No book in Scripture reveals the glory of God and Christ in more detail and splendor than the book of Revelation. At the same time, no other book has been more misunderstood, misinterpreted, and neglected throughout the history of the church. The goal of this short volume is to take a brief but substantial look at this marvelous book, hitting the key points of its rich, prophetic promises, and to understand what it teaches about God’s love for His people and the future He’s prepared for us.
Believers cannot afford to ignore the immense truth this book contains. In fact, we’re commanded not to; Revelation 22:10 says, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” The events predicted and depicted in Revelation are not distant, obscure novelties—they’re the next events in the Lord’s Messianic timetable. He didn’t give us this book as a curiosity; we have a responsibility to know what’s in it.
And it’s a responsibility that comes with a blessing. Revelation begins with a promise to its readers: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy” (1:3). Those words are echoed in Revelation 22:7, making this the only book of the Bible that begins and ends with promises of blessing to the one who reads it.
As for the purpose of the book, that’s spelled out clearly and immediately in chapter one, verse one: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” The purpose of Revelation is to reveal the glory of the risen Christ. It uncovers truth about Jesus that was previously unknown. We learn things about Christ in Revelation that we wouldn’t know if it weren’t for this book. It provides a unique glimpse into not only the future, but into the very character and nature of our Savior.
The first three verses of Revelation are a whirlwind of introductory material. Verses 1 and 2 make it clear that God wants to reveal Christ in His exaltation—whereas the gospels unveil Him at His first coming in humiliation. He sends His message through an angel who delivers it to the apostle John, who in turn bears witness to that message to the rest of the church.
There’s a sense in which the revelation John witnesses is the fulfillment of a preview he received at Christ’s transfiguration (cf. Matthew 17:1–9). On the mount of transfiguration, he saw only a glimpse of Christ in His full, second-coming glory. Now that same glory is dramatically unveiled to him again, graphically and extensively revealed in the angel’s prophecy. And verse 3 follows by bestowing God’s blessing on those who read the book, making it clear this prophecy isn’t just for John’s personal benefit.
And starting in verse 4, John gives a more formal introduction to those original recipients. He addresses his book to the seven churches spread throughout Asia Minor—or, for our purposes, modern-day Turkey. In 1:4–5, John greets the believers in those congregations on behalf of each member of the Trinity (another unique feature of Revelation). He writes, “Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ.” God the Father is the One “who is and who was and is to come,” but the idea of “the seven Spirits who are before His throne” does give us cause for exegetical pause.
Obviously there is only one Holy Spirit, so what is John indicating with this vivid imagery? It’s most likely a reference to an Old Testament prophecy, about either the sevenfold ministry of the Holy Spirit in Isaiah 11:2, or the depiction of the Spirit as a golden lampstand with seven lamps in Zechariah 4:1–10. In either case, the point is the same: John is illustrating the Spirit in all His glory and fullness as the Spirit of grace (cf. Hebrews 10:29) and the producer of peace (cf. Galatians 5:22).
In verse 5, John says grace and peace also flow from “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”
Christ was and is a faithful witness in terms of His integrity and truthfulness, as well as in His accurate depiction of the character and nature of God. Furthermore, describing Him as “the ruler of the kings of the earth” recognizes His absolute sovereignty over the affairs of this world.
Some readers struggle with what John means by the statement that Jesus is “the firstborn of the dead” (1:5). Obviously there were resurrections before Christ’s—in fact, Christ Himself had raised others during His ministry. But John isn’t using the word firstborn (prōtotokos) to indicate sequence, but preeminence. He’s saying that of all who have ever been or ever will be resurrected, Christ is the premier one (cf. Psalm 89:27).
What’s more, John dedicates the book “to Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 1:5–6). The apostle reminds his readers that Christ is indeed coming again and that His return will be unmistakable, and he reasserts that Christ is in fact one in essence with the Father (1:7–8).
Together, those first eight verses set forth an astoundingly unique book—one that was authored by the Trinity, delivered by an angel, dedicated to revealing the full glory of the risen Christ and His imminent return, and gives rich blessings to the readers. Quite an introduction.
The Vision of Christ
Beginning in verse 9 of chapter 1, John launches into the first of several prophetic visions that will constitute the majority of the book. John uses the introductory statement “I, John” (1:9). It comes across as an expression of shock; he might as well say, “Can you believe this? I, John, saw this. Me!” There’s a certain amount of humble incredulity in him—a sense of surprise that the Lord would allow him such a privilege.
