The Book of Revelation is a book that generates myriads of questions from those who delve into its’ pages. In this article we are attempting to answer some of those questions which regularly arise.
It has been my very real privilege and challenge to teach a course in Daniel and Revelation in the college classroom over many years. From that experience came numerous questions, raised by students, about events and people found in the Book of Revelation. In this article we want to deal with some of those questions that seem to come up again and again; and to hopefully shed some light on the issues involved.
#18 – In each of the letters to the seven churches, the letter ends with a promise to the “overcomer.” Is the overcomer a believer, or is it referring to a believer who has lived successfully as a Christian?
Will it be possible for those who receive the “mark of the Beast” to end up being saved during the Tribulation?
It appears from the texts in Revelation that people who receive the “mark of the Beast” do so by choice, and by so doing, eliminate the possibility that they will turn to Jesus Christ and be saved.
The “mark” is first mentioned in Revelation 13:16-17 where it is said that it must be received if a person wants to buy and sell during the Tribulation; that is, to be able to carry on obtaining the basic essentials of life. The pressure to have this mark will be enormous and it will be constant.
The mark itself is something external and visible, something like a brand mark. It becomes an issue in the second half of the Tribulation when the matter of the worship of the Beast (the Antichrist) becomes a major matter. External “tattoos” were common in John’s day; for example, worn with pride by soldiers and devotees of a particular god. These “brands” were a way of openly identifying with a battalion or a religion or (like today) would be used to make a statement of some kind. In a similar way, the 144,000 will apparently receive a mark of God on their foreheads which will identify them as the righteous followers of the Lord (Rev. 7:3).
The “mark of the Beast” is mentioned a number of times in Revelation after its initial mentioning in 13:16-17 (see Rev. 14:9-11; Rev. 16:2; Rev. 19:20; Rev. 20:4). This mark gives evidence that the individual bearing it is one who has chosen to worship the Beast (the Antichrist). The mark (which will be the name of the Beast or the numerical value of that name) will be a symbol of allegiance to the Beast. In the verses given above, having the mark and worshiping go together. There is simply no indication that one with the mark will not worship the Beast. In Rev. 20:4, the martyrs, who died for their loyalty to the Lord Jesus, are specifically said to be those who neither received the mark nor worshiped the Beast.
In Rev 14:9-11, a special angelic announcement is made warning Beast worshipers of the coming undiluted wrath of God. Also, it appears to be a warning to people on the earth who are tempted to avoid those great economic hardships and the wrath of the Beast by taking the mark. They are being told that God’s wrath is far worse. It is the clear conclusion that if they chose to align themselves with the Beast that they too will experience God’s great wrath. And God’s wrath will indeed be poured out on the Beast and his followers in the final series of the “bowl judgments” (Rev. 16:2 ff.).
So the conclusion is that those who make the willful choice of taking the mark of the Beast (and thus worship him), will experience the wrath of God and not be eligible for the salvation of God.
I heard a sermon recently where it was said that at the 2nd Coming of Jesus to the earth, the Church will remain in heaven. Is that true?
The one making that statement seems to have overlooked the clear teaching of Revelation 19. In Rev. 19:7, the Church is in heaven and experiences the “marriage of the Lamb.” The Bride of Christ is united with Jesus Christ in a grand ceremony where the Bride is said to be wearing beautiful garments: “fine linen, white and clean.” These are said to represent the “righteous acts of the saints” (the church rewarded). Shortly thereafter the Lord Jesus mounts His white horse and comes to earth as the King of kings. It is said that an army will accompany Him as He returns to the earth. That army which comes with Him is said to be “clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (Rev. 19:14). The only group so identified is the Church/Bride. Furthermore, let’s not forget that the purpose of marriage is to unite two; so that where one goes, the other goes. And, if it is true (and I believe it is), that the millennial/messianic kingdom is the “marriage supper” to which the blessed are invited (Rev. 19:9), then the Bride and Bridegroom are there on earth and have never been separated. Where He goes, she goes. So the Church does not remain in heaven at the 2nd Coming but returns with the Lord Jesus.
Will just 144,000 be saved in the Tribulation, or will more than that be saved?
There will be millions, not just thousands, of people who are saved during the Tribulation period. Those who limit the number of those redeemed in the Tribulation seem to forget that the great purpose of the Tribulation period is the salvation of the nation of Israel, which will then lead to Israel being a light to the gentiles. This will result in great numbers of people from the gentile nations coming to faith in Jesus.
Probably the key chapter in this discussion is Revelation 7. There the group of 144,000 is mentioned for the first time (Rev. 7:1-8); with 12,000 coming from each of Israel’s 12 tribes. These are made secure by a divine decree (“sealed”) in order to be the evangelists of the Tribulation. Then in Rev. 7:9 a new part of John’s vision is given. “After these things” (the truth about the 144,000), John tells us of a great multitude which is so large it cannot be numbered. This group is distinct from the 144,000. Whereas the 144,000 are Israelites, this great multitude comes from all the gentile nations.
John is asked (Rev. 7:13) to identify the great multitude, but he defers to the elder who is asking the question. John is then informed that this great multitude are people who have died in the Tribulation period and are now in heaven. These are not, as one might suspect, the believers from all of human history. Specifically they have died recently, as this heavenly scene is between the 6th and 7th “seal” judgments. Many are likely martyrs, but others who have died from other causes are included in this great multitude.
It should also be observed that at the end of the Tribulation (Rev. 20:4) there is another group of martyrs that are seen which are not part of the great multitude of chapter 7. This points to even more being saved. And, finally, it should be remembered that the Apostle Paul (Rom. 11:25) tells us that “all” Israel will be saved when the end times come to an end. This would involve millions of Israelites. So the number of Israelites and gentiles saved during the terrible days of the Tribulation will be multiplied millions, and not just 144,000.
What is the “first resurrection” that is mentioned in Revelation 20, and does the text imply that there is more than one time of resurrection?
The “first resurrection” is not a one-time event but a category of resurrection; namely, the resurrection of believers. Believers only are part of the “first resurrection” and will be raised in several resurrection events. The text of Revelation 20 does teach that there is resurrection at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom as well as another one at the completion of the Millennial Kingdom. This answer is arrived at by looking at four points.
- There are two resurrections in Revelation 20. In the context of Revelation 20, the ones who are part of the “first resurrection” are specifically those who are martyred during the Tribulation because of their loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. After telling us that these martyrs will reign with Christ during His 1,000 year rule, it is said another resurrection will occur after the completion of the 1,000 year messianic (millennial) kingdom.
- Physical resurrection, not spiritual coming to life, is in view. The martyrs “come to life” (ezesan; zao). Some amillennial theologians teach that this “coming to life” is spiritual; that is, it is the new birth. But this does not line up with the context of Revelation 20 where these faithful to Christ (believers) die physically being beheaded because of their loyalty to Christ. They are already believers and don’t need to be “born again” (spiritually born). Furthermore, the idea of it being a spiritual coming to life (the new birth) doesn’t line up with the words used by John. The word zao normally refers to physical, bodily resurrection. In fact, it is used of all those who come to life at the end of reign of Christ (and all theologians agree on its use in Rev. 20:5). It is unsound exegesis to have the same word mean two entirely different things within a sentence or two without a clear explanation that the meaning is being changed. Furthermore, whenever zao (“coming to life”) is used in connection with physical, bodily death in the New Testament, it always focuses on physical, bodily resurrection. That bodily resurrection is in view is reinforced by the fact that in Rev. 20:5, the common word for bodily resurrection (anastasis) is used. So the Apostle John is speaking of the bodily resurrection of these faithful martyrs at the time of Christ’s 2nd coming, and not of their being spiritual born.
- Those in the category of the “first resurrection.” We need to understand that the “first resurrection” is not a one-time event. It is a category of resurrection; that is, it is the term for the resurrection of believers. God first raises and judges believers before He moves on to unbelievers. Jesus was the very first one to be raised from the dead, by which we mean that He came back to life with a changed physical body which will live eternally. The clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 15:20 is that Jesus is the “firstfruits” of the resurrection. He is the first cutting of the great harvest of believers. When Jesus rose from the dead, Matthew 27:52-53 tells us that a number of saints came out of the tombs and appeared to many in Jerusalem. This was an actual bodily resurrection of some believers, apparently to keep with the symbolism of “firstfruits”. (In the offering of the “firstfruits” not just one stalk of grain was brought to the priest, but a bunch of stalks were brought). So Jesus plus a small number of saints were raised. The “first resurrection” will next include the believers who are given resurrection bodies at the rapture, described in 1 Corinthians 15:52-54. The resurrection of all saints from the Tribulation plus the resurrection of Old Testament believers will take place at the 2nd Coming. All of these believing men and women are included in the “first resurrection.”
- There is a parenthetical statement in Revelation 20:5. The rest of the dead, mentioned in 20:5, will be raised at the end of the tribulation period. After the millennial reign is completed, the unbelievers of all ages are raised in order to appear at Christ’s “Great White Throne” judgment. These involved in this second resurrection will be judged and sentenced to the “lake of fire.” In Rev. 20:5, the parenthetical statement starts with “the rest of the dead” and concludes with “were completed.” Two resurrections of two different categories of people are in view in Revelation 20.
What is the “sign in heaven” that Revelation 12 speaks about? Is it connected with the date of September 23, 2017?
The internet is alive these days with person after person declaring that September 23, 2017 is the date when the “great sign” of Revelation 12 will occur. These individuals do not agree on exactly what will take place on that day (could be the rapture, could be some significant milestone for Israel), but they do agree that something significant will happen.
In Revelation 12:1-2, a woman (Israel) clothed with the sun, with the moon at her feet and with a crown of 12 stars on her, gives birth to a male child. Then Satan appears (as a great red dragon) who wants to devour her male child. He is not successful as the male child, who will eventually rule with a rod of iron, ascends into heaven. The woman then flees from the dragon into the wilderness (the gentile nations) where she is taken care of for 1,260 days (or half of the tribulation period). This vision of John is about the long term antagonism that Satan has had for Israel which will climax during the second half of the tribulation period.
On the internet, the point is being made that a most unusual alignment of stars and planets will occur on September 23, 2017. On that day Jupiter will be seen to be in Virgo (the virgin) and the nine stars of the constellation Leo will be at the head of Virgo. Then, unusually, Mars, Venus and Mercury will be lined up at the head of Virgo, giving the appearance of 12 stars (of the crown), as Jupiter is “birthed.” This they say is the great sign in the heavens of the virgin giving birth. Many seem to lean towards the idea that this is telling of the time of the rapture when the church is “born”, being “conceived” at Pentecost.
Several points need to be succinctly made.
- There is a terrible lack of good exegesis. A few words and phrases are grabbed with total disregard for the meaning of Revelation 12.
- In Revelation 12, this vision occurs at the midpoint of the tribulation and focuses on life for Israel during the second half of the tribulation, according to the two time indicators in the text (Rev. 12:6, 14). This would require that the seal judgments have already been completed, which means that a minimum of 25% of the world’s population has died by the judgments of God (Rev. 6:8). Has this taken place? Of course not. And all the other events mentioned in Revelation 6 haven’t occurred either.
- Revelation 12 is part of the information given to the Apostle John on the scroll of Rev. 10:9-11. Chapters 11-14 comprise the truths that John was to give. There are four clear time markers in these chapters, all of which put the events on the scroll in the second half of the tribulation period. The only way September 23, 2017 could be at the midpoint of the tribulation is for the tribulation to have started around April, 2014.
- There are many more prophecies which must be fulfilled prior to this mid-point of the tribulation; such as the appearance of the Antichrist, the signing of the covenant between Israel and the Antichrist and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. We could go on but hopefully the point is made. The internet is filled with “fake” prophets and need to be avoided.
It seems that every year someone is proposing the rapture event taking place in September or October. The rapture could occur in September, but then it could also take place in June.
When in the Tribulation do the Seal, Trumpet and Bowl judgments take place?
These three series of judgments have been located in a variety of spots by Bible students and biblical commentaries. However, it seems best to place the Seal judgments in the first half, the Trumpet judgments in the second half and the Bowl judgments in the second half right before the 2nd Coming of Christ to the earth. There are some reasons to support this positioning of the judgments.
The concept of “birth pangs. Foundational to the placing of the three series of judgments as described above is the Old Testament concept of birth pains. It was used by the prophets to speak of God’s judgments and then was used by the Lord Jesus in His discussion of the end time judgments (Matt. 24:8). Birth pains are a unique kind of pain because: (1) they get worse as time goes by and the time of the birth gets closer; and (2) the time between the pains becomes less and less as the time of the birth draws near. When Jesus generally described the end time judgments of God, He said the initial ones (wars, earthquakes, famines etc.) were just the beginning of God’s judgments, indicating that the birth pains would continue throughout the entire period.
The statements within the Book of Revelation. When the 7th Seal is broken and the next series of the Trumpet judgments come, there is an emphasis on 1/3 of the earth being harmed by these judgments (Rev. 7:7-12). But in the last series of judgments (the Bowls of God’s wrath), not 1/3, but the entire earth suffers under the judgments, showing that things are getting worse and worse (Rev. 16:1-21). So, for example, in the trumpet judgments 1/3 of the oceans turn to blood, but in the Bowl judgments all the oceans are turned to blood.
Furthermore, the testimony of an angel (Rev. 8:13) is that the final judgments are the worst of all. He says “woe, woe, woe” to the earth dwellers because the final three trumpets are the worst judgments yet. It is essential to keep in mind that the 7th trumpet (also identified as the “3rd woe”) is in fact the last series of 7 judgments (the Bowl judgments). The 7th trumpet is the final, terrible series of God’s judgments and it appears to come quickly, one right after the other. This angelic statement verifies the point that the concept of “birth pains” is what the world will experience; it will be far more painful at the end of the tribulation right before the kingdom of Messiah is “birthed” into the world.
Jesus’ statement that the 2nd half of the tribulation is the “great” time of judgment. As Jesus, in Matthew 24, talked about the future judgments, He was clear that things will get worse once the “abomination of desolation” is set up in the Jerusalem temple. It is the 2nd half of the tribulation that is “the great one” (Rev. 24:21); and that if God had chosen to have this uniquely terrible time be more than 3 ½ years, then no human being would survive (Rev. 24:22).
These statements and terms, when combined together, point to the second half of the tribulation being far more severe in the judgments of God than the 1st half. The judgments are worse and they come closer together as the time for the “birth” of the messianic age gets closer.
Who is the “great harlot” that is discussed in Revelation 17?
The identification of “Babylon” in Revelation 17 and 18 has produced a variety of interpretations among good Bible students. Babylon is both a political and a religious center where the true God is excluded or badly marginalized. It seems that chapter 17 emphasizes the religious aspect while chapter 18 focuses on the political and economic aspect of Babylon.
I have concluded that Babylon the harlot in chapter 17 is looking at Roman Catholicism which includes numerous other polluted religious systems. There are a number of points which have led me to this conclusion.
The concept of a “harlot” comes from the Old Testament and speaks of a religious system that claims a loyalty to the true God. It is important to understand that when John uses the idea of “harlot”, he is not using it as we often do; that of a prostitute who plies her trade on the streets of a city, and that for a price. The concept is used by Moses, the prophets and other OT writers of Israel, who is “married” to the Lord Jehovah. Like marriage, Israel has a sacred covenant relationship with the Lord, but she constantly “played the harlot” going after other gods. (The OT concept of the “harlot” can be seen clearly, and sometimes graphically, in passages such as Judges 8:33; Jeremiah 3:6-10; Ezekiel 16 and 23; and the entire book of Hosea). These passages and many others reveal that Israel was the unfaithful wife of Jehovah who shared her affections and devotion between the Lord and also the Baal deities. She generally claimed to retain her relationship with her Husband while all the time she was broad and inclusive, adopting many of their pagan practices (reminds us of much that is going on in the church today).
In the New Testament, Jesus spoke of that generation of Israelites as being “an evil and adulterous generation” (cf. Matt. 12:38-39; 16:1-2; Mk. 8:38). And the NT uses the imagery of the church as the bride of Christ and the pure bride of Christ is contrasted in Revelation 19 with the “great harlot”; that religious entity which claims a relationship with the true God but is totally unfaithful to Him.
So when John speaks of the “great harlot”, he is directing our attention to the great and powerful “church” that will exist during the first half of the coming tribulation period.
This end times system is said to be the “mother of harlots” indicating that there are a number of religions involved, ones that claim a loyalty to the Lord. In Revelation 17:5, the plural “harlots” is used. This shows that this wealthy, politically powerful system includes other religious systems. I speculate that this includes Roman Catholicism, apostate Protestantism and perhaps many other groups put under the “Christian umbrella” such as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cult and marginal groups. But the emphasis seems to be on a large, ecumenical religious system headed by one strong entity.
It is a system centered in the west. One of the more intriguing statements is that this woman (the harlot) rides the “beast” (Rev. 17:3). The “beast” has already been identified as the Antichrist (Rev. 13), who, in the first half of the tribulation, is the dictator of an eleven nation confederation, generally based geographically in the old Roman Empire. While the text also says that she commits spiritual fornication with the kings of the earth (indicating a worldwide influence), Rev. 17:3 suggests that she has a special political domination in the west. The woman “riding the beast” might mean that she has temporary control over the Antichrist (much like the Roman Catholic Church maintained domination over the medieval kings in Europe), or it might mean she helps bring him to power; or maybe both. The time of the tribulation will make this abundantly clear. But there is some close connection between the woman and the beast, who at this point in time is a western dictator.
The system is given a geographical location. Revelation 17:18 ends the chapter with the statement that the woman “is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.” The chapter began with the statement of her connection with the gentile nations generally (“many waters”, 17:1 and 15) indicating she does not come from Israel. Her location is stated in the present tense (“is the great city”). Dr. John Walvoord believes this city is Rome. Dr. Charles Ryrie states that this identifier makes it impossible to disassociate apostate Christendom in the tribulation period from Rome. Robert Thomas, and others, conclude that this is referring to the city of Babylon on the Euphrates River. We should note that if the Babylon of chapter 18 is different from the Babylon of chapter 17, though both are organized systems which leave out the true God (as I believe to be the case), then this influences one’s choice. If that is so, then it seems more likely that the city of Rome which was indeed the ruling city/nation in John’s day, is what is in view. And Babylon of chapter 18 is the political/economic entity which is likely located in a different place.
Why does Revelation speak of things happening “shortly” or “quickly” when, in fact, almost 2,000 years have gone by? That doesn’t seem very quick to most of us.
These words, as they are translated, can be confusing. These words appear to be timing words, but they are not. They are not chronological indicators telling us when something is going to take place, but rather are qualitative indicators telling us how things will take place. The family of words (tachos; tachy) are best translated “suddenly” or “swiftly”. “Tachos” in Revelation should be translated as descriptive of the manner in which things happen (that is, “suddenly”). For example, when the Lord returns it will be suddenly or swiftly. The “adverb of manner” does not describe when the events occur, but the manner in which they occur. So we would translate these events as taking place suddenly. (This is the position taken by key Greek lexicons such as Liddell and Scott, and Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich).
Those holding to an AD 70 fulfillment of Revelation and the Olivet Discourse (Preterism) insist that a first century fulfillment is required by these words. But, when we see the proper understanding of these words, no such fulfillment is required by these words. After some 2,000 years, the events of Revelation have not yet been fulfilled but when they are fulfilled they will be taking place suddenly. We probably should not speak of the “soon” coming of the Lord and of these events, but rather they are imminent, and once the time does come these events will come swiftly.
Revelation speaks of the “book of life.” What is the book of life? And who is in it, and can a person be removed from it?
The “book of life” is mentioned a number of times in Revelation (3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; and 21:27). It has been suggested that this book contains the names of all who are born into this world (a book, therefore, of physical life) or it is a register of all believers including professing believers (who will eventually see their names blotted out of the book). The “book of life” is best understood as a divine listing of all those who will receive the blessing of eternal life. In Philippians 4:3, the Apostle Paul uses this same imagery and applies it to those that labor with him in the ministry. In Revelation 20:15, the issue is spiritual life, not physical life. Those who are not in the book of life are dispatched to the lake of fire; telling us that they are unbelievers. That believers only are found in the book of life is supported by Rev. 21:17 where no one on the new, eternal earth in the New Jerusalem can be there if not found in the book of life. Revelation 17:8 says that those in the book of life were written there from the foundation of the world; that is, it is the elect of God who are in the book. Followers of the Antichrist (these who by choice worship him) are not found in the book of life even though they are physically alive on the earth (Rev. 13:5).
