Interpreting the Book of Revelation

Article: How Should We interpret the Book of Revelation? by Dr. Sam Storms (original source here)

Perhaps the single greatest controversy surrounding Revelation and the most important issue when it comes to interpreting the book, is the question of its structure. Many, perhaps most, evangelicals read Revelation as if it is describing a short period of time that is still in the future. Those who embrace what may be called the futurist view of the book most often will argue that what we have in Revelation 6-19 is a description of events that will take place in the future in a period of seven years they call The Great Tribulation.

And as you know, there are many who insist that Jesus will return and rapture his people out of this world prior to the outpouring of divine judgment in the “Great Tribulation.” The result is that what we read in Revelation 6-19 has little, if any, immediate practical relevance for a lot of Christians. For them it is fascinating to talk about, but it has little impact on how they live. One often hears: “Praise God that I won’t be here for any of this. Jesus will rescue me so that I won’t ever have to suffer what others endure.”

Although I held to this view for many years, I don’t any longer. Now, please understand that I do believe what we read in Revelation 6-19 applies to the end of the age, just before and including the Second Coming of Jesus. But I think it also applies to and describes what happens throughout the entire course of church history, including our own day and age. In other words, I believe Revelation 6-19 (actually 6-20) portrays for us the commonplaces of history spanning the period from the first coming of Jesus all the way through to his second coming.

Think about it this way. You are at a college football game and have been given the privilege of recording on camera the entire game from a variety of different vantage points. So, you place one camera on the 50 yard line, about 10 rows up. It is the perfect vantage point from which to view the game. Whether with your I-phone or some other form of video camera you begin recording everything that occurs, from the opening kickoff through the end of the game.

Now imagine that you are able to record or video tape the same game but from a different place in the stadium. This time your seat is located in the north end zone, about 50 rows up. Instead of viewing the game horizontally, from left to right, or right to left, you record everything vertically, as the action moves away from you, from one end zone near you to the far end zone at the other end of the field. You video tape the same game, the same plays, but the camera in the end zone provides you with a different perspective on how the game unfolds. You see the players spread across the field and can see much more accurately how a play will unfold.

Now imagine that another camera is in the opposite end zone, at the south end of the field. From this vantage point you can see the game moving toward yourself, as your team takes the ball from the far end of the field and gradually moves it toward the end zone directly in front of where you are sitting.

Now, for one more example, suppose another camera is placed in the Goodyear Blimp, hovering overhead and providing an entirely different perspective of how the game unfolds and develops. You are still watching the same game. But from this vantage point, overhead, you will have a recording of how the teams run and pass and eventually move from one end of the field to the other. From this angle in the blimp you can see both teams equally well. You can observe movements of players in a way that no one sitting anywhere in the stadium can.

Now, in each of these positions you would be watching and recording and eventually describing the same game and the same plays and the same events unfold. But your explanation of how the game started and ended would sound somewhat differently every time. But it’s still the same football game, with the same events unfolding, with the same players on both teams, leading to the same outcome.

This would actually greatly enhance your understanding of what happens in the game. You get to watch it from different perspectives, from different vantage points. Each of the cameras provides its own unique contribution to the same game. One camera focuses almost exclusively on the offense, while another focuses on the defense. Yet another camera hones in on only one player, recording every move he makes. And then there is a camera that sets its sights on the coaches and how they interact on the sidelines with their players.

I want to suggest that this is basically what is happening in the book of Revelation. The technical term for this is recapitulation. John the Apostle is, in my opinion, describing the events of this entire present age in which we live. His description covers the expanse of church history from the first coming of Christ in the first century to the second coming of Christ in some later century, perhaps our own. Sometimes he provides a panoramic view of the entire age of church history. At other times he focuses in on one major event or a series of developments. On occasion he may concentrate on telling us about one person or movement in the course of history. Continue reading

Who are the 144,000?

