Revelation Session 3
Let us pray. Almighty God, we thank you for the privilege of breaking open your Word particularly as it is found in Revelation, and I would ask that you would allow that Word to be built into our lives every day so that we indeed might overcome any fear which may be ours in living life on this earth, and that we might reclaim the ultimate hope which is ours in and through Jesus Christ. In His name, Amen.
I want to begin by offering a word of preamble. We keep talking about the fact that the disciple John, as he communicated this great revelation from Christ to the people of Asia Minor and then ultimately to the Christian community all over the world, he kept using terms and phrases and images, some from Greek mythology but many, many of them from the Old Testament because the Roman authorities were not familiar with Old Testament imagery and knowledge, and because that was a good way to communicate with people who were in the Christian Church in Asia Minor and who did understand Old Testament language and imagery. And so one of the things that is very important to understand in dealing with the Book of Revelation is that, in essence, the Book of Revelation is what I would call Second Exodus. There is First Exodus in the Old Testament. You remember the story of Exodus in the Old Testament. How, after 400 years of slavery in Egypt, God’s people were suffering mightily. And it was at that point that God empowered Moses to go and confront Pharaoh and demand, “Let my people go.” Moses was speaking on behalf of God. “Let my people go.”
Pharaoh refused. And so there were, as you recall, a series of plagues which were visited upon the people of Egypt. One plague after another after another. And after each plague, the query once again addressed to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” And in every instance, Pharaoh refused. And so each plague succeeded to another, and each plague was more serious than the one before. Finally, the last plague, the death of the first-born of the families of Egypt, was the clincher. That’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. And after that plague, Pharaoh finally said, “All right. Go.” He relented and surrendered his power over the slave people of God, and sent them on their way. However, it wasn’t very long before they realized that this trek to freedom was in fact fraught with danger. First of all, they were confronted with the obstacle of the Red Sea, how to cross it. And then Pharaoh in the meantime had changed his mind, and had sent his vast armies in pursuit of the people, determined to either slaughter them or return them to slavery in Egypt.
And it was at that point that God intervened into the circumstance, parted the waters of the Red Sea, the people of Israel walked across in safety and security, and then began their journey in the wilderness on the other side. Pharaoh’s army thundered after them once they were in the midst of the Red Sea. The waters returned, the army was destroyed, God’s people were delivered. They then engaged in a long journey through the wilderness, 40 years in fact, during which time they were prepared very slowly and gently but deliberately by God for their ability then to occupy the great promised land. That’s First Exodus. That’s the Old Testament Exodus. The people in Asia Minor remembered that story intimately. They knew all of the details of it, and so there is a sense in which Revelation takes the Exodus story, and overlays it into a new setting and a new situation. And that’s why I sometimes refer to Revelation as Second Exodus.
God’s people are enslaved by the power of evil in the world. God demands, “Let my people go.” Repeatedly through the prophets, the message gets delivered, and repeatedly the people stay in slavery. Finally God intervenes into the situation, and sends His son Christ into the world, once again demanding of evil, “Let my people go.” God wants His people as His very own. Once again, evil continues its lock grip on the scene of the Christian faith, the new Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ, and as a result of that, a series of plagues begin to unfold, one after another in successive order. And those plagues we have seen all the way through human history, and even experienced some of that now. But the reality is that evil still has hold, but God is still determined to keep His people safe and secure, and He will do whatever is necessary. And so the promise that Revelation gives to us is that Jesus Christ is going to return to this earth. And at the point of return, the waters of evil will be parted, and God’s people will move in safety and security through the waters of evil and on to the promised land of the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s the hope that awaits us.
Well, for Christians in Asia Minor suffering under terrible persecution, suffering under colossal evil, what a vivid picture that would be, and a picture filled with extraordinary hope. That is the hope of Revelation—Second Exodus. That’s the imagery we’re going to find in the passage we look at today. Remember we are dealing here in the heart of Revelation with a series of Seven Sequences, beginning with the Seven Seals, then the Seven Trumpets, then what I choose to call the Seven Characters followed by the Seven Bowls. Each one leads directly into the other so that they are in fact an unbroken string of narrative through the central portion of the Book of Revelation. Today we come to the Seven Trumpets. The Seventh Seal, beginning the 8th chapter of Revelation, opens the way. It’s the transition verse that moves us to the Seven Trumpets. And here is the reading.