We should note that there are many books that are mentioned in the Bible. These books are not to remind God of something He might forget, but are there to give clear evidence to a person’s spiritual condition or to their rewarding or their punishment. In addition, we should be aware that books in the OT are different from the NT book of life. In the OT, these are referencing a book of covenant blessing; a register of the covenant people. And one could be blotted out of the book and by so doing forfeit the privileges of living in the theocracy (note Exo. 32:32-33).
It is probably Revelation 3:5 that gives Bible students the most trouble, as it speaks of a name being “blotted out” of the book of life. This is part of the letter to the church at Sardis where the “overcomer” is being addressed. If one holds that the “overcomer” is a special class of Christians (who have lived well and successfully for the Lord), then it is seen as a figure of speech which denies the possibility. If one sees the overcomer as another name for the believer, who overcomes in Christ (cf 1 John 5:4-5) then this is simply a powerful promise of what will not be his fate. The promise is that they shall surely never (a double negative is used strengthening the promise) be blotted out of the book of life. It is not a threat of something that could happen but a promise of what will not happen. It is similar to the promise to the overcomer in the church at Smyrna (Rev. 2:11), where the overcomer (believer) is assured that he will not “be hurt by the second death” (which is the lake of fire).
In Revelation 10, John is spoken to by the “seven peals of thunder”. What are they communicating and who are they?
A strong, glorious angel, who had a scroll in his hand, appeared to the Apostle John. This angel cried out with a very loud voice (Rev. 10:3). And when he did, the “seven peals of thunder” also spoke out (Rev. 10:3). It is clear that what they said was understandable to John because he began to write down what they said. In Rev. 10:4, he is told not to write down what the “seven peals of thunder” had to say. So, what they had to say was apparently significant. But why tell us there was important information that we are not privy to? Probably, this is just a reminder to us that while the book of Revelation is filled with information, there are also events that will take place and people who will appear that are not being revealed. In other words, not everything that will take place in the end times is revealed to us. God has many unrevealed secrets.
Now, who are the “seven peals of thunder”? Angelic beings are deeply involved in Revelation in communicating God’s words and God’s judgments. So, it could be that this is a reference to yet another category of angelic beings who are carrying out the judgments of God (e.g. Rev. 8:5). Some have suggested that this powerful, lion-like voice is none other than the voice of Christ or God the Father. In any case, this is a word (likely of coming judgment) that is coming from heaven.
What is the marriage and the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-10)?
In Revelation 19:7, the declaration is made that it is time for the marriage of the Lamb. The scene is in heaven and the bride is seen in beautiful apparel which represents the gracious rewards given by the Bridegroom to His bride. This would tell us that when the marriage is ready to take place that the judgment seat of Christ has just taken place, since the church is seen as rewarded. The purpose of marriage is to unite two people and create a wonderful new relationship which includes the two being together; where one goes the other goes. For Christ and His bride there is no more separation. When He returns to the earth, so does His bride.
But then a future event is spoken of to which “blessed” persons are invited. That future event is the marriage supper of the Lamb. The marriage supper is a picture of the messianic kingdom. This imagery was used by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 22 as He discussed His coming kingdom. Blessed people are the ones who get to enter and experience this time of great joy and marvelous blessing. The marriage is in heaven but the marriage supper is on the earth; the revitalized earth of the messianic age. Even in our own culture and time, the marriage and the wedding reception, or supper, are often in two different locations. The marriage might be in a church sanctuary while the reception/supper is a mile or two away in another setting. So it appears that this will be the case in the marriage and marriage supper of Jesus, the Lamb. Blessed are all those who will be attending these grand events.
Is the “Gog/Magog” found in Revelation 20:8 the same “Gog/Magog” that is discussed in Ezekiel 38 and 39?
In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John uses hundreds of verbal phrases and words, along with some names, from the Old Testament. This use of OT imagery allows John to get ideas and concepts across without going into great detail. It is assumed that the reader knows what these things stand for. For example, the church at Thyatira has embraced the teachings of “Jezebel.” It is highly unlikely that the woman in the Thyatira church had that name, but that name quickly communicates volumes about her personal unrighteousness and her false teachings. And so, Sodom, Egypt and other OT names are used by John to forcefully and quickly communicate important facts about whatever subject is being discussed. And so, “Gog/Magog” is used in that way.
In Revelation 20:8, the text describes a major rebellion that will take place after the one thousand year rule of Messiah Jesus is completed. This rebellion is led by Satan, who was recently released from his “prison” in the abyss. Satan will go out and will deceive a huge number of unbelieving people and will attempt to overthrow King Jesus. The rebellion is a futile last attempt by Satan to have his way, and it is quickly and decisively crushed. This rebellion is called “Gog/Magog”. This term is used because it stands for a rebellion by the enemies of God. It symbolizes an aggressive, hostile attempt to thwart the plans and purposes of God in this world.
However, there are significant differences between Ezekiel and Revelation. In Ezekiel, the enemies of God are from specifically designated areas north of Israel, including such nations as Russia and Iran (Persia). But the battle in Revelation is worldwide, as the nations come from the “four corners of the earth.” The time of the battle in Ezekiel differs from the battle in Revelation. In Revelation, the battle takes places after the 1000 year reign of Messiah Jesus. In Ezekiel, the battle takes place before the 1000 reign of Jesus. The Ezekiel battle is important in preparing Israel spiritually for the Messianic age, as it is a key element in national Israel coming to faith. The Revelation battle brings no one to faith (that we know of) but rather is God’s final proof of the hardness of the sinful human heart. (People who in spite of having lived in the perfect Messianic age, rebel when they get the chance; proving that man’s problem is not his environment, but rather his heart).
