Eschatology (End Times) Lesson Outlines

Life After Life

  1. What happens when someone dies?
    1. The spirit leaves the body—“for as the body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). 
    2. The spirit returns to God—“then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). 
  2. Where does a person go when they die?
    1. Jesus told the thief that they’d be in paradise—“today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus said something similar to the Ephesians—“To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). 
    2. Peter preached that Jesus was in hades—“for you will not leave my soul in hades, nor will you allow your holy one to see corruption” (Acts 2:27).
    3. The rich man and Lazarus went to hades/Abraham’s bosom—“So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in hades…” (Luke 16:22–23a). 
    4. We go to be with the Lord—“For I am hard-pressed between [life and death], having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth?’” (Rev. 6:9–10). 
    5. Note: paradise, hades, Abraham’s bosom, and heaven are interchangeable. It would appear that they are one-in-the-same in a manner of speaking. These passages suggest: 1) when we die, we are with Jesus, and since He’s in heaven at God’s right hand, when we join Him, we join Him where He is. 2) When God returns, He’ll bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus (dead Christians). 3) The souls of the martyrs are beneath the altar in heaven with God and Christ. 
  3. What is life after life like?
    1. One of the best passages to understand this is the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31. We learn a few things from this passage:
      1. “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23). Notice that the rich man, Abraham, and Lazarus all retain their identities, recognize one another, and the rich man can feel. 
      2. “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented” (Luke 16:24–25). From these two verses, we notice that they can communicate, the rich man and Lazarus are noted as feeling either pain or comfort, and that what happened in life follows them to hades. 
      3. “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us’” (Luke 16:26). There is no crossing from one side to the next, so there is no second chance. 
    2. This naturally brings up the question: “If we already know where we’ll be when we die, what’s the point of the judgment?” From what I gather, judgment is when we stand before the Lord to give account. There will be no hiding because heaven and earth flees from the presence of the Lord (Revelation 20:11–13). When Adam and Eve knew they had sinned, they hid from God (Genesis 3:8). There will be no hiding. We will have to stand before God to answer. 
  4. Before judgment comes the resurrection. 
    1. Passages attesting to the resurrection—“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2).” “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28–29).” “I have hope in God … that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15).
    2. Passages attesting to the redemption of our bodies—“Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23). “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Philippians 3:20–21). “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).
    3. What will our resurrection bodies be like? Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 15:35–55:
      1. Corruption vs. Incorruption (v. 42)
      2. Dishonor vs. Glory (v. 43)
      3. Weakness vs. Power (v. 43)
      4. Natural vs. Spiritual (v. 44)
      5. Living vs. Life-giving (v. 45)
      6. Earthly vs. Heavenly (vv. 47–48)
      7. Mortal vs. Immortal (v. 54)
    4. We aren’t meant to live eternally as disembodied spirits—“For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:2–4). 

The Judgment

  1. Thinking about judgment:
    1. When we think of judgment, we’re likely to think of the event with negative connotations in mind. However, judgment is a good thing, as the Scriptures remind us (cf. Psalm 2, 98; Isaiah 11:1–10). God’s judgment will set things right once and for all. Jesus’ death was the single act to reconcile us to God and no longer dread judgment, but we must realize that it won’t be a great day for some people. 
    2. Any sin is a personal affront to God. 
      1. “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God” (Gen. 39:9)?
      2. “If a person sins and commits a trespass against the LORD by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or about a pledge, or about a robbery, or if he has extorted from his neighbor …” (Lev. 6:2)
      3. “So David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’” (2 Sam. 12:13).
      4. “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight—that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge.” (Ps. 51:4). 
  2. Jesus, our Judge:
    1. “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). 
    2. Our standard will be Christ’s words (John 12:48). 
    3. We will be judged concerning our:
      1. Hearts: “[Christ] will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts [at His coming].” (1 Cor. 4:5)
      2. Words: “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12:36–37)
      3. Deeds: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10)
  3. Condemnation:
    1. Those who give lip service to God will not be saved: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt. 7:21–23)
    2. Those who do not regard others will not be saved: “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
    3. Those who don’t know God and obey the gospel will not be saved: “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” (2 Thess. 1:8–9). 
  4. What doesn’t save:
    1. Sincerity—Jacob sincerely believed that Joseph was dead for years until they were reunited. 
    2. Zeal—Saul of Tarsus was zealous for God, but he murdered many Christians (Romans 10:1–3). 
    3. Religious acts—Cornelius the centurion was well spoken of and often gave alms and prayed, but Peter was still sent to provide him with the gospel (Acts 10:1–2). 

A New Heaven and Earth

  1. What to remember: 
    1. Thus far we’ve studied what occurs when a person transitions from life on earth to the afterlife. 
      1. A person goes to be with the Lord in a place that’s called by various names: heaven, hades, paradise, and the bosom of Abraham. 
      2. While here, we will know whether or not we’re among the saved or condemned. 
      3. Then comes the resurrection at the second coming of Jesus, followed by the judgment. 
      4. After the judgment, a person either goes to the lake of fire (hell), or they go to be with the Lord. 
    2. We will have resurrection bodies in which we will then join God in the new heaven and earth. 
    3. If you would like a copy of the previous two outlines, feel free to email me at schunter@ymail.com (yes, it’s ymail and not gmail). 
  2. Passages regarding God’s concern for creation:
    1. God saw that everything He made was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). 
    2. Every creature of God is good (1 Timothy 4:4–5). 
    3. Man’s sin subjected creation to futility (Genesis 3:17–19; cf. 5:29).
    4. Disobedience to God by us defiles earth (Isaiah 24:5–6). 
  3. Key passages:
    1. In Romans 8:18–25, creation:
      1. Awaits the revealing of the sons of God (v. 19).
      2. Has been subjected to futility by God for redemption (v. 20).
      3. Will be delivered from corruption (v. 21).
      4. Currently groans within itself (v. 22).
      5. Like us, creation awaits adoption, redemption (v. 23). 
    2. Ephesians 1:7–10.
      1. Note “things” in “heaven and earth.” 
    3. Colossians 1:15–20:
      1. Christ the head of creation (vv. 15–17).
      2. Christ the head of the new creation (vv. 18–20).
      3. The church is the source of the restoration and fulfillment of creation in Christ. 
    4.  2 Peter 3:10–13:
      1. The heavens and elements are destroyed by fire (vv. 10, 12). 
      2. Because such will be destroyed, we ought to be holy and godly people (v. 11), because, in the new heaven/earth, righteousness dwells (v. 13). 
    5. Revelation 20:11–21:27 leads us to believe: 
      1. The new heaven/earth follows judgment (21:1).
      2. Our current heaven/earth is no more (21:1).
      3. God’s dwelling is with humanity once more as in Eden (21:2).
      4. In the new heaven/earth, God wipes away our tears, death is conquered, and sorrow and crying and pain no longer exist because they were a part of the current heaven/earth (21:4). 
      5. Contrasting with the first heaven/earth, God and Christ is the temple of the new heaven/earth whereas earth itself had been (21:22). The first heaven/earth had darkness, but not the new (21:23–25). Unlike the first heaven/earth, no defilement shall enter into the new heaven/earth (21:27). 

Reasons to Look Forward to Heaven

I have never been to Disney World or Disney Land myself. I know many people who frequent these places with their families, and some are even married couples without children who contend that December is the best time to go because there’s fewer in attendance. I’ve just never been one for theme parks. I’d go farther to confess that I’ve never even been on a rollercoaster, I’m not ashamed to admit. It’s not my thing though I know many have a taste for such excitement, and that’s fine. Walt Disney conceived an excellent notion with his films and animations and would bring it to life in his theme park despite not living to see it come to fruition. On its opening day in 1955, Disney said,

To all who come to this happy place; welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past…. and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America … with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.

 As marvelous and wonderful as I hear Disney is, the sad thing is that it doesn’t last long enough for those who desire to be there. You can always go back, but you’ll find yourself leaving again. It’s a vacation spot. It’s not where you live. It may seem to some as heaven on earth, but it’s not heaven at all, because of the time restrictions and a few missing elements. It may be the happiest or most magical place on earth, but it only pales in comparison to the ideals to which it aspires. Heaven is that place, and it’s where we get to spend, not a week only to leave, but an eternity.

Reasons Examined 

There’s certainly a lot of material that could be studied in Revelation 21–22, such as renewed creation. Still, I’d instead look at reasons we Christians look forward to heaven regardless of how one may understand it. It’s fantastic when you consider the value of missing. For example, any team that played against the Chicago Bulls loved with Michael Jordan missed a basket. It wasn’t right for Jordan, but it was for the other team. A deer can always be pleased when a hunter misses that shot, and it has the chance to run away. Obviously, for one, missing is disappointing, while for another missing is sweet. Note what’s missing from heaven: sea (i.e., chaos; cf. Gen. 1:1–3), death, sorrow, crying, and pain (Rev. 21:1, 4; cf. v. 8).

Furthermore, the curse no longer exists—neither the night (Rev. 22:3, 5). These are absent for one particular reason, and that’s because of God’s presence. Joy displaces sorrow and suffering—something comforting to persecuted believers in the first century, and even all those who live now with sadness. Those who persecute use such things to oppress and injure others, but the faithful of God will relish the absence of them in heaven. These are often the first things we might think about when we envision heaven. This is what is obviously most appealing to us, especially in times of hardship and heartache, but it’s not all that there is.

What next appears is the reality and eschatological expectation that God dwells with men and men with Him (Rev. 21:3). Heaven is the “tabernacle” of God—skene in Greek; mishkan in Hebrew; skin in English. The same three-letter root appears for each; skn. Initially, the term noted a large tent often made of skins, which is what the tabernacle was in the wilderness. As a metaphor, this indicates the divine presence of God (cf. Rev. 7:15; John 1:14). This tabernacle, New Jerusalem, is actually the Holy of Holies itself (Rev. 21:16), and the entirety of the city is the tabernacle (Rev. 21:22). I’ve mentioned in preaching before that when God created the heavens and the earth that He did so as a temple. Our sins alienated us from Him and corrupted the world which resulted in His wonderful creation being unclean. Through the tabernacle, temple, and church, He has set holy precincts back in the earth so that He could live among humanity. However, since the planet still contains sin, the new heavens and new earth will be the totality of His original design. This demonstrates a beautiful cohesiveness to the entirety of Scripture and the heart of God.

