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Bible Commentaries

Keathley's Commentary on RevelationKeathley on Revelation

- Revelation

by J. Hampton Keathley


All Scripture is God breathed and therefore profitable. Every book in the Bible is important, but the book of Revelation, as the last book of the Bible, provides us with the consummation and climax of God’s revelation. It is the terminus for all the great truths found in the rest of Scripture, many of which have their beginning in Genesis. It is God’s final word to man. This in itself makes this book tremendously significant. But the most important element of the book is that it is a special revelation of Jesus Christ Himself anticipating the glory of His second coming and His final victory over the forces of darkness and evil so prominent in the world today. Introduced in verse one, He is the major theme of the Book.

Another reason for the importance of this book is brought out by Ryrie who points out, "Revelation is primarily significant because it is a book about ‘things which must shortly come to pass.’ Many of these things we would not know if the book of Revelation were not in the Bible. It is the only major prophetic book in the New Testament." [Note: Charles C. Ryrie, Revelation, Moody Press: Chicago, 1968, p. 7.]

There are many excellent commentaries written on Revelation, but, in keeping with the purpose of the Biblical Studies Foundation, these studies are offered to especially help those who do not have access to these books for whatever reason. Having taught Revelation several times over the years, the studies that follow are the product of my teaching ministry as a pastor seeking to minister the Word of God to our people.

As mentioned in some of my other studies on our web page, I do not offer them as a final word on this wonderful book, nor do I claim a lot of original ideas. I simply share basically what I have learned not only from my own studies, but from others who have ministered to me personally in seminary, or through many good commentaries and theological works. I offer these for your own study and progress in knowing and communicating God’s Word and hope you will find them of benefit in that regard.

For those who may not be familiar with some of the prophetic terms used in this series, a Glossary is provided in Appendix 7.

Appendix 1: Support for Imminency

That Christ’s return or coming is imminent is supported by the following:

(1) In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18 , Paul first addressed the issue of those who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord. Note that he says "we" and not simply "those." In the Greek text, the "we" is emphatic and seems to be designed to bring out an important point: The apostle included himself among those who could be alive at the Lord’s return. The clear implication is that the coming of the Lord and the things described there were imminent and could have occurred in Paul’s day. Any other viewpoint here fails to take into account why Paul used the emphatic "we" instead of the third person, "those."

(2) In Joh 21:22 Jesus said to Peter concerning the apostle John, " If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? It is interesting that Jesus’ last words recorded by John in this Gospel refer to His return . And though Jesus gave no indication as to when He would return and that Peter would die before His return, the implication here is that He could have come during John’s lifetime which at least suggests imminency.

(3) In 2Co 5:1 Paul used the third class condition to speak about the very real possibility of his death, but the use of this third class construction left open the possibility that he might not see death. If he did see death, there was the sure fact of the future resurrection, but the use of the third class condition may show that he also had the hope of the return of the Lord and the experience described in 1Co 15:51-52 was also a possibility because of the blessed hope.

(4) In Php 3:20 and in Titus 2:13 , the apostle Paul spoke of the imminent hope of the coming of Christ when our bodies will be transformed into the glorious likeness of Christ’s resurrection body. Paul used the present tense in both passages showing that he and all believers of all ages should be waiting expectantly for the personal coming of Christ. He was not and we are not to be waiting for a series of events that must take place first before the return of the Lord, but for the Lord Himself.

(5) Concerning the return of the Lord, the apostle divided believers into two classes--the living and the dead. Because Christ’s return is imminent and yet, because no man knows when it will be, the apostle sometimes included himself in three ways:

· He included himself with the dead, with those who would experience resurrection ( 2Co 4:14 ).

· Sometimes he included himself with the living who would experience transformation (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ; 1Co 15:51-52 ).

· And sometimes he included himself in the category of either possibility ( 2Co 5:1 ).

"One of the wonderful things about the hope of His coming is that it burns brightly in the hearts of each generation of Christians regardless of how long His return is delayed" (Ryrie, First Thessalonians , p. 64). "Longing for the Parousia of Christ, which is certain to come, yet not afraid of death, which may possibly come first, is, then, the characteristic attitude of each generation of Christians." [Note: C. F. Hogg and W. E. Vine, The Epistle of First Thessalonians, Pickering & Inglis: London, 1929, p. 138.]

This means none of the signs connected with the Lord’s return to earth at His second advent as mentioned in Mat 24:1-51 were necessary before His return for the church. Since signs herald Christ’s advent to earth in the form of the Tribulation judgments (Revelation 6:1-17 ; Revelation 7:1-17 ; Revelation 8:1-13 ; Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 10:1-11 ; Revelation 11:1-19 ; Revelation 12:1-17 ; Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 14:1-20 ; Revelation 15:1-8 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ; Revelation 18:1-24 ; Rev 19:1-21 ), but none are necessary for His return for the church, His coming for the church must occur at least seven years before His advent to earth.

When will this be? We simply do not know and Paul did not know. But the more we see world events coming together for the conditions needed for the Tribulation like Israel’s return to Palestine, the European nations banning together, and the rise of one world thinking in the new age mentality, the closer His return for the church must be.

Appendix 2: The Nature of the Divine Blessings of Grace and Peace

For many believers, the concept of grace goes little beyond the basic definition of "unmerited favor" or "the free gift of God," but since grace is at the very heart, indeed, the very foundation of true Chris-tianity, it is extremely important to think more precisely and have a better grasp of this important word and its truth.

The ramifications of God’s grace to us in Christ affects our lives on every hand. Throughout the New Testament the effects of God’s grace are emphasized. Everywhere we turn, we run into this word (114 verses in the NASB, and 104 references in the NIV; the differences stemming from different translations of certain passages). In fact, the Lord Himself is described as the very epitome and manifesta-tion of God’s grace ( Tit 2:11 ).

The doctrine of God’s grace in Christ is multi-sided. Grace touches every area of truth or doctrine in one way or another. Every aspect of doctrine is related to grace. It is no wonder grace is an important word and one that Paul desires to be experienced by all.

What Exactly is Grace?

A Basic Definition--lexical

The Greek word for grace is charis . Its basic idea is simply "non-meritorious or unearned favor, favor or blessing bestowed as a gift, freely and never as merit for work performed."

Expanded Definition--theological

Grace is "that which God does for mankind through His Son, which mankind cannot earn, does not deserve, and will never merit." [Note: Charles Swindoll, Growing Deep in the Christian Life, Moody Press: Chicago, 1986, p. 416.]

Grace is all that God freely and non-meritoriously does for man and is free to do for man on the basis of Christ’s person and work on the cross. Grace, one might say, is the work of God for man and encompasses everything we receive from God (cf. Eph 1:3 with 1:6 and Joh 6:27-29 ).

Remember, the coming of Christ is described as the manifestation of God’s grace. "Grace is summed up in the name, person, and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:14 ; John 1:16 ; Ephesians 2:8-9 ; Tit 2:11 )." [Note: Swindoll, p. 416.]

Description--an expanded explanation

The Characteristics of Grace

(1) Grace stresses God’s character and man’s sin-fulness, while mercy stresses God’s strength and man’s helplessness. Grace finds its necessity in the fact of God’s holiness and in the sinfulness of man; in the nature of God as the creator and man as the creature.

(2) Grace is opposed to and excludes any idea of works for merit, works done as a means of blessing or as payment for what is done. Grace means you never deserve it nor can you earn it even by the old fashion way. The moment one adds works to gain favor with God, you go from grace to meritorious living (Romans 4:4 ; Rom 11:6 ). Note: Ephesians 4:1 , in a manner fitting, not in a manner that merits God’s love.

(3) But at the same time, grace is the foun-tain from which good works are to be produced in the Christian’s life when appropriated by faith (Titus 2:11 ; 2 Timothy 2:1 ; 1Co 15:9-11 ). In other words, Grace gives power and motivation for Christ-like living (Romans 12:1 ; Ephesians 4:1 ; Ephesians 6:10 ; 2Ti 2:1 ). Tit 2:11 teaches us that God’s grace in Christ is a dynamic means of instruc-tion on the Christian life. It literal-ly teaches us how we should live.

(4) Though grace is the New Testament way of life, it still contains rules and imperatives that God expects us to live by not as a means of merit, but because of and through God’s grace; in other words, grace is not antinomian or anti-law (1 Corinthians 9:21 ; Romans 6:14 ; Romans 8:1 f). As Titus 2:12 f teaches us, God’s grace in Christ demands the denial of the wrong things in life and direction and obedi-ence toward the right things. It be-comes quite evident from this that grace never means unbridled living or doing as one pleases for there is the Grace of God (Romans 5:20-21 ; Romans 6:1 f; Gal 5:13 ). As Ryrie has wisely put it, "The final cause of the revelation of the grace of God in Christ is not creed, but character." [Note: Charles C. Ryrie, The Grace of God, Moody Press: Chicago, 1962, p. 53. ]

(5) Grace glorifies God because it reveals God’s person, His glory and excellence (Romans 4:1 f; Ephesians 1:6 ; Ephesians 2:8-9 ; 2Pe 1:2-4 ). God’s gracious salvation and work for man in Christ is to the "praise of the glory of His grace" ( Eph 1:6 ).

(6) Grace guarantees the believer’s salvation. It makes it impossible for any man to get out of the plan of God positionally. Why? Because salvation depends on the character and work of God in Christ and not on man’s record for no matter how hard man tries, he always falls short of God’s holy character ( Rom 8:33-39 ).

(7) Grace guarantees us of God’s love and provision for anything we might face in life ( Rom 8:32-39 ).

The Blessings of Grace

Covered here are four main areas or blessings of God’s grace.

(1) Though sinful and deserving of God’s wrath, grace means the Blessings of Acceptance ( Eph 1:6 ). Grace means we are completely accepted because of the perfect work of Christ which redeems us ( Rom 3:24 ), reconciles us ( 2Co 5:19-21 ), forgives us (Romans 3:25 ; Eph 1:6-7 ), delivers us ( Col 1:13 ), justifies us (Romans 3:24 ; Rom 5:1 ), and glorifies us ( Rom 8:30 ). Note 1 Corinthians 1:29-30 .

(2) Though weak and without capacity for spiri-tual things, grace means the Blessing of Enablement , spiritual power and capacity to live the Christian life (1 Corinthians 15:10 ; Php 4:13 ). Special divine ability is secured for the believer under and in the grace of God which is ours in Christ. This is stressed by the following: (a) No longer under Law, but under grace ( Rom 6:14 ; 2Co 3:6-13 ). (b) Christ in you, the hope of glory ( Col 1:27 ). (c) Baptized and circumcised in Christ unto new life potential (Romans 6:4 f; Col 2:11 ). (d) Indwelt by the Spirit of God for power or ability to live the Christian life (Romans 8:2 f).

(3) Though in Adam and dead in sin, grace means the Blessings of a New Position (Ephesians 1:3 ; Eph 2:1-5 ). The believer in Christ, under grace, has a new position in Christ which brings into the believer’s life every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3 ; Col 2:10 ). This means the gift of such things as: (a) Every believer a priest--members of a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5 ; 1Pe 2:9 ). (b) Citizens of heaven and thereby left here on earth as ambassadors for Christ (Philippians 3:20 ; 2Co 5:20 ). (c) Children of God, members of God’s family ( Eph 5:1 ). (d) Adopted as adult sons with all the rights, privileges, and responsi-bilities ( Gal 4:5 ). (e) Gifted for ministry (1 Peter 4:10 ; 1Co 12:4-7 ).

(4) Finally, though cut off from God and bound for hell, grace means the Blessings of an Eternal Inheritance , one that is imperishable, undefiled, that will not fade away, and reserved in heaven for believers ( 1Pe 1:4 ).

The great need is grace orientation and its multipli-cation (1 Peter 1:2 f) This comes through the knowl-edge of the Word and faith.

The Hazard

The great hazard is grace disorientation. But what does that mean?

(1) The Hazard Defined. Grace disorientation occurs when we fail of the grace of God ( Heb 12:15 ). When we fail of God’s grace, we always turn to our own solu-tions, strategies, and methods for handling life which range all the way from humanism and legal-ism (ig-noring God’s Grace we depend on self [ Gal 5:1-5 ]) to the oppo-site pole, license (using God’s grace as an occa-sion for the flesh [ Gal 5:13 ]).

(2) The Hazard Depicted. Biblical pictures to warn us of the danger. The Bible has a number of word picture which portray this constant problem with man: leaning on the arm of the flesh which leaves one in desert like conditions ( Jer 17:5 ), hewing out broken cisterns that hold no water ( Jer 2:13 ), warring according to the flesh or using human weapons against spiritual forces ( 2Co 10:3 ), leaning on the staff of a sharp reed of man’s solutions that pierces the hand ( Isa 36:6 ), walking by our own firebrands to light our path ( Isa 50:10-11 ).

(3) Forms this Hazard Takes.

HUMAN STRATEGIES FOR LIVING From To Indifference Overwork, extreme business Escape mechanisms Defense mechanisms Loss of control Rigid control License Legalism

(4) Consequences of the Hazard. When we fail of God’s grace, we fail to exercise faith in God’s provi-sion which leaves us operating in our own strength. This nullifies the power of God in one’s life, dishonors God, quenches the Spirit’s power, results in the production of the works of the flesh (mere human good and carnality), and general misery (Romans 4:4 ; Romans 11:6 ; Galatians 3:1 f; Galatians 5:1-5 ).

Definition of Peace

The Greek word for peace is eire„ne„ . It apparently comes from eiro„ which means "to join." It means a state of untroubled tranquillity where there is no war or dividing faction or enmity. It means a state of harmony and well being. But in the use of this word and its application in Scripture, there are several aspects of peace which God’s grace gives.

Kinds of Peace

(1) The Peace of Reconciliation, Peace with God. It may refer to the peace of salvation where man is brought into a right relationship with God through faith in Christ (Romans 5:1 ; Gal 6:12-16 ). In Eph 2:1-22 Christ is seen as the peace maker ( Eph 2:14-18 ).

(2) The Peace of Fellowship, the Peace of a Conscience Void of Offense. This is the personal peace which God gives to the individual through fellow-ship with the Lord, through walking in concord with God with all known sin confessed and turned over to God’s grace and knowledge of all things (1 John 1:9 ; 1 John 3:19-21 ; Galatians 5:22 ; 1 Timothy 1:5 ; Act 24:16 ).

(3) The Peace of Assurance, the Peace of God. This is the peace that comes from being confident of God’s supply, that God is in control. This is the peace that settles our nerves, fills our mind, and allows us to relax even in the midst of uproar around us (Philippians 4:6-9 ; Galatians 5:22 ; Psalms 119:165 ; Pro 3:13-17 ).

(4) The Peace of Harmony, Peace with Others. This is the peace of unity and oneness in the body of Christ; oneness of mind and purpose (Ephesians 4:3 ; Philippians 2:2-4 ; 1Th 5:13 ). God reaps a harvest of peace where there are believers sowing and watering their minds with the Word. But Satan, the agent of disunity and strife, seeks to reap a harvest of discord through hurt feelings, unwillingness to for-give, and selfish ambition when people refuse to operate on the principles and promises of the Word (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6-11 ; Mar 9:34 with Mark 9:50 ; Php 2:1-4 ).

(5) The Peace of State, Public Peace. This is a society without war or turbulence. It comes through good rulers or govern-ment acting in accord with the principles of the Word and through a strong nucleus of godly citizens who apply and live by the truth of Scripture (Acts 24:2 ; 1 Timothy 2:2 ; Romans 13:1-7 ; Compare also the early chapters of Isaiah).

(6) Global or World Peace. This will only occur with the re-turn and reign of Jesus Christ (Romans 16:20 ; Rev 20:1-15 ). Until then, there will be wars and rumors of wars ( Mat 24:1-51 ).

(7) The Peace of Orderliness. Refers to doing things decently and in order ( 1Co 14:40 ).

(8) The Peace of Pronounced Blessing. Refers to the wish and prayer for spiritual and physical prosperity, security, and safety for others (cf. most of the salutation of Paul and John 20:19 ; John 20:21 ; Joh 20:26 ).

Spheres in which the Peace of God Exists in our Lives

(1) The peace of eternal security with the assurance of our salvation.

(2) The peace of good conscience, of no known sin unconfessed.

(3) The peace of knowing God’s will, of God’s direction.

(4) The peace of knowing that God will supply.

Appendix 3: Who Are the Overcomers?


The promises to the overcomer in Revelation 2:1-29 ; Rev 3:1-22 present us with some important, but difficult questions that need to be answered in order to properly interpret and apply these promises. But as is so often the case with difficult passages, students of the Word are divided on the answers. The main questions as I see it are simply, who is the overcomer and what is the nature of the promises?

(1) Are these warnings against the loss of salvation as some have advocated?

(2) Is "overcomer" a title for all believers because of initial faith in Christ? In other words, does 1Jn 5:5 define the overcomers of Revelation 2:1-29 ; Rev 3:1-22 ?

(3) Or is the overcomer equivalent to a special name for genuine believers because of the ultimate triumph of their faith?

(4) Is this a warning against false profession or is it a challenge and motivation to all believers to faithfulness for rewards?

These seven passages are not the only passages that touch on the issue of overcoming or victory over the conflicts and adversaries that we face in this life. Obviously, then, to get a better picture, it would be helpful to integrate these verses in Revelation with other portions of Scripture that speak of overcoming or similar terms such as "triumph" or "conquer" and that deal with issues that might shed light on the subject of victory. Even though we might not be able to agree on all the details, there will be certain truths that are self evident and very practical, exhorting and challenging to us in our Christian walk.

The Principle of Conflict

The Principle Declared

The term "overcomer" comes from the Greek nikao„ , "to conquer, prevail, triumph, overcome." This verb is found 28 times in 24 verses in the New Testament. This presupposes and calls attention to the presence of war, contests, battles, and conflicts in man’s struggle with evil. The New Testament clearly teaches us, as does life itself, that we are in a conflict, indeed, a holy war, with specific adversaries. Even after salvation, the conflict still rages in and against the life of the Christian. This is everywhere evident in Scripture and so obvious in life that one has to deny reality to ignore or disclaim it. Two key passages that illustrate the nature of our conflict with evil are Ephesians 2:1-2 ; Ephesians 6:12 :

Eph 2:1-2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.

_6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places .

