The stipulations section of the covenant treaty explains the do’s and don’ts of the treaty, which a king expects his people to obey. It explains the rules of the treaty (Kline, “Treaty of the Great King”, pp.62-120). The stipulations section of Revelation is patterned on the stipulations section of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy, chapter 5, we see the giving of the Old Covenant rules: the 10 commandments. In chapter 7 of Deuteronomy, the Israelites are told that they must rid the promised land of those wicked people who lived in absolute disregard for the 10 covenant commandments. They were to carry out God’s judgement on His behalf. Chapter 12 of Deuteronomy instructs the Israelites about the tabernacle and how to worship there.
In Revelation 4, John ascends to the real throne room to watch the coming proceedings that form a mirror to the events of Deuteronomy. In chapter 5, we see the introduction of the scroll, which is the New Covenant that nobody but Christ can open. Chapter 6 launches into a string of covenantal judgement s upon those in apostate Israel who live in absolute disregard for the new covenant commandments. Chapter 7 introduces us to the true Israel worshipping at the true tabernacle in heaven.
The stipulations section of Deuteronomy also contains the sacred feasts: the feasts of the Passover (16:1-8), Pentecost (16:9-12), and Tabernacles (16:13-15). These are also mirrored in this section of Revelation. Revelation 5 reflects the Passover, with its worship of the Lamb that was slain (verse 6). Chapter 6 reflects the feast of Pentecost, the anniversary of the giving of the law at Sinai, as it begins to unseal the law book of the New Covenant. Chapter 7 reminds us of the feast of Tabernacles, with the saints waving palm branches and God spreading His tent/tabernacle over them.
THE PATTERN FOR WORSHIP (Rev 4:1-11)1.
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said: “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things. 2. Immediately I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. 3. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance, and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. 4. And around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. 5.And from the throne proceed flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the Throne, which are the seven Spirits of God, 6. and before the Throne there was, as it were, a sea of glass like crystal, and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. 7. And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature was like a calf and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. 8. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within, and day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, IS THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY who was and who is and who is to come.” 9. And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever,10. the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who Lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11. “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.”
This first verse is a controversial one. It has been twisted by some modern teachers to mean that this is the point where the 20th-century Laodicean church is ‘raptured’ (taken up to heaven supernaturally) (“The Scofield Reference Bible” (New York: Oxford University Press, (1909) 1945), note on Rev 4:1: cf. Hal Lindsey “There’s a New World Coming: A Prophetic Odyssey” (Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 1973), pp.74ff). The so-called proof of this is the claim that the word ‘church’ is not used again until chapter 19. However, using the same logic, we could say that the second to twelfth chapters of Revelation do not speak of Jesus because His name is not used in those chapters, and so the Lamb, Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Root of David must be someone else. The church, like many other important Biblical concepts, goes under several names, including: the Body (1Co 12:27), the Temple (Eph 1:21), Mt Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God, the general assembly (Heb 12:22), the woman (Rev 12:1), and the Bride (Rev 19:7). The absence of the term ‘church’ does not mean the concept of the church is missing. The important point that is missed in all the controversy is that John is being caught up to a Sunday service in the heavenly throne room. That is what the next two chapters are all about.
John is now teleported to the throne of our sovereign King. God’s throne is the centre of the universe, and the only place where a correct understanding of all things can begin. Skeptics mock the Christian emphasis on divine revelation as the starting point for knowledge, but in doing so they shift the centre of the universe to the frail human mind of its creations. Sometime in the future, all mankind will journey to the centre of the universe and stand before the majestic throne of God. Most will discover, to their horror, that man is not the measure of all things.
The true temple in heaven is the pattern for the construction of Moses’ tabernacle. It is not surprising then, to see the gemstones mentioned as part of the original tabernacle ornaments (Ex 28:17-19) being observed by John in this heavenly temple. Not only that, but he sees God’s bow. This is the same bow that was given to Noah after the flood (Ge 9:12-13). Today’s common rainbow was originally set behind the throne of God. Ezekiel saw it also when he visited the throne room some 670 years before John (Eze 1:27-28).