Finally, there’s the quenching of one’s thirst (Rev. 21:7). Throughout Scripture, a person who thirsts is one who has a need. Those that hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied (Matt. 5:6). As an invitation to an abundant life, Israelites were encouraged to come to God if they thirsted (Is. 55:1), and the psalmist depicted their longing for God as a thirst (Ps. 63:1–2). Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth-century philosopher, among other things. He wrote a work entitled Pensées (pron. pawn-say; “Thoughts”) in which he wrote

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.[1]

Centuries before Pascal would pen his words, Augustine would write, “Restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee” (Conf. 1.1.1), so God’s angel would show John the pure river of water of life (Rev. 22:1). Our thirst is quenched. Our desires are satisfied.

There’s a lovely poem entitled, “A Letter from Heaven,” that reads:

When tomorrow starts without me;

And I’m not here to see,

If the sun should rise and find your

Eyes, filled with tears for me.

 I wish so much that you wouldn’t cry,

The way you did today,

While thinking of the man things,

We didn’t get to say.

 I know how much you love me,

As much as I love you,

And each time you think of me,

I know you’ll miss me too.

 When tomorrow starts without me,

Don’t think we’re far apart,

For every time you think of me,

I’m right there in your heart.

 “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears says, ‘Come!’ and let him who thirsts comes. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).


[1] Blaise Pascal, Pensées (New York: Penguin Books, 1966), 75.

The Final Judgment

When I began this study of Revelation, it was because we were living during a pandemic, unlike what any of us has ever seen in our lifetime. People were applying concepts and visions from this book to the things that have been happening in our country and world, and pointing to the “fulfillment” of the book as happening before our eyes. I imagine previous generations have done similarly, but up until this point, I’ve shown how most of the book was something fulfilled in the first century during which geopolitical events that occurred then were wreaking havoc on the church. In the previous lesson, we began to get a glimpse of the current state of affairs that applied as much to the first century as to us now. Then, we began to see what the future holds for Satan at his second coming. The harlot, the beast, and Babylon will have all been dealt with—and the climax at the end is that Satan is cast into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. Despite thinking all is accomplished, there are still two more enemies of humanity that must meet their demise—death and hades.

The Judgment Scene 

The New Testament is replete with the fact that a final reckoning is to come. Christ attested to His second coming being a point at which He sits on the throne of His glory for judgment (Matt. 25:31–46; cf. John 5:22–23). The Pauline corpus mentions as a corollary to his counsel the future judgment (Rom. 2:5, 16; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1), and he is as much recorded as having preached such too (Acts 17:30–31). The fact of judgment is a foregone conclusion in Christian theology and is to be expected, but what exactly will it be like? John gives us insight as do other passages. Christ will separate the sheep from goats and uses a litmus test as to how they regarded their brethren—with love or disregard. Judgment is spoken of in 2 Peter as coinciding on the day of fire and destruction of the ungodly (2 Peter 3:7). Jude also mentions judgment relative to the ungodly sinners (14–15).

To the Christian who’s been “justified” in the name of Christ, judgment isn’t anything to necessarily fear. To be justified is to be declared righteous, or literally to be set right by God. Our Father does this through the blood of His Son when we demonstrate faithfulness to and in Christ. It’s a legal term in Greek (dikaioo) and held the weight of a person being acquitted. In legal speak, a person acquitted has been freed from a criminal charge, and this is the plight of Christians—we are free of the charges against us because the blood of Christ has cleansed us. Judgment, therefore, shouldn’t be something we dread because of our standing in Christ Jesus.

This is a spectacular scene. Center is a great white throne, upon which the Lord sits (Rev. 20:11). This scene and all of Revelation in some way hearken back to Dan 7:9–10. We next note that the earth and heaven fled from His face. Moses once asked to see God’s glory, but God would show him only His goodness because were Moses or anyone, for that fact, to see His face, they would die. God, however, in His grace made provision for Moses to see Him as much as he could (Exod. 33:18–23). In eternity, the New Jerusalem, we shall see Him as no eye, but Jesus has ever seen Him (Rev. 22:4). On judgment day, there’s no hiding place. Everything is laid bare before the presence of the glory of the Lord. Humanity, like Adam and Eve after the fall in Eden, has tried to hide from God, but there’s no hiding place now, and at the judgment, we will realize just how bare we have been (Heb. 4:13).

All stand before the Lord, and books are opened. First, no one, no matter how grand they have been in life nor how small, stands before God. We’re all on equal ground. Social standing doesn’t matter. Accomplishments in life are insignificant. God doesn’t much care about that stuff like we do. He doesn’t care how many times we’ve appeared in the paper, or what awards we’ve won, or even the degrees we’ve earned in university. He’s looking at the record of our deeds (vv. 12–13). Before there’s any concern, the fact that God judges according to our deeds does not negate justification by faith. When we take the whole of Christian theology into account, this actually makes perfect sense. Our works proceed from our faith, so if we’ve been faithful, then we’ve been justified and need not worry. However, if our actions reflect a lack of faith, then we have something with which to be concerned. How have we responded to the love of God? Have we responded to love with love, or have we rejected love? The response we give to God’s love is the sum total of our works and deeds, and these are recorded in the books brought to God at the judgment.

What “books” are we speaking about? In Jewish literature and tradition, angels record the misdeeds of humans and report such to God in the interlude between the destruction of the earth and the resurrection (Sib. Or. 2.215–16; cf. Dan. 7:10). However, the book with which we need to be most concerned with is the Lamb’s Book of Life (vv. 12, 14). This book’s been mentioned already (cf. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8), and Jewish teaching upheld that God had a record of those who were in communion with Him and those who weren’t (cf. Exod. 32:32; Is. 4:3; Dan. 12:1–2). We whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life are those saved by God’s grace. We have been bought with the blood of the Lamb, and our faith has borne our trust in the faithfulness of Jesus. It isn’t that we lack works ourselves, but that the grace of our God far outshines any misdeeds we may have against us because we have trusted the Lord. If our name is absent, we, like Death and Hades, join Satan and his entourage in the lake that burns with fire. Such do not live eternally, but die, never to live again.

The Thousand-Year Reign

There’s a popular evangelical teaching entitled “dispensational premillennialism” which holds that we are living in the church era, or dispensation, and when the resurrection of the righteous comes—a doctrine referred to as “the rapture” that’s taken from 1 Thess 4:13–17—there will be great tribulation. After the great tribulation, a resurrection of tribulation-era saints will establish Jesus’ kingdom on earth for a literal 1,000 years. At the end of that period, Satan will be let loose, and then the final resurrection of the wicked will occur, judgment will be given by God, and we will enter into eternity.

There are issues with this doctrine, the first of which being that Rev 20:1–6 is read literally. While a few of the early church fathers interpreted this section literally, the majority did not, and the Second Ecumenical Council (381 CE) rejected the literal doctrine of the thousand years known as “chiliasm.” Another issue is that the term “rapture” never appears in Scripture. In the Latin Vulgate, one may read, simul rapiemur cum illis in nubibus Christo in aëra, and rapiemur is a cognate of rapto—from which we derive “rapture.” However, in evangelical thought, the rapture is not only being caught up but a state of ecstasy or lofty emotion. A third problem is that, biblically, the tribulation appears as having come before rather than after the millennium (Rev. 7:14)—if one reads it this way.

One more issue is a misunderstanding of the nature of Christ’s kingdom. This view sees the kingdom as something to be established on earth, and not something already installed—which Scripture points toward (cf. Luke 9:27; Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:5, 9; 5:10). This view is a very materialistic view of the kingdom of God. Because of the literal interpretation of those who espouse such a view, they always speak about the end times in language relative to the current mores of glorified warfare.

The Millennial Age 

All I may offer is how I read it with what knowledge of apocalyptic literature I retain. When read as a whole, Revelation has several interludes of which Rev 20:1–6 is but one. The purpose of such intervals is to assure the faithful of God’s judgment upon those who’ve grieved them and that they will survive the tribulation in which they are living.[1] The other interludes do this, and some are essential to the church (cf. 7:1–17; 10:1–11:13; 14:1–20; 19:1–10). Understanding that this section gives us a break from the “action” of the book allows us to see the purpose it serves rather than dwell methodically on every little detail. The enemy at the very heart of the trouble that the Christians face is himself to be bound and, as we shall see going forward, judged, and condemned.

The thousand years shouldn’t be treated as any more literal than any other number, because such appear used in figures of speech rather often in Scripture (Job 9:3; 2 Peter 3:8). I tend to hold the binding of Satan as the key (v. 2) more so than the number of years because Satan was bound upon Christ’s saving work (Matt. 12:28–29; Col. 2:15). It’s clear, however, that he isn’t totally disarmed and weak (Acts 5:3; Eph. 6:11), but he cannot keep the gospel from pervading the nations through his deception (v. 3). Therefore, this is the age in which we’re living. It isn’t a literal thousand years, but a period, or era during which Satan’s power is considerably diminished because of what Christ accomplished on the cross. This doesn’t speak of the last days, because we are living in the last days and have been since Pentecost (Acts 2:16–17; Heb. 1:1–2; 1 Peter 1:20).

One likely concern among the Asian Christians was what would become of those slain during such a horrendous episode in the history of the church. The Lord, next, shows where the martyrs are: they reign with the Lord in heaven (2 Tim. 2:12). They never worshiped the beast or his image. They did not receive his mark because they bore the seal of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their lives on earth, however, were of no consequence to the powers of the earth. What we know is that those of whom John is explicitly speaking were Roman citizens, because beheading was the primary capital punishment for Romans. They were bound to a post, stripped naked, beaten with whips, and then put to death.[2] This earth wasn’t kind to them, but because they remained unyielding in their faith, they now reign. The first resurrection I take here to be the resurrection to eternal life that is through death (vv. 5–6). When a saint dies in the Lord, of course, they could be said to have been raised to eternal life. They are assured of remaining untouched by the second death. They now reign with Him in the era of the church and faith in Christ Jesus.