“I saw the seven angels who stand before God and to them were given seven trumpets. Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.” And then we follow the normal pattern which is ours in Revelation. We have four trumpets, which reflect the earthly perspective on things, then we move to two trumpets which reflect the Divine perspective on things, then we have an interlude. The interlude is always the powerful direct word from Christ to the Church, and then we find the seventh trumpet which leads then to the next sequence of seven. We shall come to that shortly. But we begin with the first four trumpets. And what I want you to do is to remember as we work our way through the first four trumpets, remember the series of plagues from the First Exodus, because those plagues in essence are replayed in these first four trumpets. The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood. It was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all of the green grass was burned up.
Now I want you to remember that earlier in the Seven Seals, we talked about one fourth of the earth being impacted. Now the fraction is growing larger. The message is the judgment is being visited upon a greater portion of the earth. Now we’re talking about one third of the earth. And so the first angel with the trumpet sounds the judgment of natural disasters and storms. Those kinds of things were very real in the lives of the people of Asia Minor and they would have understood it. And certainly here, on this barrier island on the east coast of America, we understand the reality and the power of those kinds of storms and what happens. The second angel sounded his trumpet and something like a huge mountain all ablaze was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
Now, go back in your history books to 79 AD. In that year, and that was prior to the writing of Revelation, in that year Mount Vesuvius exploded. The great volcano was released, and the lava flowed out of there in enormous quantities, swept down the side of the mountain, took out the whole city of Pompeii, flowed into the Gulf of Naples, destroyed all the ships in the Gulf of Naples, plus destroyed all of the sea life in the Gulf of Naples. Well, the people in Asia Minor were very much aware of what had happened then, and so this would have been something that really caught their attention. He’s talking about things like volcanoes.
The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star blazing like a torch fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter and many people died from the waters that had become bitter. Wormwood was a root that was very much in existence in those days, and it was feared by people because that particular root infected the water supplies. It was very bitter in the taste but it was also toxic. It was very poisonous, and we are certainly aware in light of the disaster of Katrina what happens when toxic water becomes the reality across the field of human civilization. It is a terribly destructive force, and once again the people of Asia Minor would have understood that from the earthly perspective, this was the judgment because of evil being worked out in the world.
The fourth angel sounded his trumpet and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light and also a third of the night. Darkness is always the symbol for evil. In fact, people who are specialists in security will tell you that the reality is the best way to guard against evil and ill intent is not armament, but light. Evil cannot pierce the darkness, or will not pierce the darkness. If you want to make your home secure, light it up on the outside. That is the best way to create a secure environment. That’s the symbol that John is using here at this point in the Revelation. It’s no accident, for example, that Jesus is called in scripture “the light of the world”—Jesus is the light. He comes into the darkness, John tells us in his Gospel. He comes into the darkness, and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. No darkness can overcome any light. And that’s the promise that’s here. Yes, the world is dark because of evil, and that darkness is spreading because evil is exercising its power over the earth, but the light of Jesus Christ continues to shine.
As I watched, I heard an eagle. It’s actually there—a vulture—A vulture that was flying in mid-air calling out in a loud voice, “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” to the inhabitants of the earth because of the trumpet blast about to be sounded by the other three angels. So we move now from the perspective of earth to the next angels with trumpets, and they are going to give us the Divine perspective. The fifth angel sounded his trumpet and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the abyss, and when he opened the abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and the sky were darkened by the smoke from the abyss.
One of the great questions that we as Christians in our world today constantly have to deal with is where does evil come from? If God is a perfect God, how can evil exist? How could a perfect God create evil? The answer is God doesn’t create evil, but God is supreme and God does therefore create the capacity for evil, the potential for evil. God, for example, does not make us His puppets or His marionettes. He doesn’t desire just to jerk us around and make us do everything He wants us to do. Instead, He creates us free with the decision-making power that He has given us. He wants us to be able to choose between good and evil, between right and wrong. He wants to strengthen and encourage us always to choose the right and the good, but we are free to choose that which is wrong and that which is evil. And so therefore God has created the capacity for evil, the ability to choose that which is evil. And we get the picture here that the angels were given exactly that same capacity. And one of them engaged in choosing what was wrong and what was evil, and therefore he was dropped from heaven. He was a fallen angel, and he was given the keys to hell. The keys to the abyss is the way it is worded here. He was given access over hell. And it then goes on to describe out of the smoke of hell—the smoke of the abyss, locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. How interesting that he uses locusts and scorpions together.
