The Book of Revelation.

Introduction to Verse by Verse Study.

(Notes Compiled by F. M. Perry)

1. The conflict in the earthly lives (both physical and spiritual) of Christians.

We live in a world where the dominant thoughts of many people are concerned only for the flesh. If some have achieved the essentials of food, clothing and shelter, then their thoughts go to additional comfort for the body, long term security for the flesh, the accumulation of material wealth, the gratification of the lusts of the flesh, and the postponement of fleshly death. Many people of the world think of themselves merely as animals, more evolved and a little more intelligent than the other animals, perhaps, but somehow just chemically animated structures of material matter. The concern for each other and the ethical arrangements made by such people are, at times, only temporary conveniences for the overall comfort of the flesh. For these people, fleshly death is the ultimate "sting": of life.

The thoughts of a Christian, however, concerning who he is and his purpose in life, are basically different. The Christian knows that the Almighty God is his creator and that he is eternal as God is eternal. He knows that God loves him and that God has laid down for his good the laws that should govern his life. He knows that he is a sinful creature with respect to God's laws, but that God in His grace has made salvation available to him. He is assured that he can go to heaven and live eternally with God. So the thoughts and the actions of a Christian concerning his life on earth are vastly different, based on entirely different premises, than the thoughts of non-Christians..

But the Christian and the non-Christian live together and share the earth together. This is God's will for God would have the Christian exert such influence upon the non-Christian that they should become Christians. On the other hand, the Christian is constantly influenced by the non-Christian to doubt his immortality, to abandon his faith, and to make the gratification of the lusts of the flesh his highest priority in life. The non-Christian world constantly puts before Christians its material view of the great world tragedies of the past, the frightening world events of the present, and the bleak prospects of the future. And, sometimes, the Christian is so thoroughly demoralized that he loses his faith and abandons his salvation.

God knows that Christians are faced with conflict on earth. He knows not only all the visible things that we see happening on earth, but He knows all the deep and invisible things behind the conflict on earth. He knows not only what is happening but why it is happening. He knows the origin of all things including the origin of the rebellion against Him. He knows that He has all things under control including the rebellion against Him, and He causes all thing to work out in accordance with His purposes. He knows all future things for He transcends and uses even time itself to bring about His purposes. God has given us the Book of Revelation so that we can know something of what He knows that is invisible to us.

Revelation reveals that God does not abandon Christians in their lives of struggle. God would have Christians be victorious over the forces of evil that beset them both physically and spiritually. So God is controlling the forces of evil so that Christians have laid out for them a clear path to victory. Christians cannot be defeated if they will follow God's instructions simply to yield their lives to Him.

God has given us the Book of Revelation as a final summation of all the ways in which He is "for us." God takes us into His confidence and shows us how all His provisions for our salvation work together, in the physical realm and even in the invisible spiritual realm, so that we overwhelmingly conquer. God would not have us fall prey to evil because of lack of knowledge. God does not even want us to have anxiety or fear but He wants us to have happy confidence that "we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us". (Rom 8:37).

All through God's word we have words of comfort and words which inform us and assure us that Christ will come again to take us to live with Him where He is. The Book of Revelation is very special in this respect. Its main purpose is to comfort the Christians in their struggle against the forces of evil in their lives. It abounds with consolations for afflicted believers. The Book of Revelation assures Christians that:

    God sees their tears. (7:17; 21:4).

    Their prayers actually ascend to God to influence Him in His rule over the world . (8:3,4).

    Their death is precious in His sight and their souls immediately are taken to a place of rest which is near to the throne of God. (6:9; 14:13; 20:4).

    Their final victory is assured. (6:9).

    Their blood will be avenged.: (6:9).

    Their Christ lives and reigns forever. Not only does He reign over His church but He governs the entire world in the interest of His church. (5:7,8). He is coming again to take His people unto Himself in "the marriage supper of the Lamb" and to live with them forever. (21:22).

All of God's creation longs to see the second coming of Christ. "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come'" And we Christians who hear the word of the Revelation say, "Come". (22:17) But we behold as we open the Revelation, in the very first chapter, that He is already with us in Spirit! He is walking in the midst of the churches, in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands. He says to us as He said to John, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades." (1:17,18).

It may seem at times that Christianity is failing on earth, and that the forces of evil are winning the conflict. But the Revelation shows that things are not what they seem. The beast that comes up out of the abyss in chapter 11 seems to be victorious. He makes war with Christ's two great witnesses and seems to overcome and kill them. And their seemingly dead bodies lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. And as the two witnesses seem to be dead, many of the world celebrate joyfully over their death. It looks as though the beast is victorious. But all is not as it seems. After a short time the two witnesses stand on their feet, and then great fear falls on those that were rejoicing over their deaths. And then it is realized that the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign for ever and ever. (11:7-15).

Throughout the Revelation Christ is pictured as the victor and the conqueror. He conquers death, Hades, the dragon, the beast, the false prophet, and the people who worship the beast. He is victorious; and so are we who follow Him. Even when we seem to be defeated, we are victorious.