So, consistent with the Apostle John’s use of the OT, we can see that he uses the OT name to quickly communicate truth about a future event.
Who are the 24 elders that are often mentioned in Revelation?
The 24 elders make frequent appearances in the Book of Revelation (4:4, 10; 5:5, 6, 8, 11, 14; 7:11, 13; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4). While there is disagreement on their identity, most agree that the number “24” tells us that these represent a group. The fact that King David divided up the priesthood into 24 groups is a basis for this. So they apparently represent some group or groups. But the question is “who do they represent?” It is highly unlikely that they are angelic beings because of the careful description of them. They are seen as having white robes (Rev. 19:8) and crowns (speaks of rewards). Angels are never so seen as being rewarded. The idea of crowns (rewards) and white garments (rewards in Rev. 19:8) point to this group representing human beings. The initial scene in heaven (4:4) takes place just as the Tribulation period is set to begin. In the heavenly scene, the Lion-Lamb is about to receive the scroll which gives Him complete authority over the earth. The fact that these 24 are rewarded would eliminate the redeemed of Israel, since OT saints are not rewarded until the 2nd Coming of Christ to earth (cf. Matt. 16:27). The rewarding of Israelites is still seven years ahead. This would strongly suggest that the 24 elders represent the church which is now in heaven.
Further support for this would be seen in that the term “elder” is used. We must remember that the initial recipients of the Book of Revelation were the seven churches of Asia Minor. These, based on the teachings of Paul, Timothy and John, would know that the “elder” is the primary office in the local church. This office is where authority resided in the local church and the elder had tremendous responsibilities in feeding and caring for the flock of Christ. We must, therefore, ask how they would have read “elder”; and without doubt it would communicate “church” to them. Also, if indeed the Rapture event is pictured in Revelation 4, then the church is in heaven. The fact that the church (ecclesia) is not once mentioned in the 13 chapters which discuss the tribulation (Revelation 6-18) points to the church being in heaven and absent from the earth.
So, our conclusion is that the 24 elders represent the church as it is complete and in heaven.
Are the many numbers found in Revelation to be taken as literal numbers or are they used symbolically?
This is a very important question since it is key in determining how the “1000 years” in Revelation 20 is to be interpreted. In Revelation 20, the phrase “1000 years” occurs six times and helps determine either the premillennial or the amillennial position on the “millennial kingdom.” Premillennialists take the number as a literal one thousand years, while amillennialists say that the one thousand years is symbolic of a long period of time.
There are four basic truths we need to be aware of when talking about interpreting the numbers found in Revelation. (1) The most basic function of numbers is to designate the quantity of something. In any and all cultures, the purpose of numbers is for the purpose of expressing quantitative functions (e.g. 3 plus 6 = 9). Historically, numbers have not been used symbolically. When, in unusual settings, they have been used symbolically (in what we call “number mysticism”) even the casual observer notes how arbitrary these symbolic uses are. (2) Extensive studies have shown that in Revelation, only the number 7 may communicate an idea (that of completeness). But even then the number 7 still maintains it normal quantitative function (so that one can count the “7 churches” of Asia Minor or the 7 Seal judgments). (3) In other prophetic literature (the OT prophets in particular), almost all of the time (94%) numbers are used in their normal quantitative way. This fact should keep the interpreter from running headlong into “number mysticism”. (4) In the Book of Revelation, there are 240 numbers used. Out of these 240 uses, only 16 can be said to be used in a symbolic way. And with 15 of these, there is a previous OT usage which explains the symbol. (For example, the four winds of heaven and the four corners of the earth (7:1; 20:8) is based on imagery found in Jeremiah 49:36-38; Isaiah 11:12; Daniel 7:2).
There is simply no compelling reasons in the context of Revelation to take the many numbers found in Revelation in a symbolic way. The evidence for taking the numbers of Revelation in their normal quantitative way is strong and is a warning against employing “number mysticism” to try and communicate theological ideas.
During the Tribulation, will the Antichrist be killed and then come back to life?
The first thing we must do in answering this question is to look at the key text, which is found in Revelation 13. If this passage does teach that the Antichrist (AC) is killed and comes back to life, then there is another question that immediately follows, and that is, “does Satan have the power to do such a miraculous deed?”
But first, what does the text of Scripture say about the death of AC and a return to life? There are three verses in Revelation 13 that speak of this matter, verses 3, 12 and 14.
“And I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast.” (13:3)
“And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed.” (13:12)
“And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life”. (13:14)
The normal reading of these verses would point to the AC dying a violent death (“the sword”—13:14). Taken at face value, the words tell us that he did indeed die. Then these verses speak of a return to life, which in itself tells us that AC had died. Some have suggested that AC is badly wounded and medical procedures do a marvelous job of restoring him back to health again. But that idea does not do justice to the normal understanding of the words used.
