THE REVELATION TO JOHN AND THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY
Using descriptions from the Bible of God coming to and through prophets, this book identifies the characters, plot, and resolution of the prophecy of Revelation
By Steve Mosher
Common Law Copyright 2001
Permission is granted to freely reproduce and distribute this work as long as no changes or profits are made
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Main Characters
Chapter 1 The Angel and the angels (Rev. 1,4)
Chapter 2 The dragon and the beasts (Rev. 12-13,17)
The Plot Conflict
Chapter 3 Opening the seven seals (Rev. 5-7)
Chapter 4 Speaking the seven oracles (Rev. 2-3)
Chapter 5 Blowing the seven trumpets (Rev. 8-11)
The Resolution of the Conflict
Chapter 6 Pouring the seven bowls (Rev. 14-16,18-20)
Chapter 7 The new city on the new earth (Rev. 21-22)
John’s revelation has proved fascinating and frustrating for countless readers. After avoiding Revelation most of my life, the last seven years of studying it full-time have given me a profound appreciation for its witness. Like the little scroll John eats, this word of God and witness of Jesus is sweet (see 10:10). (All number references without an abbreviated name before them are from Revelation.) Yet also like that scroll, digesting this word so that it becomes part of my own witness causes bitterness. For the message is prophetic and the world hates true prophets. But don’t be afraid. Those who are with such prophets are greater than those with the world.
The Spirit of prophecy and the prophets must contend with dark forces that try to overcome the light. The dragon and its beasts are formidable opponents and control much of human society, including many in the churches. After my first two chapters introduce those two groups of characters, the good and the bad (and the ugly), the next three chapters will develop the major plot conflict between those groups. Then the final two chapters will show the resolution of that conflict through the final judgment and a new city on a new earth. Since this book is organized according to the narrative elements of characters, plot, and resolution, it is best that the reader proceeds in that order and doesn’t just turn to isolated passages.
The revelation to John is a revelation of Jesus Christ (1:1). Jesus gives this revelation to John. What the heavenly Christ reveals will be described through words of prophecy (1:3). John is a special prophet who witnesses, who sees, hears, and then writes the word of God and the witness of Jesus Christ (1:2). Thus John’s awesome revelation from Jesus Christ includes seeing and hearing the witness of Jesus Christ. This new witness will be faithful to the former earthly witness of Jesus. That former witness appears anew in John’s words of prophecy, inspired by the Spirit of prophecy. Indeed the primary Witness of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy (19:10).
The Spirit of prophecy seems strangely in the background throughout John’s revelation. But that is only because the reader needs special eyes to see the pervasive presence of this Witness of Jesus. The various metaphors and similes for the Spirit tend at first to veil the Spirit. For the Spirit’s current role is not to speak on its own authority or glorify itself (Jn. 16:13-14). Instead, the Spirit of truth continues the witness of Jesus. On the basis of this witness, the apostles and prophets of Jesus will also be witnesses. They continue the witness of Jesus through the power of the primary Witness of Jesus, the Spirit of prophecy.
Because the Spirit is omnipresent, illuminating and speaking through all true prophets everywhere, the images that portray this pervasive presence are many. Metaphorical portraits of God’s Spirit/Presence are already multiplied throughout the Old Testament, especially through its extensive use of poetry. Hebrew poetry is noted for its imagery and parallelism. The poetic images help explain one another. Synonymous parallelism multiplies images that portray the same thing. Other kinds of parallelism include supplementary or contrasting images that also help define the subject. Relevant for Revelation is one scholar’s identification of the following Old Testament images of the Spirit: divine pillar of cloud or fire; divine glory (as glory-cloud, or as light like fire or sun); divine majesty or splendor; glory-throne or cherubim-throne; thundering voice; light of wisdom or truth; divine witness; divine face or eyes; divine arm or hand; divine power; divine name or presence; divine image; divine eagle; holy oil or gold; glory-crown; glory-garments or robes; glory-sign. (See Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit, 1980. Kline normally interprets the Angel of the Lord as the preincarnate Christ.)
For Revelation, a prophetic writing, the reader needs to note its extensive use of Old Testament prophets, and symbolism elsewhere in the Old Testament. Of special significance is the stormy context of God’s theophanies/comings. When God comes to the prototype prophet (see Deut. 18:15-16), Moses on Mt. Sinai, the skies are full of fiery lightning, earth-shaking thunder, and dark clouds (Ex. 19:9,16-20; 24:15-18). Later prophets use such images to warn of God’s future comings, especially for judgment (e.g. Isa. 30:27-28,30; Hab. 3:3-6; Ps. 18:6-15). The prophetic word of judgment thus becomes a weapon in God’s own warfare/judgment against evil.
