalism 6.) the blasphemous practice of infant baptism, 7.) the blasphemous practice of saying prayers for the dead, 8.) the blasphemous practice of chanting in prayer to God and Mary and doing "penance" to atone for sin, 9.) the blasphemous making of and bowing down to a graven image 10.) the blasphemous teaching of the eternal conscious suffering of the lost in hell-fire, 11.) the blasphemous teaching of "apostolic succession" of Peter and the "popes" of Rome as the infallible head of the Christian church, 12.) the blasphemous wearing of clerical vestments and special religious attire, 13.) the blasphemous mumbling of Latin in church, 14.) the blasphemous belief that the writings of the "church fathers" and "church tradition" are of equal authority with the bible in determining true doctrine, 15.) the blasphmeous belief that civil governments should enforce the religious dogmas of the church, 16.) the blasphmeous belief in Sunday sacredness, 17.) the blasphmeous belief in the immortality of the soul, 18.) the blasphmeous belief in Rome's error of justification because of infused love and righteousness within the believer rather than justification because of the imputed righteousness of Christ's meritorious sinless life and atoning death on the cross reckoned to the believer.
Here we see the true witnesses who stand before the Throne of God. They are the spiritual Israel who have gotten the victory over the false prophet of Revelation 13:18. They are not deceived by the prostitute woman — the Papacy and other false religions of the world. Their testimony is symbolically portrayed by the angel coming down with the Everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ to preach to all who dwell on the earth.
It is this Gospel which provides the mercy and unmerited grace needed for all who fear God and worship Him as their Creator and Redeemer to stand in the hour of God's judgment (v. 7). The religion — the "wine" — of "Babylon" (the mysteries of the Papacy and other false religions of the world can be traced all the way back to ancient Egypt and ancient Babylon in the worship of Isis and Nimrod) is declared apostate and a spiritual abomination (v. 8-9). Those who refuse to come out of the religion of this "False Prophet" will receive "the mark of the Beast" and be lost eternally in the wine press of God's wrath (v. 20).
Revelation 15, 16
This vision is that of God's final visitation of wrath upon those who have rejected His mercy through Christ alone. While those who have gained the victory over the Beast and his image stand secure, praising the name of their Savior, those who have fully aligned themselves with Satan and the man of Lawlessness will receive the "Seven Last Plagues". These Plagues symbolize the full covenantal wrath of God from which there is no mercy.
Revelation 17, 18
This vision gives even more detail as to the identity of the "Mystery of Iniquity", "Babylon the Great", "the Abomination of Desolation", which has caused the blood of God's saints to flow for the 1260 symbolic days of their testimony (Rev. 17:6).
The Roman Empire is the seven headed Beast which carries the Antichrist. Rome sits on "seven hills" and to the apostle John the angel states that the rule of the Caesars is soon to end ("five have fallen, one is, and another is to follow"). The empire of these emperors or "pontiffs" will finally fall to be replaced by the "pontiffs" of Papal Rome.
The Roman Empire did not entirely disappear however. Rome was divided into the nations of Europe and called the "Holy Roman Empire". Why was the Empire called "Holy" now? Because the nations of Europe would give their allegiance to a new "Pontiff" — the pontiffs of Vatican Rome, the popes.
Thus the popes of Rome have controlled the affairs of Europe and even the world since the "fall" of pagan Rome unto the present time. But ultimately the nations who serve and obey the papacy will hate her when they see her great fall. The fall of the Antichrist will come about as the result of one final proclamation of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ just before the end comes. Just as the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century greatly weakened the Papacy, a final Reformation and revival of the true Gospel will mean the end for the "woman sitting on a scarlet Beast" and give the antichrist of the Papacy a wound from which it never will be healed.
The great truth of the Everlasting Gospel and justification by faith in the blood of Christ alone will be the sword to slay the mighty Beast who makes war with the Lamb. The Gospel message of "Christ alone" will declare the spiritual fall of "Babylon" while the "Seven Last Plagues" will effect the physical fall of the "Lawless One"— as those peoples, nations, and languages who have given the Beast their power and authority now turn upon Babylon and make her desolate.
This vision depicts the covenantal "wedding" of Christ and His "Bride", the Church. The great cause of rejoicing is their victory over the lamb-like "beast" of Vatican Rome and over the "false prophet" of the papacy who are destroyed by the sword of the Lord of Lords. The "beast", and his "image", and the "false prophet" will never again make war with Christ and His suffering faithful people!!!
This vision depicts the captivity of Satan after the second coming of Christ. He is "bound" to roam the desolated earth, the "pit", for one thousand years. The unsaved who are alive at Christ's second coming will be destroyed by the brightness of His coming. But the final generation of saints who are alive at Christ's coming —along with the redeemed of all ages who had died in faith and who will be raised from the dead in the first resurrection — will be caught up into the air and and taken to heaven to enjoy 1,000 years of rest and healing, living and reigning with Jesus. At this time the saints will reign with Christ and judgment will be given to the saints to judge the unsaved to determine the punishment to be meted out to them, and to Satan, and his demonic fallen angels.
After this 1,000 years in heaven, the saints in the holy city will descend from heaven down to the desolated earth. Then the unsaved lost who followed Satan and worshipped the false gods of this world will be raised from the dead (this resurrection of the lost is called the "second resurrection" to face the "second death" or eternal death). Satan will be released from his captivity of bondage to deceive the resurrected unsaved lost one last time. He will cause them to make one final desperate attempt to destroy the City of God. But the fire of God's judgment will come down from heaven and destroy Satan and his unsaved followers. Satan will share in the final punishment of the "Beast" and his "Image" and the "False Prophet" — the trinity of evil — in the "lake of fire" (the "second" or final eternal death).
Revelation 21, 22
This is a symbolic view of the New Jerusalem in the earth restored to its Edenic beauty and also some final words of encouragement and admonition from our Lord to His faithful remnant.