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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
The Seventh Vision - The Coming of Christ, the Last Battle, the Final Judgment (19.1-20.15).
The Scarlet Woman and the Pure Bride (19.1-10).
This scene parallels, although more briefly, the scenes in chapters 4 & 5, with the participation in worship and praise of living creatures, elders and the heavenly multitude. In chapters 4 & 5 they worshipped as the seals were being prepared for opening, in order to introduce God’s working out of salvation history. Here they worship because the seals have now been carried into effect. There is also a deliberate contrast between the demise of the scarlet woman and the marriage of the bride. That which represented all that was unholy has been destroyed, that which has been made holy is co-joined to the Lamb.
19.1-3a ‘After these things I heard as it were a great sound of a vast crowd in Heaven, saying, “Halleluyah. The salvation and glory and power are of our God, for true and righteous are his judgments, for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged the blood of his servants at her hand”. And a second time they say “Halleluyah”.’
These appear to be the voices of the heavenly beings for they are impersonal, ‘the blood of his servants’ rather than ‘our blood’. They declare the rightness and glory of what God has done. He has passed judgment on the great prostitute, the defiled woman, Babylon the Great. The rise of Babel has been reversed, the centres of sin have been destroyed, the great prostitute is dead, the martyrdoms of His servants have been avenged, the time for mercy is past, judgment has been exacted on her, the time for final judgment has come.
The fall of Great Babylon, symbol of corruption and sexual misbehaviour and greed, will shortly be followed by the manifestation of the Bride in her glory (verse 7) and of the New Jerusalem (21.2), home of honour, purity and unselfish love. They have battled through the ages, the depraved scarlet woman against the pure Bride, Great Babylon against the heavenly Jerusalem, the world against the people of God, and now the Bride and the new Jerusalem have triumphed.
That these are the voices of heavenly beings is confirmed by the fact that ‘great voices’ are always heavenly (1.10; 11.12, 15; 16.1, 17). But then in contrast in verse 5 ‘you His servants’, referring back to the reference to His servants in verse 2, are also commanded to give praise, and do so in verse 6, as ‘the voice of a great multitude’ (compare 7.9) and ‘the voice of many waters’ (compare 14.2) and ‘the voice of mighty thunders’ (compare 14.2). These phrases are previously used of the redeemed. Thus here the voices are of the mighty company of the redeemed. Note the contrast of ‘great sound of a vast crowd’ (‘great voice of a great multitude’) (verse 1) with ‘voice of a great multitude’ (verse 6). The heavenly cry is a ‘great voice’ while the earthly is a ‘voice’.
The worship of the heavenly beings is threefold, (‘salvation, and glory and power’), signifying its completeness, as in 4.9, ‘glory, honour and thanks’ (the living creatures) and 4.11, ‘the glory and the honour and the power’ (the twenty four elders), and in contrast with 5.12 and 7.12 (sevenfold from the angels) and 5.13 (fourfold from the creatures of earth). It almost parallels 4.11 except that ‘salvation’ replaces ‘honour’. In 4.9, 11 ‘glory’ came first, for all eyes were on the One on the throne, but here ‘salvation’ comes first because all eyes are on the fact that the final deliverance is here. The threefoldness therefore also serves to confirm that the great multitude of verse 1 includes the living creatures and the elders.
This is the first use of the term ‘hallel-u-yah’ (‘praise you Yahweh’) in the New Testament. It is used twenty four times in the psalms. Its first use there parallels its use here, ‘let sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, Oh my soul. Halleluyah’ (Psalm 104.35). Here the cry arises because sinners have been consumed out of the earth in the form of the demise of Babylon the Great. Justice has been obtained and God’s servants have been avenged. Note that here it is then repeated, something which is stressed. And again it is connected with the fall of Babylon the Great. Her smoke goes up for ever and ever’.
19.3b-4 ‘And her smoke goes up for ever and ever, and the twenty four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God who sits on the throne, saying, “Amen. Halleluyah”.’
And her smoke goes up for ever and ever.’ This refers to the demise of Babylon the Great (verse 2). That too contributes to the worship of God, as it testifies to His eternal judgment. It is open to question whether the phrase should be connected to the Haleluyah of the living creatures, or to the Halleluyah of the twenty four elders.
The only other time when the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down together and worshipped was in 5.8, where they honoured the Lamb. Note the reverse order. There the living creatures led the way, for they celebrated the opening of the seals, stressing the holiness of God, for they are guardians of His holiness.. Here the twenty four elders lead the way for they represent the people of God and the celebration is of the deliverance of God’s people and the destruction of their enemies.
‘Amen, Halleluyah.’ The promises and purposes of the Amen are now in process of final fulfilment (see on 3.14; also Revelation 1.6, 7; 1 Corinthians 1.20; see also Isaiah 65.16 in the Hebrew; Psalm 106.48). And God is to be praised. The threefold use of Halleluyah by the heavenly beings represents the completeness of their praise.
‘Her smoke goes up for ever and ever.’ Great Babylon’s judgment is everlasting. There can be no revival of her power. The symbols of judgment are regularly described as everlasting for they are a guarantee of the finality of the judgment and of its completeness (see Isaiah 34.10; Revelation 14.11 and compare Isaiah 66.24). The judgment of God is unquenchable. We can also compare the end of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19.28). These words are introduced as a contrast to the marriage of the Bride.
19.5-7 ‘And a voice came out from the throne, saying, “Give praise to God, all you his servants (Psalm 113.1; 134.1), you who fear him, the small and the great (Psalm 115.13)”. And I heard as it were the voice of a vast crowd, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunders, saying, “Halleluyah, for the Lord our God, the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be abundantly glad, and let us give the glory to him, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready.’
The voice from the throne is the voice of one of the living creatures ever mindful of the need for all to recognise the holiness of God, and to give praise to Him. And his cry is to ‘all you His servants’. By comparison with verse 2 where ‘the blood of His servants’ is mentioned, this means the redeemed people of God. This is confirmed by the descriptions used which have previously referred to the people of God (7.9; 14.2).
On the other hand ‘the Bride’ is mentioned in the third person, which might be seen as suggesting that the words are those of heavenly beings, for they are our ‘fellow-servants’ (19.10; 22.9). But it is not uncommon in such chants and responses for people to speak of themselves in the third person. Thus ‘the Bride has made herself ready’ can be seen as such a response, the people of God confirming that they are now ready, having prepared themselves for the moment they have awaited through the ages.
Alternately the idea may be that the whole of Heaven responds in a thunderous voice, with the people of God joining in, as they consider what all history has waited for, the marriage of the Lamb and His bride, celebrating the finalising of the Reign of God. The Kingly Rule of God had reached its fruition. The picture is vivid as it depicts the excitement about the wedding and the desire to see the beautiful bride.
‘The Bride has made herself ready’. It has taken many long centuries but at last the bride is presented to Christ, holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5.27). The picture of Christ as the bridegroom is regular in the Gospels (Matthew 9.15; 25.1, 5, 6, 10; Mark 2.19-20; Luke 5.34-35; John 3.29). For the church as the bride see 2 Corinthians 11.2; Ephesians 5.27. For the true Israel as God’s bride see Hosea 2.19-20; Isaiah 54.1-8; and Ezekiel 16.8-14 where God Himself prepares the bride. Then all focus was on the bridegroom but now focus can be turned on the bride for she has been fully prepared for this day. The bride is, of course, righteous Israel, comprising the totality of God’s resurrected people of the Old and New Testaments. (See on 7.4-8).
But it is noteworthy here that emphasis is placed on the bride having made herself ready. God is at work in us to will and to do of His own good pleasure, but we in our turn are to work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2.12-13). So in contrast with the scarlet woman the bride is revealed by the path she chose, revealed by her righteous behaviour. She had responded to the call of the Bridegroom, and that had resulted in a life transformed which had set her apart from the people who dwell on earth. Those who have not prepared themselves are not the bride.
19.8 ‘And it was given to her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure. For the fine linen is the righteous behaviour of God’s people.’
It is the privilege of God’s people that they can array themselves in beauty, because God has made them beautiful. We must ever be mindful that we are preparing ourselves to be the bride of Christ. Elsewhere the emphasis is rightly on Christ’s provision for His bride (Revelation 6.11; 7.14) but here all emphasis is on the bride’s own preparations. She loves the Bridegroom and has striven to make herself pleasing in His eyes. Although of course an important part of her preparation lay in ‘making them (her clothes) white in the blood of the Lamb’ (7.14).
19.9a ‘And he says to me, “Write, blessed are those who are bid to the marriage supper of the Lamb”.’
Those who are bid to the marriage supper of the Lamb are truly blessed for they are invited as the Bride. The ‘he’ must be the angel of 1.1, who brought to John his visions. Those visions are now almost complete.
Jesus Himself likened His call to men to repent and enter under the Kingly Rule of God to an invitation to a wedding feast (Matthew 22.2-14; compare 25.1-13) where the emphasis was on individual response. Those words are in mind here. But He also presented Himself as the Bridegroom coming for His bride (Mark 2.19-20; John 3.29). For the church as the bride see also 2 Corinthians 11.2; Ephesians 5.27. For the true Israel as God’s bride see Hosea 2.19-20; Isaiah 54.1-8; and Ezekiel 16.8-14 where God Himself prepares the bride Thus bride and guests are one.
19.9b ‘And he says to me, “These are the true words of God”.’
The angel emphasises the truth of all that John has seen. The seven visions have been given and now they receive heavenly ratification. This is introduced now so that no attention is taken from the final Coming of the Word of God (19.11 on).
19.10a ‘And I fell down before his feet to worship him, and he says to me, “See that you do not do it. I am a fellow-servant with you and with your brothers who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God”.’
How necessary is this verse. After the visions of the activities of the heavenly beings there may well have been a tendency to exalt them, to venerate them, to worship them, but the stern warning is given, “Worship God only”. All the heavenly beings are but fellow-servants with the people of God, those who hold the testimony of Jesus. They are anonymous and not to be set up in some special way. They do not want our attention.
19.10b ‘For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’
The focus is to be on Jesus. He is the One Who sums up all that prophecy in both Old and New Testaments have spoken about. He is the One to Whom the Spirit of prophecy points. Therefore John, and we, must look only to Him.
The Great Last Battle (19.11-21).
The purpose behind this narrative is to exalt Him Who is the Word of God and to demonstrate the total defeat of the forces of evil. As with much in Revelation it is not to be taken literally. But the scene is magnificent. The last judgment is described in many ways. This is but one of them. It is depicted in terms of vivid climactic events (6.12-17); it is depicted as a huge earthquake and great hail (11.19; 16.18-21); it is depicted in terms of the reaping of harvest, intermingled with the idea of a great battle (14.14-20); it is depicted as a great white throne of judgment (20.11-15). Here it is depicted in terms of a great battlefield.
19.11-13 ‘And I saw Heaven opened and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it called Faithful and True, and he judges and makes war in righteousness. And his eyes are a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written which no one knows but himself. And he is clothed in a garment sprinkled with blood, and his name is called The Word of God.’
In 4.1 a door was opened in Heaven for John to have access to heavenly things but now the Heaven itself is opened and the world sees the glory of Christ. In the words of 1.7, ‘behold He comes with the clouds and every eye will see Him’.
Jesus elsewhere connects this moment with the rapture of the people of God, ‘they shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, and he will send out his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together his chosen ones from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other’ (Matthew 24.30-31). They are transformed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15.52). They meet the Lord ‘in the air’ (1 Thessalonians 4.17). And He then proceeds onward to judge the world. The judgment of the nations in Matthew 25.31-46 pictures this in another way. All such descriptions are using earthly illustrations to depict heavenly realities, the taking of His people to be with Himself and the final judgment of mankind and of Satan.
‘A white horse.’ Whiteness represents righteousness. The horse here is in contrast with the white horse of 6.2 where it represented a false profession of righteousness and messiahship by the one who went out. This rider has a sharp two-edged sword coming from His mouth, that rider had a bow, this rider has many diadems, that one had a single crown, this rider’s aim is to judge and fight wickedness, He ‘makes war’ in righteousness, that rider’s aim was only to conquer. This is the true Messiah, that one represented the false. The only thing in common is the white horse.