Satan’s Release 

If we were to take the view that Revelation was written with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in mind, there’s so much of this book that could make sense—especially the release of Satan, Gog, and Magog, and the battle at the beloved city. When we observe the juxtaposed images in Revelation (e.g., the harlot versus the bride, Babylon versus New Jerusalem), we can note that this isn’t so much a period as much as it’s a juxtaposition, but of what? The passage appears akin to the second coming of Satan if you will (vv. 7–9). When we consider second comings, we envision the Parousia of Christ, our Lord. Satan will come a second time with the intent of raising the armies of all opposed to God, but Jesus comes as the reigning, triumphant King of Kings and Lord of Lords to execute judgment on the devil (v. 10). The devil himself, the arch-enemy of God and the deceiver of the nations, is resigned to the lake of fire and brimstone to join the beast and false prophet. Because the latter two did his bidding, they join the god of this world in the place prepared for him (Matt. 25:41). No longer is he a threat, but a non-concern.

When we reflect back on September 11, 2001, the mastermind who perpetrated the attack was the one person we wanted to bring to justice. Osama Bin Laden had used his money, influence, and hatred to orchestrate attacks that hurt our nation and took the lives of people of all religions and color. For a brief time, we were united as a country. We had a common enemy that we knew our government would target. Nearly a decade later, Seal Team Six would see to it that one of the world’s and America’s most wanted terrorized no more. Rob O’Neill, along with 23 other Seals, was brought in after a long period of surveillance to execute the mission. Working on the tail-end of the formation that worked floor-by-floor neutralizing targets, Rob and another Seal ascended to the third floor where in one room, he was face-to-face with Bin Laden. As he was trained to do, when the threat presented itself, Rob fired three shots, killing the most notorious terrorist in our lifetime. Before going, the team leader informed them that the chances of returning alive were minimal. These brave warriors went, believing that they wouldn’t return, and their leader reminded them that they weren’t going for the bravado or fame, but for, among others, the single mother who’d dropped her only son off at school only to find herself jumping to her death from a burning tower forty-five minutes later. For her, it was better to leap to her own grave than burn alive. Her last gesture of human decency was holding her skirt down so no one could see her underwear as she plunged to her death. That’s why they were going.

In the finality of the world, when all accounts are reckoned, King Jesus will impose on the mastermind of deception and perdition the death blow. Satan, humanity’s most notorious terrorist, will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone. This place has been prepared for him since he began wreaking havoc on humanity. For every marriage that’s been broken apart, for every arm that has had a needle thrust into it, for every tear shed and every night of lost sleep, for every person who’s suffered abuse at the hands of another, and for every victim, the enemy and orchestrator of our misery will pay. “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”


[1] Michael J. Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011), 144.

[2] Livy, 2.5.8; Seneca, Dial. 3.18.4.

Babylon Falls and Heaven Rejoices

Think of pride. Think of ego, arrogance, and even rebellion. As far back as Genesis 11, this is what Babylon stood for when the whole earth had one language. God confused the tongues of those who wanted to build a tower to the heights of the heavens and make a name for themselves, but God confused their language, and rather than one, the peoples of the earth spoke multiple. Centuries later, Babylon herself marched into Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and carted off many into a land of exile—there to despair of their lot but also to repent and rededicate themselves to God. Now, in the first century, Babylon isn’t the actual, physical location itself but a sobriquet for Rome. The angel gave John the interpretation of the vision he saw (Rev. 17:9–18). Rome is situated on seven hills (v. 9),[1] the five kinds who’d fallen number from Augustus through Nero. Vespasian was the one who is, and the beast himself, who was the eighth was Domitian (vv. 10–11).

Many of the descriptions of the harlot lend to the understanding of Rome herself. Like a harlot, we recall that in the Old Testament, harlotry was a description for those who consorted with idols over the God of Israel. Being seated on many waters lends itself to the fact that Rome, Italy is a peninsula. The kings of the earth committing fornication with her speak to how so many other kingdoms were vassal states to Rome and even adopted the gods of Rome. The names of blasphemy on the scarlet beast may very well allude to the divine titles that the Emperor of Rome bore. What we’ll see in good time is that toward the end of this prophecy, the harlot so arrayed in purple and scarlet is to be contrasted with the pure linen in which the bride of Christ is arrayed (Rev. 19:6–8). The city of Babylon is nothing compared to the New Jerusalem of Christ. The former falls, but the latter prevails and absorbs what’s left behind in the act of grace.

Babylon’s Judgment 

When we speak about Babylon’s judgment and subsequent fall (Rev. 18:2), we mustn’t think of the fall of Rome herself—something that didn’t occur until the fifth century—but of the downfall of what the empire stood for concerning God.[2] The pronouncement of Babylon’s fall reaffirms what John already saw in Rev 14:8 and what he knew from Isaiah 21:9 of Israel’s history with the empire of old (cf. Jer. 51:8). Eventually, when Isaiah and Jeremiah saw the fall of Babylon, the empire itself did fall but not immediately. In the mind of God, however, it was as good as done, just as the Roman Empire was as good as done in God’s mind and would eventually happen in the fifth century. When Rome would fall, the birds would take over (Rev. 18:2). In John’s day, the city had as much as a million inhabitants, and when it fell, it was as few as 30,000.[3]

When the other voice urges that the people of God come out of Babylon, this may not be so much a literal evacuation of Rome as much as a call to fidelity. As we’ve seen with the seven churches at the front of the book, several of them had compromised and given into some of the whiles of Babylon. Though some strived to remain faithful, they still had faults against them and deeds from which they needed to repent. To the Christians living in Babylon who were unfaithful to the Lord, or on the cusp of backsliding, they by the grace of God are called to come out of her lest they share in her sins (Rev. 18:4). There are always some situations and places that we Christians need to remove ourselves from out of fidelity to God. If we don’t remove ourselves, we may give in to the powerful ways of perdition that God wants us to avoid, so He bids us come out of her. Why? Because such sins reach to God and though Babylon is complacent, God will not forget her deeds and is one who is reliable that will judge her (Rev. 18:5–8). Sometimes our Babylon can be school, work, or, sadly, home. Sometimes it can be an environment we put ourselves in for sport but turns out to be bad for us. A friend of mine’s husband used to be a minor league baseball player, and after marrying, he converted to Christ, having formerly been an atheist. As a relatively new Christian on the road with his team, he called his wife one night, and she heard in the background some noise and asked what it was. In the adjoining room where many of his teammates were was the entertainment of strippers. He had removed himself and eventually left the sport he loved to be with his family and not in an environment that invited sin.

Heaven Rejoices

With the downfall of Babylon comes lamenting from those who made themselves rich from her (Rev. 18:9–19). However, the heavens, apostles, and prophets are called to rejoice over her fall because God will have avenged them (Rev. 18:20). It’s often been thought that we shouldn’t celebrate when something terrible happens even to those who are evil. It isn’t that we can rejoice over their downfall, but that the justice of God has had its measure. We know that God would have given such evil people time to repent, and He would have sent them sign after sign after sign and messenger after messenger after messenger to urge such. After such forbearance, God judges (Rev. 18:21–24), and His justice and vengeance is not moved by passions such as ours, but by a balancing of the scales (Rev.19:1–5).

Notice how two women are juxtaposed: the harlot in purple and scarlet, and the bride of Christ in fine linen, clean and bright (Rev. 19:8). After Israel was delivered from Egypt, she was united to the Lord as a betrothed to her bridegroom (Hos. 2:19–20; Rom. 7:1–6). Marriage is the symbol of God’s union to His people (Is. 54:1–8; Ezek. 16:7–14; Eph. 5:22–32). It’s also an occasion for joy and celebration. The beatitude pronounced here is one of several meant to encourage fidelity amidst their circumstances (see also Rev. 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 20:6; 22:7, 14). While the birds feast on the carcasses of the wicked (Rev. 19:9, 17–18), the supper of the Lamb is prepared as Isaiah once foretold (Is. 25:6, 8). There are two pictures here: the banquet of the Lord and the feast upon the wicked. The whole motif is that God triumphs, and in His triumph, His people feast while the enemy is left on the streets to be preyed upon by scavengers. This is a typical depiction of what appears after the war.

When a person follows the beast, they end up in Armageddon—the wrath of God, or divine consent to our own self-destruction. If we follow the Lamb, we’ll find ourselves in New Jerusalem. The latter is what God desires. According to some interpretations of Revelation, Armageddon is a battle that must occur before Christ can come, so they become warmongers rather than peacemakers. Even the vision of Christ here as the faithful and true horseman in Revelation 19 is often invoked in a misguided effort to portray God as violent and retributive when he would rather no one suffer wrath but humble themselves to Him. The peaceful Jesus in the gospels is the same peaceful Jesus in Revelation, but if we set ourselves against Him, we experience Him in wrath. Jesus isn’t schizophrenic, preferring peace one minute and violence the next. This is the danger of literalizing what is symbolically given. Jesus sits upon the white horse of triumph, not the red horse of war. I wish to close with an excerpt from a thought-provoking book.

Christ always rules from the cross, never from an Apache attack helicopter. John stresses that Jesus reigns through self-sacrifice by depicting the white horse’s rider as wearing a robe drenched in blood before the battle begins. Jesus’s robe is soaked in his own blood. Jesus doesn’t shed the blood of enemies; Jesus sheds his own blood. This is the gospel! The rider on the white horse is the slaughtered Lamb, not the slaughtering beast. To further make his point, John tells us that the sword the rider uses to smite the nations is not in his hand but in his mouth. Soldiers with literal weapons of war hold them in their hands, not their mouths. This is not Caesar’s sword but the word of God. The Revelator so desires that we not miss this point that he comes right out and tells us, “His name is called The Word of God.” … The sword is not a sword; the sword is a symbol. The sword is the word of God. If we combine all of John’s creative symbols, the message is clear: Jesus wages war by self-sacrifice and by what he says. Jesus combats evil by cosuffering love and the word of God. This is the righteous war of the Lamb. Christians are called to believe that cosuffering love and the divine word are all Christ needs to overcome evil. A fallen world addicted to war does not believe this, but the followers of Jesus do, or should! If Jesus conquers evil by killing his enemies, he’s just another Caesar. But the whole point of John’s Revelation is that Jesus is nothing like Caesar! The idea that the world would continue to be run by the violent ways of Caesar and Pharaoh and all the rest was the bad news that made John weep when the elder told him there was none worthy to open the scroll of God. John the Revelator is giving us the gospel, not the antigospel. The war of the Lamb looks nothing like the war of the beast. Jesus is not like Caesar. Jesus does not wage war like Caesar.[4]


[1] Vergil, Aen. 6.783; Ovid, Trista 1.5.69; Cicero, Letters to Atticus 6.5.

[2] Reardon, Revelation, 97.

[3] Keener, Revelation, 423.