And he had good reason to be humble. John was an old man—possibly in his nineties—and had been exiled to the rocky, barren island of Patmos to live out what little life he had left in a wasteland penal colony. Verse 9 says he’d been exiled “because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” Like the rest of the church in that period, John was living under intense persecution. Christians were outlaws and routinely faced harsh punishment for the sake of their faith.
It is in the midst of this humiliation that John—who had once jockeyed for a seat at the right hand of God—has the full glory of the risen Christ revealed to him. John says he was “in the Spirit” when he received his vision. It’s an indication that he was under the control of the Spirit in a unique way, and that the prophecy he’s describing didn’t come to him as a dream. He was wide awake, transported out of the material world, his senses specially empowered by the Holy Spirit to perceive the revelation of God. What he was about to see and hear would transcend the bounds of normal human apprehension. Under the Holy Spirit’s control, he was temporarily fitted for the duty God had for him, just as Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:2; 3:12, 14), Peter (Acts 10:9–16), and Paul (Acts 22:7–21; 2 Corinthians 12:1–6) had been before him.
And under the control of the Holy Spirit, John is given his orders. “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea” (Revelation 1:11).
When John turns to see who it is giving him his orders, he sees an extraordinary vision of Christ (1:12–20). The Lord is robed in gold, with gleaming white hair, flaming eyes, feet of burnished bronze, with a voice like crashing waves. He has a two-edged sword coming out of His mouth, He holds seven stars in His hand, and He stands in the midst of seven lampstands.
The vivid imagery in John’s vision sets up the Lord’s messages to the seven churches. The robes indicate Christ’s operating in His priestly role. The bright white hair depicts His glory and holiness. Flaming eyes represent His penetrating gaze into the character of His church. John compares the Lord’s voice to the sound of “many waters” as an indication of His authority. And the bronze feet and the sword each represent His judgment of His church. Every aspect of John’s vision illustrates Christ’s glory, authority, and holiness as each is brought to bear on the judgment and purification of His church.
As for the lampstands and the stars, the Lord tells John that they represent the seven churches and their messengers respectively (1:20). While the word angeloi is often translated as angels, that’s not the best way to interpret it here.
Angels have no role in the leadership of the church. Moreover, why would Christ require an earthly agent to relay messages to other heavenly creatures? The better understanding is that these letters are addressed to messengers from each of the churches—likely the seven key elders or ministers representing the seven congregations.
Christ tells John in verse 19, “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.” His directions to John provide a simple outline for the entire book: “the things which you have seen” refers to the vision John just saw of the glorified Savior (chapter 1); “the things which are” denotes the letters to the churches (chapters 2–3); and “the things which will take place after these things” refers to the revelation of future history (chapters 4–22).
Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation are made up of those seven letters to the seven churches throughout Asia Minor. It’s important to remember that these were real congregations John was writing to, and each letter fits the historical, geographical, and cultural context of the city to which it was written. But at the same time, each one is representative in its character. In all periods of time throughout church history, there have always been these kinds of churches, with the same strengths, struggles, and flaws. So while these letters carried specific teaching for those specific churches, the application of the teaching stretches across the entire church age.
The first letter (2:1–7) is addressed to the church at Ephesus. The Ephesian church was orthodox in its doctrine, faithfully holding to the Word of God. The members exercised spiritual discernment, carefully and biblically evaluating anyone who would lay claim to spiritual leadership. But verse 4 says they had lost their first love. Essentially, they believed, taught, and defended the right message, but they’d grown cold and indifferent to it.
The second letter (2:8–11) is for the church in Smyrna. It was a church that had faced intense persecution, and the letter predicts that more is to come. It’s worth noting that the Lord doesn’t say anything negative to the church at Smyrna. As a heavily persecuted church, it would have already been purged of casual attenders and corrupting influences. When persecution hits, those are the first people to leave—why would they stay and suffer for something they don’t believe in? The church at Smyrna had been sifted by persecution, and John’s letter warns that more was soon to come. As an encouragement in the face of that persecution, Christ calls on the believers in Smyrna to consider the brevity of their trial in light of their eternal reward.