How does the Revelation portray the band of believers? Their garments are dirty and filthy from sin, but they wash them and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. (7:14; 22:14). They are "in great tribulation" but they are brought out of it. (7:14). They are killed, but they stand on their feet. (11:11). They are persecuted by the dragon, by the beast, and by the false prophet. But in the end we see them standing victoriously on Mount Zion with the Lamb, having His name, and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. (14:1). They triumph over the beast. (15:2).

Does it seem as if the prayers of Christians are not heard? (6:10). In reality, the judgements sent upon the earth are God's answer to their prayers, (8:3-5).

Do the Christians seem defeated? In reality they reign. Yes, in the flesh they reign upon earth while they live. (5:10). And their souls continue to reign with Christ (20:4) as long as the Christian dispensation lasts, a figurative thousand years. And then, in the new heaven and new earth they reign with Christ forever and ever. (22:5).

And what happened to those who opposed Christ and seemed for a while to be conquerors? In the Revelation we see them rise to try to defeat God ; they rise out of the abyss, out of the sea, and out of the earth - the dragon (12:3), the beast (13:1), the false prophet (13:11), and Babylon (18:2). And then? We see them go down in defeat, in reverse order to the way that they arose, first Babylon (18:2), then the beast and the false prophet (19:20), and finally the dragon who is old Satan himself (20:10).

Again, what is the theme of the Revelation?

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

2. The events of history (physical as well as spiritual) covered by John's vision.

In reading the many commentaries and theories that have been written about the Revelation, we find many who ascribe each specific vision to be a foretelling of a certain specific event to occur in future history after the visions were written in the first century. Some ascribe a certain vision to be a foretelling of the rise of the Roman Catholic Church, another of the so-called Dark Ages, another of the ruler Napoleon, others of the great wars of the 20th century, another of Hilter and Mussolini and, perhaps, Stalin. There probably those who see a vision which specifically foretells the atomic bomb, another who sees a foretelling of the rise of the modern country of Israel.

But we must ask, what good would such visions have been to the Christians of John's day? What good would it have done them to learn about specific points of history which would occur thousands of years later? Obviously, the Revelation was intended, first of all, for the believers living during John's day. We will see as we study that the Revelation makes reference in many cases to conditions which were contemporary to John's time. We will see that it uses symbols and other references from God's scriptures with which the early Christians were familiar. It is, first of all, God's answer to the prayers and tears of severely persecuted Christians who lived in and around the cities of Asia-Minor.

However, as we read the Revelation we see that it also was intended for all believers throughout the entire Christian dispensation just like the rest of the New Testament. We note that the afflictions to which the church was afflicted in the days of John is typical of the persecution that true believers have endured throughout the entire dispensation thus far. Paul told Timothy that, "all who desire to live Godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2nd Timothy 3:12). And Jesus Himself foretold of great tribulation for Christians before His second coming. (Matt. 24:29,30).

Many of the predictions of Revelation concern principles and happenings which are so broad in scope that they cannot be confined to one definite year or century. The seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls of wrath seem to span the centuries since John's time and reach out to the time of the final judgement. The seven letters of chapters 2 and 3 are written to seven churches. Seven is the number, used over and over again in the Revelation, to symbolize completeness. It seems to indicate that the admonitions and consolations of the Revelation were meant for the entire church throughout the centuries. And finally, John addresses the Book of Revelation to "every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this Book." (1:3; 22:18). And John pronounces a blessing on all those who read and study the book in any period of history.

Who wrote the Revelation? The Book itself tells us that John wrote it. The question is, which John? Some commentators suggest that a John other than the Apostle John wrote the Book. But the very fact that the writer of Revelation merely calls himself "John", without further identification, indicates that he was well known throughout all the churches of Asia. The indication is that everyone knew who he was. It seems very likely that one so well known was the Apostle John. In the secular history of the 2nd and 3rd century church, church leaders were unanimous in ascribing the Revelation to the Apostle John.

When was the Revelation written? Some commentators argue that it was written about 69 AD; others argue that it was written in 95 or 96 AD. James Burton Coffman, a commentator quoted often in this study, opts for the 69 AD date. But he goes on to observe that it makes little difference which date is preferred so long as it is held to be written by the beloved Apostle John. The whole business of dating New Testament books is very precarious, he says.

We must note that the real author was really not John. The real Author was the Almighty God. The very first line of the Book says, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him." (1:1). The predictions of the Book are not the product of human fancy, not prone to err, but the revelation of the mind and purpose of God concerning the history of the church.

3. An Overall Look at the Revelation.

The Revelation seems to divide itself naturally into seven sections each of which covers the same period of history; that is, history from the time of Christ's first coming, when he took on flesh, until the time of His second coming and the final judgement.

In the first section, chapters 1 through 3, John saw Christ in the midst of seven golden lamp stands. Christ tells John in the vision that the seven lamp stands represent seven churches. (1:20). The complete number seven suggests that the seven churches represent the entire church throughout the full span of its existence to the time of Christ's second coming and the final judgement. Each of the seven churches, then, is a type describing conditions which are constantly repeated in the life of various congregations. Hence the first section seems to span the entire Christian dispensation from Christ's first coming to shed His blood for mankind (12:5). To Christ's second coming unto judgement. (1:7).