The Adversaries Defined

(1) Satan , our chief adversary, the devil: 1 Peter 5:8-9 ; Ephesians 6:12 ; John 16:11 ; Colossians 2:15 ; but note 1 John 2:13-14 .

(2) The world , a system and arrangement of the affairs of men and government under the control of the evil one and opposed to God and His purposes for man: John 16:33 ; 1 John 5:4 ; Ephesians 2:2 .

(3) Indwelling sin or the flesh and all its corrupting power and life dominating patterns: Romans 7:15 ; Romans 8:4-8 ; Romans 8:13 ; Galatians 5:16-26 .

(4) Other forms stemming from the above three: darkness ( Col 1:13 ), blindness ( 2Co 4:3-4 ), death (Romans 8:4 f; Rev 2:11 ), evil ( Eph 5:16 ), disobedience ( Eph 2:1 ), rebellion in every conceivable form (2 Timothy 3:1 f).

The Provision of Victory

The Means

(1) The Person and Work of Jesus Christ: That Christ is the Overcomer , that is, the ultimate source and means of victory is the great message of Scripture and everywhere evident in its pages. Note the following passages:

Joh 16:33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

Rev 3:21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. (emphasis mine)

Rev 5:5 and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.

Rev 17:14 These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.

Rom 8:37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

Co 2:14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.

Col 2:15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

Closely related to Christ’s victory through His person and work on the cross is another aspect of the means of our victory, the work of the Spirit in regeneration and indwelling.

(2) The Ministry of the Spirit in Regeneration and Indwelling. Compare the following verses:

Joh 4:4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (cf. Joh 4:2 ).

Jn 5:4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world.

We should note the emphasis here. The text does not say, "He that overcomes," as the NIV translates (the participle is neuter), but "everything or whatever is born of God." Overcoming is specifically non-personalized in order to stress a point: it is never the man that overcomes, but his birth from God and what that brings into his life; this is that which overcomes or gives capacity to overcome the world.

So, 1Jn 5:4-5 gives us some insightful principles regarding those who overcome the world, namely: (a) the source of victory is the new birth and the new life that it brings, "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world"; (b) the method for appropriating victory is faith, "and this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith"; (c) the object of faith must be Jesus Christ because He is the real victor, "And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?"

The Method

This too is clearly marked out for us in the Bible.

(1) Faith (1 John 5:5 ; 2 Corinthians 5:7 ; Galatians 2:20 ; Galatians 5:5 ; Eph 3:17 ). 1Jn 5:5 makes it abundantly clear. "And this is the victory that overcomes the world--our faith." Since victory was accomplished by Christ and not by what we have done, victory always comes by faith in the work of God through Christ. Our victory is not a victory to be won, by one to be claimed by faith.

(2) The Filling of the Spirit: Appropriating the Manifold Ministries of the Spirit (John 14:16 f; 1 John 4:2-4 ; Ephesians 3:16 ; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 ; Romans 8:1 f; Galatians 5:16 f). Though saved and identified with Christ in His life and death, all believers would be helpless to overcome because of the presence of the flesh without the Holy Spirit who is God’s provision for strength and victory.

(3) Biblical Insight Through the Knowledge of the Word (Psalms 119:9 ; Psalms 119:11 ; Psalms 119:45 ; John 8:32 ; John 17:17 ; Romans 10:17 ; Ephesians 6:17 ; 1 John 2:13-14 ; Hebrews 4:12 ; Col 1:9-12 ). Obviously, if I am going to believe God’s message of grace, trust God with my life, and deal with my inner man, I must know the Word. Faith and the ministries of the Spirit do not exist independently of God’s precious Word. They are directly tied to knowing the Word. The Word builds my faith, directs it, and the Spirit speaks to us through the Word.

But there is another element of victory and one that is vital for victory and fruitfulness; it’s human responsibility as the next point shows.

(4) Diligence, Discipline (Romans 13:14 [put on]; 1 Timothy 4:7 [discipline yourself]; 2 Peter 1:3-10 [applying all diligence]; Galatians 5:16 [walk]; Ephesians 5:18 [be filled]). There is a fine balance that must be observed in Scripture. Salvation and victory is completely of the Lord. We are to put no confidence in the flesh ( Php 3:3 ). We do not overcome by our works, by the energy of the flesh, or by our sincerity, or by our effort, or by our will power because we are powerless. Nevertheless, victory requires our cooperation with God’s operation. It means discipline, diligence, commitment to draw near to God and to act on His promises and provision by faith. Note also 1 Corinthians 15:10 ; Philippians 2:12-13 .

The Meaning of the Overcomer Passages

Lexical Considerations

There are five Greek words that should be considered: "Overcomer" and "conquer" are translations of nikao„ , "to overcome, to conquer, prevail, come through victoriously." "Victory" is nike„ , the noun form of nikao„ . "Overwhelmingly conquer" is hupernikao„ ( Rom 8:37 ), a compound of nikao„ and the preposition huper , "over, beyond, above." "Triumph" is thriambeuo„ , "to triumph over, to lead in triumphant procession" and hence to make a public spectacle of a conquered enemy ( Col 2:15 ). One other word, he„ttaomai , is translated "overcome" in the NASB and KJV. This word means "be defeated by, or succumb to a person or thing" ( 2Pe 2:19-20 ). The only other occurrence is 2Co 12:13 where it means to be treated as an inferior.

Interpretational Considerations

It appears that there are four primary views of the overcomer passages of Revelation 2:1-29 ; Revelation 3:1-22 :

(1) The loss of salvation view: According to this interpretation, the promises are written to believers to encourage them to overcome lest they lose their salvation. To fail to overcome is to lose salvation. But the loss of salvation view contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture that believers are kept secure by the finished work of Christ. It is His record that keeps us not ours. A large portion of the New Testament demonstrates such a view to be wrong. The following passages illustrate this truth: concerning believers, Jesus said, "and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand" ( Joh 10:28-29 ), they "shall not come into judgment" ( Joh 5:24 ), and "have [already] passed from death into life" ( Joh 5:24 ). The apostle Paul declared that "neither death nor life…nor things present nor things to come…shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" ( Rom 8:38-39 ). "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" ( Eph 2:8-9 ). He even told the believers at Thessalonica that "whether we wake or sleep [i.e., whether we are morally alert or spiritually slothful], we should live together with Him" ( 1Th 5:10 ).

(2) The perseverance or ultimate triumph of the saints view: According to this view all genuine believers persevere and overcome the world by living godly and obedient lives. Overcoming is equivalent to faithfulness or obedience which proves the genuineness of salvation. MacArthur is a proponent of this view. He writes: "John was so confident of the ultimate triumph of faith over sin that he had a special name for the believer: ‘the one who overcomes’ (1 John 5:5 ; Revelation 2:7 ; Revelation 2:11 ; Revelation 2:26 ; Revelation 3:5 ; Revelation 3:12 ; Revelation 3:21 ; Rev 21:7 )." [Note: John F. MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, Revised and Expanded Edition, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1988, p. 253.] MacArthur is interpreting these passages according to what has come to be called the ‘Reformed Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints’ which states that all true believers will persevere in a life of godly obedience. They admit that there may be temporary setbacks and bouts with sin, but that ultimately, true believers live victorious, holy lives to the end.

Concerning this view, Bob Wilkin writes:

There is a major problem with this interpretation. The Bible does not promise that all true believers will live victorious, holy lives. Believers may have more than temporary setbacks and bouts with sin. It is sadly possible for believers to backslide terribly and to remain in that backslidden state until death. Certainly the church at Corinth was hardly a picture of believers experiencing ultimate victory over sin in their lives (cf. 1Co 3:1-3 ; 1 Corinthians 11:30 ; see also Galatians 6:1-5 ; James 5:19-20 ; and 1Jn 5:16 )!

I’m not saying that eternal security is not true… What I am saying is that there is no guarantee in Scripture that eternally secure people will live overcoming, victorious lives here and now. Believers can fail. [Note: Bob Wilkin, "Grace Evangelical Newsletter," March 1995. (See the Grace Evangelical Society home page for more on this and other grace-oriented subjects at http://www.gracenet.com/grace/index.html.)]

It should be noted that some of the Christians at Corinth had died in a state of carnality as a direct result of God’s judgment which Paul carefully defined as God’s disciplinary action. This shows God was dealing with them as His children (cf. 1Co 11:29-32 with Heb 13:5-11 ).

(3) The view that all believers are overcomers: According to this view, all believers become overcomers the moment they believe in Jesus Christ. The very act of believing overcomes the world: "Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" ( 1Jn 5:5 ). Faith, not faithfulness is the primary focus point in this position.

Ryrie writes:

An overcomer is not someone who has some special power in the Christian life or someone who has learned some secret of victory. John himself defined an overcomer as a believer in Christ ( 1Jn 5:4-5 ). Thus every Christian is an overcomer, though the various promises in these seven letters are addressed particularly to each local believing group, and tailored to the special circumstances found in each church. [Note: Charles C. Ryrie, Revelation, Moody Press: Chicago, 1968, pp. 22-23.]

Walvoord agrees and writes: "This promise should not be construed as reward for only a special group of Christians but a normal expectation for all Christians." [Note: John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, "Revelation," Scripture Press: Wheaton, IL, 1983, 1985, electronic media.]

Wiersbe also agrees:

Note that a special word is spoken to the "overcomers" in each church (Revelation 2:7 ; Revelation 2:11 ; Revelation 2:17 ; Revelation 2:26 ; Revelation 3:5 ; Revelation 3:12 ; Rev 3:21 ). These "overcomers" are not the "super-saints" in each church, a special group that will receive special privileges from Christ, but the true believers in each of these churches. We dare not assume that every member of every local church in every period of history is a true child of God. Those who truly belong to Christ are "overcomers" ( 1Jn 5:4-5 ). In every period of history, there have been true saints in the professing church (often called "the invisible church"). Christ speaks a special word of encouragement to them, and certainly we may apply these words to ourselves today. [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines On the New Testament, electronic media.]

I appreciate and highly respect the views of each of the above writers, and while this view appeals to me and I wish I could hold to it, there are certain problems with this interpretation that I have not been able to reconcile in my own thinking. Does John’s use of the overcomer expression in 1Jn 5:4-5 dictate its meaning in Revelation 2:1-29 ; Rev 3:1-22 ?

It is true that 1Jn 5:5 teaches that our faith overcomes the world. It is a mistake, however, to conclude that because John so used that expression in one place, he must have used it the same way in all other places. The contexts in which the expression is found in Revelation 2:1-29 ; Rev 3:1-22 are greatly different than the context of 1 John 5:5 . [Note: Bob Wilkin, Grace Evangelical Society Newsletter, March 1995.]

The messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2:1-29 ; Rev 3:1-22 present very different contexts than that of 1 John 5:1-21 . 1Jn 5:4 teaches us that the means of victory over the world is "our faith." Then 1Jn 5:5 declares that the only ones who can overcome the world by faith are those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Why? Because only these have experienced the new birth of God in spiritual regeneration and it is that regeneration that gives the power for victory (1 John 5:4 a). But the context of the seven letters suggests that John is there admonishing believers to overcome specific trials and temptations by faithful obedience through faith in their new life in Christ. Consider the following examples from each of these messages:

· Revelation 2:7 b reads, "To him who overcomes I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God." But the context for this is the admonition in Rev 2:5 which reads, "Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first…"

· The admonitions "Do not fear…" and "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" ( Rev 2:10 ) form the immediate context for the promise, "He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death" ( Rev 2:11 ).

· The call to repent in 2:16 precedes the promise to the overcomer in 2:17.

· "Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him i will give authority over the nations" ( Rev 2:25-26 ). Again, the promise is in a context of two admonitions for faithfulness. While some versions leave out the "and" that begins Revelation 2:26 , the Greek text contains this connecting particle and shows a relationship exists between the promise and the admonition.

· The promise of Rev 3:5 is directly connected to the concept of faithfulness described in Revelation 3:4 . "But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white; for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments;…"

· Again, an admonition, "Hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown" ( Rev 3:11 ) forms the context for the promise of Revelation 3:12 , "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God,…"

· Finally, the last promise to the one who overcomes ( Rev 3:21 ) is set against the context of the Savior’s invitation for fellowship ( Rev 3:20 ). Believers cannot overcome without dining intimately with the Savior in daily fellowship.

(4) The rewards view: According to this view, the overcomer passages are promises of rewards given to believers to encourage them to overcome the trials of life through faithfulness.

This view is held by some very outstanding expositors of the Word. For instance, J. Sidlow Baxter writes:

But the promise is to "the overcomer ." Are all believers "overcomers"? Let him think twice who would answer a dogmatic "Yes" to this question. The letters to the seven churches, at least, suggested otherwise to an unprejudiced reader. Our standing in Christ is no artificial position of immunity. As there are degrees of punishment [in hell] so there are degrees of reward [in heaven]. One is made ruler over ten cities, another over five. "One star differeth from another star in glory." [Note: J. Sidlow Baxter, Awake My Heart, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, p. 323.]

Barnhouse has a similar view which sees the promises to the overcomer as promises of rewards for faithfulness and writes:

Some have said that eating from the tree of life was the equivalent of receiving eternal life, but this is most evidently a false interpretation. Eternal life is the prerequisite for membership in the true Church. Eating of the tree of life is a reward that shall be given to the overcomer in addition to his salvation. His work, built upon the foundation that is Christ Jesus, abides the test of the Lord’s appearing, and he receives over and above his entrance into eternal life, a place in the Heavens in the midst of the paradise of God. [Note: Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation, An Expository Commentary, "God’s Last Word," Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1971, pp. 43-44.]

These men, along with others, would heartily agree that all believers are overcomers in one sense, in the sense they have become chil-dren of God, have been translated out of darkness into the glorious light of Christ, have been taken out of Adam and placed into Christ. In this glorious position, they have become identified with Him as to His person and work, etc., and enjoy many other marvelous blessings in Christ (Ephesians 1:3 ; Col 2:10 ). Every believer is an overcomer in that sense ( 1Jn 5:4-5 ). But these expositors would also insist that all believers do not overcome absolutely. Christians can fail to live for the Lord and overcome the desires of the flesh (1 Corinthians 11:28 f; 1Jn 5:16-17 ). Furthermore, while the failure to overcome may be an indication of false profession, the fact a believer does not overcome the struggles of life, does not automatically prove they are not true Christians. If they have truly believed in Christ, they cannot lose their salvation, but they will lose rewards as the Lord warns in Rev 3:11 and the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 . Those holding to the rewards view would say the overcomer passages are promises given to believers to encourage and kindle love and obedience in view of who they are in Christ and what they posses in Him. These are not warnings against the loss of salvation, nor necessarily warnings against false profession, though that could be one application of these promises. Furthermore, they are not statements affirming the preservation of the saints. Instead, they are guarantees of special blessings or rewards for faithful service and lives of faith.

The Problem Discussed

Does 1Jn 5:4-5 define who the overcomers are in Revelation 2:1-29 ; Rev 3:1-22 ? In other words, do the overcomer promises apply to all believers regardless of the kind of lives they live? At this stage in my study of the issues here, I have become convinced that 1Jn 5:4-5 is not synonymous with the statements of Revelation 2:1-29 ; Revelation 3:1-22 .

They occur in different books, with different contexts that contain a number of differences and the differences are such that they suggest that the references to overcoming in Revelation 2:1-29 ; Rev 3:1-22 are not defined by 1 John 5:1-21 .

In 1 John the apostle affirms that through believing in Jesus Christ there is a permanent victory over the world in one sense. When a believer exer-cises faith in Christ, he does overcome the world in the sense that the world system is intrinsically hostile to God’s commands, to faith in Christ, and is satani-cally blinded to the truth and under his dominion of control and death (2 Corinthians 4:3-4 ; Ephesians 2:1-3 ; Heb 2:14 ), but through faith in Christ, the believer has overcome that condition in that he is made a child of God, has been rescued from the domain of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son ( Col 1:12-13 ).

In Revelation, however, the overcomer concept is restrictive within the realm of the daily conflicts and battles of the Christian life according to the context of each of the seven letters. Here are illustrations of the battles that believers must overcome and for which rewards are promised for overcoming. "But this is a long way from saying that all Christians live ultimately victorious lives. In fact, that is something the New Testament does NOT say." [Note: Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege, Redención Viva: Dallas, TX, 1982, pp. 118-119.] Regardless, as demonstrated above, many use 1Jn 5:4-5 to interpret the overcomer promises of Revelation 2:1-29 ; Rev 3:1-22 because of the similarity of terms.

Overcoming and the promises of these passages find their root in the Lord’s statement in John 16:33 , "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." The Christian life is full of conflict, tribula-tion, but victory awaits all believers through the victory accomplished by the Savior, but it is a victory that must be appro-priated by an active faith that is fed though fellowship with the Lord.

While all believers have overcome the world in the sense of 1 John 5:1-21 , conflicts and trials come to the believer in a variety of different shapes and degrees. When we turn to Revelation 2:1-29 ; Revelation 3:1-22 , we find each church with its own particular conflict and problems with specific rewards that are in keeping with or somehow related to the problem faced. No two Christian’s lives are the same in terms of their struggles and triumphs. The basis of victory is the same, faith in the person and work of Christ and our blessings in Him, but the struggles are different and it seems that God tailors the rewards accordingly.

These letters do not present victory as a certainty , but rather as an aspiration which each individual should pursue. The Savior’s words are never to them who overcome, but to him who overcomes. Victory is not a collective right, but an individual attainment.…Clearly, the promises to the overcomers are rewards for obedience to the commands of the Lord of the Church. [Note: Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, Redención Viva: Dallas, TX, 1987, p. 108-109.]

The problems that most have with this view come in the nature of the rewards mentioned in these promises and admittedly, these are difficult. The rewards in Revelation 2:1-29 ; Rev 3:1-22 are usually viewed as blessings all believers will automatically receive as, for instance, the right to the tree of life. This is associated with possessing eternal life, but as we will see, this is probably not the case.

An investigation of the promises in Revelation 2:1-29 ; Rev 3:1-22 will seek to show that these are not promises all believers exper-ience because every believer is an overcomer, but that these promises are special rewards to believers who overcome specific conflicts in the Christian life through faith and obedience in their daily walk.

The Proof or Evidence

The Exegetical Evidence

There is exegetical evidence within the letters themselves which restrict the meaning of the overcomer.