The third letter (2:12–17) is written to the church in Pergamum. Pergamum (or Pergamos) was an important religious center for several pagan cults—in fact the statement about “Satan’s throne” in verse 13 is likely a reference to a massive altar to Zeus on Pergamum’s acropolis. However, unlike the church at Smyrna, its members had not remained faithful in the face of opposition. Instead they had become worldly, corrupting their faith with the paganism that surrounded them. Rather than separating from the world, they catered to it. They didn’t confront the culture—they accommodated it, going along with ungodly beliefs and practices in that pagan society. The Lord’s message for that church is clear: “repent” (2:16).
John’s fourth letter (2:18–29) is for the church at Thyatira. The letter begins on a positive note, with Christ commending the church for its love, faith, service, and perseverance (2:19). But John’s tone quickly turns. He condemns the Thyatiran church for having tolerated the sin of a wicked woman in its midst. She was seducing other believers into immorality and encouraging pagan practices (2:20). Because the woman had not repented, she faced the judgment of the Lord. And if the church continued to tolerate her, it would share in her judgment. The letter to Thyatira is a powerful reminder that God demands purity in His church.
The church in Sardis receives John’s fifth letter (3:1–6). Christ speaks bluntly to the issues with the church in Sardis: “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (3:1). There was nothing happening in the church—no life, no joy, no fruit, no growth, no productivity. While there were a few in the church who still evidenced some spiritual life, they were all on the verge of spiritual death. Christ’s words are meant to shake Sardis from its spiritual lethargy. He orders it to “wake up” (3:2).
As with the church in Smyrna, Christ doesn’t include any rebuke in the letter to the church at Philadelphia (3:7–13). The Lord describes it as a faithful church, saying the members “kept My word, and have not denied My name” (3:8). The letter indicates that the church might have been small, but it didn’t let the size of the congregation dictate its usefulness to the Lord. In fact, the Philadephian saints are commended for their faithfulness with the opportunities they’ve been given. They constituted a missionary church—a beacon of God’s truth in a pagan land.
John’s final letter (3:14–22) is addressed to the church at Laodicea. Described as “lukewarm” (3:16), the church was neither spiritually hot nor cold. It was an apostate congregation, publically professing to know Christ but showing no evidence of truly belonging to Him. And because of its hypocrisy, Christ promises to spit it out of His mouth (3:16).
Each of those models—good and bad—has been seen over and over through church history, and still exists today. We regularly see churches suffering persecution, churches that are married to the world, and churches that tolerate sin. We see faithful churches, dead churches, and apostate churches all the time.
Therefore, Christ’s warnings to those churches are just as applicable to congregations today. And no matter what kind of church you’re in, God has something to say to your congregation through John. That’s why each of the messages to the churches ends with the exhortation “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” The point is that each of those messages extends beyond the initial recipients to everyone with spiritual ears, throughout all time.
The Throne Room of Heaven
Starting in chapter 4 of Revelation we leave the church age behind, and the focus abruptly shifts to heaven. That transition often causes people to ask, “When does the rapture happen?” While the passage doesn’t expressly say, the implication is that the rapture occurs between chapters 3 and 4. Chapter 4 hurls readers into John’s prophetic vision of heaven, where the church is already represented. In fact, believers are receiving their rewards in heaven’s throne room when John arrives.
The scene John witnesses is breathtaking. He describes God’s throne as “standing in heaven” (4:2), an indication of His fixed sovereignty. John depicts God’s appearance in terms of vibrant, precious gems like diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. The rainbow he sees (4:3) around God’s throne is a reminder of His faithfulness (cf. Genesis 9:11–17).
Arranged around God’s throne John sees twenty-four thrones on which twenty-four elders sit (4:4). Clothed in white robes and gold crowns, those elders represent the redeemed—not the redeemed of Israel, because they have yet to be saved, glorified, and coronated in John’s vision. Instead, these are post-rapture Christians receiving their rewards in the presence of the Lord. The song they sing in Revelation 5:9–10 is a further indication they understand Christ’s sacrificial, redeeming work on their behalf.
The throne of God is the central focus of the room, and out of it come “flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder” (4:5). Surrounding the throne is a sea of crystal, reminiscent of Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glory (Ezekiel 1:22). John also sees the Holy Spirit in heaven’s throne room, represented by seven lamps (Revelation 4:5), along with the four living creatures who ceaselessly proclaim God’s holiness (4:6–8).
