THE WOMAN, THE DRAGON, AND THE CHILD
John is a unique writer. In his gospel he reaches farther back into eternity past than any other writer when he says, “In the beginning was the Word.” In Revelation he reaches further forward than any other writer an takes us so far into the future that time shall be no more.
The subject of these middle chapters (12-14) of Revelation is Satan and his malignant purpose. The great actors of the Tribulation are now introduced. There is the woman representing Israel, the Dragon representing Satan, the male-child, referring to Christ, Michael, representing the angels, the Beast out of the sea, the world dictator, and the beast out of the earth, the False Prophet and religious leader of the world. About these main actors swirl the mighty movements of the great Tribulation.
God’s glorious purposes for Christ’s coming kingdom have been revealed in chapter 11:15, “And kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever.”
Now in chapter 12 Satan’s strategy is seen. That strategy includes doing away with all who represent God’s purpose on earth, the unification of the world under a single leader, and the worship of the entire human race. The next two chapters explain how he seeks to accomplish these ends by energising the events of the great Tribulation. As in the OT, the nation of Israel is central to these events. It becomes the focus of Satanic hatred, and will experience the worst wave of anti-Semitism the nation has ever known.
The chapter is going to reveal much about war in the spiritual realm. That war is for control of the universe. It began with the rebellion and fall of Satan, and will continue until his eventual and utter defeat.
1. THE WOMAN (12:1-2)
“A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (12:1).
The chapter begins with a “sign” appearing in heaven. “Sign” is a John word; his gospel is full of signs (seventeen of them) and there is a total of seven signs in Revelation. A sign is a symbol of an important truth, drawing attention to God’s purpose behind it. This “great sign” must represent some major revelation of God. This sign is seen “in heaven,” but portrays a reality on the earth, as the woman pictured is persecuted by Satan.
Who or what is this woman? She represents the nation of Israel. The enmity of Satan came against this people because they were chosen as the channel through which God’s blessing would flow to all nations.
a) Her Description (12:1)
The woman is “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” This takes us back to Genesis 37 where Joseph dreamed a dream in which he saw the sun and the moon and the eleven stars bowing down to him. He told it to his father and brothers, but was met with scorn and disbelief. Here were the originators of the nation of Israel.
b) Her Destiny (12:2)
This picture of an expectant mother refers back to Genesis 3, and the first great promise of Scripture. Ever since that promise Israel was always an expectant nation. Her great destiny was to be the nation through which the promised Seed, the Messiah, would come.
Many have thought this woman pictured Mary, the Lord’s mother. In 1678 the Spanish artist Murillo created his famous painting, “Mystery of the Immaculate Conception,” a painting of the “woman clothed with the sun.” This was one of his favourite themes, and he showed her as an expectant mother, with the glory of the sun about her, the crescent moon under her feet, and the coronet of stars on her head. The gifts and powers of the artist were enormous, but this is not a vision of the virgin Mary.
Just as the sun, moon, and stars are light-conveying objects: the moon a reflector, the sun a source of light, so they are symbolic of Israel as God’s intended light-bearer to mankind. True, she has been unfaithful to her God over the years, but during the Tribulation period she will be God’s light-bearer in the form of the 144,000 witnesses during the Tribulation. It is important to note that the sign is “in heaven.” This view of Israel is heaven’s view. It is Israel, not as she is now, nor as she has been, but as God intends her yet to be.
c) Her Distress (12:2)
“And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.”
Here is a suffering woman representing a suffering nation. The whole nation is seen travailing in birth and awaiting the delivery of her child. This refers first of all to the trouble and travail of Israel at the time of the first coming of Christ, as is seen in the next verses.
But this is only a small part of a bigger picture. The nation at the time of the birth of Christ was not a nation crying out to be delivered of a Messiah like a woman in labour. The uniqueness of the birth of Christ is that the birth itself comes before the labour pains. Isaiah anticipated this unnatural birth-situation when he wrote, “Before she travailed she brought forth: Before her pain came, she was delivered of a manchild” (Isa 66:7). Thus the real travail of the nation did not occur at the time of the actual birth, but still lies ahead in the terrible time of the Tribulation period. The Lord spoke of the Tribulation as a time of great sorrows (Mat 24;8), where the word for sorrow is the same as for labour pains.
The travail of the woman is thus many years subsequent to the birth of the Messiah. The first and second advents are here telescoped, ignoring the intervening years of Israel’s rejection, and presented as events close together. This labour of the woman is the awful anguish of the Tribulation period. Hence the actual birth of Christ is linked directly to His second coming when, after the anguish and pain of the Tribulation, He comes forth as the Son-Sovereign to claim His kingdom.
2. THE DRAGON (12:3-4)
“And there appeared another sign in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns upon his heads.”
The first sign was the was the woman of verse 1 symbolising Israel as God’s people destined to fulfil His purpose. This second sign, the “great red dragon,” gives a view of Satan as God’s enemy.
a) Who He Is
The world today does not believe in a literal devil, accepting either a mischievous, playful, impish figure, or at worst some sort of evil principle. But the Bible teaches that there is a malignant personality called the devil. Here that devil is described as “the devil, and Satan which deceiveth the whole world” (12:9).
b) What He Is Like
(i) His Nature. “A dragon.” We think of a dragon as some kind of mythological beast, but Scripture makes it clear that it was one time a known animal. Perhaps it was related to the dinosaurs. The dragon character emphasises his total opposition to God and His people.
(i) His Colour. “Red” speaks of blood and the violence used to shed it. There are many words to describe “red,” from pink through to scarlet and crimson. The word used here is the same word used to describe the red horse (6:4), and comes from the Greek word for fire, making us think of his ferocity and cruelty.
(ii) His Seven Heads. These represent seven major world kingdoms which have opposed Israel down through the ages. The first six of these are Egypt (under Pharaoh who tried to destroy every male child), Assyria (under Sennacherib), Babylon (under Nebuchadnezzar), Medo-Persia (when Haaman tried to destroy the nation), Greece (under Antiochus Ephiphanes who became the spearhead of genocide against Israel), and Rome (when Herod, as Caesar’s puppet, carried out the slaughter of the innocents). Each made deliberate attempts to wipe out the nation and prevent Christ coming. These incidents were no accidents of history. They were part of a satanic strategy which specially targeted the nation, seen here awaiting the birth of the promised Seed.
The seventh kingdom and its ruler had not yet arrived. This is the coming kingdom of the Beast that will dominate earth during the Tribulation years. It will outrank all the others in murderous cruelty against Israel, and its hatred will be the major factor in the sufferings of Israel through the Tribulation.
(iii) His Ten Horns. A “horn” is a symbol of power, and the ten horns thus speaks of the full manifestation of satanic power manifested in 10 subordinate rulers.
(iv) His Crowns. Each of the seven heads wears a crown, reflecting royal authority. The horns and crowns represent awesome satanic power and authority, which Satan will refuse to let go.
c) Where He Comes From (12:4)
“And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth.” This is the great rebellion of Satan against God described in Isaiah 14. As Satan fell, he brought with him other angels who followed him into a battle in which they were defeated. These wicked angels are described here as “stars.” Isaiah 14:12-17 tells about the fall of Lucifer who later became known as “Satan.” In that passage we read of the five “I wills” of Satan which are culminated in the fifth one: “I will be like the Most High.” Satan wanted nothing less than supremacy over God.
Sometime later, after the creation of man Satan intruded into God’s brand new creation, and accomplished the fall of Adam and Eve. What a victory! However, at that time God announced in prophecy what is here portrayed in Revelation. A great curse on Satan was announced, linked to the even greater promise of the Redeemer: “And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen 3:14,15).
This was not a final overthrow, for although his forces have been limited to the atmospheric heavens around the earth, Satan himself still has access to the throne of God to accuse the brethren (12:10).
3. THE CHILD (12:5-6)
In the fullness of time Christ was born of a virgin. In this connection we see that:
a) He Came
“The dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.”
“The dragon stood before the woman.” This is Bethlehem and attempts to destroy the child by Herod. Herod was Satan’s tool at that time, and slew all the babes under two years. But in vain. Christ came. However, John uses a tense here which emphasises that Satan not only stood before the woman in the past, but also continues to stand before her. Ever since the Fall Satan has hated this child because it was predicted that He would bring about his destruction.
Satan knew that he must either destroy the lineage of this child before He could be born, or destroy the child Himself after He was born. He failed in the first, so he attempted the latter. Several times in his life, the Lord was in danger of being killed. Once they wanted to throw Him over a precipice, other times He was hunted by the followers of Satan. Finally in the garden He was betrayed by one of His own. At last Satan was in sight of victory. The One who was to defeat Satan was put to death on the cross. But he did not realize that the cross was the very place where Christ would defeat him. It was ”through death” that the Lord destroyed “him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.”
When Christ died on the cross, Satan thought he was rid of the contender to the throne of the world. Later, he tried to keep Jesus imprisoned in the tomb. He incited the chief priests and the Pharisees to ask Pilate for a seal and a guard. But He still arose, and His resurrection was followed 40 days later by His ascension.
Christ was raised from the dead, and ascended to the ultimate position of power and glory (Eph 1:20,21; Phil 2:9-11; Ps 110:1). These passages reveal that Christ, having ascended, will reign until His enemies are made His footstool His ascension is proof of Satan’s failure, and Christ’s ultimate victory.
b) He Conquered
“And she brought forth a man child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne” (12:5).
It is not difficult to identify this child as Jesus, for only He could fit the description. The 33 years of His life are omitted, as well as His death, burial and resurrection, but this verse outlines His birth – “she brought forth,” His destiny – “to rule,” His ascension – “caught up,” and His exaltation – “to his throne.” He was manifest that He might destroy the works of the devil. Demons, disease, death, and disasters all fled before Him.
c) He Controls
“And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days” (12:6).
The entire picture of the sun-clad woman is best understood when one keeps in mind that the Christian dispensation of almost 2,000 years is entirely omitted. Nothing is mentioned of the time between the ascension of Christ and the flight of Israel into the wilderness, but between verses 5 and 6 are 2,000 years of Church history.
The Beast, whose image stands in the holy place in Jerusalem, will demand world worship. The nation, refusing to bow to him, is forced to flee.
(i) The Period. The period here of 1260 days or 3½ years is the period of the Great Tribulation during which time Satan will do his worst. Note there is a divine limit set on this period. God carefully numbers the days of their exile.
(ii) The Place. Where is this place of safety? Many think it the ancient city of Petra. In any case, Satan will do his worst, but God will protect His people.
(iii) The Provision. Just as God intervened to preserve Elijah when he was persecuted by Ahab by directing him to a brook, and supplying him by ravens and a widow. So He will protect and provide for His people.
WAR IN HEAVEN
The last century has seen two World Wars which involved every corner of the globe. We are used to war, be it in Iraq, Vietnam, the D. R. Congo, Korea, or anywhere else on earth. But “war in heaven”? That’s the last place to expect it! This is one of the most important wars in the whole history of the universe. There may be no account of it in secular books, but the account here is God-given and accurate. We cannot conceive the intensity of that struggle, or how spiritual beings can declare war on each other.
1. THE STRUGGLE FOR SUPERIORITY (12:7-9)
This struggle gives us a glimpse of the powers of the unseen world. On one side are “Michael and his angels.” Against them are ranged “the dragon and his angels.”
a) The Place of the Conflict
“There was war in heaven” (12:7). Where is heaven? The Bible talk about three heavens, the aerial heaven, the stellar heaven, and the third heaven where God is. At His ascension, the Lord passed through the heavens (the aerial and stellar heavens) and having become “higher than the heavens” has entered into “heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb 9:24). This third heaven is Paradise, where God is and Christ dwells.
After Satan fell, he could no longer dwell in the presence of God. However, somehow or other he has had access to God as the accuser of the saints to present his case. That is the story of Job where he accused and slandered him so vigorously before God.
“Neither was their place found any more in heaven” (12:8). From this point onward Satan has no more access to God as the accuser of the saints.
b) The Persons of the Conflict
“Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer” (12:7,8).
(i) “Michael and his angels” (12:7). As head of the angelic hierarchy, Michael is the Archangel, who has a special ministry in relation to Israel. We know from Daniel 10 where he was hindered by the “Prince of the Kingdom of Persia” that he is less powerful than Satan. Jude 9 tells us when he previously disputed about the body of Moses, he was unable to pronounce judgement on Satan. He had to say “the Lord rebuke thee.” That is always the Christian’s way of victory.
(ii) “Satan and his angels” (12:7). Daniel 10 tells us that behind the kingdoms of this world is a satanic empire in the sprit world divided into kingdoms synonymous with those on earth. Satanic angels, or “principalities” as they are called, supervise the affairs of the nations over which they secretly rule.
“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (12:9). This describes who he is. We need to be under no illusions as to the power of Satan’s person. He is “the great Dragon,” speaking of his cruelty. He is “the old serpent,” whose subtlety brought disaster to mankind in Eden. He is also “the devil,” meaning “slanderer” or “accuser,” hence the need for an Advocate (1 John 2:1). He is called “the accuser of the brethren.” He is “Satan.” The name means “adversary,” and through Scripture he is implacable adversary of God, His people, and His purposes.