Article by Dr. Sam Storms entitled “10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE 144,000 IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION” (original source here)

Will the debate ever end about the identity of the 144,000 servants in Revelation 7? Perhaps not, but I hope these ten truths will contribute something to our understanding of who they are and what they do. We read that 12,000 are “sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (Rev. 7:4).

(1) The list of tribes in Revelation 7 corresponds to none of the nearly twenty different variations found in the OT. Judah, listed first here, is found in that position in the OT only when the tribes are arranged geographically, moving from south to north (Num. 34:19; Josh. 21:4; Judges 1:2; 1 Chron. 12:24). The only exception to this is Numbers 2:3 (followed by 7:12; 10:14). Perhaps Judah’s priority here “emphasizes the precedence of the messianic king from the tribe of Judah (cf. Gen. 49:10; 1 Chron. 5:1-2) and thus refers to a fulfillment of the prophecy in Gen. 49:8 that the eleven other tribes ‘will bow down’ to Judah” (Beale, 417).

(2) One can hardly fail to note that the tribes of Dan and Ephraim are omitted. One tradition believed that the Antichrist was to come from the tribe of Dan (based on a misinterpretation of Jer. 8:16 and first found in Irenaeus, @ 200 a.d.). Dan was also closely associated with idol worship (Judg. 18:16-19; 1 Kings 12:28-30; cf. Gen. 49:17; Judges 18:30; Jer. 8:16), as was Ephraim (Hosea 4:17-14:8). In Revelation 7, Joseph and Manasseh substitute for Dan and Ephraim. In the final analysis, there is no clear reason for this and we may never know why.

(3) There are several noticeable differences between the 144,000 in vv. 4-8 and the great multitude in vv. 9-17. Notice that the first group is specifically numbered (144,000) whereas the second is innumerable. Furthermore, the members of the 144,000 are all taken from but one nation, Israel, whereas those in the innumerable multitude are taken from “every nation and tribe and people and language” (7:9). Another difference is their location: the 144,000 appear to be on earth, whereas the multitude is in heaven, before the throne of God (7:9). Finally, the 144,000 are in imminent peril and thus require divine protection, whereas the multitude are in a condition of absolute peace and joy.

Do these differences mean that the two groups are entirely different, or is it the same group viewed from different perspectives, at different stages of their existence and experience? I believe it is the latter. More on this in a moment.

(4) These in 7:4-8 are surely identical with the 144,000 mentioned in Rev. 14:1-5. In both cases it is said that they received the seal of God on their “foreheads” (7:3 and 14:1). In 14:3 they are described as those who had been “redeemed from the earth” and again in 14:4 they were “redeemed from mankind”. This echoes Revelation 5:9 where the Lamb is said to have “ransomed” or “redeemed” for God people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. This same phrase is used again in Revelation 7:9 to describe the innumerable multitude. This would seem to indicate that the 144,000 = the innumerable multitude = the redeemed of all ages, and not some special remnant of humanity. Continue reading

The 144,000

Article by Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan. (original source here)

The 144,000 are not an ethnic Jewish remnant, and certainly not an Anointed Class of saints who became Jehovah’s Witnesses before 1935. The 144,000 “sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (Rev. 7:4) represent the entire community of the redeemed. Let me give you several reasons for making this claim.

First, in chapter 13 we read that Satan seals all of his followers, so it makes sense that God would seal all of his people, not just the Jewish ones.

Second, the image of sealing comes from Ezekiel 9, where the seal on the forehead marks out two groups of people: idolaters and non-idolaters. It would seem that the sealing of the 144,000 makes a similar distinction based on who worships God, not who among the Jewish remnant worships God.

Third, the 144,000 are called the servants of our God (Rev. 7:3). There is no reason to make the 144,000 any more restricted than that. If you are a servant of the living God, you are one of the 144,000 mentioned here. In Revelation, the phrase “servants of God” always refers to all of God’s redeemed people, not just an ethnic Jewish remnant (see 1:1; 2:20; 19:2; 19:5; 22:3).