“Around the throne were twenty-four thrones: and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting.” These elders are a symbolic representation of the Church as it gathers together in worship. There are five clues in the text that point to this conclusion.
First, there are twenty-four elders. Twelve and multiples of twelve have a strong and long association with God’s called-out ones: His priests. God originally chose 12 tribes as a priestly nation (Ge 49:28, Ex19:5-6). Then there were 24 divisions of priests ordained to worship in the temple (1Ch 24). There were also 24 divisions of 12 singers ordained for worship in the temple (1Ch 25). The symbolism is completed with the ordaining of the 12 disciples and the varied use of 12 and its multiples in the description of the New Jerusalem: the Church (Rev 21). So, the use of 24 in this case is a fairly strong picture of us as priests worshipping in the heavenly temple.
Second, they are called elders. Nowhere in the Bible is the term ‘elder’ used in reference to anyone else but man, and church leaders at that. Thus, the elders mentioned here would appear to represent God’s people.
Third, the elders are seated on thrones. Kings sit on thrones, and we have been made kings and priests to our God (Rev 1:6). We are also seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph 2:6), and we have been granted kingly authority to rule with Christ over the nations (Rev 2:26-27, 3:21).
Fourth, we see these elders dressed in the costume of the saints: the white robe of righteousness (Isa 61:6, Mt 22:11, Rev 3:5 and 18, 7:9, 19:8).
Finally, we see that the elders are wearing a crown of gold upon their heads. These elders are wearing the headpiece of the High Priest, which has now been given to all the saints. In fact, we are of a new type of priesthood: the Melchizedekian priesthood, characterised by the combining of both kingship and priesthood (Heb 7). Hence, we are described as both priests by the use of the number 24, and kings by the description of the thrones and crowns.
These verses take us back to the description of the throne begun in verse two. John sees the throne again, which corresponds to the mercy seat in the tabernacle. Then he sees the seven lamps, which correspond to the seven-pronged candlestick. Next, he sees the four living creatures, corresponding to the cherubim above the mercy seat. He then sees the sea of glass, corresponding to the bronze basin. Finally, as we just observed, he sees the 24 elders, corresponding to the 24 courses of priests. It is a similar sight to what Ezekiel saw in his opening chapter, however, John looks at the scene from above the sea instead of looking up through the sea as Ezekiel did (Eze 1:22-26).
Next, we see four living creatures encircling the throne of God. These are the angels that both Isaiah and Ezekiel introduced to the New Testament readers of Revelation through their prophecies (Isa 6:1-4, Eze 1:4-15, 10:6-17). The angels of scripture are awesome creatures, visible indications of the presence of God. The lion, calf, man and eagle are representations of the character of Christ. The lion speaks of the kingship of Christ, the calf represents Christ the burden carrier, the man speaks of Christ taking on our humanity, and the eagle speaks of Christ’s exaltation. There is nothing strange about this arrangement, as we humans are also made in the image of God and various parts of our makeup reflect aspects of the character of God (Ge 1:26). In fact, every single piece of creation reflects some aspect of God’s character, for example: rocks, wind, fire, lions, light, the sun, fatherhood, lambs, kings, fortresses, love, language, etc. If you have eyes that will look, you will be swamped with tangible images of the qualities of God (Ro 1:20).
John now begins to describe the actual worship service as it unfolds in heaven. The purpose of the living creatures of Revelation is to worship God, and this they do non-stop. They exalt His holiness, His almighty power and His eternal majesty.
Whenever the creatures give glory and honour and thanks to God, the elders respond with acts and songs of worship. It is a case of musical responses going back and forth, carrying on a dialogue of choral worship. The early Church patterned its worship after this model, and we see the remnants of this style in the services of the Orthodox and Catholic churches. It is a pattern that the evangelical churches need to investigate.
Several other points of instruction also emerge from John’s observations. Firstly, we see that worship in heaven is corporate, not individualistic. We do not see a bunch of lone rangers doing their own thing as the music plays, nor do we see entertainment in the name of worship as a frustrated pop singer lives out his or her fantasies in front of a mute audience. We also observe that heavenly worship is orderly and reverent. It is God’s people coming before the throne for an official audience with the king of the universe. Of all the activity imaginable on planet earth, the Christian worship service is unique and so it deserves our all.
THE LAMB AND THE BOOK (Rev 5:1-14)
1. And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. 2. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” 3. And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the Book, or to look into it. 4. And I began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it, 5. and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping, behold, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” 6. And I saw between the throne (with the, four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7. And He came, and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8. And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9.And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals, for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10. “And thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign upon the earth.” 11. And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders, and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, 12. saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” 13. And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” 14. And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshipped.
In ancient times, the standard method of written communication was via scrolls, which were simply rolled-up books. So, we are dealing here with the opening of a very special book by Christ. The fact that it is sealed with’ seven seals gives away its identity. In the ancient world, a last will and testament was always sealed with seven seals. When a person died, the will and testament was brought out and, where possible, opened in the presence of the seven witnesses who sealed it (Theodor Zahn, “Introduction to the New Testament”, Vlo.lll, pp393f.: quoted in G.R. Beasley-Murray, “The Book of Revelation” (Grand Rapids: William B. Eredmans Publishing Co., Revised ed), p. 121), The book we are looking at here is the New Testament itself! This view is strengthened by the fact that the book was written on both sides. The original copy of the Old Testament was also inscribed on both sides by the finger of God (Ex 32:15), and here we see the same imagery used to describe the New Testament.
John now observes a major problem in heaven—no one is able to open the New Testament. No human being could fulfill the conditions necessary to inaugurate the New Covenant. All previous mediators—Adam, Noah, Moses and David, were subject to sin and death, so could not take away the sins of the world. The sacrifice of animals was insufficient (Heb 10:4), and the Levitical priesthood was deficient (Heb 5:1-3). No-one was worthy to act on behalf of God and man to ratify the treaty. So, we see John weeping with the feeling of the Old Testament Prophets, who could see the new covenant from a distance but were prevented from participating in it.
However, there was one in heaven who was qualified to break the seals and open the book. One of the elders excitedly tells John that Christ is able to do the job. He is here described as a conquering lion: the title handed to Him from the ancient prophecy given to Judah by Jacob. Judah is a lion’s whelp—the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples (Ge 49:10). John then describes Christ as the Root of David. This is strange, as nowhere else in scripture is Christ described as the Root of David. Yet, He is described as a shoot from the stem of Jesse, David’s father (Isa 11:1) and the Son of David (Mt 1:1). This different title makes sense when viewed from the perspective of eternity. Christ was the very reason for David and Jesse’s existence, He is their root. The comment Christ made about Abraham is appropriate here: “Truly, truly, I say to you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am.” (John 8:58). He is the root of all things.
The Lion now becomes the Lamb. The imagery changes to emphasize the redeeming work of our king. As the perfect and eternal sacrifice, Christ was slain like a lamb to take away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29). Standing before the very central point of the universe, the throne of God, we see the Lamb whose sacrifice is the very centre of human history and meaning.
The next image we see is that of Christ’s seven horns and seven eyes. The horn is a well established Biblical symbol for strength and power (1Sa 22:3, Ps 18:2, Je 48:25, Revl2:3, 17:12). Seven is the number associated with divine fullness and completion. So, we have here a picture of Christ as the fullness of divine strength and power. The seven eyes add another layer to the image. Christ is also the all-seeing, all-knowing, omniscient one, the God-Spirit who covers the whole world with His presence and sees everything we do.