This describes what he does – he “deceives the whole world.” How is it that people do not see themselves as God sees them, and how much He loves them? Why do they not see their danger? Because “the God of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4).
c) The Purpose of the Conflict
“He was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (12:9). The purpose of the war is to cast Satan out of heaven. Revelation 13 describes the casting down of Satan and his hosts from their strongholds in the air. He will then be confined to earth. This is the second of a series of falls that mark his career. Already he has been cast out of heaven into the air, next he will be cast from the air to the earth, then from the earth into the abyss, and finally from the abyss into the lake of fire.
The threefold repetition of “cast out” emphasises Satan’s expulsion from heaven. He can no more enter God’s presence and accuse the saints. Even the heavens have to be cleared of evil. How far-reaching is the effect of the cross.
2. THE SHOUT OF SUPREMACY (12:10)
“And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.”
In the aftermath of victory, heaven finds two reasons for rejoicing:
a) Christ’s Victory
Just as a wave of rejoicing swept across allied Europe on V.E. Day, so heaven here rejoices with a shout of victory, and a great chorus of praise, saying “Now is come THE salvation, THE strength, THE kingdom of our God, and THE power of His Christ.” This “salvation” is wider than mere personal salvation, and refers to the ultimate salvation when all creation will be bow to His authority as He takes His kingdom for God.
b) Satan’s Defeat
“The accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” For countless ages Satan has had access to the presence of God. Hence we read of him in Job, and in connection with Joshua the High Priest. Satan does not need to tell lies about us in the presence of God. He tells the truth, enjoying himself to the full, and he does it “day and night.” That is why we need an Advocate, and over and over again he has been defeated by His High Priestly ministry. Now the door is shut, and in the presence of God, instead of the vices, are rehearsed the victories of the saints.
3. THE SECRETS OF VICTORY (12:11)
“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (12:11).
These are “our brethren” (12:10), probably saints on earth during the Tribulation period, whom Satan accuses. They overcome in their conflict with evil, Satan and the Antichrist. They exemplify the secrets of spiritual victory in all ages
a) The Blood Of The Lamb – His Blood
“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb.” Their victory was due to no personal merit, but to the blood of the Lamb. The blood of Calvary always spells defeat for Satan. Those who identify with that blood come into the good of it and are assured of victory. Apart from then blood of Lamb it is impossible to answer charges of the Accuser. His blood meets every charge: “Who is he that condemneth, it is Christ that died” (Rom 8:34). “How much more shall the blood of Christ…cleanse your consciences from dead works…” (Heb 9v14). For the individual the guilt and filth of sin have been removed. The blood of Christ is our full and final answer to his every charge.
How does this work in practice? The Instruction Manual says I am to put my mind under the blood. By faith I appropriate the finished work of Calvary, and “reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God thro Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 6v11 13). We thus appropriate this victory, not only for salvation, but also for daily living.
b) The Word Of Their Testimony – His Word
What was this “word of testimony”? Perhaps it is similar to 1:9, where John was imprisoned on Patmos “for the Word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Hence the “word of their testimony” relates to the Word of God, and Lord Jesus Christ. This is similar to 1 John 2:14, “I write unto you young men, because ye are strong and the word of God abideth in you and you have overcome the wicked one.” Decisive testimony for Christ always opposes the work of Satan in that the Gospel is the “power of God…”
c) They Loved Not Their Lives Unto Death – His Example
Here are saints who that follows the example of Christ, “Who for the joy that was set before Him…” (Heb 12:2). Following that example they lived so close to God that even life itself was not important. They were more concerned with pleasing God than loving their lives. Only a Christian living close to God can have a “desire to depart and be with Christ…”
For us the dispensation is different, but same resources are available for victory.
4. THE STATEMENT OF WARNING (12:12)
“Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.”
Rejoicing in heaven is answered by a warning of woe on earth. Heaven rejoices, but the grim proclamation makes earth fear. Satan takes command on earth against his enemy Israel. Far from being dispirited by defeat, he will be livid! He is always a bad loser! Expelled from heaven, he makes his last stand on planet earth.
a) His Great Wrath
“…having great wrath.” The word “wrath” is “strong passion” resulting from his plans being thwarted.
b) His Short Time
“He knows he has only a short time.” His days are numbered to three and a half years after which he will be bound. This stirs him into a rage energises the final outburst of satanic rage against all the represents God on earth.
Soon after this, the woe trumpets begin. Satan like a caged lion, is enraged by the limitations placed on his freedom. Woe indeed to the inhabiters of earth and of the sea! The Lord has planted His feet upon both so that even in this scene to which he is now confined, Satan discovers he is mastered by the One he hates most of all.
The first six verses of the chapter provided the background for this final scene between the woman and the dragon. The flight of the woman in verse six is now taken up again with detail as to the cause, the character and the consequences of her flight.
Satan is a defeated foe. Christ’s victory over him belongs to all God’s people of all ages who take their stand with Him. This was the purpose of the incarnation; He took a human body in order that through the death of that body and the shedding of His atoning blood, He might destroy the enemy who had the power of death (Heb 2:14).
The practical truth of this is vitally important. Victory is not dependant on the death of Christ at a point of time. There was victory over Satan before Christ died. There is victory today even before the final expulsion of Satan from heaven. The victory of Michael the archangel will be because Christ has already died. The victory we need day by day is available for us when we enter into the fruit of His death for us on the cross.
We remember that during this Tribulation time many will be saved. There are the 144,000 Israelites from all of the tribes, 12,000 from each tribe (chapter 7). From their preaching comes a great host of gentile believers, as well as many other Jews. However, there is no evidence that those of this present dispensation who heard the gospel and refused to believe it will be saved. “For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thes 2:11).
1. THE PURPOSE (12:13)
“And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.”
Satan’s purpose never changes. The previous verses have told of war in heaven and Satan’s downfall. As the prince of the power of the air, he had access to God and freedom to accuse the saints before Him (12:9). Now two restrictions are placed on him:
a) Restricted In Territory
Satan no longer has access to God and heaven. Instead he is restricted to the earth. That results in great rejoicing in heaven. But heaven’s shout of joy is paralleled by a warning of woe on the earth to which Satan is now restricted (12:12). Like a caged lion, he vents his hatred on mankind and pursues his purpose to destroy the woman (Israel) through whom the child (Christ) came. Woe indeed to the earth and sea! The “earth and the sea” (12:12) are likely symbols of Israel and the gentile nations. The Lord has planted His feet upon both (10:2), so that even on the earth to which he is now confined, Satan finds he is checkmated and mastered by the One he hates most of all.
Here upon earth Satan will personally supervise the last bloodbath of anti-Semitic persecution. This is the beginning of the Great Tribulation of which Christ warned in Matthew 24:15-22. God’s people have never known persecution like that yet to confront them. This will be the time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jer 30:7).
b) Restricted In Time
Satan knows “he has but a short time” (12:12). He knows his Bible, and is aware of God’s future plans for him. Already he has been cast out of heaven into the air, next he will be cast from the air to the earth, then from the earth into the abyss, and finally from the abyss into the lake of fire.
2. THE PROTECTION (12:14)
“And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.”
While many across the world worship the Beast, the nation of Israel refuses. The result is international hatred. Just as ancient Israel fled into the wilderness (Ex 15), so in a future day she will flee again. The Lord Jesus spoke of this flight in His Olivet discourse, “Pray that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day” (Mat 24:20). The same flight is indicated in Matt 24:16 where Christ exhorts those in Judea to flee to the mountains.
a) God’s Protection
The woman was “given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness.” God intervenes in this scene of satanic persecution to enable the woman to flee.
(i) The Wings. In Pharaoh’s day, Israel was persecuted and led by God into the desert, in order that He might fulfil His word to them. Pharaoh, type of the Antichrist who is about to rage against God’s people, pursued them with his army, but God delivered them in a way they never forgot. “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to myself” (Ex 19:4).
(ii) The Wilderness. “The wilderness” here is the prepared place of 12:6 where she is protected for three and a half years. Some feel that the place referred to is a specific place such as Petra, where at least a portion of the nation might be safe. Israel’s plight will be desperate, but even so, God will raise up Gentiles who will shield and shelter the Jews at great personal risk. Such will be numbered amongst the sheep at the judgement of the living nations when the Lord returns (Mat 25:31-46).
b) God’s Provision
“Where they will be nourished.” Just as Elijah experienced God’s provision by the brook Cherith, and at the hand of a poor widow (1 Ki 17), so He will provide for and preserve this godly remnant. Just as the widow’s barrel of meal never failed in the dark days of apostasy, so Israel will have all it needs to survive. 12:14 indicates that although many will perish (two thirds according to Zech 13:8), God will preserve a remnant.
3. THE PERSECUTION (12:15-16)
Satan sends a woman after the flood, but the earth helps the woman by swallowing it. These symbols are difficult to interpret. But what a contrast to the flood of water of life which flowed for the Children of Israel in the Old Testament wilderness.
a) The Danger (12:15)
“And the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood.”
The flood comes out of the mouth of the serpent to destroy the woman. It speaks of Satan’s total effort to exterminate the nation. It may be an extermination policy which makes even the Nazi holocaust seem mild.
What a time of terror lies ahead for Israel. The world has already seen dress rehearsals for this coming onslaught. They have seen the secret police, the midnight knock, the sidings where the boxcars wait, the dreadful ordeal of days and night without food, drink or sanitation, with men and women and children herded like cattle in the dark. The lonely sidings the barbed wire, the concentration camps, the cruel torture, and the gas ovens and the firing squads. It has been rehearsed already for the full and final production of terror. No wonder God Himself intervenes to provide a place of hiding for those who exercise saving faith in His Word and flee.
b) The Deliverance (12:16)
“But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.”
In Korah’s day (Num 17) the earth opened her mouth and swallowed up God’s enemies. Israel was preserved supernaturally by God’s intervention. Here some providential happening nullifies Satan’s efforts. The obliqueness of the reference to the deliverance may mean that this remnant is composed of those who, while they will not take the mark of the Beast, have not as yet turned to Christ. The remnant of true believers is seen in the next verse.
4. THE PROGRAMME (12:17).
“And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
a) A Forceful Enemy
Since the Dragon could not be victorious over the woman in the land or in the wilderness, there is now a third battle, when the dragon’s rage drives him to one final assault. Unable to destroy the nation, he turns his rage on “the rest of her offspring.” These are true believers who are characterized by two things
(i) Their Relationship to the Scriptures – they “keep the commandments of God.”
(ii) Their Relationship to the Saviour – they “have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
There is thus a double antagonism against Jewish believers during this period. Many will be martyred, but others, including the 144,000 sealed in chapter 7 will survive.
But Satan cannot win. Instead, persecution will drive many Jews into the arms of the Lord Jesus. The godly Jews will not recant. They will only scatter far and wide, bearing the gospel of the kingdom and their triumph will be complete.
b) A Faithful Remnant
Israel as a nation becomes the target for an extermination campaign, a new holocaust. The expression “the rest of her offspring” (12:17) describes those who have been born again from the nation of Israel. Satan turns against these more accessible believers with redoubled fury. These are the ones identified by Christ as “my brethren” (Mat 25:40) and who become the touchstone of faith to distinguish between the “sheep’ and the “goats” at the judgement before the throne as the kingdom is established. It will be this remnant of the nation who, when Christ comes, will use the language of Isaiah 53 in heart-broken confession.
* * * *
Chapter 12 is a fitting introduction to the important revelations of chapter 13. Here are the principal actors of the Great Tribulation with the historical background. Israel, Satan, Christ, the archangel, and the godly remnant figure largely in the closing scenes of the age. Next, the two principal human actors are introduced: the beast out of the sea, and the beast out of the earth. These are the human instruments Satan uses to direct his programme during the Great Tribulation.
THE WILD BEAST OUT OF THE SEA
At a meeting of NATO in Paris in October 1957, Paul Henri Spaak, the then Secretary General, declared, “We do not want another Committee; we have too many already. What we want is a man of sufficient stature to hold the allegiance of all people, and to lift us out of the economic morass into which we are sinking. Send us such a man, and be he god or devil we will receive him.” Popular newspapers reported with banner headlines – “GIVE US A MAN!”
This chapter gives us God’s answer to that request. It is an account of the advent of the man for whom the nations have clamoured. Who is this man? Those who know their Bibles will recognise him as the malignant personality described by Daniel in the Old Testament, and remember that Jesus referred to him when He said, “I am come in my Father’s name, and you receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him you will receive” (John 5:43). Paul described him as “the man of sin” (2 Thes 2:4).
In fact, three malignant personalities are presented in chapters 12 and 13. Together they form an unholy trinity, a parody of God Himself. These personalities are: the “great dragon,” Satan, set up in opposition to God the Father; the “beast out of the sea,” taking the place of Christ, and the “false prophet,” substituting for the Holy Spirit. This is Satan doing what he does best: counterfeiting God, and thereby channelling worship to himself.
1. HIS PRESENTATION (13:1-2)
Satan’s masterpiece will be to present to the world a man who will be acknowledged as a world-wide Saviour and Messiah. If ever there was a man on earth whose father was the devil, this is he.
a) The Likeness
“And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy” (13:1). There is no mistaking the family likeness between this beast and the description of Satan in chapter 12. There Satan is presented as “a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns upon his heads” (12:3). This beast bears all the characteristics of Satan himself. Whatever Satan is in his person, his nature, his personality, so is the Beast.