[4] Brian Zahnd, Sinners, 176–77.

The Wrath of God

A natural question arises: given that I’ve just previously described the love of God and how we experience it in either heaven or hell, what are we to make of the wrath of God? Our Western understanding of “wrath” has to do with someone’s premeditated, perhaps malicious, action towards another. However, in theological language, the “wrath of God” doesn’t describe God Himself, but a state of being in which one is opposed to God. God is love (1 John 4:8), and He never changes, but when we put ourselves in a position of opposition to God’s love, we experience wrath. Christianity cannot exist without wrath because it is an element of holiness itself, which the God of Israel and Father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is (Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8).

When you and I are wrathful, we act with passion. When we read of God’s wrath, we have to think of His righteousness, or “justice” as the word would be more appropriately translated in Paul’s Roman letter—at least in my opinion. We, sadly, have come to think of God’s wrath much as preached in early America by such men as Jonathan Edwards who said,

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.[1]

Edwards, and American Christianity as a whole, have begun with the premise that God, first, “abhors you.” This is the sort of notion to which most of us have grown up under, accustomed to being hated by our Creator. One might wonder what this does to the psychological makeup of a person.

In the gospels, we have the perfect Revelation of God in the person of Jesus. He is not portrayed as acting with hatred towards humanity, but with love and compassion. Picture it this way, to borrow a metaphor from Maximos the Confessor: the rays of the sun shine on the earth. To clay, it hardens, but to wax, it softens. The goodness of God shines on all humanity: to some, it hardens, and to others, it softens. If we are hardened, we become like Pharaoh and experience wrath. If we soften as wax, we may receive the stamp of divine realities upon us and become “in spirit the dwelling-place of God” (Eph. 2:22). We, therefore, must turn to God with love in faith and be “saved from wrath” (Rom. 5:9), which is “divine consent to our own self-destructive defiance.”[2]

Bowls of Wrath 

What we mustn’t forego is the conclusion that the trumpets were calls to repentance (cf. Rev. 9:20–21), but the bowls are final. Once more, we have in the first three bowls parallels to plagues God visited upon Egypt (Rev. 16:2–4)—the first of which identifies who is to bear such wrath, and they are those who bear the mark of the beast and worshipped his image. Reminiscent to Exodus, when the angel of death passed through Egypt, the blood of the Lamb over the doors of those who feared God preserved them from wrath. Similarly, those who bear the seal of the Lamb are protected from wrath because they do not carry the mark of the beast. Remember that the mark of the beast would have been the documents with the appropriate seals granted by the Concilia to those who worshipped the image of the Emperor. This enabled them to transact business and engage in the economy throughout the empire, so the Christians would have been forced to either join in or create their own black market.

By the time we come to the third bowl, we note something hitherto foreign to most: that one angel pours the bowl of wrath upon the waters, and the angel of the waters praises this action (Rev. 16:4). Second Temple Jewish thought held that angels were given superintendence over various features of the physical world (Jub. 2:2; 1 Enoch 20:2), so the angel charged with waters praised the Lord’s wrath upon his domain. Then, from beneath the altar, the martyrs praise the judgments of the Lord in vindication for their earlier cry for justice (Rev. 16:7; cf. 6:9–11). Unrepentant, the fourth bowl, unlike any of the plagues, was to increase the heat of the sun, and those who lacked penitence blasphemed the name of the Lord (Rev. 16:8–9). Whereas Daniel’s young companions refused to worship the image set up by Nebuchadnezzar, they were preserved from fire while these who refuse to repent will suffer from intense heat. The fifth bowl led to further blaspheming by a darkness that could obviously be felt (Rev. 16:10–11).

The Battle of Armageddon 

A lot of fanciful tales have emerged from this one-time-referenced phenomenon. With the pouring out of the sixth bowl, the Euphrates is dried so that the kings from the east (Parthian Empire) may travel westward, similar to how the Jordan was dried up for the conquest of Israel. Many rivers would dry up here or there, but the Euphrates wasn’t known for such, which may illustrate the dreadfulness of the time of God’s wrath. With Jewish thought pointed toward invasion when they hear of a river drying up (Josh. 3:14–17; 4:23–5:1), the stage was set so much so that the one might think that imperial propaganda led to the moment of the battle (Rev. 16:12–14). Jesus speaks up, and the one who is watchful and keeps his garments would be prepared for the moment. The words of Christ here in verse 15 are believed to speak to a Jewish tradition of keeping watch at the temple. When a guard was caught sleeping, he was beaten the first time. The second time, his clothes were burned, and he was left to depart naked to his shame.[3]

The place where the forces were gathered was Armageddon—literally, “the hill of Megiddo.” This isn’t some cryptic event or location, but well known to the Jews. It only appears here in Rev 16:16 and is geographically located in the city of Megiddo on a spur of Mt. Carmel, where Elijah faced the prophets of Baal. The plain of Megiddo boasted intersections of trade routes that linked Egypt with the Fertile Crescent as well as Palestine with the Phoenician coast. It was here that Deborah and Barak defeated Sisera (Judg. 5:19–20); Josiah was slain here by Pharaoh Neco (2 Kings 23:29).

A renowned area of conflict is what’s in mind because there is no literal “hill” or “mountain” of Megiddo. It’s plain. Furthermore, no “battle” is mentioned, but when the place is referenced, “battle” is always assumed, given the history of this area. What also is believed is because it’s referred to as the “battle of that great day of God Almighty” that this is something physical and no spiritual. Notice the spiritual elements in the sixth bowl about unclean spirits, false prophet, and demons who would lead earthly powers astray. The concept is more in mind than a real, historical event. God does battle with the enemy, and as soon as it was underway, the seventh bowl of judgment is poured. Just as the seventh trumpet presented cataclysmic events to conclude, so too does the seventh bowl. Even here, the hardened hearts do not permit repentance, but blasphemy persists (Rev. 16:17–21)


[1] Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.sinners.html (accessed July 28, 2020)

[2] Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News (New York: The Crown Publishing Group, 2017) 16.

[3] Keener, Revelation, 396 n. 17; Farley, Apocalypse, 175.

Hell in Heaven?

Those of us who live by faith, though we may not see what God is doing in a predicament, trust that He is acting for our benefit; however that may look. Those who walk by sight are destined to see only what’s before their eyes, which can lead to panic, despondency, and even hopelessness. For the Asian Christians, they were striving to live by faith, but the sight of their reality was so grim that they couldn’t help but see what’s before them. Luckily for them, John can see beyond the physical into the heavens and reveal what it was precisely that he beheld. When we are so overtaken by sight, it always helps for someone of greater faith to come along and to aid us in better viewing the matter as Jesus would have us.

One of my favorite Bible stories occurs along this line. Elisha, the prophet, was at the helm of the prophetic ministry of Israel. One early morning, his servant arose to see that the Syrian army had surrounded the city where they were, and he lamented the sight of what he saw. Elisha, however, was not phased. Instead, he told his servant that they had more on their side than the Syrians had. The servant was puzzled by this because he could only see by sight, so Elisha prayed that God would “open his eyes” to see what was occurring in the heavenly places. God did so, and here’s what we read, “And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17). There it is: seeing by faith.

What John Now Sees 

 The trumpets of judgment have finished, and we’ve been shown an interlude of the past. John showed us the nativity of our Savior, and even the fall of Satan from heaven after the resurrection and kingdom of our Lord came. However, because the enemy has been cast to the earth, he has sought to devour the faithful. How he was doing this now was through two beasts: the first beast, the Roman Empire, the second beast, enforced image worshiping. If one were a faithful image worshipper, they received the seal or appropriate documents to transact business—known as the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:16–18). For a Christian to bear the mark of the beast entailed that they do not carry the mark of the Lamb, what John turns to next.

After seeing those who worship the second beast, John looks and sees the 144,000 with the Lamb as if a conquering army. They have overcome, but how? By martyrdom (Rev. 15:2). In American Christianity, we would seldom think of sacrifice as an “overcoming” or “victory” (nike), but that’s how it’s portrayed here. John’s Revelation even receives and gives a blessing for those who have died in the Lord (Rev. 14:13). Our view of death is often as one of defeat and loss. This isn’t at all to minimize the heartache that it causes to we who remain on the earth, but we’d do well to see death as the Lord has now defined it—victory. This Greek term is the one that birthed the popular Nike shoe. The word means “victory” and is taken from the goddess of victory who shares that name.

 If the majority opinion is correct that this letter was composed in the 90s CE, then by the time of the reading of the very first verse of this chapter, a chord would have been struck. The Lamb stands on Mount Zion with the 144,000, but if this dating is accurate, Jerusalem has once again been destroyed by Roman armies, and the temple is no more. Here, however, is not so much the physical location as it is the heavenly (cf. Heb. 12:22). Thus, we see here the city of God where victory is and the city of man where troubles await—Babylon, as John sees it (Rev. 14:8; cf. 1 Peter 5:13). Just as Babylon of old destroyed Jerusalem, so the modern one did the same. Notice, however, the 144,000: they are redeemed (Rev. 14:3–4). Some translations may here say that they were “purchased,” which is an equally appropriate translation. Those who could not buy nor sell (Rev. 13:17) are themselves purchased by the Lamb. What a lovely thought!

The Message of the Angel 

This is the first time John had seen an angel since 11:15 with the fifth trumpet. He sees the angel flying in heaven, having the everlasting good news to preach to those on the earth. It isn’t that the angel itself is preaching the gospel per se, but that by its flying amid heaven, the message is being proclaimed through the martyrs.[1] Contrary to worldly thinking, the word of the cross thrives in times of intense turbulence. The persecution of Christians led to them scattering to Samaria, where disciples were made (Acts 8:1), and Paul’s imprisonment resulted in the conversion of the jailer charged with keeping him and Silas (Acts 16:25–34), to name a couple of occasions. The message is also universal, and anyone who tries to tie the good news to any particular race misses its essence. It’s global, but it also carries with it judgment.

Not only is this everlasting gospel proclaimed, but what follows it is also of consolation to the faithful. A second angel announces the fall of Babylon, by which is meant Rome (Rev. 14:8).[2] What’s unclear is if John sees the fall of the Roman Empire or if he had something else in mind, because the Roman Empire wouldn’t officially fall until the late fifth century CE. Does John have in mind the city herself? Whatever is in mind, the point is that on the heels of the good news of the kingdom of God, any opposing force is sure to fall as so noted by the twice, emphatic proclamation of “fallen.” The kingdom of God and her King, Christ, provide peace and justice, whereas Babylon has made the nation’s drink of sinfulness.