Adding all of these overlapping images together shows a picture of: 1, the Root of David, who is the first cause of all things, 2, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who is the true ruler of Israel, 3, the Lamb of God, who redeemed all of mankind with one perfect eternal sacrifice, 4, the one who has seven horns, the fullness of divine omnipotence, and, 5, seven eyes, the fullness of divine omniscience. These are the magnificent qualities of our triumphant Christ. He alone has overcome and is able to open the book and its seven seals.
We next see Christ, being thus qualified, stepping up to the Father and claiming the prize for which He died. John is capturing for us one of the most precious moments in all eternity, the handing-over ceremony of the New Covenant. This is the event that occurred after the ascension of our Lord. Let Daniel describe it to you: “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language” might serve Him.” His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed (Da 7:13-14). Daniel sees Christ given a kingdom that will require the obedience of all nations and peoples, John saw Christ given the scroll of the New Covenant. The kingdom and the covenant are the same thing, as we will see more clearly in verses 9 and 10.
With such a monumental event unfolding before their eyes, it is not surprising to now see the four living creatures and the elders fall down before the Lamb in adoration, appreciation and song. And what a song it is, a new song for a new covenant. The song itself is divided into four parts, each depicting a different facet of the covenant. Firstly, the inauguration of the covenant is demonstrated by the breaking of the seals. Secondly, the redemptive aspect of the covenant is depicted with its emphasis on the precious buying power of Christ’s blood. Thirdly, the progress of the Gospel is highlighted, in time and in history, we will see people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation flowing into the kingdom of God, as Daniel depicted. Fourthly, the position of covenant saints is magnificently outlined, we are a kingdom and priests to our God and we will reign upon the earth. The music is not recorded but I am sure it was as beautiful as the theme.
In these four facets of the covenant put to song, we see: firstly, the covenant’s origin, Christ who was worthy, secondly, its means or vehicle, the blood of Christ, thirdly, its destination, the whole world, and fourthly, its purpose, the kingdom, priesthood, service to God and dominion over the earth. It is this last facet that is the most important, yet most Christians tend to emphasize the first three. Salvation is only a means to an end, the end being the re-establishment of the Adamic mandate with its emphasis on kingdom, priesthood, service to God and dominion over the earth. God does not have a ‘plan B ‘ for the earth. His purpose in both Old and New Testament history was to progressively re-establish ‘plan A’ through the unfolding of the covenants, culminating in the glorious New Covenant. As the second Adam (1Co 15:45), Christ sets His new creation (2Co 5:17) the task of bringing the entire world into the priestly service of God (Mt 28:18). This is the message of the new song sung here, and this is the direction of world history, past, present and future.
In response to the taking of the covenant book by Christ and to the anthem of praise sung by the elders and four living creatures, we now see the hosts of heaven (Da 7:10, Heb 12:22) joining in with a seven-fold anthem of their own. They declare that all power and riches, wisdom and might, and honor, glory and blessing belong to the King of kings. All the goals that men strive for in life automatically belong to the Lamb. As a climax to this section, the whole of creation now joins in to sing the praises of Him who opened the book of the covenant. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:9-11 that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. This will occur sometime in the future, but we see it here established in principle.
The worship by the elders, living creatures, angels and creation is yet another example of the type of worship that we saw back in chapter 4. They are singing musical responses back and forth to each other. The elders and living creatures sing and the angels respond, after the angels have sung then the creation responds. Melodies of worship go floating back and forth around the throne room—all in perfect harmony and order.
THE FOUR HORSEMEN BEGIN TO OPEN THE SEALS (Rev 6:1-8)
1. And I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder: “Come.” 2. And I looked, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it had a bow: and a crown was given to Him, and He went out conquering, and to conquer. 3. And when He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying: Come.” 4. And another, a blood red horse, went out, and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men should slay one another, and a great sword was given to him. 5. And when He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying: “Come.” And I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand 6. And I heard as it were a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying: “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and the wine.” 7. And when He broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying: “Come.” 8. And I looked, and behold, an ashen horse, and he who sat on it had the name Death, and Hades was following with him. And authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.
Now the opening of the seals begins. As was explained in the introduction to Revelation 4, we are now about to see the unlocking of many judgment s upon apostate Israel. Israel was told very clearly through Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 what would happen to them if they turned away from covenant obedience. They had rebelled to the maximum and so the axe of God’s judgment was about to strike at the very root of Israel’s existence (Mt 3:10, Lk 3:9). We now see a symbolic preview of the wars, famines, pestilences and destruction that Jesus declared would be the beginning of birth pangs in the run-up to the destruction of Jerusalem (Mt 24:6-7, Lk 21:10-11, 20) in 70AD.
The scene bursts open with the breaking of the first seal and the appearance of a white horse with a rider who holds a bow. The rider is given a crown and who rides out conquering. Some commentators describe this person as the Antichrist, but we have been given four characteristics about this rider that point to him being Christ. First, he rides a white horse, just as Christ does in Revelation 19:11-16. Second, the rider has a bow in his hand. Habakkuk 3:8-9 describes God’s bow with which He brings judgment upon the earth, Psalm 45:5 describes the arrows of God’s bow in the hearts of David’s enemies. The original bow, as we have already seen, rested behind the throne of God and was a multi-coloured rainbow. Third, we see this rider wearing a crown. In Revelation 14:14, we see Christ riding a white cloud (instead of a horse), with a crown of gold on His head and a sharp sickle (instead of a bow) in His hand. In Revelation 19:11-16, we see Christ not only on the white horse, as just mentioned, but with many crowns on His head and with a sharp, double-edged sword (instead of a bow or sickle). We are obviously looking at overlapping imagery, with different means used to describe the authority and intent of Christ throughout Revelation. Fourth, we see the conquering mission of this rider, which is consistent with the mission of Christ we see over and over again throughout Revelation (Rev 3:21, 5:5, 19:15-16).
The fact that Christ is a conqueror bent on war disturbs some commentators has probably contributed to the desire to see this rider as someone other than Christ (“There’s a New World Coming: A Prophetic Odyssey” (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1973), p. 103). Christ Himself tells us that the Father has given all judgment to the Son (Jn 5:22), and it is a gross misunderstanding of the nature of Christ to assume that the unleashing of a judgment war is somehow beneath Him. Let Psalm 46:8 speak on the matter: “Come behold the works of the Lord, who has wrought desolations in the earth.” Christ graciously loves mankind and he is incredibly patient with us, often waiting hundreds of years before bringing judgment upon rebellious nations. However, Christ also hates sin and will judge it both in history and at the end. A nation sows what it reaps, as Second Chronicles 36:15-17 clearly demonstrates.
As Christ opens the second seal, a red horse and rider emerge. This rider stands for wars that are about to be unleashed on Israel. The point to note is that God does not have to cause people to fight, all he has to do is to take peace from the earth. It is God’s withholding power that prevents men from working out the full extent of their evil. Anyone who has lived through a war will understand the enormous capacity for evil that is in the heart of civilized people. When God eventually did take peace from the land of Israel, the nation became a horror pit. Josephus, the Jewish historian who recorded in tremendous detail the saga of the Jewish wars of 67-70AD, tells us: “It was common to see cities filled with dead bodies, still lying unburied, and those of old men, mixed with infants, all dead, and scattered about together. Women also lay amongst them, without any covering for their nakedness, you might then see the whole province full of inexpressible calamities, while dread of still more barbarous practices which were threatened, was everywhere greater than what had been already perpetrated.” (Flavius Josephus, ‘The Jewish War”, Edited by Gaalya Cornfield. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982) (P.ii.xviii.2)
The third rider holds in his hand a pair of scales, a symbol of famine (Eze 4:10). Economic hardship and starvation follow on the heels of every war. Again, Josephus tells us what life was like in 67-70AD: “As the famine grew worse…men would break into houses, and if they found some they mistreated the occupants for having denied their possession of it…many secretly bartered their possessions for a single measure of wheat if they happened to be rich, barley if they were poor …nowhere was a table laid, the food was snatched half-cooked from the fire and torn to pieces.” (Op. cit.p.v.x.11). The fact that the oil and wine, symbols of anointing and communion, are not damaged tells us that the saints were to be protected from this hardship, another fact recorded by Josephus.