John’s description in chapter 4 clearly indicates that the throne room of heaven is a place of constant worship of the Lord. The four creatures—probably angels—never stop praising God’s holiness (4:8). And the twenty-four elders promptly fall down and give their rewards back to the Lord in affirmation of His supremacy and glory (4:10). The theme of heaven is, indeed, worship.
That’s what makes the beginning of chapter 5 so surprising—the worship stops. In verse 1, John notices a scroll in the Lord’s hand. In verse 2, an angel interrupts the constant worship in the throne room to ask who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seven seals.
The seven seals on the scroll are an indication of what it contains. Roman law required a will to be sealed seven times to keep it from being broken open and tampered with. It was insurance that the will stayed intact until it was time for it to be read.
In that sense, the scroll in chapter 5 is effectively God’s will and testament. In Psalm 2:8, God promises to give His Son the nations as an inheritance. Put simply, someone needs to come forward to break the seals of the scroll and lay claim to the title deed of the world.
However Revelation 5:3 makes clear that not just anyone can open the seals: “No one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth” was found worthy to open the book (5:4). As one of the elders points out to a weeping John, only “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (5:5). Only Christ is fit to lay hold of God’s promised inheritance.
In verses 6–7, the glorified Lamb of God, full of power and the wisdom of the Spirit (signified by the seven horns and seven eyes), steps forward from the midst of the living creatures and the elders and takes the scroll out of God’s hand. That’s a monumental moment, as it marks the beginning of His reclamation of the world. Christ is taking back the earth, regaining the paradise of creation, and it causes an explosion of worship in heaven’s throne room.
Chapter 6 is the account of Christ’s breaking the seals on the scroll, which corresponds to events during the tribulation on earth.
In 6:1–2, Christ opens the first of the seals, and John sees a white horse and a rider carrying a bow but no arrows. It’s a vision of a false peace that will descend upon the earth at the beginning of the tribulation, ushered in by a peaceful conqueror. The specific identity of the rider isn’t clear, but he’s certainly working in cooperation with the plans and purposes of Antichrist, and he creates a false peace throughout the world. The crown he’s given isn’t a monarch’s crown but the kind awarded an athlete, further signifying that he ostensibly won the peace (Daniel 9:24–27).
But that peace is short lived. In 6:3–4, Christ opens the second seal, releasing another horse and rider. Unlike the first horse, this one is red, and the rider brings forth the unthinkable holocaust of worldwide war. John says he takes “peace from the earth” (6:4), leaving behind only violence and destruction. The sword given to the rider is not a long broadsword but a shorter weapon often used for assassinations, revolt, massacre, and wholesale slaughter—all of which will be commonplace in the world after Christ breaks the second seal.
A black horse comes after the third seal is broken, and his rider, carrying a set of scales, brings worldwide famine with him (6:5). John’s vision includes some specific measurements that indicate the severity of the famine (6:6). A denarius was the standard pay for a day’s work, and under these famine conditions it won’t buy enough food to feed one person for a day, let alone a family. Even staples will suddenly become luxuries that must be carefully protected.
Breaking the fourth seal unleashes a fourth horse in 6:7–8. This one is pale, and its rider is identified as Death, who is given authority to kill more than a quarter of the world’s population. Just as famine naturally follows war, death naturally follows famine. And where the other riders carried an object with them, the fourth rider is followed by Hades, the temporary location of the unrighteous dead prior to their final judgment.
When Christ breaks the fifth seal (6:9), it signals not further destruction on the earth, but a plea from the souls of all the believers whom Antichrist has put to death up to that point in the tribulation (6:10). John says they cry out to God for His judgment and vengeance on their oppressors. Instead of answering their request immediately, the Lord clothes them in His holiness and righteousness, fitting them for His kingdom, and encourages them to wait on His perfect timing (6:11).
John immediately shifts attention back to the calamity on earth with the breaking of the sixth seal (6:12). It unleashes a massive earthquake that shifts the geography of the world. It darkens the sun, turns the moon blood red (likely a result of all the ash and dust generated by the earthquake), and sends all kinds of celestial bodies crashing to the earth (6:12–13). John also indicates that the sky as we know it will disappear (6:14). This colossal destruction will send even the greatest men into hiding (6:15) and cause them to wish for death to help them avoid God’s wrath (6:16).
