“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which GOD gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.” — Revelation 1:1
The Book of Revelation is a prophetic picture of the experiences and purpose of the Christian Age. Its symbols illustrate what the true Church would suffer at the hands of the false church and the glorious outcome of patient endurance through agonizing trials of faith. As with many prophecies, these events would not be fully understood by the Church until their fulfillment. But now, at the end of the Christian Age, since many of these prophecies have been fulfilled, we should expect to have a clearer insight into what the signs and symbols of Revelation mean. Indeed, this book itself reveals that the complete prophetic picture written in symbolic code would be shown only to the end time Church.
The Unfolding of the Vision
While in prison on the Isle of Patmos, the Apostle John received the “Revelation of Jesus Christ to all of the Churches.” As its name implies, it is a revealing—an unfolding. In his vision, John was shown amazing scenes which were prophetic signs of things to come. Note the first verse: “…he sent and signified it by his angel…” Signified here means “to put into signs—symbolic depictions.” This book, therefore, is written in a kind of code language, and so, when it says “beast,” it does not mean a literal beast, and when it says “angel,” it may not refer to an actual spirit-being.
When symbols such as these are understood, the results are inspiring—as we might expect from a book given by Jesus to the Apostle John for the Church living in the last days. And, while some view these signs and symbols to be terrifying, the Christian who longs for a better day finds hope for everyone in its words, as the final chapters portray.
Time Frame One: THE CHRISTIAN / GOSPEL AGE
The Book of Revelation is neatly divided into three sections corresponding to the three major time periods of GOD’s dealings with the Church of Christ and their role in the ages to come.
The first time frame is from chapters 1 – 13, which primarily refer to the history of the Church from Christ’s death to his second advent (‘Parousia’, invisible presence, in 1874). This period of time was set apart for calling out from among mankind a group of people referred to by various scriptural names: the Church, the Bride, Christians, a people for His name, the 144,000, the little flock, saints, etc. (Acts 15:14; Acts 11:26; Philippians 1:1; Luke 12:32; Revelation 21:9)
This time frame tells of the suffering of Jesus’ true followers at the hands of the powerful apostate (false) church systems, of which the Apostle Paul warned. (2 Thessalonians 2:2-7). Jesus summed up this history in only a few words: “the beginning of sorrows…” Matthew 24:4-14
The history of the Church, as shown in Chapter 1, is divided into seven time periods which are each unique in both their doctrine and experiences. Jesus watches over these seven Churches as symbolized by his appearance “in the midst of seven candlesticks...the seven Churches.” (Revelation 1:13, 20)
Recall that Jesus told his disciples they were like candles on a candlestick—“the light of the world.” Matthew 5:14-16
In Revelation 1:16 Jesus holds seven stars in his right hand. Stars are used in Scripture to symbolize teachers—both good and bad. (Daniel 12:3; Jude 13; Revelation 12:1)
In Revelation 1:20, the seven stars are identified as the seven angels sent to the seven Churches described in Chapters 2 and 3. Note that the word angel has the meaning of messenger in the Greek, and GOD has sent a special Messenger to each of the seven time periods throughout the history of the Church. The Apostle John was one such messenger.
Between Chapters 2 -11, these seven periods of Church history are illustrated three times under different symbols.
The seven Churches are listed in Chapters 2 – 3:-
(1) EPHESUS = 33 ad, Paul
(2) SMYRNA = 73 ad, John
(3) PERGAMOS = 325 ad, Arius
(4) THYATIRA = 1157 ad, Waldo
(5) SARDIS = 1517 ad, Luther
(6) PHILADELPHIA = 1667 ad, Penn (he was baptized that year)
(7) LAODICEA = 1874 ad, Russell
The 7 Messages to the Churches (for the godly) are as follows (each message corresponds to the same church number):
(1) Jesus surpasses Judaism
(2) Gnosticism is wrong
(3) Jesus was the son of GOD
(4) Christian discipleship
(6) Brotherly love
(7) Harvest message
The Scroll of Revelation 5:
The scroll contains judgments against the ungodly. In particular, the judgments of the seven trumpets. That is why the seven angels blaring forth the seven trumpet judgments follow immediately upon the loosing of the last seal — for now the scroll can be unrolled and read and its judgments expressed.