Locusts were the most feared insects of all. They were insects who came in great hordes, and when they arrived they absolutely destroyed the landscape. Everything they ate, everything except humankind. They destroyed everything, and so they were feared. In essence, the message here is that that’s what evil is like. Evil comes and destroys everything. But there is an addition here. This one says that they were told not to harm the grass or the plants or the trees, but only people, those who did not have the Seal of God on their foreheads. So these locusts don’t destroy the vegetation. They destroy human character.
And they also have a stinger like a scorpion. A scorpion is not capable of killing a human being, unless you are allergic to the sting of a scorpion. But the sting of a scorpion is terribly severe, and it makes you feel absolutely miserable. It makes you feel like you want to die. And so listen to how John expresses it. They were not given the power to kill those who had the Seal of God on their foreheads, but only to torture them for 5 months. Remember the number 5. Not a long period of time. There is a definite time during which evil is going to have its way. It’s not a permanent thing at all. Interestingly enough, the lifespan of a locust is actually 5 months. And so that’s how incredibly sophisticated in detail the Book of Revelation is. All of that I find tremendously fascinating, and it makes it so much more real and believable to me to recognize that these things are true.
And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes a man. During those days, men will seek death but will not find it. They will long to die but death will elude them. The sting of a scorpion makes you feel so miserable that you want to die, but you don’t. Now he goes on with a description of these locusts. The locusts look like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold. Remember whenever that word “like” is there, it means that they have the appearance of something, but they are not really that. And so here they have crowns of gold, what look like crowns of gold. They have the appearance of having great power, but they really don’t. Their faces resembled human faces. Human faces—remember the sign of intellect, wisdom and knowledge. They look like they have wisdom and knowledge, but they don’t.
That’s the way evil is. Evil is subterfuge. Evil is disguise. Evil is deceptive. And so evil looks like one thing, but in fact it is something else. Their hair was like women’s hair. Women’s hair was regarded as a sacred sign of beauty in that part of the world. That’s still true in the Middle East today, which is why women in the Middle East always wear their hair covered. It is a sign of sacred beauty. And so evil comes to us looking very beautiful and attractive, but in fact it is not. Their teeth were like lion’s teeth. Evil looks fearsome and it does have an impact, but it is not going to be totally destructive. They had breastplates, or scales like breastplates of iron. The sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. A horde of locusts sound just exactly that way.
They had tails and stings like scorpions, and in their tails, they had the power to torment people for 5 months. Not permanently, but for a relatively short time. They had his king over them, the Angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is “Abaddon”, which means the destroyer. And in Greek, “Apollyon”. Now, let me stop just for a second here, because this is a wonderful little joke that John has right here in the middle of Revelation. Apollo was the Greek god of war. Domitian, the Emperor of Rome, called himself the new Apollo, and he wanted to be worshipped as a god. He saw himself as being supremely powerful. And John here uses not the word Apollo, but the word Apollyon, which is the diminutive form of Apollo, which means that in essence, John was saying that Domitian is not the great god of war. Domitian is nothing more than just a little pipsqueak Apollo. Pitiful little figure. He has no threat, really. We are under the grip of an infinitely greater power, and so this is a direct stab at the Emperor Domitian.
The sixth angel blew his trumpet and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God. It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great River Euphrates.” A very critical phrase. The people in Asia Minor would have responded immediately to this. The Euphrates River, which is in present-day Iraq, as we all know, the River Euphrates was the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire stopped at the River Euphrates. On the other side of that river, were the Parthians who the Romans feared desperately, and then beyond that, the great massive armies of the Orient. And so for the Romans, the River Euphrates was a significant boundary, and they always feared the forces living on the other side. And so right here at the point in time where Rome is extraordinarily powerful, John is delivering the message the four angels are going to be released on the other side of the River Euphrates. The hordes from the east will come, and the Roman empire will be destroyed.