(1) In Rev 2:26 the Greek text contains the conjunction "and" ( kai ) at the beginning of this verse. It reads, "And he who overcomes,…" This links the promise to the overcomer back to Rev 2:25 and the statement, "Nevertheless what you have, hold fast ( krateo„ , a strong word meaning ‘to hold firmly to something so that it is not lost’) until I come." This both connects overcoming to the preceding admonition and makes it dependent on holding fast.

(2) In Rev 2:26 overcoming is also connected to what follows or to keeping Christ’s works until the end. The Lord says, "And he who overcomes and (italics mine) he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him i will give authority over the nations." This clearly shows that the overcomer here is not only a believer, but one who keeps the Lord’s deeds in contrast to the evil deeds promoted by the Jezebel like false prophetess being tolerated in the church at Thyatira.

(3) In Revelation 3:5 , the promise to the overcomer is tied into Rev 3:4 by the word "thus," the Greek adverb, houto„s . It may look at what follows, or it may draw an inference to what precedes as here. This shows us that the overcomer is restricted to those who have not defiled their garments in their earthly walk and are thus worthy of reward--the reward of being clothed in white garments. This is not the garment of salvation or the imputed righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.

In support of this, let’s compare Revelation 19:8 . This verse shows that the wedding garment mentioned in this verse consists of the "righteous acts of the saints." The Greek word here is dikaio„ma . Instead of imputed righteous-ness, this Greek word refers to the state or virtue of righteous character. In this context, it refers to the acts or deeds or works of righteous-ness for which rewards are given, i.e., the wedding garments. Two different Greek words, dikaio„sis and dikaiosune„ respectively are used in the New Testament to refer to imputed righteousness. It should be evident, then, that the white garment in Rev 3:5 is a reward for works of righteousness that occur after salvation.

(4) In Rev 3:12 the promise to the overcomer is again connected to a crown of reward for holding fast ( krateo„ ) at least by implication or location. And this fits with the thrust of Rev 2:25-26 where the overcomer reward is specifically linked to holding fast by the word "and" in the Greek text.

(5) In Rev 21:6-7 we find an important contrast. The waters of life are free. All believers partake of this, but eating of the tree is for overcomers in the broader sense. Compare Rev 22:14 with Revelation 22:15 . In the light of Rev 3:4-5 and Revelation 19:8 , access to the tree of life through the New Jerusalem is restricted for those who cleanse their lives through fellowship with Christ.

In 22:14 John pronounces a blessing on those who wash their robes, who lead the clean and pure Christ life, for they thereby have the right and privilege of entering into the gates of the city and partaking of the tree of life. This means not only immortal existence, but such relations with Jesus Christ and the Church that each has unrestricted access to all that is good in the universe of God. [Note: The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, V, James Orr Reeve, general editor, p. 3010.]

The Contextual Evidence

The context of the letters restricts the meaning of the overcomer from all believers to rewards to faithful believers who overcome in the specific conflicts of their lives. Each letter without exception moves from an address to the church as a whole, of the church corporate and individual groups in each church, to the individual aspect with a personal appeal to the one who has an ear and to the one who overcomes.

The Applicational Evidence

To apply these promises to all believers seems to rob them of their force as promises. As Hodges points out, "a command that everyone keeps is superfluous, and a reward that everyone receives is nonsense." [Note: Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, p. 109.]

The Analogical Evidence

Evidence from the analogy of Scripture is consistent with the teaching of the New Testament in other places; a Christian may lose or gain rewards according to what he does with the stewardship God has given him (1 Corinthians 3:11 f; 1 Corinthians 9:27 ; 2 Corinthians 5:10 ; Luk 19:11-26 ). In fact, if the promises of Revelation 2:1-29 ; Rev 3:1-22 are not restrictive, then we have what appears to be a contradic-tion between Luke 19:11 f and Rev 2:26 and Revelation 3:21 . Many believe there is a difference in the New Testament between entrance into heaven and being an heir of the kingdom (cf. Rom 8:16-17 ).

True, some of the promises are hard to explain and understand as rewards and not as general gifts that go with eternal life, but because of the above evidence we should give strong consideration to the view that these are promises that pertain to rewards. In the exposition of the messages to the seven churches of Revelation I will cover each of the overcomer promises in their contexts.

Appendix 4: Seven Subtle Snares of Worldliness

(1) Materialism

· Explanation --Matter is all that matters.

· Its Distortion --Deformed view of the world.

· The Snare --I am what I own.

· The Effect --Affluence, accumulation, occupied with things, consumer mentality, neglect spiritual things.

(2) Activism

· Explanation --I must fill my life with activity.

· Its Distortion --Deformed view of work. Seeking from work what only God can give.

· The Snare --I am what I do, what I produce.

· The Effect --Neurotic, consuming ministry. Seeking significance from work rather than from the Lord.

(3) Individualism

· Explanation --I must depend on no one but myself.

· Its Distortion --Deformed view of self. Produces a me-ism society.

· The Snare --I am the source of my own life.

· The Effect --Loneliness, resistance to authority, inability to work on a team.

(4) Conformism

· Explanation --Recognition by others is primary and necessary.

· Its Distortion --Deformed view of the importance or the opinions of others.

· The Snare --I am who others recognize me to be.

· The Effect --Praise dependent, seeking significance from the approval of others.

(5) Relativism

· Explanation --It matters not what you believe as long as you believe something.

· Its Distortion --Deformed view of truth. Refuses to recognize revealed truth.

· The Snare --I am whatever I want to believe.

· The Effect --Subjective approach to life, to Scripture; experience oriented, uncertain faith, emotional.

(6) Secularism

· Explanation --Man has no need of religion. Man is sufficient.

· Its Distortion --Deformed view of man. Fails to take into account man’s sinfulness.

· The Snare --I am sufficient to handle my affairs.

· The Effect --Sunday only kind of Christian. Fail to integrate God into all areas of life or reject God completely.

(7) Religionism

· Explanation --If I am good, go to church, etc., I will be okay.

· Its Distortion --Deformed view of God.

· The Snare --I am okay because of my religious works and activities.

· The Effect --Have some facts about God, engaged in some religious activity, but lacking in inner reality. Fail to integrate God into all areas of life.

Biblical Solutions

(1) Materialism

· Biblical Value-- Spiritual and eternal values, treasures.

· Responsibility-- Renewal, reevaluation, trust in God rather than in things.

· Result-- Ability to follow God, ministry, laying up eternal treasures.

(2) Activism

· Biblical Value --Christ-directed ministry, His initiative.

· Responsibility --Fellowship, prayer, sensitivity, openness.

· Result --Peace, fruitfulness, rest, absence of burnout.

(3) Individualism

· Biblical Value --Body life, co-worker, no man an island.

· Responsibility --Team work, submission to others, loving one another.

· Result --Edification of the body.

(4) Conformism

· Biblical Value --Biblical sense of who I am in Christ. Accepted, belong, capable.

· Responsibility --Learn to live as unto the Lord while resting in Him for my significance.

· Result --Content, relaxed, able to love others and put them above self.

(5) Relativism

· Biblical Value --Biblical absolutes based on the index of the Bible

· Responsibility --Objective Bible study based on exegesis, not eisegesis.

· Result --Confidence, divine guidance, knowing truth which gives freedom.

(6) Secularism

· Biblical Value --Biblical view of God and man.

· Responsibility --Total dependence on God.

· Result --Experience God in all areas of life.

(7) Religionism

· Biblical Value --Finished work of Christ plus obedience.

· Responsibility --Rest in Christ’s work, honesty, openness, worship, faith.

· Result --Ability to truly love God and people. [Note: This information was adapted from material in Defeating the Dragons of the World, Resisting the Seduction of False Values, by Stephen D. Eyre, InterVarsity Press.]

Appendix 5: The Doctrine of the Tribulation


The word "tribulation" comes from the Greek word thlipsis meaning "affliction, distress." It is used in general of any kind of testing, affliction or distress which people experience through-out life, and especially of the church and her problems in this world (Acts 7:10-11 ; Acts 11:19 ; Romans 5:3 ; Revelation 1:9 ; Revelation 2:9-10 ; Rev 2:22 ). But Bible students have also used the term, "the Tribulation," to refer to a specific eschatological time of trouble, a special time of judgment from God that will come upon the entire world, will be unprecedented in its affliction, and will be culminated by the personal return of Jesus Christ to earth. There are many passages that anticipate this time of trouble under a variety of names (see below), but two very special passages are Mat 24:4-21 and Revelation 6:1-17 ; Revelation 7:1-17 ; Revelation 8:1-13 ; Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 10:1-11 ; Revelation 11:1-19 ; Revelation 12:1-17 ; Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 14:1-20 ; Revelation 15:1-8 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ; Revelation 18:1-24 ; Revelation 19:1-21 . Others will be mentioned in the progress of this short overview.

For the purpose of accuracy, it should be noted that the word tribulation ( thlipsis ) is used prophetically to describe the distress that will occur in this specific future time of trouble preceding the return of the Lord only in Matthew 24:9 ; Matthew 24:21 ; Matthew 24:29 ; Mark 13:19 ; Mark 13:24 ; and Revelation 7:14 . Each of these passages are dealing with the time of Daniel’s seventieth week, also called the "time of Jacob’s distress" ( Jer 30:7 ). In five of the passages, the word "tribulation" refers to conditions in the last half of this time period and is either described by some qualifying terms like "great" (Matthew 24:21 ; Rev 7:14 ), by a clause describing the unprecedented nature of the distress in the last half of this short period of time ( Mar 13:19 ), or thlipsis has the article and in some way refers back to the great distress mentioned in the preceding context ( Mat 24:29 has, "after the tribulation of those days" and Mar 13:24 has, "following that distress" [emphasis mine]).

But since this seven-year period is a time of trouble (distress) involving judgments that will be poured out as the Lamb consecutively opens the seven-sealed scroll, Bible students often referred to this entire period as "the Tribulation," and rightly so. Since the judgments of the seals, the trumpets, and plagues grow in intensity, the last half is by far greater than the first half, and for this reason, it is called in Scripture, "the Great Tribulation."

The Source of the Tribulation

The post - tribulational rapturist (those who believe the rapture occurs at the end of the Tribulation) often refuses to distinguish between the general tribulations of this age which the church will endure and the unique, universal, and unprecedented Tribulation of Revelation 6:1-17 ; Revelation 7:1-17 ; Revelation 8:1-13 ; Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 10:1-11 ; Revelation 11:1-19 ; Revelation 12:1-17 ; Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 14:1-20 ; Revelation 15:1-8 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ; Revelation 18:1-24 ; Rev 19:1-21 and Matthew 24:4-31 . As such, they insist that the Tribulation is not the judgment of God, but that it comes from man and Satan and that the church will go through the majority of the events of Rev 6:1-17 and following. They often see any future tribulation as merely the devil’s wrath poured out against Christians.

True, the Tribulation will witness Satan’s wrath and the persecutions of his man, the beast (Revelation 12:12-17 ; Rev 13:7 ), but Scripture shows that even this is a manifestation of God’s wrath using Satan and mankind as the instruments of divine judgment as Assyria was used as the rod of His wrath (Isaiah 10:5 f). The clear emphasis of Scripture is that the Tribulation (Daniel’s Seventieth Week) is a time of God’s special judgment poured out upon the earth. The events or judgments of the Tribulation (Revelation 6:1-17 ; Revelation 7:1-17 ; Revelation 8:1-13 ; Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 10:1-11 ; Revelation 11:1-19 ; Revelation 12:1-17 ; Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 14:1-20 ; Revelation 15:1-8 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ; Revelation 18:1-24 ; Rev 19:1-21 ) are clearly specified as the result of the sovereign actions of the Lamb who opens the seals which produces the judgments that follow (Revelation 5:6-9 ; Revelation 6:1 ; Revelation 6:3 ; Revelation 6:5 ; Revelation 6:7 ; Revelation 6:9 ; Revelation 6:12 ; Rev 8:1 ).

Key Scriptures: Isaiah 24:1-13 ; Isaiah 26:21 ; Daniel 9:24-27 ; Joel 1:15 ; Zephaniah 1:18 ; Revelation 6:1-17 ; Revelation 11:18 ; Revelation 14:7 ; Revelation 14:10 ; Revelation 14:19 ; Revelation 15:4 ; Revelation 15:7 ; Revelation 16:1 ; Revelation 16:7 ; Revelation 16:19 ; Revelation 19:1-2 .

The Nature and Character of the Tribulation

Read Deuteronomy 4:30-31 ; Isaiah 2:19 ; Isaiah 24:1 ; Isaiah 24:3 ; Isaiah 24:6 ; Isaiah 24:19-21 ; Isaiah 26:20-21 ; Jeremiah 30:7 ; Daniel 12:1 ; Joel 2:1-2 ; Amos 5:18 ; Amos 5:20 .

(1) It is a time of unprecedented trouble (Joel 2:2 ; Mat 24:21 ). Everything about it will be unprecedented. Compare also Zephaniah 1:14-18 .

(2) It is a time of God’s wrath or indignation and the vindication of God’s holiness (Zephaniah 1:15 ; Zephaniah 1:18 ; Revelation 6:17 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:10 ; Revelation 14:7 ; Revelation 14:10 ; Rev 19:2 ). God’s wrath against man’s sin and rebellion will be withheld no longer.

(3) It is a day of utter darkness, gloom and extreme cloudiness (Joel 2:2 ; Zep 1:15 ).

(4) It is a day of destruction and global catastrophes (Joel 1:15 ; Joel 2:3 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:3 ; Revelation 6:1-17 ; Revelation 7:1-17 ; Revelation 8:1-13 ; Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 10:1-11 ; Revelation 11:1-19 ; Revelation 12:1-17 ; Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 14:1-20 ; Revelation 15:1-8 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ; Revelation 18:1-24 ; Rev 19:1-21 ).

(5) It is a day of extreme lawlessness, sin and demonic activity (Revelation 9:20-21 ; 2Th 2:12 ).

(6) It is a day of extreme deception and delusion (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 ; Revelation 9:1 f; Revelation 13:2-3; Revelation 13:2-3Revelation 13:2-3 , Revelation 13:11-18 ; Daniel 8:24 f). This deception is caused by a number of factors: (a) the removal of the Spirit indwelt church with its restraining influence ( 2Th 2:6-8 ), (b) the increase of demonic activity ( 2Th 2:8-10 ), and (c) the blinding judgment of God ( 2Th 2:11-12 ).

(7) It is a time of death (Revelation 6:3-11 ; Revelation 9:15 ; Revelation 9:18 ; Rev 11:13 ). Large portions of the populations of the earth will be wiped out suddenly, both human and animal.

(8) It is a time of utter negative volition, cold indifference, and rebellion against God even though the world will know it is under the wrath of God (Revelation 6:14-17 ; Revelation 9:20 ; Revelation 11:10 ; Rev 11:18 ).

(9) It is a time of internationalism religiously ( Rev 17:1-18 ), politically ( Rev 13:17 ), economically ( Rev 18:1-24 ), militarily (Joel 3:2 ; Joel 3:9-14 ; Rev 17:1-18 ).

(10) It is a time of extreme anti - Semitism (Revelation 12:1-17 ; Matthew 24:9 ; Matthew 24:13 f).

(11) It is a time of unprecedented apostasy and blasphemy against God (Revelation 11:1 f; Revelation 13:1 f; 2 Thessalonians 2:3 f).

(12) It is a time of the martyrdom of believers, both Jew and Gentile (Revelation 6:9 ; Revelation 7:14 f).

(13) It is a time of global and universal war, human and angelic (Revelation 6:2-4 ; Revelation 16:14 ; Revelation 19:14 f; Joel 3:2 ; Joel 3:9 f; Rev 12:7 ).

(14) But it is also a time of unprecedented evangelism (Revelation 7:9 ; Mat 24:14 ).

Names Used of the Tribulation

(1) Jacob’s trouble or distress ( Dan 9:24-27 )

(2) Daniel’s 70th week ( Dan 9:24-27 )

(3) A time of trouble or distress ( Dan 12:1 )

(4) The great day, the one of their wrath ( Rev 6:17 )

(5) The hour of testing which shall try the whole earth ( Rev 3:10 )

(6) The indignation ( Isa 26:26 )

(7) Tribulation and the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:9 ; Matthew 24:21 ; Matthew 24:29 ; Mark 13:19 ; Mark 13:24 ; Rev 7:14 )

(8) The Day of the Lord (Joel 1:15 ; Joel 2:1 ; 1Th 5:2 )

In Scripture, "The Day of the Lord" is often associated with this time of great judgment which God will pour out on the earth against Israel and the nations. But it is also associated with the time of millennial blessings which follow during which the Lord will rule on earth. Compare Isa 13:6-22 speaks of judgment, but 14:1 - 3 the result which is peace with Israel re-gathered and in blessing (Joel 1:15 f; Joel 2:1 f, Joel 2:12-18; Joel 2:12-18Joel 2:12-18 f; Joel 3:1 f).

Key Players in the Tribulation

(1) Unbelievers : The Tribulation will begin with only unbelievers since the body of Christ will have been removed through the rapture and kept from this hour of trial (Revelation 3:10 ; 1Th 1:10 ; 1Th 5:9 ). The Tribulation is uniquely a time to test the earth dwellers (Revelation 3:10 ; Isa 24:17 ), those who during the church age had no time nor interest in spiritual things and who therefore never received Christ as their Savior by faith ( 2Th 2:10-12 ). The Tribulation is a time of God’s wrath or judgment. For believers in Christ there is no judgment ( Rom 8:1 ), we are not appointed to the Day of the Lord, the time of wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:2 ; 1Th 5:9 ).

(2) Jews and Gentiles : The participants of the Tribulation may be further categorized according to their racial heritage as either Jews or Gen-tiles. Scripture categorizes men today in three categories: (a) The church; (b) Israel; and (c) the Gentiles or the nations ( 1Co 10:32 ). In the Tribulation the church will be gone, so the world will consist of only Jews (Israel) and Gentiles. Compare Eph 2:11-22 for the reason why the church is a new entity of people, i.e., a new man, a new creation where Jew and Gentile are made one in Jesus Christ.