‘Called faithful and true.’ The combination, taken from 3.14 (which see - compare 1.5 for faithful and 3.7 for true), emphasises truth against falsehood and reliability against unfaithfulness. He is the supreme One in whose mouth is no lie (14.5), the One Who can be fully trusted both for rightness of teaching and honesty of purpose. He is the truth (John 14.6), very much in contrast with the ‘father of lies’ (John 8.11). In both the earlier references to ‘faithful’ it connects with ‘witness’ and we must therefore see here also that He Who comes was the One Who Himself suffered unto death, the faithful Witness.
‘He judges and makes war in righteousness.’ Again we have the contrast with others who ‘make war’ but in their case it was not in righteousness. He is a new visible authority on the scene of earth and the contrast of what He is, is emphatically brought out. This is expanded in v.15 where it is noted that He fights with a sharp sword that comes from His mouth (compare 1.16). He does not fight with weapons but with His eyes of fire and with His word of power, for none can resist Him. This brings out again that the warfare which is such a common feature of Revelation is largely a war of ‘words’, of truth against falsehood, of right against wrong, although those whose power is less, often have to enforce them by physical means.
‘His eyes are as a flame of fire’ (compare 1.14; 2.18). Fire reveals the ‘otherness’ and holiness of God (Exodus 19.18; 24.17; Ezekiel 1.27; Hebrews 12.29), it reveals the purity and effectiveness of His judgments (Deuteronomy 4.24; Isaiah 66.15-16; 1 Corinthians 3.13; 2 Thessalonians 1.8; Hebrews 12.29), it tests for and removes impurities (Zechariah 13.9). His fire burns up His adversaries in the context of righteousness and justice (Psalm 97.3). So He is the Holy One, tearing away the refuge of lies (Isaiah 28.17), revealing falsehood, searching the heart and mind, and in the end, where He cannot save, judging and destroying.
‘And on his head are many diadems.’ He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords (17.14; 19.16) and thus His crowns are numberless. This contrasts with the seven heads and the ten horns of Satan whose power and jurisdiction is limited. It contrasts even more with earthly rulers who have even fewer crowns and are even more limited.
‘And he has a name written which no one knows but himself.’ We can compare the secret name given to the overcomer (2.17) and His new name (3.12). The ‘name’ in the Old Testament revealed the personality and/or importance of the bearer. Thus the fact that He has an unrevealed name declares that He is not yet fully known because such knowledge awaits the future. He has yet more wonders in store for His people. It is the prerogative of the overcomer that he will come to know that new name, to fully know Christ in all the wonder of His being. It may, however, be that we are to see that ‘hidden’ name as ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’, the name written on His clothes and on His thigh (19.16), previously hidden but now revealed in all its fullness at His coming (compare Philippians 2.11).
‘And he is clothed in a garment dipped (some authorities have ‘sprinkled’) in blood.’ In Isaiah 63, when God carries out His judgment on Edom He appears as a figure ‘glorious in his apparel, marching in the greatness of His strength’ (63.1). He is One Who is pictured as having trodden the winepress of His wrath with the result that His clothes are sprinkled with men’s blood (63.3). Thus the picture here is primarily one of judgment. His clothes are blood sprinkled because He is coming as the judge, carrying out the judgments of God.
Yet His clothes appear to have been ‘dipped in blood’ even before He comes, and He has come directly from Heaven. There is no suggestion anywhere of previous conflict. And the only blood in Heaven is that of the slain Lamb. This would therefore suggest that we are to see here One Who Himself has been in the winepress of God’s wrath as He bore the sins of others. He is the Lamb as it had been slain (5.6), with blood sprinkled on its fleece. He Who carries out the judgments of God has Himself experienced that judgment, for He has borne it on behalf of the redeemed. We can compare how the coat of Joseph was dipped in blood to signify his death (in that case falsely) (Genesis 37.31). Thus the blood speaks both of redemption and of judgment.
‘And His name is called the Word of God.’ This is one of John’s favourite names for Christ. He is the Word Who was with God before time began, and indeed was Himself of the nature of Godhood (John 1.1); He is the Word through Whom God created the world (John 1.3 compare Hebrews 1.1-3); He is the Word as the revelation of God to man and giver of life (John 1.14; 1 John 1.1). But He is also the Word made flesh (John 1.14). Now He comes as God’s Word in judgment. By Him, the perfect man, will all men be tested and measured, and by Him those who rejected Him as the Word will be condemned. He comes not only as the Creator God, and the God of revelation and judgment, but also as perfect Man, as God’s revelation of Himself to man.
19.14 ‘And the armies which are in Heaven followed him on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and pure.’
In the Old Testament one of the names of God was ‘the Lord of Hosts’. Here we may well therefore see His ‘hosts’. Angels are regularly seen as clad in white and He Himself told us that He would come with the angels when He comes to judge (Matthew 16.27; 25.31). This could therefore be intended simply to refer to Christ coming with His angels, an event He regularly described (Matthew 16.27; 25.31; Mark 8.38; Luke 9.26; compare Matthew 13.41, 49; 24.31; see also Revelation 12.7).
In 19.8 we have a similar description, that of His church the Bride, ‘dressed in fine linen, bright and pure’. But there the clothing is not white for the bride is dressed in her finery, and white for a bride was a later innovation. On the other hand she would, of course, appear before God dressed in white (7.14). And certainly in 1 Thessalonians 4.14 there is the suggestion that God will bring His resurrected people ‘with Him’, and that He will meet those who are ‘raptured’ in the air. Thus it may well be that we are to see in His following both angels and redeemed men.
But what is being stressed is the total purity of these followers, whether men or angels. There is no suggestion of their being armed. They come as spectators and to carry out various functions in the mopping up after the defeat. They will not be required to fight. For all their posturing the enemy are a defeated foe.
19.15 ‘And out of his mouth proceeds a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations. And he will rule them with a rod of iron, and he treads the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God Almighty.’
The sword here is ‘romphaia’ as in 1.16; 2.12, 16; 6.8. Only elsewhere used in Luke 2.35. But this last reference shows that the difference between this and machaira is not to be pressed. If anything it means a longer, more powerful sword.
In 1.16 the sword is a sharp two-edged sword. It cuts both ways and discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart (see Hebrews 4.11 where it is connected with the word of God, compare also Ephesians 6.17 where the sword (machaira) of the Spirit is the word of God). Nothing can evade it. That it comes from His mouth stresses firmly that it is not to be taken literally but refers to His powerful word (Hebrews 1.3). With it He will smite the nations, bringing them into judgment and meting out to them their fate. He will smite the earth with the rod of His mouth and by the breath of His lips He will slay the Wicked One (Isaiah 11.4; 2 Thessalonians 2.8).
‘He will rule (or judge, or destroy) them with a rod of iron.’ The rod of iron (compare 2.27; 12.5), when defined, is a rod of punishment and refers to expressing rule in judgment, not to a continual reign. In Isaiah 11.4 His words are such a rod. Psalm 2.9 describes Him as breaking with a rod of iron and dashing in pieces like a potter’s vessel and Revelation 2.27 also has this in mind. He expresses His Rule by judgment. The word translated ‘rule’ here is regularly used in LXX (the Greek Old Testament) for ‘destroy’, which suggests we should translate in that way here. This meaning is confirmed by the next words, ‘He treads the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God Almighty’. The Bible never tries to hide from the fact of God’s wrath. It is never uncontrolled but always a determined attitude taken towards sin and sinners. It is never excessive. He gives only what they have earned and deserve.
19.16 ‘And he has on his garment and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.’
We may read ‘on his garment, even on his thigh’ showing precisely where the name is portrayed. It is necessarily here, for to be on hand or forehead would be to mark Him as one of the redeemed, and He is the Redeemer. The name may be on the thigh because that is where oaths were once confirmed (Genesis 24.2, 9), thus emphasising His faithfulness to His covenant with His own. Alternately it may be because the sword was girded there (Psalm 45.3; Song of Solomon 3.8) and His name is another sword. His name speaks for itself. He is Lord of all and sovereign over all creation.
19.17-18 ‘And I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried with a loud voice saying to all the birds that fly in mid-heaven, “Come and be gathered together to the great feast of God, that you might eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and of the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, and small and great”.’
Clearly the sight of this angel temporarily ‘blinded’ John for he was standing in the brightness of the sun. And the angel’s cry goes out to the birds of the air to witness the final judgment of God. A similar cry to this goes out in Ezekiel 39.17-20, compare 39.4. Ezekiel’s vivid picture of the last battle ends with the full restoration of Israel to God and is followed in the succeeding chapters by the description of the descent of the heavenly temple on an unknown high mountain in Israel. It expressed a truth which was beyond his understanding, that that restoration would take place in Heaven, from where the heavenly temple had come, and where the heavenly temple would be central. A future life in resurrection was still something only primitively grasped at that time. That is why the prophets mainly expressed their hopes of God’s triumph in earthly terms.
This cry to the vultures and scavenger birds is a vivid way of describing the awfulness of the judgment and its universal application. It is not to be applied literally. What the angel is really doing is declaring the certainty of total defeat for the forces of evil. (There may be a last battle, but if so it will be between earthly forces as they face the final judgments of God. God does not need to fight with men).
19.19 ‘And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse and against his army.’
There is no doubt about the aim of the forces of evil. Possibly in some way they still believe that they can prevent the coming of Christ and His final judgment. But probably it is just to indicate their defiance. There is no mention of an actual battle for their Enemy is irresistible. They are just floundering in their folly.
In 20.9 we are informed how these forces of evil warred against Him Who sat on the horse and against His army. They did it by attacking His people on earth. ‘They went up over the breadth of the earth, and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city’. In other words they turned their vicious attentions on His people (12.17). The camp of the saints has in mind God’s people worldwide, depicted as though they were all together in one place. They are in tents because they are strangers and pilgrims on the earth. The beloved city (Psalm 78.68; 87.2) represents the true, believing Israel who are of course a part of the people of God (compare 11.1-12; 12.13; also 21.12-14).
19.20 ‘And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet who wrought the signs in his sight, by which he had deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those that worshipped his image. They two were cast alive into the lake of fire that burns with brimstone.’
The deceivers are taken and destroyed. No mention is made of a battle (unless it is between two earthly armies) for there is no battle. If anything it is a rout. They are simply taken and can offer no resistance. For their false signs see 16.13-14. But those false signs will be of no use to them now. As we have seen earlier the beast and the false prophet are especially satanically inspired. Indeed the beast came out of the abyss.
They are not ordinary men, for ordinary men are but their tools. In so far as they are ‘men’ at all, for they represent ideas and systems, it is because they have taken possession of human beings. Those human beings will die as do the others, but the evil spirits that possess them face torment day and night for ever and ever (20.10). What its actual form will take we cannot know, for the ‘fire’ is a spiritual fire for spiritual beings and incomprehensible to human beings. (Fire in Revelation rarely actually means literal fire, but rather spiritual forces of one kind or another). The contrast between their fate and the fate of human beings is stressed. Their beings could not die nor could the birds eat them. In contrast the humans did die and the birds ate them.
19.21 ‘And the remainder were killed with the sword of him who sat on the horse, even the sword which came out of his mouth, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.’
Those who are human die a shameful death, pictured in terms of being eaten by birds. They do not share the fate of the beast and the false prophet. We are told that they are slain by the sword that came out of the mouth of Him Who sat on the horse. But that sword is spiritual and connected with His words of power. Thus the actual method of their deaths is unknown to us. They are slain by His judgments.
In the Old Testament the last battle is always between earthly forces, and it may well be that even to the end, in the face of God’s judgments, men behave as they have always done and attack each other and do battle, and it may be that their deaths to a large extent result from those battles. But that is not this ‘battle’, for this was no battle at all. It was a vivid description of Jesus Christ arriving to judge the earth and deal finally with Satan and his emissaries. We are to gather the ultimate ideas and not concentrate on the literal descriptions.
It is significant in all this that there is no mention of Satan, even though we might have expected it. Indeed, there has only been one mention of him since chapter 12 (in 16.13 where he was making his last attempt to deceive mankind). Unlike in 12.7-9 he is not directly involved in this ‘battle’. It is left to his minions. The foes of the people of God since 13.1 have been the Beasts representing empires, and Babylon the Great representing idolatry and commercialism The description of Satan’s end will now follow in a new vision, and in it we learn why Satan has been kept out of the way. He has been under close guard.
Vision 8 The History of Satan and the People of God (20.1-10).
This passage is of special significance. Indeed it determines greatly what view we take of the whole overall doctrine of the Second Coming.
Those who read it just as a continuation of chapter 19 glean from it the doctrine of the Millennium, which they see as a time of peace and plenty on earth as described in the Old Testament prophets. But the prophets had no conception of a life in another heavenly world and thus had to describe the eternal future in that way. Those who take this view apply all these prophecies literally without considering the fact that many of them transcend time (they speak of ‘everlasting); that the deeper inner meaning is drawn out constantly in the New Testament (e.g. Galatians 4.21-31; Hebrews 11.10-14); and that there is an application of those prophecies in Revelation.
Yet there is no detailed description of such an age in this narrative, nor any mention of it anywhere else in the New Testament. Neither Jesus or Paul ever refer to the idea of a millennium. In this chapter the concentration is rather on the binding of Satan and the triumph of the people of God.
In fact a careful examination of the narrative here points to the fact that this is a new vision, and that it is a brief summary of the history of Satan and the people of God from the time of the triumph of the Man-child when He takes His place on the Father’s throne as judge and ruler of all (12.3), until the final establishment of God’s everlasting kingdom. It is a new vision summarising salvation history as already revealed in earlier visions.
Consider the parallels with previous descriptions.
Thus this is the heavenly counterpart of all that is happening on earth. It is not all in the future. Indeed, apart from Satan’s short time, it is for us mainly in the past. It has been and is happening.
This also ties in with another remarkable fact. In revelation 12 we read of ‘the great Dragon who was cast down, the old Serpent who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world’, who was ‘cast down to earth, and his angels were cast down with him’ (12.9). The chapter then delineates his activity as he seeks to destroy the man child, Jesus Christ, and then the ‘woman’ who bore Him (Israel), finally turning his attention to ‘the rest of her seed’. But the interesting fact to note is that he is then only once more mentioned and that in an incident that refers to the final days of the age (16.13). While his influence is undoubtedly felt, there is no mention of him (other than in 16.13), from 13.1-19.21. But now suddenly the idea is taken up again using exactly the same terminology as in chapter 12, for the writer again refers to ‘the Dragon, the old Serpent, who is the Devil and Satan’ (20.2; compare 12.9), thus connecting back to chapter 12. It is as though chapter 20 is taking over where chapter 12 finished off. Thus chapter 20 continues the story of Satan from chapter 12, with what comes between being, as it were, a parenthesis (as will be seen we could move directly from chapter 12 to chapter 20). We ask at the end of chapter 12, what happened to Satan? Why is he not mentioned in what follows? We are given the answer in chapter 20. He was enchained in the Abyss, from which he was released in 9.1-11. The ‘1000 years’ thus occurs between his binding in the days of Jesus and the early church, and his release in 9.1-11. This is then followed by the short time that he is allowed in order to do his worst.
Let us consider this in more detail.
20.1-3 ‘And I saw an angel coming down out of Heaven having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand, and he laid hold on the monster, the old Serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more until the thousand years were finished. And after this he must be loosed for a little time.’
In this vision John is carried back in time to the period of the binding of Satan (Mark 3.27; Colossians 2.15). The effect of Christ’s presence on earth and the power He endowed on His disciples through His Spirit resulted in the restricting of Satan and his fall from heaven (Luke 10.18). Now the angel coming down from Heaven with the key of the Abyss is to act as his gaoler. See for the end of this situation Revelation 9.1-11. There it is clear that there has been a period when the powers of evil have been kept under restraint in the Abyss. This is in contrast with the star that fell who was also later given the key of the Abyss (9.2). The latter was to open the Abyss. This angel in Revelation 20 is thus acting prior to that and utilising the Abyss as a prison in which to hold Satan and his minions. Satan’s total grip on the world was therefore broken
The later opening of the Abyss is a theme of Revelation and is described a number of times. It is described in 9.2 where the star fallen from heaven to earth is given the key to open the Abyss, in which is the king of the Abyss, called Abaddon and Apollyon. A powerful host of evil spirits is released , including their king. It is mentioned in 17.8 where the red beast comes out of the Abyss (for a short while) and after a while goes into Destruction, compare 11.7 where he is described as the beast who comes up out of the Abyss. As Satan is here described as being chained in the Abyss (20.3), and after his loosing also goes into Destruction (20.10) it is natural to see these events of the Beast and Satan ‘going into Destruction’ as parallel.
The Binding of Angels and Satan in the Abyss.
The Abyss is both a place where the dead go (Romans 10.7) and also a place for the imprisonment and punishment of spiritual beings (Luke 8.31). It is the unseen world other than Heaven.
We learn in Jude that “the angels who kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). This is used as an example for false teachers, who misuse the truth to their own condemnation, showing that those who turn from the truth face severe judgment. It is clear that the chaining of angels who did not keep ‘their first estate’ in everlasting chains is in the past for Jude, and the context, coming before Sodom and Gomorrah, suggests it refers to Genesis 6.1-4.
This is specifically confirmed by Peter, for in 2 Peter 2.4 we read, “God spared not the angels who sinned, but cast them down to Tartarus (a place of torment), and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment”, and he refers this to the time of Noah. Thus these angels were certainly chained in the abyss in pre-history because they crossed the forbidden boundary between the natural and the supernatural.
Satan also is later described by Jesus Christ Himself as being bound so that his goods can be spoiled . Indeed Jesus claimed that He was here as ‘the stronger than he’ and that it would be necessary for Him to ‘bind the strong man’ so that He could despoil his house (Matthew 12.29; Mark 3.27; Luke 11.22). A Greater than Satan was here. When His disciples returned from their ministry amazed that they had been able to cast out evil spirits and joyously announcing to Him their triumph, He replied, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (Luke 10.18). In other words Satan was a defeated foe. He had seen Satan defeated at the hands of His Apostles. His statement indicated that, as the disciples had discovered, Satan was now disempowered. His total grip on the world was broken. In other words he was bound.
The heaven from which Satan ‘fell’ was not the Heaven of Heavens, but the spiritual sphere in which he was active. Late in His life Jesus could declare, “now is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12.31). In other words the whole life and work of Jesus resulted in a continual binding and casting out of Satan, finalising in His victory on the cross. As Paul says in Colossians 2.15, “having spoiled principalities and powers (in the cross), he led them in a show of triumph”. His work on the cross resulted in the final spoiling and captivity of Satan and his minions.
This defeat of Satan is also described in Revelation 12.7-9 (which see). Satan is defeated, and having been defeated is cast down ‘to the earth’, the emphasis being on the fact that he is no longer in a position to directly approach God and accuse His people. It is shortly after this point possibly that the angel, under instructions, chains the defeated foe in the Abyss which is always described as being under the earth, restricting his activities. All this suggests that the opening of the abyss to receive Satan and his angels is to be seen as a past event, an event followed by his later release in the end days (11.1-9).
One objection raised to this is that it fails to explain how Satan, if he is bound in the abyss, can be so active on earth. That Satan is active can be seen quite clearly in 1 Chronicles 21.1; Job 1.6 - 2.7; Psalm 109.6; Zechariah 3.1-2; Matthew 4.1-10 and parallels; Matthew 12.25-29 and parallels; Mark 4.15; Luke 13.16; Luke 22.3; Luke 22.31; Acts 5.3; Acts 26.18; Romans 16.20; 1 Corinthians 5.5; 1 Corinthians 7.5; 2 Corinthians 2.11; 1 Thessalonians 2.18; 2 Thessalonians 2.9; 1 Timothy 1.20; 1 Timothy 5.15; 1 Peter 5.8; Revelation 2.13; Revelation 2.24. We have deliberately included all the main apposite passages at the risk of overemphasis so as not to weaken the case being argued against.
In these passages we learn that Satan leads men astray, accuses them before God, tests them out, walks around like a lion seeking to devour men, is allowed limited powers against them, holds sway over unbelievers, hinders Christian activities and performs ‘lying wonders’. If he can act so, it may be asked, how can he then have been bound? As someone has sarcastically put it, ‘if he was bound, it was with a remarkably long chain’.
But this is to ignore the symbolism behind all this. The point is that Satan has been defeated, he has been chained in the abyss so that he cannot deceive the nations any more, and it is from there that he carries out his present activity, although in the end for a short time being allowed his final personal go at the world.
In regard to this we must consider:
Taking the second consideration first. Satan comes before God to accuse both Job (Job 1.6-2.8) and Joshua the High Priest (Zechariah 3.1-2). But does this really mean that Satan has physical ready access to God in a physical Heavenly court, and can approach His glory and holiness without fear?
The fact is that this is simply a picture in earthly language, picturing spiritual truth in terms of the way in which great kings called men before them for judgment or praise. But God is not limited to a physical place in space and time, and nor for that matter is Satan. The aim of the picture is to express God’s overall sovereignty and His awareness of all that happens, and especially of Satanic claims. It brings out the accountability of Satan. But it is not intended to be interpreted physically. If Satan were really to come into the presence of God he would shrivel up before His holiness.
In the same way the picture of Satan as being bound in a long chain in the Abyss is simply a picture. It is a picture of a doomed and controlled Satan, a picture of him as a defeated and reined-in foe, as restricted in what he can do. The homely pictures are to be seen as conveying ideas, not describing actual physical events. God is not physical, neither is Satan. We must surely therefore accept that Satan could not be bound with a physical chain. The chain is rather the restrictions put on him by God. Nor indeed could he survive in the presence of God’s awesome holiness. The pictures depict spiritual realities, not physical realities.
The fact is that Satan’s power is such that if he were not restrained Christians would stand no chance against him, and the world even less. If even Michael the archangel hesitates in his dealings with him (Jude 1.9), where would anyone else stand? That is why he had to be ‘restrained’ by a Greater than he and is depicted as bound. He operates on his chain. As we have mentioned, 2 Thessalonians 1.6 mentions ‘that which restrains’ where ‘that’ is neuter and may well indicate the Abyss and the chain. So while Christians may expect to suffer from his attentions they do so in the confidence that he is restricted by God in what he can do. The result of his being bound is seen here as that the good news goes out into the whole world, ‘he deceives the nations no more’ (Revelation 20.3). Light goes out to the Gentiles.
So Satan has been ‘bound’ by Jesus, and subjected to the disciples in Jesus’ name, and is clearly under restraint - and doomed. It is God Who restrains him. No physical chain could restrain Satan, and no physical place hold him. Those are but pictures in earthly terms. The fact that God allows him limited activity does not cancel out this fact. He is still seen as tightly controlled under God’s ‘seal’ like a savage dog on a leash. When he walks around seeking whom he may devour he does it through his minions, those on earth who persecute God’s people. But the further point of Revelation 20.1-3 is that for a short period in the future that restraint will be somewhat lifted, as revealed earlier in the book.
At last he will have his hour (Revelation 17.12), the little season (Revelation 20.3). And this will lead to the final face to face encounter, and the final consummation of the victory of the One Who is the Word of God (Revelation 19.11-16; compare John 1.1). Thus Revelation 20.1-3 is a brief summary of Satan’s defeat and ‘binding’ under God’s control in the period from the time of Jesus’ first coming to the second coming of Christ.
‘Bound him for a thousand years.’ In the ministry of Jesus He had laid emphasis on the fact that His people must be ready for His second coming. As the events described in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 occurred the people of God felt the excitement mounting and began to look for that return. But the years passed and He did not come. It was then that the Apostles drew their attention to the fact that in God’s eyes even a thousand years was but a short time (2 Peter 3.8).
Peter said, “Do not forget this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day’ (2 Peter 3.8). If there is delay in His coming, he says, it is because of God’s longsuffering, His desire to give men ample opportunity for repentance. So he sees ‘a thousand years’ as representing that unknown space of time between Christ’s first and second coming. It simply means a long, long time. Indeed through Peter’s words it may well have become a technical term for that period. And it is for the same length of time that Satan must be bound. It is thus a round number indicating what could be a considerable period of time, the length of which was unknown.
Note on the Biblical Use of ‘A Thousand’.
We do not intend to discuss the question of what a ‘thousand’ indicates when it is used as a part of larger numbers, only its significance when used on its own, as here. Nor will we consider its use when it means a military or family unit. There are a good number of examples of its use on its own:
1). In many cases it is used simply in order to indicate a large amount. Thus:
2). More significant in this context are the examples where ‘a thousand’ is used with a time word indicating the passage of time:
All this would seem to stress that when God says ‘a thousand years’ it simply means a long extent of time.
End of note.
‘After this he must be loosed for a little time.’ In Revelation 17 the scarlet beast is released from the abyss for such a time (17.8), as is the king of the abyss (9.11), and under the wild beast the ten kings exercise authority for ‘one hour’ (17.12). Satan himself is also aware from the beginning that he only has ‘a short time’ (Revelation 12.12). So all the ingredients of these first three verses are found earlier in Revelation. They are a resume of what has gone before.
20.4 ‘And I saw thrones, and they sat on them and judgment was given to them, and I saw the persons of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and such as did not worship the beast or his image, and did not receive the mark on their forehead and on their hand, and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection, over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years.’
‘I saw thrones.’ The Bible does previously speak of a time when thrones were placed and sat on by those who participated in judgment, where nothing more is said of their participation, and that is in Daniel 7 where we read, ‘and I beheld until thrones were placed’ (Daniel 7.9), and nothing more is said of their occupants. It could be that these were for the twenty four elders in Revelation 4.4, who did sit on thrones and represented the people of God before the One on the throne. But if so why are they not mentioned?
But the more likely explanation is that they were for the Ancient of Days, and for ‘the son of man’ who approached to receive his/their kingdom. There the One on the throne is described as ‘the ancient of days’ (the eternal One), and ‘the son of man’ (who signifies both the true Israel and especially Israel’s King, i.e. Israel receive kingship in the person of their king - Daniel 7.14, 27) approaches the Ancient of days to receive the kingdom. It is a time when judgment is being given (Daniel 7.10). The thrones are thus for the ‘son of man’, i.e. the people of God and their king.
Just as the beasts previously described had represented both kings and their kingdoms, so this son of man represents the people of God and their messianic leader. He would receive the kingship and worldwide dominion (Daniel 7.14), and they would receive the kingship and worldwide dominion in him (Daniel 7.27). They too will judge with a rod of iron (2.27).
That is why Jesus came into the world declaring Himself to be ‘the Son of Man’. Under such a heading He claimed the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2.10), and to reinterpret the law of the Sabbath (Mark 2.28). As the Son of Man He would serve and give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10.45). And as the Son of Man He would suffer and die (as the son of man in Daniel in the person of His people would also suffer and die - Daniel 7.25), and would rise again (Mark 8.31).
He was then carried up into Heaven and came into the presence of God where He was given ‘all authority in Heaven and earth’ (Matthew 28.18), sitting in the place of supreme authority at God’s right hand and being declared both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.33-36). Thus the Son of Man received His kingdom and His dominion on His own behalf and on behalf of His people. And it is as the Son of Man that He will one day return to the earth in glory to exercise judgment (Mark 13.26).
So there is a distinction, and a considerable period, between His coming to the throne of God to receive His kingship, and His return to earth to exercise judgment. One happens at His resurrection, the other at a considerably later time.
However, as we have already stressed, the son of man in Daniel represents not only the King but also His people (just as the beasts represent kings and peoples). They too receive the kingdom, the dominion and the power. They share His throne.
Therefore the mention of the thrones, and those who sat on them, and the giving of judgment, refer to the time when the Son of Man comes to the throne to receive His kingship on behalf of His people, that is, to the time of His resurrection, when He is exalted at the right hand of God and made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.33-36; Ephesians 1.20-21).
This is indeed the first resurrection, the resurrection of Jesus, along with a number of Old Testament saints who are raised with Him (Matthew 27.52). But it is also the time when all His people are ‘raised with Him’ to share His glory (Ephesians 1.19-2.7). For there Paul clearly declares that all who are true Christians have been raised with Him and seated with Him on His throne, even while also being on earth. The throne is potentially ours and we can take our place there by faith. We have come with Him as the son of man to receive the kingdom.
‘They sat on them.’ That is, all the true people of God. They would share with their Lord in the judgment of the world and even of angels. The content of ‘they’ is now described.
‘Even the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and such as had not worshipped the beast --- and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.’ The description includes all God’s true people (it is ‘such as had not worshipped the beast’), but with special emphasis on the martyrs. They are all described as enjoying a great blessing ‘They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years’. It does not particularise when they reigned, or where they reigned, only that they did so through the period when Satan was bound, which as we have seen earlier dates initially from the time of His defeat when Jesus was here on earth.
‘Those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus’ describes who they are, not when they reigned. Now it is commonplace with some to assume that this must refer to the period after their resurrection at the end of the age, but this is by no means necessary. Indeed on this interpretation this passage has no place for the raptured people of God. But that would be to overlook the glorious and wonderful truth that we have just drawn attention to, and that is that, in the eyes of the Apostles, Christians were raised from the dead and began to live and reign with Christ as soon as they became Christians . And they no doubt continue to do so in the after-life.
These martyrs, and those who refuse to wear the mark of the beast, began their reign the moment they became Christians, a fact which continued on through their martyrdom, at which point they reigned with Him in Heaven. This is in direct contrast to what had happened to Satan. They were crowned in Christ, he was bound by Christ.
Jesus spoke of this first resurrection and the second resurrection in John 5.25-29. In 5.25 He says, “in very truth I tell you, the hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” Here is the first resurrection when the spiritually dead hear the voice of the Son of God and respond, receiving new life pictured in the form of a resurrection. That this is the picture comes out by comparison with verses 28-29. “The hour comes in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and will come forth, those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done ill to the resurrection of judgment.” The reception of new life, eternal life, is pictured in terms of the resurrection, and will later finally result in a physical resurrection, the second resurrection.
Paul also declares that we have been buried with Him in baptism ‘wherein you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God who raised him from the dead’ (Colossians 2.12). Indeed he says that we have been “raised together with Christ” and should therefore “seek those things which are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God”, a position which true Christians share with Him (Colossians 3.1).
More emphatically, in Ephesians 1.20 - 2.6 Paul describes Christ’s effective work when he declares that He was ‘raised from the dead and made to sit in Heavenly places, far above all rule, authority, dominion and power, with all things in subjection under His feet’. Then he adds, “And you --- ” (no verb in the Greek), which means - ‘and you also were, in Him, raised from the dead and made to sit in heavenly places, far above all rule, authority dominion and power, with all things in subjection under your feet’.
If this seems too much it is confirmed in 2.4-6, “But God Who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has made us alive together with Christ (by grace you are saved) and has raised us up together and made us sit together in Heavenly places in Christ Jesus”. Thus Paul sees us as living and reigning with Him even now.
So in Paul’s eyes we have already partaken of the First Resurrection along with Jesus Christ. This he continually stresses. As he says in 2 Corinthians 5.5, because of this we have been given the foretaste and guarantee (an earnest) of the Spirit, until the day we experience it in bodily form. It is through His resurrection life that, having been reconciled to God, we are saved (Romans 5.10), so that “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6.4). That is why we should be “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Corinthians 4.10). Thus we should be “giving thanks to the Father Who has made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Who delivered us out of the power of darkness and translated us (past tense) into the Kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1.12-13), which means that we are seated above with Him (Colossians 3.1).
The Bible therefore constantly describes Christians as already ‘raised’ with Him, and as already reigning with Him. It also tells us that as He took His place in Heaven, and judgment was given to Him, so it was also given to us, a judgment we exercise ‘in Him’ in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2.6) and will exercise in the future at the final resurrection. So the First Resurrection, not otherwise specifically so-called in Scripture, is that which we share with Christ. And that is what is pictured here.
But, it may be asked, what of those who have died, and especially those who have been martyred. Have they lost this privilege? John is concerned to encourage God’s people in the face of coming persecution and emphasises that they also continue to reign with Him. Death does not rob them of this glorious privilege. The ‘souls’ of the martyrs (which might be seen as suggesting that there has been to this point no literal resurrection) are also seen as sharing His reign (Revelation 20.4. Compare the use in Revelation 6.9). It began when they became Christians and it continues on after their martyrdom. And this is in contrast with ‘the rest of the dead’, for the world is still dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2.1-3).
This incidentally also shows that the passage is confirming that in their rest and their ‘sleep’ before the resurrection (it is their bodies which sleep), the people of God are conscious of and enjoying the presence of Christ, and are also reigning with Him. That is why Paul could say, ‘to me to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (Philippians 1.21).
When the final bodily resurrection is mentioned in Scripture it is always in such a way as to suggest that the resurrection of both righteous and unrighteous takes place at the same time (Daniel 12.2; John 5.28-29). But here from Paul we have learned of a different kind of resurrection which precedes the general resurrection, a pre-resurrection, a ‘first resurrection’ along with the One Who first rose. This is the situation John has in mind here.
‘And the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished’. The general resurrection will not take place until the end of this period, until Christ’s second coming. Then all will be raised physically to face God’s final judgment.
“And they shall be priests of God and of Christ and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20.6). The Bible tells us that we are already a royal priesthood ( 1 Peter 2. 5, 9), and that through His blood we have been made kings and priests unto God and His Father (Revelation 1.6; 5.10). Note the past tense. It is already true. Thus we and the martyrs, together with all who have died free from the mark of the beast, are priests of God and reign with Him at this present time, and will do so ‘for a thousand years’, that is for an unknown length of time until the end.
“We reign (or shall reign) on the earth” (5.10) stresses that, in spite of appearances, because we are such kings and priests we will triumph over all obstacles, however powerful they may seem, and currently demonstrate Christ’s sovereignty, and this is again asserted here. We reign on earth and after death we reign in Heaven. Nothing, not even death and martyrdom, can prevent it. Man’s violence cannot take away the Christian’s privileged position for it is inviolate.
‘And they lived and reigned with him a thousand years’. As in 20.3 the period of ‘a thousand years’ indicates that unknown period between Christ’s first and second coming. It is also a round number and can be seen as indicating an ‘ideal’ period of time. Adam, because of his sin, died ‘seventy’ years short of a thousand years. He failed to achieve the ideal. Even Methuselah could not achieve the thousand. For a thousand years indicated life to the full. It was the equivalent to the New Testament idea of eternal life. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes sees ‘a thousand years’ as indicating an ideal length of life (Ecclesiastes 6.6), and even speaks of two thousand years. We can compare the usage in the words, ‘the cattle on a thousand hills’ (Psalm 50.10). This did not mean that God only owned the cattle on a thousand hills. The thousand hills indicated all hills. Thus it is not to be taken literally but as meaning ‘the perfect time that God has planned’.
It is therefore quite clear from careful comparison with Scripture that this vision described in Revelation 20.4-6 reveals the present state of Christian believers ‘in Christ’ and not some future ‘millennium’.
20.7-9 ‘And when the thousand years are over Satan will be loosed from his prison and will come forth to deceive the nations who are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war, the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people (the saints) and the beloved city, and fire came down from Heaven and devoured them.’
Satan’s loosing from his prison (9.11) indicates that in the final days before Christ’s coming he will be given greater rein (12.12; 17.12), although, as we learn earlier, unable to touch those who have been sealed by God (9.4). He especially reveals the effect of this release in the rising up of the beast from the abyss (17.8) and of the dreadful spiritual creatures headed by their equally dreadful king Apollyon, which is almost certainly another name for Satan himself (9.2-11).
‘And will come forth to deceive the nations.’ The emphasis is here laid on his deceitfulness. This is one of the characteristics most often applied to Satan, along with his pride (1 Timothy 3.6). He is ‘the father of lies’ (John 8.44 compare 2 Corinthians 11.3). His known career began with deceit in the Garden of Eden and here it ends in deceit, and he has deceived people all the way through (2 Corinthians 4.4). It is because of him that people ‘believe a lie’ (2 Thessalonians 2.11 in context). This ‘coming forth’ has very much the rise of the scarlet beast of Revelation 17 in mind.
‘Gog and Magog ---’. This idea is taken from Ezekiel 38 and 39 where in the final days Gog, of Magog (Ezekiel 38.2), - both the king and his people - will come against the people of God only to be totally defeated and destroyed (compare Revelation 19.21). In Ezekiel they are situated in Asia Minor, and there is no question but that this comes before Christ’s second coming, for the final restoration of God’s people is then described. In apocalyptic and Rabbinic literature, however, ‘Gog and Magog’ have become symbolic figures representing the enemies of God, so that they have by this time become world figures, which explains why they can gather such huge forces.
‘The number of whom is as the sand of the sea.’ It was on the sand of the sea that Satan first stood when the beast first came out of the sea (13.1). His standing on it signified his dominion over it, just as later the strong angel would stand on the sea and the earth to indicate God’s taking control (10.5). Now he makes use of those whom he dominates.
‘To gather them together to war.’ This parallels 19.19. Now we see what chapter 19 is indicating. Satan was not expecting the rider on the white horse to appear. He had gathered his armies together to finally eliminate the people of God.
‘And they went up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people and the beloved city.’ Note that God’s people live in ‘a camp’, in temporary accommodation (parembole - fortified camp or barracks) for they are soldiers of Christ (2 Timothy 2.3-4) and strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Hebrews 11.13). They seek a city which is above whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11.10).
‘The beloved city’ is in contrast to ‘the great city’ likened to Sodom and Gomorrah in 11.8. The latter is physical Jerusalem. The former is those in that city who are true to God (the sanctuary of 11.1-2) and look to the city that is above (Galatians 4.26). Compare how in Psalm 78.68 ‘the mount Zion which He loved’ is the tribe of Judah, the ‘chosen’ tribe, over against the remainder of Jacob’s descendants, so that ‘He loves the gates of Zion more than the dwellings of Jacob’ (Psalm 87.2). The ‘beloved city’ therefore refers to the camp of the chosen remnant. This suggests that here the people of God are the beloved city, as they are the components of the new Jerusalem (21.2 with 21.12-14).
This is confirmed elsewhere in Revelation for it is clear that while the literal Jerusalem itself is a city rejected and condemned, ‘trodden down’, there is a chosen remnant within with whom God deals (chapter 11, see especially verse 8) . The thought of a fortified camp of Christians fits well with the picture of Satan making war with God’s people (11.7 and elsewhere). This explains why the armies go ‘over the breadth of the earth’ (compare Habakkuk 1.6) for the camp of the people of God is worldwide. Compare Ezekiel 38.11 where Gog’s attack is on ‘the land of unwalled village, --- those who are quiet and dwell securely, all of them dwelling without walls and having neither bars nor gates’, a perfect description of the people of God whose stronghold is God. This camp of God’s people is in total contrast to the first camp when Cain ‘built an encampment’ (Genesis 4.17 with Numbers 13.19). Cain’s action was leading up to Babel and Great Babylon. The camp of God’s people is a leaving of Babel to stand with God.
‘And fire came down from Heaven and devoured them.’ When Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to call on their God (who was god of storm and lightning) to light the fires of sacrifice directly (through his lightning) they failed in their endeavours, but for Elijah the fire came down from Heaven and devoured the sacrifice (1 Kings 18.24, 38). This same fire came down on Elijah’s enemies from God (2 Kings 1.10, 12). So will God’s fire finally fall on Satan’s hosts.
Here again we have an illumination of chapter 19. As we saw there, there was really no battle, and yet the hosts were destroyed. Here we have the explanation. There they were described as slain by the sword from the mouth of the Word of God (19.21), here we learn it was a fiery ‘sword’, a sword of lightning like the sword in Genesis 3.24. Once again those who rebel against God are being prevented from having access to the tree of life by the fiery sword, but this time it is permanent. Ezekiel 38 links the sword with fire and brimstone (verse 21 with 22).
20.10 ‘And the Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet also are, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.’
The Devil shares the fate of his close minions, and the severity of their punishment is stressed. This parallels the fate of the unearthly beast and the false prophet both of whom represent Satanic power (see 19.20). All three are sent there. Unlike mortal man Satan appears to be indestructible. As a spirit-being he cannot be destroyed and he must therefore be kept under total restraint for ever. The ‘chain’ had allowed him some freedom. That will be the case no longer. The ‘lake of fire’ is a symbol of something that destroys, but that it is not literal comes out in that in the end death and Hades will be destroyed by it (20.14). It is thus God’s incinerator. Satan’s torment will mainly lie in what he has forfeited and lost, and in what this has made him. It will be the consequence of his own choice and of what he has turned himself into. It will be eternal remorse, burning like a fire around him. It will be a place where he is totally restrained and which he can never leave. His influence is finished.
This is in strict contrast with the fate of rebellious man. The beast and false prophet were cast ‘alive’ (this is emphasised - Revelation 19.20) into the lake of fire, whereas it is stressed that the remainder ‘were killed’ (19.21). Of them we learn that it is only ‘the smoke of their torment’ that arises for ever and ever (14.11; compare 18.9-10; 18.18; 19.3). In their case, having suffered their deserved punishment, their suffering itself ceases, but the means of their punishment burns on for ever as an everlasting witness.
This is as depicted in Isaiah 66.24 where they are described in terms of dead bodies tossed on to an eternally burning rubbish dump. Compare Isaiah 34.10 where a similar idea of smoke arising for ever and ever from God’s judgment is depicted, and the judgment of Babylon the Great, which is also depicted in terms of similar rising smoke (Revelation 18.18). Its punishment and destruction leaves behind a permanent reminder, symbolised by rising smoke.
‘The lake of fire and brimstone’. That this is not a literal lake of fire is clear from the fact that Satan has no bodily form, and could thus not be cast into fire. It contrasts, by its connection with brimstone, with the pure fire of God’s holiness (compare 9.17 with 11.5). It indicates something dreadful and miserable and beyond comprehension. It is the ‘eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25.41). That their punishment is severe there can be no doubt, but its true form we can never fully appreciate. As mentioned Death and Hades are also thrown into the lake of fire (20.14). It can thus denote a place of permanent end. They clearly are not kept alive.
Vision 9 The Great White Throne and the New Jerusalem (20.11-21.8).
The Great White Throne (20.11-15).
20.11 ‘And I saw a great white throne, and he who sat on it from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them.’
Once again a vision brings us to the judgment day, but now it is prior to a description of everlasting blessing for the people of God. Previously events have led up to the judgment day, depicted in a number of ways. Now a vision commences with the judgment day and leads up to what lies beyond. This time, rather than being described in terms of earthquakes and great hail, it is described more in terminology similar to Matthew 25.31.-46 and Daniel 7.26. The throne is great (it is the only throne described as great) because of Him Who sits on it, Whom we must see as Christ Himself, for God has committed all judgment to His Son (John 5.22; Acts 17.31). The throne is white because of the purity and righteousness of the Judge. There are no thunders and lightnings and voices as previously, only a solemn silence before the great Judge. Yet we must recognise that all are but pictures. In the heavenly world there are no physical thrones and neither the Father nor the Son need to sit on one in order to judge. This grand and solemn scene is human to the core. But what it actually reveals is fully true, and far more solemn than the picture. It indicates that God will call all men into solemn judgment. Every man will have to give account of himself to God.
The same truth is pictured elsewhere by means of reapers, earthquakes, great hail and fear before the coming One. But all are saying the same thing. Man is called to account in one way or another and then suffers punishment from the wrath of God against sin.
‘There was found no place for them.’ Earth and heaven flee from His majesty (compare Mark 13.31; 2 Peter 3.10). But this in itself should warn us that we must be careful about taking things too literally. Now there is no creation in which a throne can be set. Heaven and earth have fled at the presence of God. The point of course is that they not only flee in awe before Him but that they have completed the purpose for which they were created and are no longer required. This is apocalyptic language similar to Revelation 6.13-14.
19.12 ‘And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and the books were opened, and another book was opened which is the book of life. And the dead were judged out of the things that were written in the books, according to their works.’
All who die must give account, as indeed must those who are alive at His coming. But it is the dead that are in mind here for the lesson is that death is not the end. After death comes the judgment (Hebrews 9.27). John has especially in mind the dead described throughout the book (6.4; 6.8; 9.15, 18; 11.13; 13.15; 19.21). Reference to ‘the dead’ in Revelation is twofold. There are the dead who die in the Lord and for them death is the gateway to wondrous things (Revelation 1.5; 14.13), but there are also the dead who die in their sins and for them there is only hopelessness (Revelation 11.18). Here both are in mind for all come under God’s scrutiny.
‘The books were opened.’ Had John lived today there would have been a computer to consult. The point is not that there are books in Heaven but that in one way or another all men’s doings to the last detail are known to God. ‘All things are naked and opened to the eyes of him with whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4.13). There is nowhere to hide. God can call up the whole of the past in an instant.
But it signifies more than that for it signifies the righteousness of the judgment. The judgment is based on facts, pure and unadulterated facts. No one will demur or deny their guilt, for the facts will be there before them The stress is on the fact that God can produce a complete record (although He does not actually need to consult books. It is men who need to do that) and complete proof of guilt presented to them in a way that they cannot dispute. Every charge will be genuine and will stick.
There is also the book of life. And how important that is. It records the names of those who are written in Heaven (Luke 10.20; Hebrews 12.23), those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13.8; 17.8). This will be the final proof of acceptance or rejection, based on whether men have responded to the call of God’s grace and found cleansing and justification in His name through believing in Jesus Christ. When those who are His are called forward they advance without fear, for their sins have been laid on another, the slain Lamb Who is now the Judge, and they know that they are free from sin and clothed in His righteousness because of what He has done on their behalf,.
20.13 ‘And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them, and they were judged every man according to his works.’
The picture is all inclusive. None have died in such a way that they cannot be reached. All are raised for judgment. To be lost at sea was considered by Israel to be a tragedy. Many considered that it prevented their resurrection, something denied here. The passage is significant in that it demonstrates that Hades is not seen as a place for all the spirits of the dead, but as a place for those buried on land, who have been laid in the earth. It is the shadowy world of the grave. Others are in the shadowy world of the depths of the sea. There is no real life there. We must look elsewhere for how men live in the after-life before the resurrection. For those who are not the true people of God that outlook is looked on as bleak. The judgment is based on how they have responded to God, how they have responded to the words of Jesus and the prophets, both old and new, how they have responded to the word of God and His law, for ‘works’ include all three (Matthew 5; 16.27; Luke 16.31; John 6.28-29). No one will have any complaint. Justice will be done.
20.14 ‘And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire.’
This demonstrates that the primary purpose of the lake of fire is to burn up that which is at enmity with God’s final purposes. It also demonstrates that we must not literalise the scene. Death and Hades are not existing entities, they are ideas (compare 6.8), as is much of what lies behind the beast (false empire) and the false prophet (false religion). These are all destroyed. This is the death of death the last enemy (1 Corinthians 15.26). But it is only the fallen spiritual beings who are described as facing an unending future of remorse and misery.
Note with regard to men how the phrase ‘the dead’ is constantly stressed. The resurrection of those who are not His is not a joyous occasion of new life but of those who are dead while they are alive, and when, like death and Hades, they are thrown in the lake of fire they are not thrown in ‘alive’ as were the beast and the false prophet. They are thrown in as ‘the dead’. There is no reason to doubt that they too will be destroyed and utterly consumed. It is the second death for it is final. It is the death of the soul. After this there is no resurrection.
20.15 ‘And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.’
Thus all men are involved in this judgment. It is an all-embracing scene into which all other pictures of the judgment have to be fitted. And fitted they can be if we recognise that what is important is the spiritual lessons and not the physical descriptions. The significance of the book of life is that it contains the names of those who have been cleansed from sin, who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (7.14). It is revealing that only those who are hidden in Christ and covered with His righteousness can face the judgment without fear for all their sins have been borne by another. But as Paul constantly stressed, while our works cannot justify us, they can certainly condemn us, and those who are not His will be found doubly guilty, for they have not only broken God’s law but they have also rejected His mercy. For them there is no future. There is only the lake of fire.
So briefly is the fate of the wicked depicted. But now they are left behind. Now that man’s final judgment has been described, and the destruction of all that is evil revealed, we move on in the remainder of the book to the destiny of the righteous. For this in the end was the aim of book and is the aim of God. And what a transformation it is. A few verses previously it was all doom and gloom, but that is now behind and we are to see the glorious vision of the future. One can but feel sorry for those who see in this new picture a future that will be tarnished and fail, for it is rather a picture of complete triumph and full blessedness for all who are His.
The New Heavens and the New Earth (21.1-8).
21.1 ‘And I saw a new Heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away, and the sea is no more.’
We read about the passing away of the first heaven and the first earth in 20.11. But all is now light. For all things are new and full of righteousness and purity. This is the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3.13), where former things will not be remembered or come to mind (Isaiah 65.17). ‘The sea is no more’. To Israel who made little use of the sea it was always a troubled sea. They saw how quickly it could be stirred up from its innocence and become a tumult. It was from the sea that the tumult among men came (13.1. Compare Job 38.8-11; Psalm 89.9; Isaiah 57.20.). However that has now passed away. There is now no source of tumult.
21.2 ‘And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.’
See 21.9-10. This descent is on the new earth, the new creation. The creation of Genesis 1 is no more, except in the sense that it has been the prototype of the new creation. The idea is that just as God created the old world and then created man to people it, so now, having created the new unpopulated earth He sends down from Heaven the city of His people (compare Hebrews 12.22), to the prepared place (compare John 14.3). And the people descend together as a city (for they were previously in Heaven - 14.1-3) and are one together and form the bride. The holy city has put on her beautiful garments (Isaiah 52.1) and is as a bride adorned for her husband.
That Jerusalem is the bride parallels 19.7 and the wording is very similar, demonstrating that the new Jerusalem is to be seen as representing the people of God. The bride was a composite figure, for she consisted of the whole people of God, and the new Jerusalem is the same, for in the end a city is its people. Compare how in Matthew 8.34 ‘all the city came out to meet Jesus’ (a city ‘coming out’ is similar to a city ‘coming down’. See also Matthew 11.20; 12.25; 21.10; Mark 1.33; 6.11; Luke 4.43; Acts 13.44; 14.21; 17.5, 16). Thus it is now ‘the holy city’. Previously His people were the holy sanctuary (11.1) in which God dwelt (1 Corinthians 3.16; 6.19), now they are seen as one with, and part of, the holy city wherein God will dwell (v.3). Jerusalem is created a rejoicing and her people a joy (Isaiah 65.18). This is the work of the Amen (Isaiah 65.16), and the former troubles will be forgotten (v.17).
21.3 ‘And I heard a great voice from the throne saying, “Behold the tabernacle of God (place where God tabernacles Himself) is with men and he will tabernacle with them and they will be his peoples and God Himself will be with them and be their God”.’
This closeness is further emphasised. The new Jerusalem replaces the tabernacle of God. Just as the people of God had been His sanctuary and had replaced the Temple, and as God once dwelt in the tabernacle in the pillar of fire, and revealed Himself in the Shekinah glory (an inter-testamental concept, but rooted in the Old Testament revelations of God revealing His glory), so will He now ‘dwell in glory’ (the same root as shekinah) with His people in a way not known before. The glorious city of God, His people, will have dwelling within and among them for ever, the fullness of the glory of God. This is the final and complete fulfilment of John 14.23.
Men will also now dwell with Him in this ‘place where God tabernacles Himself’ of which they are a part, and will be always in His presence, and He will be with them and be their God (see Ezekiel 37.26-27 also Zechariah 8.8). We can compare with this idea the promise to overcomers that they will be pillars in the Temple of God (Revelation 3.12). So just as the Word dwelt among us and we beheld His glory (John 1.14) now God in His fullness will dwell among us in the full revelation of His glory.
Note the plural of ‘peoples’ (while some authorities have ‘people’ it is clearly the easier reading, while there would be no tendency to change the other way). The stress is on the fact that His people are made up of many peoples, compare 21.24 where they are ‘the nations’.
‘A great voice from the throne.’ The living creatures are still active in drawing attention to the activities of God (see 16.17; 19.5).
21.4 ‘And he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, the first things are passed away.’
Compare 7.17 where the wiping away of tears was promised to the martyrs. Now it is for all God’s people. The former troubles are forgotten (Isaiah 65.16). Compare also Isaiah 25.7-8 where death is swallowed up for ever and the Lord God will wipe away all tears from all faces, and remove the veil of mourning. ‘Neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain’. John is concerned that in the coming suffering and persecution of the people of God described throughout the book, which will include the pain of the loss of loved ones, the people will realise that one day all their suffering will be taken away.
‘Death will be no more’ for it has been destroyed in the lake of fire (20.14). Isaiah 35.10 reveals the scene with a greater emphasis on joy, ‘the ransomed of the Lord will return and will come with singing to Zion, and everlasting joy will be on their heads, and they will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away’.
21.5a ‘And he who sits on the throne said, “Behold I make all things new”.’
In case this all seems too good to be true God Himself now confirms it personally. Previously He has been passive while the action He has initiated goes on around Him. But now He speaks, for it is His own people who are involved, and He declares ‘Behold, I make all things new!’ And then goes on to outline His intentions on the basis of the fact that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the Ending. Now He will prove Himself to be the Ending. he will bring His work to a satisfactory conclusion. (We can compare the similar situation in 11.3 when God said ‘I will give’, in contrast with ‘it was given’ in 7.2; 9.5).
Compare here Isaiah 43.18-19. God is doing a new thing and is providing life-giving waters, giving drink to His people, to His chosen (Isaiah 43.20, see Revelation 21.6 here), having Himself blotted out their transgressions and stopped remembering their sins (Isaiah 43.25). Compare also 2 Corinthians 5.17 where men in Christ form a new creation and all things become new. This is the final fulfilment of those first beginnings, brought about by the work of Him Who reconciled His people to Himself through Christ. The groaning of the old creation (Romans 8.18-25) has ceased and all is now fully restored.
21.5b-6 ‘And he says, “Write. For these words are faithful and true”. And he said to me, “They have come about. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and I will give freely to him who is thirsty of the water of life”.’
Elsewhere it is Christ, the Word of God, Who is faithful and true (19.11, compare 3.14). It is He Who is the faithful witness (3.14, compare 1.5). But now God’s words spoken here are also faithful and true. There is no doubt of their fulfilment for they are the promises of One Who can be fully relied on.
‘They have come about’ - in the new Jerusalem all that He has promised has happened, and can be seen as already fulfilled. (This phrase is written as ‘It is done’ in an equal number of authorities - compare 16.17, but the final significance is the same).
For ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega (see on 1.8 and compare 1.17), the beginning and the end’ (see also 22.13). All things came from Him, He is the source of all things, and all things lead to Him so that He is all in all (1 Corinthians 15.28). Thus He sums up in Himself the whole of existence. And that in itself is the guarantee of the fulfilment of His future purposes and promises.
‘I will give freely to him who is thirsty of the water of life.’ This was the cry of the water-seller on God’s behalf in Isaiah 55.1, water, wine and milk without money and without price. Compare also John 7.37, ‘if any man thirst let him come to me and drink’. Water was the life-giving commodity that all men craved. Without it they could not survive for it was the very basis of life. Now it is freely available as the water of life (see 22.1, 17). Here is promised fullness of life.
21.7 ‘He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.’
This is the focus of the whole book, the overcomer. The letters of the seven churches are written for their benefit and encouragement, the body of Revelation has revealed their battles, their sufferings and their glory, and now they receive their inheritance, ‘the inheritance of the people of God in light’ (Colossians 1.12; 3.24; Ephesians 1.11, 14). ‘I will be his God and he will be my son’. The cherished promise of 2 Samuel 7.14 to David (compare Psalm 2.7), applied to Jesus Christ in Hebrews 1.5, is here applies to His people. They will be His beloved, specially chosen and precious.
21.8 ‘But for the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and those who involve themselves in the occult, and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. This is the second death.’
In contrast are unsaved sinners as outlined. These lose the inheritance (Ephesians 5.5). The two verses are in deliberate contrast outlining the choice of men in the face of what is, at the time of writing, to come. The fearful are those who withdraw in the face of persecution. The unbelieving are those who fail to stand in the name of Christ. The abominable are those who follow the abominations of the beast. The murderers are especially those who martyr God’s people, because they do not abide in the truth. They are like the Devil (John 8.44). The fornicators are those who follow Jezebel and the harlot. Those who involve themselves in the occult (‘sorcerers’) are those who respond to Satan and his powers. Idolaters are those who worship the beast and his image. All liars are they who support ‘The Lie’ instead of the truth (2 Thessalonians 2.11) and who are like the father of lies (John 8.44). For these there can be only one destiny, the fires of destruction, the second death (see 20.6, 14).
Vision 10 The Bride, the New Jerusalem (21.9-22.5).
21.9-11a ‘And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were laden with the seven last plagues, and he spoke with me saying, “Come this way and I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb”. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down from God out of Heaven, having the glory of God.’
It is fitting that one who poured out the bowl of the wrath of God, and who showed to John the great harlot city (17.1), should now also reveal the opposite side of the picture, the glorious privileges of the redeemed and the holy city. Here we have clearly confirmed that the New Jerusalem consists of the people of God. It is they who are the bride of the Lamb (19.7; 21.2).
‘He carried me away in the Spirit.’ This is a new vision. Once again John is borne by the Spirit as Ezekiel was before him (compare 17.3; 1.10; Ezekiel 3.12, 14; 11.1, 24; 37.1; 43.5).
‘To a great and high mountain’, compare Ezekiel 40.2 where it is the place where Ezekiel will see the new Temple. Here we have in the New Jerusalem the final fulfilment of Ezekiel’s vision. The phrase suggests that the watcher will see something special, a glorious panorama.
‘The holy city Jerusalem coming down from God out of Heaven, having the glory of God.’ Compare 21.2. This holy city is the bride of Christ, the people of God. But John is now about to receive more detail about this ‘city of God’. In Ezekiel 43.2, 4, 5; 44.4 it is the new Temple that has the glory of God, but as John has already told us, it is this city (the new Jerusalem) which is now to be the dwelling place of God (21.3) (as the Temple and Tabernacle were previously seen as being, if only temporarily. Compare 1 Kings 8.11; 2 Chronicles 5.14; Exodus 40.34-5). Thus the glory of God is revealed (Isaiah 40.5; 60.1) and signals His divine presence.
21.11b-13 ‘Her light was like a most precious stone, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal, having a wall great and high, having twelve entrances, and at the entrances twelve angels, and names written on them (the entrances) which are those of the twelve tribes of the children if Israel.’
The light of the city was bright and eye dazzling like the light from a diamond or opal (in John’s time ‘iaspis’ could represent a variety of stones and we must decide from the context which one is intended). Compare 4.3. ‘A wall great and high’. This signifies her total security, she is under God’s protection.
‘Having twelve entrances, and at the entrances twelve angels, and names written on them which are those of the twelve tribes of Israel. On the east were three entrances, on the north three entrances, on the south three entrances and on the west three entrances.’ The twelve tribes of Israel were described in 7.4-8 where they represented the true people of God, the new Israel, the church (see on those verses). Thus the fact that their names are on the entrances demonstrates that this is their city and their abode. Enter in and we find the people of God. The twelve angels at the gates, like the high wall, demonstrate that they enjoy God’s full protection.
Each side has three entrances on which are names of tribes of Israel. Three is the number of completeness. Compare Numbers 2 where the tribes of Israel were three to each side of the Tabernacle. The same idea is found here.
21.14 ‘And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.’
The city is founded on the twelve apostles, as was the Temple which comprised the church (Ephesians 2.20). The conjunction of the twelve tribes of Israel with the twelve apostles demonstrates that we have here the true people of God of all ages. ‘The twelve apostles’ signifies the whole apostleship, it is not intended to discriminate who the twelfth apostle may be (whether Matthias or Paul).
21.15-17 ‘And he who spoke with me had for a measure a golden reed to measure the city and its gates and its wall. And the city lies foursquare, and its length is as great as its breadth, and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs (stadia), and its length and breadth and height are equal. And he measured its wall, one hundred and forty four cubits according to the measure of man, that is of an angel.’
For the measuring reed compare Ezekiel 40.3 and Revelation 11.1. The fact that this is a golden reed connects it with the inner sanctuary where everything was made of gold. The dimensions of the city demonstrate its perfection, it is a perfect cube. In 1 Kings 6.20 we discover that the holy of holies in the Temple was also a perfect cube. This is God’s new holy of holies. It is a perfect place. Thus the people of God as represented by this city are God’s new Sanctuary (compare 3.12).
The dimensions based on an intensification of twelve confirm the connection with the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. God’s new sanctuary is His people. That this is symbolic and that not all is to be taken literally comes out in the measurement of the height. What is the height of a city, and how can it be a cube? It may mean its walls but this would be an unusual way of measuring the height of a city for it would have towers above the walls. It is rather an ‘ideal’ description. The one hundred and forty four cubits of the wall is presumably its thickness. But this is not a brick-built city, it is the people of God, and what is being denoted is not size but perfection and quality and security.
That the wall is one hundred and forty four cubits (presumably its thickness) possibly combines twelve (foundations) with twelve (entrances) again stresses that the Old and New Testament people of God are seen together. Although it is the measure of man it is the angel who measures the wall as John quaintly explains.
21.18 ‘And the building of its wall was jasper, and the city was pure gold like pure glass.’
The jasper is presumably similar to the jasper of 21.11, clear as crystal which, with the glass-like nature of the city, demonstrates its purity and righteousness. The mention that it is made of gold stresses that it is beyond price and demonstrates its magnificence. Even Solomon’s Temple and Herod’s Temple pale into insignificance beside it. It again indicates its identity with the inner Sanctuary.
21.19-20 ‘The foundations of the walls of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stone, the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth, emerald, the fifth, sardonyx, the sixth, sardius, the seventh, chrysolite, the eighth, beryl, the ninth, topaz, the tenth, chrysoprase, the eleventh iacinth, the twelfth, amethyst,’
Identification of the stones is not possible on our present state of knowledge, but they are probably intended to parallel the stones in the High Priest’s breastplate (Exodus 28.17 on; 39.10 on), compare also Ezekiel’s description of Tyre (Ezekiel 28.13 on). So the purpose of the stones is to accentuate the splendour of the city, but also to indicate that those who dwell there can freely approach God. The stones are the foundation, containing the names of the twelve Apostles (21.14). It is possible therefore that the apostles (the foundation) are seen as replacing the position of the High Priest, bearing the names of God’s people before God. Indeed, while there is no Temple (v.22), the city itself is the equivalent of the inner Sanctuary, and its Apostles are the High Priest. The Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb are its Temple. Thus we have underlined the unity of God’s people with Himself, as being the Sanctuary within the Temple.
21.21 ‘And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each one of the several gates was one pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.’
In Matthew 7.6 pearls represented what was holy and precious, compare the pearl of great price (Matthew 13.46). Gold again is symbolic of the holy sanctuary, where all is made of gold. The transparency may well denote total openness and honesty. The city contains all that is most splendid. We can compare many of these splendours with those which poured into Babylon at its finest (17.4; 18.12), but here it is heavenly gold, heavenly jewels and heavenly pearls of a size unknown to earth.
But in the new creation such things as gold and precious stones in their literal senses will be meaningless. They are used as descriptions here only because of fallen man’s peculiar propensities. They denote what is better far than gold. Note that only one street is mentioned and yet there are twelve entrances. As there are no buildings the whole inside may be intended to be seen as the street. The point is that all is of gold. (Not liveable in but splendid in conception).
21.22-23 ‘And I saw no Temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb are its Temple. And the city has no need of the sun nor of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God did lighten it and its lamp is the Lamb.’
No temple is needed for the Lord God walks within it. He and the Lamb are its Temple, i.e. men worship directly and personally face to face. It has no need of any light other than the light of God and the Lamb (compare Isaiah 60.19). The whole place is filled with Their glory.
‘No sun and moon.’ This would come as a shock to those who worshipped the sun and the moon. The idolatrous ideas of men are finished with. Nor will God’s people ever again have to call on light other than the perfect light of God. Compare Isaiah 60.19. This is the final fulfilment of what the prophets promised.
21.24 ‘And the nations shall walk by means of its light (the light of the glory of the Lord), and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it, and its entrances will never be shut by day, for there will be no night there, and they will bring the honour and the glory of the nations into it.’
The city is made up of the people of God and among the people of God there will be kings and many nations (compare Isaiah 60.3: Psalm 72.11), and they will bring into the city all that they have which is best, even all their honour and glory. This cannot refer to earthly possessions for they have long ago suffered corruption and been left behind. This refers to their righteousnesses (19.8), their honour, the gold, silver and jewels they received at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3.12), to the precious things they have stored up in Heaven through their righteous living (Matthew 6.19-20). These are they who are written in the Lamb’s book of life (v.27).
The point John is making is that not all kings of the earth are enemies of the people of God, not all of the nations are rejected. For some have wholly accepted Christ. There will be those of them who have their part in the holy city. (Verse 27 makes clear that they are those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. This is no Millennial city).
The entrances will never be closed because entrances are only closed when night comes down and evil men begin to walk abroad, but there is no night here. The light of the glory of God and of Christ shines continually. All is light, transparent and open. The presence of God is continual and gives continual light (and there is clearly no need for sleep. The spirits of just men made perfect do not need sleep). And there are no evil men for they have no access as the next verse makes clear.
21.27 ‘And under no circumstances will anything unclean enter it, or he who makes an abomination and a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.’
This final sentence confirms all we have said. The city only consists of those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. It is only for the true people of God. No ‘living nations’ can enter it if they are not of the people of God, for it is for the people of God and for them alone. Totally excluded (because they have been dealt with elsewhere) are idolaters, those who are unclean, which probably especially refers to sexual uncleanness in accordance with what we have seen earlier in the book, but also includes uncleanness of any sort, and any who have preferred falsehood to truth. The city of God is for ‘virgins’, for those who are without blemish, for those in whose mouth there is no lie (14.4-5). Only the perfected can make up the city of God.
The idea, of course, is that those who do such things are excluded in principle. They are not outside trying to sneak in. They no longer exist. Their exclusion was settled long before.
It is clear that no such city would exist in its physical proportions and make up. But it is not intended that it should exist physically (even if anything could be seen as physical in the new world). What is intended is to bring out the splendour, the glory, the privilege, the perfection and the fullness of the people of God.
22.1-2 ‘And he showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. And on this side of the river and on that was the tree of life bearing twelve types of fruits, yielding its fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.’
This is a clear parallel with the original Paradise in Genesis 2 where a river flowed through the garden, and also clearly has in mind the river flowing from the Temple of God in Ezekiel 47 on. The river is clean and totally pure, it comes from God’s throne, Who is the source of all life, and it feeds the tree of life which bears fruit constantly for all. It is the river ‘whose streams make glad the city of God’ (Psalm 46.4). Both the river of life (compare 7.17; 21.6 and see John 4.14; 6.35) and the tree of life (see 2.7) are symbols of the eternal life received from God.
In John 7.38 we are specifically told that the rivers of living water refer to the Spirit of God. Thus central to the city of God is the Spirit of God. It is He Who is its life source. His life runs through it. The tree of life is on both sides of the river, it has thus reproduced itself. There are a number of offshoots and there is sufficient for all. The eternal life that God’s people have received is continually and eternally nurtured. The twelve types of fruit show that all of the ‘twelve tribes’ (the people of God) are catered for (see Ezekiel 47.12). (The literalists, of course, have to exclude the tribe of Dan).
‘The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations’ (compare Ezekiel 47.12). Note the past tense. The nations who have responded are now healed because they partook of the river and tree of life in Christ. The leaves enable them to look back and remind themselves of the healing they had once known through the activity of the Spirit of God, and what blessing they have now received. God had made full provision for their healing. We may see it as a reminder that there is no illness here. So Paradise is now restored.
Alternately we may see ‘healing’ as signifying the ‘maintenance of health’. After all, this is the tree of life. The thought may be that just as human bodies constantly need a process of maintenance and restoration (that is why we need vitamins) so God has made continual provision for the health of His people. Again the idea is simply that there is no lack of total health there. All that is needed for full health is provided.
We must of course recognise the symbolism of the whole. In the resurrection world there will be no physical trees and we will have spiritual bodies (whatever they are). We can have no conception of the realities involved but we can be sure that they will provide all that we need. We note again that there is only ‘one street’, a symbol of the unity of God’s people in the New Jerusalem.
22.3-4 ‘And there will be no curse any more, and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him, and they will see his face and his name will be on their foreheads.’
The curse that resulted from man’s first failure (see Genesis 3) has been removed. All is now restored. Again, as constantly, we are reminded that the Lamb is on God’s throne, even as glorified man, for He partakes of the essential essence and glory of God. His servants will worship Him (compare 7.15 where the same verb is used).
‘They shall see His face.’ This was something which no man could do and live (Exodus 33.20). But now the people of God have been made perfect and there is nothing to prevent their seeing the glory of His face. They have been made like Him and they see Him as He is (see 1 John 3.2 ; compare Psalm 17.15). To see the king’s face, which involved direct access into his presence, was on earth a privilege for the very view exceptionally important people (Esther 1.14 compare 2 Samuel 14.24,28,32), but here it is for all His people.
‘His name will be on their foreheads’ - a sign that they are forever His (see 3.12). The High Priest bore the name of Yahweh on his forehead as ‘holiness unto Yahweh’ (Exodus 39.30,31; compare Jeremiah 2.3)
22.5 ‘And there will be night no more, and they need no light of lamp nor light of sun, for the Lord God will give them light and they will reign for ever and ever.’
He Who is the light of the world (John 8.12) gives them light, and this light has given them life. They need nothing more. Neither sun nor artificial light will be required. Darkness is gone. All is light. Indeed with God as their light that is all that they can possibly need. Their lives will be lived in the glory of His light.
‘And they will reign for ever and ever’. They share the eternal reign of Christ (11.15). This is an advance on their reign with Him while they were on earth (5.10; 20.4; Romans 5.17). Now they stand supreme with Him (compare Daniel 12.3).
The book has reached its ultimate. All has been restored to its pristine glory, and there is better far to come.
We now have a series of statements summing up the main messages of the book. They are very similar to postscripts in letters, a little disjointed but each concerned to highlight something.
22.6 ‘And he said to me, These words are faithful and true, and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angels to show to his servants the things that must shortly happen.’
The speaker is concerned that John will recognise the divine validity of what he has seen. All is totally reliable and completely true. But who is the speaker? At first sight we would assume it is the angel of 21.9, but in the next verse it is clearly Jesus Who is the speaker, and it is He Who is faithful and true (19.11). (However we must compare how postscripts in letters skip from one thought to another). Whoever it is he is saying that the angels have come to John from the God Who Himself guides the spirits of prophets, with Spirit inspired words. Therefore John as a prophet can be sure of the things that he has seen, for God wants His servants to know what will be. Again it is stressed that these things will ‘shortly happen’, as indeed they did. And they have gone on happening. For the ‘thousand years’, that indeterminate but complete length of time before His coming, still continues, and is still ‘a short time’ to God.
22.7a ‘And behold I come quickly (or ‘am coming soon’).’
There can be no question but that this is clearly intended to communicate the words of Jesus. It is as though He is there listening and steps in with an interjection. Compare 1.7 and in this chapter vv. 12, 20. This statement is repeated three times in the chapter to stress its truth. Three is the number of completeness. Those who read this book should know that they need to be ready, for His coming could be at any time consonant with what is in the book. But as with His Father, ‘soon’ in eternity is a different conception. He is still coming ‘soon’.
22.7b ‘Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.’
This is a repetition of the words in 1.3. By ‘keeps’ the angel clearly means ‘takes to heart and meditates on them’. The book is to be seen as a prophecy similar to that of the earlier prophets and treated as such, and is to be taken to heart and acted on.
22.8 ‘And I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw I fell down to venerate at the feet of the angel who showed me these things, and he says to me, “See that you do not do it. I am a fellow-servant with you and your brothers the prophets and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God”.’
The writer first confirms who he is, that he is the John whom everyone will know, and that his information is first hand. Then he informs us of what was a natural reaction to what he had experienced. He fell before the angel in awe and reverence. But even this was not to be. The angel strongly forbids such behaviour and stresses that such should only be shown to God. Man is ever slow to learn this lesson. None is to be venerated but God.