Let us compare Zechariah 5:1-4 which is clear on this point with also Ezekiel 2:9,10 :-
Zechariah 5:1-4:- Then I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a flying roll.2 And he said unto me, What seest thou? And I answered, I see a flying roll; the length thereof is twenty cubits, and the breadth thereof ten cubits.3 Then said he unto me, This is the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole earth: for every one that stealeth shall be cut off as on this side according to it; and every one that sweareth shall be cut off as on that side according to it.4 I will bring it forth, saith the Lord of hosts, and it shall enter into the house of the thief, and into the house of him that sweareth falsely by my name: and it shall remain in the midst of his house, and shall consume it with the timber thereof and the stones thereof.
Ezekiel 2:9-10:- And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein;10 And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.
The scroll contents are the seven trumpets.
Those trumpets are judgments.
Note: The scroll in Hebrews 10:7 is a different scroll than the one in Revelation 5; Hebrews 10 refers to the Old Testament. The scroll of Revelation 5 is a series of judgments that form the seven trumpets.
While the seals are being loosed, we are not progressing through the Gospel Age. We are merely seeing a vision on each loosing, representing what will later occur in the development of the Gospel Age. They are foregleams of coming events. The entire scroll is opened before the first trumpet judgment. The scroll was opened at the beginning of the age, not the end of the age.
The seven seals are listed in Chapters 6 – 8;
We believe the seals were all broken when Jesus was given the scroll after his resurrection, and that the 1/2 hour of silence was the pause before the judgment followed on Judaism.
The seals describe events that would later develop during the Gospel Age. Let us remember that the visions of the seals do not reflect the contents of the scroll. They are merely visions of coming events. Not until the seventh seal is loosed do we actually get to the contents of the scroll itself. Those contents are the judgments of the Trumpets.
The visions revealed at the loosening of each seal are these (very briefly):-
SEAL 1. Christianity spreading rapidly
SEAL 2. False doctrine coming in
SEAL 3. Famine for the word of GOD
SEAL 4. Spiritual death rampant during dark ages
SEAL5. Reformation and the hope for release from oppression
SEAL 6. French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, followed by the second advent. The vision following the loosening of this seal includes events that pertain to periods six and seven of the Gospel Age. Thus when the 7th seal is loosened, we proceed to the judgments contained in the scroll.
The seven trumpets are found in Chapters 8 – 11.
The message of the trumpets contain judgments on Judaism, Pagan Rome, wayward Christendom, and the nations supporting Papacy.
Recall the text in Ezekiel 2:10, “it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.”
These judgments of the 7 trumpets and the 7 blasts under the 7th trumpet do not include original sin and the curse. The trumpets are against Gospel Age systems. The original curse was upon Adam and Eve and descended to others. Of course original sin is related to all other problems. But nothing in the trumpets speaks to Adam or Eve.
So, the trumpet judgments usually highlight a particular distress during the period of the church that corresponds to that trumpet period, and they are as follows:
JUDGMENT 1. The judgment against Judaism and the polity of Israel, that really fell hard from 66 to 73 ad with the seven years of the Roman Wars against Judea.
JUDGMENT 2. The overthrow of the Pagan Roman Empire. That would not pertain to the saints. (But it was a big relief for them.)
JUDGMENT 3. The third trumpet describes the pollution of the sweet waters of truth, which made the message “bitter” and caused the forfeiture of many spiritual hopes.
JUDGMENT 4. The fourth trumpet take us to the darkest part of the “dark ages”, when the Gospel Sun, the light of the Apostolic Stars, and the typical teachings of the Law were substantially darkened.
JUDGMENT 5. The Reformation.
JUDGMENT 6. The French Revolution (1789-1799) and subsequent Napoleonic Wars that ravaged Europe and broke up the hold of Papacy in 1799.
JUDGMENT 7. The Harvest in 1874 and its accompanying Time of Trouble from 1914 onward.
1260, 539ad – Some Specifics about the 1260 years of Papal Power.
The date 539 ad is used as the time when Papacy came into temporal political authority. In 538 ad the Pope was left in control of Rome as Belisarius, general of Justinian the Roman Emperor from Constantinople, left Rome to pursue the Goths who had recently sieged the city. Thereafter, in 539 ad, Ravenna, the then capital of Italy, was taken by Belisarius, and he subsequently left Italy to return to Constantinople with his victory. In his wake the Pope was left as the political ally and figurehead in Italy — thus the beginning of his political authority.