The fourth horse tells us of the lives that would be snuffed out as part of God’s judgment upon Israel. The angel is given authority to allow mass killing in four ways: by the sword, famine, disease and wild animals. This is simply a summary of the curses listed in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. Jerusalem had already been through these four judgment s at the time of their exile (Eze 5:17,14:21.) and Christ had also declared that they were coming soon upon his generation (Mt 24:34, also Mt 21:33-45, 22:1-7, 23:29-39, 24:1-34, Mk 13:1-31, Lk 21:5-31). It was what the New Testament authors called the ‘last days’ for the nation of Israel (Ac 2:15-21, 1Ti 4:1-8, 2Ti 3:1-8, Heb 1:2, 9:26, Ja 5:1-8, 1Pe 1:20-21, Jude 1:17-19).
THE MARTYRS AVENGED (Rev 6:9-17)
9. And when He broke the fifth Seal, I saw underneath the alter the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the Testimony which they had maintained, 10. and they cried out with a loud voice, saying: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11. And there was given to each of them a white robe, and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, should be completed also. 12. And I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood,13. and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. 14. And the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15. And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16. and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17. for the great Day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
The seven churches that received the book of Revelation had already begun to see the execution of members of their congregations because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. For most of these believers, the next few years would result in their own deaths or the death of friends and loved ones under the most excruciating and tragic of circumstances. The injustices they would soon suffer were probably unparalleled in the history of Christianity. In the pain of persecution, many would be sorely tempted to deny their Lord and King. These words of prophecy would be a rock for many of them.
Christ had already told His followers (Mt 23:35-36) that the blood of the martyrs and prophets was to be avenged upon this terminal generation of Jews: “That upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the alter. Truly I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation.” Here in Revelation, we not only see Him confirming the prophecy but adding extra insight. If the martyrs’ blood is flowing under the base of the altar, it must have been the priests of Jerusalem who spilt it! This view is reinforced by taking a quick look at some scriptures in Acts that highlight the degree of satanic venom oozing out of the Sanhedrin (Ac 4:1 -2, 17-21, 5:17-40, 6:12-14, 7:54-58, 8:1-3, 23:1-10).
Many modern Christians have fallen under the sentimental delusion that it is somehow ‘unchristian’ to pray for God’s vengeance to fall upon their persecutors and those who have made it their aim to disrupt the plans of God. Should Christians pray for vengeance today? It is true that we must love all men and desire their salvation, but their sin is abhorrent in the eyes of God, and we are within our jurisdiction when we hand rebels over to God for judgment .
THE 144,000 TRUE ISRAELITES SEALED (Rev 7:1-8)
- after this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind should blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree.
- And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God, and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea,
- saying: “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”
- And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
- from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand,
- from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand,
- from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand,
- from the tribe of Zebulon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.
Although we are reading a new chapter, we are still looking at the opening of the sixth seal with its destruction of the nation of Israel. Before the fall of Jerusalem, Christianity was still regarded as part of Judaism. Until 70AD, the futures of Israel and the church looked to be very much interconnected. The Christians were not separatists. They considered their faith to be the fulfillment of the promises given to Abraham and Moses. Most believers were Jewish and the preferred method of evangelism was to preach in the synagogues (Ac 13:4-5, 14:1, 17:1-2, 10, 18:19). It was 10 years or so after the resurrection before Peter, the recognised leader of the early church, would even set foot inside a Gentile house, and only then under marching orders from the Holy Spirit (Ac 10). For the church to exist completely separate to the nation of Israel was unimaginable. Yet the previous chapter of Revelation foretold the nation’s future destruction. What about the church? Would it survive? What would its future be? The answers the infant church needed were now revealed to them.