Over the last two thousand years these words have been constantly ignored. Fallen man, when he rejects idolatry and yet fails to come to Jesus Christ in full trust and obedience, loves to replace idols with other substitutes. This is so whether they be Mary or the so-called saints or angels. The angels stricture applies equally here. They too were fellow-servants and are not to be shown veneration, which is all too similar to full worship. They become substitutes for God and barriers against a full knowledge of Him. We must remember the words of the angel. “See you do not do it”. But he is not saying that all men are on a level with angels. Rather he is saying that those who have truly responded to Christ are raised in status to that of the angels, ‘fellow-servants’ of God.
22.10-11 ‘And he says to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. He who is unrighteous, let him still behave unrighteously, and he who is filthy, let him still be made filthy, and he who is righteous, let him still behave righteously, and he who is holy let him still be made holy”.’
With this compare Daniel 12.9-10. But Daniel had to seal the book for it could not finally apply until the new age when Christ had come. John, however, is in the new age and there is nothing to necessarily intervene between His time and the final fulfilment of God’s purposes. His readers are not to see it as something that will happen in the distant future but as something that is almost upon them. Now the book need not be sealed, it is about to come into fulfilment.
Verse 11 has two parallels, the righteous and the unrighteous, the holy and the ‘unclean’. The world is divided into two. Firstly those who respond to Christ and are declared righteous in God’s sight through His offering of Himself once for all on their behalf, with resulting righteous behaviour in their lives, and those who reject him and are still unrighteous before God, and thus behave unrighteously. And secondly those who are acceptable to God and can come into His presence, and those who are defiled and cannot approach Him. All their righteousnesses are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64.6). Those who are acceptable to God as ‘holy’ are those who have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb (7.14; 22.14), and those who are satisfied with themselves and seek no cleansing are filthy.
He is warning of the consequence of men’s attitudes. What men are will result in what their lives become. Self-improvement is in vain in heavenly terms. It may make us more acceptable to man but it will not make us more acceptable to God. The righteous are those who respond to Christ who become ‘righteous’ in God’s eyes, in a state of acceptability to Him. They become ‘holy’, set apart to God and sanctified in Christ. The unrighteous are those who fail to respond to Christ and are liable to condemnation (although in man’s eyes some may be very righteous). The ‘filthy’ are those who, while they may be bathed and washed, and may be in fine clothes, fill God’s heart with ‘holy horror’ because of their earthliness and spiritual uncleanness. Those who are holy may be clothed in dirty clothing through no fault of their own (if John was working in the mines he may have been in such a state), but their hearts are pure and fixed on things above and God gladly accepts their approach.
John is not, of course, telling men to be satisfied with their position. He is making them aware of the choice available. He is saying, I have told you what is to come. Now it is up to you what you do. They must do what they choose.
22.12 ‘Behold I come quickly, and my reward is with me to render to each man according to his work (his attitude and behaviour).’
Again without warning we find words of Jesus Christ. John expects us to use discernment. (John’s Gospel also ends in statements whose author or authors the discerning reader has to determine - John 21.24-25). We have the same vagueness here). Again we are solemnly warned by Christ that His coming is imminent, and that when He comes all must give account (see 2.23; 20.12).
The Central Messages of the Book.
22.13 ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’
Compare 1.9; 1.17; 2.8; 21.6. The book begins and ends with the fact that Father and Son sum up all things in themselves. All things come from them, all things proceed to them. God is all in all. The assumption must be, as with all first person statements in this epilogue (from verse 10 to verse 17), that these words are spoken by Jesus Christ. Note verse 12, verse 16a, verse 16b. Thus Jesus is taking to Himself the divine title which indicates the all-encompassing nature of God.
22.14 ‘Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they may have the right to come to the tree of life and may enter in by the entrances into the city.’
Christ is not just concerned to express His glory, He wants it to affect men’s behaviour and attitudes. In the final analysis only by being cleansed through the blood of Christ can men find entry to the tree of life and become part of the city that is comprised of the people of God. For ‘wash their robes’ compare 7.14, where it indicates making them white in the blood of the Lamb. It is this which gives them the right to come to the tree of life, and to enter into the city. The Bible began with expulsion from the tree of life, now it ends with a welcome to the tree of life. It is a record of how that has been accomplished.
This is the seventh statement of blessedness in the book. In 1.3 those who read, hear and keep the prophecies of the book are blessed. In 14.13 those who ‘die in the Lord’ are blessed. In 16.15 those who watch and keep their garments by them in readiness for His return are blessed. In 19.9 those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb are blessed. In 20.6 those who share the First Resurrection are blessed. And in 22.7 those who keep the prophecies of this book are blessed. Now those who are cleansed in the blood of Christ are blessed. For they, unlike the fallen Adam, have entry to the tree of life and entry into the city of God.
22.15 ‘Outside are the dogs, and the occult-seekers, and the sexually misbehavers, and the murderers, and the idolaters and every one who makes and loves a lie.’
Compare 21.8, 27. Throughout the book these things have been illustrated and condemned. Dogs in those days were mainly disreputable and disease ridden creatures as they scavenged around cities, and cities always sought to exclude them. Here we are told that men reveal themselves to be ‘dogs’ when they engage in the occult, in sexual misbehaviour, in murder, in putting loyalties before God and in lies and deceit, especially in believing the great Liar, and they too are then excluded. The warning is clear. Make sure you are in.
This cannot seriously be taken to demand that those mentioned are waiting there, standing outside. They are outside because there was no welcome for them. The point is that they are ‘outside’ because they have been excluded. They are the opposite of being in. They are, in fact, at this time in the lake of fire (20.15).
22.16a ‘I Jesus have sent my angel to testify these things to you for the churches.’
Compare 1.1; 22.6. This statement stresses that the churches are directly involved in all that is written. They need to know them because they are revealed for their benefit as those who must go through them. It is a personal message from Him to them through His special messenger, His angel.
22.16b ‘I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star.’
Compare 5.5; 2.28. Christ applies to Himself the Old Testament promises in respect of the coming one. He is the promised son of David (Numbers 24.17; Isaiah 9.6; 12.1, 10). See also on 2.28. He is the bright and morning star, the welcomer of the new day (Numbers 24.17). The bright and morning star is an appropriate description with which to end. The night is passing and it is then that the bright and glorious morning star appears. These citations of the Old Testament stress that the One revealed cannot be distinguished from the One promised in the Old Testament. He is the fulfilment of the Old and the New.
Note how this statement of His Davidic descent is in close proximity with His statement that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (verse 13). Compare Romans 1.3-4; Mark 12.35-37.
The Final Invitation.
22.17 ‘And the Spirit and the Bride say “Come”. And he who hears let him say “Come”. And he who is thirsty let him come. And whoever will let him take of the water of life freely.’
The book ends with the final call to all to come. None who desire to come will be excluded. The invitation is there and all must either accept it or ignore it. The Spirit Who has spoken all these things invites them to respond to Christ. The Bride who has been so blessed invites them to be part of herself. The reader of and listener to the book, who is moved and stirred to response, will himself immediately issue the invitation to others. The water of life is freely available to all. Let them take it before it becomes unavailable. It is available to those who hear, and to those who are thirsty.
The Final Warning.
22.18a ‘I testify to every man who hears the words of the prophecy of this book that if any man shall add to them God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book, and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city which are written in this book.
Compare Deuteronomy 4.2; 12.32. We cannot add to the seriousness of this warning. Such warnings were often put by apocalyptic writers who wanted their message to be taken seriously. And this writer is particularly serious. What he has written is holy revelation. it must not be altered. To add to it is a sign that that person is not of God. Thus they will not have the protection of the seal of God. To take away from the words is to lose any hope to partake of the tree of life or to enter the holy city, the New Jerusalem.
22.18b ‘He who testifies these things says “Yes, I come quickly”. Amen, come Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the people of God. Amen.’
But how appropriate that the final P.S. should be “Yes I am coming soon”. To which all His own can only reply, ‘Amen (so be it). Come Lord Jesus.’ The final sentence then reminds us that all the blessings for God’s people depend on the undeserved love and favour of God. Amen, so be it.
Excursus. The Coming Age.
When the prophets looked forward to the day when God would deliver His people they did so in terms of a coming age of peace and plenty, where there was no bloodshed even among animals (e.g. Isaiah 11.6-9). Men in those days thought very much in physical terms. As we have seen (see the After-life ), the idea of an after-life was almost unknown, rarely being thought of except by the few, and never spelt out in detail. The future of Israel was firmly linked to this earth. The Old Testament is full of such references.
Even the resurrection spoken of in Isaiah 26.19 gives the impression of a rising in order to enjoy the future life of blessing on earth. Any other concept would have been so revolutionary as to be meaningless to the people, for men’s minds were not tuned in to that kind of idea, and these were therefore ‘pictures’ speaking to them in earthly terms they could understand, of what was to come. But note above in 22.1-5 how Ezekiel 47 is seen as fulfilled in the vision of Heaven. Note also how the coming future is spoken of in all the prophets as referring to what is ‘everlasting’ (Isaiah 9.6-7; Ezekiel 37.25-28 (three times); Daniel 2.44; 7.14, 27; Micah 4.7). Such ideas are especially prominent in Isaiah. He sees the future glorious Jerusalem, as having eternal connections and as being part of the everlasting kingdom (study carefully 1.27; 4.3-5; 12.6; 18.7; 24.23; 26.1-4; 28.16; 30.19; 33.5, 20; 35.10; 46.13; 51.3, 11, 16; 52.1; 59.20; 60.14; 61.3; 62.1, 11; 65.18, 19; 66.10, 13, 20). All this does not speak of a Millennial kingdom but of one that is everlasting.
We have seen in the Book of Revelation that this use of the Old Testament to refer to the eternal kingdom is in fact assumed time and time again (compare also, especially, Hebrews 11.10-14). John draws hugely on the Old Testament, as do the visions. He was describing how he saw the Old Testament promises as being fulfilled. However, some godly people do think that the Old Testament promises must be taken absolutely literally, although in our view they only do so even then by selecting out what they wish to emphasise, and ignoring the remainder. It is not something to fight over. What really matters is that these promises are the guarantee of final blessing for the people of God.
Certainly the prophets wanted to offer hope and the certainty of God’s future mercy, and they did it in vivid pictures in a way that could speak to the people at the time. But so many and vivid are the Old Testament pictures of this glorious future life on earth that some are unwilling to accept that they were just pictures of what would later be revealed as an after-life with God in Heaven, pictures of future happiness and joy, of incomparable peace, prosperity and plenty. They therefore argue that there must yet be such a kingdom on earth.
The problem is that a careful study of the different pictures makes it difficult to reconcile them, (consider for example the differing futures shown as facing Egypt and the other nations, or the different ways described of observing the feasts). This does not matter if they are physical descriptions of a heavenly reality presenting ideas rather than facts, but is vital if they are to be taken literally. But certainly they do all contain the idea of peace and plenty, and benefit for other nations as well as for Israel.
Those who take the literal view seek to read it into the passage in Revelation 20.1-6 discussed above, but if they are not careful they offer only a second best. And it is a second best that most of them do not want for themselves, for they either tend to exempt themselves from it, or make provision for the ‘best’ of them to avoid it. God’s mercy does not offer second best. What is bought with the life-blood of God’s Son can surely only be the best. After that there can be nothing better.
The idea of a ‘kingdom age’ is often presented as ‘another chance’ for the half-believer. But any application of it can only result in inconsistency and a dilution of the Gospel. The ‘ideal’ conditions of a ‘kingdom age’ will not result in those who are made strong through being tried in the fire, but could only result in a false apathy and life of pretence - such is human nature! And, interestingly enough, to this most would agree. It is suggested that the millennium has partly this purpose in mind. But a kingdom age is not required to demonstrate this fact. Our lives of ease in some Western countries are sufficient to demonstrate it fully. Jesus makes clear to His listeners, as to us, that the chance is now. If we refuse it, He says, we must take the consequences we have brought on ourselves. There will be no second chance. If they will not hear Moses, neither will they believe if one rise from the dead. And we can add, neither will they believe in a Millennial kingdom.
But one thing is certain. Differences on such questions are only of secondary importance. Whatever our view it will not affect the course of God’s timetable. What is of primary importance is that we all work together in love and fellowship, looking for His glorious appearing, and seeking to be faithful servants ready for Him when He comes. We can then leave Him to do what He will.
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