This came to an end 1260 years later in 1798 when the Pope was taken out of Rome by the French General Berthier, and subsequently died in 1799 in France, Napoleon declaring that no new pontiff would be elected (though one was by other arrangements after a few months). One history of the poes throughout the age breaks for a new chapter at 1799.
1914 was the end of Gentile Times – representing the smiting of the image of Daniel chapter two, thus the end of the political assemblage that had governed Europe for so long, as the iron (political) and clay (imitation Christian church) system.
Babylon at first conquered the holy land from 607 to 603 bc — a four year period — the corresponding four year period 2520 years later is 1914 to 1918, World War I.
Each period of the Church has its corresponding concurrent seal, vision and trumpet.
Here are four examples illustrate just a few of the many parallels between the Churches, seals and trumpets:
1.“Four angels” are mentioned in both the sixth seal (7:1) and the sixth trumpet (9:15).
2. An earthquake is shown in both the sixth seal (6:12) and in the sixth trumpet (11:13). An earthquake pictures, in symbol, the shaking up of earth’s society through discontent and revolution.
3. The return of Jesus is mentioned in both the seventh Church (3:20—he is “standing at the door”) and the seventh trumpet (11:15—his “reign” begins).
4. Increased enlightenment is shown in both the seventh Church (3:20—Jesus promises to serve the evening meal—“sup”) and in the seventh trumpet (10:7—enlightenment clears up “the mystery”).
One fascinating example of symbols related to the seals of Chapter 6 is the picture of the four horses.
Horses—in symbol, often represent doctrines, ideologies. (Isaiah 31:1-3, Deuteronomy 17:15-16).
Horsemen—represent the teachers who bring forth those doctrines.
White horse—the 1st horse pictures the pureness of doctrine delivered to the early Church by the twelve Apostles. (Revelation 3:5, 15:6, 19:8,14)
Red horse—the 2nd horse, illustrates how the doctrine began to be polluted with sinful heresies by the developing apostate church. Red is the colour of war and speaks of spiritual warfare because of doctrinal changes. This horse represents the period of time in history from Nero (37-68 AD) until Diocletian (244-311 AD).
Black horse – the 3rd horse, represents a dark period in Church history brought about by dark age doctrines. Black is the colour of famine—Lamentations 5:10.
Pale (Greek-greenish) – the 4th horse, symbolizes doctrine so sick and devoid of any life-giving qualities that the rider that sat upon him was even given the name “death.” The symbolism refers to spiritual pestilence.
This sad history portrays how the beautiful truth once given to the early Church was increasingly corrupted by the traditions of men.
But, as will be seen in Chapter 19, the white horse returns with a valiant rider—Christ in glory—who brings back life-giving truths to the end-time Church. These truths prepare the true Church for the final victory over the apostate systems.
Time Frame Two: HARVEST of the Christian Age
Chapters 14 -19 focus on the events which impact the close of the Christian Age—the Harvest.
A careful examination of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and tares helps in understanding this Harvest time. (Matthew 13:24-43)
During the Harvest, the world at large is experiencing troubles it cannot handle, and the Christian world in particular is faced with the kind of scrutiny that exposes false doctrines and practices.
“Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven [the Christian world] … that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” Hebrews 12:27-29
In the Harvest, three works are progressing at the same time:
- The unseen presence of Jesus is actively manoeuvring the affairs of the true Church and the world in preparation for the peaceable Kingdom. 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 16:15; 14:1
- False Christianity is being judged by GOD and also by man based on both doctrine and conduct. Revelation 14:8,15; 18:1-9
- A great increase in understanding Scripture is fed to sincere, truth-hungry Christians. Revelation 14:6; 17:1; Daniel 12:4, 9, 10
This Harvest parable first summarizes the Gospel Age by stating that Jesus sowed seeds of truth which, springing up in the hearts of his disciples, transformed them to newness of life, thus becoming true Christians — wheat.
Once the Apostles died — while men slept — Satan sowed seeds of error which created false Christians — tares. This tendency toward imitation Christianity was active in the Apostles Paul’s day and developed into what he called the mystery of iniquity and the man of sin. John refered to this as the developing Antichrist. (2 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 John 4:3)
Revelation calls this that great city, Babylon. Revelation 14:8
Jesus taught that this combination of true and false Christianity would exist together until the close of the Christian Age, at which time a separation—a Harvest—would occur. The work of destroying the errors of the false church systems would cause true Christians to come out of Babylon and gather together where truth is being served.