Firstly, John sees four angels standing at the four corners of the earth holding back the winds of judgment. It is quite common to see wind used in the Old Testament as a means of bringing about God’s blessings or curses. Consider the wind that was sent to dry the earth after the flood (Ge 8:1), the wind that sent the locusts into Egypt (Ex 10:13), the wind that separated the Red Sea for the Israelites and drowned the Egyptians (Ex 14:21-28), the wind that brought quail into the Israelite camp (Nu 11:31), and the wind that ushered in the outpouring at Pentecost (Ac 2:2). This time around, the angels will blow in the ill winds of change upon apostate Israel.
The winds of destruction are now held back by one of the angels, who has the seal of the living God. This angel’s job is to seal the foreheads of the servants of God. Most Bible students will immediately understand this reference to the Holy Spirit, who is God’s seal of ownership on us and our down payment on our eternal inheritance (2Co 1:22, Eph 1:13, 4:30). The placement of the seal on the forehead is in line with the sealing of the high priest’s forehead with HOLY TO THE LORD (Ex 28:36). We are now restored to fellowship with God, we are priests unto God, and we are also holy unto the Lord.
Chronologically, this sealing of the Spirit is applied to the righteous Jews before the seal of the Beast is applied to the wicked (Rev 13:16). This is consistent with the original prophecy of the sealing of the Holy Spirit in Joel 2:28-32 and Acts 2:16-21. The Pentecostal outpouring came before the outpouring of judgment, as can be clearly seen if you read Joel 2:28-32 in the Amplified Bible. The point at which Peter finishes quoting Joel in Acts 2 is the point where Joel connects the imagery of de-creation with the destruction of Jerusalem. There has been much misunderstanding concerning the fulfillment of this prophecy, the 20th-century, so-called outpourings of the Holy Spirit have nothing to do with this prophecy, as Peter was not giving a prophecy but declaring its fulfillment (verse 16).
At the time of John’s prophecy, not all of the Jews who were meant to be redeemed before the destruction of Jerusalem had come into the Church. Paul knew this and told his readers that there was still a remnant according to God’s gracious choice (Ro 11:4-5). The infant church was in danger of annihilation with the apostate Jews if insufficient growth w as achieved, and this took time. Therefore, we see the angel with the seal holding back the judgment until he has sealed the complete number of predestined believers (Eph 1:5, 11-13).
The text then says there would be one 144,000 sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel. The fact that the number is a multiple of 12 (12x12x1000) and that exactly 12,000 come from each tribe tells us that the numbers are obviously symbolic. Twelve is the number of God’s priests (12 tribes, 12 apostles, 240 priests, 24 elders), and one thousand symbolizes many (Dt 1:11, 5:10, 7:9, Ps 50:10, 68:17, 84:10, 90:4). These two Old Testament images are combined by John to describe for us the holy army of believer priests, safe, whole and secure, the full number of Jews who would be saved before the destruction of Jerusalem.
THE GREAT MULTITUDE (Rev 7:9-17)
- After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, that no one could count, from every nation
and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes,
and palm branches were in their hands,
- and they cry out with a loud voice, saying: “Salvation to our God who sits on the Throne, and to the Lamb.”
- And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God,
- saying: “Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
- And one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come?”
- And I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the Great Tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
- For this reason, they are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His Temple, and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them.
- They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore, neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat,
- for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to the springs of the water of life, and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes.”
The scene now changes as John looks up to see an incredible multitude of saints worshipping before God’s throne. God has revealed to John the remnant of Israel that will be redeemed before the collapse of Jerusalem. God now reveals the extent of the church’s growth after that event. John looks down through history at the fulfillment of the great commission that was first given to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The commission was reiterated by many, including Christ in Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” John now sees the fulfillment of God’s original purpose for the earth, now made possible through the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (Jn 1:29). He sees an uncountable multitude from every nation, and all tribes and peoples and tongues worshipping the King of kings.
