A Future Worth It All

A Future Worth It All

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Dr. Jim Denison

Revelation 21-22

We are on the preparation committee, not the planning committee. Three times in our passage in this study, Jesus promises us, “I am coming soon.” The first Christians took this promise to mean that he would return in their lifetimes; of course, he did not. Even they tended to be more interested in planning than in preparing. Let this final study help us to be prepared for Jesus to return, whenever he chooses to come.

But first, there are two questions from last week I’d like to address briefly. The first is the idea of “double fulfillment”—could Revelation have both a first-century application and an end-of-time interpretation and fulfillment?

Sensus plenior. Seen in Scripture; example is Hosea 11.1, “Out of Egypt did I call my son,” used by Matthew 2.15 for Jesus.

But be careful seeing double fulfillment where the Bible does not clearly say that it is so; this is speculative. And be careful not to see a second fulfillment which requires a completely different interpretation of the passage. I think Revelation intends to be understood as symbols, whether those symbols applied only to the first century or also to ours in an historical way (the locusts were not and are not army helicopters!).

The second question relates to the “book of works” (Revelation 20.13: “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books”). Did I mean that Christians will not face this judgment? Not at all.

Scripture is clear: Christians will be judged for our works as well. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3.11-15 is explicitly clear; 2 Corinthians 5.10 is clear as well: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” The referent is obviously Christians (“we”).

My point was that we will not gain heaven by it, for no one can. Our names in the “Lamb’s book of life” are what give us eternal celebration in heaven with God.

Now, to a description of that heavenly future, we close our study of Revelation with chapters. 21-22.

An outline of Revelation

I. Prologue (1.1-18)

A. Preface (1.1-3)

B. Author and recipients (1.4-5)

C. Doxology (1.6-8)

II. The first vision (1.9-3.22): the glory of Christ and letters to his churches

A. The vision of the risen Christ and commission of the book (1.9-20)

B. The letters to the seven churches (chs. 2-3)

III. The second vision (4.1-16.21): judgments on the evil powers of the world

A. The vision of God in heaven (ch. 4)

B. The vision of the Lamb who breaks the seals (ch. 5)

C. Seven seals (6.1-8.1):

1. White horse of conquest (6.2)

2. Red horse of war (6.3-4)

3. Black horse of famine (6.5-6)

4. Pale horse of death (6.7-8)

5. Altar of slain faithful (6.9-11)

6. Great earthquake of the wrath of the Lamb (6.12-17)

Interlude—the sealing of the 144,000 (ch. 7)

7. Silence in heaven for “about half an hour” (8.1)

D. Seven trumpets (8.2-11-19):

Interlude: the angel with incense, the prayers of the saints (8.2-5)

1. Hail and fire—1/3 of earth burned up (8.7)

2. Huge mountain thrown into the sea—1/3 of sea to blood, 1/3 of

its creatures killed, 1/3 of its ships destroyed (8.8-9)

3. Great star fell on 1/3 of the rivers, turning water bitter (8.10-11)

4. 1/3 of sun, moon, stars struck and turned dark (8.12)

5. First woe: Abyss opened, scorpions released to attack all without

the seal of God (9.1-12)

6. Second woe: four angels released to kill 1/3 of mankind


Interlude: the angel with the little scroll (ch. 10),

two witnesses (11.1-14)

7. Praise of God by heaven and the 24 elders (11.15-19)

E. The seven signs (12.1-14.20)

1. The woman (12.1-2)

2. The dragon (12.3-13.1)

3. The beast out of the sea (13.1-10)

4. The beast out of the earth (13.11-18)

5. The Lamb and the 144,000 (14.1-5)

6. The three angels (14.6-13)

7. The harvest of the earth (14.14-20)

F. The seven plagues (15.1-16.21)

Preparations (ch. 15)

1. First bowl: ugly and painful sores on those who had the mark of

the beast and worshiped his image (v. 2).

2. Second bowl: the sea turned to blood, and all life in it died

(v. 3).

3. Third bowl: rivers and springs of water became blood, while the

angel praised God (vs. 4-7).

4. Fourth bowl: the sun scorched people, but “they refused to

repent” (vs. 8-9).

5. Fifth bowl: poured on the throne of the beast, and the world was

plunged into darkness but refused to repent (vs. 10-11).

6. Sixth bowl: Euphrates was dried up “to prepare the way for the

kings from the East”; demons gathered the kings of the

world “for the battle on the great day of God Almighty”

(v. 14), “the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (v. 16).

7. Seventh bowl: the greatest earthquake in human history;

Babylon (Rome) was destroyed as God “gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath” (v. 19). 100-pound hailstones fell upon men, and “they cursed God”

(v. 21).

IV. The third vision (17.1-21.8): victory over the evil powers of the world

A. The mystery of Babylon (ch. 17)

B. The fall of Babylon (ch. 18)

C. The praise of heaven (19.1-10)

D. The victory of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (19.11-21)

E. The millennium (20.1-6)

F. Satan’s final doom (20.7-10)

G. The judgment of the dead (20.11-15)

V. The fourth vision (21.1-22.21): the future blessing of the faithful

A. The new creation (21.1-8)

B. The new Jerusalem (21.9-27)

C. The river of life (22.1-6)

D. The promise of Jesus’ imminent return (22.7-21)

The new creation (21.1-8)

There are three promises here:

•Fellowship with God (21.1-8)

•Protection by God (21.9-26)

•Provisions from God (22) (Summers 212ff).

The descriptions are not architectural but spiritual. Greek vs. Hebrew, speculative vs. practical. This section does not tell us all we would like to know, but all we need to know.

We cannot understand heaven fully until we’re there, anyway: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2.9 / Isaiah 64.4).

John sees “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea” (v. 1). The sea had separated John from his fellow believers; in heaven there will be no such separations, ever.

The Holy City, the “new Jerusalem,” comes down out of heaven from God as a bride prepared to meet her husband (v. 2). The imagery of a wedding to express the intimate relationship between God and his people is found in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament. For instance: “Your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name” (Isaiah 54.5); “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord” (Hosea 2.19-20).

Jesus made the same analogy: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son…” (Matthew 22.2ff). Paul uses the same comparison: “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5.31-32).

What is the point of this comparison? We must be ready; we are bound to him and to him alone (vs. spiritual adultery); we must have passion for Jesus, not just performance; our commitment is eternal. How’s your “marriage”?

The voice from the throne says: the dwelling of God is now with men; we will be his people, and he our God. He will wipe away every tear; there will be no more death, dying, or pain, for the old order has passed away (vs. 3-4). He is making everything new (v. 5).

It has always been God’s desire to dwell with his people. Thus he walks with Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3.8). Cf. Leviticus 26.11-12: “I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”

Cf. also Ezekiel 37.26-27: “I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.”

Cf. Isaiah 25.8-9: “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. IN that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

This desire of God to dwell with us and comfort us stands in clear distinction to the pagan impulses of the day. The Greeks put their temples as high as possible, and thus as close to heaven as possible. They were inaccessible to their daily lives, but they didn’t think the gods wanted daily experience with them, anyway.

God wants our Christianity to be this relevant to daily life, and he wants us to show the world that it is so. How can we make it so? I think of the executive with a Bible on his desk, another with a prayer closet in his office, another who told his employees he was praying for them. We can be legal and still spiritually effective, demonstrating the relevance of our faith for life. This is the greatest single problem lost people have with Christianity—they don’t see its relevance to their daily lives and needs. And only 7% think the church is relevant to their problems today.

The Alpha and Omega now gives from the spring of the water of life to all who thirst (v. 6). We who “overcome” will be his children (v. 7). But all who refuse God’s grace through their sin will experience the “second death” (v. 8).

The new Jerusalem (21.9-27)

The New Jerusalem is “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (v. 9). The city “shone with the glory of God” (v. 11), with twelve gates over which were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel; the foundations were named for the apostles of the Lamb (vs. 12-14).

Twelve gates point to abundant entrance to the City of God. Ancient cities had only one gate, so it could be shut at night and thus protect the people inside. If a person didn’t get inside the gate before it shut, he was without protection and would probably die. These gates are on every side, and they are never locked. We are all invited to be with God through Christ. The Eastern Gate of Jerusalem is locked to this day, waiting for the Messiah to open it. He will, for us all!

The angel measures the city: 1,400 miles cubed, with walls 200 feet thick. It is made of pure gold, with foundations decorated with “every kind of precious stone” (v. 19). The twelve gates are each made of a single pearl, and the street of pure gold “like transparent glass” (v. 21).

The Holy of Holies was also a perfect cube, but only 60 feet in each direction. As God is “Trinity,” so his heaven is cubed. Pearl is the only jewel which is produced by suffering and pain. So is our gateway into heaven through the cross.

The streets of gold remind of the story: a wealthy man asked permission to bring one possession to heaven when he died; Peter granted his request. The man opened his suitcase in heaven and unpacked hundreds of gold coins. Peter said, “Why did you want to bring pavement to heaven?”