A third angel follows with the warning against those who worship the beast, his image, and who receives their mark. Such people will drink of the wrath of God, which is a warning to Christians teetering on the edge of deciding either to engage in commerce or to remain faithful to God and suffer from a measure of want—to recant Christ under penalty of death or to remain steadfast and suffer martyrdom (Rev. 14:9–10). Notice, though, that these “shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” Sounds like hell, doesn’t it. We often think of hell as down there while heaven is up there, but Scripture discloses that “a fiery stream issued … from before Him” (Dan. 7:10). Wait a minute! Preachers have often spoken about hell as away from the presence of the Lord (cf. 2 Thess. 1:9). The understanding may be that they won’t experience his glory as of the faithful, because they responded to His love with rejection rather than with love. This is a message for the church and shouldn’t be misunderstood as God saying, “Look what I’ll do to those who injure you.” Instead, God is saying, “Look what awaits you if you reject me and apostatize.” Ergo, this is the patience of the saints (Rev. 14:12), and they are blessed to die in the Lord (Rev. 14:13).

Two more angels appear one to call for reaping the harvest, and the second to secure the grapes of the wrath of God. These are preludes to the bowl judgments. The faithful who’ve overcome are seen as triumphant, singing a new song. As they praise the God of heaven for His grace and their original state, angels step forth with the bowls of God’s wrath, poised to pour them upon the earth in the judgment of the righteous Creator of heaven and earth for what those on the planet have done: worshipped imperial power at the sake of the true and living God.

Hell in Heaven? 

As previously mentioned, the fiery stream that issues from God’s throne, as depicted in Daniel, may give pause to the Christian today who is unaccustomed to thinking that hell is in God’s presence. How can it be that such a horrific place can be in the presence of a loving God? This is a reasonable question. It all depends on your theology as to how you’d want to view the matter. I’m more inclined to Eastern Orthodoxy because of its antiquity versus Western American Christianity that has primarily been influenced by the Reformation and, especially, John Calvin. Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, is a must-read for Christians. I would say behind Scripture, this novel should rank near a must-read. Therein, we’re introduced to an aged, saintly man in a monastery named Elder Zosima. When he defines “hell,” he says, “[It’s] the suffering of being no longer able to love.”[3] I do not so much view hell as God’s hatred of sinners as John Calvin did, but I view hell as a wrong response to the love of God.

God loves humanity, His creation. He has demonstrated the length and breadth of His love by sending His precious Son to die for us while yet sinners (Rom. 5:8). He doesn’t hate us, and He’s not like the Greco-Roman pantheon who uses humans as their playthings. Nor is he like an evil little child holding a magnifying glass upon ants while the sun erupts them into the fire. God’s disposition towards sinners and saints alike is love, and if we respond to God’s love with rejection, we will experience His love as torment. This is why hell, I believe, is depicted as agony, suffering, and pain. Imagine a rebellious little boy who’s dearly loved by his mother. The mother wants to hug him, but he rejects her hugs. She wants to give him a kiss on his cheek, but he dodges her. All she has to offer to him is her love. She’ll make him his favorite meal, but he isn’t thankful. She’ll dote on him, but he sneers. To him, her love is embarrassing, inconvenient, and overbearing. All she wants to do is love her son. His brother, however, is grateful for the meals, hugs her in return, and receives her kisses with a warmth that makes him feel special. Why is it that one son receives love with love while the other refuses to accept love and rejects it? No one knows.

People choose to receive God’s love with warmth and return that love to Him in faith. We, by faith, are overwhelmed by such a radical love that we do something that others don’t appreciate or understand. We trust God because His love is so powerful. We declare our love by confession. We return our love by repentance. We reciprocate our love in baptism. However, we should never become wary of God’s love, even when things get hard. We should, instead, be even bolder to say to the world that we would never abandon our love because He has so loved us. This is heaven: enjoying and basking in the love of God. Hell is finding His love to be inconvenient, overbearing, and so we reject His love and find it a torment. The prodigal son departed from the father and went into the land of sin, where he found misery. He chose hell in a manner of speaking. The father didn’t kick him out, and he didn’t drive him out. The son chose. We, too, must choose.


[1] Keener, Revelation, 372.

[2] Jewish literature demonstrates that they referred to Rome as Babylon (Sib. Or. 5.143, 159–61; 4 Ezra 3:1–2, 28; 2 Bar. 11:1–2.

[3] Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (San Fransisco: North Point, 1990), 322.

Understanding the Mark of the Beast

Where is there to go once triumph has occurred? Themistocles was an ancient Greek general and statesman who advocated for a strong navy because of the first Persian invasion in the fifth century BCE. During that war, he fought at the battle of Marathon, and in the second invasion, he commanded the Greek navy and defeated the Persians at sea. Themistocles was such a gifted soldier that he was considered Greece’s most revered general. Still, when peacetime came, the soldier wasn’t as appreciated because he was made for war and conflict. Living in peacetime as a statesman proved so tricky that it eventually led to his exile after he angered the Spartans and Athenians. Some people are meant for battle, while others exist to thrive during peace. The revelation and consolation John gave to the Asian churches was that God triumphs, so he digresses from the announcement at hand and reminds them of what God has already accomplished through the blood of Christ.

Christians today seem poised more for conflict than peace. This is no better demonstrated than by general observation of Christians and churchgoers on social media. Easily triggered and constantly outraged, one might wonder if they believe in the triumph of God or not. This isn’t to say that there aren’t occasions of injustice that should be lamented, but some of the most ardent proponents of conspiracies and dramas are those who claim to trust in the Lord. A funeral director recently told me that a gentleman said to him that the masks worn during COVID19 are the mark of the beast. How convenient that the very week I prepared this sermon, I’m told a tale such as this, so let’s look earnestly at this passage and determine whether it’s true or not—spoiler, it’s not.

The Defeat of Satan

Revelation 12:1–6 speaks about the birth of Christ (see especially v. 5).[1] John was apparently looking back and detailing previous victories to encourage the suffering Christians. This passage has been interpreted as the primeval fall of Satan—which is partly likely—but it really represents Satan’s defeat by Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. When war broke out in heaven (Rev. 12:7; cf. Luke 19:38; Col. 1:20), this may be a primeval war. However, verse ten represents the beginning of the age of the church, and before this dispensation, Satan accused people day and night before God. That he went before God is attested to in Job 1:6–11; 2:1–6, and that he accused people before God is evidenced in Zechariah 3:1–5. Accompanying Jesus, however, was salvation (cf. Luke 3:6; Heb. 9:28).

Satan was created as an angel (cf. Ps. 148:5), and such were present at creation (Job 28:1–7). Before or during creation (1 John 3:8), evil already existed hence the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9). There were two passages often thought to speak about Satan’s being cast from heaven before creation—Isaiah 14:12–19 and Ezekiel 28:11–19. This rebellion was led by Satan, who has his own angels (Matt. 25:41), and the results were what was recorded in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6. Revelation 12:7–9 may speak about Satan’s being cast from heaven. Other passages to consider would be Luke 10:18 in comparison to Revelation 9:1, and John 12:31. Jesus’ statement in Luke’s gospel came after the limited commission of the seventy-two. While the seventy-two seemed surprised and overjoyed at this success (Luke 10:17), Jesus’ reply may have been a way of communicating His lack of surprise over their works because He had already seen Satan cast from heaven. He already knew that Satan was defeated.

The passage from Ezekiel depicts Satan as present in the Garden of Eden and full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. Snakes were often associated with knowledge, hence the Mosaic reference to Satan as a serpent. Specifically, Satan was a cherub as opposed to a seraph. Cherubim were placed in the garden to keep fallen man out. They were guardians of paradise, but they were also depicted as attendants to God. The throne upon which God resides rests upon cherubim (Ps. 80:1; 99:1; 1 Sam. 4:4; cf. Ps. 18:10). For Satan to have been a cherub implies that he served as a protector of God’s presence and holiness. Ezekiel’s passage, therefore, describes Satan’s pre-fallen state. As a matter of interest, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, Tertullian, Ambrose, and Augustine interpreted this narrative as descriptive of Satan.

From the time Satan was cast from heaven, he has pursued the destruction of God’s people (Rev. 12:12–17), and he is only able to do this under the restrictions of God’s will (cf. Job 1:12; 2:6; Luke 22:31). He accused the people of God (Zech. 3:1–5) and destroys (Rev. 9:11) whatever he can because he has control over the world (Luke 4:6; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). Yet, his end is already determined by God (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:1–3, 10). God created hell for Satan and his angels, but not for us.

The Number—666 

When we turn to Revelation 13:1–10, one beast is represented while another arises from the earth at 13:11. These two beasts are allies of Satan in his work (12:9). When we left off from chapter 12, the point was made that the dragon made war with the woman’s offspring, and chapter 13 shows how he planned to do just that. However, God gave His people particular insights to help them stay the course (13:9–10, 18). The first beast mentioned in 13:1 is also in 11:7 and is later pictured as coming from the abyss (17:3, 7–8). This beast is often referred to as “the beast,” while the second beast is later referred to as “the prophet” (16:13; 19:20; 20:10). The first beast received a mortal wound (13:3, 12, 14–15). Many have used this to argue that Nero was actually alive since he was the first to persecute the Christians. Dio Chrysostom, at the end of the first century, wrote, “Even now everyone wishes he [Nero] were alive, and most believe that he is” (Or. 21.10). Others had believed that Nero was alive in 69, 80, and 88–89 CE. It may be that this refers more to Nero’s work of persecuting Christians, or the spirit thereof, rather than the man himself. This first beast has thought to have been the Roman Empire. The second beast’s primary function was to persuade men to worship the first beast—which may allude to Roman emperor worship. This beast is called “the prophet,” or “false prophet,” and appears as a Lamb, but speaks like a dragon. The imagery of the Lamb reminds us of Jesus, but this beast is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15). This beast may have been the organization responsible for enforcing emperor worship—the Concilia (13:15).