Now, we know that that’s what he’s saying because when you go on in this little passage, the four angels had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was 200 million. I heard their number. By the way, 200 million is 10,000 times 10,000 times 2. Remember that the number 10,000 was the number that was the maximum that the people in that day and age could understand and comprehend. And so John multiplies 10,000 by 10,000 and then multiplies it again by 2, and you get the figure there, 200 million. A postscript at this point: are you aware of the fact that at this moment in our history, the armies of the China nation, communist China, the armies of China at this moment number 200 million persons. That’s an interesting number. It’s almost an inconceivable number even for us. And yet there it is. In a sense, Revelation being lived all over again.
The horses and the riders I saw in my vision look like this. Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow. The Parthians wore white garments in battle. Very unusual at that point in history. And their breastplates, instead of being a neutral color, as was true for most military forces in that day, their breastplates were always painted extraordinarily bright colors, red, blue, and yellow. And so it is very clear. The people in Asia Minor knew the Parthians. They knew that’s what he was talking about. This force from the east that would come and inflict injury. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions. Out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur. By the way, fire, smoke and sulfur, if you think that there’s not a predictive element to Revelation, sulfur is a key element in armaments in armor and firearms today. Sulfur is an element in gunpowder. That was not true, didn’t exist at that point in time. And yet here in Revelation, we have fire, smoke and sulfur being spoken of all that time ago.
The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails were like snakes having heads with which they inflict injury. The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues—remember Exodus?—still did not repent of the work at their hands. They did not stop worshipping demons and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood. Idols that cannot see or hear or walk. People are refusing, even in the face of all of these plagues, to resist evil and to follow the one true God, the expression of the one true God in human form, Jesus Christ, who can see, hear and walk. This is an amazing moment in the Book of Revelation. And then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven.
Now, we have reached the point of the interlude. Remember, this is the direct word from Christ to the Church. A very powerful, direct word, and in essence, Jesus Christ is saying to His Church, “I want you to stay strong. And I’m going to give you some things to think about that will enable you to stay strong as you continue to battle against the evil that exists in the world.” He was robed in a cloud with a rainbow above His head. His face was like the sun. And what I want to do is to focus now on the picture that is drawn for us here. You see the rainbow? That’s always the sign of hope.
The pillars of fire that were legs, and in his hand a little scroll. Whenever you find the phrase “little scroll” in the Book of Revelation, that is a reference to the Bible, to this book. The big scroll, remember, from the earlier portion of Revelation, is the ultimate Revelation of God. That is not what the Bible is. The Bible is a little scroll. It is a partial revelation of God directed to humankind, and it is to be treasured as that. He was holding a little scroll which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea, his left foot on the land. He gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the Seven Thunders spoke, and when the Seven Thunders spoke, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the Seven Thunders have said, and do not write it down.” An amazing moment in Revelation. He was about to have another portion of seven. Seven Thunders were about to be revealed, and yet suddenly, a voice from heaven says, “No. You’re not ready. The world is not ready to hear what the Seven Thunders have to say.”
Revelation is an incomplete book. At some point, maybe it’s not until we get to heaven, we’re going to understand what the seven thunders are, but not now. There’s a parallel to this in 2 Corinthians 12, where Paul has this great vision where he is lifted up to heaven. And he says there, “I saw some things which cannot be told or expressed to human beings.” There are certain aspects of the future, certain aspects of the heavenly Kingdom, that are so overpowering that we are not yet ready to hear them and to understand them. And so you have the angel with the little scroll and the power that is contained there. The angel I had seen standing on the sea and the land raised his right hand to heaven. He swore by them who lives forever and ever who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, the sea and all that is in it, and he said, “There will be no more delay. Time is short. Evil’s grip on the earth and on the people of God is limited. It is not permanent. The time is short.” In the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished just as He announced to His servants the prophets.
And then the voice I heard from heaven spoke to me once more. “Go and take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” I went to the angel, asked him to give me the little scroll, the Bible. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.” Well, take and eat? Take the Bible and eat it, what does that mean? The reality is in our own time when we read a good book, one of the things that we say is, “I devoured that book.” That’s what he’s saying. Devour the word of God in scripture. Take it in. Devour it. That’s not going to be easy. Some of it’s going to make it really tough to digest, because some of it is about judgment. But there is a lot of it that’s about grace, and that’s going to be as sweet as honey in your mouth. But the reality is we need to devour the word of God, let it become a part of us, and then he finishes up with this charge, “Then I was told you must prophesy again about many people’s nations, languages and kings. You are to go out and proclaim the word of God to the world around you.”