The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple; the glory of God gives the city light, and the Lamb is its lamp (vs. 22-23). There will be no night, nor will the gates ever be shut (v. 25). The glory of the nations will come to it (v. 26), but no one impure will ever set foot inside—only those “whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (v. 27).

The river of life (22.1-6)

The river, “clear as crystal” (v. 1), flows from the throne of God and the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city (vs. 1-2). On each side stands the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding fruit every month; the leaves heal the nations (v. 2).

There will be no curse; the people of God will serve him in the city, see his face, live in his light, and “reign for ever and ever” (vs. 3-5). Before heaven, God said, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33.20). Now, that all changes in heaven.

In ancient times criminals were banished from the presence of the king. Remember what happened to Haman after the Persian king condemned him: “As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face” (Esther 7.8).

And David had to say about his rebellious son Absalom, “‘He must go to his own house; he must not see my face.’ So Absalom went to his own house and did not see the face of the king” (2 Samuel14.24).

One blessing of heaven will be to see the Lord face to face, forever. This is the promise of Scripture: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13.12).

These things “must soon take place” (v. 6).

The promise of Jesus’ imminent return (22.7-21)

This is the promise/warning of Jesus: “Behold, I am coming soon!” (v. 7). He repeats it in v. 20, the last recorded words of Jesus in all of Scripture: “Yes, I am coming soon.” The angel makes the same statement: “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near” (v. 10). This statement shows that the book was intended to apply to John and his day, and by principles, to us all.

In response to these revelations, John “fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them” to him (v. 8). But the angel forbade this and said, “I am a fellow servant with you and with all your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” (v. 9).

It is encouraging to know that even John the Beloved Disciple can make spiritual mistakes. In Revelation 1.17 he was right: “When I saw [Jesus], I fell at his feet as though dead.” But here he worships the messenger, not the One who is the message.

This is the true response to awe (cf. Isaiah 6, Peter in the boat).

We all have the innate desire and capacity for worship (cf. the earliest worship in human history). But we must be sure that we worship the right One. Tillich: “Our ultimate concern is best identified not by our words but by our time and money.”

And we must make certain that no one gives this reverence to us, or that we seek it. Cf. Cornelius to Peter: “As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. ‘Stand up,’ he said, ‘I am only a man myself'” (Acts 10.26).

Remember how fickle such “worship” can be. The Jerusalem crowds shouted Hosanna on Sunday, and “Crucify” on Friday. Remember what happened to Paul in Lystra: the crowds worshipped him and Barnabas as Zeus and Hermes and wanted to offer sacrifices to them; but then some Jewish opponents “won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead” (Ac 14.19). I love what comes next: “But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city” (v. 20).

Make certain you worship the right One, and that your life leads others to him and not to yourself. Remember Jesus’ words: “Let your light so shine that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5.16).

God will reward everyone “according to what he has done” (v. 12). Those who “wash their robes” are blessed, and have the right to the tree of life. Outside stands everyone who commits intentional and habitual sin (vs. 14-15).

Now we come to the invitation. These words have come from Jesus through his angel (v. 16). The Spirit and the bride say to us, “Come!” All who hear should say, “Come!” to this promise: “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (v. 17).

And to the warning. Anyone who adds to the words of this book will have added to him the plagues described therein; anyone who takes away from this book will have taken from him his share in the tree of life and the holy city (vs. 18-19). This warning relates specifically to Revelation, not by intention to the rest of Scripture.

However, we should treat all of the Bible as the word of God: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3.16-17).

And remember Deueronomy 4.2: “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.”

The conclusion: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.'” And John agrees: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” And the Revelation closes with the prayer, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (v. 21).

“Come, Lord Jesus” in the Aramaic is “Marana tha.” This was an expression used by the early church to celebrate the fact that Jesus is coming back, and it may be today!

God’s reward for our faithfulness will exceed everything it costs us. We will spend eternity enjoying his presence together. This hope makes present faithfulness worthwhile.

A Home in Your Microwave

A Home in Your Microwave

Luke 10:25-37

Dr. Jim Denison

The microwave oven for homes was first sold in America in 1952, and it’s changed our lives so much that sociologists call us the “microwave society.”

I’m old enough to remember when popping popcorn meant getting out the popper, putting in the oil, stirring in the kernels, and waiting five or ten minutes. Then the world discovered Jiffy-Pop, popcorn and oil inside the foil, ready to shake over a stove. When’s the last time you saw some Jiffy-Pop? Do you even know what I’m talking about?

Today popcorn comes in microwave bags. And we get impatient that it takes two minutes to cook.

This morning I bring you this thesis: the greatest threat to our families and relationships today is the microwave. Not in our kitchen—in our hearts.

Restaurants now have entire rooms for cell-phone users, so people can eat and work and thus save time.

“Sink Eaters Anonymous” is an actual support group for people who are so busy they eat their meals standing over the kitchen sink.

John P. Robinson, director of the Americans’ Use of Time project at the University of Maryland, says that the value of time has clearly surpassed the value of money in our society. Tell us something we don’t know.

As we begin looking at relationships today from a biblical perspective, let’s begin with their place in priorities. What does our culture value today? Doing more, faster, better, so we can have more and be more. But Jesus disagrees. According to him, our cultural values are exactly backwards. And unless we get our priorities right, our relationships will forever be wrong.

So, what should we value most today? Let’s ask Jesus.

From Jericho to Dallas

The lawyer asks Jesus the famous question: “Who is my neighbor” (v. 29). And Jesus replies not with principles but with a parable, the greatest story in all of Scripture.

A man is “going down” from Jerusalem to Jericho—2,300 feet above sea level to 1,300 below, a drop of 3,600 feet over 20 miles. This was one of the most dangerous highways in the world, and is still so today. I’ve traveled it twice, and felt safe in a bus during the day; I wouldn’t want to walk it alone, even today. Especially today.

But this man does (v. 30). And you know what happens to him.

But there’s good news—a priest is coming! The “church pastor,” the “man of God” has arrived. The man who stands before God in the temple, bringing the sacrifices of the people to him. Suppose your car is broken down in a parking lot near the church, and you see me come by. You’d expect me to stop and help, and you should.

Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. Not long ago I saw a woman trying to change a flat tire on her car outside Walgreen’s, down from the church. I stopped to help—we got the car on the jack, up in the air, and the old tire off. I was just about to put the new tire on when the jack collapsed! It was not a good thing. No one was hurt, fortunately, and my call from mechanic to minister was strongly reinforced.

Well, this priest doesn’t even stop. Why not? Numbers 19:11 says that if he touches a dead body, he’ll be ceremonially unclean for seven days. This wounded man is getting in the way of his job, his religious responsibilities. So he leaves him to die.

But all is not lost—a Levite comes by next. The man who keeps the temple, who helps the priest. A staff member, deacon, Sunday school teacher today. But he’s too busy to stop as well—he has work to get done.

In one of John Maxwell’s books, he tells about a new staff member at his church who walked by a group of people on Sunday morning to get to his office. He later confronted the man, who said, “I had work to do.” Maxwell responded correctly: “These people are your work!” This priest and Levite didn’t get it. Many of us don’t.

Finally a Samaritan comes along. Now all hope is gone.

As you know, the Samaritans hated the Jews, and vice versa. This man will probably rob what the wounded traveler has left, maybe kick him or beat him, certainly leave him to die. But no. He is “filled with pity.” He uses his own clothes to bind the man’s wounds, and pours his own oil and wine (very expensive first-century medicine) on his injuries. He puts him on his own donkey (while he walks), placing himself at the mercy of these same robbers. He brings him to the inn, pays for his room, and promises to pay any other charges the man incurs.

Imagine that your car breaks down near the church—I stop by, fix it so it will drive, go with you to the repair shop, pay for the repairs, and promise to pay for any other work the car ever needs. Has anyone ever done that for you?

Jesus says we should “Go and do likewise.” How? What does his story say to our “microwaved” homes and hearts and lives?

Choices to make today

How do we “go and do likewise”? There are several simple choices we must make today. Our first decision, foundational to all the others: value people as God does.

People are eternal; nothing else in this world is. Not our jobs, our possessions, our status or significance. One day the only real estate we’ll possess is a little piece of ground, six feet deep. And even then someone else will tend it, because we’ll be gone.

So we are commanded to value people, for only they have eternal souls. The Samaritan got this right. He valued this wounded Jew more than his clothes, or oil and wine, or donkey, or safety. He valued this man as God does.

So must we. People come before possessions. Listen to this remarkable statement from the Song of Solomon: “Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned” (8:7). In other words, wealth cannot buy love. Put people before possessions.

God valued you enough to send his Son to die for you. If you’re good enough for God, you’re good enough for me. Be clear on this: people come first. In a secular, materialistic, self-centered and self-absorbed society, we must refuse the popular culture. We must value people as God does.

Now, how do we value people? Our second choice: give your best to that which matters most.

The Samaritan gave his best resources to this injured man—his oil and wine, his donkey, his time, his safety. He gave his best to that which matters most. So can we.

Would your family say they get the best part of you? Or have you already given so much emotional energy to your work, your day, that you are done before they see you? When is the last time you sacrificed your time for them? The last time you turned down a request at work so you could give that time and energy to your family or friends?