What an exciting moment it must have been in each of the seven churches the day John’s prophecy was read out and their ears first heard these fantastic words! Here was a small, ragtag bunch of political, social, and religious outcasts under intense persecution being told of the future worldwide triumph of their cause. They must have been greatly encouraged to continue in their faith and to press on with their evangelistic efforts.
The saints are seen here wearing white robes, which symbolize their righteousness, as we have seen. Their hands also held palm branches, which are a part of the Feast of Tabernacles. In the Old Testament, the Feast of Tabernacles was that time of the year when everybody erected a tabernacle, or tent, made of branches and lived in it for a week. No work was done on the first and last days of the feast, and on that first day, celebration was made with the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook (Lev 23:33-44). The feast was designed to remind the Israelites of the Garden of Eden, with its emphasis on rest from work, worship in small ‘gardens’, and the use of beautiful trees. God uses the imagery of the feast here to remind the early Church that they are the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, that they have spiritually re-entered the original tabernacle, the garden of Eden.
The multitude now breaks out into an anthem of worship to the Father and Son. They are seen giving God the type of worship that Rome very bluntly demanded for itself. The believers declare the source of salvation to be God, neither the Roman state, Augustus, Nero, or any other tin-pot dictator who has tried to deify himself down through the centuries. The basic issue of the ages has always been: Who sits on the throne? Who’s the owner and determiner of reality? Whose word is law? Who is the Messiah, the state, the king, or Christ? The cry coming emphatically from the multitude is: ‘Salvation to our God.’
The worship service continues along the now-familiar pattern of back and forth singing between saints, angels, and the living creatures. This time, it is the angels who bow with their faces on the ground and begin to sing. This posture should be reintroduced and encouraged in protestant churches today.
One of the elders now asks a rhetorical question about the origin of those who are clothed in the white robes. This is a question that many Bible commentators have attempted to answer on behalf of the elder. However, the elder answers his own question and informs John that the multitude are those who come out of the great tribulation, an event that is often interpreted as still to happen sometime in the near future. Yet Christ, once again, had already taught about this event and even used the word ‘tribulation’ to describe it. In Matthew 24:21 and Markl3:19, Christ told his disciples privately that there was coming upon that generation a great tribulation unequalled since the beginning of creation, and never to be equaled again. That means it was to take place in the middle of history, not at the end of history! In the same passage, Christ also warned the believers in Judea to flee to the mountains (Mt 24:16-17), a warning heeded by the early church and which resulted in its preservation. That is why the elder is able to tell John that those in white robes, the Church, have come out of the great tribulation. The great tribulation was going to result in both the deliverance of the church, and its subsequent explosion all over the empire.
The privileged state of the believers as part of God’s household is now explained to John. Firstly, they are to be priests in the true temple of God (1Pe 2:5, 9) and as such will have access to the true Holy of Holies, the throne room of God (Heb 4:16, 10:19). Secondly, God will spread his tabernacle over them to be their covering. The imagery here is from the Feast of Tabernacles, as we have already seen. The feast was the shadow, the reality had now come. Thirdly, we see the abolition of spiritual hunger, thirst and oppressive heat. The imagery here comes from Genesis 3:17-19, where Adam was put under a curse of scarcity, work, sweat and want as the price of his disobedience to God. Here in Revelation, we see the curse reversed, because sin has now been dealt with and obedience restored. Fourthly, there is the promise of the ever-present Good Shepherd, Christ himself. Echoes of Psalm 23 and John 10:1 -18 are coming through here. The springs of the water of life spoken of refer to the Holy Spirit, whom Christ had already likened to a well and rivers of living water (Jn 4:14, 7:38-39). The wiping of every tear from their eyes is a common way of describing the conditions of the new creation (Is 35:10, 60:20, 65:19). God has become our comforter, death has no sting and the grave has no victory over us.