The reason for these two categories is found in the dispensational purposes of God and God’s special calling and purpose for Israel according to the Old Testament covenants with Abraham and the patriarchs, and with David (Genesis 10:1-32 ; Genesis 11:1-32 ; Genesis 12:1-20 ; 2 Samuel 7:12-16 ; Romans 3:9 ; Romans 3:19 ; Romans 11:1-32 ; Luk 21:24 ).

(3) 144,00 Bondservants of God : 12,000 Jews from each of the twelve tribes. These are Jews who will be saved after the Tribulation begins. They are sealed, which refers to their salvation, identification and protec-tion for special service during the rest of the Tribulation. From the context of Revelation 7:1-17 , it appears they will be the special evangelists whom God will use to lead multitudes to Christ from every nation, tribe, people and tongue (cf. Rev 7:1-8 with 9-10).

(4) The Two Witnesses : This refers to the two men who will come on the scene as a virtual (though probably not literal) Moses and Elijah. They will perform miracles like those of Moses and Elijah, and will prophesy during one -half of the Tribulation--most probably the last half ( Rev 11:1-14 ).

(5) Satan and his Demons : Revelation 9:1-11 ; Revelation 12:3-17 ; Revelation 16:13-14 ; Revelation 13:2 . Obviously, as a day of delusion and great darkness, Satan and his demon hosts are key figures in this drama. All the lawlessness, the murders, drugs, wars and blasphemies of this period are a result of satanic activity in conjunction with the degeneracy of man ( 2Th 2:9-12 ).

(6) The Beast : Revelation 13:1 f; Revelation 16:13 ; Daniel 2:40-43 ; Daniel 9:27 ; Daniel 8:23 f; Daniel 7:23-26 ; Daniel 11:36 f. This title applies to both a man and his governmental system. The system is the revived imperial form of the Old Roman Empire which is a consoli-dation of ten European countries into one 10 nation confederation. But this system is headed up and controlled by a Satan-possessed man from whom the system gets its character and beastly nature.

(7) The False Prophet : While the beast is primarily a political figure (though he later becomes religious in that he seeks to be worshipped and claims to be God), the False Prophet is religious and promotes the ministry and person of the beast ( Rev 13:11-18 ). Since the first beast is Satan-possessed, this forms the unholy trinity, Satan, the beast, and the False Prophet. Satan is to the beast what the Father is to the Son, and the False Prophet is to the beast what the Holy Spirit is to Christ.

(8) The Fallen Angels and Michael and His Angels : Revelation 12:7 . The entire Book is filled with the ministries of the angels of God in service to God and of the activity of fallen angels that do Satan’s bidding.

(9) The Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings, The Lamb and Lion from the tribe of Judah : Revelation 4:1-11 ; Revelation 5:1-14 ; and Revelation 19:1-21 . He is the central figure who is revealed in all His glory and splendor, person, and work and who puts an end to God’s enemies and establishes God’s kingdom on earth.

(10) The Bride of Christ, the Church : Revelation 19:7 f. She is viewed as married to the Lamb and coming with Christ at His second advent for the marriage supper, the millennial kingdom where she will reign with Christ.

(11) The Great Harlot, Religious Babylon : This is the great religious system, the mother - child cult, the mother of all harlotry stemming from the time of ancient Babylon. It finally becomes a great ecumenical, one - world religious system of the Tribulation ( Rev 17:1-18 ).

(12) The Merchants of the World : Revelation 18:1-24 . This refers to the conglomeration of multinational companies and organizations and their merchandising of the world.

(13) The Ten Nations of Europe : Revelation 17:12 . This refers to ten nations, a Mediterranean or European federation which falls under the power and authority of the beast.

(14) The Kings of the East : Revelation 16:12 f. This refers to an oriental block of nations who will march across the Euphrates River when it is miraculously dried up. Their goal is to enter Palestine for the final battle of the campaign of Armageddon to be fought on the plain of Esdraelon near the Mount of Megiddo.

The Time of the Tribulation

The Tribulation occurs after the removal of the church (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-28 :l-9) and is followed by the 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:1-4 ; Ezekiel 20:33-38 ; Matthew 24:1-51 ; Mat 25:1-46 ). It is that period of time through which the Lamb defeats His enemies and establishes His right to rule on earth (Revelation 4:1-11 ; Revelation 5:1-14 ; Rev 11:15-18 ).

Some arguments for the pre - tribulational rapture, i.e., that Christ comes for His church before the Tribulation are:

(1) It is a time of divine wrath and judgment upon sin and the church has not been appointed to wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9 ; Romans 8:1 ; Joh 5:24 ).

(2) The church has been specifically promised it will be kept out. See chart and the exposition of Rev 3:10 in lesson 10.

(3) The church and Israel are two distinct groups or peoples of God (1 Corinthians 10:32 ; Romans 9:1-33 ; Romans 10:1-21 ; Rom 11:1-36 ). The church age is a parenthesis in God’s program with Israel. The Tribulation is the resumption of God’s program with Israel, to conclude it and establish the kingdom. The Tribu-lation is thus Jacob’s Trouble, Jeremiah 30:7 . It is for Israel and not the church, the Body of Christ.

(4) The coming of Christ for the church is seen as imminent in the epistles. By this we mean it is not preceded by signs. Christ could come for us today (1 Thessalonians 1:10 ; Titus 2:13 ; Joh 2:22 ). If the church had to go through the Tribulation, then His coming could not be imminent, but would be preceded by signs. [Note: For an excellent discussion concerning the imminent return of the Lord, see the chapter by Earl D. Radmacher in Issues in Dispensationalism, Welsey R. Willis, John R. Master, General Editors, Charles Ryrie, Consulting Editor, Moody Press: Chicago, pp. 247-267. Also, see J. Barton Payne’s, The Imminent Appearing of Christ.]

(5) The contrasts between Christ’s return for His saints (the church) and His return after the Tribulation also support two separate and dis-tinct events separated by some time. (See the contrasts at the end of this Appendix.)

The Purposes of the Tribulation

(1) For Israel : Being uniquely a time of Jacob’s (Israel’s) distress ( Jer 30:7 ), it is a time to discipline Israel for her stubbornness and rejection of Christ, to purge out the rebels and to bring the nation to faith in Christ and so prepare her for restoration and regathering for the millennium (Matthew 23:37-39 ; Ezekiel 20:33-38 ; Zechariah 12:10 ; Jer 30:1-17 ). The Tribulation is also designed to break the yoke of Gentile bondage (Jeremiah 30:8 ; Jeremiah 30:11 ; Jer 31:11 ).

(2) For the Nations : The Tribulation will serve as divine judgment for anti - Semitism (Zechariah 1:15-21 ; Zechariah 12:3 f; Zechariah 14:3 ; Joel 3:2 ; Jeremiah 30:8 ; Jeremiah 30:11 ; Jer 30:16 ). The Tribulation will also be used to bring many Gentiles to faith in Christ (Revelation 7:9 ; Rev 13:10 ). Finally, it is a test to try all the inhabitants of the earth.

(3) In Relation to Satan : The Tribulation will reveal the true character and program of Satan. The Tribulation will permit Satan’s program to come to its logical conclusion resulting in judgment from God. It will demonstrate that Satan is the cause of war, murder, and deception, and that he deserves his judgment from God (Matthew 25:41 ; Revelation 12:7-12 ; Revelation 20:1-3 ; Isaiah 14:12-17 ; Eze 28:12-19 ).

(4) In General : The Tribulation is an open judgment against all mankind for rebellion to God and rejection of Jesus Christ (Zephaniah 1:15 ; Zephaniah 1:17-18 ; Joel 3:12-14 ; Rev 6:16-17 ).

(5) In Relation to God : The Tribulation will demonstrate that God is holy, righteous, just, and still on the throne. That He has not ignored man’s rebellion or sin, but that He has held back only in mercy and longsuffering, not willing that any should perish ( 2Pe 3:9 ).

The Length of the Tribulation

Dan 9:24-27 teaches us that the Tribulation (Daniel’s 70th week) consists of seven years. This is further verified by the time periods of Revelation which divide the Tribulation into two periods of three and one - half years. (Revelation 11:2-3 ; Revelation 13:5 ; Revelation 12:6 ; Daniel 7:25 ; Rev 12:14 ).

Understanding these basic truths concerning the Tribulation will help prepare the student for a study of Revelation 6:1-17 ; Revelation 7:1-17 ; Revelation 8:1-13 ; Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 10:1-11 ; Revelation 11:1-19 ; Revelation 12:1-17 ; Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 14:1-20 ; Revelation 15:1-8 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ; Revelation 18:1-24 ; Revelation 19:1-21 .

Contrasts and Comparisons Between the Two Phases of Christ’s Second Coming

Christ’s Coming for the Church, the Rapture Christ’s Coming to the World (1) At the rapture believers meet Christ in the air. It is the translation of all believers ( 1Th 4:17 ). (1) At His second coming to earth, no translation is seen ( Zec 14:4 ). (2) His coming is as a thief. Only believers of the church will see him (Acts 1:11 ; 1Th 4:17 ). (2) Every eye shall see Him, it is open, public, and manifest to the world ( Rev 5:16 ; Mat 24:30 ). (3) Believers are taken off the earth and unbelievers remain to go into the Tribulation (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 ; Joh 14:3 ). (3) Unbelievers are taken and believers are left to go into the millennium (Matthew 24:37-39 ; Rev 19:17-21 ). (4) Christ comes for His saints and they return with Him into the heavens ( 1Th 4:17 ). (4) Christ comes with His saints (1 Thessalonians 3:13 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 ; Zechariah 14:5 ; Revelation 19:7 f). (5) It is imminent, not preceded by any specific signs (Titus 2:13 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:10 ; Romans 13:11-14 ; 1Jn 2:28 ). (5) It is preceded by specific signs included in the Tribulation ( Mat 24:1-51 ). (6) Christ comes as our Deliverer from the wrath to come. He keeps believers out of the Tribulation (1 Thessalonians 4:18 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 ; Rev 3:10 ). (6) Christ comes as Judge. The world is judged (Matthew 25:31-32 ; Matthew 25:46 ; Revelation 6:1-17 ; Revelation 7:1-17 ; Revelation 8:1-13 ; Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 10:1-11 ; Revelation 11:1-19 ; Revelation 12:1-17 ; Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 14:1-20 ; Revelation 15:1-8 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ; Revelation 18:1-24 ; Revelation 19:1-21 ; Matthew 3:11-12 ; Joel 2:1-11 ; Joel 3:1-17 ; Jude 1:15 . (7) It is a source of comfort to believers (1 Thessalonians 4:18 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:9 ; Rev 3:10 ). (7) It is a source of fear to man (Revelation 6:15-17 ; Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 10:1-11 ; Rev 11:1-19 ). (8) There are no recorded changes in nature mentioned in connection with the rapture. (8) Many changes in nature recorded (Revelation 6:1-17 ; Isa 35:1-10 ). (9) It is a mystery, a truth hidden in the OT ( 1Co 15:51 ). (9) It is the subject of extended prophecy in the OT. (10) No reference or dealing with Satan. Instead, his activity increases (cf. 1Th 4:13-18 with 2 Thessalonians 2:1 f). (10) Satan is bound for 1,000 years ( Rev 20:1-3 ). (11) At the rapture the Mount of Olives is unchanged. (11) At His return, the Mount of Olives is split and forms a valley ( Zec 14:4-5 ). (12) At the rapture we have the examination, rewards, and wedding of the bride ( Rev 19:7-10 ). (12) Christ’s return to earth is followed by the wedding feast and the church is seen already rewarded. (13) At the rapture believers receive a glorified body ( 1Co 15:51-53 ) (13) Believers of the Tribulation go into the millennium with mortal bodies ( Isa 65:20-25 ).

Appendix 6: The Book of Life


A number of passages in the Bible refer to a book called "the book of life," a figurative expression that originated from the ancient customs of (a) keeping various kinds of records like genealogical records (Nehemiah 7:5 ; Nehemiah 7:64 ; Neh 12:22-23 ) and of (b) registering citizens for numerous purposes (Jeremiah 22:30 ; Eze 13:9 ). Accordingly, God is represented as having records of men, of their works, and of God’s dealings with them. One such record is called "the book of life."

There is some evidence that in the city of Sardis a person’s name was sometimes removed from the city register before death if he had been convicted of a crime. This is undoubtedly behind the promise given to the overcomer in Revelation 3:5 , "I will not erase his name from the book of life." [Note: Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 450.] But what is the meaning and significance of the various references to the book of life in relation to salvation, to the be-liever, and to the unbeliever? Is it a record of all who are saved or could it be a record of all those for whom Christ died, which under the doctrine of Christ’s unlimited atonement, would include all the world?

Passages Referring to the Book of Life

(1) Psalms 69:28 "Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous."

(2) Daniel 12:1 "Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued." Though the word "life" or "living" is not used here, it is part of the same concept.

(3) In the gospels Christ says, "… but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven" ( Luk 10:20 ). "Are recorded" is a perfect tense and looks at an abiding condition. This is evidently another reference to the book of life.

(4) In Philippians 4:3 , Paul speaks of "the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life."

(5) Revelation 3:5 "I will not erase his name from the book of life."

(6) Revelation 13:8 "all who dwell on the earth will worship him (the beast), everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain."

(7) Revelation 17:8 "… And those who dwell on the earth will wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come."

(8) In Revelation 20:12 "And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds."

(9) Revelation 20:15 "And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."

Categories of Books in Scripture

In addition to the book of life, there are other categories of records or books mentioned in Scripture. These are:

(1) Book of Wars: Numbers 21:14 . This was a collection of war songs celebrating the glorious acts of God on behalf of Israel.

(2) The Book of Jasher: Joshua 10:13 ; 2 Samuel 1:18 . This was an early chronicle of the history of Israel.

(3) Book of Remembrance: Malachi 3:16-17 ; Psalms 56:8 . This was a book of remembrance for special blessings and rewards for faithfulness.

(4) Book of Those Physically Alive (a dooms day book): Exodus 32:32-33 . This refers to a register of the physically living. To be blotted out meant to experience physical death (cf. Exodus 17:14 ; Deuteronomy 29:20 ; Psa 9:5-6 ).

(5) The Book of Works: Revelation 20:12-13 . This consists of a record of the deeds of unbelievers as a basis of their judgment proving they all fall short of the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Daniel 7:9-10 ; Rom 3:19-24 ).

Thoughts on the Book of Life

In Relation to Believers

First, believers are told their names stand permanently written (re-corded) in the book of life. The tenses used in Luke 10:20 , Hebrews 12:23 , and Php 4:3 suggest an abiding state. Both Luk 10:20 and Heb 12:23 use the perfect tense which can carry the idea of "stand recorded or enrolled." The perfect tense in its basic meaning, unaffected by context or a particular verbal idea, refers to completed past action with existing results. But when used in context, the emphasis may be on the accomplished action; this is called the consummative perfect. On the other hand, the emphasis may be on the existing state, the results without any thought or emphasis on the past; this is the intensive perfect. And of course, the emphasis can be on both elements, completion and results. The intensive perfect is much like an emphatic or intensive present. "The attention is directed wholly to the present resulting state, the past action of which it is the result being left out of thought." [Note: E. DeWitt Burton, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses, 3rd edition, T. & T. Clark: Edinburgh, 1898, p 37.]

In Philippians 4:3 , the verb in the clause, "are in the book of life," is a present participle suggesting a continual condition and would likewise stress the permanence of this record.

Second, in Revelation 3:5 , overcomers are promised that their names will never be erased or blotted out of the book of life. The negative "not" rep-resents the emphatic double negative ou me„ in the Greek. The idea and emphasis is "by no means or under no circumstances will I erase…" As discussed in the lesson on the church at Sardis (see lesson 9), this statement in Rev 3:5 is an illustration of litotes , a rhetorical device designed to stress the positive by the use of a negative. If I were to say, "That’s no small problem!" you would immediately understand, "That’s a big problem!" This promise not only stresses the security of the believer, for every believer’s name stands permanently written in the book of life, but by stating the promise in this way, the Lord is promising something special to the overcomer in the kingdom and eternal future.

As mentioned above, there is historical evidence that in the city of Sardis a person’s name was sometimes removed from the city register before death if he had been convicted of a crime. When these messages were written, Christians were under the constant threat of being branded as social rebels and stripped of their citizenship if they refused to recant or denounce their faith in Christ. In other words, they were branded as criminals. Thus, as a source of motivation and encouragement the Lord personally reminds the overcomer not only of the safety of his heavenly citizenship, but of the special acknowledgment the Lord Himself will give him before the Father and before His angels.

Blotting names from the book of life is never applicable to a believer in Christ because believers are secure in Him, being kept by the power of God ( 1Pe 1:5 ) and held secure in both the hand of the Son and of the Father ( Joh 10:28-30 ).

In Relation to Unbelievers

When we examine Scripture as a whole, there is evidence that some names, however, will be blotted from the book of life. In relation to Revelation 3:5 , Walvoord writes:

On the basis of this some have considered the book of life not as the roll of those who are saved but rather a list of those for whom Christ died, that is, all humanity who have possessed physical life. As they come to maturity and are faced with the responsibility of accepting or rejecting Christ, their names are blotted out if they fail to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour; whereas those who do accept Christ as Saviour are confirmed in their position in the book of life, and their names are confessed before the Father and heavenly angels. [Note: John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press: Chicago, 1966, p. 82.]

(1) Psa 69:1-36 is a messianic Psalm portraying the suffering of Christ caused by His enemies. The passage is clearly talking about unbelievers for Psa 69:21 reads, "They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." This was prophetic of actions that would be carried out by unbelievers against Christ during His crucifixion. Then, in Acts 1:1-2; Acts 1:1-2Acts 1:1-2 Peter specifically applied Psa 69:25 to Judas. Judas was a Christ rejecter and a representative of unbelieving Israel as a whole.

(2) In Psa 69:27 David said, speaking of these enemies, "… and may they not come into Your righteousness." Why could they not come into God’s righteousness? Because of rejection of Christ. In the Jew’s zeal to pursue their own self-righteousness they rejected the gift of God’s righteousness through faith in His Son (see Rom 10:1-6 ).

(3) Then, in Psalms 69:28 , still talking about the unbeliever, David adds, "may they be blotted out of the book of life and may they not be recorded with the righteous." In the context, "be recorded" means either remain recorded, or it may point to the goal or end result--so they may not remain on the same register. "Be recorded" is in the imperfect tense in the Hebrew text which may, depending on the context, express an aim or result. It may be that David was not just praying for the untimely death of his enemies, but for removal from the book of life. Why? Because their actions not only demonstrated unbelief, but such a hardened condition of the heart that it precluded repentance or ever coming to faith in the righteousness of God through Messiah.