Now we come to the section called the two witnesses, where in essence, John is saying here that two of the great figures of the Old Testament are all the promise that you need that what we are talking about here is true. He says, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar and count the worshippers there.” He’s talking about the Old Testament. That’s a sign. I’m talking here about the Old Testament, that which has gone before us. “Do not measure the outside court because it has been given to the gentiles. They will trample on the Holy City for 42 months and I will give power to my two witnesses and they will prophesy for 1,260 days.” Once again, numbers. The number 42 months. 6 times 7 equals 42. The perfect number multiplied by the imperfect number gives 42 months. 42 months or 1,260 days. That is a period of 3 and a half years. That is one half of the perfect number. And so whenever he uses 42 months, 1,260 days, 3 and a half years, or another phrase we’re going to see later on, time, times and half a time, we’ll look at that in a few moments. Whenever he says that he is meaning that the judgment and the grip will not be permanent. It’s going to be overwhelming because he’s dealing with the perfect number 7, but it’s not going to be permanent.
These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the Earth. Then he goes on to give us the hints as to who the two are—the two lampstands who are delivering the light of God. One of them is this. If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. 2 Kings 1, Elijah calls down fire from heaven upon the enemies of God. So there’s the clue that the first one of the witnesses is Elijah. Then it goes on. “This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. These men have the power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying. They have the power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the Earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.”—that’s Moses. And so he is saying here Elijah and Moses are the clue and the promise. That’s what happened in the Old Testament. God was preparing the way for the coming of Christ.
If you go back to the story of the transfiguration, and remember John was there, on the top of the mountain. Jesus is transfigured and the three disciples, Peter, James and John, see two figures with Jesus on the top of the mountain. The two are Moses and Elijah. That is no accident. John is in essence saying this is the tie between the Old Testament and the new. The Old Testament feeds the new, prepares the way for Jesus Christ.
And then we come to the seventh trumpet. The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven which said the Kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. Where have you heard those words? Handel’s Messiah. One of the things to remember. Remember Revelation is the source for much of the great music of the Christian tradition. Handel knew the Book of Revelation like the back of his hand. There is a sense in which Handel’s Messiah is the Book of Revelation set to music. And here you see it. We will see other instances of that as we move ahead.
Now we come to what I call the turning point in the Book of Revelation. Here the Revelation begins to explode in its power, and I want you to see that. But here we’re going to move to what I call the Seven Characters. Now, it’s very important to see that when we get to the Seven Characters, we have a slightly altered pattern. This is the one place where that is true. Here we have four characters who are in the earthly perspective. Then we have three characters who are in the heavenly perspective, and then we have an interlude. And that interlude is actually divided into two parts. I call them interlude A and B. Interlude B is the transition element to the next sequence of seven—the Seven Bowls. So here the altered pattern is just slight, but it is a slight alteration.
Now, here’s what I want you to see. This is absolutely fascinating to me. In all of my years in the ministry, I certainly have never preached on, nor have I ever heard or read a sermon preached on the Christmas story in Revelation, but that’s what this is. We tend to think that the Christmas story is found in Matthew and Luke. That it is, but no one ever stops to think that the Christmas story is also told in the Book of Revelation, and that is what is happening here in the 12th chapter. You’re going to see it right from the very first line. A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven. Remember what happened prior to the birth of Jesus. A great and wondrous sign or star appeared in the heavens, and that star became a critical element in the unfolding Christmas story.
What I want you to grasp here is that this is the Christmas story in Revelation terms and it is incredibly powerful. In essence, John is saying under the inspiration of Christ, “I want you all not to forget who you are. I’m going to tell you the story of how all of this happened, but I’m going to do it in language that is coded and veiled.” And so he tells the Christmas story to the people of Asia Minor—it’s a staggering thing. A woman clothed with the sun—now what I do in my own Bible is I write down the numbers by each of the seven characters in this sequence because they’re not clearly numbered otherwise—and I put by a woman clothed with the sun the number 1. A woman clothed with the sun—that is always a sign of the majesty of God. She has the moon under her feet. The moon is the light that shines in the darkness. That again is the symbol of Christ in the world, and a crown of 12 stars on her head. The 12 stars, the 12 angels represent the 12 disciples. That’s the symbol of the Church. The woman becomes the matriarchal symbol of the Church. Little wonder our Roman Catholic friends put such heavy weight upon the role of Mary in the life of the Church.
She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven. Remember the star moved. We remember how the wise men were led by that wondrous sign in heaven. And then listen to what happens now. An enormous red dragon—That’s the second character. Put a number 2 by that. The red dragon. Go back to Genesis. How is evil portrayed in the Book of Genesis? As a serpent, a snake. Here, evil is portrayed as a dragon. Same species as the snake, but bigger, badder. And so what John is saying here is that evil is now multiplied and amplified, not just a little snake now, this red dragon with 7 heads and 10 horns and 7 crowns on his head. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. Remember at Halloween, we love to see the little children dressed in red with a little pointy tail and little horns on their head and a little pitchfork and they’re saying trick or treat, and we think that’s so cute. But that’s actually a caricature of this particular vision in the Book of Revelation. The red dragon is nothing to laugh about. Nothing to smile about. He isn’t cute at all.
Here’s what I want you to hear. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. What happened after Jesus was born? King Herod decreed the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem in order to try to devour, to kill off, to destroy the Christ. And so the point here—and this is what I want you to see. The point here is that evil is a monumental force, but evil works through human instrumentalities. And so the red dragon exerts his power through a human being, in this case, King Herod. And that’s the way evil works, and that’s why we ought to be afraid of evil and do everything we can to resist it.
She, the woman, gave birth to a son. A male child. That’s character number three. A male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. Very important to catch that phrase, iron scepter. Make a note in the margin of your Bible, Psalm 2:9, and go back and read it. That is a Messianic song. A song which predicts the coming of the Messiah, and it says when the Messiah comes, he will rule with an iron scepter. And so here you see John is actually taking this amazing picture from Psalms, and he is saying he is going to rule with an iron scepter. This male child is the Messiah, the Christ, and her child was snatched up to God and to His throne. Well, there’s the picture of the ascension. Jesus at the end of His earthly ministry—He is literally snatched up to heaven. That’s the picture of the ascension. The people in Asia Minor would have known that. They would have known what he was saying at that point.
The woman, that’s Mary, fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. There we go again, 3 and a half years. The desert, by the way, let me quickly say this. In the Bible, the desert or the wilderness always has a double function. Yes, it is a geographical location, but it is also a spiritual reality. The desert or the wilderness is always the place where people draw closer to God, and where they are empowered by God to do extraordinary things. The people of the First Exodus wandered for all of those years in the wilderness. They were being made ready to occupy the promised land. Jesus went out into the wilderness, did battle with the Devil and the temptations there, was empowered by God to erupt from that victorious. And then you have Paul. We’re told in Galatians, after his experience on the Damascus Road, he then went off into Arabia out into the desert, to the wilderness. Spent some time there. Maybe 2 years, maybe as much as 10 years—we don’t know. But there he was prepared to become the great missionary force for Jesus Christ in the world. And so in essence it’s saying here that Mary is going to be specially prepared by God. Remember, Mary didn’t understand who Jesus was, really. She had some hints along the way, but she never quite grasped it until after the resurrection. And now in essence what John is saying is she was prepared by God. She was given the full Revelation, so that she came to understand who her son really was.
And there was war in heaven. Once again, this war in heaven about the angels, the one who is fallen. Michael, in the Old Testament, Michael is the protecting angel for the people of God, the old Israel. In the New Testament, Michael becomes the protector for the new Israel, the Church. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but the dragon was not strong enough and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down. That ancient serpent called the Devil or Satan who leads the whole world astray, he was hurled to the earth and his angels with him. There again the picture of how evil came to exist in the world.
Then there is another great song in the Book of Revelation—and just as a note, sometime, go back and read these verses, but read Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God, and you recognize this is where he got his inspiration for that great hymn. When the dragon saw that he’d been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle. important to hear that once again First Exodus, Second Exodus. In the First Exodus, after it’s over, God says, “Tell the people of Israel you yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.” The imagery is that Mary has been brought safely and securely to God, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert. Same imagery again, where she would be taken care of a time, times and half a time. Time is one year. Times is two years. Half a time is six months. Add it up, 3 and a half years. We’re back to that same wondrous picture that this is very powerful, but it is not permanent. It is not unending. It has a limit.
Out of the serpent’s reach, it says she was. Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river—water, the sea is always the symbol of evil—to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of its mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring. That’s number five—Character number five. Michael was number four.
Now we come to number five—the rest of her offspring—the children of God—the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ—the rest of her offspring—that’s the Church. The rest of her offspring is talking about you and about me. We are the Church. We are the children of God. Those who obey God’s commandments, and hold the testimony of Jesus.
The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. Remember the sea is always the symbol of evil. I saw a beast—character number six—coming out of the sea. It had 10 horns, 7 heads, 10 crowns on his horns, on each a blasphemous name. Remember the Roman emperor Domitian wants us to worship him as Lord and God, John is saying. That is a blasphemy against God. And so he is giving the clue here that he’s talking about the earthly ruler, Domitian. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, had feet like a bear, mouth like a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power. Once again, the power of evil is working itself out through a human instrumentality through the Roman emperor.
One of the heads that the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound has been healed. Hoo!—that’s an amazing little phrase, but it would have been very telling for the people of Asia Minor. They would have understood it immediately. In 68 AD, Nero the Roman Emperor, the most disgusting and feared of the Roman emperors—at least up to that time—committed suicide. How did he commit suicide? He took a sword and plunged it into his head. Nero was so feared, and especially in Asia Minor, that there developed what I think we might call an urban legend. That is to say the people feared that Nero was going to come back, and when he came back he was going to be even more ferocious than he was before. And so when it says there was a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed, he is talking about this urban legend but he’s saying well, it’s actually happened in a sense.
Why? Because Domitian called himself Nero Redivivus—Nero back to life again—Second Nero. And he was in fact even more ferocious than the first one. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast. Men worshipped the dragon because he had given authority of the beast and they also worshipped the beast and asked who is like the beast who can make war against him? And so you see the beast is then being worshipped. That was the Roman emperor at that point in time demanding that people worship him. The beast is given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for—here we go again—42 months, 3 and a half years, the same figure. He then goes on to describe how the beast has this incredible impact. The only ones who are spared that are the ones whose names have been written in the Book of Light belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. You, the Christians of Asia Minor, he’s saying, are going to be protected by the power of God. It’s going to be tough, and those next verses make that clear. It’s going to be hard. Persecution is real, but stay strong and true.
Then we come to the seventh character. I saw another beast coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. He looked like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon—very important. This beast of the earth is what I choose to call the apostate church. You have evil through the powers of this earth like Domitian and other successors, but you also have evil working even in the Church. The unbelieving apostate church. There are aspects of the Church, even in our own time, sad to say, where the Church looks like the lamb, looks like the people of God, looks like the Church, but speaks like the dragon—speaks a word that is wrong, a word that is evil.
Even in our own denomination, and I am always pained to say this. I’ve served for a number of years on the outreach foundation board and I’ve had to deal with the worldwide ministries office of our denomination any number of times. Most of the people in the worldwide ministries division of our denomination, and in fact, I would explode that to say, most of the people who serve in our denominational bureaucracy at that level, if you were to put to them the question is Jesus Christ the only way to salvation? Their response would be something like this. Well, He is a way. He may be the best way, but He may not be the only way. There are other avenues to the truth. We must be sensitive to other dimensions and expressions of faith in the world. Dear friends, that is a lamb looking like the lamb but speaking like the dragon.
That is the communication of that which is evil, which is contrary to the teaching of Scriptures, and so what you have is the Church itself or elements within the Church becoming instruments in the hands of evil. Used by evil to undermine or water down the power and message of the Church. He exercises all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, that is the secular beast.
May the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast whose fatal wound had been healed. Remember, what he’s saying is there were elements of the Church, even the Church in that day who were encouraging people to obey the Roman demand to worship Caesar. You know, you want to save your life. You don’t want to be killed. So just go ahead. Go ahead and worship the Roman Caesar. It’s okay. You will still be all right. That in essence is the apostate church at work then, even as it is now.
He performed great miraculous signs causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. Looked like the Church, acted like the Church, did a lot of things that the Church is empowered to do, but it was deception. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. Once again an image—second Nero—wounded by the sword and yet lived. He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and enslaved, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark which is the name of the beast of the number of his name.
The deceptive church, the apostate church encourage people to adapt themselves to the culture. To take on the aspect of the culture around them. To water down the truths of the faith so that you can blend in. You go along in order to get along. That is a great ministry of the deceptive or apostate church, and it is one that we must fight against constantly. This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast for it is man’s number. His number is 666. Now, in our time, we make a lot out of that number, 666. And remember he’s already warned us this takes wisdom, so you’re going to be wise after you get through with this little exercise. But what I want to do is to remember that the mark of the beast is one that is built on the code. Remember we talked about the fact that the Greek and Hebrew alphabets not only had letters that stood for letters, but the letters also stood for numbers.
Now, interestingly enough, if you take the Greek and Hebrew phrase, “Neron Caesar”, and that’s what in essence Domitian was calling himself, “the new Nero”, if you take those letters and here you have the breakdown of the Hebrew form, NRWN, remember that Hebrew does not have vowels. It only has consonants. And so these are the consonants that go with the word Neron, and then QSR that is Caesar. The German word Kaisar, K-A-I-S-A-R, Caesar, C-A-E-S-A-R, all of it means the same thing. The ruler—the emperor—“Neron Kaisar”. “Neron Caesar”. When you apply the numerical value to those letters, you add it up and the number is 666.
Interestingly enough, there’s some ancient manuscripts and some people have actually tried to use those as a way of discrediting the Book of Revelation. They say that those manuscripts at this point don’t use the number 666. They use the number 616, and so therefore you can discredit this whole thing, this whole message of Revelation. Well, not really because you see in Latin, Nero Caesar—when you break the letters down, give the letters their numerical value, the total is 616.
And so there were people when these early manuscripts were written who were operating with the Latin language, and they simply translated that into Latin terms, but the message was still the same. Further documentation for me rests in the fact that Domitian called himself “Theos Caesar”. Theos is the word God. He called himself “God”. If you take the letters “Theos Caesar” and apply the numerical values to them, interestingly enough, the total comes to 666.
Now, the reality is John is saying that you can determine—if you look hard enough—that there are powerful people in the world who have been enslaved by evil and who are being used by evil to accomplish evil ends. And so I think it’s safe to say that, yes, he was referring to Domitian. I have no doubt about that. But it doesn’t take a lot of good sense to look at the world around us now and to see any number of figures who might well have upon them the numbers 666. There are those who are a part of the power of evil at work in the world around us now. And then we come to what I call interlude A. Then I looked and there before me was the Lamb, Christ standing on Mount Zion. Mount Zion is the great hill in Jerusalem where the temple was. It is the place where Abraham sacrificed Isaac. It is a very critical place to the Hebrew people then—even now. It is also a critical place to us as Christians. And so the Lamb is standing on Mount Zion. With him, the 144,000 who had his name and his father’s name written on their foreheads, that is the great multitude of the heavenly host, those who have gone to be with the Lord who have moved through the Red Sea of evil on to the promised land.
I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. They sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. Understand please, that much of the pagan worship in Asia Minor was directed towards the goddess Diana. And those who worshipped the goddess Diana actually referred to that worship as being like fornication. And so there was this sexual dimension to the worship of Diana. And in essence what he’s saying here is those who are in the promised land of heaven are those who have resisted the lure of the worship of the pagan gods or the evil gods of the world around them. They kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered his first fruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths. They are blameless.
Right there interlude A ends. We’re going to pick up interlude B next week because that leads to the transition to the Seven Bowls, but let me go back just a second. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Someday I’m going to sit down and write a series of fantastic one-liners that are drawn from the Book of Revelation. There are so many of them, and this is one of my favorites. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. I would encourage all of you to write that in your Bibles, write it on the refrigerator. Tuck it away in your heart. We are called to follow the Lamb wherever He goes. That is the discipleship to which we are called. And if we follow the Lamb, ultimately, wherever He goes, well…it’s going to be ultimately through the Red Sea of evil. The sea will part. We will follow the Lamb wherever He goes, and wherever He goes is right through the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven, and there we shall be with Him forever.
God bless you.
Go in peace.