Roman slaves and disobedient soldiers received marks on their hands or foreheads. These denoted that they were devoted to a certain master or god. Paul used similar language when he referred to bearing the marks of Jesus on his body (Gal. 6:17). This mark is a counterpart of the seal of God that we studied in chapter 7. God sealed the 144,000 (Rev. 7:3), but this mark designated who belonged to the beast. Whoever had the beasts mark was allowed to transact business. Archaeologists have uncovered documents given to “image worshipers” as proof of having offered emperor worship, and beginning in the reign of Tiberius, all business documents had to be sealed by the government stamp, and it was often the priesthoods of the cities (Concilia) who applied these stamps. Trade guilds also ruled many cities (e.g., Thyatira), and if one didn’t belong to a guild—which was closely aligned with gods—they couldn’t transact business. The Greek in verse 18 is anthropos and not aner. The former designates humanity while the latter designates a man, so John was saying that this number represents humanity, and humanity cannot overcome God Almighty (2 Chron. 20:6).

Humanity feels strongly about transacting business, commerce, and economy. One of the chief concerns for us all is whether or not we’ll be able to feed our families by putting food on the table. What if the very manner in which you provide for your family becomes embroiled in immorality and even idolatry? Would you forsake the commerce for the sake of your Lord? It may have been that some Christians were. We either bear the seal of the Lord or the mark of the beast. It can’t be both.


[1] In the NKJV of this account, verse six begins with “then,” but would be better translated as “and” (kai).

The Seven Trumpets of Revelation

As of the writing of this sermon, doctors and pharmaceutical companies are working tirelessly to create a vaccination for COVID-19. The belief is that such a vaccine will better enable society to function without the horrific fallout of deaths and overwhelming of hospital facilities. I wonder how folks felt in the days of polio, the Spanish Flu, and various other pandemics. Some birthed advances in medicine and sanitation, but one thing that hasn’t yet been cured is death. No matter what advances are made, people continue to die. This is why we Christians place our hope in what Jesus has done to defeat death.

Similar to how God protected Israel when the angel of death passed through Egypt, so He has taken provisions to preserve the elect in Asia against the breaking of seals and sounding of trumpets. Jokingly I often employ Revelation 8:1 to argue that there will be no women in heaven, given the thirty-minute silence. However, this may have been the amount of time it took the priest to incense the temple. What occurs in heaven would have been understood by what happened on earth. Instead, in this instance, the angel makes the offering and does the incensing, then throwing some incense to the earth, God’s answer to the saints for vengeance is heard (cf. Rev. 6:9–11). Stylistically, one may note that the first four of the seals and trumpets form a unified whole. The fifth and sixth seals and trumpets express a more extended narrative preceded by the final one being loosened and blown.

When we view the seven trumpets as a unified whole, we’ll note a similarity between the occurrences in Revelation to that in Joshua. In the procession around Jericho in Joshua 6:3–6, seven trumpets led with the Ark of the Covenant in tow. At the end of the seven trumpets in Revelation, the Ark of the Covenant appears (11:15–19). After the purposes of the trumpets, the Ark of the Covenant is seen to be a prevailing relic that represents God’s presence and triumph in both cases.[1] 

The Meaning of the Trumpets 

The first trumpet demonstrates how vegetation is effected (8:7), the second regards the sea (8:8), the third regards freshwaters (8:10–11), and the fourth regards the sky, or heavens (8:12). Each of these corresponds to plagues that God visited upon Egypt: the seventh (Exod. 9:22–26), first (Exod. 7:14–25), and ninth plagues (Exod. 10:21–29) correlate to the first four trumpets that sound. When one considers the vegetation and waters, we think of forms of commerce that were prevalent in the ancient world. If such were affected, then the food supply and economy of many folks would have been affected. God’s children have already been sealed and would be protected from the harm that befell such. A warning is given that the next three trumpets will be woes (Rev. 8:13). Not like Bill and Ted, but in the ancient sense. A woe was often a gruesome outcome or horrific occurrence.

What likely makes the next trumpets so harsh is that they afflict humanity directly rather than just the earth. The fifth trumpet entails a star that has fallen (Rev. 9:1), which may be one of several interpretations: an angel (cf. Rev. 20:1), fallen world powers, fallen angel, or Satan (cf. Is. 14:12–20). Whichever it is, He who has the keys of death and Hades permits this angel to open the abyss (cf. Rev. 8:10–11). A hellish smoke now contrasts with the incense of prayer.[2] Swarms of locusts arise, akin to the eighth plague of Egypt (Exod. 10:12–15) but more like the judgment of Israel in Joel’s time via an army (Joel 1:2–4; 2:11). Their king is the angel of the abyss, whose name is equivalent in both Hebrew and Greek (Rev. 9:11). The root of the name reminds us of the god, Apollo, who was an archer god, one of whose emblems was the locust. Caesar Domitian himself was sometimes portrayed as Apollo, so the link may be rather apparent to the Asian Christians.[3]

The sixth trumpet again draws our memories back to the prayers of the saints by the incense altar (Rev. 9:13). This is how God will avenge them—the Parthians. Similar to the President of the United States wants to build a wall along the Mexican border, so the Euphrates was the line of demarcation between East and West (Rev. 9:14–15). To the East of the Euphrates was the Parthian Empire (Iran) that had frequent skirmishes with the Roman Empire. In the late 50s and 60s CE, the Romans and Parthians fought until peace was reestablished in 66 CE. This peace lasted until the Caesar Trajan campaigned against them between 114–17 CE, so it may be that this conflict John sees depending on when one dates the Revelation. The depiction of the battle is seen here from a heavenly perspective, though, so the fanciful imagery of angelic beings moving the nations to war is what often boggles the mind of the reader. One image given historical explanation is what appears in Rev. 9:19: the Parthians were gifted horsemen who once lured the Romans after them by riding uphill. As they retreated upward, the Romans pursued only to suffer from a volley of arrows that cost the Roman army two legions, and Rome never forgot to avoid pursuing the Parthians uphill.[4] Closing these two trumpets are the fact that their chastisement was meant to invoke repentance, but the hearts of many, like Pharaoh, were hardened.

The Little Book and Witnesses 

Before the seventh seal, a pair of visions were given that concerned the people of God. Thus, before the seventh trumpet, a couple of images pertinent to the church are provided too. An angel appears from heaven, clothed with a cloud, and a rainbow above his head (Rev. 10:1). He has a book in his hand, smaller we presume in comparison to the scroll in the palm of God from whence Christ broke the seals. He stands on the earth, sea, and raises his hand into heaven, thus touching all of God’s creation (Rev. 10:2–7; cf. Exod. 20:4, 11). John is to eat the book, which is sweet to the taste but bitter on the stomach—as the Word of God can be at times (Rev. 10:8–10). This is the same thing Ezekiel did (Ezek. 2:9–3:4). The book John swallowed would enable him to speak the Lord’s words (Rev. 10:11).

The next chapter, and the measuring of the temple, might lead everyone to believe it refers to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. That’s how one might conclude if read literally, and the Roman siege of Jerusalem lasted three and a half years, which would allow the time listed here to make sense (Rev. 11:1–2). If this passage is read symbolically, the church is the temple that fills the whole earth and not just Jerusalem. If we consider how the temple is mentioned elsewhere in Revelation, it’s depicted symbolically and not literally (see. Rev. 3:12; 13:6). Elsewhere, the temple as invoked symbolically refers to the church, which is composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:18–22; 1 Peter 2:5). It isn’t the temple herself that will be trampled, but the outer court.

The two witnesses remind us of Elijah and Moses, who called forth fire from heaven to devour heathens and, respectively, shut up the sky and turned water into blood (Rev. 11:3–6). They’ll be killed in Jerusalem, it would appear, who has at this point become like Sodom and Egypt. The people will rejoice at their deaths (Rev. 11:7–10), but they won’t remain dead (Rev. 11:11–12). Since this is a message for the church, how are we to understand it? You’ll likely find any number of interpretations depending on what sources you consult. However, stopping to try to make something out of every vision can be stifling, so look at what comes next: with the blast of the seventh trumpet, we read about the triumph of Jesus Christ and His kingdom (Rev. 11:15–19). How does the kingdom of God triumph? As a result of divine wrath. For the Christian whose hope is in Jesus, wrath isn’t something to be feared “because it is the victory of freedom over slavery, justice over injustice, and Moses over Pharaoh. The wrath of God is the last thing in the world that Christians should be afraid of, for the wrath of God is on their side (Mt. 23:35–36).”[5]


[1] Reardon, Revelation, 64.

[2] Ibid., 67.

[3] Keener, Revelation, 269.

[4] Ibid., 271.

[5] Reardon, Revelation, 75.

The Seven Seals

I grew up a fan of wrestling, or “wraslin” as it’s pronounced in the South. When I think about the Four Horsemen, I envision Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, and Tully Blanchard. However, as popular as the image is of Four Horsemen, it has nothing to do with wrestling, but with the Apocalypse of John. Remember that in the hand of God was a scroll sealed with seven seals (Rev. 5:1). This scroll would have somewhat been reminiscent of the Torah scroll unraveled in the synagogue service, from which the Word of God was read and an explanation given. In heaven, this scroll contains the message of the future relevant to the Christians in Asia. In the ancient world, a scroll that was sealed often held the impression of the one who wrote the message. Depending on who that was determined who was capable of opening the document. Here, only one person is found worthy to open the scroll and loose its seals—the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, our Savior (Rev. 5:2–5). Only He could approach the God of heaven, take the scroll from His hand, and loose the seals.

The Messages of the Seals 

The vision of the four horsemen derives from Zechariah 1:8–11 and 6:1–8. In Zechariah, the horsemen are angelic creatures who report to the Lord regarding the state of affairs among the nations. Their coloring indicated the different countries to whom they were sent. In the Revelation, they are images of judgment posted throughout all the earth.[1] The first horseman represents warfare, and this as a judgment of God, we must remember (Rev. 6:2). The second, bloodshed since that’s what results from war (Rev. 6:4). The third horseman represents the economic fallout as a result of war and bloodshed—rationing due to famine (Rev. 6:5–6). The fourth horseman is pale or ashen. The Greek term here is chloros from which we get “chlorine.” This is a rather grim image because this is the color a person appears to be shortly after death. If you’ve ever been with someone who’s just passed away, their eyes turn this ashen, green sort of color. Because war, bloodshed, and famine are kissing cousins, and because those who are slain or die due to war and bloodshed may be left exposed, disease and plague may follow (Rev. 6:7–8). This black horseman has given us the common expression, “Black Death” to mean the bubonic plague.[2]

Next, sadly, we see that even some saints were not immune. The altar of heaven has beneath it the souls of the martyrs (cf. Lev. 17:11). They are at this place because they sacrificed themselves for the sake of the confession of faith in Jesus as Lord, and this is also where priests poured the blood of sacrifices (Lev. 4:7, 18, 25, 34). This would have entailed those who died for the faith up until this point in time—Stephen (Acts 7:57–60), those who died at the hands of Paul before he was a Christian, James the brother of Christ (Acts 12:2), and Antipas (Rev. 2:13) among others. Their cry to God wasn’t new, but a lamentation from the psalms where the psalmist pleads with God as to how long they must endure (Ps. 13:1; 79:5). The martyrs wanted the vengeance of God on those who’d put them to death. This isn’t an unholy request. We Christians sometimes cry so much for forgiveness, which is right to do, that we forget that justice has its place too. There’s nothing at all wrong for invoking the Lord’s vengeance upon those who’ve done such horrible acts. In the absence of immediate retribution, the martyrs are given a white robe to rest, because more would, sadly, join them. The white robes given to them are garments of having overcome (Rev. 3:5), and they’re the same garments in which the twenty-four elders are clothed (Rev. 4:4).