For two years I’ve chaired a missions study committee for the Baptist General Convention of Texas. I didn’t know the group would meet primarily on Fridays, my one day of the week to be with Janet. So, before I could preach this sermon I had to decide that I’ve served on my last such committee. I want to give my best to that which matters most.

Decide right now that you will reserve your best time and energy to those who should matter most to you.

Now, how do you give this best? Our third choice: spell love, “time.”

The priest had no time for this hurting soul; neither did the Levite. Neither did the Samaritan, but he gave it anyway.

In our time-crunched culture, our greatest possession and currency is time. Would you rather someone ask you for some money, or for some time? We now pay people to change our oil and wash our cars, to launder our clothes and mow our grass. In north Dallas, people pay others to do their shopping, run their errands, and even walk their dogs. All so we can save time.

For what purpose? For what people? When did you last sacrifice some time so you could be with the people who matter to you? When did you leave the job undone, so your family wouldn’t be? When did you last give time you didn’t have, rather than fitting people into your calendar?

Recent surveys indicate that, on average, the American father spends a maximum of six minutes a day with his son or daughter. If I asked people close to you, would they say that they come first with your time? Spell love, “time.”

Our fourth decision today: never give up on people. This Samaritan didn’t; neither can we.

Who are you ready to quit on today? Your brother or sister, kids or parents, colleague or neighbor? It is always too soon. It is always too soon to decide that God cannot redeem this situation, that he cannot heal this hurt, that he cannot restore this home. The Samaritan refused to give up on this man left for dead. We must likewise refuse to abandon the hurting people we know.

Ben Carson grew up in a Detroit ghetto. He was an angry young man, failing everything in school, one of the kids society gives up on. But his single-parent mother wouldn’t give up on him. She made him and his brother read two books every week and write reports for her. Ben didn’t know she couldn’t read the reports with her third-grade education. But he did the work, and his life began to change. He moved from the bottom of his class to the top. Today he is the Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University. His gifted hands have saved countless lives. He volunteers every week in the inner city, and his story has touched millions.

I heard him at a National Prayer Breakfast say, “We came over to America in many different boats, but we’re all in the same boat now. And if one part of the boat leaks, we all go under.” Never give up on people.

Our last decision: start now. This is the only day you have. If the Samaritan had decided to come back tomorrow, there would have been no one to come back to. Who should you pray for and about, right now? What wounded person do you know?

If it all depended on this day, would you be a priest and Levite, or a Samaritan? It does.


Why did Jesus tell us this story? Because he’s the best neighbor in all of history. Because he is the Samaritan who stopped for every one of us when we were beaten by sin and left for dead. Because he bound up our wounds with his own, and paid for our room in the inn with his life. Because he loved us more than this world, more than pain, more than life itself. And now he calls us to do for each other what he has done for us.

I love Frederick Sampson’s story about his summer on his uncle’s farm. He told the story at an evangelism conference I attended, and meant it to illustrate the priority of evangelism over work around the church.

The first morning, his farmer uncle rousted him out of his bed in the hayloft at 4:00 in the morning, and got him busy cleaning out stalls, sweeping floors, chopping wood, heating water, doing what the house required.

Finally Fred was done, and started back up to the hayloft to go back to sleep. His uncle stopped him and asked where he was going. Fred said, “I’ve finished my work.” His uncle put his finger in his face and said, “I’m going to tell you something, and don’t you ever forget it. What you do around the house is chores. What you do in the fields is work.”

As I said, Fred meant the story to tell evangelistic truth, and he’s right. But for our purposes today, he’s exactly wrong. What we do in the “field” is chores, my friends. What we do at home is the real work.

How’s your work going today?

Easter Is Not an Island

Easter Is Not an Island

John 20:1-9

Dr. Jim Denison

On average, they stand thirteen feet high and weigh fourteen tons. The largest of them weighs as much as 165 tons. There are 887 of them on the island. And no one is sure why.

In 1722 a Dutch explorer discovered their island. It happened to be Easter Sunday, so he named his discovery Easter Island. Here the explorer found the famous “moai” of Easter Island, giant statues which guard the beach and dot the island. You’ve undoubtedly seen them in pictures—huge stone figures, mostly faces, standing mute and stoic for centuries. We’re not sure how the people of Easter Island made them, or how they moved them. Theories abound, but no one is certain. Easter Island is in a sense a fascinating miracle.

Easter Day can be like Easter Island for us—a miracle, but an island, isolated from the continent of life. An annual religious observance and little more.

Last year, the Baptist churches in our area experienced a 50% decline in worship attendance from Easter Sunday to the next week. Our own experience was identical to theirs. Clearly many people see Easter as an island, unconnected to the rest of the year. A religious event with little relevance to our daily lives.

But our lives and souls need more. We need a transforming daily experience with the Christ who rose on Easter Sunday. And so, today, I want to show you the factual reality and the personal relevance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why Easter is not an island we visit, but the home where we live.

To do that, I need you to take two walks with me.

Celebrate the reality of the resurrection

The first takes us back twenty-one years, to early spring of 1980 and a college retreat I was attending. My father had just died a few weeks earlier. In a few months I would graduate from college, marry Janet, and move to Southwestern Seminary to begin preparations for a life in vocational ministry. And my world came crashing in on me.

I’ll never forget that Saturday morning. I was about to spend the rest of my life preaching the gospel and serving the church. Was I sure about this? Was Christianity real? Was it more than Sunday school lessons and church services? Was I about to give my life to a religion, or to a reality?

I took that Saturday morning off from the retreat, and went for a walk. I can still see the stunning blue sky, hear the birds as they sang in the warm sun, feel the leaves and pine needles crunch beneath my feet. I walked and walked, as I thought about everything I had come to know about this Christian faith.

Perhaps you need to take that walk with me today, for yourself or to help someone you care about. Before we can see if Easter is relevant, first we must know if it is real.

As we walk and talk together, we begin where I started twenty-one years ago: with the fact that everything about the Christian faith hinges on Easter, on the resurrection. Jesus said he would rise again from the dead—if he did, his word is true and he is our living Lord. If he did not, the Bible is just a book and Christianity is just a religion.

Paul was clear: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14). If someone were to find a skeleton and prove that it was Jesus Christ, we would disband this church, sell the property, and give up the faith. Christianity hinges on the reality of the resurrection.

So let’s start here as we consider the reality of Easter. What explanations make the resurrection just a story, an island and nothing more?

One option: perhaps the first witnesses to Easter went to the wrong tomb, found it empty, and proclaimed Christ raised from the dead.

But in our text, Mary Magdeline was the first to arrive, and Mark 15:47 says she saw where Jesus was laid. Joseph of Arimathea, the owner of the tomb, certainly knew where it was. And assuredly the Romans knew where they had placed their guard. No, they had the right tomb.

A second possibility: perhaps these disciples wanted so much for Easter to be true that they imagined it was so. But Mary didn’t expect Jesus to be gone: “we don’t know where they have put him!” (v. 2). In verse 11 she’s still crying; in verse 15 she thinks Jesus is the gardener and appeals to him for the body. Verse 9 is clear: “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”

A third option, related to the second: maybe this was a hallucination, a mirage, a dream. But the tomb is still real, and empty. The Roman historians tell us that Christ was crucified by Pontius Pilate. His death and now-empty tomb are very real. More than 500 saw the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 15:6), and 500 people don’t have the same hallucination. No, Easter is no wish fulfillment or hallucination.

A fourth approach: perhaps the women or disciples stole his body and announced him risen. This was the Jewish authorities’ explanation for Easter. But people don’t die for a lie. And they don’t keep a secret, either. Just a few conspirators hatched the Watergate plot, and they couldn’t keep the secret more than a day or so.

A fifth answer: maybe the authorities stole the body. But they would undoubtedly have produced it the moment the resurrection was first preached by the disciples. And a body has ever been found, though skeptics for twenty centuries have looked.

When our tour group visited the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul three weeks ago, we saw on display hair and teeth from Mohammed. None are on display anywhere in the world for Jesus.

A sixth option: perhaps Jesus didn’t die, but swooned on the cross and later convinced his disciples that he had been resurrected. This is the thesis of Hugh Schonfield’s best-selling book, The Passover Plot. But verse 7 is fascinating rebuttal: “The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.” The Greek original is clearer: the cloth around Jesus’ dead head was collapsed in on itself, not unfolded as it would have to be if he or anyone else had removed it from his body. And a swooned victim of crucifixion could never overpower guards, walk through locked doors, and ascend back into the heavens. This theory won’t work.

A last attempt: perhaps someone else died in Jesus’ place, maybe his twin brother, as philosopher Robert Greg Cavin speculates. Perhaps God substituted someone else for him, as the Muslim faith teaches. But men and women who lived with him for three years saw him raised, and his own mother saw him die. This explanation doesn’t work, either.

And so we have exhausted literally every possibility. There is a real, empty tomb. And no possible explanation for it, except that Jesus is alive and Easter is true.