Yet the most important context for interpreting the symbolism of Revelation is Revelation itself. It has enough indicators of the metaphorical meaning that they can serve as a basis or corrective for interpreting other details in the visions. Revelation’s symbolism incorporates the risen Jesus, Spirit of prophecy, and Christian apostles, prophets, and saints into the Old Testament symbols, transforming the latter in the process. The Old Testament stormy context now surrounds the enthroned God, risen Jesus, and heavenly hosts/angels, and is often identical with the stormy Spirit of prophecy. The Hebrew parallelism that multiplies poetic images for the same thing now does so especially for the Spirit of prophecy.
This Witness of Jesus raises God’s "war"/conflict against earthly evil to a new level. The risen Jesus continually gives his Spirit to renew his (nonviolent) witness/warfare through new generations of prophets. Jesus’ earthly witness lives on through the risen Jesus who sends his Spirit to continue that prophetic witness on earth. Even when those prophets finish their time on earth, the Spirit raises them up to join Jesus and the other heavenly hosts/angels. As the risen Jesus lives, so those who continued his faithful witness unto death now live (and rule) with him from heaven. (This is the main point of John’s millennium passage in 20:4-6.) Already in the two previous centuries before Jesus, Jewish apocalpyses often focused on the heavenly status of dead saints. Persecuted saints raised to heaven right after death thus attained a higher status and an angelic appearance. The apocalyptic vision of Dan. 12:3, which sees the wise shining like the bright stars forever, prepared the way for this focus.
John’s visions of ongoing "warfare"/judgment against those on earth thus tie together God, Christ, and all their heavenly hosts/angels/witnesses whose prophetic judgments continue to come through earthly prophets. For the same Spirit who enabled the words and works of the first faithful witness(es) continues to come and keep alive that witness until the end of this age. Not only are Jesus’ words remembered, but also the words of his first apostles and prophets and others after them who formed the links in the historical chain of prophecy. Even as the Spirit of former prophets later cries out in heaven against the evil on earth, that cry finds an echo in new prophets on earth who in the same Spirit carry on the faithful witness (while surrounded by a cloud of witnesses). The historical words of all those witnesses will win in the end since the final judgment will come from those same witnesses/prophets, Jesus and his heavenly hosts.
Such a message results not simply in a comforted reader whose hope for salvation is reaffirmed despite the trials and tribulations of Christian or human existence. That is not the main point of Revelation’s symbolism, despite much scholarly writing that thinks so. The most common scholarly theory that John wrote to comfort Christians persecuted by the Roman Emperor Domitian lacks historical evidence that Domitian targeted Christians. Likewise, the prophecy is not about calling a chosen nation to repentance in order to form a just or Christian society on earth. Every nation or society is instead unveiled as under Satan’s rule. The symbolism has much more to do with the ongoing stormy conflict between the Spirit of prophecy and a spirit/devil of false prophecy, idolatry, and immorality.
A few scholars see that a focus of Revelation and certain other early Christian apocalypses is exposing and opposing a mostly faithless audience. God’s all-seeing judgment against unfaithful Christians or churches leads to symbolic narratives where they become the target of apocalyptic "violence." Besides Revelation, the early Christian apocalypse Shepherd of Hermas includes visions unveiling well-to-do Christians who flirt destructively with the world of buying and selling. Its allegorical narratives reveal surprise endings that shock wealthy "double-minded" Christians. Thus the main message is warning, not comfort or hope. Likewise, Revelation’s oracles to the seven churches are mostly warnings, and the church at Laodicea is a lot like the unfaithful that Hermas warns. As with Hermas, John’s violent visions that follow the seven oracles to the churches are a further challenge to such faithless Christians or churches. John’s seven oracles to the seven churches foreshadow the dramatic warnings symbolized in the seven seals and seven trumpets. Other Christian apocalypses that have similar challenges include the Apocalypse of Peter, 6 Ezra, the Ascension of Isaiah, and some of the Sibylline Oracles. (See Harry O. Maier, "Staging the Gaze: Early Christian Apocalypses and Narrative Self-Representation," Harvard Theological Review 90 (April 1997), 131-154.)
Less scholarly, current best-selling books on Revelation zero in on the Christian’s hope of being saved from impending trials and tribulations. Especially popular is the dispensationalist view that true believers can escape the great tribulation by being raptured into heaven. So unbelievers need to accept Christ as their Savior from an imminent tribulation that will bring terror upon the earth. Natural disasters like earthquakes and famines or human disasters like wars and diseases are predicted to increase. (Indeed throughout church history, "Christian" kings or leaders and patriotic churches have often thought their national wars against "evil empires" fulfilled Revelation’s prophecies. During the second half of the twentieth century, the "spiritual" warfare religious America concentrated on was the Cold War against godless communists. The twenty-first century is now turning to the propaganda of a holy war against anti-American terrorists.) Armageddon is seen as the final war, the violent climax to the seven years of great tribulation.
Many of the sordid details of Revelation are thus explained as literal descriptions of coming human disasters. Often the end of history is described as coming in this generation. This approach also sees the successes of Israel’s new nation as God’s final preparation for deliverance and disaster. After Jews began to be freed from ghettoes in Europe to migrate to Palestine in the early nineteenth century, John Nelson Darby in Ireland developed this new dispensational interpretation of Scripture.
Hal Lindsey’s books, especially The Late Great Planet Earth, helped popularize this viewpoint during the late twentieth century. Lindsey even became an advisor to American military leaders, going to Washington to discuss prophetic developments with Pentagon officials. Lindsey predicted that communist Russia would invade Israel in this generation. So the U.S., a "nation under God," needed a massive military to contain communism around the world, with another chosen nation, Israel, given special aid. President Reagan once used Lindsey’s best-seller to declare that God foreordained a nuclear war to begin in the Middle East in order to usher in the "end time." Reagan added that this could be the generation that sees Armageddon. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the Bushes and Clinton focused on the Middle East (first Iraq, and now also Afghanistan) as the place of evil empires. False prophets have legitimated that violent focus, including the sanctions against Iraq that have slowly killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Such predictions and hopes generate comfort and excitement among a sizable segment in the churches. It seems God is in control of an unruly world, foretelling current news and using the U.S. to restore order. Predictions that don’t pan out can always be revised. Popular prophets thus continue to deceive naïve listeners, manipulating their desires to know the future, to see God at work in international conflicts, and to escape all suffering from such violence. I do agree that the future hope of the Christian is an emphasis of Revelation. I also see dire warnings that are meant to lead people to repentance before it is too late. But John warns especially those in the churches who are being led astray by false prophets and the idolatry they promote or tolerate. John speaks prophetically to churches and Christians, calling most of them to repent.
At the same time, John would especially encourage other true prophets in the churches to remain true to the witness of Jesus. Indeed the main purpose of John’s Revelation is to show God’s servants, the prophets, how the awesome Spirit of God, the Spirit of prophecy, would speak through them to warn Christians and churches that too easily join the idolatry and immorality around them. That idolatry and immorality revolve especially around political power and economic wealth (in the world and in the churches). The initial prophetic witness of the historical Jesus exposed the idolatry and immorality of God’s disobedient people and called them to a new faithfulness to the one true God. The risen Jesus then poured out the Spirit of prophecy on his followers, empowering them to continue Jesus’ witness and suffer the consequences.
Most church leaders have not been comfortable with provocative prophetic words against their own society’s political power, violence, and economic wealth. Of course strong "prophetic" words against national enemies are acceptable. Even enemies or threats on the periphery of one’s society, like unruly minorities or youth, are easily denounced for their violent gangs, illegal drugs, and illicit sex. But true prophecy penetrates to the core: the elite political and economic leaders of one’s society and the majority who basically trust and obey them.
The Revelation of John will inform and encourage God’s servants the prophets in each new generation. Jesus continues to come and witness through his Spirit of prophecy. And the Spirit continues to come and witness through prophetic messengers. While many in the churches look forward with hope to the final coming of Jesus, they must first see the truth of the prophetic Spirit’s warnings. Otherwise, the final Day of the Lord will be darkness even for them, and not light (as they expected). A popular Christianity that cherishes both Jesus and human power and/or prosperity is simply idolatrous syncretism.
The Angel and the angels
John begins his prophecy by introducing a revelation that God gave to Jesus Christ to show his servants what must come to pass soon (1:1). John is one of those servants, a prophet writing down that prophetic revelation (1:1,3). He is part of a long history of God’s "servants the prophets" (see 2 Kgs. 9:7; Jer. 7:25; Ezek. 38:17; Dan. 9:6,10: Amos 3:7; Zech. 1:6). What God promises his servants the prophets, God fulfills (10:7). Because the risen Jesus is now the long-promised Christ, John’s receiving this extraordinary revelation from Christ means he is a special servant. John will be the means by which Christ shows other Christian servants/prophets what must come to pass soon. And there is another even more special means to be used in revealing this prophecy. God will show, or signify through visions, the revealed prophecy by sending his angel to John (1:1).
