Revelation 13 brings us to the beast. I know the interpretation of this can certainly vary depending on your eschatological views, but there is something that stands out to me about who the beast does not have control over.
Rev 13:7 And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
Rev 13:8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
Rev 13:9 If any man have an ear, let him hear.
Rev 13:10 He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.
The world is going to fall in love with the beast, but those were following the Lamb will not be following this beast. In other words, it is not possible to be committed to two masters here. If you are following the beast, that is where you are putting your hope. If you are following Jesus Christ, your hope is in a different place.
Spoiler alert. God wins. As we recognize that there is this ultimate divide between those who are following what is right and those who are following what is wrong, think ahead to the end of the story even though we had not read it yet together. God is going to ultimately triumph and it is not going to end so well for the beast.
Therefore, we are faced with a choice. If what the Bible says is true, it should be rather obvious what side we want to be on. Don’t we want to be on the one that leads to eternal joy rather than the one that leads to destruction? It seems rather clear to me.
Revelation 12 begins with a picture of a woman and a dragon. The woman is about to give birth, and the dragon wants to devour that child. The dragon also has an army which is at war with Michael the Archangel after the woman is taken away to hide in the wilderness for 42 months.
Rev 12:7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
Rev 12:8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
Rev 12:9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
I am choosing to highlight this passage because of the one phrase in verse nine that speaks about how Satan has deceived the entire world. This stands out to me because I think that sometimes we think we are above deception. We think that we have everything lined up, and that can lead to a sense of idolatry. We can make ourselves into idols and forget about God which is never a good thing.
I don’t remember who said it, but I have heard it said that the greatest deception Satan ever pulled off was convincing the world that he does not exist. In our society that is steadily losing a belief in the reality of good and evil, I have no doubt that Satan is thrilled. After all, now he is an acceptable alternative to God; he is simply just another choice. When people take away the idea that evil is wrong, evil is what wins.
Consequently, I know I did not talk much about the imagery of this chapter, but it seems highly significant to me to always keep in mind that we have an adversary who is smart. We have an adversary who has in fact deceived all of us; all of us have sinned at some point. We need to be careful that we are following God and make sure that that relationship is in the right place.
It is interesting that even as the judgments of being handed out in the beginning of Revelation 11, there is simultaneously a worship service going on in heaven.
Rev 11:15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
Rev 11:16 And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God,
Rev 11:17 Saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned.
Rev 11:18 And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.
This really makes me think about our earthly perspective in perspective as it were. We might not understand what God is doing. In fact, most of the time, I will freely admit that I’m not positive what God is doing. I think that God does open doors and close doors at times to help guide us in the right direction, but I am not Jesus Christ. I do not have that type of perfect sense of following the will of God at all times.
As a result, I don’t always understand all of the judgments of God. I don’t know everything about a situation that God knows. I don’t know the heart of people in the way that God does. As a result, it then challenges me to think about why I am so quick to say that God was unfair in a certain situation. I think that I can play God better than God is God. That is blatantly false.
In the scene in Revelation, even though God is handing down judgments that might not be pleasant for those being judged, there is a worship scene going on. It challenges me to think my limited perspective. I need to be worshiping God even when maybe I don’t know why certain things are happening. Even the judgments of God are just and are therefore something that we can worship Him for.
Revelation 10 presents us with an interesting scene. John hears seven thunders, but he does not receive permission to write down what he had heard. Rather, he is told to go and physically consume a scroll held by the angel who had called for the seven thunders to begin. Obviously there are a few questions about what this book is. Let’s take a look.
Rev 10:8 And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth.
Rev 10:9 And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.
Rev 10:10 And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.
Rev 10:11 And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.
We don’t know very much about what the book is, but it is interesting that it tasted sweet but essentially made John sick. Also, we know that immediately after John ate the book, he was told that he would need to prophesy again.
It seems to me that these are connected. The additional prophecy that he was going to give would certainly have some sweet elements, but it would also be better. Although we haven’t gotten to the end of Revelation yet, think about the ultimate sweetness and the ultimate bitterness. Some people are going to be with God forever, and some people are going to be apart from God forever.
As a Christian then, it certainly is sweet that we are going to be with God. There is nothing that could be better than being in the presence of our Savior. However, as a Christian, it should also be disturbing that there are people who will not be able to experience that by their own free will. By not making the right decision, they are choosing a path that will lead to destruction. That should make us sick if we really think about it.
Maybe I am misinterpreting what the book actually is, but it seems to me that it is important for us as Christians to remember that while we are certainly full of joy and excitement, there is a sense in which we grieve for the world as well.
It amazes me how stubborn people can be. In Revelation 9, the earth is not in a very good place. They have now been hit by terrible plagues, but there are still people who don’t realize the error of their ways.
Rev 9:20 And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:
Rev 9:21 Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.
They have seen the horror around them, but they don’t recognize the consequences of what they had done. They don’t realize why all of this is happening, and as a result they remain in the darkness.
It makes me think of CS Lewis in The Last Battle. We read about the rebellious dwarf army. The constant refrain is that the dwarves are for the dwarves. Even though they see the world of Narnia falling apart around them, they choose to remain in darkness and remain stubborn.
It makes me think about our world today. If you think about all of the evidence we have that not only Jesus was who He said He was and also the evidence we have in creation that it seems incredibly improbable that everything happened by chance, God seems to be a probable hypothesis. However, some people are so bent on maintaining their naturalistic worldview that they dismiss where the evidence is actually pointing.