(4) Exodus 32:31-33 :

Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, "Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32 But now, if Thou wilt, forgive their sin--and if not, please blot me out from Thy book which Thou hast written!" 33 And the Lord said to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book."

This was probably a register of those who were physically alive and to be blotted out of this book meant an untimely death. However, God’s physical and material dealings with Israel were often types and pictures of God’s spiritual dealings with man, and especially with the church today (1 Corinthians 10:1 f). For David’s enemies in Psalms 69:1-36 "blotting out of the book of life," as in the case of Judas and the unbelieving in Israel, meant removal from the book of life and from remaining recorded with the righteous. This is supported by the fact that in Christ’s day all unbelieving Jews were not put to death, though Judas died by suicide. So likewise this Exodus passage may typically portray the removal of the sinner, the unbeliever who rejects Jesus Christ, from the book of life ( Joh 16:8-9 ).

(5) Rev 20:11-15 refers to the judgment of the unbelieving dead. These are those whose names are not in the book of life and are condemned to the eternal lake of fire. As will be suggested below, it may be that their names were originally there, but were removed because they never trusted in the person and work of Christ as their Savior.

Limited vs. Unlimited Atonement

Some believe in a doctrine of limited atonement (that Christ died for only the elect), but Scripture states plainly that Christ died for the sins of the entire human race. This is the doctrine of unlimited atonement.

From the human side or perspective , Christ’s saving work is limited only by man’s rejection or failure to respond to God’s grace (cf. 1 John 2:2 ; John 3:16 ; John 3:36 ; 2 Peter 2:1 ; Isa 53:6 ; 1 Timothy 4:10 ; Titus 2:11 ; 2 Peter 3:9 ; John 7:17 ; John 1:9 ; John 1:11 ; Rom 2:4 ).

From the divine side or perspective, Christ’s saving work is limited by God’s elective purposes, but this does not alter the clear statements of Scripture that Christ died for all and the offer of salvation is for all. God’s sovereign election and man’s volition and responsibility to believe constitute a difficult concept for man to grasp. It is an example of what some theologians have called an antinomy, two laws or principles that are true, but that seem contradictory to the human mind.

Some possible implications:

(1) Since Christ died for the sins of the whole world ( 1Jn 2:2 ), since God is perfectly just, fair, and impartial in His dealings with man (Romans 2:2 ; Romans 2:4 ; Rom 2:11 ), and since all men are potentially saved in Jesus Christ (provision is made for all [cf. 1 Timothy 4:4-6 ; 1 Timothy 4:10 ; 2 Peter 2:1 ; 2Pe 3:9 ]), it may be that the name of every person born into this world was written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.

(2) Since the issue for salvation is receiving Jesus Christ by personal faith ( Joh 1:12 ), the unbeliever’s name is blotted out at death because of rejection of Christ or negative volition to the grace of God, including the pre - salvation work of the Spirit of God that attempts to lead him to Jesus Christ. Rom 2:4 reads, "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" Obviously, all do not come to repentance or faith in Christ. This is what grammarians call a conative present pointing to what God desires and attempts to do, but He is hindered by man’s hardness and rejection.

(3) This can never happen for those who have believed in Christ, however, since they have trusted in the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ.

Difficult Passages

But what about Revelation 13:8 ; Rev 17:8 ?

(1) In both these passages the words, "has not been written," are in the per-fect tense. Remember that the perfect tense, unaffected by context or a particular verbal idea, refers to completed past action with existing results. Depending on the verb and the context, the emphasis may be on the accomplished action, the consummative perfect. Or, the emphasis may be on the existing state, the results without any thought or emphasis on the past, the intensive perfect. And of course, if the context suggests, the emphasis can be on both the completion and results.

(2) The verb used to illustrate the intensive perfect in grammar after grammar is the word "to write," graptein , which in the perfect, gegraptai , means "to stand written." When the negative "no" is added, it could mean: (a) it was never written in the book, or (b) it does not stand (remain) written. Why does it not remain written? If the above proposal is correct it is because their names are blotted out at death because they had refused to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

(3) Some might argue that in Revelation 13:8 ; Rev 17:8 the names of the beast worshippers are already viewed as removed from the book of life, that is removed or absent from the book of life before death. But those mentioned in these two passages are the earth dwellers, those who worship and marvel at the beast and who receive his mark. Receiving the mark of the beast is a clear indication of complete rejection of Jesus Christ; it demonstrates that the possessor of the mark has reached such a place or condition of hardness that it precludes repentance or faith in Christ. Receiving the mark of the beast, then, terminates one’s chance to receive Jesus Christ. It is equivalent to death for Tribulation people. It is proof they will never receive Jesus Christ, and God knows this absolutely. This is similar to the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that could only occur during the life of Christ on earth ( Mat 12:1-50 ).

(4) By contrast compare Isa 4:1-3 and Daniel 12:1 . Both of these passages anticipate the blessings of the millennium following the Tribulation. Further, they are dealing with the remnant, those left at the end of the Tribulation who were not killed by the beast and who did not receive his mark, those whose names are still re-corded in the book of life. These believers will go into the mill-ennium and will experience its blessings.

(5) What about the words "from the foundation of the world"? In Rev 13:8 these words are grammatically connected with "the Lamb who has been slain." Literally the Greek reads, whose names "do not stand written in the book of life of the Lamb, who was slain from the foundation of the world." This statement com-pares with Act 2:23 and 1 Peter 1:20 . It is the Lamb whose death was ordained from the foundation of the world. In Revelation 17:8 , however, the construction is different. Here "from the foundation of the world" is connected with "the book of life." Literally the Greek says, "whose names do not stand written in the book of life from the foundation of the world." The book itself exists from the foundation of the world. The removal of names does not occur until death, or in this case, until they take the mark of the beast.

Three Categories of People

Finally, there are three categories of people that we might consider in relation to the book of life:

(1) Normal individuals who have reached the age of accountability; they must receive Jesus Christ as Savior, or at death their names will be blotted out and they will face the great white throne judgment ( Rev 20:11-15 ).

(2) The child who never reaches the age of accounta-bility, but dies before he or she is capable of understanding and is thereby incapable of either rejecting or receiving Jesus Christ. Since Christ died for all, and since the issue is accepting or rejecting Christ, these names remain written in the book of life (cf. John 16:8-9 ; 1Co 7:14 ).

(3) The mentally retarded, the person who can never reach the age of accountability because of their inability to understand the gospel. Such a person would also fall in the same category as number two above.

Appendix 7: Glossary of Prophetical Terms


This term comes from a Latin word adventus and means "arrival, pre-sence." It cor-responds to the Greek parousia (coming or pre-sence), or epipha-neia (manife-station, ap-pear-ance), or apokalupsis (revelation, unveiling). Advent has become a theological term used of Christ’s appearances on earth-His first and second coming. So we speak of Christ’s first and second advents. The first advent includes our Lord’s birth, life, death, resurrection and was culminated by His ascension. The second advent refers to Christ’s second coming which will begin silently when He comes for His saints in the air ( 1Th 4:13-18 ), and then openly to the world at the end of the Tribulation when He comes to earth (Matthew 24:27-30 ; 1Th 3:13 ).


A system of eschatology which, among other things, interprets the millennium as symbolical of present life in heaven. [Note: Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy, Assurance Publishers: Rockville, MD, 1974, p. 363.]

Analogy of Faith

The principle that any interpretation of the Scripture must conform and harmonize with the whole teaching of Scripture on that given subject. [Note: Tan, p. 363.]


Prophecies that deal with the disclosure or revelation of the end time events. The word is derived from the Greek word, apokalupsis (sometimes written apokalypsis ) "an unveiling, revelation."


A term sometimes used for the Book of Revelation since the word revelation comes from the Greek apokalupsis , "an unveiling, revelation."


Anti means "against" or "in place of." Antichrist, therefore, may refer generally to any apostate teacher who is against Christ or who claims to be Christ (Matthew 24:23-24 ; 1 John 2:18 ; 1Jn 4:3 ). The Antichrist refers to the final and horrible world ruler of the Tribulation. He is one who stands both against Christ and who seeks to usurp Christ’s place as the false Messiah of the Jews (1 John 4:3 b; Rev 13:1-10 ).


The belief in a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. Comes from the mention of the 1,000 (Greek, chilioi ) years used in Revelation 20:2-7 .

Daniel’s Seventieth Week

This is another title or Scriptural reference for the Tribulation. It refers to the last seven years of the seventy weeks of years (or 490 years) prophesied concerning the nation Israel in Daniel 9:24-27 . The seventy weeks of years concerns God’s program for the nation beginning with the time of Daniel and extending to the second advent of Christ. The first sixty-nine weeks (483 years) were from 445 BC to the time of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (29 AD). The last week (seven years) is yet to be fulfilled and can’t be until the fullness of the Gentiles is complete and the Church is removed by means of the Rapture. It will begin with the signing of the peace treaty with Israel by the prince that will come, the final world ruler who rises out of the revived Roman empire ( Dan 9:26-27 ).

Day of Christ

The Day of Christ is that period of time which begins with the rap-ture of the Church ( 1Th 4:14-18 ) and includes the events which follow in heaven as the Judgment Seat of Christ and the Marriage of the Lamb (1 Corinthians 1:8 ; 1 Corinthians 5:5 ; 2 Corinthians 1:14 ; Philippians 1:6 ; Philippians 1:10 ; Php 2:16 ). 2Th 2:2 should be rendered "the Day of the Lord" and refers to a different period of time. The Day of Christ is a time of reward and blessing for the Church following the Rapture.

Day of God

This is the name based on the Greek Text behind the KJV that is sometimes given to those events which bring to a close the Day of the Lord and usher in the eternal state with the new heavens and the new earth. The events of the Day of God include the dissolving of the old heavens and the old earth ( 2Pe 3:10-14 ). This name is also used of the great war described in Rev 14:16 and consisting of several battles, beginning with Antichrist’s campaign into Egypt ( Dan 11:40-45 ), including the siege of Jerusalem ( Zec 14:2 ) as well as the final battle of Armageddon ( Rev 14:16 ). [Note: Charles C. Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, NASB, Moody Press: Chicago, 1995, p. 2036.]

Day of the Lord

This is the period of time which begins with the Tribula-tion and extends through the mille-nnial reign of Christ on earth through the destruction of the heavens and the earth and into the ushering in of the new heavens and earth and the eternal state. 2Pe 3:10 gives authority for including everything from the Tribulation through the Millennium. This day begins as a thief (1 Thessalonians 5:2 ; 2Pe 3:10 ) being instituted by the signing of the peace treaty of Dan 9:27 with mankind believing a new time of peace and safety has been ushered in.


The doctrine of "last things" or "things to come." The word eschatology comes from the Greek, eschatos , meaning, "last, extreme." As used theologically, this word refers to those truths of Scripture that pertain to the end times, the coming of the Lord, the rapture, the Tribulation, the millennium, etc.


The study of the intended meaning of a passage of Scripture through observation of the essentials of the text as the context, grammar, meaning of words, literary style, and the cultural and historical background. Exegesis comes from the Greek word exe„geomai , "to lead out, explain, unfold." Eisegesis is just the opposite. It means to read into the text one’s own ideas. We want to avoid eisegesis and do exegesis .

Fullness of the Gentiles

This refers to the completion of God’s purpose in the church age during which time God is calling out from among the Gentiles a people for His name, namely the Church (Acts 15:14 ; Ephesians 1:22-23 ; Rom 11:7-32 ).

Great White Throne Judgment

Often called, the "final judgment," the great white throne judgment follows the millennial reign of Christ. Its purpose is not to determine whether one is saved or not, but rather to pass judgment on the works of the unsaved to demonstrate their unrighteousness and that they fall short of the holiness of God. The sentence is the second death: eternal separation from God in the lake of fire ( Rev 20:11-15 ).


See Hell .

Hell (and related words)

Hell : In common usage, this term refers to the place of future punishment for the wicked. The word properly translated "hell" in the New Testament is the Greek Geenna or Gehenna , a place in the valley of Hinnom where human sacrifices had been offered and where continuous burning of rubbish made it an apt illustration of the eternal lake of fire (cf. Mat 5:22 ). Other words like sheol or hades are improperly translated by this term.

Sheol : The general idea of this word is "the place of the dead" including the grave (cf. Numbers 16:30 ; Numbers 16:33 ; Psa 16:10 ), and the unseen place of those who have departed from this life, the place of departed spirits or both the righteous ( Gen 37:35 ) and the wicked ( Pro 9:18 ).

Hades : This word is basically the New Testament counterpart of the Sheol . It refers to the unseen world in general, but specifically to the abode of the unsaved dead between death and the final judgment at the great white throne (cf. Luk 16:23 and Rev 20:11-15 ). It differs from hell in that it is temporary while hell is permanent.

Lake of Fire : Refers to the eternal state of the wicked who are forever separated from God and consigned to a special abode of suffering because of their rejection of Christ or their lack of the righteousness of Christ. It is equivalent to and identified with the second death in Revelation 20:14 .


This is a term used in connection with the return of Christ for the church. His coming for the church as promised in Joh 14:3 is im-minent, without the neces-sity of any event that must take place before the Lord returns for His church. His coming for the church "is not qualified by description of any signs or prerequisite events." [Note: John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question, Dunham Publishing: Findlay, OH, 1957, p. 79.] By contrast, the return of Christ at the end of the Tribulation is preceded by a number of signs ( Mat 24:4-22 ). Scriptural evidence for imminency provides strong evidence for the pre-tribulation viewpoint.

Judgment Seat of Christ

This term describes that event when believers will be brought into an examination before the Son of God (1 Corinthians 3:9-15 ; 2 Corinthians 5:10 ; Rom 14:10 ). The Greek word for "judgment seat" is be„ma which once referred to the platform where the umpire for the Greek games would sit and issue rewards to the athletes. Thus, the purpose for the judgment seat is not to determine whether the one judged is a believer or not, but rather to publicly assess, whether acceptable or worthless, one’s works (outward) and character (inward) for rewards or their loss.

Kingdom of God, and Kingdom of Heaven

The word "kingdom" means "rule, reign." Thus, the names kingdom of God and kingdom of heaven mean the rule or reign of God and the rule or reign of heaven. Some Bible teachers designate the eternal kingdom as the kingdom of God and the earthly program of God’s reign in the present mystery form and the millennial form of the future as the kingdom of heaven. Such a distinction, however, cannot really be supported by the use of these terms in Scripture.

The difference in the terms does not lie in the terms themselves as much as in the usage in the context. Both are used of the eternal kingdom (cf. Mat 6:33 with Matthew 18:3-6 ; Mat 7:21 and Mat 19:14 ). Both are used in reference to the future millennial kingdom ( Mat 4:17 and Mark 1:14-15 ; cf. Matthew 3:2 ; Matthew 5:3 ; Matthew 5:10 ; Matthew 6:10 ; Mark 9:1 ; Mark 9:47 ; Mark 14:25 ; Luke 19:11 ; Luk 21:31 ). And both are used in reference to the present form of the kingdom (Matthew 13:11 ; Mark 4:11 ; Luk 8:10 ).

Some would say the differences in the terms are found in the following: (1) The Kingdom of heaven stresses the kingdom has its source and origin in heaven, is patterned after heaven and its perfection, and has eternal and lasting value. (2) The kingdom of God points to the spiritual character of the reign and dominion, i.e., the reign of God, and to the chief object and goal of the kingdom, the glory of God. (3) The kingdom of God when used of a spiritual kingdom includes only good angels and saved men. (4) The kingdom of heaven, when used of the earthly aspects of the God’s kingdom, deals with the external aspects of the kingdom, i.e., Christendom, and includes saved and unsaved.

Lake of Fire

See Hell .


The word millennium means a thousand years and refers to the promise of Scrip-ture that Christ would reign on earth for a thousand years. The millen-nium has come to be synonymous for not only Christ’s reign on earth, but for the fulfillment of all Old Testament hopes and expectations associated with the kingdom of God on earth--peace, no war, perfect seasons, Israel and Jerusalem the center of the earth, Gentile domination removed, etc. (key verses, Isaiah 2:1-4 ; Isaiah 9:7 ; Isaiah 11:2 f; Rev 20:1-15 ).

Premillennial View: The second coming of Christ will occur before the Millennium.

Amillennial View : The second coming of Christ is at the end of the Church Age and there is no earthly Millennium. Strictly, amillenarians believe that the present state of the righteous in heaven is the Millennium, but there is no earthly Millennium.

Postmillennial View: The second coming of Christ is after the Millennium.


Mystery, the Greek muste„rion , is not something mysterious (in the modern sense) but someth-ing unknown until revealed to the in-itiate. In Scripture it refers to God’s secrets, His counsels and purposes, which are not known to man apart from His special revelation in Scripture or by His prophets. It is particularly used in the New Testament of truth unknown in the Old Testament, but revealed in New Testament times. Eleven different mystery truths can be distinguished in the New Testament (Matthew 13:11 ; Romans 11:1-25 ; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 ; Ephesians 3:1-11 ; Ephesians 5:25-32 ; Colossians 1:26-27 ; Colossians 2:2 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:7 ; 1 Timothy 3:16 ; Revelation 1:20 ; Revelation 10:7 ; Revelation 17:5 ; Rev 17:7 ).


As used here, prophecy refers to that part of God’s revelation in Scrip-ture that is predic-tive, the revela-tion which God gives from His sover-eign and eternal plans and foreknowledge of things to come. The prophet was one who spoke God’s message to His people. In this he was both a forth teller (preaching) and a foreteller (prediction). It is the predictive element we are concerned with here, however, we must always keep in mind that prophecy, though dealing with the future, carries a current message for godliness, peace, and comfort.


Pretribulation Rapture : The rapture of the Church (i.e., the coming of the Lord in the air for His saints) will take place before the seven-year period of the Tribulation begins. Therefore, the Church will not go through any of the Tribulation period (the events of Revelation 6:1-17 ; Revelation 7:1-17 ; Revelation 8:1-13 ; Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 10:1-11 ; Revelation 11:1-19 ; Revelation 12:1-17 ; Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 14:1-20 ; Revelation 15:1-8 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ; Rev 18:1-24 ) according to this view.