I came to know that it is so as I took that Saturday walk and thought about the evidence. I came back with a deep assurance that Christianity is real, that Jesus is alive, and that he is worth my life. I have never had cause to doubt since. I encourage you to join me in that commitment to the reality of Easter today.

Live in relationship with the living Christ

But is Easter relevant? I know that Easter Island is real, but that fact doesn’t make it relevant to my life. What about Easter Day? What difference does its reality make for us? Why come back to worship God next week? Why pray tomorrow? Why share your faith on Tuesday?

To answer these questions, I need you to take another walk with me.

It was Monday before Easter Sunday in 1997. Our ministry staff at my church in Atlanta took two days for a silent retreat.

Late Monday afternoon I took a walk down to the Chattahoochee River and around to the waterfall on the retreat property. I sat on a deck overlooking that waterfall, and God spoke to me. He showed me that my faith had become a religion, not a relationship. That I was working for God, not walking with him. I couldn’t remember the last time I prayed because I simply wanted to be with God, or read the Scriptures simply because I wanted to hear from him. I couldn’t remember the last time I took an hour to listen to God, or the last time I told him I loved him.

Easter was real for me, but the living Christ was not relevant. During those two days, I learned how to fall back in love with Jesus again. I’d like you to take that retreat, that walk, with me. Ask yourself the two questions I asked myself.

First, ask yourself whether you have a religion or a relationship with God.

A religion is something we do to please God, to earn his blessing and help. A relationship with him is what we do because God is pleased with us, because he loves us. Are you here today for what you can get out of church, or for what you can give to God in gratitude?

A religion requires an event, a place to go, a tradition to keep. A relationship is not an event or tradition, but a celebration of our daily faith in God. Are you here to observe a religious event, or to celebrate the risen Christ?

A religion can be completed as a task is completed or a bill is paid for the year. A relationship with God is never done—every day is new and exciting. Will you feel you’ve done your religious duty today, or that tomorrow is another day to walk with Jesus?

I determined on that day that I had more a religion than a relationship with God. What about you?

Second, ask yourself if you want a transforming relationship with Jesus. A religion leaves us the same as we were. A relationship with Jesus always changes us for the better.

These disciples were confused, upset, and frightened. They were meeting “with the doors locked for fear of the Jews” on that first Easter Sunday (v. 19), and again the next week. But soon these men who were terrified of the authorities were preaching to them. The “doubting Thomas” of verse 25 became the great missionary to India. Matthew would die for Christ in Ethiopia, James in Jerusalem, Philip in Asia Minor, James the Less in Egypt, Jude in Persia, and Peter in Rome. John would be exiled on Patmos, and would write our text and gospel.

I decided that I wanted more with Jesus, that I wanted him to transform my life as he had theirs and so many others. Do you? When is the last time worshipping Jesus changed your life?

Do you know how much Jesus wants a personal, daily relationship with you? He chose to stay on earth for forty days after his resurrection. Forty days to eat and live with his disciples, to teach them God’s word, to develop their faith, to prepare them for the future. He waited forty days to return to his glory with his Father, because he wanted a relationship with his friends.

That’s what I learned again on my Easter walk with Jesus four years ago. That Jesus wants us to love him before he wants anything else from us. I learned that Easter is not the observance of a religion, but the celebration of a relationship. Not an island we visit each year, but a home where we live every day. Do you want that kind of relationship with God?


You can begin today. Jesus is ready and waiting. In a moment I’ll give you opportunity to pray with me, as I introduce you to him.

If you have begun that relationship, you can deepen it today. Take a few minutes today to be alone with him. Thank him for dying on the cross in your place, to pay for your sins. Thank him for rising from the grave, so that you can have eternal life in heaven. Make an appointment to meet him tomorrow for Bible study and prayer, and next week here with us for worship. Connect the island of Easter to the continent of your life.

If you already have, ask Jesus what he wants next from you. How can your walk with him be even stronger and deeper? What next step can you take? Ask him today, and follow him tomorrow.

The historian Philip Schaff said it well: “This Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; without science and learning, He shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of schools, He spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, He set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times.”

And now he wants a living, daily relationship with you. What is your reply to him?

Facing North When the Market Goes South

Facing North When the Market Goes South

1 Kings 17:7-16

Dr. Jim Denison

Today we want to address the subject of finances and family, the economic downturn and its effect on our lives and relationships. Financial challenges are something I know something about. Trust me when I tell you that Janet did not marry me for my money.

Our first home was a duplex in Arlington, renting for $330 per month. We struggled to make that payment each month. Our kitchen table was an old inlaid checkerboard table Janet’s grandfather had made. It was missing several of the checkers, so we put a tablecloth over it to hide the holes. But I knew where they were; when people would come over, I’d put my water glass in the holes just to watch it tilt and see the people’s reactions.

I drove a 1966 Ford Mustang, with a leaking power steering cylinder. It would have cost $35 to fix, so I cut off the belt and drove it manually. Janet worked at our church, then became a teacher. While finishing my master’s degree, I worked as a graphic artist part-time and as a janitor on Mondays, and we addressed the church newsletter on Tuesday nights for extra money.

Few problems challenge a family more severely than finances. But few circumstances can make our relationships stronger and more godly than the spiritual renewal which financial pressures can bring. The choice is ours.

If your relationships are not facing financial stress, they likely will be. Let’s ask God for practical help together. Walk with me through this remarkable Old Testament event, then we’ll gather up some lessons for life today.

The king who ruled a dust bowl

Elijah the prophet appears suddenly and without introduction in 1 Kings 17, walking into the middle of the greatest spiritual crisis his nation has seen since the wilderness. King Ahab and his wicked Queen Jezebel have led the people to worship Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility and rain. All sorts of unspeakable sexual immorality and heinous spiritual adultery have resulted.

1 Kings 16:33 makes this horrific statement about him: “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.” Of all their corrupt, decadent kings, he was the worst.

So God raises up this prophet Elijah to show the nation who is really Lord.

Rain was crucial to this drought-plagued, agriculturally dependent country. Without rain they could not farm, eat, or survive. You know what happens to us when the electricity goes out; far worse came to them when it did not rain.

Baal was supposed to be the god of rain. So the real God shows the people who’s truly in charge of the rain and the world. He send Elijah to tell wicked King Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1).

God kept his word. For 3½ years there was no rain in the land. The nation looked like the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. We suffered through a few weeks without rain last summer; imagine what would happen to Dallas if it didn’t rain until November of 2004.

The eventual result of this standoff between Elijah and Ahab, between Jehovah and Baal, was that the people returned to their worship of the one true God, and the wicked regime of Ahab and Jezebel was destroyed. God’s power prevailed, and the nation was saved. But along the way, innocent people would suffer the consequences of their leaders’ sinfulness, as they always do.

This is where our story picks up.

A strange way to feed a man

Elijah has been living by a brook in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan river. But the brook dries up because of the drought. “Then the word of the Lord came to him . . .” (v. 8). Not “before” but “when.” God never reveals his will to us ahead of time. Now that the crisis has come home to Elijah, God gives him his word.

And a strange word it is: “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food” (v. 9).

Zarephath was a commercial center located 20 miles north of Tyre on the Mediterranean coast of ancient Phoenicia. The small town of Surafend is there today.

Going to Zarephath was a bad idea. The drought had hit them hard as well, so that they have no more water than Elijah does. Jezebel’s father is still king of the region, and we know what she thought about Elijah. And these are pagan, Baal-worshipping idolaters. Why go there?

To make things even worse, he is to depend on a “widow” in the town. She is the least likely person to survive this drought. She has no husband and no other family; there is no welfare system; she and her son will likely die.

But Elijah goes anyway: “So he went to Zarephath” (v. 10). His life, and hers, would depend on his obedience to the word of God. Obedience is the theme of this entire text, and of its relevance to our lives.

He finds the woman at the city gate; someone has said that “coincidence” is when God prefers to remain anonymous. She’s “gathering sticks,” twigs, really. To make a fire for cooking—this must be a good sign, Elijah thinks.

So he asks her for some water, and she consents. Then he asks for some bread, assuming that she will have what he needs or God wouldn’t have sent him to her.

Then comes the shock: “As surely as the Lord your God lives, I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug” (v. 12a). To make matters worse, she says, “I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die” (v. 12b).

Great! Now the hungry prophet must help her as well as himself. “Don’t be afraid,” he says (v. 13). This is always the place to start. Literally, “Stop being afraid.”

Instead, do what you can do: make some food for me and for yourself. And God will provide for us: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land'” (v. 14).

God had promised in Deuteronomy: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing” (10:18). Now Elijah claims this promise, and with it, the provision of God.

She obeys Elijah, and God keeps his word: “The jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah” (v. 16).

God kept his word—he always does. My pastor was right: “The will of God never leads where the grace of God cannot sustain.”

Profiting from the prophet

Now, how can we find God’s help and hope in financial pressure as Elijah and the unnamed widow of Zarephath did? How can we profit from the prophet? What lessons apply to our lives and relationships today?

Consider taking these steps.

First, examine your spiritual health. This drought was at its root a spiritual crisis, used by God for spiritual and eternal purposes. Nothing reveals our spiritual health more quickly than financial pressure. Use hard times to learn about your soul.