The central theme of Chapter 14, then, is the time for harvesting two groups:
- The Harvest of the earth (wheat—verses 15-16) and
- The Harvest of the vine of the earth (tares — verses 18-19). See also Luke 17:34-37.
The central theme of Chapters 15 and 16 deals with the plagues upon Babylon the false church system.
We believe we are currently in the sixth plague. It is a lengthy one, and we have not reached the deep part of it as yet — we may in another 13 years. The sixth plague is a withering of the economic vitality of the western world. We saw things relevant to this in the market declines of 2000 and 2008, with perhaps more impending.
Here is a list of all 10 judgments, and some suggested applications:
1 — Protestant Reformation
2 — French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars
3 — Advent movement
4 — Truth movement (1874) – bothersome difficulty for nominal Christians
5 — World War I – the deadly strife that began the Time of Trouble in 1914
6 — Western weakening in Depression
7 — Modernism consequent upon World War II
8 — Papal woes in the cold war era, perhaps until 1989
9 — Financial withering
10 – Armageddon, followed by a great “earthquake”, and subsequent “hail”
The seven plagues are seven judgements or troubles during the Harvest, as a consequence of things that have transpired during the seven church periods. These seven judgments constitute the overall judgment of the 7th trumpet, which is the 3rd “woe” of Revelation 8:13. The seven circlings of Jericho on the seventh day pictures this “sevenfold” judgment of the seventh trumpet.
In Chapter 18:4, GOD warns the wheat—my people—that if they do not come out from Babylon during the Harvest, they will be subject to the “death, and mourning, and famine” which bring Christendom down (Revelation 18:8).
In the midst of the plagues of Chapter 16 appear three symbolic characters unified in a final attempt to preserve control and stabilize society over the world – the beast, the dragon and the false prophet.
The beast = Papacy.
The dragon = Political power under the influence of Satan.
The false prophet = the Church of England and their protestant allies.
The Pope (as reflected in the beast) would like to retain influence. But his authority wanes. Revelation 10:1 shows that the power of Papacy to persecute as before, closed during the sixth trumpet (Revelation 9:13-11:14), the longest of all the trumpet descriptions. The “rainbow” of Revelation 10:1 symbolizes that the past distress of Papal persecution has ended and will not be repeated – just as the rainbow in the cloud after the Flood meant that the experience would not be repeated.
The Beast (Papacy), Dragon, and False Prophet will coalesce and croak like frogs endeavouring to support society. Their individual weakness is the motive for collaboration, but their efforts will prove abortive (Revelation 16:18,19).
(Note that the “four beasts” of Revelation 4:6-9, associated with GOD, are better rendered “living creatures,” distinguishing them from the dreadful beasts representing false religious systems. The four “living creatures” represent GOD’s attributes of justice, wisdom, love and power.)
In Scripture, the true Church is often represented by virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), and so, by contrast, we see in Chapter 17 that Babylon is pictured as a harlot.
The harlotry of the apostate church is due to her having a unification (adulterous marriage) with the governments of this world.
The true saints, on the other hand, strive to keep themselves separate from all entanglements with the world.
In highly symbolic language then, Chapter 17 shows how the apostate (catholic) church throughout history amassed political power to further her interests and rule the western world, Christendom.
This Chapter shows the steps by which both the harlot and the people and powers she ruled (the scarlet beast) meet their ends (as systems, not as people) in the Harvest period.
The “hour” of Revelation 17:12 is the time of demise of the Catholic Church when she is eaten by the horns (political powers) and peoples (body of the beast). Note: Revelation 17:16, where better versions say the whore is destroyed by the “ten horns… and the beast.”
Compare also Revelation 18:10, in “one hour” her demise comes. The “one day” and “one hour” of verse 8 and 10 both express the relatively brief climax during which Papacy succumbs.
Chapter 18 begins when Babylon is fallen from GOD’s favor, and it ends with her total overthrown as detailed in verse 21. The focus here is on the manner in which Babylon’s destruction will affect various segments of society which have become dependent upon her for their subsistence. These elements of society are symbolically called:
the kings of the earth (18:9);
the merchants (clergy) of the earth (18:11);
every shipmaster, all the company in ships, sailors (i.e. bishops), and as many as trade by sea (18:17)
This illustrates that the world, as we know it, functions on a political/commercial basis, and the weakening of that international economic system, according to this chapter, will soon cause it to fall apart.
Chapter 19 could well be two chapters. The first ten verses deal with “the marriage of the lamb,” and the remainder describes how the current social order will meet its end.