We will see that, just as the Lord Jesus tells us what God is like, so we find what Satan is like by examining the words and works of this man.
(i) Where he comes from. John saw “a beast rise up out of the sea.” The sea is a consistent symbol of the restless masses of the nations. From this restlessness the Beast emerges as Satan takes his opportunity to put his man in place.
(ii) What he says. “…the names of blasphemy.” Blasphemy is the hallmark of this individual. Verse 6 tells us more about his blasphemy as he denigrates God and exalts himself.
b) The Lineage
“And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion; and the dragon gave him his power and his seat, and great authority” (13:2). A comparison with other Scriptures tell us that two things about this man:
(i) He is a Real Person. The vicious tearing animals pictured here point to a real man. His body is said to be like that of a leopard, his feet like those of a bear, and his mouth like that of a lion. What a Contrast to the Lamb of God, “without blemish and without spot.” Satan has his spotted leopard, God has his spotless Lamb who in His walk was holy, harmless, and undefiled.
(ii) He is a Representative Person. This real person also represents an Empire. The animals pictured relate to a similar vision in Daniel 7 where successive world empires are described by a lion, symbolizing Babylon, a bear, standing for the Medo-Persian Empire, and a leopard, signifying Greece. This Beast incorporates the characteristics and imperial lust of the three previous empires. He is the last and worst of all the Caesars, the Genghis Khans, the Hitlers, and the Stalins.
c) The Licence
“And the dragon gave him power, and his seat, and great authority” (13:2). Satan gives this man unrestricted power and authority. This is clearly described in 2 Thes 2:9 as being “after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders.”
Satan at present has great power, but it is restricted, and subject to a higher power. But after the rapture, with the Holy Spirit and the church gone, and Satan will receive back his unhindered power. That power will be invested in this superman, the Beast.
2. HIS POPULARITY (13:3-4)
The world will acclaim this handsome, charming, brave, and brilliant man. He will be their idol – all that man admires.
a) The Reason for his Popularity
“And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his fatal wound was healed” (13:3). The Beast somehow receives a mortal wound and dies. Then somehow that mortal wound is healed and he is resurrected to life. This is Satan’s masterstroke, and it brings the world to the feet of his Messiah. His apparent resurrection makes him popular and seemingly invincible, and will lead, many to worship and fall down before him.
The verse notes that John saw the Beast “as it were wounded to death.” Did the wound merely seem to be mortal? If so, in some way Satan stage-manages the deception. John earlier saw “a lamb as it had been slain.” Now he sees the Beast “as it had been slain.” Chapter 5 speaks of a violent death. Perhaps the death here will also be violent. Possibly an assassination?
b) The Results of his Popularity
“All the world wondered after the Beast. And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the Beast: and they worshipped the Beast, saying Who is like unto the Beast? Who is able to make war with him?” (13:3-4). The apparent resurrection of the Beast causes men world-wide to worship him. There will be two main reasons for this worship:
(i) His Person. “Who is like the Beast?” Great secrets of nature will be revealed to men, and seducing spirits will inspire the arts, philosophies, and sciences. Men will consider him history’s greatest benefactor. A period of peace will settle over the world.
(ii) His Power. “Who is able to make war with him?” No nation will dare to make war with him. Recent times have seen dress-rehearsals for this event, as totalitarian regimes exploited the hunger in the heart for a visible God. Through clever use of pageantry and publicity Hitler and Stalin were regarded as demi-gods. In China Mao Tsetung transformed 1 billion people into obedient puppets trained to regard him as a god. His little red book of sayings was bible to one quarter of the earth’s population.
It will not be difficult for Satan to once again overwhelm the world with wonder and direct its worship to such an extraordinary man. That man will, of course, be merely a vehicle by which Satan himself is worshipped. He will do with him what he tried to do with the Lord, when he offered to Him all the kingdoms of the world if only He would fall down and worship him.
At the apex of his power this Beast will perform his ultimate act of rebellion against heaven, and take his seat in the temple in Jerusalem, and claim to be nothing less than God himself (2 Thes 2:4). Men will be faced with a stark choice: to worship God through the Lamb, or Satan through the Beast?
3. HIS PURPOSES (13:5-10)
The chapter presents four purposes of Satan and his man:
a) To Defy God
“And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven” (13:5-6). Everything and anything in any way related to God is the subject of this man’s blasphemy. Unable to touch God or His people without permission, he can freely blaspheme with his tongue. Like pus from a boil one blasphemy after another pours out.
“There was given unto him a mouth.” As a satanic mouthpiece, the Beast will be a master orator, arrogantly swaying the masses. In blatant blasphemy, he will assume deity, and have his image placed in the temple, to receive world-wide homage from all kindreds and tongues and nations. There are two aspects to this blasphemy:
(i) Deification of Self. He speaks great things, glorifying himself. What a contrast to Christ who “glorified not himself” (Heb 5:5).
(ii) Defiance of God. We often find people who move upwards in life, exalting themselves by treading down others.
“to blaspheme his name.” Here we see a startling contrast:
(i) The Beauty of the Name. We love to think of all that is associated with His Name. “His name is wonderful”, “Thy name is as ointment poured forth,” “There is no other name under heaven…” “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow”)..
(ii) The Blasphemy of the Name. This evil man does everything to eradicate and dishonour that Name.
b) To Destroy The Saints
“It was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them” (13:7). This Beast, a monster with an unquenchable thirst for blood is Satan’s instrument. He cannot harm the saints already in heaven, but he can harm believers on earth, and he rises to rid the earth of every last believer. It will be the devil’s last fling against God’s people. Out will come his refurbished equipment of the inquisition, his firing squads, his gas chambers, his concentration camps, his death pits.
Here again is the age-old mystery of the suffering of the saints. He is allowed to overcome them, just as he did with Job and John the Baptist. It is all a deep mystery now, but it will be an eternal weight of glory for the sufferers when God gives out the martyrs’ crowns.
c) To Dominate the Nations
“Power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations” (13:7). Adalai Setevenson said in 1963, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Politically, religiously, and commercially, this man’s power is complete. His authority will be world-wide, and all will yield obedience to Him. Satan will achieve his goal of unifying the nations, dazzling some, browbeating others. What rulers down through that ages have sought is granted here for a period. The only dissidents are the saints whose names are in the Lamb’s book of life.
d) To Delude the Masses
“And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. If any man have an ear, let him hear. He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints” (13:8-10).
Most will willing comply with the Beast and worship him, as embodying the reincarnation of all the world’s religious hopes. He will be the Christ of the cults, the reincarnate Buddha of Buddhism, the seeming Messiah of Israel, the kind of man the Jews have always wanted. Men will unite in willingly worshipping him, exactly as Paul said in 2 Thes 2:4 when he warned of one who “opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God showing himself that he is God.” Satan is not against religion. In fact, he is the author of all false religion, for through religion he can channel worship to himself.
(i) The Earth. John refers to the masses as “all that dwell upon the earth” (13:8). These “earth dwellers” are those who have no heavenly address and have made their home on earth. All their ideals and ideas are earth-bound. They are close followers of Satan and his man.
(ii) The Book. “…whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb” (13:8). What is this book? It is the register of the redeemed whose names are entered at conversion. Earth’s population is divided by those whose names are or are not written in that book.
(iii) The Challenge. “If any man have an ear, let him hear” (13:9). Heaven now issues a challenge to individual men and women of earth. Choices must be made, and one here and another there will stand out against the popular enthusiasm and religious fervour for the Beast. Captivity, execution, torture, await the faithful. Patience and faith will be needed. Amidst all the confusing noises of earth, there is a need to listen carefully and respond to the Word of God.
(iv) The Promise. “He that leads others into captivity will himself go into captivity; he that kills with the sword must himself be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints” (13:10). God’s inerrant law of sowing and reaping ensures His purposes will always win in the end. The saints are thus promised that the wrongs of earth will be finally righted. Endurance and faith in the midst of severe trial will be richly rewarded.
THE FALSE PROPHET
This chapter presents, under the symbols of “beasts” two great evil characters who will dominate the last seven years of earth’s history before Christ returns. Verses 1-10 have presented the first beast, a gentile, who came out of the sea. He will be a dynamic personality with amazing ability who will emerge as the world leader in end-time history prior to the Lord’s return in glory. This man and his empire are foretold for us in Daniel 7. He will have many of the features of the old Roman Empire, but will surpasses it in every way to become such an empire as the world has never previously seen.
John now sees a second beast coming up out of the earth. It is very different from the first beast, but has the same origin. The first beast is likely a Gentile, since he comes up from sea (a Bible symbol for the gentile nations). The second beast is likely a Jew as he comes up out of the earth (a symbol for Israel, God’s earthly people).
The great function of this second beast, known elsewhere as the False Prophet, is to honour and glorify the first beast. He seems to be lamb-like, but speaks with the authority of the Dragon, Satan, who empowers him to do amazing miracles such as bringing fire from heaven. He even apparently gives life to an image of the first beast.
With such support and power, he enforces submission of the world’s population to the first beast by making it compulsory to wear his special mark. Buying, selling, and all trading will be impossible for those who refuse to accept this mark.
With the advent of this beast, the satanic trinity of evil comprising the Dragon and the first and second beasts is complete. The Dragon corresponds to God the Father; the first beast corresponds to the Lord Jesus; the second beast, or False Prophet, corresponds to the Holy Spirit.
1. HIS APPEARANCE
“And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon” (13:11).
“A beast…like a lamb.” This second beast looks like a gentle, harmless, innocent lamb. But that appearance is deceptive, for he when he speaks John hears the voice “of a dragon.” Satan is always a liar. Not for nothing does the Bible describe him as “the father of lies.” His language is always a lie. Now the time has come for men to believe the lie, what Paul calls “the strong delusion” (2 Thes 2:11). Attracted by the dynamic of the beast and assured by the seeming docility of the false prophet, men will take at its face value the monstrous lie they are now to be told.
The symbolism portrays a man who will come into political prominence in Israel, through normal political process. His apparent innocence and gentleness lead many to trust him. Only when he reaches this place of prominence is it clear that he carries a message straight from the dragon.
2. HIS AUTHORITY
“And he exercises all the power of the first beast before him, and causes the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed” (13:12).
The first beast, on account of who he is, what he says, and, particularly on account of his recovery from “his deadly wound” (13:3,4), is worshipped world-wide. This second beast, or False Prophet, is the dynamic propagator of this new religion centred in the Beast.
3. HIS APPEAL
The new world worship contains everything men want in their religion. Those who like their religion sensual, or ascetic, or exciting, will find exactly what they want. He will control the world’s media, and organize mass publicity. What he says will sound so right, so sensible, so like what man has always wanted to hear.
This appeal to worship is based on
a) Unique Wonders (13:13,14)
“He does great wonders.” This amazing man will perform many miracles to satisfy man’s constant search for the sensational. This will not be mere stage magic, but real power, convincing all except the saints of God. They include:
(i) Signs From Heaven. “He makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men” (13:13). When the unbelieving Jews demanded that Jesus show them a sign from heaven, He refused. Not so the False Prophet! He will set the sky ablaze. Signs have a special appeal to the Jewish nation who continually asked for “a sign.” This man will provide all the signs they desire. He will even make fire come down from heaven, like Elijah (I Kings 18). Such a demonstration of miraculous power has only one purpose – to “cause the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast” (13:12).
(ii) Signs From Hell. He “deceives them that dwell on the earth by those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live” (13:14). This man urges the people to make an image of the first beast. An image bears a likeness to a person, and reveals him. Christ as the image of God, shows not only his likeness, but also reveals him. Men love to see what they are worshipping.
“And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak” (13:15). This is the ultimate miracle – bringing an inanimate life to image. It is not said how Satan will perform this miracle, but the world sees it as the crowning display of the False Prophet’s supernatural power. Is it a trick? Does Satan really give life to the image? Surely none can give life but God. Perhaps it refers to the installation of an evil spirit in the image.
b) Universal Worship
Worship of this first beast will become the world’s first universal religion. It affects two classes of people
(i) Those who Obey. “Them that dwell on the earth” (13:14). Once again, this phrase refers to those who have refused to obey God’s call to repentance, and whose horizons are limited by earth. They include the vast majority of the world’s population
(ii) Those who Oppose. “As many as would not worship.” The image in its speaking backs up the demands of the False Prophet, and reveals Satan’s murderous intentions. Those who refuse to bow will pay be regarded as enemies and traitors, and will pay for their refusal with their lives (13:15). It is a carbon copy of what happened in Nebuchadnezzar’s day.
4. HIS AGENDA
“And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads” (13:16). Satan’s strategy now climaxes with this demand for world-wide worship. The sign of acceptance of this new religion will be the Beast’s “mark,” a sort of seal of acceptance. Such a “seal” or mark indicates ownership, and is an imitation of the sealing of the Holy Spirit.
a) It will be Compulsory
In the Caesars’ days, all citizens had to perform the simple act of offering a pinch of incense on a pagan altar as a token of loyalty, and acknowledge “Caesar is Lord.” This Christians could not do, and thousands perished for their loyalty to Christ. This last Caesar will make a similar demand. He will require a simple mark, stamped on the forehead or hand, as a token of allegiance.
b) It will be Universal
All over the world men and women will line up to receive this mark in a display of universal solidarity. All classes of society are mentioned, “small, and great, rich and poor, free and bond (13:16). Worship of this Beast crosses all boundaries of society. Even in the present day a mark can be placed on a person that can only be read electronically or by ultra-violet light.
c) It will be Essential
“No man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (13:17). It will be impossible to buy or sell without this mark. From corporate mergers to buying an ice-cream, the mark will be required. No seal – no sale. The boycott will be complete. That which began as a political affiliation , and through the second beast became a religious affiliation, now moves to the third stage – commercial.