That is the challenge then that we face in the world around us. Even with all the evidence around them, there are people who are simply not going to believe. We simply have to be the best witness we are capable of being, and God will take care of the process of conviction.
Revelation 8 demonstrates the power of the judgment of God. I know that people will debate over what this actually means and when it takes place, but I think there’s no doubt that is not fun to experience the judgment of God.
Rev 8:13 And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!
This is a hard thing for many of us to put together. Yes, God is a God of love. There’s no doubt about that. As a matter of fact, God is love. We love because God first loved us. There is no doubt about that from the Biblical testimony.
On the other hand, God is also a God of judgment. We see that in Sodom and Gomorrah. We see that with the nation of Israel when they disobeyed. We see that with Ananias and Sapphira. We now see that in Revelation.
How do we reconcile these two images of God? Some people might think they are entirely different or at the very least inconsistent.
I don’t think it is particularly hard to reconcile these however. Think about your parents or your teacher in school. They certainly love you, but they also are in a position to discipline you. The discipline does not come out of a place of vengeance or hate. It comes out of a place for the just consequence that follows the action you committed.
The world as we know it has fallen away from God. There’s no doubt about that. It started with Adam and Eve. As a result, there are consequences, and God does need to exercise discipline. It does not mean that He does not love the world. This does not need to be inconsistent.
One thing that I think is going to be fascinating about being in heaven is the remarkable amount of diversity and commonality we are going to find with our fellow believers. In Revelation 7, we find another worship service, and believers are gathered in heaven from all around the world having died throughout the ages.
Rev 7:9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
Rev 7:10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
As John was witnessing this, he must have been blown away. He was imprisoned on Patmos because he was a Christian. I don’t know if he was imprisoned alongside other people who were Christians as well, but I would imagine that the effect of being imprisoned for your faith makes you feel isolated. Even if there are other Christians around, I am sure that the Roman prison guards were not thrilled if these people began talking about their love for Jesus Christ.
Therefore, from this environment that would seem to feel rather isolating, John was now able to witness a crowd of believers from around the earth who are able to praise God openly and stand in His presence. There will be so much diversity present as Christianity has essentially covered the entire world (although there are still unreached peoples).
I don’t know about you, but it makes me excited. It makes me think about how unique heaven is going to be. On earth, we find so many ways to divide ourselves, but in heaven, even though many of those things still exists, we will recognize that we are still brothers and sisters in Christ. That is what will matter.
Now that we have established Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, as the only one who is capable of opening the seven seals, Revelation 6 shows us what happens when the first six are open. The four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rode out as the first four were opened, the martyrs cried for justice as the fifth was open and a giant earthquake that literally rearranged the earth accompanied the six. I want to focus on the fifth seal.
Rev 6:9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
Rev 6:10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
Rev 6:11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
This passage brings us to a somewhat sad conclusion. The martyrs who had been killed for believing in Jesus Christ ask for justice. However, it was said to them that justice would not be done until all those who were going to be killed were killed.
Martyrs are not a thing of the past. I think that in America it is so easy to take what we have for granted. I know there are legitimate concerns about religious freedom, and I don’t want to discount that, but in general terms, it is relatively easy to be a Christian in the United States.
No matter what your eschatology, I think that this passage is interpreted in essentially the same way. Christians are going to be persecuted until the end of time. The number has not yet been accomplished. This ought to encourage us all the more then to pray for the persecuted church. There certainly will be justice in the end, so we don’t need to worry about that. However, we can still pray for the strength of those who have to endure.
Revelation 5 provides us with a reminder that Jesus is not done with changing history yet. John sees a book sealed with seven seals, but no one is found who is worthy to open it until they come to Jesus Christ.
Rev 5:12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
Rev 5:13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
Rev 5:14 And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.
Again, it seems that this is something that points towards the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. For those who want to believe that Jesus was just a good teacher who was not divine in any way, this passage seems to take issue with that claim. After all, if Jesus was just another human that the rest of us who had an unnatural dose of wisdom, then why would He receive all of the special acknowledgment in heaven? What would set Him apart from us that would make Him worthy to open the book?
Jesus was fully man and fully God. Even though it is somewhat hard to comprehend this type of union, He is undoubtedly unique. No angel or person could take His place. As we progress through Revelation, Jesus naturally has a large part to play, but here we begin to understand just how special He is and how He is the unique opener of the book.
Now we get to the fun parts of Revelation. Revelation 4 begins with John being told that these are things which must be. John is now having the chance to see the future, and he is told to write it down.
When he first sees is a worship service with 24 elders and four beasts. Although the identity of the elders is not entirely agreed upon, it seems to make quite a bit of sense that they are actual people from earth who have received crowns. That seems to be a reward for faithful humans as described throughout the New Testament. Therefore, it totally makes sense in context that the humans will be casting down there crowns and worshiping God.
The beasts are somewhat more interesting.
Rev 4:7 And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
Rev 4:8 And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
Rev 4:9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
Rev 4:10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
Rev 4:11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
Why these particular beasts? As soon as the beasts began praising God, the elders began to worship as well. Therefore, it seems that there is something about the beasts that leads the people. This is what seems to lead most of my commentaries to conclude that these beasts are representative of the characteristics of the true church.
The church ideally has the strength of a lion, the steadiness and industriousness of what has often times been translated as an ox or calf, the wisdom of humans and the swiftness of the eagle. When the church praises God continually as described in verse nine, the elders who are already in heaven get excited and worship as well.
There is a worship service going on in heaven to begin the heavenly vision of John. Worship is central to existence in heaven.