The fifth seal’s anticipatory measure, as well as the sixth seal, may entail eschatological material. There seems to be a decreation before the great day of the wrath of the Lamb. However, is it for the vindication of what they then faced, or what all Christians would share in until the end? I confess to not knowing the answer because the Bible often uses such language to denote the punishment of God at the end of an era. However, I tend to view this more as an end-times language than I don’t, but history records several such issues even in the first century:

These afflictions were visited on the world that John knew. In AD 62 the Roman legions were defeated by the Parthians to the east, and there were shortages of food, such as those recorded in Acts … and Seutonius. In addition, there were earthquakes, such as those in Asia Minor itself in AD 60, volcanic eruptions, such as Vesuvius, civil war in Rome following the suicide of Nero in 68, and the war in Judea that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.[3]

Early commentators were evenly divided on the interpretation of parts of the book. For we who are so many centuries removed from then, in comparison to early church leaders, can’t expect to grasp what even they struggled with understanding.

The 144,000 

According to Jewish thought, four winds stood at each corner of the compass. These winds could destroy a nation (Jer. 49:36) or bring new life (Ezek. 37:9). Zechariah portrays these winds as chariots pulled by different teams of horses, which leave the Lord’s presence and go out into all the earth (Zech. 6:5–7). Jesus taught that at His coming during the destruction of Jerusalem that the angels would gather the elect from the four winds (Matt. 24:31).

Ezekiel 9 sets the backdrop for the sealing of God’s faithful. This imagery of seven executioners is present in Babylonian literature as well. There they punish those having committed religious offenses as is the case here (Ezek. 9:4). The imagery of Ezekiel’s seven would have reminded the audience steeped in idolatry about impending punishment that comes from Yahweh. The mark of their forehead in Hebrew was the taw. This was the last character of the paleo-Hebrew alphabet, and it looked like a modern “X” or cross.

Moreover, the Greek letter “chi” was equivalent to taw and was the first letter in Christ’s name in Greek. The church father Origen (185–254 CE) wrote, “A third [person] one of those who believe in Christ, said the form of the Taw in the old [Hebrew] script resembles the cross, and it predicts the mark which is to be placed on the foreheads of Christians.” In Revelation, the seal separates God’s faithful from the faithless.

Pseudepigraphical writing called the Psalms of Solomon was composed in the first century BCE (it details Pompey’s capture of Jerusalem in 63 BCE), and it gives a little insight as well on the marking of God’s people: “For the mark of God is upon the righteous for salvation. Famine and sword and death shall be far from the righteous, for they shall pursue sinners and overtake them, and those who do lawlessness shall not escape the judgment of the Lord” (15:6–8). Sometimes branding in antiquity was also a sign of a slave (3 Macc. 2:29). In Christianity, sealing became symbolic. The Holy Spirit sealed the Asian churches (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). This wasn’t a physical mark, as some might think. It was a mark distinguishable only by God and His agents of wrath (cf. 2 Cor. 1:22), and it distinguished the faithful from the wicked (cf. 2 Tim. 2:19). This seal in Revelation is to protect God’s faithful, as in Ezekiel (Rev. 7:3).

This list in Revelation of the 12 tribes differs from other records (see Gen. 35:23–26; 49:3–27; Deut. 33:6–25): Reuben usually heads the list, but Judah does here likely because this is the tribe from whence Jesus, the lion of the tribe of Judah, came (Rev. 1:5; 5:5). John included Manasseh while omitting Ephraim and Dan (see 1 Kings 12:29–30). Since this group is spared divine wrath, but not human persecution, it may be that they are among those who complete the number of the slain souls under the altar (Rev. 6:9–11). These twelve tribes are used figuratively of Jewish Christians (James 1:1). Jewish Christians were predominant over the first decade of the early church. Staying with the Jewish identity, their being “firstfruits” (Rev. 14:4) was also well-founded as spoken of by the Jews (Jer. 2:3; Rom. 11:16; James 1:18). If this is talking about Jewish believers, the great multitude in Revelation 7:9ff were Gentile believers. This could also be a reference to the church—God’s new Israel (Gal. 6:16; cf. Gal. 3:7–9, 29). Whomever they were, they sang a new song described as the roar of rushing waters, a loud peal of thunder, and harpists playing their harp. No heavenly creature could learn this song because participation is limited to those redeemed from the earth (cf. 1 Peter 1:12; Eph. 3:10), which centered on redemption by the Lamb from the beast. They were “virgins” (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2) who were blameless (Rev. 14:4). This may mean that they maintained ritual purity before battle (Deut. 23:9–10; 1 Sam. 21:5; 2 Sam. 11:11). Later on, Babylon (Rome) is referred to as the mother of harlots (Rev. 17:3–5), and those who consort with her would have defiled themselves (cf. Rev. 2:22).

The final seal serves as a prelude to the seven trumpets which are to follow. One round of judgment has been explained, and those in first-century Asia would have understood these matters far better than we could have. Here, however, is the comfort for those Christians: God judges those who do evil. In a court of law here on earth, humans attempt to execute justice as best as fallible beings can. Lawyers build cases, and it is prosecuted and defended before a group of peers who determine what the best evidence is. They hand in their verdict based on the available information, and a judge passes sentencing if guilty, or releases the accused if innocent. In the courtroom of heaven, no case has to be made, and the only defense anyone can ever have is the blood of the Lamb. Jesus Christ defends those bought with His blood, but those who are not faithful to Christ will be prosecuted according to divine law for their deeds. There is no escaping. There is no putting off what will pass.


[1] Farley, Apocalypse, 82.

[2] Reardon, Revelation, 55.

[3] Ibid., 55–56.

On Earth as in Heaven

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” so said the mighty Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and her companions stood before the scary scene of peels of thunder, lightning, and an impressive visage when they believed that they were before the Wizard of Oz. Once Toto pulled the curtain back, they saw the reality for what it was. The Christians suffering and about to suffer in Asia saw the spectacle of terror before their eyes, but John the Divine was given a chance to see reality for what it was by peering into heaven. He did so by going through the open door into heaven (Rev. 4:1). Earthly events have their origin in heaven, so if we’re to understand real insight into the history, we have to see the matter from a heavenly vantage point. Scripture is replete with examples of this. Jacob’s impending reunion with his brother was something not untouched by heaven (Gen. 28:17). When Ezekiel sat in exile among an encampment of his fellow Israelites, the vision he saw lent itself to the reality he experienced (Ezek. 1:1). The baptism of our Lord was overseen by heaven (Mark 1:10), and upon his martyrdom, Stephen revealed to the crowd that would put him to death what was occurring in heaven at that very moment (Acts 7:56). Understanding the demands of our current situation entails understanding it from a heavenly perspective, and this was what John would see and inform those in Asia regarding.

What we’re going to notice from Revelation 4–5 only makes sense if we’re acquainted with Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1, 10. Isaiah saw the God of Israel in his magnificent glory, as well as the angels that attended Him. The seraphim were either fiery or serpent-like creatures. The term seraph is indicative of burning and serpents (Num. 21:6–9), respectively. They are depicted as above the throne of God, while in Ezekiel, cherubim have a single pair of wings and are associated with the throne of God (Ezek. 1). A thorough reading of these two prophets and all that they saw in heaven helps make better sense of what one will read in Revelation 4–5. John participates in the prophetic history of seeing the throne-room of God, just like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and others before his time. What takes place in heaven directly affects the events on earth, but, also, what occurs in heaven is the model for what should happen on earth in some part.

Derivative Worship 

Not but a couple of decades earlier, a Jewish Christian wrote a letter to the Hebrew believers wherein he noted the superiority of Jesus above all that the Jews held dear—angels, Moses, the law, etc. Among the many considerations of the letter to the Hebrews is what appears when the author informed his audience that Christ was High Priest of God’s people, taking His own blood to offer for the sins of the world (Heb. 9:11–15). He goes, not into the copy and shadow of what is to come, but into heaven itself—the true tabernacle, after which the one on earth and temple were patterned (Heb. 8:1–2; 9:24). Consider this: from Hebrews 8–10, the author compares what Christ does with what the priests did at the temple. Christ was in the heavens, and the temple and tabernacle were patterned after what occurs in heaven. Therefore, earthly worship is a heavenly activity. If we are to truly worship in a manner pleasing to God, our worship must be patterned after what occurs in heaven. In Revelation 4–5, we see just what takes place.

What’s most important to note, from the start, is that these things happen before the presence of God. John, first, sees a throne and the one who sat upon it (Rev. 4:2–3). He’s surrounded by a rainbow—the sign of God’s covenant with humanity to never flood the earth again (Gen. 9:12–17). Next, there are twenty-four thrones which are believed to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and twelve apostles of the New Testament, or both covenants. Seated and crowned upon them are twenty-four elders who fall before God in worship (Rev. 5:14; 11:16; 19:4). Not only do they fall before God, but they do so while simultaneously praising Him (Rev. 4:11; 5:9–10; 11:17–18; 19:4).

Next, we have the angels who unceasingly praise and pray to God (Rev. 4:6–8). They would appear to be a hybrid of cherubim and seraphim from the description and what we know from Isaiah and Ezekiel. Nevertheless, their hymn is tightly worded to what we see the seraphim sang in Isaiah 6:3. This particular doxology was a staple in synagogue praise in the first century,[1] and it even became a part of early Christian worship, as seen here and in 1 Clement 34.6. It has been a part of hymnody since Isaiah’s time, in the eighth century BCE all the way through today, making it the most ancient of hymns. The elders, in turn, prostrate themselves before the Lord, casting their crowns before Him in recognition of their honor and glory deriving from Him alone.