It is easy to see how such a situation could develop. “Plastic money” is more and more common. All must have personal identification numbers. These are trends at present, but by the time the Beast makes his appearance, neither political will nor technology will be a problem.
d) It will be Meaningful
“Let him that has understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six” (13:18).
What exactly is this number “666”? We are not told, so we don’t know. We do know that the number “six” is generally associated with man, who was created on the sixth day, and works six days a week. Goliath was six cubits tall, his spear weighed six shekels, and he had six pieces of armour. Nebuchadnezzar’s image was sixty cubits high, and six cubits wide. Six musical instruments were used to summon the world to worship it.
Perhaps “666” refers to man at his best and at the height of his power, yet short of 777 – divine perfection. “Seven” has always been just out of his grasp In three realms, the coming Ruler will just fall short of “seven”. He will dominate religion, politics, and commerce. Anyone controlling the world’s population in these spheres has total control.
e) It is Recognisable
“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six” (13:18).
An enlightened remnant will recognize the Beast by the number of his name. It will be the “number of the Beast,” and it will be “the number of a man.” Being forewarned, they will be able to make swift arrangements to get away into the wilderness to await the Lord’s return from glory.
PEOPLE THAT PLEASE GOD
The picture thus far presented in Revelation is that of a world ruined by man and his sin. As the seals were broken and restraint removed, human passions, long held in check by God, were given free rein. The result was chaos. With the blowing of the trumpets things became even worse. Satan’s power was unleashed, and his plans for total subjugation of the human race allowed to mature. The world united under the banner of the Beast, hailing him as the Messiah, and worshipping both him and Satan, the power behind him.
Revelation 13 revealed to us what will be the darkest hour in world history. The world is seen in the grip of an awful unholy trinity, as Satan, through the Antichrist and the False Prophet dominates the world. One writer called it “Hell’s Holiday.”
The scene now changes, as John looks through the mists of earth’s misery and sees God intervening directly in the affairs of men. Christ is totally triumphant and the saints delivered. Satan’s power is defeated, and those who have identified with the Beast and the false prophet are destroyed. Suddenly, instead of the groanings of earth, John hears the songs of God’s redeemed people.
Having seen what happens in Revelation 13, the logical question is, “How do God’s people fare during these days?” That question is now answered, and we are given an overall view of how God’s people fare during the Tribulation. Chapter 14 opens with a presentation of an illustrious company of 144,0000. This is the same company seen in chapter 7, where they are seen as the sealed ones going into the Tribulation. Here they are seen as the preserved ones coming out of the Tribulation and entering the millennial kingdom. Like the three Hebrews of Daniel’s day, they have been preserved unharmed throughout that awful time, and are now seen in anticipation of Christ’s glorious triumph that lies ahead. They are seen on Mount Zion (Jerusalem) and even after the Tribulation not one is missing.
But before that happens, yet even more severe chastisements (chapter 15) are inflicted in rapid succession as the bowls of God’s anger and judgement are poured out on earth. This takes us through to chapter 20, and covers an extended of time. It covers the final throes of the Tribulation, the Battle of Armageddon, the millennium, the final rebellion of Satan, the Great White Throne, and on to the edge of eternity.
Revelation 14 is rather like a table of contents for the rest of the book. In this chapter we have a preview of some of the things that are ahead at this point. Some of the subjects covered are:
a) The Lamb (Christ) and the 144,000 on Mount Zion (14:1-5)
b) The angel with the everlasting gospel (14:6-7)
c) The fall of Babylon (14:8)
d) Judgement on those who worship the Beast (14:9-11)
e) The blessing of those who die in the Lord (14:12-13)
f) A preview of the last battle of Armageddon (14:14-20)
The company presented in the first five verses of the chapter is very special to God. Four things are said about them:
1. AN EXALTED COMPANY (14:1)
“Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads.”
a) The Scene
“And I looked, and behold a Lamb…” John sees a vision of the Lamb standing on Mount Zion accompanied by a special group of believers – 144,000 of them. They have come through the long dark night of the Tribulation and are seen now with the Lamb at the beginning of His millennial reign. Together they are seen singing and glorifying God, on Mount Zion. God wants us to see He was able to bring them through, because He knows it will be an encouragement to us living today.
The Lamb seen here is the true Lamb in His triumph, in contrast to the false lamb and his tyranny of chapter 13.
b) Their Situation
“…standing on Mount Zion.” This vision pictures the Lamb’s ultimate triumph at His second coming when He joins the 144,000 on Mt Zion at the beginning of the millennium. Their suffering in the dark days of Tribulation over, they are associated with Him as He sets up His kingdom.
This is the literal mountain in Jerusalem that from ancient days has been the centre of kingdom rule in Israel. We first read of Zion in 2 Samuel 5 when David marched with his men against the Jebusites in Jerusalem. They insulted David, telling him that he would not enter. David, of course, captured the fortress and did enter, and from then on, Mount Zion was connected with David. What makes it significant is that God says He has chosen it for the enthronement of His Messiah during the kingdom age. Thus the mention of Mount Zion here takes us away back into the Old Testament where Scripture after Scripture testifies to this truth. He says, “I have set my King on my holy hill of Zion.” Read Psalms 20, 48, 74,76, 102, More than 30 different Psalms each fits into Revelation at this point. What an amazing book is the Bible!
The point is that the kingdom which has so long been awaited is now to begin. The hottest judgements are still to fall, but look up! The Lamb has taken His proper place in heaven, and He will come forth to take it on earth also.
c) Their Safety
“…with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand.” Just before the final bowls of judgement are poured on the earth, the Lord stops to reassure His own that He is already taking the place of government. All His own are safe with Him. Their number, 144,000 is still the same as it was in chapter 7. The Beast with his mighty power has not been able to destroy even one of them. Not one is missing.
d) Their Seal
This is literally, “having His name and the name of his Father written upon their foreheads.” This company refused the mark of the Antichrist on their foreheads. Instead, Christ has written both His name and His Father’s name on their foreheads. They belong to both the Father and the Son. There is an obvious contrast with the followers of the Beast who also have a mark in their foreheads (13:16). But it is his mark, and it leads them to their doom.
2. AN EXULTANT COMPANY (14:2,3)
As John wondered at the heavenly vision, he heard both a sound and a song.
a) The Sound
“And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps.” As John listens to the “voice” or sound, he is able to distinguish three elements marked by the repetition of the word “as”:
(i) “…as the sound of many waters.” This describes the majesty of the sound, and is reminiscent of the voice of Christ (1:15).
(ii) “…as the sound of a great thunder.” This declares the authority of the sound. No other voice can compete.
(iii) “…as the sound harpists playing their harps.” This testifies to the sweetness of the sound which soothes the ear. The 144,000 are seen on earth, and they join with the harpists in heaven bringing earth and heaven into close harmony. Today heaven and earth are out of harmony with each other, and will be all through the Tribulation, for the sins of earth cannot be in harmony with the holiness of heaven.
b) The Song
“They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders.” The book of Revelation, so full of sorrow, strife, and tears, is also a book of songs! Bring the Lamb into the picture, and immediately there is song! The gods of the pagans are fierce, wicked, cruel. But our God is a happy God, who wants his children to be happy. That is why He picks up from the horrible pit, plants our feet on the rock, and puts a new song in our mouth. One of the Bible’s greatest lessons is that there can be no happiness without holiness.
3. THEY ARE AN EXCLUSIVE COMPANY (14:3)
“No man could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.” We are not told exactly who this company in heaven are. Perhaps they are the martyred saints of the Tribulation, in contrast to the preserved 144,000 on earth.
a) Those in Heaven
These sung “a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts and the elders.” This group is heard, but not seen. They are already in heaven before the throne, another proof that the church is raptured before the Tribulation period begins. The singers in heaven are in sympathy with those on earth.
b) Those on Earth.
They are “the redeemed from the earth.” Only the redeemed can sing this song. These 144,000 sealed saints preserved on earth will appear after the church has gone. They are militant believers who have marched unscathed through every form of danger.
Not many have walked through the flood and the fire as God’s untouchables. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did. So did Daniel in the lions’ den. These 144,000 faithfully preached the gospel at a time when even to name the name of Christ could mean death. They have been true witnesses to Jehovah in history’s most terrible era.
4. THEY ARE AN EXEMPLARY COMPANY (14:4-5)
“These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.”
At times God seems to get proud of His people! He loves lives that follow Him wholly, and those whom He is not ashamed to call them brethren. This group is exemplary in ways:
a) Their Conversion
“These were redeemed from among men” (14:4). Faith in Christ made the difference, and resulted in “having his name, and the name of his Father, written on their foreheads” (14:1). They were born again.
b) Their Conduct
“…not defiled with women, for they are virgins” (14:4). Here is moral purity in a corrupt world. Elsewhere with the man of sin enthroned, lust will be applauded. This company sets itself apart from all that is filthy and immoral. These are those who have kept their marriage vows. Misuse of sex has always been one of man’s great problems, infidelity and immorality one of man’s greatest temptations.
c) Their Consecration
“These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (14:4). Their reward for such conduct while on earth will be to accompany Him as His constant companions in heaven. Like Caleb, their testimony is that they wholly follow the Lord. They are obedient and available.
c) Their Calling
“These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.” Israel kept the annual Feast of First Fruits. Each year the farmer went into his fields and cut one sheaf which was then presented to God as the “first fruits.” It was not the whole harvest, but was a token of what was coming.
This company make up the firstfruits of those who throughout the Tribulation have believed God and trusted Christ. Thus the 144,000 are the first of a great spiritual harvest which will come from Israel. All believing Israelites living at the end of the Tribulation will enter the millennial kingdom.
d) Their Conversation
“And in their mouth was found no deceit.” They tell the truth. The truth spoken by this company is in contrast to the awful lie of the Beast. Lying is part of man’s nature when he follows Satan, the “father of lies.” One characteristic of an obedient Christian is that he tells the truth, because he follows One who is the “Truth.”
e) Their Character
“They are without fault before the throne of God” (14:5). What a challenge! Not that they are perfect, for they were also once lost sinners who had to be redeemed and born again. Like Paul they could say, “You know how holily and justly and unblamably we behaved ourselves among you that believe.” As Jude 24 says, “Unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present your faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.” These saints of another age are a pattern for us today, when evil is at liberty.
GOD’S MESSAGES TO MANKIND
After the momentary glimpse of the coming triumph of God’s government on earth, taking the scene to the close of the Tribulation and the entrance to the millennial kingdom (14:1-5), the action returns to the Tribulation period.
Chapter 14 is like a moment in the midst of bitter warfare. The troops reach the summit after heavy fighting, and from that summit they survey the valley lying before them, before they dash down into the forests which cover the scene of the great battle which they are about to undertake. Soldiers might see a wood to be passed, a stream to be crossed, a village to be captured. So in this chapter Mount Zion is across the valley. But down in the valley is Babylon the great, and the army of the Antichrist. It is an enormous battle. Some of God’s army will fall in battle, but their blessedness is foreseen. Finally, the hand-to-hand struggle of Armageddon at the very gates of Mount Zion is seen as a triumph for the forces of the Lord of Hosts.
Three angels now appear, commissioned with messages for mankind.
1. THE DECLARATION OF THE MESSAGE (14:6-7)
This flying angel is the first of six angels appearing in the remaining part of the chapter. The declaration of the “everlasting gospel” is God’s last call to the Gentiles. Its message is designed for the awful hour of the Beast’s triumph, but its essence is a living faith in a living God.
a) Its Nature
“Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth – to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people.” (14:6).
What is this “everlasting gospel”? There is only one gospel; it never changes its nature. It is always based on Christ’s work and man’s response, although different aspects may be emphasised. John the Baptist preached with the coming of the King in mind, and we say he preached the gospel of the Kingdom. Our gospel is the same as John’s. We too denounce sin, preach repentance, and proclaim, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Our emphasis today, however, is not the coming of the King, but the great fact of God’s grace reaching out to the “whosoever will.” Accordingly we say we preach the gospel of the grace of God.
To those who live during the church age it is emphasised that they need to receive Christ as Saviour so they can become part of the body of Christ and be prepared for heaven. To those living during the tribulation it is emphasized that the King is coming and they need to be prepared to enter the kingdom.
b) Its News
“Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgement is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (14:7).
The content of this “everlasting gospel” is seen in verse 7. It is the Creator’s claims on man, together with His warning of coming judgement. Its essence is Fear God! Glorify God! Worship God! The Beast is saying to the world, Fear me! Glorify me! Worship me!
But how can such a message of judgement be “good news”? When Jonah preached the gospel to Nineveh, it was a message of judgement. “Yet forty days….” Yet it was also good news, as it resulted in averted judgement. This gospel involves:
(i) Conviction. “Fear God.” Man lost his fear of God through sin. This is a word that brings conviction, and reminds men that they are to face the reality of a God who is acting in judgement on the earth. It is not that God wants us to be afraid of Him. He just wants us to have a reverential trust that results in giving glory to Him. It acknowledges Him as Creator, Life-Giver and Sustainer of the world.
(ii) Conversion. “Give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come” (14:7). C. S. Lewis before he was converted, had trouble with the demand by Christians that they “Praise the Lord.” What kind of a person need his character bolstered by continuous praise? After conversion he saw how wrong he was. When we say we admire a picture, we mean that admiration is the correct response to a great work of art. Failure to admire shows our own deficiencies. The appropriate response to God is to praise Him.
(iii) Consecration. The angel cried, “Worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (14:7). Worship is the highest, holiest and happiest function of a rational, complete human being. It is the overflow of a heart filled with love, wonder, and praise for God. Men worship the Beast because of his apparent power. But real power creates, as did Christ.
2. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE METROPOLIS (14:8)
“And another angel followed, saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”
A second angelic messenger now announces the fall of the city Babylon. Babylon is both a city and a system. The city, about 120 km from Baghdad, has little to show for itself today, although it may well have a startling future. But the system is another story altogether. It really represents “the world” it all its political, religious, and commercial entirety.
The picture of drunkenness is most apt, as she stands accused of making the nations drunk with her heady sensual wine of the world. In more modern times mass hysteria, or drunkenness has permitted mobs to give themselves to such men as Hitler and Stalin. It will not be difficult to submit to the even more powerful figure of the Beast.
a) Its Beginning
This is the first mention of Babylon in the Revelation, but not the last. The city originated in the desire of Nimrod to found a world empire. He commenced it by building Babel (lit. “confusion”) or Babylon (Gen 10:10). It stands for man’s pride and arrogance.
b) Its Ending
“Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city.” The one brief statement of this second proclamation anticipates the complete collapse, in chapters 17 and 18, of the political, religious, and economic system of Babylon and the Beast. It is a warning for those alive on the earth at that time. A dire choice, the subject of the third proclamation, will lie before them. This second proclamation puts things into perspective for them and thus helps them decide.
3. THE DESTINY OF MANKIND (14:9-12)
The third messenger announces the doom of those who worship the Antichrist and his image, receiving his mark on their forehead. Worship the Beast, or worship the Lamb! That is the stark choice before mankind. It is against this background that this angel brings his warning that to take the mark of the Beast is to elect to share his doom. Equally, those who refuse his mark and remain true to God are the subjects of rich promises.
a) Those Who Follow The Beast (14:9-11)
“Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand” (14:9). What an awesome picture of God’s judgement! It begins in time, and stretches out into the forever and forever of eternity.
(i) It Is Undiluted. “…he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (14:10).
God’s wrath and judgement on those who take this step are described in most dramatic terms as wine that is unmixed, that is, untempered by God’s mercy. The message is urgent and blunt. It depicts the horrors of hell with a fullness of detail rare in the Bible. There will be no hope for those who worship the Beast, or receive his mark.
The same Scripture which assures all Christians of the love of God and the grace of God as extended to those who trust in Christ is unequivocal in its statements of judgement on the wicked. The word for hell (gehenna) occurs 12 times in the NT. 11 of these come from the lips of the Lord Jesus.
Some say that hell is to miss heaven. The Bible presents the picture of a lake of fire where those who are lost will be “tormented day and night forever and ever.”
(ii) It Is Unending. “And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever” (14:11). “Forever and forever” is the strongest possible Greek expression to express duration. The eternal punishment of the lost is a biblical doctrine. What a contrast to “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” This expression refers to:
• The eternal existence of God (4:9; 5:14; 10:6; 15:7)
• The eternal glory of the Lamb (5:13)
• The eternal reign of believers (22:5)
• The eternal doom of the devil (20:10)
• The eternal torment of the lost (14:11)
(iii) It Is Unparalleled. “They have no rest day or night” (14:11). They find it impossible to rest, for their days become one long horror of anguish, and their nights become black nightmares of torment. After that – eternity. What Christ offered they have refused.
b) Those Who Follow The Lord (14:12-13)
Against the background of the Beast-worship there are “the saints…those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (14:12). The authority of the Word, and their affection for God’s Son dominate their lives, and this at a time when everything of God and of Christ is banned by the Beast. Three things are said of them:
(i) They Will Be Resisted. “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth” (14:13). Except for the 144,000, those who defy the Beast can expect death in a thousand fiendish ways. But they die in the Lord,” and their death is instantly transformed into blessing.
These words are often used by us today, and are true. However, the words “from henceforth,” give them a special significance for saints of another day. These martyrs have lived and testified in times of unparalleled persecution, and many will lay down their lives rather than worship the Beast.
(ii) They Will Rest. “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors.” From the pains and labours of the Tribulation, they have rest. Beast-worshippers will never rest again. But those who give Christ His place, will rest both now and forever.
(iii) They Will Be Recognized. “and their works follow them.” Their troubles will be over, as they enter into reward on the banks of the crystal sea. This strong encouragement to those who refuse the mark of the Beast promises that “their works follow them.” Their position in the kingdom will be a direct result of their labours. What a wonderful investment – activities which follow us into eternity. Faithfulness to the Saviour will earn eternal dividends, just as He said, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Mat 6:20).
GOD’S AWESOME HARVEST
This section give us a preview of the Battle of Armageddon. Actually Armageddon is a campaign composed of several battles, and we will learn more about it in chapters 16 and 19. The battle referred to here is the last battle of the campaign which culminates in the return of Jesus Christ from heaven to defeat the armies of the kings of the earth and of the Beast. These verses are a prophetic preview of what is to come.
In the OT, harvest and vintage preceded the Feast of Tabernacles, that great annual feast of joy. It is the same here. The golden age of the millennium is still to come, but first the ripened harvest must be reaped, and the vintage trodden out. Both are scenes of judgement, and the double picture presented in this passage depicts the awful harvests that will be reaped as the Lord comes back to claim His rightful place on earth.
1. THE HARVEST OF GRAIN (14:14-16)
The Lord’s parable of the wheat and tares helps us understand this harvest. The Lord warned that Satan sows his tares among the wheat, and both wheat and tares grow together toward the harvest. At first, Satan’s tares are so like the wheat that the difference is hard to detect. But no longer! The tares stand now in stark contrast to the golden grain of the wheat, and the Lord moves to separate the one from the other forever.
a) The Reaper of the Harvest
“Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle” (14:14).
(i) His Identity. This is the Lord Himself fulfilling the prophecy of Luke 21:27, “Then shall they se the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” It is the last time we read of Him as the Son of Man. The first time in the New Testament was in Mat 8:20, “The foxes have holes…but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.” That referred to His first advent. His second advent is here in view, and His head now wears a golden crown. Then His poverty and grief were in view; now it is His power and glory.
(ii) His Glory. In Mat 24:30 Jesus said He would be seen coming on the clouds of heaven, executing judgement over the earth. Clouds are frequently associated with the Lord in both Old Testament and NT. It was in the cloud of Shekinah glory in which the Lord dwelt among and led His people in the wilderness. It covered the Tabernacle and the temple when they were dedicated, and it later departed from the temple in Ezekiel’s day. In the New Testament that same glory shone around the shepherds watching over their flocks in the fields, and was visible on the mountain of transfiguration. Later it received Him out of the sight of the disciples as He ascended. Now, John says, at the end of the tribulation period He will come with clouds.
b) The Ripeness of the Harvest
“And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe” (14:15).
(i) God’s Patience. “The time has come…for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” The verb form “ripe” has a bad connotation, and means “to become dry or withered” as when crops is overripe and rotting. Judgement is long overdue. Only God’s patience can account for the delay.
(ii) God’s Purging. The tares were not merely weeds, they hindered the growth of the wheat and were poisonous if eaten. That is why the harvest had to be purged from them. In His parable the Lord explained that the harvest will take place at the end of the age and will be in two stages. First the weeds will be gathered into bundles, and then later they will be flung into the flames. The great purging and separation of the wheat from the tares is here described.
2. THE HARVEST OF GRAPES (14:17-20)
This is the second of two harvests. The first has to has to do with Christendom – or what is left of it, for the sphere of the harvest is religious. It has to do with the final separation of the false from the true. The vintage has more to do with the world. It pictures the Lord stepping down into the arena of Armageddon to trample down the Beast, and all those gathered to his standards in this final conflict of the age.
a) The Judgement is Timely
“Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe. So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God” (14:18-19).
This, with its treading of grapes, is a vivid picture of judgement. Isaiah foresaw this and wrote, “Who is this who comes from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? Why is your apparel red, and your garments like one who treads in the winepress? I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me. For I have trodden them in my anger, and trampled them in my fury; their blood is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my robes” (Is 63:1-3). The grapes are ripe at last. The time has come.
b) The Judgement is Terrible
“And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs” (14:20).
(i) The Destruction. What a scene! The gathered grapes are trodden. A literal winepress was hewn out of rock and consisted of two vats, an upper and a lower. Grapes were trodden in the upper, and juice flowed to the lower. Outside the city where He was crucified, down in the valley of Jehoshaphat, the valley of judgement, the Lord will complete the trampling down of His foes. That is Isaiah’s picture in 63:1-6, “Why is your apparel red, and your garments like one who treads in the winepress?” He is prophesying vast destruction of human life, a slaughter beyond anything the world has known. Also Rev 19:15, Christ will tread “the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.”
That slaughter begins at Armageddon and continues on to the end of the judgement of the living nations spoken of in Matthew 25:31-46.
(ii) The Distance. “…one thousand six hundred furlongs. From Dan to Beersheba is sixteen hundred furlongs, or about 200 miles. Flowing from Armageddon, a deep crimson tide of human blood is seen. The whole land of Israel has become an armed camp. The city seems to be encircled. These world’s armies have gathered for different reasons, but have now one common purpose; to wipe out Jerusalem and her people, and resist the coming of the King.
GETTING READY FOR JUDGEMENT
It’s 6 a.m. on Saturday, and Professor Kato knows he must act fast. The local police arrived within minutes to transport him with sirens howling and red lights flashing, to the Meteorological Agency in Tokyo. The other 5 members of the Earthquake Assessment Committee have already arrived and are examining seismograph data, to inform the Prime Minister of the major quake about to strike the city.
The bullet express trains must be stopped, freeways and factories shut down, petrol and electricity supplies made safe, and the public warned. Thousands of members of the Civil-Defence Forces and volunteer relief workers are activated in response to the 7.2 quake about to devastate Tokyo.
Actually, all this activity for Professor Kato was a dress-rehearsal that takes place in Tokyo each Sept. 1, the anniversary of 1923’s Great Kanto Earthquake, a 7.9 magnitude quake, that claimed more than 140,000 lives and reduced the capital to burned-out rubble. Scientists are desperately seeking for a system that could give a 24-hour warning of a big earthquake.
We have been forewarned of a potentially far more catastrophic event
for which WE must prepare: Judgment Day! The Final Judgment of EVERY SOUL
that has ever lived which will take place upon the return of the Lord Jesus Christ
(Acts 17:30-31). We must be ready! As no one can predict earthquakes, so no one
can foretell the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Prepare for his coming – live in a state of readiness. ONLY the faithful child of God is TRULY prepared!
* * *
This chapter, the shortest in Revelation, introduces us to the most fearful section of the book. The events presented tell of the final wrath of the Tribulation period, and the consummation of events leading up to the second coming of Christ.
Three main sets of judgements are seen in Revelation, and are presented in chronological order. First, there are the seven seals of chapter 6. Out of the seventh seal came the seven trumpets of chapters 8 and 9, and out of the seventh trumpet come the seven bowls of God’s wrath. With the blowing of this trumpet (11:15-19), the temple of God is opened in heaven and becomes the background for the outpouring of these seven bowls which bring the Tribulation period to its close. They are poured out in quick succession, and conclude the period ends with the return of Christ to earth, and the overthrow of the Antichrist and the false prophet.
We remember that the seal judgements are mainly man-made, consisting of problems and disasters which man is allowed to bring on himself. The trumpets are mainly satanic in origin. The bowls are different. They are filled full with God’s wrath, and are thus even more awesome than anything that has gone before.
1. THE PERIOD OF WAITING (15:1-4)
God is never in a hurry to proceed. Things always move according to His timetable, not man’s. With calm majestic poise He invites us to:
a) Look At The Scene (15:1-2)
“Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete” (15:1).
This is the third “sign” in the book. The previous signs in chapter 12 have presented the forces shaping history over the centuries. Firstly, the sun-clothed woman (12:1) symbolised the nation of Israel through whom Christ would come. Then the dragon (12:3) symbolised God’s implacable enemy, anxious to destroy Christ and the nation through whom He came.
Over the years God has inflicted many judgements on the world: the Flood, Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Nineveh, AD 70, etc. This, however, will be the final and most awesome revelation of His wrath, by now “filled up” and ready to overflow.
(i) The Fiery Sea. “And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire” (15:2). What a sight! Shimmering in the light streaming out from the throne of God, with currents of fire glowing in its crystal depths, the sea of glass. This is the same sea already seen in 4:6, “like unto crystal,” which reflects God’s holiness. Here it is mingled with fire, speaking of His judgements..
(ii) The Faithful Saints. John saw a glorious throng of “them that had gotten the victory over the Beast” standing on the sea (15:2). It is made up of those who have triumphed over the Beast and all he stands for. They are not church saints, but those who lived and died during the Tribulation period. This the same company described in chapter 12:11 as those “who loved their lives not unto death.” They were martyred, and killed by the Beast of Rev 13:1-10.
How could they be victorious when they were killed by the Antichrist? Conquering consists of resisting the evil or temptation, persecution, hostility, etc, and merely remaining faithful. Death at the hands of a murderous dictator is only defeat as man looks at it. People living during the Great Tribulation will think the Beast is victorious, but in reality he will be sending them out into eternity to be with their Lord. If a man does not incur blessings in this life, he considers it defeat. He does not realise that what man gains in this life is inconsequential compared to what he gains in the life to come. That is exactly what the Lord said, “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mk 8:36).
b) Listen To The Song (15:3-4)
“They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (15:3-4).
“The song of Moses” celebrates the power of redemption. “The song of the Lamb” celebrates the person of the Redeemer. The song of Moses was the first song in Scripture, the song of the Lamb is the last. The song of Moses was sung at the Red Sea; the song of the Lamb is sung at the Crystal Sea. The song of Moses told how God brought His people out; the song of the Lamb tells how He brought them in. Both songs speak of redemption from sin made possible by the blood of the Lamb.
The great deliverance wrought by Moses forms the pattern for the greater deliverance wrought by the Lamb. The Israelites had a marvellous and miraculous deliverance, and lifted their hearts in gratitude to God. That parallels the response of these Tribulation saints standing before the throne of God, realising that they are out of the clutches of the Antichrist and Satan. Their hearts are filled with joy at this deliverance.
The song is in two parts;
(i) What They Will Sing. “Great and marvellous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints!” (15:3). This is heaven’s version of “How great Thou art!” The inhabitants of earth have marvelled at Beast and his wonders, but here are real wonders, “great and marvellous.”
(ii) Why They Will Sing. “Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?” (15:4). This rhetorical question invites the answer, “No one.” Three reasons are given for this universal acclamation, each introduced by “for.”
Because of the majestic deity. They say, “For thou only art holy.” This is the absolute uniqueness of deity shown in Christ. The Beast and False Prophet have been shown to be counterfeits. Hence the word “only” is important.
Because of the magnificent victory of God. They say, “For all nations come and worship before Thee.” The victors recognize that they are but the forerunners of a far wider company. In Tribulation days, few gave Christ His place. Now, with His universal exaltation, all nations shall come and worship before Him. This is the theme of prophecy.
Because of the manifest vengeance of God. They say, “for thy judgements are made manifest.” These are literally “righteous judgements.” They refer to divine actions taken through the Tribulation period to purge the earth of the satanic usurper and his earthly puppets. Men will see at this point that God has acted in perfect righteousness in these acts of judgement.
2. THE PLACE OF WORSHIP (15:5-8)
We are now taken to God’s sanctuary, the Holy of Holies in the heavens, and given a awesome description of divine splendour. Three things are associated with this central place of worship in the universe:
a) The Messengers Of Wrath (15:5-6).
“And after that I looked, and behold, the temple of the Tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened: and the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles.”
John sees the curtain parted and “seven angels” coming out from the sanctuary “having the seven plagues.” They come out from God’s presence to face a world that has reached the climax of wickedness. The angels are characterized by:
(i) Divine Righteousness. They are “clothed in pure and white linen.” The linen is pure, and bright, or glistening, reflecting the “righteous judgements” of God (15:4). What they are about to do is terrible, but absolutely right. Linen here, as in chapter 19, denotes righteousness in action.
(ii) Divine Restraints. They have “their breasts girded with golden girdles.” The golden girdle round the breasts suggest urgent priestly service not in blessing but in judgement. The dress of the High Priest in Revelation 1 was similar – a long dress and golden girdle encircling his breasts.
(iii) Divine Resolve. “Having the seven plagues.” The scene is symbolic of what is about to happen, as angels bearing judgement come out of the sanctuary. Coming from the sanctuary, these judgements are expressive of the character and holiness of God.
b) The Mediators Of Wrath (15:7)
“Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever.” Having emerged from the innermost shrine, the seven angels receive their public commissioning from the throne, and are given bowls brimmed full with judgement.
c) The Manifestation of Wrath (15:8)
“The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.”
(i) God’s Glory. The temple “was filled with smoke,” the visible manifestation of “the glory of God and his power.” The awesome Shekinah fire resided within the Holy of Holies in Israel’s temple. Once a year, a priest was permitted to enter there carrying a bowl of blood in his hands. Since Calvary, the way into the holiest in heaven has been opened to all, because the blood of Christ has blazed a highway to the heart of God.
Now, for a brief spell, that royal road is barred, as God’s wrath, once poured out upon His Son on man’s behalf, is to be poured out again on a world that crucified the Lamb, and now has crowned its rebellions with the worship of the Beast.
(ii) God’s Grace. “No man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled.” No intercession is allowed in the period of the bowl judgements. What should have been a scene of worship and mediation is now a scene of consuming wrath. Grace is withdrawn, and prayer unanswered.
A FINAL WORD
When does God act in anger and judgement? 2 Peter 3 reminds us of the dangers of ignoring God’s warning of judgement.
a) When His Love Is Laughed At
“Be not deceived, God is not mocked, whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap” (Gal 6:7).
b) When His Reproof Is Rejected
“He, that being often reproved hardens his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Prov 29:1).
c) When His Patience Is Presumed Upon
“Boast not thyself of tomorrow for you know not what a day may bring forth” (Prov 27:1).
BOWLS OF WRATH
Previous chapters in Revelation have described a world ruined by man and ruled by Satan. Up to this point God has been standing back, watching as humanity reaps its own harvest of tragedy and terror, as seen in the seals of chapter 6. Also, in the trumpet judgements of chapters 8 and 9, as Satan is allowed to invade the earth, God again stands back, once more offering rebellious and sinful mankind the opportunity to turn to Him in repentance.
Now, enough is enough, and God is about to intervene directly. His judgement is symbolised in this chapter by pouring out of seven “bowls,” one after another, on mankind. The picture of “bowls” is taken from the Old Testament where saucer-shaped golden bowls were used in the pouring out of the drink-offering over sacrificial victims (Gen 35:14; Exod 29:40; Lev 23:13). Earth is pictured as a victim ready for the sacrifice, and bowl after bowl is emptied over it.
A certain similarity exists between the “bowl judgements” of this chapter and the “trumpet judgements” of chapters 8 and 9. In both…
• the first in the series deals with the earth
• the second affects the sea
• the third affects the rivers and springs
• the fourth affects the sun
• the fifth involves darkness
• the sixth affects the Euphrates river
• the seventh involves lightening, thunders, and earthquakes.
However, there are many differences, and the two series of judgements are not the same. The bowl judgements follow the trumpet judgements and proceed out of and constitute the seventh trumpet. They form the climax of God’s dealings with a blasphemous earth, and lead up to the Christ’s return. Previous judgements were restricted to only part of the earth. These bowl judgements affect all of earth.
Later in the chapter we have a preview of World War III, and the Battle of Armageddon. This involves nations across the globe, and results in the greatest carnage the world has ever seen. Few chapters in the Bible are as solemn as this, as God executes His final act of cleansing prior to the return of His King.
1. THE JUDGEMENT COMMANDED (16:1)
“Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth.”
This fearsome passage opens like a hot, humid summer’s day. An oppressive stillness hangs in the air. Storm clouds are gathering, and rumblings of approaching thunder can be clearly heard. The heat is oppressive. As we enter the chapter, the pent-up storm breaks in its fury, and crashes from verse to verse, as the seven bowls of God’s anger are poured out at the close of the tribulation period. Mercifully, it will be short, and when it is finished it will leave bright sunny skies for 1000 years.
a) God Speaks
“Then I heard a loud voice.” At other times angels have given announcements, but not here. The voice now heard is that of God Himself, whose patience has lasted throughout the centuries.
b) God Sends
“Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth.” Much that follows reminds of the plagues called down by Moses on Egypt – boils, water turned to blood, darkness, frogs, thunder, hail. Hence, what follows is likely literal. The judgement angels, standing in solemn line with the bowls in their hands, are now issued the word of command, and go forward on their errands of doom.
2. THE JUDGEMENT COMMENCED (16:2-9)
“ So the first went and poured out his bowl upon the earth.” Each angel in turn peels off from the descending formation to pour out his bowl.
a) The First Bowl: Cancer of the Skin (16:2)
“A foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.”
(i) The Sores. Perhaps these are like Kaposi’s Sarcoma tumours. Mankind had been well warned (14:11) of the ceaseless torment they would endure if they accepted the slave-brand of the Beast. Now they are plagued by great, festering, painful sores. This is the same word as for “boils” in the Septuagint inflicted as the sixth plague on Egypt.
(ii) The Sufferers. “Upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.” The plague is restricted to those who worship the Beast. As in Egypt, when Israel was spared from the plagues, so true believers will be spared. Here the bowl is poured out on the land where men live.
(iii) The Significance. A “sore” is often evidence of an inward corruption. This symbolises all that men are in their rebellion against God. History shows that immorality always accompanies idolatry, as moral standards are adjusted. Hence in this physical malady there is an expression of inward moral degeneration as men indulge their lusts to the full.
b) The Second Bowl: Corruption of the Sea (16:3)
“Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died.”
(i) The Miracle. Just how the sea turns to blood is not explained. It is similar to the first Egyptian plague in Exodus 7 which killed all fish in the Nile. The sea, a reservoir of life, become a vast reservoir of death. Here is an ecological disaster of gigantic proportions. Billions of sea creatures meet sudden death, and their decomposing bodies strewn on all the beaches of earth.
(ii) The Meaning. “Blood as of a dead man.” There is deep significance attached to blood in the Bible. It speaks of life, “The life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev 17:11). It carries oxygen and is life-giving. Now, that which has always symbolised life, is a symbol of death. It congeals, and becomes a stinking mass of chemicals that cannot support life.
c) The Third Bowl: Contamination of Springs (16:4-7)
The description of this next judgement is longer.
(i) Its Reality. “Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water; and they became blood” (16:4). An ecological disaster in the sea is bad, but here the fresh water supplies of rivers, lakes, springs, and streams are affected. We do not know the exact nature of this, but men suddenly find that the water essential for life is undrinkable. God is judging the earth, and the mark of that judgement is “blood.” The Lord’s first miracle was to turn water into wine, bringing joy. Now He turns water into blood, as a sign of judgement.
Under the third trumpet a third part of earth’s water supplies were affected by the fallen star which had blazed a path through the atmosphere (8:10-11). Here all of earth’s water supplies are affected.
(ii) Its Righteousness. “You art righteous, O Lord…for it is their just due” (16:5). The punishment fits the crime. The Beast and his followers who shed the blood of the martyrs in rivers, are now given blood to drink as they shed their own blood through fighting one another. The forces of evil do not present a united front. There are hatreds and divisions among its members.
(iii) Its Response. “And I head another from the altar saying, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgements” (16:7). The altar here is the brazen altar, the altar of consuming judgement. It may be relevant that the altar is connected with the prayers of the saints (8:3), which introduced the judgements of God.
d) The Fourth Bowl: Consumption by the Sun (16:8-9)
“Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.”
(i) A Great Heat. “And men were scorched with great heat.” The consistency of the sun in rising and setting every day, producing light and heat for mankind, affords a great sense of security to mankind. Normally it pours out a continuous stream of high-energy particles that race toward the earth at a speed of 3 million mph. The earth is surrounded by a field of radiation, which shields it from full exposure to this deadly assault. Should anything happen to this shield, the earth would be bombarded by these dangerous particles. The point is that it would be so easy for God to turn the temperature up and cause such a solar disaster. This global warning is more than a mere summer heat wave. Polar ice caps will melt and be accompanied by world-wide flooding.
This is one of those “signs of the sun” about which the Lord spoke, “There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken” (Lk 21:25,26).
(ii) A Great Hardness. “And they blasphemed the name of God, and they did not repent and give Him glory .” These are the Beast-worshippers, who hate and blame God for what is happening. They defy and deny Him, as they readily worship the Beast. As their suffering increases, so does their hardness of heart.
(iii) A Great Hand. “God, which has power over these plagues.” It was important to John that God was in control. Also to us. If we believe that God made the sun, then he can darken it at will. If He made the waters, He can turn them into blood. He is God, and can do what He pleases.
Nothing God does is arbitrary. It all serves His greater purpose of preparing and purging the earth in preparation for the greatest event the world will ever see; the return and enthronement of the King of Kings.
DARKNESS, DEMONS, AND DESTRUCTION
These climactic verses describing the last three bowls of God’s wrath bring before us His final and most severe judgements on earth prior to the actual return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Previous judgements, although severe, affected only part of the world population. Now the whole world is affected. Man’s rejection of God’s call and claims on his life in the face of such overwhelming evidence, confirms that even the Lake of Fire will not produce repentance on the part of those who have hardened their hearts against God.
1. THE DARKNESS (16:10-11)
“And the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the Beast; and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.”
a) The Darkness
“His kingdom became full of darkness” (16:10). Darkness can be almost palpable and frightening, as in the Cango caves. Here a terrible physical darkness settles on the kingdom of the Beast. Like the plague of darkness on Egypt, it is centred on a specific geographic area outside of which conditions seem to be normal.
Years earlier Joel foretold this: “The day of the Lord cometh… a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness” (Joel 2:1-2). In His Olivet discourse the Lord warned that the sun would be darkened, and the moon would withhold her light (Mat 24:29).
Since men have chosen the powers of darkness as their spiritual guided and scorned the Light of the World, God gives them what they want – thick darkness, a darkness like that of Egypt, which could be felt. It is a foretaste of the “blackness of darkness for ever” (Jude 13).
Man may have moral, intellectual, or educational light, and event he light of his conscience. But he is still spiritually in the dark unless his eyes have been opened by the Spirit of God. Judas went out from the presence of the Light of the world into the darkness of night. Thos without Christ chose to live in the dark, and will die in the dark, and spend eternity in what the Bible calls “outer darkness.”
b) The Discomfort
“They gnawed their tongues because of the pain” (16:10). The crescendo of hurt brings a crescendo of hate. In that awesome darkness men will writhe, gnawing their tongues for the pains of the terrible sores that have erupted on their bodies, caused perhaps by the radiation from outer space.
The Antichrist promised light and pleasure. But those who bow at his feet will find his kingdom one of darkness instead of light, of pain instead of pleasure.
c) The Denial
“They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores and did not repent of their deeds” (16:11). When faced with God’s righteous judgement, they blaspheme by charging God with unrighteousness and vindictiveness. Repentance and giving God glory linked together. When men reject the Lord, it is not because of philosophy in the head, but sin in the heart. Here there is refusal to acknowledge the cause of their pain and repent from the “deeds.” This is the unpardonable sin – refusal to turn to God.
2. THE DEMONS (16:12-16)
This judgement leads up to the final war of Armageddon. Armies from all over the world begin to make their way to the Holy Land, chosen by God as the stage upon which this final drama of judgement is played out.
Three things happen as the armies begin their fateful march.
a) Earth’s Armies Are Delayed (16:12)
“And the sixth angel poured our his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.”
(i) A Great River. “The great river Euphrates.” This wide 1800 mile long river formed the eastern boundary of the Roman empire, and was a well-watched obstacle to invasion from the east. Now God opens the way for a mighty invasion of the Beast’s empire from the east. Babylon and all it stands for is about to be overthrown, but this obstacle must first be removed.
(ii) A Great Miracle. “Its water was dried up.” Just as He did at the Red Sea and Jordan river, God dries up this great river. Here history repeats itself, as Babylon previously fell when Cyrus and his armies marched over the dried-up Euphrates river into Babylon.
(iii) A Great Invasion. “…so that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.” Who are these kings? They are “from the rising of the sun,” i.e. from the Orient, India, China, Japan. It is not clear how a mere river could be a barrier to a modern well equipped determined army, but God supernaturally removes this river barrier to the physical invasion of the Beast’s empire. The invasion is part of God’s judgement on the Beast, whose authority will have spread over the world politically and commercially. This is viewed by nations with jealousy and apprehension, especially, perhaps, when he claims deity. Perhaps many will have fled to the east, to escape the Beast’s long arm.
b) Earth’s Armies Are Deluded (16:13-14)
John sees into the council chamber of the trinity of evil – the dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet, as they prepare for this final Satanic delusion of mankind before the millennial reign of Christ.
(i) God’s Permission (16:13). “And I saw three spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.” Frogs here are apt symbols of the evil. Many of these cold-blooded amphibians, belonging to two worlds, have poison under their skin, and can change colour at will. The frog-like demons now spewed out delude men, working miracles, inciting to war, and dangling dreams of victory before their kings. East rises against West; West against East; all against God. Perhaps the eastern nations think they can wrest the world empire from the Beast. Perhaps the Beast thinks the time is ripe for a final showdown with the East. God permits the nations to be deluded and converge on Armageddon.
(ii) God’s Purpose (16:14). “…to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.” All these Satanic activities and events lead up to, not the great day of Satan, or demons, but the “great day of God Almighty.” Thus God not only permits it; He purposefully plans it, and uses Satanic demons to accomplish His will.
(iii) God’s Promise. “Behold I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches and keeps his garments.” This promise is for those who are watching and waiting for their Lord, like a householder so sure of the arrival of a friend that he sits up throughout the night. Such is unwilling to lay aside his clothes lest the arrival of the friend catch him “naked” and unprepared. Constant watchfulness indicates true trust in his friend’s word. Christ thus encourages his waiting and watching saints to have confidence in His word. In the midst of huge pressures with a world-wide call to arms, temptation, and propaganda, they must stand aloof, undefiled, and constantly watchful.
c) Earth’s Armies Are Deployed (16:16).
“And they gathered them together to a place called in Hebrew Armageddon.”
“Armageddon” is a word that conjures up fear and visions of the world’s ultimate battle. What or where is it? Geographically Armageddon relates to the Mt of Megiddo located adjacent to Plain of Megiddo to the west, and the large plain of Esdraelon to the north. However, Armageddon here is not so much the scene of the battle, as the gathering centre of earth fighting forces. The word comes from “Har Megiddo.” The Hebrew “Har” means “mountain” (hence the “Mountain of Megiddo”) The root meaning of “Megiddo” is “gathering.” It is thus “the mountain of gathering,” and likely refers to the mountains around Jerusalem The whole scene is thus centred around Jerusalem.
Two important events occur when the sixth angel pours out his bowl. The first was the drying up of the Euphrates; the second will be the gathering of the armies of the world for Armageddon, the last great battle. These armies come together for various reasons: to destroy the Jewish nation and the last believer, to settle their own animosities, to decide who will control the world, to fight against God. When it is over, there is nothing left to be said. In fact, there is nothing left.
This looks like the end for Israel. See Zech 14:13, “Behold the day comes… I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle…then shall the Lord go forth and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.” Israel’s only hope will be to look up. As they do so, the Lord Jesus will come to their rescue. When He comes “his foot shall land in that day upon the Mt of Olives…and the M. of Olives shall cleave in the midst…and there shall be a great valley” (Zech 14:1).
3. THE DESTRUCTION (16:17-21).
The seventh angel now steps forward with his bowl. John tell us that Babylon’s hour has finally come.
a) The Cry (16:17).
“And the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air; and a loud voice came out… from the throne, saying, It is done.”
The effect of this out-pouring of the bowl into the air likely affects the atmosphere surrounding the earth, and initiates a final apocalyptic storm that is the background for this seventh and final judgement.
The judgement is introduced by the voice of God Himself announcing “It is done” “It” here is the completion of divine purpose through the whole series of judgements. What a contrast to Christ’s cry at Calvary where all God’s judgement on sin was poured out on His only Son who loved and obeyed Him. At Armageddon God’s judgement is poured out on a world that rejects and hates Him. Both events are blood baths; both are the descent of wrath on sin; both are brought about by God’s bitterest foes who, despite themselves, work out, God’s perfect will. At Calvary there rang up to the gates of heaven a victorious cry, “It is finished!” At Armageddon there rings down to earth an answering cry from the temple gates in glory, “It is done!”
b) The Catastrophe (16:18).
“There was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.”
People on the San Andreas fault wait for the “Big One.” But this is the Big One, the most terrible earthquake of all time. San Andreas will never know an earthquake of this size. Earth convulses as the times of the Gentiles comes to an end.
The next two chapters describe the city of Babylon. What is it? It is likely a rebuilt ancient city, which becomes the final capital city of the Beast’s empire. Soon after being built, the city will be destroyed by a earthquake.
c) The City (16:19-21)
“And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.”
(i) The Cities. “the cities of the nations fell.” London, Paris, Rome, New York, Tokyo – all collapse with resulting death and devastation. Two great cities are mentioned. One is Jerusalem, which the Beast made his religious centre. This city is not destroyed but is “divided into three parts.”
The other is Babylon. This will be totally destroyed. May refer to spiritual Babylon – i.e. Rome, the centre of the future revived western empire. Or rebuilt Babylon on the Euphrates. Clearly Babylon is the special object of God’s judgement, expressed in 16:19.
(ii) The Cup. “the cup of wine of the fierceness of His wrath.” The fact that the judgement is an earthquake indicates that a literal city is in view, and that the judgement results in its physical destruction. The precise nature of “the cup” is revealed in chapter 17.
d) The Changes (16:20)
“Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.” Across the world great topographical changes take place. The movement of islands and mountains is carried to a violent conclusion as the wide-spread upheavals change the appearance of the whole earth. These terrors, foretold in Matt 24:22, will only terminate when Christ is eventually revealed from the opened heaven (19:11).
e) The Climax (16:21)
“And great hail out of heaven fell upon men, every hailstone about the weight of a talent… plague was exceeding great.”
The climaxing blow is a devastating blitz of great hailstones. The largest recorded hailstone on earth has been about 50 grams, about the size of a billiard ball. Here the hailstones weigh “a talent,” about 40 Kg, representing all a man could normally carry.
f) The Conclusion (16:21)
“Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail.” Man’s only response is bitterness and blasphemy. The earth’s population have been stricken with sores, burnt by the sun, plunged into darkness, shaken by earthquakes, their cities crashing around them, and now blitzed by hail, but they still blaspheme God. Repentance is not even mentioned now. All that can be heard is bitter abuse and blasphemy against God.
By the end of this chapter, God’s judgement is complete. The next event will be the awesome opening of the heavens and the coming again of Christ at the head of the armies of heaven (19:11).
BABYLON THE BEAUTIFUL
In 1885 Rider Haggard wrote She, a novel of a very beautiful woman called Ayesha. She was incredibly old, but centuries before had bathed in a mysterious fire that preserved her youthful beauty and gave her vast powers. She was beautiful, imperious, charming, and had a fund of knowledge gained over centuries, but also very evil. One day, to demonstrate to her visitors the power of the youth-preserving flames, Ayesha stepped into them. However, instead of preserving her youth and beauty the process was reversed. Her hair fell out, her skin shrivelled, her hand became like a claw, and her whole body became like a repulsive mummy. Suddenly she very old, ancient, and too hideous for words.
There is another woman, also so old that we can hardly count her years. She was born long ago, before David, before Abraham. She, too, is beautiful and cultured, but also evil, ambitious, and ruthless. She wants to rule the earth, and has attracted all kinds of lovers to bring them to her feet. Her hands drip with blood. Who is she? She is the woman in the chapter before us, described as “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (17:5). In this chapter her disguises are stripped away, her beauty drops off like a mask, and she stands exposed for what she is, a repulsive old woman, grown ancient in sin.
In our studies of Revelation we have nearly reached the end of the tribulation period prior to the actual coming of Christ and the battle of the ages described in Revelation 19. Before this takes place we have two chapters which describe the final judgement of God on Babylon, an ungodly political, religious, and commercial world federation of nations under the leadership of the last great world dictator. In chapter 17 we have the Babylonish system, both religious and political, symbolised as the Babylonian mother. In chapter 18 the Babylonish city is symbolised as the Babylonian monster.
The Background of Babylon
Archaeologists tell us that Babylon is the cradle of civilisation. The words Babel and Babylon (Babylon is the Greek word), are not of much interest today, and only conjure up the idea of an ancient city. But to the student of Scripture these words are vitally important. Babel was not only a city, but also a political ideal and a government.
In ancient days Satan made Babylon the capital of his evil operation. From this headquarters was started false religion, man’s attempt for self-government in defiance of the will of God, and city dwellings for commercial and social purposes contrary to the commandment of God to “be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” These great evils, which have damned the souls of millions by substituting counterfeit solutions to man’s natural problems that would ordinarily lead him to God, will all be destroyed at the end of the tribulation period. Chapter 17 describes the coming judgement of God on the religious system that has enslaved men in darkness for centuries.
No less than three chapters in the book of Revelation are devoted to the story of the career of this ancient Babylon, and her ultimate destruction and ruin. Two chief actors appear. John first saw a woman dressed in purple and scarlet. Then he saw a beast upon which she rides and whom she rules with an iron hand, until finally the beast itself turns upon the woman and utterly destroys and devours her.
How Babylon Started
To understand these Revelation passages about Babylon’s final doom, we must go back to the first mention of Babel in the Scriptures. In Genesis 10 and 11 we have a detailed account of the rise of that political system known as Babylon. After the Flood, Noah’s descendants, forgetting the lesson they should have learned, turned from God and moved to a region to the north of Palestine in the vicinity of the original Garden of Eden in the Euphrates region. It was called the land of Shinar (Gen 11:2), or Chaldea.
Nimrod, the leader of this great movement, built a city which became one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was 14 miles square, surrounded by a moat, and embracing almost 200 square miles. The wall around the city was 80 ft thick and 200 ft high. The city had 100 gates of iron and brass, and the river Euphrates ran through it. Central to the city was the famous temple of Belus, the Babylonian God.
At the same time Nimrod also built the Tower of Babel, saying: “Let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the Whole earth” (Gen 11:4). The name Babel means “The gate to God,” and this tower was to be a way to heaven, not by blood and death, but by the works of man’s hands. That was the spirit of Babylon. It was a denial of God’s way of salvation. God came down, called it “confusion,” and blasted the plans for a super-state, punishing the people by confusing their languages and scattering them.
Nimrod was the world’s first empire builder and the founder of great and lasting cities. He taught men to discard their fears of God. Upon his death he was deified and worshipped under various names. The religious systems of Egypt, Greece, and Phoenicia all stemmed from Babylon. The Babylonians taught that Nimrod reappeared as a posthumous son supernaturally born by his widow. The worship of Nimrod very quickly became the worship of the mother and the child, the mother being known as the Queen of Heaven.
Satan’s World Kingdom
Man, under Satan, has always sought to establish his own world kingdom. Nimrod sought a world with one language, one dictatorial leader, and one universal religion which denies the need for blood and sacrifice. It was a denial of God’s way to heaven, which was clearly seen in Gen 3:21, and involved sacrifice.
Nimrod was the first in a long line of those who tried to do this. Others who followed tried to do exactly the same. It happened again in Egypt where Pharaoh attempted to establish his superstate. Nebuchadnezzar made a similar attempt followed by Medo-Persia, Alexander, the Caesars, Constantine the Great with his union of church and state, Napoleon, and even Hitler. Today man’s dream is still a federation of nations without God that will bring a Utopia of peace of which men have dreamed since the days of Nimrod.
Thus Babylon in Scripture became synonymous with rebellion against God, and everything opposed to Him both politically and religiously. God’s programme calls for a
kingdom under the personal rule of Christ. Satan’s programme calls for a kingdom on earth under the rule of the Antichrist of whom Nimrod, was the first clear type in Scripture.
After the Rapture
After the church has gone, for a brief time Satan will rapidly attempt to fulfil his plans. He will produce his personal Antichrist, the false Christ of whom Nimrod was only a shadow, who will succeed in setting up a great super-federation of nations. The devil’s dream will seem to have come true with a world-wide state and a universal religion of works, until it suddenly ends in confusion when the Lord comes to destroy it by His appearing.
The long conflict which commenced at the dawn of history will come to an end and Christ will come.
* * * *
The chapter opens with a presentation of a wicked and beautiful woman described as “the mother of harlots.” In fact, the first six verses of the chapter reveal the most astounding scene, portraying through symbols two great forces, one religious (referred to at “the great harlot”), the other political (referred to as “the Beast”). Five things are said about this harlot and the religious system she represents.
1. HER UNIVERSAL POWER (17:1-2)
“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”
What a scene! The angels with their terrible bowls have just wreaked unimaginable havoc on earth. The dust and debris of the horror still fill the air. Then an angel, with his empty bowl, approaches John and explains the reasons for such horror.
It all began with religion and the craving of the scarlet woman for absolute power. To get that power she abandoned every principle. For this she courted kings and the masses. Her name is printed in bold capitals – BABYLON. Two things stand out concerning her:
a) She is Evil
John is invited to view the great harlot. The masses of men were quite prepared to accept what she had to offer so long as these did not conflict with their debauchery and sin. Men have no problem with religion as long as it does not interfere with their pleasure and sin.
b) She is Powerful
John sees her “sitting on many waters” and dealing with “the kings of the earth,” indicating her world-wide influence.
2. HER UNIQUE POSITION (17:3)
“So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.”
John saw the woman astride a scarlet beast like a queen enthroned. The scarlet beast represents a Gentile world empire headed up by an individual, the Beast, who embodies all its ambitions, and powers. This empire is administered by 10 subordinate kings. It is a blasphemous empire, antichrist in nature and opposed to God and all that is holy.
a) Its Colour – “Scarlet”
This was the colour of the great Dragon of 12:3. The colour cannot be missed. Both the empire and the religious system she supports will demand world attention. Its scarlet colour indicates its blood-thirsty nature.
b) Its Names – “full of the names of blasphemy”
This indicates that whatever names men have used against God are all found in the beast and all are insulting to deity.
c) Its Heads and Horns – “…seven heads and ten horns”
This identifies it as the first beast of 13:1-9 already shown to symbolise an empire as its head. The “seven heads and ten horns” was the characteristic feature of the dragon pictured moving through history (12:13), but this beast is Satan’s representative in the tribulation period. The “seven heads” are symbolic of satanic power in dictatorial world governments following each other in history. The administrative power of the final empire is seen in” the ten horns” symbolic of the ten rulers who will unitedly yield their kingdoms to the Beast (17:12-14).
Seated on the Beast, the woman is supported by it. Here is a religious system supported by a satanically energised political power.
3. HER UNLIMITED PROSPERITY (17:4a)
“The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup.”
The harlot’s wealth dazzles the kings and leaders who fall prey to her charms and makes them dance to her tune.
a) Her Dress – “…arrayed in purple and scarlet”
Clothing speaks of character This harlot proclaims her trade in her dress, her decoration, and her debauchery. Purple was confined in the Roman Empire to royalty. The scarlet colour similar to that of the Beast (17:3) is the blazing crimson that spoke of ostentatious splendour. She was claiming royalty with magnificence.
b) Her Decoration – “adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls”
Here is a dazzling array of gold and precious stones and pearls worn by the woman. The flaunting of wealth in this way has always been a sign of voluptuous and licentious debauchery.
c) Her Debauchery – “a golden cup”
She is seen plying her trade. “A golden cup” should lead to expectation of a satisfying drink – only the best should come in such an expensive container.
4. HER UNHOLY PASSIONS (17:4b-5)
“…full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication.” The word “abominations” is a synonym for idols in Scripture. It describes the corrupt principles she offers and the filthy practices that flow from idolatry.
On her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” The woman is described as being morally filthy.
5. HER UNTOLD PERSECUTIONS (17:6)
“I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marvelled with great amazement.”
Drunk with blood! John was astonished that the church could be drunk with the blood of the martyrs. Here is unparalleled persecution. The cry today is “be tolerant,” yet when opportunity and power is available, false Christianity will tolerate none who does not subscribe to its beliefs. Atrocities wreaked in God’s name by the church fill whole books of church history. Torquemada, the first Inquisitor General, was appointed to his office in 1483, and celebrated his promotion by burning alive some 2,000 prisoners of the Inquisition. Anyone could be suspect. He burned at the stake some 10,000 people, and his successors burned another 8,000. Some 200,000 were tortured in the torture chambers of the Inquisition..
“I marvelled with great amazement.” Why? Because John have been invited to see the judgement of the great whore, and all he sees is the magnificent vision of a beautiful and terrifying harlot. Or perhaps he wondered because for the first time he had a true picture of the nature of Babylon.
POWER, PASSION, AND PRIDE
In a late night experiment on April 26, 1986, two electrical engineers were conducting an unauthorized experiment in the control room of a nuclear power plant. They were trying to see how long a turbine would ‘free wheel’ when they took the power off it.
Taking the power off that kind of nuclear reactor is a difficult, dangerous thing to do, because these reactors are very unstable in their lower ranges. In order to get the reactor down to that kind of power, where they could perform their test, they had to manually override six separate computer-driven alarm systems. One by one the computers would sound and warn, “STOP! – DANGEROUS! – GO NO FURTHER!” And one by one, rather than shutting off the experiment, they shut off the alarms and kept going.
Then at 1:21AM, it finally happened – the No.4 reactor exploded! The result was Chernobyl, the largest industrial accident ever to occur in history. It led to nuclear fallout that was recorded all around the world.
The instructions and warnings in Scripture are just as clear! We ignore them at our peril.
The first six verses of the chapter introduced us to “Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots.” We saw she represented an age-old world religious system characterised by power, passion and pride. Outwardly attractive and seductive, she offers a cup which pretends to provide pleasure and satisfaction to all who drink it, but in actual fact is full of abominations and every kind of filthiness.
She was seen astride a scarlet coloured beast, representing the political power of the day. The rest of the chapter now gives details about the Beast, and tells of the ultimate and awful fate of the woman.
1. THE BEAST’S ADVENT (7:7-11)
This Beast, introduced to us in chapter 13, has now made his way to the heights of world dominion.
a) Whence the Beast Comes
“The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition” (17:8).
The Beast is killed, and before the eyes of the world comes back to life as a result of a satanic deception or a miracle. Satan sensationally duplicates Christ’s resurrection. We can imagine the sensation should Mao or Lenin arise from their mausoleums. After that his authority will be absolute.
We are told here who this beast really is, where he comes from, and how he destroys the great harlot:
(i) “The beast…was.” He has already appeared earlier before this midpoint in the Tribulation. At first he will be a normal human being who becomes a world figure by virtue of his genius, skill, and personality.
(ii) “…and is not.” At the very moment he reaches this pinnacle of power, the Beast receives a “wound to death” (13:3), and is killed.
(iii) “…and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit.” Before the eyes of the world he comes back to life as a result of a satanic deception or a miracle. Satan’s power is involved in this re-enactment of Christ’s resurrection.
(iv) “and go into perdition.” His final destiny is summarised – perdition.
b) Why the Beast Comes
“And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is” (17:8).
(i) Their Addresses. “They that dwell on the earth.” These are the Beast’s disciples who, entranced by his personality and ability, choose to side with him. He is the one for whom they have been waiting. It is a “conversion experience” in an evil sense.
(ii) Their Names. Their “names are not written in the Book of Life.” In the last analysis, this is all that matters.
(iii) Their Choices. They choose to be citizens of earth – not heaven. The Bible warns that the Antichrist will come to deceive the Christ-rejecting masses of mankind. Paul warned of this, “For this cause God shall send them a strong delusion . . . That they all might be dammed who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thes 2:10-11). When a person turns his back on the truth, he automatically embraces a lie. Those who reject the truth will be given a lie to embrace. We should be careful what we believe, and not collect our faith like furniture – comfortable, convenient, and conformed to taste.
c) Where The Beast Comes
“Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits” (17:9).
“The mind that has wisdom.” This word to the wise anticipates the complexity and difficulty of what follows. True wisdom always requires divine illumination.
We have already seen that the Beast had seven heads and ten horns (17:3). Now we are told that “the seven heads are seven mountains.” A “mountain” is a normal Scriptural metaphor for a kingdom. Hence these “seven heads” represent seven great kingdoms and their kings. The uniting link is that each supports the woman, who seems to be in control of the kings.
d) When The Beast Comes
“There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition” (17:10,11).
These verses summarise world history. We are told:
(i) “Five have fallen.” The five fallen empires look back in history from John’s time. They have come into prominence because of their links with Israel: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medeo-Persia, and Greece.
(ii) “One is.” The sixth empire is Rome.
(iii) “The other is not yet come.” This seventh is the final empire depicted in this chapter.
(iv) “The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.” Likely the seventh ruler is the Beast in his human form, the form he assumes when he first appears as the Beast out of the sea (13:1). The eighth ruler is the Beast in his superhuman form, the form he assumes when he reappears after his assassination, as the Beast out of the abyss. He comes out of the abyss, “and is going to perdition,” a fact which helps identify him as the man of sin, the son of perdition of 2 Thes 2.
2. THE BEAST’S ADVANCEMENT (17:12-18)
Earth’s kings, unable to resist this super-man, unanimously give their power to him.
a) The Beast’s Power
“The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast” (17:12).
“The ten horns.” At the final stage of world empire, ten nations join a confederacy represented by ten horns. These nations will be united in a ten-kingdom federation under the Beast. All differences will be submerged in an enthusiastic endorsement of the Beast as supreme head of the federation. The nations feel they are acting sovereignly and independently, as they rush to yield to the Beast and acknowledge the lordship of one who has apparently been raised from the dead. But it is all brought about by the will of the God they ignore.
c) The Beast’s Passion
“These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful” (17:14).
The Beast’s great passion is to make war with the Lamb and stamp out all testimony for Christ. The deluded leaders of the nations who accept his leadership will discover too late that they have made a fatal choice.
John skips the detail, and simply says “the Lamb shall overcome them.” This will be when He returns as “Lord of lords and King of kings.” To their shock, Christ does not return and conquer alone. His previously despised saints come with Him. They are “called” as to their salvation, and “chosen” as to their service, and “faithful” as to their stewardship.
c) The Beast’s Purpose
“Then he said to me, The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire” (17:15,16).
Having described the woman (17:1-7) and the Beast (17:8-14), John is now shown the judgement he was invited to witness in 17:1. The angel shows to John the world-wide support the harlot enjoyed before the sentence falls, by interpreting the “many waters” of 17:1. Men from every quarter gave her full support.
Then suddenly, at the time of her greatest triumph, she meets her doom. The ten kings and the Beast turn on the harlot and, with a stunning act of betrayal, destroy her. Former friends and lovers “eat her flesh,” and tear her limb from limb. They despoil, disgrace, and devour her, and when they have finished with her, nothing is left.
The woman and the system she represents are hated for three reasons:
(i) Practical Reasons. Because of her influence over “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues,” it makes sense for the kings of the earth to do away with her.
(ii) Providential Reasons. “For God has put it into their hearts to fulfil His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled” (17:17). Unknown to themselves, they are fulfilling God’s divine will. The most insolent, blasphemous and powerful coalition of nations ever brought together by godless wicked men is shown here to be a mere tool in the hands of God, to wreak His judgement on that which has provoked His wrath for centuries.
(iii) Political Reasons. “And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (17:18). They hate her because of her claimed right to rule the nations. Note then absence of cohesion in evil as it fights against itself. The Antichrist will permit the one-world church to apparently govern his actions during the first 3½ years, but in the middle of the Tribulation he will turn against it. He not only breaks his covenant with Israel, but also his relationship to the apostate church which helped him to power.