To see what’s inside a bottle, shake it up. To see if you’re a servant, see how you react when someone treats you like one.

The Bible contains 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 on faith, but more than 2,000 on money and possessions. Why? Because possessions show us who possesses us. They show us our souls.

Henry Ford said: “Money doesn’t change men, it merely unmasks them. If a man is naturally selfish, or arrogant, or greedy, the money brings it out; that’s all.” Fred Smith adds: “God entrusts us with money as a test; for like a toy to the child, it is training for handling things of more value.”

What is your relationship with God like, today? Are you focused on your soul, or your stocks? Possessions, or people? Worried, or trusting? Anxious, or at peace? Examine your spiritual health today.

Next, decide to rely on God.

You and I live in an amazingly materialistic culture. Did you know that Americans spend $9 billion a year to rent mini-warehouses, so they can store all their stuff they don’t have room for in their homes? Mercedes-Benz has just introduced the CLK-GTR, a sports car with the purchase price of $1.7 million. Mechanics must be flown in from Germany to fix it. In our culture, we must choose to rely on God. Elijah did.

The prophet and the widow have nothing but the promises of God to depend upon. Elijah could have left her for a place with water and food, but he didn’t. He knew this fact: the safest place in all the world is the center of the will of God.

Do you know that? Have you decided to rely on God, to trust his help and hope? His word is clear: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). And listen to this promise: “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Have you prayed for God to help your finances and your family? To strengthen your key relationships during this time of economic pressure? To draw you closer to him, and to each other? Why not today?

Third, work as God works.

God sent the widow to make bread as he provided the flour and oil. He could have made the bread, but so could she. As she worked, he worked.

God meets our needs, but not all our wants. He has given us the ability to work, and expects us to use it. Economic challenges can be a wonderful time to grow closer to the people in your life. These days can cause you to remember what truly matters, and to commit your heart to it again.

Do what you can, and trust God to do what only he can.

Last, lead your family to be faithful financially to God.

Martin Luther said, “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”

That which you cannot give away, you do not possess. It possesses you.

I like novelist John Grisham’s testimony: “My wife and I measure the success of the year on how much we give away.”

Use your money here to honor God eternally. Anne Graham Lotz is right: gold must not mean much to God, for he uses it as paving material in heaven. Use yours to help people be there.


Jesus is the great provider—for our bodies and our souls. He is the constant source of all we need. But like the prophet and the widow, we must turn to him in the hard times of life. And we must do it together.

The prophet and the widow would never forget each other, or their God. May this time of financial pressure do the same for us all.

The first-class passengers on the Titanic paid more for their accommodations than the average annual salary of most Americans. In the stateroom of Major Arthur Peuchen sat an ornate tin box containing $200,000 in bonds and $100,000 in preferred stock. But when the ship began to sink, the major looked into his tin box, then grabbed three oranges, stuffed them into his pockets, and left the box behind. Icebergs have a way of clarifying what matters.

Don’t they?

Getting Ready for the Final Exam

Getting Ready for the Final Exam

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Dr. Jim Denison

Revelation 15-20

Overview of Revelation 1-14

I. The revelation of Jesus Christ (ch. 1)

II. The letters to the churches (chs. 2-3)

III. The revelation of heaven (ch. 4)

IV. The scroll and the Lamb (ch. 5)

V. Seven seals (6.1-8.1)

VI. Seven trumpets (8.2-11.19)

VII. Seven signs (12.1-14.20)

Seven angels with seven plagues (ch. 15)

Seven angels are revealed with “the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed” (15.1). Those who were victorious over the beast, image, and number worshipped God with harps and song (vs. 2-4).

The seven angels came out of the “tabernacle of the Testimony” (vs. 5-6). The “tabernacle” was the dwelling place of God during the desert wandering of the Israelites. It contained the two tablets of the Testimony brought down from Sinai.

One of the four living creatures gave them “seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God” (v. 7). The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, so much so that no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues were completed (v. 8).

The seven bowls of God’s wrath (ch. 16)

First bowl: ugly and painful sores were on those who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image (v. 2). (CF, the sixth Egyptian plague in Exodus 9).

Second bowl: the sea turned to blood, and all life in it died (v. 3).

Third bowl: rivers and springs of water became blood, while the angel praised God (vs. 4-7).

Fourth bowl: the sun scorched people, but “they refused to repent” (vs. 8-9).

Fifth bowl: poured on the throne of the beast, and the world was plunged into darkness but refused to repent (vs. 10-11). “Throne” is mentioned in Revelation 42 times; once it refers to Satan’s throne (2.13), and here it is the throne of the beast. The other 40 times it refers to the throne of God.

Sixth bowl: Euphrates was dried up “to prepare the way for the kings from the East”; demons gathered the kings of the world “for the battle on the great day of God Almighty” (v. 14), “the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (v. 16). The Hebrew was Har Mageddon, “the mountain of Megiddo.” Many see no specific geographic location here, but a reference to the final overthrow of evil by God.

Seventh bowl: the greatest earthquake in human history; Babylon (Rome) was destroyed as God “gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath” (v. 19). 100-pound hailstones fell upon men, and “they cursed God” (v. 21).

The woman on the beast (ch. 17)

One of the seven angels showed John the punishment “of the great prostitute” (vs. 1-2).

Her description:

Sitting on a scarlet beast.

The beat was covered with blasphemous names and had 7 heads and 10 horns.

She was dressed in fine clothing and jewels, and held a golden cup filled with her abominations.

The title on her forehead: “Mystery / Babylon the Great / the mother of prostitutes / and of the abominations of the earth” (v. 5).

She was “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus” (v. 6).

The beast “once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction” (v. 8). The seven heads are seven hills “on which the woman sits” (v. 9). They are “also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while” (v. 10).

Rome began as a network of seven hill settlements on the left bank of the Tiber river. Her designation as the city on seven hills was common among Roman writers, including Virgil, Martial, and Cicero. The beast “is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction” (v. 11).

The ten horns “are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast” (v. 12). They will “make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them” (v. 14).

The waters where the prostitute sits are “peoples, multitudes, nations and languages” (v. 15). The beast and the ten horns will “hate the prostitute” and “bring her to ruin” (v. 16). This woman is “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (v. 18).

The fall of Babylon and joy in heaven (18.1-19.10)

Another angel shouts, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!” (v. 1). Another voice calls God’s people to “Come out of her” (v. 4). The “merchants of the earth” will “weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more” (v. 11).

Then a mighty angel picks up a boulder the size of a large millstone and throws it into the sea, saying, “With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again” (v. 21). A “great multitude in heaven” shouts their hallelujahs and praise to God (19.1-8).

An angel says to John, “Write: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (v. 9). John tries to worship him, but he refuses and directs his worship to God alone (v. 10).

The rider on the white horse (19.11-21)

The rider is called “Faithful and True” (v. 11). He wears many crowns and a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God (v. 13). The armies of heaven follow him; out of his mouth comes a sharp sword “with which to strike down the nations” (v. 15). His title: King of Kings and Lord of Lords (v. 16).

The beast and the kings of the earth gather their armies to make war against him, but the beast is captured and with him the false prophet (v. 20). The two are thrown into the lake of fire, and the rest are killed with the sword which came out of the mouth of the rider (v. 21).

The millennium, Satan’s doom, and great white throne (ch. 20)

An angel with the key to the Abyss comes down out of heaven (v. 1). He binds Satan with a chain for a thousand years, throws him into the Abyss, and locks and seals it over him (v. 3). After a thousand years “he must be set free for a short time.”

The souls of those beheaded for their testimony for Jesus “came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (v. 4). Then Satan is released from his prison; he goes out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth, gathers them as a mighty army, and attacks God’s people (v. 7-9).

But fire devoured them; the devil is thrown into the lake of fire, where he will be “tormented day and night for ever and ever” (v. 10).

Then, at the “great white throne,” the dead are judged (v. 11). There is a book of “works” and a book of life (v. 12). They are judged “according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (v. 12).

Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire (the “second death”). “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (v. 15).

God’s enemies will be defeated and judged. God will vindicate his own. We will be rewarded eternally for our sacrificial faithfulness to our Father.