The second section, chapters 4 through 7, describes a vision that takes place in the otherwise invisible spiritual realm,. It describes the One who is sitting on the throne and the worship of those spiritual beings who surround Him. In the right hand of the One on the throne is a book sealed with seven seals. The Lamb takes the book and opens the seals one by one. The part of the vision then seen at the breaking of each of the seals is connected with something which happens upon the earth in our natural realm. The seals show the relationship between the spiritual realm and the natural realm of our physical senses. Between the sixth and the seventh seals comes the vision of the 144,000 who were sealed, and then the vision of the countless multitudes of people standing before the throne in triumph of salvation. This section covers the entire Christian dispensation. The first reference to Christ in this section pictures Him as having been slain and now ruling from heaven. (5:5.6). Toward the end of the section the final judgement is introduced. Then is pictured the entire church triumphant, gathered out of all the nations of the earth, standing before the throne and the Lamb. We have spanned in this vision some aspects of the entire New Testament age.

The third section, chapters 8 through 11, feature the seven trumpets that warn the world. Whereas the second section made it clear that, although God's people would undergo tribulations, they would triumph in the end, the third section addresses the judgement of the evil unsaved people who definitely will not triumph.. This section appears to be in answer to the question of the souls "under the altar" who cried, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (6:9). In chapters 10 and 11, during the sounding of the trumpets of warning to the evil, there is a vision of what happens to God's two great witnesses upon the earth as evil forces seek to destroy them. At the close of this section there is again a very clear introduction to the final judgement. (11:15-18). Again, we have a section which parallels the first two sections and reveals some more aspects of the entire Christian dispensation.

The fourth section, chapters 12 through 14, reveal the Woman and the Man-child persecuted by the dragon and his demons. It begins with a clear reference to the birth of the Savior as a fleshly human being. (12:5). The dragon threatens to devour the Man-child. The Child is caught up to God and to His throne. The dragon then persecutes the Woman. (12:13). And the dragon employs his agents to help persecute the Woman. He employs the beast coming up out of the sea (13:1), the beast coming up out of the earth (13:11,12), and the great harlot, Babylon (14:8). The section closes with a stirring description of Christ's second coming and the final judgement. (14:14f). Again this section covers the entire Christian dispensation.

The fifth section, chapters 15 and 16, features the seven bowls of God's wrath. First, however, in chapter 15, a picture is given of the redeemed who have come off victorious from the great struggle of the previous section. This fifth section seems to be describing primarily the judgements of God's wrath, but it starts out with a reference to Christ's first coming as the sacrificial Lamb of God. Then in chapter 16, seven angels come out and pour out God's seven bowls of wrath upon the earth. These seven bowls of wrath seem to be only partial judgements of wrath that occur in parallel with the loosening of the seven seals and the sounding of the seven trumpets. Thus, this is another section which covers the entire Christian dispensation.

The sixth section, chapters 17 through 19, describes the fall of the harlot Babylon, and the punishment inflicted upon the "two beasts", or "the beast and the false prophet" as the two are later identified. These agents of Satan are spoken of as making war on the Lamb of God who reigns with God in heaven. (17:14). This section seems to deal primarily with God's judgement upon Satan's helpers, "Babylon", the "beast", and the "false prophet". Again we see that the action extends over the entire Christian dispensation.

The seventh section, chapters 20 through 22, speaks first of the doom of Satan, the dragon. At the start of this section we are at the threshold of the Christian dispensation. More details of the casting down to earth of Satan (first mentioned in 12:9) are given. (20:2,3). Satan is bound and cast into the abyss for a thousand years after which he is loosed for a little while. (20:7). This, in turn is followed by a description of the final overthrow of Satan when Christ comes into judgement. (20:10,11f). At Christ's coming the present universe, fleeing away, makes room for the new heaven and earth, the new Jerusalem. The new Jerusalem is described in detail. (Chapters 21 and 22). Again the entire Christian dispensation is the background for the action.

Thus, there are seven sections which run parallel. Each of them spans the entire Christian dispensation from the first to the second coming of Christ. This entire period of history, now only partially completed during the almost 2,000 past years as we count time, is viewed first from one aspect, then from another, seven times in the Revelation.

Let us notice another thing about these seven sections. They seem to fall into two major divisions that reveal a progression in depth or intensity of the great spiritual conflict between Christ and Satan. The first of the two divisions, consists of the first three sections, chapters 1 through 11. They seem to describe the surface conflict on earth, at least a part of which we see with our fleshly senses as human beings, and with which we are most concerned with during our fleshly lives. The Revelation reveals the church on earth as being victorious. The second division , consisting of the last four sections, chapters 12 through 22, reveals the deeper spiritual background of the conflict. This background is revealed to be the real underlying conflict between the spiritual forces of Christ and those of Satan. This is the conflict of which we would know little were it not for the fact that God takes us into His confidence and reveals it to us in the Revelation.