It is important to observe that the scriptural words used about the death, and return to life of AC, are also used of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Book of Revelation. In the heavenly scene in Revelation 5:6 the Lamb is declared to be One that had been slain, and the phrase hos esphagmenen is used. This is the same phrase used of the AC being slain (used in Rev. 13:3, hos esphagmenen). So since Jesus really did die then we must conclude that AC did also. The phrase “come to life” (ezesen) is used of Jesus (Rev. 2:8) and of AC (Rev. 13:14). This identical word usage gives compelling support for the AC being killed and then returning to life again.
The question then arises whether or not Satan has the power to do this. There are several important points to keep in mind as we approach answering this follow up question. First, the Tribulation period is an absolutely unique period of time. Jesus said (Matt. 24:21) that there has not been a time like this in the past, nor shall there be a time like this in the future. This suggests that what may or may not be true today, does not dictate what the events within the Tribulation period will be like. The persons and events during the Tribulation period are unique.
Second, the Tribulation will be a time of tremendous supernatural activity, both coming from God and Satan. The words used of Satan’s working (through the AC and the False Prophet) are the same ones used of the miracles of Christ and the Apostles. Signs (semeion), wonders/marvels (teras) and miracles (dunamis) are used of God’s supernatural work (e.g. John 2:11; 2 Cor. 12:12; 1 Cor. 1:22) and of the supernatural worked through Satan’s men (e.g. Rev. 13:13-14; 2 Thess. 2:9; Matt. 24:24). So, supernatural happenings at the hand of AC are of the same kind as those worked by God and His ministers (e.g. the Two Witnesses). These supernatural works from Satan will be unusually great and will impress all who observe them. (Note especially Matt. 24:24, Rev. 13:13 and 2 Thess. 2:9-10). It should be noted that 2 Thessalonians 2:9 speaks of “false wonders”. This has led some to say that the miracles are not real but some sort of trick or magic. But the text is simply communicating the truth that Satan’s miracles lead to false conclusions about the identity of the AC and other matters.
Third, another matter to consider is the ultimate source of miracles. Ultimately, God is the source of all in the realm of the supernatural. God has allowed, and will allow, Satan and his followers to do supernatural things. He has even done this in biblical history. For example, the magicians of Egypt actually produced life when they threw down their inanimate staffs which then turned into snakes, and they also replicated the plague of frogs by producing frogs just like Moses did. Now, no created being can do these things unless it was allowed by God.
So, I would suggest that Satan will be involved with the AC returning to life in the days of the Tribulation. Technically, we should not speak of this as a resurrection (where the body is changed to live for eternity), but rather a return to life (like Lazarus and others). Ultimately, he can do so because God has given him permission and the ability. Satan and the AC do so because it is part of God’s plan to “send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false” (2 Thess. 2:11).
Is the Antichrist alive today?
(While this question is not technically one that comes out of Revelation, it is Revelation that gives us much on the AC).
Recently it seems that much chatter on the internet is informing us that the Antichrist (AC) is alive today. Those making such declarations normally claim that God has indicated this to them through “impressions” or dreams. For example, one recently made a statement that AC is indeed alive today and is about 32 years old. Another says the name of the AC has been revealed to him. Some of these claims of knowledge about the AC seem to be based on 2 Thessalonians 2:6 where the Apostle Paul states that “in his time he may be revealed.” According to these self-styled internet prophets, this is that time, and they are the ones to whom God is revealing this vital information. In evaluating these claims there are some basic truths that ought to be kept in mind.
First, God has already told us how the AC will be revealed. God did that millennia ago through His man Daniel. In Daniel 9:27, the event that unveils the AC is when he (as the ruler of a powerful western nation) signs a covenant/treaty with Israel whereby the AC will guarantee the security of Israel. This event, and not some “impression” or dream given to an internet prophet, is that which clearly identifies this malignant end times figure. To tell us that God, before the Daniel 9:27 event, is clueing us in on the identity of the AC, seems either arrogant or somewhat delusional, but not biblical.
Second, we should recall that Satan has a real problem on this matter of the AC. The problem is that Satan does not know when the end time events which feature the AC will begin. If the angels of heaven do not know the timing of end time events, then we can be sure that Satan does not. And yet, in spite of not knowing the time when the Tribulation starts, he must have a man in place at all times. Because, when God takes the Church out of the world, Satan must be ready to go by having his man in place for all the end time activities. Incidentally, those who state that the AC is alive are also claiming that they are getting information that has not been made available to the angels.
The answer the question “is the AC alive today”, is yes and no. “Yes”, only in the sense that Satan has some western leader available (that the AC comes from the old Roman empire is made clear in Daniel 7); but “no” in that he will never be revealed until the covenant is signed starting the seven year period of the Tribulation.
So when someone, on the internet or elsewhere, claims to have knowledge that the AC is presently alive, and/or that they know the name of the AC, do not believe them. They have no such knowledge. Their claims are bogus which puts them into the category of false teachers. This kind of “prophesying” has been going on for decades and, unfortunately, causes people to gaze with suspicion on all prophetic teaching.
Revelation 20 says that Satan will be “bound” at the start of Christ’s kingdom. Has that already taken place or is it something still future?
There are two very different answers to this question. The answer given by Amillennialism (and also Postmillennialism) is that the kingdom of Christ began in connection with His first coming, and this means that Satan was bound at that time. Now all agree that Satan is still alive and well and is presently doing his work on this planet. So what is the explanation for Satan presently being “bound”? Amillennialist William Cox notes that “binding” obviously does not mean that Satan “cannot move a muscle against God”, but rather it is “a figurative description of the way in which Satan’s activities will we curbed during the thousand year period.” It is the position of Amillennialism that “binding” is referring to a limiting of Satan’s powers, in that he is not able to deceive the nations by keeping the gospel from coming to them. But this view really does not do justice to the specifics of the text of Revelation 20.