How to Stand for God

How to Stand For God

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Dr. Jim Denison

Revelation 10-14

Seals, trumpets, and signs

I. Seven seals (6.1-8.1):

A. White horse of conquest (6.2)

B. Red horse of war (6.3-4)

C. Black horse of famine (6.5-6)

D. Pale horse of death (6.7-8)

E. Altar of slain faithful (6.9-11)

F. Great earthquake of the wrath of the Lamb (6.12-17)

Interlude—the sealing of the 144,000 (ch. 7)

G. Silence in heaven for “about half an hour” (8.1)

II. Seven trumpets (8.2-11-19):

Interlude: the angel with incense, the prayers of the saints (8.2-5)

A. Hail and fire—1/3 of earth burned up (8.7)

B. Huge mountain thrown into the sea—1/3 of sea to blood, 1/3 of

its creatures killed, 1/3 of its ships destroyed (8.8-9)

C. Great star fell on 1/3 of the rivers, turning water bitter (8.10-11)

D. 1/3 of sun, moon, stars struck and turned dark (8.12)

E. First woe: Abyss opened, scorpions released to attack all without

the seal of God (9.1-12)

F. Second woe: four angels released to kill 1/3 of mankind (9.13-21)

Interlude: the angel with the little scroll (ch. 10), two witnesses (11.1-14)

G. Praise of God by heaven and the 24 elders (11.15-19)

III. Seven signs (12.1-14.20)

A. The pregnant woman (12.1-2, 5-6, 13-17)

B. The red dragon which wars against her (12.3ff)

C. The beast out of the sea (13.1-10)

D. The beast out of the earth (13.14-18)

E. The Lamb and the 144,000 (14.1-5)

F. The three angels condemning Babylon and calling for faith in God


G. The harvest of the earth by the “son of man” and his angels (14.14-20)

The angel and the little scroll (Revelation 10)

The purpose of this interlude: to answer the perennial question of the martyrs. Those who suffer and die for Jesus will not die in vain; their pain is known, and their victory assured. The purposes of God “will be accomplished” (v. 7), despite current appearances.

The angel’s identity: “Another mighty angel”—cf. 5.2, “I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice….” The rainbow above his head signifies God’s pledge never to destroy the earth again with a flood (Genesis 9.8-17), using symbols from Ezekiel 1.26-28. His legs “like fiery pillars” recalls the pillar of fire which guided (Exodus 13.21-22) and protected (Exodus 14.19, 24) the Jews during the exodus and in the wilderness. He stands both on sea and on land, showing that his message is for all of creation and all the world. By taking his stand on earth, he moves the focus from heaven (4.1) to earth.

His “little scroll”: Not the same scroll as in chapter 5, which was intended to reveal its contents; this scroll is to be eaten by John. Some see this as the vision of chapter 11, others as a second revelation which begins with chapter 12. In the Ezekiel context (cf. 2.8ff), it seems most likely that this is a general commission to preach a message of judgment for sin and condemnation upon Rome (Summers 161-2).

The thunders which accompanied him: “The voices of seven thunders spoke” (v. 3). Their voices were legible, so that John was about to write down their messages. Then he was prohibited from doing so by “a voice from heaven” (v. 4).

In Revelation, thunder is typical of warning (cf. 8.5, 11.19, 16.18). Elsewhere they are a premonition of judgments of divine wrath. But here they are not to be recorded, because there is no more warning: “There will be no more delay!” (v. 6).

His oath: He “raised his right hand to heaven” (v. 5), a practice in Jewish oath taking (cf. Genesis 14.22-23, Deuteronomy 32.40). He “swore by him who lives for ever and ever” (v. 6), encouragement to those facing martyrdom. He promised that “the mystery of God will be accomplished” (v. 7a). And he connected this “mystery” with the message of the prophets (v. 7b).

His gift to John: John asked for the little scroll, and was told to eat it (v. 9), symbolic of grasping fully its contents. It was “sour” in his stomach, indicative of hardship and suffering to come. But it was “sweet as honey” in his mouth, showing that it is ultimately good news for John and his people (cf. the scroll in Ezekiel 3.3, “It was in my mouth as sweet as honey”).


God and his message are sovereign over the world, appearances notwithstanding today.

We are to speak as God speaks to us, and to be silent where he commands it. We are to announce the full counsel of God’s message—both the bitter and the sweet. We are to tell people of sin and judgment, as well as salvation and grace. The bitter makes the sweet relevant. We must be willing to sacrifice our comfort to obey Jesus.

The two witnesses (Revelation 11)

The reed for measuring the temple (1-2): The “reed” was a bamboo-like cane which often grew to a height of 20 feet and was an excellent and typical measuring rod. John was not to measure the outer court of the Gentiles (approximately 26 acres in size).

This is clearly symbolic in nature, as the actual temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70. But dispensationalists see this as a promise that the temple will be rebuilt for or during the “Great Tribulation.” Many are engaged in efforts to bring about this rebuilding even now.

Dr. John Newport sees this temple as reference to the church during the Great Tribulation—its existence and protection. It seems to me that the vision shows us that the real temple of Jesus Christ is indestructible: the believer in the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 3.16, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”).

The assault on the holy city (v. 2): Their assault would last 42 months. When the Syrian tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes (168-165 BC) assaulted Jerusalem, his desecrations lasted for three years. This may be the meaning of the vision.

Others see this as a reference to the 70th week of Daniel (Daniel 9.27), divided into two equal parts. Some further interpret this period as the first half of the “Great Tribulation.” If this is the case, the vision could have little reference to John’s first-century context and needs. In apocalyptic language, this may simply refer to a limited period of unrestrained wickedness.

The identity of the two witnesses (vs. 3-12): Given the nature of their work (“power to shut the sky so that it will not rain” and “power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want”), most have identified them as apocalyptic references to Elijah and Moses. If so, the vision is identifying the present-day persecutions of God’s people with those they have always experienced, even under their greatest prophets and leaders.

Others (cf. Larkin) see the “two witnesses” as actual figures who will appear in the future.

B. H. Carroll (continuous-historical school) identified them as the apostasy of the church (he makes the 1,260 days correspond to 1,260 years), and these preachers as forerunners of the Reformation and witnesses of the true gospel.

The dispensational approach typically refers these events to the period following the “rapture,” and argues that the temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt and Moses and Elijah will be returned to minister there.

Their work and its results: They preach with great effectiveness for 1,260 days (42 months x 30 days each), apparently the same period as the assault of verse 2. This period probably corresponds to the early success of the apostolic movement.

They are killed by “the beast that comes up from the Abyss” (v. 7), a reference to demonic opposition to their message and ministry. They are mocked by their enemies, but only for 3 ½ days. This is probably a reference to the Roman persecution which attempted to end the apostolic movement of Christian faith.

Then they are returned to life (v. 11), as “terror struck those who saw them.” They are returned to heaven (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4.17, “we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air”). This shows that the Roman opposition to the gospel will not succeed, and that faithful witnesses will be rewarded eternally.

The earthquake which follows (v. 13): God often uses earthquakes to bring judgment; cf. Ezekiel 38.19: “In my zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel.” 7,000 are killed; the rest acknowledge the God of the heavens.

The seventh trumpet: praise in heaven (vs. 15-19): “Loud voices” praise God, for the kingdom of the world has now become the kingdom of Christ, and “he will reign for ever and ever” (v. 15). The 24 elders join their praise, for “the time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets” (v. 18). The Holy of Holies is opened, the ark of the covenant is seen, and lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a great hailstorm respond (v. 19).


God will redeem our suffering for his glory. Jesus will one day make the kingdom of the world his kingdom, and he will rule it forever. We must be willing to sacrifice our lives and our reputations for Jesus.

The first two signs: pregnant woman and her war with the dragon (ch. 12)

The “great and wondrous sign” of the pregnant woman (vs. 1-2): Some see this vision as a reference to Mary, given that her son is the Messiah (v. 5). The symbolism shows how God exalted and would protect her. Others see this as reference to the church and her members.

The red dragon who assaults her (vs. 3ff): Herod tried to kill her child in Bethlehem. Here we see the satanic origin of this attack, and of all others against Mary and the followers of her Son (cf. Job 7.12, Psalm 74.14, 89.10, Isaiah 27.1, 51.9, Ezekiel 32.2).

He has “seven heads,” “ten horns,” and “ten crowns,” showing his power and universal sovereignty over the nations of men; this is another reference to the demonic power resident in the Roman Empire’s attacks on Christianity. Against such power, the existence of the church must seem perilous, indeed. This is most likely a reference to Domitian, the demonic and insane persecutor of Christians during the writing of Revelation.

The child who is exalted: He will “rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” Cf. Psalm 2.9, fulfilled finally in Jesus’ Second Coming: “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty” (Revelation 19.15). He is “snatched up to God and to his throne” (v. 5) in his resurrection and ascension.

John may be using popular legends to show powerfully the identity and victory of Jesus. The Babylonians told of the overthrow of the wicked sea monster Tiamat by the young god of heaven Marduk, the child of Damkina, the earth mother. The Persians and Egyptians had similar stories.

The Greeks told of the birth of Apollo: his mother, the goddess Leto, reached the time of her delivery, but was pursued by the dragon Python who sought to kill both her and her unborn child. The island of Delos welcomed her, where she gave birth to the god Apollo. Four days after his birth, he found Python at Parnassus and killed him in his Delphic cave (cf. Newport 230-1). If these tales are in John’s mind, he uses them masterfully to show how Christ is the real Lord of the universe.

The woman’s protection: During the 42 months of persecution she will be protected in “a place prepared for her by God” (v. 6). She is “given the two wings of a great eagle so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert” (v. 14). Lindsey sees this as a reference to the United States military, perhaps the 6th fleet in the Mediterranean.

Satan tries again to attack her with a river, but “the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of its mouth” (v. 16).

It is interesting to note that Mary lived with John in the hills above Ephesus, where their persecutors could not find and attack them.