The Salvation of Israel
A person can take only so much of the vivid destruction that’s playing out before John’s eyes, so the Lord gives him periodic breaks from his apocalyptic visions. Chapter 7 is one of those gracious breaks. Along with John, we temporarily pull away from the destruction of the earth to see how the Lord provides for and protects His people in the midst of suffering. Not all believers will be put to death during the tribulation—the Lord has other purposes for some of them.
Specifically, verse 4 indicates that 144 thousand from the twelve tribes of Israel are saved and mobilized as evangelists during the tribulation. (Only God knows which tribe a Jewish person is from. Israel’s records were lost in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., but God maintains perfect records to this day.) God already has these men and women marked out for salvation, sovereignly set aside for His eternal purposes. Sealed under the protection of the Lord, these redeemed Jews lead an innumerable number of people to repentance and faith in the Lord (9:9, 13–17).
Of course, this marvelous redemptive work in and through the 144 thousand is cause for another outburst of worship in the throne room of heaven.
Chapter 8 moves back to Christ and the scroll in time for the breaking of the seventh and final seal. And when the seventh seal is broken, everything in heaven stops. John says there is “silence in heaven for about half an hour” (8:1).
Why did heaven go silent? It’s an indication of awe and anticipation for the judgment the Lord is about to pour out on the earth. During the silence, John sees seven angels standing before the Lord, each of them with a trumpet (8:2). These trumpets will sound in succession, each one heralding another wave of God’s judgment and wrath.
The first trumpet sounds in 8:7 and with it comes hail and fire across the earth, burning up one-third of it and the trees, as well as all the grass. The fallout from that destruction would be immense—not only do people and animals need vegetation for food, they need the oxygen it provides to maintain breathable air.
Verse 8 records the second angel sounding his trumpet, and a flaming mountain is thrown into the sea. Likely a meteor or an asteroid, this object destroys one-third of the ships and kills one-third of the creatures in the sea (8:9), turning a third of the sea to blood (8:8). It’s not clear if the water is literally turned into blood, or if this is simply a vivid depiction of the results of such widespread death and putrefying decay in the ocean. Either way, the devastation is an indictment against mankind for failing to recognize the gift of God’s creation, so God is taking it away.
The Lord’s destruction of His creation continues when the third trumpet sounds (8:10). Another celestial body falls to earth—this one is probably a comet, since it burns “like a torch”—poisoning one third of the fresh water on the earth. John says that many die from drinking the bitter, poisonous water.
When the fourth trumpet blows (8:12), a third of the sun, moon, and stars are destroyed. This particular judgment wreaks havoc on the earth’s biological and botanical cycles. A diminished sun means a drastically colder climate—one that’s far less hospitable for sustaining life. Add to that a dramatic shift in the calendar, as days will be shorter and interrupted by all kinds of eclipses, and that’s sure to create unimaginable chaos for those living during that period of the tribulation.
In the midst of that chaos, John hears an eagle cry out in verse 13, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!” The message is clear: If you think those judgments were severe, you haven’t seen anything yet.
Chapter 9 describes the horror unleashed by the fifth trumpet. John says a star falls from heaven (9:1). Unlike previous mentions of falling stars, this one isn’t a celestial body, but a created being—probably Satan himself. And he’s been given the key to the bottomless pit, which he uses to release the demons God has bound (9:1–2). The demons take on physical forms similar to locusts and swarm over the face of the earth(9:3).
While these demons are set free to terrorize the world, they are limited in what they can do. Verse 4 says they are commanded to not hurt any of the earth’s vegetation, nor are they allowed to do anything to any of those who bare the seal of God on their foreheads (the 144 thousand Jewish evangelists and their converts from chapter 7). But the demons are permitted, for five months, to torment—but not kill—anyone without the seal (9:5). John says the demons will sting like scorpions (9:5), and their victims will be in agony and long for death, but it won’t come (9:6). Unlike normal locusts, these demons have a king. John gives us his name in Hebrew (Abaddon) and in Greek (Apollyon) (9:11). Both mean the same thing: destroyer.
The sixth trumpet signals the release of four more angels who had been bound at the river Euphrates (9:14–15). We can assume these are fallen angels since Scripture never refers to holy angels as bound. They represent another segment of Satan’s army unleashed as part of God’s judgment. Unlike the demons released under the fifth trumpet, these demons are able to kill. And with a massive army of 200 million (9:16), they wipe out one-third of the world’s population with fire, smoke, and brimstone (9:18).