Fourth, the 144,000 mentioned later in chapter 14 are those who have been “redeemed from the earth” and those who were “purchased from among men.” This is generic, everybody kind of language. The 144,000 is a symbolic number of redeemed drawn from all peoples, not simply the Jews. Besides, if the number is not symbolic, then what do we do with Revelation 14:4, which describes the 144,000 as those “who have not defiled themselves with women”? Are we to think that the 144,000 refers to a chosen group of celibate Jewish men? It makes more sense to realize that 144,000 is a symbolic number that is described as celibate men to highlight the group’s moral purity and set-apartness for spiritual battle.

Fifth, the last reason for thinking that the 144,000 is the entire community of the redeemed is because of the highly stylized list of tribes in verses 5-8. The number itself is stylized. It’s not to be taken literally. It’s 12 x 12 x 1,000: 12 being the number of completion for God’s people (representing the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the Lamb) and 1,000 being a generic number suggesting a great multitude. So 144,000 is a way of saying all of God’s people under the old and new covenant.

And then look at the list of the tribes. There are more than a dozen different arrangements of the 12 tribes in the Bible. This one is unique among all of those. Judah is listed first, because Jesus was from there as a lion of the tribe of Judah. All 12 of Jacob’s sons are listed—including Levi, who usually wasn’t because he didn’t inherit any land—except for one. Manasseh, Joseph’s son (Jacob’s grandson), is listed in place of Dan. So why not Dan? Dan was probably left out in order to point to the purity of the redeemed church. From early in Israel’s history, Dan was the center of idolatry for the kingdom (Judges 18:30-31). During the days of the divided kingdom, Dan was one of two centers for idolatry (1 Kings 12:28-30). And there is recorded in some non-biblical Jewish writings that the Jews thought the anti-Christ would come out of Dan based on Genesis 49:17.

The bottom line is that the number and the list and the order of the tribes are all stylized to depict the totality of God’s pure and perfectly redeemed servants from all time over all the earth. That’s what Revelation means by the 144,000.

Is Jesus Knocking at the Heart of the Unbeliever?

sproul877Article by R.C. Sproul (original source I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20). Usually the evangelist applies this text as an appeal to the unconverted, saying: “Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart. If you open the door, then He will come in.” In the original saying, however, Jesus directed His remarks to the church. It was not an evangelistic appeal.

So what? The point is that seeking is something that unbelievers do not do on their own. The unbeliever will not seek. The unbeliever will not knock. Seeking is the business of believers. Jonathan Edwards said, “The seeking of the Kingdom of God is the chief business of the Christian life.” Seeking is the result of faith, not the cause of it.

When we are converted to Christ, we use language of discovery to express our conversion. We speak of finding Christ. We may have bumper stickers that read, “I Found It.” These statements are indeed true. The irony is this: Once we have found Christ it is not the end of our seeking but the beginning. Usually, when we find what we are looking for, it signals the end of our searching. But when we “find” Christ, it is the beginning of our search.

The Christian life begins at conversion; it does not end where it begins. It grows; it moves from faith to faith, from grace to grace, from life to life. This movement of growth is prodded by continual seeking after God.

In your spiritual walk, are you moving from faith to faith, from grace to grace, from life to life? Are you continually seeking after God?

Amillenialism & Revelation

lion08by Benjamin L. Merkle, associate professor of New Testament & Greek at Southeastern Seminary.

Original source here.

Interpreting the book of Revelation from an amillennial perspective has a long history in the Church and, discount in fact, has been the predominant eschatological position of Christianity since the time of Augustine (though it was not called “amillennialism” until more recent times).

It is also a position many Baptists have embraced, including Hershey Davis, W. T. Conner, Herschel Hobbs, Edward McDowell, H. E. Dana, Ray Summers and James Leo Garrett. Indeed, some have claimed it was the dominant view of Southwestern Seminary from the 1930s–1990s. Even John Walvoord (a dispensational premillennialist) admits, “The weight of organized Christianity has largely been on the side of amillennialism” (Millennial Kingdom, 61).