If this is a reference to the church in general, it is a promise that Satan cannot destroy us. Cf. Justin the Martyr, “You can kill us but you cannot hurt us.”

The war in heaven (vs. 7-9): This is not the original war of Satan against God, but the enemy’s renewed (and perhaps final) attempt to overthrow the Lord. Michael, the fighting angel, and his forces war against Satan. Once again he is defeated and “hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (v. 9).

The faithfulness of God’s people (vs. 10-12, 17): The “accuser” (the meaning of “Satan” in Hebrew) has accused us before God day and night. But we can overcome him “by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (v. 11). We must not love our “lives so much as to shrink from death” (v. 12), for then we will be rewarded eternally.

We should expect persecution to continue, for “the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (v. 17). Jesus warned us, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15.20). But in Christ we will overcome.


Satan is a defeated foe. He tries four times to defeat God and his people, and fails each time: he attacks the “woman,” her Son, the Lord, and his followers. But God is triumphant, as his people will be. We must be willing to sacrifice our lives for Jesus (v. 11). Then Satan can have no hold on us.

Next two signs: beast out of the sea and beast out of the earth (ch. 13)

The “beast out of the sea”: Has ten horns, seven heads, and ten crowns on his horns, on each a blasphemous name (v. 1). Lindsey sees this as the ten nations of the European Common Market, and its economic power as represented by that financial entity.

He resembles a leopard, with feet like a bear and a mouth like a lion (v. 2). This shows his vicious power to make war. The dragon gives the beast “his power and his throne and great authority” (v. 3), showing the demonic power behind Domitian’s rule.

He has a “fatal wound” which had been healed (v. 3). Some see this as the Antichrist of the “end times” (though that title is nowhere used in Revelation). But 1 John 4.3 says, “every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” 2 John 7 adds, “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”

Response: “The whole world was astonished and followed the beast” (v. 3). Men worshipped the dragon as a result, and the beast as well (v. 4).

Blasphemy: “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose named have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (v. 8). This beast exercises authority for 42 months (v. 5). He blasphemes God and makes war against his people (vs. 6-7).

So, “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints” (v. 10). The reference makes it problematic to claim that Christians will not be present during the period in history described by this text.

The “beast out of the earth” rises to accompany the first beast: He has “two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon” (v. 11). (Given his Christ-like outward appearance, Calvin and Luther identified him with the pope and thus the Roman Catholic Church.)

His purpose: he “made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed” (v. 12). There was a council created in Asia Minor to enforce state religion, and is most likely referenced here (Summers 178).

His work: He performed “great and miraculous signs” (v. 13). This caused people to set up an image in honor of the first beast (v. 14). He was “given power to give breath to the image of the first beast” (v. 15). He forced everyone to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, without which he could not survive economically (vs. 16-17).

His number: 666 (v. 18): This number can be calculated by anyone who “has insight” (v. 18a). It is “man’s number” (v. 18b). Many schemes and solutions have been proposed, using numeric equivalents for letters of various languages (“gematria”). For example, “Nero Caesar” in Hebrew would be “Nron Ksr”; the Hebrew numeric equivalents would add to 666 (N=50, R=200, O=6, N=50, K=100, S=6-, R=200). There was a common belief in John’s day that Domitian was Nero returned from the dead, so this number would identify the Emperor.

By this system, Euanthas and Lateinos (the first Roman ruler) have been suggested as well. Hitler could be identified, if the English alphabet has numerical equivalents beginning with A=100, B=101, etc. Other schemes have made Henry Kissinger’s name equal 666, and even Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Most likely, the vision uses 6 as the evil number, just short of perfection (7). The number six stated three times would be the “unholy trinity” of the red dragon and his two beasts, corresponding to the Holy Trinity (symbolized as 777). Anything elevated to the third level in Hebrew thought is made to be of the highest degree; thus this is ungodliness to the highest (or lowest) level.


Satan is deceptive (cf. 2 Corinthians 11.13-15: “Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And it is no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve”). He will use any means to coerce people to follow him.

We must be willing to sacrifice for Jesus.

The last three signs: Lamb, angels, and the harvest of the earth (ch. 14)

The “Lamb” now stands before John on Mount Zion. Jesus is the “Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13.8). He fulfills the Paschal lamb of the sacrificial system, dying one for all of humanity (cf. Hebrews 10.10: “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”).

He stands on Mount Zion, the fortress of the pre-Israelite city of Jerusalem which was captured by David and made his capital (cf. 2 Samuel 5.7; Psalm 48.2-3, Joel 2.32); in Revelation, it stands for the heavenly Jerusalem, the eternal dwelling place of God and his people.

With him are the 144,000 (cf. Rev 7.4): Some see these as reference to the actual Jewish tribes, the faithful Jewish remnant. Others claim that Jews will all be included in heaven. Jehovah’s Witnesses see these as those in heaven by God’s reward for their faithful service on earth through JW ministry. Most see this as symbolic of all the faithful believers living through tribulation.

They sing a new song, keep themselves pure sexually, and live with blameless morality. This is not works-righteousness, but the result of a heart and soul which seek Jesus passionately and sacrificially.

Three angels follow with proclamation (vs. 6-12): The first proclaims the “eternal gospel” (v. 6), the only time “gospel” is used in Revelation. He calls the earth to “Fear God and give him glory” (v. 7).

The second pronounces, “Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries” (v. 8). Babylon represented all that was vile to the Jews, and is the typical symbol in Revelation of Rome and her Empire (cf. 1 Pt 5.13, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark”). “Fallen” is the “constative aorist,” “which looks upon the entire process of Rome’s fall as one momentary act of falling. So certain is the fall in the mind and purpose of God that it is looked upon as already having taken place” (Summers 181).

The third warns the populace not to take the mark of the beast (emperor worship), lest they be “tormented with burning sulfer in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb” (v. 10).

And so “patience endurance on the part of the saints” is required (v. 12). With this promise: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on…they will rest [the word means to be “refreshed”] from their labor [the word means “great adversity”], for their deeds will follow them” (v. 13).

We are reminded of Jesus’ promise, “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5.11-12).

The earth is now “harvested” or judged (vs. 13-20; cf. Is 63.1-6): The “son of man” on a cloud “swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested” (v. 16). Another angel (Jewish tradition identifies Gabriel with this task) with a sharp sickly “swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath” (v. 19).

Cf. Joel 3.13, “Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow—so great is their wickedness!”; and Jesus’ words, “The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels” (Matthew 13.39).

The wine rose as high as horses’ bridles “for a distance of 1,600 stadia” (v. 20)—about 180 miles, approximately the length of Palestine.


God rewards his faithful. He will punish the wicked. We must be willing to sacrifice morally and endure patiently for Jesus. Like John, we are called to speak God’s words. They will be both sour and sweet, but they are urgent and essential.

Such obedience will cost us everything we have, but it will lead to blessing and reward such as only God can give. Satan’s worst forces will be destroyed, as Rome was, and “we win!”

Why a Good God Lets Bad Things Happen

Why a Good God Lets Bad Things Happen

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Dr. Jim Denison

Revelation 6-9

An outline of Revelation (placing our study in context)

I. Prologue (1.1-18)

A. Preface (1.1-3)

B. Author and recipients (1.4-5)

C. Doxology (1.6-8)

II. The first vision (1.9-3.22): the glory of Christ and letters to his churches

A. The vision of the risen Christ and commission of the book (1.9-20)

B. The letters to the seven churches (chs. 2-3)

III. The second vision (4.1-16.21): judgments on the evil powers of the world

A. The vision of God in heaven (ch. 4)

B. The seven seals (5.1-8.1)

1. The vision of the Lamb (ch. 5)

2. The first six seals opened (ch. 6)

3. The “sealing” of 144,000 (ch. 7)

4. The seventh seal opened (8.1)

C. The seven trumpets (8.2-11.19)

1. The trumpets introduced (8.2-5)

2. The first six trumpets sounded (8.6-9.21)

3. Interlude: the mighty angel and the little scroll (ch. 10)

4. The two witnesses (11.1-14)

5. The seventh trumpet (11.15-19)

D. The seven signs (12.1-14.20)

1. The woman (12.1-2)

2. The dragon (12.3-13.1)

3. The beast out of the sea (13.1-10)

4. The beast out of the earth (13.11-18)

5. The Lamb and the 144,000 (14.1-5)

6. The three angels (14.6-13)

7. The harvest of the earth (14.14-20)

E. The seven plagues (15.1-16.21)

1. Preparations (ch. 15)

2. The seven bowls of God’s wrath (ch. 16)

IV. The third vision (17.1-21.8): victory over the evil powers of the world

A. The mystery of Babylon (ch. 17)

B. The fall of Babylon (ch. 18)

C. The praise of heaven (19.1-10)

D. The victory of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (19.11-21)

E. The millennium (20.1-6)

F. Satan’s final doom (20.7-10)

G. The judgment of the dead (20.11-15)

V. The fourth vision (21.1-22.21): the future blessing of the faithful

A. The new creation (21.1-8)

B. The new Jerusalem (21.9-27)

C. The river of life (22.1-6)

D. The promise of Jesus’ imminent return (22.7-21)

God rules the elements (Revelation 6)

Note that all seven seals must be broken before the scroll itself can be opened; thus these are preliminary signs before the final stages of the kingdom can be revealed. These seals parallel closely Matthew 24.1-35 and Mark 13.1-37, and correspond to the “beginning of birth pains” Jesus describes in the Olivet discourse.