In the final verses of chapter 9, John writes that in spite of all the judgment the Lord has poured out on the world, the remaining people do not repent of their sins. Instead, they curse God, harden their hearts, and continue to pursue their sinful desires.
Prior to the sounding of the final trumpet, in chapter 10 the Lord gives John another respite from the destruction. In verse 1, John sees a mighty angel descend to the earth. The angel stands with one foot on the earth and one on the sea (10:2)—graphically demonstrating that while Satan has temporary reign over the earth, ultimate authority and dominion still belong to the Lord. The angel carries the scroll that Christ opened (10:2), and John hears the angel roar like a lion, followed by seven peals of thunder (10:3). As John prepares to write down what he heard in the thunder, he is warned by a voice from heaven to keep those things secret (10:4). Since thunder is often used to depict God’s fury, it’s safe to assume the message John hears is one of further judgment, and that it is too terrifying to reveal.
That same voice from heaven then orders John to take the scroll and eat it (10:8–9). John does, and says the taste is sweet in his mouth but bitter in his stomach (10:10). It’s illustrative of how believers view the coming of Christ—it’s sweet because the Lord will reign in glory over His creation, yet bitter because His return brings destruction and damnation to the world.
The Two Witnesses
Now before the seventh trumpet sounds, there’s another glimpse of God’s marvelous grace in chapter 11. We meet two of the greatest characters in all of Scripture, and we don’t even know their names.
John’s description of these two witnesses is vague, perhaps intentionally so. We do know that the world hates them. Their message of repentance doesn’t fit into a rebellious, “enlightened” world that has already ignored so many obvious warnings and judgments from God. We also know that God protects them, for a time, from the hostility of the world. John says in verse 5 that “if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies.”
The Lord unleashes these two witnesses to preach the gospel to a hostile world for forty-two months (11:3), and He guarantees their safety throughout that time. In addition, they are granted power to control the weather, to turn water to blood, and to strike the earth with any plague they see fit (11:6). No wonder the unrepentant world hates them.
Once the witnesses’ ministry is complete, the Beast himself comes out of the pit and kills them both (11:7). John says the people don’t even bury them—instead they leave the bodies in the street for three and a half days (11:8–9). All this will take place in Jerusalem (11:8).
The eyes of the world are on these two dead bodies, celebrating their demise (11:10). That wouldn’t have been possible even a hundred years ago. The worldwide visibility of these two witnesses seems to call for modern communications technology.
The two witnesses lie dead in the street while the unbelieving world celebrates—even to the point where people exchange gifts to commemorate the deaths of these two prophets (11:10). But after three and a half days, the two witnesses rise from the dead, causing understandable panic for everyone watching (11:11). In verse 12 a voice from heaven commands them to “come up here,” and they do. And in the same hour, there is a massive earthquake that kills seven thousand people and destroys portions of Jerusalem (11:13). In response, John says the survivors “were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven” (11:13).
The point of this short interlude before the seventh trumpet is clear: God will never be without a witness. Even as His righteous wrath rains down on the earth, He is still graciously calling sinners to repent and believe.
John closes chapter 11 with a final, victorious statement. The seventh trumpet blows and the voices of heaven cry out, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (11:15). While the Lord has officially reclaimed the world, there is still plenty of destruction and wrath ahead.
The Woman, the Child, and the Dragon
Chapter 12 is John’s graphic depiction of Satan’s incessant persecution of Israel, Messiah, and God’s people. The woman in John’s vision (12:1) is Israel and her child (12:5) is Christ. The dragon John describes (12:3) is Satan, who always tries to destroy Christ.
Verse 7 describes war taking place in heaven. While Satan and his demons were cast out of heaven after their first rebellion, they still have access to it (Job 1:6; 2:1). But in this war in Revelation 12, God’s angels overcome the forces of Satan and cast them out of heaven, down to the earth (12:9).
Once those demons join the ones who had previously been released from the pit and from the Euphrates, the earth will be overrun with demonic forces. The rest of chapter 12 goes on to describe how these demons pursue and persecute Israel and “the rest of her children” (12:17)—a reference to both Jewish and Gentile believers—and how the Lord mercifully and faithfully protects His own.