(Note that, for emphasis, the Revelator often jumps back to a point in time, re-telling the story from another point of view.)
This “marriage of the lamb” is a symbol for the time when Jesus’ Church, his Bride, is complete — when he has gathered all of the wheat into the (heavenly) barn.
Thus, Chapter 19 confirms what we saw in Chapter 14 that the Harvest has two works—harvesting the wheat to glory and harvesting the vine of the earth—the system of Babylon—for burning. Compare also 14:19, 20 with 19:15—depicting the same event.
Time Frame Three: The MESSIANIC AGE
Although most of the prophecies of Revelation focus on the Harvest of the Gospel Age, Chapters 20 through 22 relate to the grand and promising outcome of the previous nineteen chapters, which portray the end of the old world order and the beginning of the new. We are now living in that transition time. These last three chapters of Revelation basically refer to the Messianic or Millennial Age. This age is referred to in the Scriptures by various names: the Kingdom, the thousand years, the Day of the Lord, the Day of Judgment, the regeneration, the times of restitution of all things, etc. Matthew 26:29; Acts 1:6; Revelation 20:2-6; 2 Peter 3:7,8; Matthew 19:28; Acts 3:20,21
Revelation 20 illustrates several events of the thousand-year Messianic reign of Christ with his Church:
Verses 1-3 show that the actual devil will be bound as well as a symbolic devil—the systems built upon his lies. Thus, all stumbling blocks in the way of the peaceable Kingdom will be removed. This is the reason for not only binding the literal devil, but also binding the influences of the beastly governments which have made life so difficult for the human race.
Verses 4-11 show:
- The reward of the true Church who will reign with Christ;
- Satan’s little season of testing upon the world of mankind at the close of the thousand years— the end of mankind’s period of education; and
- The everlasting destruction of Satan, his followers and the corrupt civil and religious systems.
Verses 12-15 : show the final judgment of earth’s billions at the end of the Messianic reign. This will be the last judgment event of history where GOD will destroy in everlasting death all those not in full harmony with His perfect law of love. Both hell and death are consigned to fire — complete destruction, oblivion—this is the second death (20:14).
By contrast, everlasting life will be the reward for all who progress to perfection through the thousand years and who stand the test of the little season because of their faith and obedience.
The Left Behind series of novels promote an overly dramatic, literalistic and sadistic view of Revelation, telling of the horrors of a vindictive GOD destroying three billion people by literal fire and earthquakes. These fictional depictions of prophecy ignore the last three chapters of Revelation—the Good News of the Bible. They ignore that Jesus gave his Revelation to John in symbolic language.
The Scriptures do speak of a momentous time of trouble coinciding with the return of Christ and culminating in Armageddon, however, as we have seen, the true purpose of Armageddon is to cleanse the earth of the corrupt ecclesiastical and civil systems under the control of Satan and his servants.
These evil SYSTEMS will be destroyed—not the people misled by these systems.
GOD does not intend to burn in eternal flames billions of good-hearted people just because they have not known and accepted Jesus now. The conversion of these people—“the remainder of men” — will be after the cleansing work of Armageddon which prepares the way for the Righteous Kingdom of Christ and his Church. (See Zephaniah 3:8-9; Acts 15:14-17) Then, under their benevolent reign, “the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” without the fetters of devilish, selfish and oppressive powers. Isaiah 26:9
Chapters 21 and 22 describe the new heavens—Christ’s righteous government—which will uplift and educate the new earth—the world of mankind—thereby bringing them back into harmony with GOD. What joy to know that Jesus’ return means the restitution of all things! (Acts 3:19-22) All of the loss suffered in the opening three chapters of Genesis is here undone in the last three chapters of Revelation. It is a glorious ending, worthy of a merciful GOD.
All that was lost when sin entered the world—life, health, happiness, freedom from fear and a loving relationship with GOD—will be restored to mankind. The healing of the nations occurs because of the fruitage of the trees. These trees are the Church glorified. (Isaiah 61:3)
Jesus and his Bride offer the water (truth) of life to all who thirst, without the deceptions of Satan to hinder them.
“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him TAKE the water of life FREELY.” Revelation 22:17
This is the true hope of the Gospel when it is finished.
- Bro. David Rice
- The End Times Bible Report Quarterly – Summer 2013
Suggested Further Reading:
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One thought on “The Book of Revelation: A 2016 Perspective”
Quite informative read.