In this view, some believe the second advent of Jesus Christ has two phases: one secret as a thief comes to take what is valuable to him (to the church only, 1Th 4:13-18 ), and one open and manifest to all the world (2 Thessalonians 2:8 , "the manifestation of His coming"). Others would say it is distinct from the second coming to earth.

Prewrath Rapture : [Note: A recent view promoted by Marvin Rosenthall in his book, The Prewrath Rapture of the Church, Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 1990.] The rapture of the church occurs prior to the wrath of God poured out on the earth, but in this view, the wrath of God does not occur until about or after the last quarter of the Tribulation. Thus the church will experience most of the events of the book of Revelation.

Mid-tribulation Rapture: The rapture will occur in the middle of the Tribulation, after three-and-a-half years.

Post-tribulation Rapture: The Church will be on earth during the entire Tribulation. Some would say the rapture is a part of the second coming, others that it is distinct from the second coming though separated by only a very short interval of time.

Partial Rapture: Only saints who are worthy will be raptured before the wrath of God is poured out; those who have not been faithful will remain on the earth to endure the Tribulation.


See Hell.

Times of the Gentiles

This is an expression used by our Lord in Luk 21:24 of the period of Gentile domina-tion over Israel when Israel has no king on the throne of David. It began in 586 BC with the captivity of Judah under Nebuchadnezzar ( 2Ch 36:1-21 ) and will continue until the return of Christ to earth. Daniel’s visions and prophecies foresee this domination under the pictures of the four beasts and the great image (Daniel 2:31 f; Daniel 7:3 f).


This term is used by most theologians to refer to Daniel’s 70th week, the seven-year period of unprecedented trouble that will occur on earth through a series of divine judgments to be poured out on the entire inhabited earth (Daniel 12:1 ; Revelation 6:1-17 ; Revelation 7:1-17 ; Revelation 8:1-13 ; Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 10:1-11 ; Revelation 11:1-19 ; Revelation 12:1-17 ; Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 14:1-20 ; Revelation 15:1-8 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ; Revelation 18:1-24 ; Revelation 19:1-21 ; Matthew 24:21 ; Mat 24:29 ). It begins with the signing of a peace treaty with Israel by the Roman prince that will come, the man of sin, the beast of Revelation 13:1-18 (cf. Daniel 9:26-27 ; 2Th 2:8 ). The Great Tribulation ( Mat 24:21 ) refers to the last half of this seven year period. It is so called because of the increased wrath that will occur in these last three and half year.

Lesson 1: Foundations for the Study of Prophecy

In the study of any book of the Bible or any topic of Scripture, a certain amount of ground work is needed for understanding, orientation, and motivation. This is particularly so with the Book of Revelation or prophecy in general. Revelation is a book that has been called everything from a hodgepodge of nonsense to a masterpiece. Because it contains a large amount of symbolism and because of the faulty approaches or methods of interpretation applied to its study, many have a difficult time grasping its meaning. It has become a book which is the object of the widest possible divergence of interpretation.

Regardless, God promises blessing to the student of this book ( Rev 1:3 ). In fact, Revelation is a book in which all the great themes, seed plots, lines of doctrine and Bible prophecy find their fulfillment. It is in this book that the victory of God as the God of history is seen in the culmination of the ages and the establishment of the eternal state.

The Purposes of Prophecy

It Is Not Designed to Make Us Prophets

God did not give us prophecy so we could become a prophet or the son of a prophet and thereby predict the future. It is not given so we can predict who the Man of Sin or the Antichrist or the beast will be, nor is it given so we can predict the precise day and hour when the Lord will return.

History is full of those who thought they knew who the Antichrist would be or was. Men have said it was Napoleon, others Mussolini, others that it was Hitler, others John F. Kennedy because of the head wound by which he died. Some have said it would be Henry Kissinger because he was from one of the countries of the Old Roman Empire and because he was so involved in seeking peace between the Israelis and Arabs a few years ago.

From the Bible we can see the alignment of nations that will occur in the last days and we can see how our world is fitting into the pattern of those conditions morally, politically, religiously, and economically that will exist in the last days and in the days often referred to as the Tribulation or more accurately, Daniel’s Seventieth Week.

From this we may take warning and encouragement from the Scripture, but we need to be careful about making predictions. It is only logical that the ‘last day’ conditions will undoubtedly exist or begin to fall into place before the Tribulation begins in preparation for the terrible days that lie ahead. God will obviously be placing the props on the stage of human history and putting the actors in the wings ready to come on the stage of this great drama. We may see those who possess characteristics consistent with the key players we see revealed in Scripture, but we need to be careful about making predictions.

This means that when we see such conditions developing, we can know that those days could be near, that conditions appear to be rapidly marching toward the events of the last days which could mean suffering for the body of Christ, the church, in the form of greater persecution. Though I believe in the blessed hope, the pre-tribulation rapture, the unfolding of these events in preparation for the Tribulation period also means we should take the necessary precautions and prepare as well as we can for difficult times since we could see them before the Lord returns for the church.

But we should also know that these conditions can wax and wane like the moon to some degree so we can never be sure as to the time. All we can say is that this is like what will happen or that the present world affairs are growing and shaping up as we see them in the prophetic Word.

It Demonstrates the Accuracy of the Bible

In all the writings of the world, the accuracy of biblical prophecy is unique and stands as one of the great evidences of the God-breathed nature of the Bible. The cults are basically silent on the future and when they are not, they end up with egg on their face.

The test for any prophecy and the authenticity of its source is fulfillment, and hundreds of Bible prophecies have been fulfilled in minute detail. This is true of prophecies fulfilled in Old Testament times, in the life of Christ (birth, life, death, and resurrection), and in relation to even the shaping of world events of our day. Compare Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ; Jeremiah 28:9 ; but also Deuteronomy 13:1-5 .

Note that a false prophet’s prediction might very well come to pass. The determination of whether he was a true or false prophet was not made on this basis but on whether or not he led the people away from God. The success of false prophets was permitted in order to test God’s people ( Deu 13:3 ). [Note: Charles C. Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, NASB, Moody Press: Chicago, 1995, p. 296.]

The ultimate issue for all prophecy is its spiritual impact on the lives of God’s people. Does it cause men to follow the Lord or turn them away from Him?

Ezekiel’s Prophecy concerning the city of Tyre is an illustration ( Eze 26:1-5 ). About 350 years before Christ, Philip of Macedonia dreamed that one day he would throw off the Persian yoke. His son, who had already shown an ability for military logistics and leadership, had a falling out with his father at about the age of 15 and became a playboy on the Mediterranean. Later Philip was murdered, some even accused Alexander, but he returned to Macedonia. At age 21 he formed a military force and began conquering one country after another. He never lost a battle and he stopped his conquest at India only because his men were homesick.

The inevitable happened and he met Darius the Persian at the headwaters of the Tigris/Euphrates in the Battle of Isis. Darius and his men were put to riot by this upstart Greek. Alexander’s men being flush with victory wanted to pursue Darius back to Babylon and fight the final campaign. Alexander said, "No." He felt that the time was not right because they didn’t have the proper supply lines. The Phoenicians would come in and help Darius. Instead, Alexander said, "Let’s go down to Tyre. Let’s defeat it and then the Phoenicians will throw in with us."

Well, how much do you know about Tyre? Though besieged many times, no one was ever able to capture the city. Years before Alexander decided to go down to Tyre, Nebuchadnezzar went after Tyre himself. He besieged the city for 13 years. As it happened, both Nebuchadnezzar and the people of Tyre decided to quit about the same time. The people of Tyre decided to make one last effort. They picked up all they could load in boats and at midnight, they went out and camped on a large rock-like island about 300 yards from the shore and reestablished themselves. Nebuchadnezzar made one last attack against the city, but when he found the city vacant, he left in disgust.

Because of the success of this move, Tyre built an impregnable fortress and city there on the rock some 900 feet from the mainland. Now, years later, Alexander said, "We will go up against the great fort on the rock and it will fall as other cities have." So he did. He commandeered boats, and attacked the city, but he was repulsed time and again. He was upbraided by his men and their argument was, "You can’t fight across 900 feet of water." So Alexander took the dust, the rubble and the ruin from the old city of Tyre and poured it into the sea. It took seven months, but he built a causeway out to the rock and the city fell in one day. After that the site of the old city became nothing more that a flat rock where fishermen spread their nets. And what had Ezekiel prophesied years before Alexander’s time?

Now it came about in the eleventh year, on the first of the month, that the word of the Lord came to me saying, 2 "Son of man, because Tyre has said concerning Jerusalem, ‘Aha, the gateway of the peoples is broken; it has opened to me. I shall be filled, now that she is laid waste,’ 3 therefore, thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. 4 And they will destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; and I will scrape her debris from her and make her a bare rock. 5 She will be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken,’ declares the Lord God, ‘and she will become spoil for the nations…’" ( Eze 26:1-5 )

Why begin our study of Revelation here? God said this about Tyre 2000 years ago, but the Hebrew prophet spoke these words 350 years before Alexander the Great.

It Reveals the Power and Wisdom of God

As just demonstrated, prophecy shows how God continues to control the affairs of this world in spite of the great and constant opposition of both Satan and man to the purposes of God (read Isa 10:5-19 ). Though Assyria boastfully acted on her own initiative as an enemy of Israel ( Isa 10:7 ), she was but an instrument of God’s wrath against a rebellious Israel. God was always in charge and through Isaiah the prophet, He prophesied that He would destroy Assyria so completely that a child could easily count the number of leaders that remained ( Isa 10:19 ). Assyria fell between the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C. and the battle of Charchemish in 605.

It Reveals the Plan and Purposes of God

In the process of this study we will see this plan unfold along with some of God’s purposes. We will see God’s purpose for Israel, why they were cut off from the place of blessing, what God is doing today with the nation of Israel and with the Gentiles, and we will see God’s purposes for the church, for the Tribulation, and for the millennial reign of Christ.

It Protects Believers from Satan’s Counterfeits

Understanding prophecy can also protect Christians from the counterfeit strategies of Satan and the world system that lies under his control. As an example, one of the ancient counterfeits and one that will be a key note of his last day strategies, a strategy already prominent today, is the belief in one world government which is portrayed as a utopia and the last final hope for mankind. Nationalism will be hated and internationalism praised as the answer. Another illustration is the postmillennial belief that the church will be able to bring in the kingdom by the efforts of God’s people in concert, of course, with God. But an understanding of prophecy which warns of Satan’s attempts to bring the world together under his last-time leader (an anti-God, anti-Christ figure) warns us not to fall for any kind of one world movement.

It is Designed to Give Comfort

When we hear of wars and rumors of wars or hear of the problems of the Middle East or Russia, or we see the condition our country is in and the way it is in the control of the ‘one worlders,’ the knowledge of prophecy can give comfort by reminding us of God’s plan and that He is still on the throne, in control, and carrying out His purposes and plans (note that the purpose of these verses is to bring comfort John 14:1-3 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:18 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:11 ; 2Th 2:2 ).

It is Designed to Promote Holiness

The greatest purpose of the prophetic Word, as designed by God, is the pursuit of holiness by His people. This is everywhere evident in one prophetic passage after another. Check all the passages dealing with the return of the Lord and you will find that, almost without exception, our Lord’s return is used as a basis for an exhortation to godliness. This includes living as aliens in His service, living for heavenly treasure, and finding comfort in the midst of suffering and persecution through the assurance of Christ’s return.

Some illustrations:

Php 3:15-21 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. 17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

Col 3:1-5 If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. 5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

1 John 2:28-29 ; 1Jn 3:1-3 And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. 1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He Isaiah 3:0 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Tit 2:9-15 Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. 15 These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

1Pe 1:13-17 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." 17 And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth;

As we see how prophecy has been fulfilled, as we see it being fulfilled, as we contemplate the fulfillment of future events and their ramifications, and as we remember and live in the light of the coming Judgment ( be„ma ) Seat of Christ, prophecy should have a special message and appeal for us to live now in the light of the sure and blessed hope of the future.

It is Designed to Unfold the Loveliness of Jesus

Rev 19:10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said to me, "Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."

Prophecy is designed to reveal truth concerning the person and work of the Lord Jesus. This is nowhere more evident than in the book of Revelation.

Dangers in the Study of Prophecy

The Danger of Sensationalism

Two passages are particularly pertinent here:

Act 17:21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. (RSV)

2Ti 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings,… (RSV)

The Athenian philosophers were always ready to hear or tell some ‘new thing,’ but Paul warns us that this idea did not die with the Athenian philosophers. It is still with us today among Christians and non-Christians alike who often run from one prophetic conference or prophetic teacher to another, but in the process, they often show no real interest in other areas of Bible study. Why? Because they are looking for something sensational, novel, exciting, and entertaining, or because they are simply curious.

Prophecy was not meant to be sensationalized. It was meant to instruct believers according to certain clear-cut purposes of the Word that we have studied. Prophecy is fascinating and can be exhilarating, but should we be any more interested in it than in any other major tenet of Scripture? I think not.

Of course we should look expectantly for the return of the Lord and the blessed hope, but we need all of Scripture to do that effectively. Furthermore, reality reminds us that 2000 years have passed since the promise of His coming. This does not minimize the certainty of His return, but it should provide us with balance so that we live and anticipate His coming as though He will return today, yet work and serve as though He will not come for another 1,000 years!

The Danger of Ignoring Prophecy

Of course the opposite of the above, ignoring Bible prophecy, is also a danger. Prophetic teaching was strong in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, but began to decline in its popularity in the ’80s. I think this was so partly because it was sensationalized, which, after a while, had a deadening affect.

I remember hearing comments by well-known prophetic speakers that we could expect the Lord’s return within twenty years, at least by the ’70s or ’80s. The idea was that in view of the shaping of world events, they didn’t see how it was possible for the return of the Lord to be delayed any longer than that. Many times this would be followed by disclaimers like, "Now, no one knows the day or the year of the Lord’s return, but…" Another common statement was something like this, "We have more reason to believe the return of the Lord for the church will be in our day than any other generation in history since the early church."

Though world events were still moving toward the picture we see in Revelation and prominent passages like Daniel 9:1-27 , still things on the surface seemed much the same. Israel became a state in 1948, thousands of Jews began to flock back to their land, and there was all the news and talk about peace in the Middle East. But the fact the Lord did not return within that twenty-year period, as many expected, seemed to lull the church into a kind of prophetic sleep. Add this to the fact that in the ’80s we moved into a time known as the ‘age of consumerism’ and we can see how the church surely began to forget about the return of the Lord and began to look more and more like the world.

Our need is to maintain the biblical balance. We should be looking for the Lord’s return as One who might come tomorrow with the impact that should have on us from the standpoint of heavenly treasure and living as aliens. At the same time, from the standpoint of ministry and involvement in our society, we should live as though He will not return for years to come.

The Danger of Pride

In 1 Corinthians the apostle reminds us that knowledge without love makes us arrogant ( 2Co 8:1 ) and pride is, of course, a danger we all face in some area of our lives. But, for some reason, people tend to become more puffed up over their knowledge of prophetic truth than in other areas.

Prophecy is a complicated area of Scripture with many divergent viewpoints even within the same prophetic scheme of things. As a result, people often view the knowledge of prophecy as a sign of maturity, great intelligence, or spiritual insight. The tendency is to think that if someone knows a lot about prophecy, that person is something close to the incarnation of the apostle Paul. You often notice a tendency in this direction in some of the well-known speakers who specialize in prophecy. And though by-in-large they are godly and well-meaning in their purpose, pride nevertheless still comes out in some of the comments and attitudes displayed. There is a kind of arrogance, an attitude like, ‘you better come and hear what I have to say, or get my monthly newsletter and get the latest scoop, because I have it all figured out.’

The Danger of Imbalance

Imbalance is a problem in any area of life. One of the unique things about the Lord Jesus is the fact of His balance. The apostle John described Him as One who was "full of grace and truth" ( Joh 1:14 ). He was and is perfectly balanced. But what happens to us? We tend to become overly occupied with one area of doctrine or truth to the exclusion of others. We find a ‘hobby horse’ and ride it to death. This is especially true with the study of prophecy, especially from the standpoint of coming events and world affairs.

Of course we need to be alert and aware of world events, and we need people who are on top of these things, but our tendency is to so focus on them that we neglect other important areas of truth--principally the heart of all prophecy--the person and work of the Lord Jesus which includes His second coming. This doesn’t mean one cannot have a specialty, an area of doctrine in which they specialize such as the family, or the church, or prophecy. We need those specialists who devote much of their time to such studies, but we all still need balance and to need to know the whole counsel of the Word.

The Lord Jesus and His coming form the heart of all Scripture and especially in the passages on prophecy. The great hope of the church and mankind is the personal and visible return of the Savior. The last book of Scripture is called "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" and much of its content deals with "the things which must soon take place." The visible return of Christ in all His glory is the prominent note or theme of this book (Revelation 1:7-8 ; Revelation 19:10 ; see also 1Th 4:13 f; 2 Thessalonians 2:8 f; Titus 2:13 f; Php 3:19-20 ) so we would never deny the importance of prophecy, but the appeal here is for balance.

Until then there will be the rise of one false hope after another--utopias, world leaders, and false messiahs, but none will be able to deal with man’s problems. Only the Lord Himself can do that.

The Danger of Discouragement

If you are new at the study of prophecy, don’t become discouraged if at first the study of prophecy seems like a large puzzle. Keep in mind the purposes of prophecy. In time, it will begin to fit together as you pick up the pieces one by one, but never expect to have all the answers to all the questions.

Prophecy and the Terms Used for King and Kingdom

In Bible prophecy or prophetic passages of Scripture, God often uses the same language to describe both the king and the kingdom. Why? Because the kingdom takes on the characteristics of the king. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish one from the other in a prophetic passage since they both represent each other. Point: Is the passage talking about the king (the ruler), or the kingdom of the ruler, or both? Let’s note a couple of illustrations.

(1) Dan 7:17-19 calls the four beasts "kings," but in Dan 7:23 the fourth beast is called the fourth kingdom.

(2) In Revelation 13:1-3 , the system of the beast, which many believe is the revived imperial form of the Roman empire of the future, is clearly in view because of the ten horns and the seven heads. It is a reference to a ten-nation confederation of ten kings that come together to form the revived Roman empire. But in Revelation 13:4-7 , the king, the one who emerges as the ruler of this last day system, seems to be in view. Sometimes a clear distinction is made, other times it is not.