The amillennial view of Revelation affirms that the 1,000-year binding of Satan refers to the period between the two advents of Christ. Two items should be noted about this interpretation. First, it recognizes that Revelation contains figurative or symbolic imagery typical of prophetic or apocalyptic literature. This means that the images are not to be taken literally, although they point to literal events and realities (e.g., the dragon John sees is not to be taken literally, but the dragon represents Satan who is real).

So, although the angel coming down from Heaven in Revelation 20 is pictured as having a literal chain to bind Satan and a literal key to lock him up, these symbols relate to us God’s intention to limit Satan’s influence on the world. This binding is said to last 1,000 years. If the chain, key and prison are symbolic pictures, then it is likely that the 1,000 years is also symbolic and represents a certain period of time. Second, John tells us that Satan is bound “so that he might not deceive the nations any longer” (Rev. 20:3). Thus, Satan’s influence is not completely removed, but is specifically tied to his ability to deceive the nations. In contrast to the Old Testament era, when nations were living in darkness oblivious to God’s special revelation, now the Gospel is being taken to all the nations. This will result in people from every tribe, language, people and nation being represented before the throne of God (Rev. 5:9).

One of the strengths of the amillennial approach is that it is Gospel-centered. That is, it views the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ as the center of redemptive history. Because of His work on the cross and subsequent resurrection, Jesus has conquered death, defeated Satan and now reigns in Heaven waiting until all His enemies will be put under His feet. Thus, at His first coming Jesus defeated Satan by binding “the strong man” in order to “plunder his house” (Matt. 12:29).

During His ministry, Jesus said He “saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven,” which was symbolic of his fall from power (Luke 10:18). The author of Hebrews informs us that the incarnation of the Son was necessary so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Similarly, the apostle John states, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Jesus was able to commission His disciples by stating that “all authority in heaven and on Earth” had been given to Him (Matt. 28:18). Thus, the decisive battle took place at the cross and resurrection where Satan’s ultimate defeat was sealed. Indeed, he is still a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), but he is a lion on a leash (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6).

The book of Revelation offers the believer in Christ amazing confidence and hope. It is not simply a book about the future, but about how knowing the future affects us today. The apostle John was given this incredible vision to give comfort and hope to persecuted Christians in Asia Minor by letting them know the outcome of history—that Satan’s final doom is certain, and that God will vindicate His people. The message of Revelation is that Christ is the reigning and returning King who rules over all creation—including Satan and his forces. Difficult times are sure to come, but in the end, Christ and His people are given the victory.

A missionary once asked some persecuted believers in a third world country which book of the Bible was their favorite. They responded, “Revelation!” Somewhat surprised by their response, the missionary asked them why they cherished this book above the others. They quickly added, “Because God wins in the end.” The book of Revelation offers encouragement for the believer, especially in times of hardship and trial. Even though life may be difficult now, the result is assured—God wins in the end. Christ is the One Who will come triumphantly to once and for all defeat His enemies and reign with His people. The victory belongs to the Lord!

Recommended Books:
1) Summers, Ray. Worthy Is the Lamb: Interpreting the Book of Revelation in Its Historical Context. Nashville: B&H, 1951 (reprint 1999).
2) Johnson, Dennis E. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001.
3) Hoekema, Anthony A. The Bible and the Future. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.
4) Riddlebarger, Kim. A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003.

Revelation 19-22

Evangelical Movement of Wales – Aber Conference 2016

Joel Beeke – Revelation 19 – The Great Marriage and the Great King’s Return

Joel Beeke – Revelation 20 – The Great Millennium and the Great White Throne

Joel Beeke – Revelation 21 – The Great Life in the New Jerusalem

Joel Beeke – Revelation 22 – The Great Saviour’s Imminent Coming and His Great Invitation

Here also is another exposition of Dr. Beeke on Revelation 20:1-10:

1 The binding of Satan (vv. 1-3)
2 The reign of the saints (vv. 4-6)
3 The loosing of Satan (vv.7-10)

These Are They; No More Night

Revelation 7: 9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

These are they:

Revelation 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

7 “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

No More Night: