|Topical Bible Study||March 1954|
Know Your Bible—Part XV
The Revelation of Jesus Christ
REVELATION is the last book of the Bible. It is often called the Apocalypse, which is its title in the Greek language. It appears in the King James Translation as “The Revelation of Saint John the Divine,” meaning that it was written by the Apostle John. However, in the very opening sentence of the book, John describes what he is about to write as “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”—Rev. 1:1
Then the apostle adds, “which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.” The Greek expression here translated ‘signified’, literally means ‘told in signs’. In other words, the important lessons of this closing book of the Bible are set forth in sign language, or symbolisms.
Beginning with the fourth verse of the opening chapter, John addresses the “seven churches which are in Asia.” It is believed by church historians that John was at that time regarded as an important spiritual guide in these churches. However, just as other writings of the various apostles, while addressed in the first instances to certain churches, or perhaps to individuals, have applied to the church as a whole throughout the entire Gospel Age, so it is with the Book of Revelation.
It is reasonable to believe, we think, that the seven churches in Asia, to which John addresses the book, are representative, or symbolic, of the church during seven epochs of its development. However, while there is certain descriptive matter applying to each of these churches which would not apply to the others, God’s promises of his care over his people, and of their future reward, if faithful, which are made to each church, are certainly applicable to all.
The seven “churches” of Asia Minor designated as the original recipients of this wonderful message of Revelation, are those at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. In John’s day there was a group or congregation of believers in each of these places; but in the Lord’s providence he used the circumstances associated with each of them as the basis for lessons to the church of the entire Gospel Age.
As we have noted, John introduced the subject matter of the book as the revelation of Jesus Christ, and in the opening chapter considerable information is given concerning Jesus, whose revelation John presents. He is presented as the “faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth.”—Rev. 1:5
Jesus, after his resurrection, announced, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matt. 28:18) It was this highly exalted and powerful Son of God who had died for the sins of the world and had been resurrected from the dead, who addressed John on the Isle of Patmos. John gives us the setting, as follows:
“I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a two edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”—Rev. 1:12-18
In the last verse of the chapter, Jesus himself explains that the seven candlesticks were the seven churches of Asia, symbolic, as we have seen, of the entire church. The seven stars which he held in his right hand represented, he explains, the angels or messengers to these seven churches. Thus, through these messengers, Jesus has spoken to the church throughout the age. His promises to the “overcomers” in the church are wonderful. We quote some of them:
“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it.”—Rev. 2:17
He that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.”—Rev. 2:26,27
“Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.”—Rev. 3:20,21
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”—Rev. 3:20,21
The Throne Scene
Immediately after these messages of counsel, warning, and promise to the seven churches, John sees what he identifies as a “throne set in heaven.” It consists of a highly symbolic description of the glory of God, the Father, in which four “beasts,” or, more properly, according to the Greek text, ‘living creatures’, and “four and twenty elders,” acclaim him, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.”—Rev. 4:8
The fifth chapter gives a highly symbolical presentation of Jesus as the “Lamb” of God who was found worthy to open a “book” which was held in the right hand of the Lord, Jehovah, depicted in the throne scene of the previous chapter. The same living creatures, and the same four and twenty elders who acclaim the glory of God in the previous chapter, sing the praises of the Lamb in this chapter. Joining with them in their song of praise are “angels, … ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.” Their acclamation is:
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.”—Rev. 5:12,13
To recapitulate briefly, the opening chapter of this marvelous book is concerned mostly with introducing the one, even Jesus, who is the real author of the book. It shows him standing amidst the candlesticks, which he identifies as the seven churches, or the one complete church. In this symbolism we see Jesus fulfilling his promise to his disciples, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world [Greek, ‘age’].”—Matt. 28:20
Then—in chapters two and three—are Jesus’ messages to the seven churches, which to some extent are progressive in nature, first promising that he would come quickly, and then, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.” (Rev. 3:20) Thus this personal return of the Master is shown to be different from his presence with the church throughout the age, as symbolized by his standing amidst the candlesticks.
Chapters four and five, as we have seen, present first Jehovah, and then Jesus, in their glory, with Jesus as the Lamb which had been slain presented as the one found worthy to open the book which was held in the right hand of Jehovah. The Lamb symbolism very beautifully and forcibly emphasizes the fact that Jesus’ worthiness to be the great executor of the divine plan, as it was contained in the book, was because he was willing to lay down his life as the Redeemer of the world.
The “Lamb” and the “Beast”
Beginning with chapter six, the Book of Revelation gives a mixed picture of faithfulness and apostasy in a struggle between the forces of righteousness and unrighteousness. In this great struggle, the Lamb is seen to lead the forces of righteousness, while the forces which oppose God are dominated by a ‘beast’. There are variations of this beast. In one picture it is spotted like a leopard, and in another it is a scarlet colored beast. There is also an image of the beast.
But to get the general theme of the drama depicted in the book, it is enough to think of it from the standpoint of mighty forces following, on the one side, the Lamb, and on the other side, the beast. The Lamb is seen opening the seven seals of the book which he took from the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. When he opened the first seal, a “white horse” appeared, “and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer [‘he conquered’, Sinaitic Ms.].”—Rev. 6:2
When the “second seal” is opened, a “red horse” appears, and power is given “to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth.” (vs. 4) With the opening of the third seal, a “black horse” appears, “and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.” (vs. 5) When the “fourth seal” is opened there appears a “pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and hell followed with him.”—vs. 8
Much has been written concerning the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, much of it misapplied to struggles between nations and would-be world conquerors. Actually, however, the Book of Revelation is not concerned with worldly kingdoms and empires except as they become linked with the affairs of God’s professed people. So, while we shall not go into detail, these four horses and their horsemen are symbolic of activities and developments within the ranks of those who, throughout the age, took the name of Christ as their banner, beginning with the white horse, symbolical of the purity of the Early Church.
Chapter six continues to narrate what happens as the seals are opened. When the sixth is opened, there is a great “earthquake.” In future articles, when we discuss the symbolisms of the Bible, we will find that the Lord uses an earthquake to illustrate the shakings and upheavals which we call revolutions. Much happens as a result of the earthquake which occurs when the sixth seal is opened. Verse seventeen of the chapter identifies these occurrences as belonging to the “day” of the Lord’s “wrath.”
This expression identifies the time of the events as being in the end of the age. The day of the Lord’s wrath, or vengeance, is shown by many prophecies to be a period of time immediately following our Lord’s return, its purpose being to set aside the “kingdoms of this world” preparatory to the manifestation of the messianic kingdom.—Rev. 11:15
A remarkable picture is presented to us in chapter seven. The time is still within the day of the Lord’s wrath. Great social upheavals are taking place, but restraining influences are revealed. “Four winds” are held back by “angels” standing on the “four corners of the earth.” It is a dramatic setting. Literally, four mighty winds converging from the four points of the compass would create a powerful whirlwind, which would be destructive to everything in its path.
These winds are symbolic of certain elements of the trouble throughout the world incident to the day of God’s wrath but they are shown as being held back. The reason given for this is that the work of God in sealing his own servants in their foreheads might be completed. This reveals the great importance God attaches to his own people in these closing days of what Paul describes as “this present evil world.”—Gal. 1:4
These “servants of God” are shown in the chapter as being 144,000 in number, divided equally among twelve symbolic tribes of Israel. These are the Gospel Age sons of God. In the beginning of the age, nearly all who qualified for this special position in the plan of God were, by nature, Israelites. John wrote concerning Jesus that “he came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power [margin, ‘the right’ or ‘privilege’) to become sons of God.”—John 1:11,12
But there were not enough of these to make up God’s foreordained number, so God “at the first did visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name.” (Acts 15:13-17) These also become sons of God, but they come into this arrangement under the provisions made in the royal promises to Israel. They are the wild “olive branches” which, when grafted into the Abrahamic promises, become “natural branches,” so are shown in this Revelation picture as being spiritual Israelites.—Rom. 11:17-29
The picture clearly shows that the last of these are called from the world through the power of the Gospel and “sealed” in their “foreheads”—that is, given an understanding of God’s plan and will for them—during the closing scenes of the age, after the day of vengeance has already begun. In fact, the severest of the trouble upon the world is shown to be held back until this work is accomplished. It is marvelous to realize that the Lord employs such mighty forces on behalf of a few of his little ones. No wonder Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”—Luke 12:32
The first verse of chapter eight records the opening of the “seventh” and last “seal.” Then “seven angels” appear, and to these are given “seven trumpets.” They are not, of course, literal trumpets. Generally speaking, trumpets are used in the Bible to symbolize messages which God designs to have delivered. That is the picture given us in connection with these seven trumpets.
We will not attempt to go into detail concerning the nature of these various messages which are symbolized by the seven trumpets. Suffice it to call attention briefly to the fact that in connection with the “voice” or trumpet of the seventh angel, “when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished.” (Rev. 10:7) In verses eight and nine of this tenth chapter, this “finished mystery” of God is likened to a “little book,” which, when it is eaten is sweet as honey in the mouth, but “shall make thy belly bitter.”
It is believed by many, and evidently correctly so, that this little book symbolizes the great truth of the divine plan which the Lord has unfolded to his people in these last days. This truth is indeed sweet, but when it is assimilated, and acted upon, it leads to ostracism, and frequently to persecution.
Another development which takes place during the sounding of the seventh angel is recorded in chapter eleven, verse fifteen: “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever.” And then, in the seventeenth and eighteenth verses, we are given a brief description of some of the results of Jesus’ exercise of God’s power and authority both in preparation for the kingdom, and during the kingdom, from its beginning to its close. We quote:
“We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned. And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.”
The Antichrist Beast
Chapter thirteen describes the “beast” with “seven heads and ten horns.” Concerning this beast the record states: “It was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb.”—vss. 7,8
In verse one of chapter fourteen, the Lamb is seen “standing on the Mount Zion, and with him an hundred and forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.” These are the sealed ones of the seventh chapter. By contrast, those who come under the domination of the beast are shown to receive a “mark” in their right hands, or in their foreheads.—Rev. 13:16,17
Thus we have brought before us these two opposing forces. On the one side are the Lamb and those who are with him; on the other, the beast, and those who have its slave marks in their hands or foreheads. It would require a book to analyze all the symbols which are used to describe the struggle which takes place between these two—Christ and Antichrist.
As the scene develops, another symbolism is introduced; namely, a “city,” or we might better say, two cities. One is called “Babylon.” It is an unholy city which reigns over the kings of the earth, and commits “fornication” with them. The other is the “holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.”—Rev. 21:2
The unholy city, Babylon, without doubt symbolizes the apostate church. Her fornication was in the fact that she allied herself with civil governments. It was while this union was a dominating factor throughout Europe that this combination was represented by the beast. But even after this, the woman, the false church, is shown sitting on the scarlet colored beast.—Rev. 17:1-18
But, according to this seventeenth chapter, it is this very beast which finally destroys her. In this chapter, the beast which destroys the “woman” also makes war with the Lamb. This might well indicate that the apostate church is destroyed, and the true followers of the Master persecuted, by agencies bent on destroying all religion.
But, contrary to the picture given us in chapter thirteen, where the beast is shown to overcome the saints, now the Lamb overcomes the beast, and it goes into “perdition.” Chapters sixteen to nineteen reveal in detail the complete destruction of all the Antichrist forces of unrighteousness, including the “harlot woman,” the “beast,” the “image of the beast,” and the “false prophet.”
Then, beginning with chapter twenty, is portrayed the glorious triumph of the Lamb, and those who are associated with him! In the nineteenth chapter, these associates of the Lamb are shown as becoming the “bride” of the Lamb, in contrast with the harlotry of the woman who committed fornication with the kings of the earth.
Standing sponsor for every attack against Christ and his true church throughout the age has been “that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan,” and in these opening verses of chapter twenty, he is shown to be “bound” by an “angel” which comes down from heaven. Then, we see the resurrection of those who were “beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God,” and “they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”—Rev. 20:4
But not alone are those who reign with the Lamb, as his bride, blessed in this glorious triumph of righteousness, for all the dead are raised to participate in the blessings of the kingdom. Other “books” are opened for them—not that ‘little book’ which is so sweet to the saints now—but books which will contain the will of God for the people of the kingdom age. They are judged by the things written in those books; that is, their trial will be upon the basis of the will of God which the open books reveal. Those who pass the tests will have their names enrolled in the “book of life,” which will also then be opened for the world.
“New Heaven and a New Earth”
The twenty-first chapter presents another picture of the same kingdom age. Verse one tells of a “new heaven and a new earth.” These are symbols of the two phases of Christ’s kingdom—the spiritual and the human. “And there was no more sea.” The sea symbolizes the restless, discontented masses of mankind, struggling for their real and fancied rights, particularly during the closing scenes of the age. But with the establishment of Christ’s kingdom they will find peace and security, so there will be no more sea.
Then John sees the “holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” There is no mistaking the meaning of this symbolism, for verses nine and ten explain it. Here we are told that the new Jerusalem is the “bride, the Lamb’s wife”; in other words, those whom we previously saw with the Lamb on Mount Zion.
The glorious result of the coming of this holy city is revealed in verses four and five—no more pain and death; tears wiped away; and all things made new. As we learned from the opening book of the Bible, because of sin, God sentenced mankind to death and withdrew his favor from them. But now, as verse three reveals, God again dwells with the people, and through the agencies of Christ’s kingdom, the sin-cursed and dying race become his people, with the result that “there shall be no more death.”
Chapter twenty-two presents still another picture of the thousand-year reign of Christ. Here the kingdom is symbolized as “the throne of God and of the Lamb.” Proceeding out of this throne is a “pure river of water of life, clear as crystal.” “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”—vss. 1,2
In the opening chapters of the Bible, we saw man driven from Eden, and flaming swords used to prevent his returning and partaking of the trees of life. Now, in this closing chapter, those swords are taken down, as it were, and an invitation extended to “Come,” and “take the water of life freely.”—vs. 17
This invitation is first given by the “Spirit and the bride,” and then all who hear are invited to amplify the call. This river, of course, is not literal. It symbolizes the fulfillment of those wonderful promises of God which we have found scattered throughout the entire Bible, promises of blessing for all the families of the earth.
Here we see these blessings like a mighty river of refreshing, life-giving waters, emanating from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Thus we are reminded that God’s promises to bless all the families of the earth depend for fulfillment upon two things: first, the sacrificial work of the slain Lamb; that is, the redemptive work of Christ; and second, the authority and power of the throne of God. Yes, there is to be a real government to rule the people for a thousand years, and it will be the agency for giving everlasting life to all who will then believe and obey.
In our next article we will examine some of the many symbolisms used in the language of the Bible.Go to Part XVI