When looking at this scene, we note a few truths about Christian worship. It is before God and according to the covenant under which we willingly entered. When we worship the Lord, we join the procession of divine worship already ongoing, something that occurs night and day and is unceasing. It’s our opportunity to return to God and attribute to Him whatever we may think are worth is and blessings are, because what we all are we have because of who He is and how richly He’s bestowed it on us. Thus far, worship has been binary, including the Father and Spirit, respectively (Rev. 4:2–5).

Next, however, we see the Son, the Lamb slain for the sins of the world. He’s standing because that’s what priests did when they ministered to the Lord (cf. Acts 7:55–56; Heb. 10:11). The scroll in the hand of the Father has to do with events happening on earth, and the Lamb of God will be the only one worthy to break the seals, which will be discussed in the next lesson. Nevertheless, His appearance is as a slain lamb, but the elders told John that He’d prevailed (enikesen). The taking of the scroll to Jewish Christians was reminiscent of the manuscript of God’s word being taken, opened, read, and then explained as in the synagogue services. Because He who sits on the throne has a scroll to be opened and read, we have to understand that early Christians believed, as we should today, that the Word of God is a symbol of what Christ has accomplished.[2] Upon taking the scroll, the angels and elders do to Him what they had done to He who sits on the throne. He, too, receives praise and prayer (Rev. 5:8–10).[3] Next, we see heaven and earth united in the worship of God and the Lamb (Rev. 5:13). When we worship in song and prayer, we join with heaven in worship. What we sing here, they sing there.

As we progress, it will be incumbent upon the reader to note that as the drama unfolds, this occurs in heaven, on the Lord’s Day, in the worship of God and the Lamb. The stage has thus far been set, but one may ask how this might have brought any comfort to the suffering Christians in Asia. First, their God and His kingdom haven’t been thwarted. Because it isn’t of this world doesn’t mean that it has nothing to do with this world. God reigns upon His throne in majesty, and the Lamb who died holds history in His hands, even as it unfolds. Second, the most comfort that can be found will be in worship. When we correctly understand worship, we’ll come to find that in worship, we are with God the Father, Son, and Spirit. The angels are singing and rejoicing. In a tumultuous world with its troubles, we can find consistency and solace in the worship of our Lord and Savior. When correctly done, our focus can turn to God on the throne, and the Lamb who’s prevailed. He reigns, and as He has overcome, we can fix our hope on Him in the darkest of times, because He isn’t surprised by what surprises us. He isn’t overwhelmed by what causes us anxiety. He has a plan that’s working to the good of us who love Him and are called by His name.


[1] Craig S. Keener. Revelation: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 175.

[2] Patrick Henry Reardon, Revelation: A Liturgical Prophecy (Yonkers: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2018), 51.

[3] In churches of Christ, who are known for acapella praise, a matter of the mention of harps here often arises as contention for including instruments in earthly worship. The reason we refrain from using instruments is simply that the early church didn’t use them. This isn’t to negate harps in heaven, but to acknowledge what occurred on earth in the first century. Harps are mentioned here in Rev 5:8 as well as 14:2 and 15:2, but as much as the golden bowls of incense are explained as the prayers of the saints in Rev 5:8 (cf. 8:3–5), so we may assume that the harps represent the praise of the saints as well (Farley, Apocalypse, 76).

Is Revelation About the End-Times As Much As We Think It Is?

In addition to being a minister, I’m also a Sheriff’s Deputy, albeit reserve. I receive no remuneration, and I haven’t gone through the academy. I qualify annually with my firearm to carry it on duty. I have a badge, and for all intents and purposes, I have the same powers as full-time deputies with a few exceptions: those being warrantless arrests in domestic violence scenarios and DUI’s, since the latter requires specialized training. Nevertheless, our Sheriff is cautious that we Reserve Deputies are always with a road unit, and in special details, we often are in the background as secondary support. I’ve worked at the judicial building for security, schools as a resource officer, and have ridden along with road units. When I’ve ridden along, there have been a few times that I’ve been with a deputy, and we’ve been in what’s to me a sticky situation. In one particular detail, we were working an area where a party was ongoing. As the party dispersed into the wee hours of the morning, gunshots rang out. I’ve heard gunfire many times, but this time was different. We were facing a possible stand-off. My adrenaline rushed, and honestly, I became a little anxious because I’d never been in that situation before. I won’t lie, I was worried. What gave me comfort, however, was that I was with an experienced deputy who’s also a man of faith and what we might call a hard-charger. He’s a good man dedicated to justice and peace, and if I was ever in a dangerous situation, he’s the guy I’d want nearby. That was comforting.  

Anytime we as Christians enter uncharted, disastrous waters, we can rest assured that we’ve not been abandoned by the Lord. We can face hardship, and sometimes our difficulties may lead us to feel this way. The Christians in Asia undoubtedly must have felt this way. Some were in prison (Rev. 2:10), and one particular saint, Antipas, had already been put to death (Rev. 2:13). History has it that Antipas was a bishop in Pergamum. Remember when I said that the persecution usually began with the leaders of Christianity? This is one such case in point. The sad tradition of his death is that he was roasted to death inside a brazen bull in 92 CE, during Domitian’s reign. This traumatic event would have led many of the Christians to believe they were next since one of their leaders had been put to death for the faith. Jesus told the Philadelphians that they were going to be kept from the trial that was coming upon the world (Rev. 3:10), the beheaded souls cried for vengeance (Rev. 6:9–10), and the harlot was drunk with the blood of the saints and martyrs (Rev. 18:24; 19:2). Things were terrible indeed. Comfort was needed, and John would see what the saints needed most to hear.   

A Heavenly Perspective  

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). However, it’s hard to keep this in mind when the battles we seem to face are waged in the flesh. If we as Christians turn our thoughts heavenward, as we should, we will be less fearful and more faithful. First, we note that God is sovereign over time and history. Therefore, anything that occurs on earth at any time does so under the enthroned Lord whose rule supersedes even the kings of the earth, the very officials who afflict you. We reign with Him in His kingdom, and we minister to Him in His kingdom (Rev. 1:4–6). Now, as we cull through Revelation, this won’t be a verse-by-verse, exposition, so while some of the symbols can be explained, my goal isn’t to explain each and every symbol, but to capture the overall message which is one of comfort and hope amid trial.  

Second, what John sees after being instructed to write the book is genuinely marvelous. Jesus is standing, dressed as high priest, alongside a menorah (Rev. 1:12–13). He’s with and among His people in their suffering, and He’s both powerful enough to hold the constellation in the same hand that is gentle enough to comfort a frightened John (Rev. 1:16–17). This Lord lived, died, and is alive to never die again. His resurrection was death’s deathblow, and His ascension and enthronement give Him power over even Hades and Death itself (Rev. 1:18). The horrific things happening right now that are to happen are not so great that Christ the King is defeated. He has already won the victory, and He’s with and among not only His bride but the messengers of each of them (Rev. 1:20).   

It Won’t Be Long 

One thing we all wonder is how long the horror will last. There are always so many questions that arise during struggles and hard times. No one but God Himself knows the answer. All we can do is look at what God told the Christians in Asia. He said to them that “the time is near” (Rev. 1:3; 22:10), these things “must shortly take place” (Rev. 1:1; 22:6), and that He was “coming quickly” (Rev. 22:7, 12, 20). This doesn’t sound like something that’s to occur over two-thousand years beyond the time John gave this Revelation. Daniel was told to seal up his vision because it referred to many days from his time (Dan. 8:26): “Therefore seal up the vision, for it refers to many days in the future.” He was also told that the book was to remain sealed “until the time of the end” (Dan. 12:4). As time went on, knowledge would increase as to the culmination of these prophecies. He was urged to go his way because the words of his prophecy were “sealed till the time of the end” (Dan. 12:9). Studying history, along with Daniel’s prophecy, reveals that it was not for another four hundred years that those kingdoms came, which he had been told of (cf. Dan. 2). Therefore, Daniel would not live to see the fulfillment of the prophecies, hence his being instructed to seal the book. So the sealing of a book of prophecy looked ahead to a distant period. When John wrote Revelation, the angel told him to not seal the words of his book (Rev. 22:10). Why? Because “the time [was] at hand.” If Daniel’s prophecy saw fulfillment some four hundred years later, and he was told to seal the book, would not John’s prophecy have been fulfilled long before the same period since he was told to not seal his book? 

A concern arises: “But Christ said He was coming quickly.” Does this mean that Jesus lied? No, because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). What it means is that we’ve misunderstood what Jesus was saying. We’ve always taken this phrase and applied it to His second coming, but Christ didn’t always use it this way. He used it concerning the destruction of the Temple, which occurred in 70 CE (Mark 13:26; Matt. 24:30; Luke 21:27). This particular phrase was borrowed from Daniel 7:13–14, and it didn’t envision the Son of Man coming to the earth, but ascending to the Ancient of Days, God Himself. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is poised against the Temple establishment of the time and often contends with the Temple priests and ways. His foretelling of the destruction of the Temple would be His vindication, proof that He was Lord and Christ and seated at the right hand of Majesty. It wouldn’t be that one would peer out their window and see the Lord descending, but that the destruction of the Temple would be proof of His kingship. Similarly, the soon coming of Christ in Revelation would be His vindication and that of His kingdom, the church.  

Put it this way, just a chapter earlier in Daniel, the prophet was in the lion’s den. He was clearly among beasts for devouring. The next morning when the king came to see if he’d survived, he noted that the lions had not harmed him at all. The king ordered Daniel to be lifted from the lion pit, and once he ascended from the lion’s pit, he was given the status of ruler of the kingdom. Similarly, Christ would ascend to heaven at the right hand of Majesty, and those who doubted who He was would find out that He had in truth been exalted once the Temple was destroyed. That was His vindication. In Revelation, He uses this same turn of phrase from the gospels which derived from Daniel, and it isn’t speaking about His literal second coming, but His vindication among those who persecute His church. This is the language that especially Jewish Christians would understand, and they would know that it derived from Daniel and pointed to an exaltation, not the actual second coming.  To answer the question: Revelation is somewhat about the end times, but not as much as it’s often made out to be. 

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