The second, and preferred view, is that of Premillennialism which teaches that when Jesus Christ returns at His 2nd Coming, He will bind Satan at that point in time. The “binding” of Satan does mean that he is incarcerated and cannot do anything to resist or challenge the King during His kingdom reign. In other words, it is not speaking about a limitation of Satan but of a complete stripping of his authority and rendering him totally helpless. First, in Revelation 20:1 an angel is dispatched from heaven with the key (which stands for authority) to a place called the abyss. It is into the abyss that Satan is placed. The point is that it is not a limiting of Satan that is being talked about, but that he will be put into a known place of confinement. Luke 8:30-31 is very helpful on the subject of abyss.
And Jesus asked him ‘What is your name?’ And he said ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. And they (the demons) were entreating Him not to command then to depart into the abyss.
In this well-known account, the demons ended up being sent into some pigs instead of the abyss. It is clear that the demons were well aware of the abyss and clearly did not want to go to this place of confinement. It is to the ABYSS that Satan is dispatched at the coming of Christ to establish His kingdom. The Apostle John adds the points that after Satan is put into the abyss that it is “shut” and “sealed”, which points to his complete confinement and inability to influence men and nations during the one thousand years.
Second, it is fair to question the idea that “binding” simply means the limitation to keep the gospel from unbelievers. It is important to observe that the Apostle Paul says that keeping the gospel from unbelievers is exactly what Satan is presently doing. He clearly states this in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4.
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Furthermore, the angel from heaven with the key to the abyss is also armed with a great chain with which he binds Satan. When one is bound with a chain, fundamentally that individual can do nothing. Some Amillennialists have suggested, that as a spirit being, Satan could not be bound with a chain. Of course, the kind that is found in the local hardware store would likely not be able to bind Satan. But that spirit beings (demons) can be bound and incarcerated is stated in Jude 1:6 where some demons are present being kept in “eternal bonds” awaiting the great day of their judgment. And Peter adds to this point in 2 Peter 2:4 where these demons are in “pits of darkness” until the Day of Judgment comes. In Revelation 9:14, demons are seen as being confined to a specific location. And in Revelation 12:7-13, Satan who has been going “to and fro” on the earth (Job 1) is now forcibly removed from heaven and is confined to the earth. How Satan is now restricted to the earth is not answered, but the fact is simply that he, a powerful spirit being, is restricted.
Third, when Satan is released at the end of the Messianic (millennial) kingdom, it is said that he comes out of his “prison.” This is the normal word for a jail, that is, a place of confinement. The emphasis of Revelation is on Satan being removed to a place where he is unable to do anything to disrupt the reign of King Jesus.
Fourth, Satan is released from prison after the millennium is over. It is then that he will again deceive and recruit unbelieving men to rebel. It should be noted that amillennialism has a significant problem at this point, since they see the millennium ending with the 2nd Coming. If that is so, then what in the world is Satan going to do after the 2nd Coming event. After the 2nd Coming will Satan then no longer be limited and can keep the gospel from mankind? There is simply no room in revealed scripture for such a time as described in Rev. 20:7-10. Rarely is this issue talked about in any detail, or at all, by Amillennialists.
We conclude that Satan is completely bound and rendered inoperative when Christ returns and when He establishes His reign on the earth.
In each of the letters to the seven churches, the letter ends with a promise to the “overcomer.” Is the overcomer a believer, or is it referring to a believer who has lived successfully as a Christian?
Good expositors have held to each of these views. Some believe that the letters to the 7 churches favor that these are strong, victorious believers in each of these churches who will be greatly rewarded for their faithfulness.
It is my opinion that the term “overcomer” is synonymous with “believer.” In other words, the promises to the overcomer fall into the category of “positional truth”, truths that apply to all believes in Jesus. There are several points that have led me to this conclusion.
First, the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation and he also wrote the epistle of 1 John. One would logically assume that his definition of “overcomer” in one book would be the same as in the other (unless the context demanded a different definition). In 1 John 5:4-5, John uses the word “nikao” (overcomer/conqueror) as a synonym for saving faith. This would lead one to believe that this is how the word is used in Revelation 2 and 3, since “nikao” is not redefined in those letters.
Second, in Revelation 21:7, John has described the blessings that will come to believers (not to “victorious” believers) and states that the one who overcomes will inherit the things he just mentioned; such as permanent, full fellowship with the Father and the water of life. These are “positional” truths. Christ is the great overcomer who is victorious (Rev. 3:21; John 16:33; and Paul’s use in Rom. 8:37) and we are identified with Him.
Third, several of the promises to the overcomers point to matters that are true of all believes and not to just victorious Christians. For example, in Revelation 2:11, the overcomer is promised exemption from harm from the “second death”. Later in Rev. 20:6, 14 and Rev. 21:8, the second death is identified as the “lake of fire.” No believer will experience the “second death.”
This discussion will likely go on as each presents the best arguments available for their view. For now, I see the “overcomer” as simply a believer in Jesus Christ.