These events could begin in John’s time, and extend to the end of history (cf. 1 John 2.18: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour”).

The first seal: the white horse (1-2)—conquest

Hal Lindsey: the white horse represents an European Antichrist who is going to head up the Common Market in Europe from the city of Rome. Many interpreters believe this rider is Christ or his cause on earth. White is commonly a symbol in Revelation for Christ or spiritual victory (cf. Revelation 1.14, 2.17, 3.4-5, 4.4, 7.9, 20.11). No “woe” is mentioned as with the other riders.

My interpretation is this rider represents the conquest of the Roman Empire. The Parthians were the Romans’ most dreaded enemies, and their rulers rode white horses.

Their warriors used a bow; the Romans did not. Their rulers wore crowns; the Romans did not. And so Jesus is promising these persecuted Christians that their persecutors will one day be destroyed, and their faith will be vindicated.

The second seal: the red horse (3-4)—war

Hal Lindsey contends that this is Russia, making alliance with the Arabs to invade Israel; he bases this assumption primarily upon the color of Russia’s flag and nationality. However, red is the typical apocalyptic color for judgment and wrath. The rider’s power to “take peace from the earth” makes clear that war will follow conquest in the future of the Empire.

The third seal: the black horse (5-6)—famine

War creates famine. The costs reflected in the text are twelve times the normal prices for food.

The fourth seal: the pale horse (7-8)—death

“Pale” denotes a yellowish green, the paleness of a dying person. His name and work show that death follows the conquest, war, and famine which will come to the Empire.

Hal Lindsey and others interpret these “riders” as doing their work only at the end of history (Lindsey interprets vs. 7-8 as the results of a nuclear war). But most commentators through Christian history have seen these as warnings of coming catastrophe for the persecuting Roman Empire, and assurance to the Christians that their future is secure in an insecure world.

The fifth seal: the martyrs (9-11)

Some interpret these verses to speak of those martyred for their faith during the Great Tribulation. Others point out the fact that if the Spirit is “raptured” during this Tribulation, how could people become believers and then be martyred?

The verb tenses seem to indicate that these are those who have already been martyred by the time John writes Revelation. Thus this passage refers to first-century Christians who have died for their faith. They seek vengeance from God, in keeping with Scripture: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12.19). They are given the white robes of victory and promised that judgment will one day come to their enemies.

The sixth seal: the earthquake (12-17)

Some see these as signs of the end of history; others as symbols of ongoing tribulation until Christ finally returns. Note the non-rational nature of these symbols: “the stars in the sky fell to earth” (v. 13), but our planet is smaller than any one of these stars; “the sky receded like a scroll” (v. 14) and “every mountain and island was removed from its place” (v. 14), yet people hide among the “rocks of the mountains” (v. 15). And later “a third of the stars” turn dark (8.12), though all of them have already fallen to earth (6.13).

John is using apocalyptic language of judgment: “earthquakes” (from Ezekiel 39.18, Isaiah 2.19, Haggai 2.6), “sun” blackened and “moon” like blood (cf. Joel 2.31, Ezekiel 32.7), and “stars” falling (cf. Isaiah 34.4, Nahum 3.12).

Rather than interpreting these verses as literal descriptions of physical events, it seems more in keeping with John’s first-century intent and apocalyptic tradition to see these as symbols of divine wrath on the Romans and all who oppose God’s Kingdom.

God protects his own (Revelation 7)

Four angels hold back the four winds of the earth (1): In the midst of such judgment, God makes clear the fact that he shelters and protects his own people. The Jewish people pictured the angels as controlling the winds; so here.

144,000 are sealed with the “seal of the living God” (2-8): Hal Lindsey sees these as Jewish converts to Christ shortly after the rapture. Again we must ask how people could be converted without the presence of the Holy Spirit on earth. Lindsey argues that these Jewish converts in turn evangelize the world, resulting in the “great multitude” described in verses. 9 and following.

Others suggest that this number represents Jewish Christians, and the “great multitude” Gentile converts. This view does not connect their conversion with the rapture. But note that no distinction between Jewish and Gentile Christians is suggested in the rest of the New Testament. To the contrary, in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3.28).

So I would consider this number to be apocalyptic symbolism for all of God’s people. It is the multiple of the square of twelve and the square of ten, representing completeness. Note that all people in heaven have God’s name written on their foreheads in Revelation 22.4; the “sealing” here is of all peoples as well. This “seal” marks them as the possession of God in the midst of persecution and suffering. It claims them as the children of the Lord.

The great multitude stands in worship (9-17): This multitude is from every “people group” in the ancient world—nation, tribe, people, and language. They wear white robes of victory, and hold palm branches used in the Roman world to celebrate conquerors (cf. Jesus’ Palm Sunday). The angels and elders join them in worshipping God and their seven-fold psalm of praise.

They have come out of “the great tribulation” (v. 14): Here is found the term used by many for the seven years they believe will follow the “rapture.” But the term is not here connected with any specific time period. And interpreted in its context, it probably refers simply to the suffering of believers in John’s time and in all time.

God judges the unrepentant (Revelation 8-9)

The seventh seal: Silence in heaven, “an attitude of trembling suspense on the part of the heavenly hosts in view of the judgments of God which are about to fall upon the world” (Newport, Lion and the Lamb, 201). Leads to the seven trumpets, which will proclaim further judgment against the enemies of God. Involves incense before the altar of God (1-5), again connected with the prayers of the saints (see 5.8).

The first four trumpets judge nature: hail and fire (6-7), a mountain thrown into the sea (8-9), a star falling from the sky (10-11), and a third of the heavenly lights struck (12). A “third” of the natural world is affected by each of these trumpets; the “third” was a Jewish idiom for “a large part.”

Note the non-rational nature of this event: “all the green grass was burned up” (v. 7), but in 9.4 the “locusts” are told “not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree.” These events could be seen as literal prediction of future disasters, but it is noteworthy that they suggest natural calamities which had all occurred in recent memory in the first century.

Mount Vesuvius had erupted in AD 79, destroying Herculaneum, Pompeii and many small villages, and leaving a permanent memory of horror and destruction in the minds of the Romans.

The island volcano Santorin had also erupted, leaving the suggestion of a burning mountain, destroying vegetation, killing fish in the seas, and turning waters red like blood.

And so God “is saying to them, ‘I have the means of destroying your enemies'” (Summers, Worthy is the Lamb, 157).

The eagle pronounces woes (13), connecting the coming trumpets to human judgment and justice.

The fifth trumpet/first woe: plague of locusts (9.1-12). Joel 2.1-11 describes the Day of the Lord as a devastating plague of locusts. These insects were the most feared enemies of ancient farmers, who had no way to prevent their attack and no means of preserving their crops from it.

The “bottomless pit” from which the locusts originate is a provisional place of punishment for Satan until the end when he is thrown into the “lake of fire”; it is also the abode of the beast or Antichrist (11.7). And so these locusts seem to be identified with demonic attack against humanity. They “torture” people (v. 5) but are not allowed to kill them (cf. Satan’s attack against Job and God’s preservation of his life, Job 2.6). They are not allowed to attack God’s people (v. 4), showing that God is able to preserve his followers from all his enemies.

Their description has been interpreted by Lindsey to represent army helicopters, but a more natural first-century view would be that these demonic “locusts” are given the most dreadful characteristics imaginable. Their leader is named “Destroyer,” descriptive of their work (cf. Jesus’ statement: “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” John. 10.10).

The sixth trumpet/second woe: the attack of the four angels (13-21). The angels come from the region beyond “the great river Euphrates” (v. 14). To ancient Israel, this region reminded them of Assyria, the nation which destroyed the Northern Kingdom. Their location would suggest divine wrath and judgment. 200,000,000 mounted troops are described as well.

Hal Lindsey sees this as the armed militia of China, and the horses described as mobilized ballistic missile launchers. But others have pointed out the fact that an army of this size could not be conscripted or moved (the total armed forces involved in World War II was 70 million). This number is better understood as symbolic of heavenly or demonic host (cf Psalm 68.17, 2 Kings 2.11-12). Their purpose is clear: to expose the defiance and sinfulness of those who have rejected God’s purpose for their lives (vs. 20-21).

Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire documents the fact that three things combined to overthrow the Roman Empire: natural calamity, external invasion, and internal moral decay. We see all three at work in chapters 8-9, giving hope to the persecuted Christians of John’s day that the Empire would one day fall while God’s Kingdom succeeds and grows.

God is sovereign over all the affairs of life: moral, natural, spiritual. hose who reject his will and purpose will face ultimate judgment and punishment. God protects his own and promises them eternal reward for their faithfulness.