Kinds of Fulfillment in Prophecy

Double Reference Fulfillment (Near and Far)

Bible prophecy may have both a near and a far fulfillment. "Two events widely separated as to the time of their fulfillment, may be brought into the scope of one prophecy. This was done because the prophet had a message for his own day as well as for a future time." [Note: J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, Dunham Publishing Company: Findlay, Ohio, 1958, p. 46.] In addition, the fulfillment of the near often became the assurance of the fulfillment of the far. For instance:

(1) The Abrahamic promises had their ultimate goal in the coming of Messiah through whom all the families of the earth could be blessed, but the promise and birth of Isaac under the most adverse conditions would help Abraham to believe that in his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed. [Note: Pentecost, p. 47.]

(2) Daniel 8:9-11 ; Dan 8:23-27 provides another example. The little horn of these two passages were prophecies of Antiochus Epiphanes of Greece who, in 175 B.C., plundered the temple in Jerusalem and desecrated it by offering a pig on the altar, but many believe that this passage ultimately anticipates the character and actions of the last day ruler of the Revived Roman Empire or the antichrist.

Dual or Partial Fulfillment

A prophetic passage may totally look to the remote future for its fulfillment, but at the same time there is often a dual fulfillment in the future with part of the prophecy to be fulfilled before the rest of the prophecy.

The prophet would be given a vision of future events which would appear together like great mountain peaks in the distance, but in actuality they were separated by a valley of time, a parenthetic period that would come between the fulfillment of the two parts of the prophecy.

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Scriptural Illustrations:

(1) Isaiah 9:6 a: The prophecy of the birth of Messiah, refers to the first advent though some often also see an immediate fulfillment in the birth of Isaiah’s son but the context favors the remote view. This was remote and looked to the future. But Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 9:6-7Isaiah 9:6-7 , the prophecy of the government that will rest on His shoulders, looks at the second advent. Like a valley that separates two mountain peaks, the two events are separated by hundreds of years and the church age.

(2) Isaiah 11:1-5 : The shoot that will spring from the stem of Jesse, refers to the first advent, andIsaiah 11:6-10; Isaiah 11:6-10 f, the wolf that will dwell with the lamb, looks to the results of the second coming in the millennial reign of Christ.

(3) Compare Isa 61:1-3 with Luke 4:17-20 : The Lord quoted Isaiah 61:1-2 a, but He stopped abruptly in the middle of Isaiah 61:2 , put down the book, and then stated that "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Why did He leave out Isaiah 61:2 b and following? Because they must wait until the second advent for fulfillment.

(4) Another passage that adds insight to this issue is 1 Peter 1:10-12 . In these verses Peter tells us that the salvation about which he has been writing is the subject of Old Testament prophecies. The content of these prophecies embraced both the sufferings and glories of Messiah ( 1Pe 1:11 ). But he also shows that though the prophets spoke by the Spirit of Christ within them, they did not always understand their own utterances, especially as to the time (or times) of these things, so they diligently searched as did Daniel to find this out (Daniel 8:27 ; Dan 12:8 ). The perplexity lay in the two mountain peaks--the sufferings and the glories.

· They knew they were speaking of the future and in that, they were serving not themselves, but those who would live in the days of Messiah in the far future. "Serving" is the Greek diakoneo„ , to serve, minister. It reminds us that the writing and teaching of the Word is a service, a ministry to others, specifically today, the church.

· The prophets knew that God would bless the Gentiles, that grace would come to them ( 1Pe 1:10 ).

· They saw the sufferings ( Isa 53:1-12 for example) and the glories ( Isa 11:1-16 for example), but they could not see the valley, the interim between the two. They could not fully understand the relationship of the sufferings of Messiah to His glory. They could not see that the sufferings related to His first advent and the glories to His second advent.

Single or Complete Fulfillment

Some prophecies look only to one historic fulfillment. This may be reasonably near or very remote, but once accomplished, it is done, fulfilled. Some illustrations are:

(1) The destruction of Tyre (Isaiah 23:1-18 ; Eze 26:1-21 ) and Nineveh (Nahum 1:15 f and Zep 2:13 ).

(2) The birth place of Messiah in Bethlehem ( Mic 5:2 ).

(3) Daniel’s Seventieth Week ( Dan 9:24-27 ), the unprecedented time of trouble coming upon all the inhabitants of the earth ( Rev 3:10 ).

Historical Fulfillment as Prophetic Foreshadows

A Bible prophecy may have its foundation in some event in biblical history, yet at the same time be a prophecy in the form of a type, a picture, or foreshadow of a future event.

As mentioned earlier, the prophecy regarding the antichrist of the abomination of desolation ( Dan 8:1-27 ) may be foreshadowed in the person and actions of Antiochus Epiphanes (Daniel 8:9 ; Dan 8:21-25 ).

Psa 22:1-31 undoubtedly had its origins in some event in the life of David, yet it goes far beyond anything David experienced, and the Psalm became a miraculous prophecy of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Several of the fulfillment quotations in the gospel of Matthew fall into this category:

(1) Matthew 2:15 , the life of Israel and their deliverance was used by Matthew as a type of deliverance of God’s Son from Egypt to protect Him from Herod.

(2) Matthew 2:17 , the wailing of Israel at the time of the exile, is used as a prophetic shadow of the time of the slaughter of the young children after the birth of Christ.

(3) Matthew 12:39 , the experience of Jonah in the belly of the great fish, also became a foreshadow of the resurrection.

Prophecy and the Time Element

Length of a Prophetic Year

In Bible prophecy, time consists of 30 days in a prophetic month, but it consist of 360 days to a prophetic year, not 365. God’s prophetic calendar year is calibrated on 360 days. Thus, promises like that of Dan 9:25 are to be figured on a calendar year of 360 days.

When this is done, beginning in 445 B.C., the time of the decree to allow Israel to return to restore and rebuild Jerusalem to the time of Messiah, we are brought precisely to the birth or the triumphal procession of Christ.

Dan 9:24 shows us that God would finish His dealings with Israel in 70 weeks of years, or 70 x 7, i.e., 490 years. That this prophecy is dealing with 70 weeks of years and not days is clear from two things: (a) Daniel was thinking of years and not days in Dan 9:2 of this same chapter in relation to the 70 years of captivity, and (b) in Daniel 10:2-3 , when days were in view, the Hebrew text makes this clear by adding "days" to the word "weeks." Literally, the Hebrew text reads "weeks of days."

At the beginning of the 70th week of years, or the last seven years ( Dan 9:27 ), a Roman ruler, i.e., ‘the prince of the people who would destroy Jerusalem,’ would come on the scene and make a covenant with the nation of Israel for one week or seven years, the 70th week. How do we know he will be a Roman? By his description in verse 27. It was the Romans who destroyed Jerusalem and he is their prince.

Midway through that 70th week, after 3 1/2 years, he would break his covenant, stop the sacrifices in the rebuilt temple (either just before or perhaps during the first 3 1/2 years), desecrate this temple, demand to be worshipped himself, and it would be a terrible time of desolation and anti-Semitism as never before in history.

Revelation 6-19 deals with this same period of time of seven years and defines half of this period, 3 1/2 years, in terms of specific numbers of days and months. This shows us that the length of God’s calendar is 360 days. How? The last half (3 1/2 years) is defined as 1260 days and as 42 months (Revelation 11:2-3 ; Revelation 12:6 ; Rev 12:14 ). When this is calculated (i.e., divide 1260 days by 3 1/2), you get a year of 360 days, not 365. Or multiply 3 1/2 times 360 days to get 1260 days.

Problem of the Order of Events in Prophecy

Prophecy does not always keep to a chronological order in the unfolding of events. This means as future events are described they are revealed in God’s own order for His own emphasis, but not necessarily in the order of their occurrence.

While Prophecy is for instruction and understanding, it is also for comfort and warning. The comfort or warning is usually more important than the chronological order. The comfort and warning challenges our way of life, the chronological order (which we can do nothing about anyway) often serves only to satisfy our curiosity.

Which comes first, the day of God’s wrath, the day of reckoning in judgment, or the millennial reign, the time of peace and Messianic prosperity? The answer is obvious. Before the Lord will reign, He must put down His enemies. But when we compare Isa 2:1-22 we find the order reversed. Isa 2:1-4 describe the blessings of the millennial kingdom as a means of comfort and motivation, but this is followed in Isa 2:5-11 by a description of Israel who had failed to walk in the light of the Lord. As a result, Isa 2:12-22 describe a day of reckoning, the judgment aspect of the Day of the Lord that must come upon the nation before she will turn from her rebellious ways.

When reading or studying Revelation, people often assume that each section is chronological so that the next chapter or series of events naturally follows the preceding, but that is not the case. Rather, a number of sections in Revelation are parenthetical and the chronological order is halted in order to develop in more detail some aspect of this end-time period like a key person(s), or event(s), or condition(s). Some examples are:

(1) Rev 7:1-17 stops the chronological progress begun in Rev 6:1-17 and forms an interlude which gives us information about the 144,000 and about multitudes who will be saved during the Tribulation. The six seals are described in chapter 6, but the trumpet judgments don’t begin until Rev 8:1-13 which constitutes also the seventh seal. Six of these trumpet judgments occur chronologically and are described through Revelation 9:1-21 . The seventh trumpet is not sounded, however, until 11:15.

(2) So again the story of the progress of judgment on earth is halted and we have another parenthesis from Revelation 10:1-11 ; Revelation 11:1-14 . Here a vision is given concerning the little book, concerning the no delay once the seventh trumpet is sounded, and concerning the two witnesses.

(3) Rev 11:15 picks up the chronological process again and the seventh trumpet is sounded. Other sections which are somewhat parenthetical regarding persons and systems are chaptersRevelation 12:1-17; Revelation 12:1-17 ; Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ; Revelation 18:1-24 .

Prophecy and the Church

In Old Testament prophecy, the church is omitted because it was a mystery that was not revealed until New Testament times (Ephesians 3:1-5 ; Ephesians 3:9 ; Colossians 1:25-26 ; Rom 16:25-26 ). The Old Testament prophets saw the coming of the Savior, His birth, death, life, resurrection, etc. The Old Testament spoke of the salvation and blessing of the Gentiles, but not in terms of the church where Jew and Gentile become one in Christ and coequal. The Old Testament illustrates truth for us that is applicable to the body of Christ in many ways, but the church as an institution is simply not there.

Likewise, you will not find the church mentioned in Revelation 6:1-17 ; Revelation 7:1-17 ; Revelation 8:1-13 ; Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 10:1-11 ; Revelation 11:1-19 ; Revelation 12:1-17 ; Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 14:1-20 ; Revelation 15:1-8 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ; Rev 18:1-24 because this portion of the book is dealing with Daniel’s 70th week and the resumption of God’s program for Israel. The church and the term church is mentioned repeatedly in chapters 1, 2, and 3, but it is not mentioned again until Rev 19:1-21 in the symbolism of the bride and in connection with the return of Christ to earth. There He is seen coming with His bride who has been prepared for the wedding supper of the millennium. If the church is to go into the period described by chapters 6-18, why isn’t it mentioned? Because it is not there. Instead, the church is even given a special promise that it will be kept out of this time of testing for those who dwell on the earth ( Rev 3:10 ).

Lesson 2: The Introduction Proper

Having looked at some basic principles and definitions for prophecy as a whole, we now want to look at some points of introduction to the book of Revelation itself.

Title of the Book

Our Bibles carry the title of the book as "The Revelation of John," or "The Revelation to John" which means it is a revelation given to the apostle John, but the proper name is found in the first words of Revelation 1:1 , "The Revelation of Jesus Christ." Revelation is from the Greek word apokalupsis meaning "a disclosure, an unveiling." The name "revelation" (note that it is singular) is derived from its use in Revelation 1:1 , "The Revelation of Jesus Christ."

"Of Jesus Christ" is a genitive construction which can mean "about Jesus Christ" or "from Jesus Christ." This is what some grammarians call a "plenary genitive," i.e., a genitive doing double duty since both aspects are true.

(1) It is the revelation that comes from Christ (cf. the second clause in Revelation 1:1 , "which God gave Him to show to His bondservants," and Rev 22:16 make this point clear). Jesus Christ, being God Himself, gave this revelation to His servant.

(2) But Jesus Christ is also the center of the book. The book is supremely the revelation about the Savior who has overcome and will return to defeat all evil (Revelation 1:7 ; Revelation 1:13 [Note that each message to the seven churches begins with some aspect of the vision of Christ in Revelation 1:13-16 ; Rev 5:5-14 ).

Let’s note one more thing about the title. While this book contains several visions and unveilings, it is one book and one total revelation centered around one person and His literal return to earth--the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not the Book of Revelations (pl). The noun Revelation in verse one is singular and is so in the Greek text.

Theme of the Book

The prominent theme of the book certainly concerns the conflict with evil in the form of human personalities energized by Satan and his world-wide system, and the Lord’s triumphant victory to overthrow these enemies to establish His kingdom both in the millennium (the 1,000 years of Rev 20:1-15 ) and in eternity.

This is accomplished by taking the reader and hearers ( Rev 1:3 ) behind the scenes through the visions given to John to see the demonic nature and source of the awful evil in the world along with the conquering power which rests in the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, who is also the Lamb standing, as if slain, but very much alive, angry, and bringing the judgment of God’s awesome holiness against a sinful and rebellious world.

Importance and Purpose of the Book

I suppose there is no book in the New Testament which has been as neglected and as controversial as this book, at least in some quarters. Some assert that Revelation is impossible to interpret. Others claim it should not even be in the New Testament much less studied and read. An illustration of this can be found in Martin Luther’s attitude and remarks. For Luther, Revelation was "neither apostolic nor prophetic" and because of its overuse of visions and symbols, Christ was neither taught nor accepted in this book. [Note: Alan Johnson, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 404, 407.] Luther was offended by this book. Some seminaries avoid it almost entirely or give it very little attention, and many people and schools dismiss it as a hopeless conglomeration of visions and dreams.

The point is man has attempted to do precisely what God has told him not to do. Rev 22:10 says, "seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near." God does not intend for the truth of this book to be sealed to man. He intended the church to study and understand the message of Revelation. Why is that?

First, because blessing, not confusion is promised to those who will read it ( Rev 1:3 ). Though filled with horror, it ends in the triumph of righteousness and faith.

Second, the Bible says " all Scripture is profitable, " meaning every book of the Bible. But Revelation has a unique and very important place as it is the consummation and climax of God’s revelation and redemptive history. As the final book of the Bible, Revelation brings together a number of lines of prophetic truth which run parallel throughout the Old and New Testaments, but, apart from the book of Revelation, they find no complete prophetic fulfillment.

I remember reading about a young believer who, at the conclusion of reading Revelation for the first time, jumped up and shouted, "We Win! We Win!" The point is that without the book of Revelation, the Bible would be incomplete. Other Old and New Testament books add new dimensions and give added information and details of prophetic truth regarding the end times, but only Revelation draws them all together into a final conclusion.

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This forms one of the arguments for the Bible as a completed canon. All the themes of Scripture are fulfilled and find their culmination in Revelation. There is no need for more revelation from this standpoint. With this book, we truly have "a faith once and for all delivered to the saints" ( Jud 1:3 ).

Third, this book is also important because it deals with " things which must shortly come to pass. " It is the only major prophetic book in the New Testament that deals in an in-depth way with the events of the Day of the Lord. Many other passages deal with this period of time like Mat 24:1-51 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1-28 , but not to the extent Revelation does.

Fourth, it is also important because of the way it reveals the Lord Jesus. It reveals Him as the Lamb of God and King of kings who, in the consum-mation of His program of salvation, restores to man what was lost by the fall and much more. All of Scripture ultimately speaks of the Lord, it points men to Him, but it is Revelation which thoroughly demonstrates the culmination of God’s complete salvation in Christ.

Fifth, Revelation is also important because of its unique warnings and challenges to the church in the section spoken of as " things present " (Revelation 2:1-29 ; Rev 3:1-22 ). But even beyond this, the rest of the book also has a very pertinent message for us today for two reasons:

· On the one hand, it provides us with an extended commentary on the spiritual warfare described in Ephesians 6:12 . What we see revealed in this book is but the culmination of the warfare with rulers, principalities, and powers of evil under the control of Satan. As such, it calls us to walk carefully and to understand that what is happening around us is not merely a struggle with flesh and blood, but with supernatural entities that are as real as we are.

· On the other hand, it gives us light concerning things to come, of things that have not as yet occurred in history, but will. It thereby comforts and encourages us to carry on in the light of the sure and final judgment on evil and consummation of God’s kingdom in time and eternity.

Sixth, it is important because it discloses conditions that will be present in the end-time system of the beast and the final world empire, politically, religiously, economically, and internationally. Such conditions, one would think, would naturally begin to come together to set the stage, as props are prepared for the world stage, before this end-time drama would actually unfold. Thus, while Christ’s return for the church is imminent, those members of the body of Christ who will be living in this moment of history can know that His return must be even more imminent, i.e., just around the corner.

Author and Date

According to the book itself, the author’s name was John (Revelation 1:4 ; Revelation 1:9 ; Rev 22:8 ). He was a prophet ( Rev 22:9 ), and a leader who was known in the churches of Asia Minor to whom he writes the book of Revelation ( Rev 1:4 ).

Traditionally, this John has been identified as John the apostle, one of the disciples of our Lord. That the style is different from the style of the Gospel of John stems only from the difference in the nature of this book as apocalyptic literature.

An early church father, Irenaeus, states that John first settled in Ephesus, that he was later arrested and banished to the Isle of Patmos in the Agean Sea to work in the mines, and that this occurred during the reign of the Roman emperor, Domitian. This supports the author’s own claim to have written from Patmos because of his witness for Christ ( Rev 1:9 ).

Domitian reigned in Rome from A.D. 81-96. Since Irenaeus tells us that John wrote from Patmos during the reign of Domitian, and since this is confirmed by other early church writers, such as Clement of Alexander and Eusebius, most conservative scholars believe the book was written between A.D. 81-96. This would make it the last book of the New Testament, just shortly after John’s gospel and his epistles (Revelation 1:1-20 ; Revelation 2:1-29 , and 3 John). Others conservative scholars believe it was written much earlier, around 68, or before Jerusalem was destroyed.