In chapter 13, John introduces us to another key figure in the events of the end times: the Antichrist. John uses vivid language to describe this man, whom he calls a “beast.” He is an influential, blasphemous world political leader who rises to power in the second half of the tribulation. The Beast wages aggressive war against the people of God on earth and blasphemes the Lord and His heaven (13:1–7).
John says the Antichrist is supported by an evil companion—the False Prophet, who performs demonically powered signs and wonders to lend credibility to the Antichrist. He’ll even set up an idol to the Antichrist, and harness demonic power to make the idol speak, further leading people to worship the Beast.
As already noted, at this point of the tribulation the world is overrun with demons and demonic influence. Demonic power infests every area of life—demons control virtually everything. That’s illustrated where John explains that taking part in society requires taking the mark of the Beast (13:16). Without that mark people cannot buy or sell—they’re effectively outcasts (13:17).
People often ask about the significance of the number 666 (13:18). Its significance is that it represents man. Seven is God’s perfect number, and man—who was created on the sixth day—always falls short of God’s perfection. So the number itself doesn’t necessarily unlock some greater truth; it’s just representative of man and his inability to achieve perfection. And through that number, the Antichrist exercises complete, satanic control over commerce in the unrepentant world.
The Winepress of God’s Wrath
Chapter 14 is another preview of Christ’s ultimate victory. It starts with the celebration of the 144 thousand witnesses as they sing a new song to the Lord (14:3). That army of witnesses has much to praise God for. In 7:3–4, God seals and protects them from harm; they make it through the fiercest persecution in history, unscathed. They minister and thrive under the least-hospitable conditions imaginable.
From there, John quickly shifts his attention to the proclamations of three angels, each one warning about siding with Antichrist against God (14:6– 11). John says Christ will return in glory (14:14), and that the justice He metes out against His foes will be swift and terrible. That’s depicted by sickles (14:14–19) and the winepress (14:19–20). The kind of destruction John describes here is a preview of what’s to come in the Battle of Armageddon.
The winepress is used to paint a particularly gruesome picture of God’s judgment. John graphically describes the severity of the battle, which, although it will take place outside of Jerusalem, will result in enough spilled blood to cover the entire nation five feet deep (14:20). It’s literally a bloodbath.
John returns to the scene in heaven in chapter 15, as the men and women who have faithfully persevered against the Antichrist sing songs celebrating the redemptive work of the Lord on behalf of His people. One is the song of Moses (15:3; cf. Exodus 15:1–18). It’s a celebration song of God’s victory and deliverance, one that those who overcome the Antichrist can uniquely identify with. They also sing the song of the Lamb, previously sung in chapter 5, verses 8–14 (15:3–4).
The jubilant celebration is a strong contrast to the terrifying destruction the Lord has in store in chapter 16. Starting in verse 2 and coming in rapid-fire succession, the seven bowls of judgment are poured out on the earth, punishing those who have taken the mark of the Beast. The first bowl results in painful, possibly cancerous sores (16:2). The second bowl (16:3) turns the ocean to blood, killing every living thing in the sea; the third (16:4–7) has a similar effect on the rest of the waters. God is no longer destroying by thirds; John is now seeing and describing total destruction.
The fourth bowl (16:8–9) is poured out onto the sun, making it so hot that it burns men on earth, scorching them to death. And instead of repenting, John says they harden their hearts and blaspheme God. The fifth bowl (16:10–11) plunges the world—including the Antichrist’s government—into darkness. And because there was no light, people were much more susceptible to injury. John says that the pain they incur in the darkness is so intense it causes them to gnaw their tongues in agony.
The sixth bowl of judgment (16:12–16) is poured into the Euphrates, drying up the river and preparing the way for the kings of the east. It’s in these verses that the battle of Armageddon is set up, as military forces from all over the world gather together to wage war against God.
Historically, the plains of Megiddo have figured in key battles for the Israelites—in Barak’s victory over the Canaanites in Judges 4, and in Gideon’s victory over the Midianites in Judges 7. Napoleon himself called it the greatest battlefield he had ever seen. But, as John made clear earlier (14:14–20), the effects of the war will stretch far beyond the geographical limits of this battlefield.
The seventh bowl signals the completion of God’s wrath. It begins with a pronouncement from heaven: “It is done” (16:17). God will punctuate the completion of His wrath with the most powerful earthquake in earth’s history (16:18). The great city, Jerusalem, will be split into thirds, preparing it for its central place in the millennial kingdom (16:19). As the earth convulses, John says every island disappears, the mountains are not found, and giant hailstones cause unimaginable death and destruction (16:20–21). God’s destruction has been considerable, but it’s finished for now.