Interpretation of the Book

(1) This book is a part of the canon--a part of that which God has spoken. It belongs in the Bible.

Early church history supports the apostle John as the author of the book. This is one of the requirements or tests for inclusion into the canon of Scripture. The book refers to the human author simply as John without further identification. This would imply the author was well known to the readers of Asia Minor, as would be the case with the apostle John who lived in Ephesus. This further supports the apostle John as the author.

This book was widely circulated and received as inspired Scripture by the beginning of the third century, the early 200s. There were a few small groups who did not accept it as Scripture, but this was primarily from opposition to the thousand year reign so clearly taught in chapter 20. Much of this came from heretical groups, but on the whole, the early church accepted it as inspired Scripture.

(2) As a part of the Bible, this book is what God has spoken through the apostle, the human author. The principle is that God is its author and Scripture emphatically declares that God is not the author of confusion ( 1Co 14:33 ). If we accept it as Scripture, as did the early church and the majority of the church historically, we must approach the book as a book intended to be understood, not as a book to mystify and confuse. It is as Moses wrote: "The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and our children forever" ( Deu 29:29 ).

(3) The uncertainty and confusion that this book has been accused of creating is not the fault of the book or the fault of God . Rather, the confusion is the product of the way men have tried to approach this book. A great deal of confusion has been caused because of a bias against such things as: (a) a literal 1,000 year reign, (b) the coming of the terrible judgments depicted, and (c) a desire to spiritualize prophecy in general. The confusion has come from those who have tried to spiritualize or allegorize prophecy and especially this book.

In allegory, words are not taken in their literal or normal meaning. They are spiritualized which means that the interpreter looks behind the literal, plain meaning of the text for a hidden and more profound meaning. This turns exegesis or Bible study into an artful play of human ingenuity and fanciful imagination.

The result of this approach is a potpourri, a mixed bag of interpretations. One man sees one thing and another sees something else because when the normal method of interpretation is abandoned (which includes the proper use of symbols) you have no objective controls to your interpretation and no control over human imagination.

Schools of Interpretation Used with Revelation

The Preterist School

Preterist is from a Latin word meaning "past." This school of thought sees Revelation as already fulfilled in the early history of the church by A.D. 312. with the conversion of Constantine. Note the spiritualizing nature of their interpretations: Revelation 5:1-14 ; Revelation 6:1-17 ; Revelation 7:1-17 ; Revelation 8:1-13 ; Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 10:1-11 ; Rev 11:1-19 is a record of the church’s victory over Judaism; Revelation 12:1-17 ; Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 14:1-20 ; Revelation 15:1-8 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ; Revelation 18:1-24 ; Rev 19:1-21 is record of her victory over Rome; and Revelation 20:1-15 ; Revelation 21:1-27 ; Rev 22:1-21 is record of the glory of the church. The persecutions of Revelation, it is claimed, are those of Nero and Domitian and all was fulfilled by the time of Constantine (A.D. 312).

Revelation for the Preterist is purely symbolic history rather than prophetic of coming events in history. This not only does total injustice to the nature of the book as prophecy, but to the normal meaning of words.

The Historical Approach

This approach sees Revelation as a symbolic presentation and a panorama of the total period of church history from John’s day to the end of the age or Christ’s second advent. In this view, Revelation does not just deal with a future time, but covers all of history from the time of John. The problems is most adherents of this view see the book culmi-nating in their day and as many as 50 interpretations have evolved. Why? Because the literal, normal approach of interpretation has been abandoned. Further, such a view must ignore the imminent return of the Lord.

The Idealist Approach

This approach sees the book as portraying in symbolic terms the age-old conflict of the principles of good and evil with no historic elements whether past or future.

The Futuristic Approach

The term "futurist" comes from the fact this interpreta-tion sees the book from Rev 4:1-11 on as yet to be fulfilled. This is the approach taken in this study, though I do believe it is also an extended commentary on Paul’s statement in Ephesians 6:12 . [Note: Johnson, p. 410.] The futurist approach follows the principle of interpretation known as the literal, plain or normal method of interpretation. This method which will be defined below recognizes the use of symbols, but understands them in their plain, customary, and normal meaning just as we do in our language. The term star , for instance, can refer to a star in the heavens, or it can refer to a famous athlete, someone who excels in athletics. It depends of the context.

There are several reasons for the futuristic approach. The prophecies found in this book have simply not taken place. There is nothing in history that comes close to the events of the majority of the book. For instance: (a) No judgments in history have ever equaled those depicted in chapters 6, 8, 9, and 16, but in these chapters, these judgments are presented as things that will occur. (b) The resurrection and judgment of Rev 20:1-15 have never occurred, but are clearly presented as future facts. (c) Obviously, the great anticipation of the book, Christ’s visible return as portrayed in Revelation 20:1-15 , has also not taken place.

Only the futuristic approach which is based on a literal or plain method of interpretation has any objectivity about the contents of the book.

Structure of the Book

The contents of Revelation are given in terms of a series of sevens, some explicit and some implied: seven churches (chap. 2-3); seven seals (chap. 6-7); seven trumpets (chap. 8-11); seven signs (chap. 12-14); seven bowls (chap. 16-18); seven last things (chap. 19-22).

Some divide the contents of the book around four key visions: (a) The vision of the Son of man among the seven churches (chap. 1-3); (b) The vision of the seven-sealed scroll, the seven trumpets, the seven signs, and the seven bowls (Revelation 4:1-11 ; Revelation 5:1-14 ; Revelation 6:1-17 ; Revelation 7:1-17 ; Revelation 8:1-13 ; Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 10:1-11 ; Revelation 11:1-19 ; Revelation 12:1-17 ; Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 14:1-20 ; Revelation 15:1-8 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ; Revelation 18:1-24 ; Revelation 19:1-10 ; (c) The vision of the return of Christ and the consummation of the age (Revelation 19:11-21 ; Rev 20:1-15 ); and (d) The vision of the new heaven and new earth (chap. 21-22).

The contents may also be divided up based on the division of Revelation 1:19 : (a) "the things which you have seen," The Things Past (chap. 1:1-20); (b) "the things which are," The Things Present (chap. 2-3); and (c) "the things which shall take place after these things," The Things Future (chap. 4-22). Some look at 1:19 differently, but the most natural way to take this verse is as it is translated in the KJV, the NAS, and the NIV.

Method of Interpretation and Use of Symbolism

One’s method of interpretation is crucial to a correct interpreta-tion of Scripture because without a correct method, the Bible becomes putty in the hands of the interpreter. You often hear the complaint that you can prove anything you want to with the Bible. And the implication is simply that everyone comes up with a different interpretation, especially with the Book of Revelation. A further implication is that we simply cannot have a sound and objective system of doctrine. But this is incorrect on several points:

(1) The commands of Scripture to know the Word and maintain a system of sound doctrine show us that God expects us to know and come to an objective understanding of the Bible and that this is to become the foundation for sound theology in all categories of truth or doctrine, prophecy included (1 Timothy 1:3 ; 1 Timothy 1:7 ; 1 Timothy 1:10 ; 1 Timothy 4:6 ; 1 Timothy 6:3 ; 2 Timothy 1:13 ; 2 Timothy 4:3 ; Titus 1:9 ; Tit 1:13 ).

(2) Without a sound system of doctrine derived from the Bible as our authority, men are left to the shifting sands of their own experience and imaginations. We are invariably left with some form of mysticism and neo-orthodox theology in which the Bible only becomes the Word of God when it speaks to you and a passage of Scripture may do this not only in different ways with different people, but in ways that are completely contradictory.

(3) You cannot prove anything you want to with Scripture if you follow the rules of sound hermeneutics. Hermeneutics means the science and art of Biblical interpretation and it is this that provides controls over the imagination and ideas of man.

(4) Hermeneutics is called a science because it follows rules that guide and control the interpreter. It is called an art because it requires skill and practice to apply the rules correctly as in any skill. This is evident in Paul’s words to Timothy and the context for the words, "accurately handling the Word of truth" in 2 Timothy 2:15 . Without an accurate handling of the Bible, we end up with error, not truth. We must, then, using the science of hermeneutics, seek to ground interpretation in fact or the objective data of Scripture--context, grammar, historical setting, meaning and use of words, literary style, etc.

Some passages of Scripture and areas of doctrine are more diffi-cult and hard to be dogmatic on, but this does not mean that they are beyond our grasp or that we should ignore them. We should continue to study these areas being careful to apply ourselves to a careful study of the Word as the inspired Word of God always examining our position as objectively as we can (Acts 17:11 ; 2Ti 2:15 ).

It is also true that no one comes to Scripture without certain preconceived ideas. No one is completely objective (though we must strive to be so) and this is why our method of interpretation is so important as a check ( Act 17:11 ). But even with that there is also the need to humbly ask God to help us deal with our preconceived notions and prejudices. We need the humble attitude and prayer of the Psalmist who prayed, "Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things from your Law" ( Psa 119:19 ).

It is also obvious that men will vary in their skill and knowledge of exegesis (one’s personal examination of the text to determine its meaning in its historical and literary context) and this will affect their ability to accurately interpret the Bible. But again, the responsibility is not to give up, or ignore Scripture, or to treat it as a mystic would do. Instead, our responsibility is to be careful students, ever seeking to be as objective as possible, to be willing to say I am not sure, or I may be wrong, and to continue to grow in the art and science of the study of the Bible as our only objective guide for truth.

As Ramm so aptly put it, "That God has spoken in Holy Scripture is the very heart of our faith and without this certainty we should be left to the relativity and dubiousness of human knowledge. God has spoken! But what has He said?" [Note: Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpreta-tion, W. A. Wilde Company: Boston, 1956, pp.1-2.] (italics his). "This is our primary and basic need in hermeneutics : to ascertain what God has said in Sacred Scripture; to determine the meaning of the Word of God ." [Note: Ramm p. 2.] (italics his). The Bible is no profit to us at all if we do not know what God has said, what it means, or if we think we know, but are wrong.

We must know and have the correct method of interpreta-tion, a correct hermeneutic, so that we do not confuse the voice of God with the voice of man. The false methods of men are what make the Bible a source of confusion rather than a source of light and truth, not the Bible itself.

We must have a method that provides: a check on the ima-ginations, feelings, background, prejudices of men, a protection against the delusions and misuse of Scripture by Satan, and one that enables us to bridge the gap between the minds of the biblical writers and our minds, the minds of interpreters who live many years later, even hundreds of years later, in a different time, usually in a different place, and with a different language. This is the tremendous gap created by differences of culture, history, geo-graphy, and language.

The only method of interpretation or hermeneutic that brings such controls and that moves us toward objectivity is the literal or normal and plain method of interpretation. This is the method that I will be employing in this study of Revelation. But what does this mean?

The Literal Method of Interpretation

To interpret means to explain the original sense of a speaker or writer versus imposing our ideas on the text. To interpret literally means to explain the original sense of the speaker or writer according to the normal, customary, and proper usage of words and language. [Note: Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy, Assurance Publishers: Rockville, MD, 1974, p. 29.] "The literal or normal interpretation of the Bible simply means to explain the original sense of the Bible according to the normal and customary usages of its language." [Note: Tan, p. 29.]

The Control: The literal or normal method operates by rules which help us to ground interpretation in fact. These are the rules of context, grammar, the analogy of Scripture, cultural and historical background, and the normal meaning of words according to their use in various contexts.

Spiritual or Allegorical Method Compared

"Allegorism is the method of interpreting a literary text that regards the literal sense as the vehicle for a secondary, more spiritual and more profound sense." [Note: Ramm, p. 21.] The spiritual or allegorical method sees the literal sense as well figures of speech as a symbol to convey some secondary or mystical, metaphorical, or spiritual idea that is hidden, but the hidden meaning is developed and controlled by the interpreter’s own ideas or ingenuity rather than by the rules and guidelines of context, grammar, the analogy of Scripture, cultural and historical background, and the normal meaning of words. Clearly there are dangers to the allegorical method of interpretation.

(1) The allegorical method does not interpret Scripture. It ignores the common meaning of words and gives rise to all manner of speculation ignoring what the author really intended to say.

(2) In the allegorical method, the authority in interpretation is the imagination of the interpreter or his mind rather than the Scripture itself. In the final analysis, in the allegorical method one is left without any means by which the conclusions of the interpreter may be tested. [Note: Pentecost, pp. 5-6.]

(3) The allegorical method results in shear nonsense because "To understand a speaker or writer, one must assume that the speaker or writer is using words normally and without multiple meanings. This is what the literal method of interpretation assumes of God in Scriptural revelation. It believes the Bible to be revelation, not riddle." [Note: Tan, p. 30.] Again we remember Deuteronomy 29:29 .

The word "literal" is sometimes taken to mean non-figurative. The literal approach, however, recognizes the fact and use of symbolism, or figures, but attempts to understand them, as with any other literary method, on the basis of their normal and plain meaning as dictated by the normal rules of interpretation. This provides a check on our imagination or prejudice. Let’s look at several illustrations:

Psalms 22:1-31 : Psa 22:18 speaks of the casting of lots. This is a literal statement and is a prophecy of a literal happening, one that did happen when Christ was crucified, but Psa 22:12-13 depict the fierce enemies of the Lord as strong bulls and ravenous lions. These are obviously figures or symbols, but with a very plain and literal meaning which is derived by the rules of the literal method--context, usage, culture and history. It’s important to realize a symbol only has meaning when we understand how or what it previously meant literally in the historical and cultural setting of the time.

· The Bulls of Bashan. By studying the historical background, the geography, the culture, and Scripture itself, we find that the area of Bashan lying northeast of the Sea of Galilee was a place where bulls became fat and strong. In the Bible, then, the phrase, "the rams or bulls of Bashan," at times served as figures or symbols of Israel and especially as symbols of her leaders. It was used to portray those who had become luxurious, proud, and full of their own prosperity and importance. So this symbol pictures Christ’s enemies like the bulls of Bashan, with a full feeling of power and strength, ill natured, self satisfied and bullish in their attitude.

· The Lion symbolizes Christ’s enemies as those who stand and gap with open mouths like a lion roaring over its killed prey. They weren’t literally lions, but they acted like lions based on our knowledge of how lions behave when standing over their prey.

John 1:29 : "Behold the lamb of God" is obviously another symbol, but it too has a plain meaning based on historical and Scriptural facts. In the light of Old Testament teaching and Israel’s sacrificial history, it points to Christ as God’s sacrifice, the one who would die for our sin as God’s innocent substitute.

John 6:25-59 : In this passage John records Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. This is an historical event, but it contains a number of spiritual truths and applications. For instance, Christ refers to Himself as "the bread of life." The literal method understands this is symbolic but its meaning is derived from the significance of bread for our daily food for sustenance.

Revelation 8:12 : This passage speaks of judgment that will affect the sun, moon, and stars. Here there is no indication of symbolism other than one’s own bias against such catastrophes. The stars are literal because there is nothing in the context to indicate otherwise. We are imposing our imaginations on the text if we say, this is symbolical of world rulers or the loss of spiritual light in the world. Why? Because there is nothing in the passage or context to suggest this. We must let the passage speak for itself.

Revelation 9:1-12 : Here John records seeing a star fall from heaven. But in this passage, by context and the analogy of Scripture, this is plainly a symbol. How can we know this? The following are some important keys and helps:

· We should always read a passage literally and assume that the literal meaning is the prophet’s meaning unless there is adequate reason from context to read it otherwise.

· But we should always note carefully words like "as," "like," "as it were," and similar expressions (cf. 6:1; 9:7) because words like "as" normally indicate a figure or symbol by way of a comparison or an analogy and not an identification . Compare Revelation 8:13 . The text here does not say, "I heard one flying like an eagle in mid-heaven…" Some would make this refer to perhaps an angel, but I think we should take it literally. If God made a donkey speak to Balaam, why could He not, in this tremendous hour, use an eagle as a voice of woe to stress His sovereignty over creation?

· Always, where a figure of speech is suggested by the context, interpret by the analogy of Scripture. Allow Scripture to interpret Scripture while always bearing in mind the context and other rules of interpretation.

· Look for interpretive clues and identifications within the text itself which indicate a figure is being used. Note the following three examples:

Revelation 9:1 : All the English translations rightly view the star as a person rather than as a fragment of a star. This is indicated by the personal pronouns, "to him" in Rev 9:1 and "he" in Revelation 9:2 . Some would say the keys were given to the fifth angel, but word order would suggest the "him" looks back to the star who fell from heaven and not the fifth angel who sounded his trumpet. The star, who is further identified as a king in Revelation 9:11 , is the subject of the passage, not the angel who simply announces this judgment by blowing his trumpet.

· The star is also connected with the Abyss which is a demonic abode according to the analogy of Scripture (cf. Luke 8:30-31 ; Jude 1:6 ; 2Pe 2:4 ).

· Further, he is identified as the angel of the Abyss, the king of demons. This identifies him as Satan which also perfectly fits with the analogy of Scripture which in other places refers to angels as stars (Matthew 9:34 ; Matthew 12:25-28 ; John 12:31 ; Ephesians 2:2 ; Ephesians 6:12 : Revelation 12:7 f).

Isaiah 14:12-16 : Though this is a taunt taken up against the king of Babylon, most believe, due to the strong language of the passage, that it looks beyond a human being. Ultimately it must refer to Satan whom Scripture portrays as the prince of this world and the power behind many of the world rulers (Ephesians 2:2 ; Eph 6:12 ). This speaks of Satan who controlled the king of Babylon and his system of the past and will control the system of the future. In Isaiah 14:12-14 , Satan is called "star of the morning," literally, "bright, or shining one" which refers to him as a bright morning star.

Luke 10:18 : In Luk 10:18 the Lord refers to Satan as falling from heaven, like a star, and this all fits with the context and emphasis of Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 12:1-17 . This is totally in keeping the natural use of words in language and is even found in our own English idiom. We likewise use the term "star" in both a literal and symbolical sense. We speak of the stars in heaven, but we also speak symbolically of the star of the game, of the stars in Hollywood because, like a star, they stand out among others in some particular way. It has a symbolical meaning, but it depends on the context and its normal use for its true meaning.

The literal method of approach that will be used in this study will recognize the presence of symbols, but they will be interpreted by the normal and plain meaning of the symbol derived by historical background, context, grammar, the analogy of Scripture, and general usage.

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