The Harlot and the Beast
In chapter 17, John answers the question, “What is religion like during the tribulation?” He gives a glimpse of the inner workings of the false worship of the Beast—the Antichrist. The true church is often referred to as Christ’s bride (cf. Ephesians 5:25; Revelation 19:7; 21:9). By contrast, John refers to the false religion of the Antichrist as the Harlot (17:15). For a long time, the Beast and the Harlot will work in concert promoting political and religious deceptions. But in the end, the Beast will consume her (17:16), setting himself up as the unquestioned leader of both systems.
It’s likely this occurs at the same time the False Prophet establishes and demonically animates an idol in support of the worship of the Antichrist (13:14–15). All false religions are united in following and worshipping him.
The Fall of Babylon the Great
John answers another important question in chapter 18: “What will commerce be like during the tribulation?” He refers to the last major world-economic system as Babylon the great and says it’s “become a dwelling place of demons” (18:2). Like everything else on earth, it is overrun by demonic forces, and that demonic influence brings it to ruin. Verse 11 says, “The merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more.” John explains why a few verses later: “The fruit you long for has gone from you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and men will no longer find them” (18:14).
When you’re merely trying to survive—especially in a world so given over to corruption, violence, and sin—you have far less interest in luxury and shopping. And it’s not just merchants who feel the repercussions of the failed world economy—trade shipping fails, transportation systems collapse, music and other artistic pursuits are abandoned, and craftsmen walk away from their work (18:15–19, 22). It’s an utter breakdown of society at every level.
In contrast to that calamity, John maintains a heavenly perspective. The devastation is awful, but it’s the result of God’s plan to purify and reclaim the world. Like other aspects of God’s redemptive plan, it is both sweet and bitter. John reminds us to rejoice in the Lord accomplishing His will, even amid the ruins (18:20).
A Heavenly Celebration
Because God’s wrath is completed, heaven is rejoicing. Chapter 19 records that celebration, as heaven prepares for the establishment of the kingdom on earth—the second coming of Christ. Verse 7 quotes the chorus in heaven: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.”
Starting in verse 11, John comes face to face again with the full glory of the risen Christ. He writes:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. (19:11–13)
If you’re a believer, you’re in this passage too. Verse 14 says, “And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.” All redeemed people return, under the command of the Lamb, to wipe out evil and establish His kingdom on earth. In verses 17–21, John covers the events of Armageddon, including the capture of the Beast and the False Prophet, and the elimination of Satan’s armies.
The Millennial Kingdom
Chapter 20 begins with the incarceration of Satan, as he’s bound for a thousand years in the abyss (20:1–3). That kicks off Christ’s thousand-year reign on earth, during which He allows the saints to rule alongside Him (20:4). At the same time, there will still be people living on the earth, including many who don’t follow Christ. Even after everything they’ve seen and heard, sinners are still hardhearted when it comes to the truth.
After the thousand years is over, Satan is briefly let loose (20:7). He musters an innumerable force of those who reject Christ to wage war against Him one last time, but heaven rains down fire and consumes Satan’s armies (20:7–9). He is thrown into the lake of fire for eternal torment and punishment, and God’s people are finally free of their enemy (20:10).
After that, John witnesses the Great White Throne Judgment, watching as death and Hades themselves are cast into the lake of fire and brimstone forever (20:11–15).
The New Heaven and Earth
John closes his book in chapters 21 and 22 with descriptions of God’s new heaven and earth. In 21:3, he hears these words: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.” It’s a place devoid of pain, suffering, tears, and death (21:4). It’s an eternal state of contentedness in the Lord—He meets our every need, as we enjoy eternity with Him.
John’s last exhortation—his last gospel invitation—comes in 22:17, where he writes, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.”
John bids men and women to come and partake of the salvation only available through the glorious, risen Christ, because one day it will no longer be available. As he writes in 22:11, “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.” In other words, whatever you are when you enter eternity is what you’re going to be forever.
We who know and love the Lord have a responsibility in light of John’s prophecy. Based on what’s coming—perhaps soon—we must preach the gospel of the risen Christ boldly and clearly to all those who will listen. Their eternity depends on it.