The Angel and the seven spirits
Who is this special angel sent by God? In 1:4-5, John again describes the sources of his prophecy: God (the one who is and who was and who is coming), the seven spirits before God’s throne, and Jesus Christ. So while in 1:1 the prophecy comes from God through Jesus through the angel to John, in 1:4-5 the prophecy comes from God, the seven spirits, Jesus, and John to the seven churches. The seven spirits have replaced the angel as one of the main sources. Or are the seven spirits another way to describe the angel? As the angel is a major source for John’s prophecy, so the seven spirits are a major source for John’s prophecy to the seven churches.
The description of God in 1:4 and 1:8 as the one "who is and who was and who is coming" reflects the revelation of God’s name to Moses in Ex. 3:14: "I am who I am" (and/or "I was who I was" and/or "I will be who I will be"). That revelation comes as a result of the Angel of the Lord appearing to Moses in a flame of fire in a burning bush (Ex. 3:2). Then the voice of God speaks to Moses about what must come to happen soon. When the Angel of the Lord speaks, the voice of God speaks.
The Angel leads Moses to become the first major prophet in Scripture, the foundation for all future prophets in Israel, and the prototype for Jesus and all future prophets in the churches (see Deut. 18:15-19; Acts 3:18-25). God and the Angel are the major sources for this revelation to Moses. Moses will be their messenger/prophet to Israel and to Pharaoh (Ex. 3:10,13). God’s coming through his special servant Moses involves God’s deliverance of Israel, judgment against Pharaoh, and speaking prophetic words of deliverance and judgment. After God’s plagues against Pharaoh and Egypt through Moses, Israel goes out of Egypt into the wilderness, led by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night (Ex. 13:21). The Angel of God is also described as going before Israel, and closely linked with the pillar of cloud in Ex. 14:19.
In Ex. 33:9 God speaks to Moses through the pillar of cloud just as earlier through the Angel in the burning bush. Indeed wherever Israel went in the wilderness, the cloud or glory of God and the fire led the way (Ex. 40:34-38). Earlier, in Ex. 23:20-23, Moses is told God will send an angel before them to lead the way. God’s name will be in this angel and God will speak through the voice of the angel. Thus the Angel of Ex. 3:2 remains associated with God’s name, God’s voice to Moses, and the pillar of fire and cloud that lead Israel.
In 1:4, the second source of John’s prophetic revelation is the seven spirits who are before the throne of the God who is and who was and who is coming. These spirits are closely associated with God’s name. Heavenly spirits before God’s throne seem at first to suggest angels, perhaps the seven archangels. The heavenly vision of God’s throne is described in more detail in chapter four, and includes another reference to the seven spirits of God before the throne. In 4:5, John writes that out of the throne come lightning bolts (of fire) and voices and thunders, and before the throne are seven torches of fire burning, which are the seven spirits of God. Notice the similarity with the Angel of the Lord in the burning bush and as the voice of God in Ex. 3:2,4, and as the Angel (and voice) who would lead Israel, being the glory of God in the (pillar of) cloud and fire (Ex. 23:20-21; 40:34-38). Such fiery imagery furthers the close association between the seven spirits of God and an angel/Angel of the Lord.
When John goes on to describe the lamb in the midst of the throne in 5:6, he adds that the lamb’s seven horns and seven eyes are the seven spirits of God sent (apostello) (most italicized words are Greek words and a few are Hebrew) into all the earth. Just as God’s angel would be sent (apostello) to John (1:1), God’s seven spirits would be sent (apostello) to all the earth. In Jesus’ seven oracles to the seven churches, what he says to one church he says to all the churches (2:7,11,etc.). Thus the revelation from God, the seven spirits, Jesus, and John to the seven churches (1:4-5) is a message to all churches over all the earth. And this is the same message as the revelation from God, Jesus, and the angel to John in 1:1.
The third and final use of apostello in Revelation comes near the end, in 22:6. There John writes that the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent (apostello) his angel to show his servants what must come to happen soon. So 22:6 includes God’s "sent" angel who shows God’s servants the prophets what must come to happen soon (as in 1:1) and also includes the spirits (as in 1:4) of the prophets. The angel and the spirits are closely linked together and to God’s prophets and servants. The plural use of spirits is also like the "sent" seven spirits in 5:6. By including aspects of 1:1 and 5:6, 22:6 combines the sent angel and the (sent) spirits. Thus the threefold use of apostello reveals the close connection between God’s (seven) spirits (of the prophets) and God’s angel (sent to show the prophets/servants what must come soon).
These various connections reveal that this angel from God is another way to describe or signify the seven spirits before God’s throne. The spirits are then not seven angels or archangels. They are the one angel, the Angel of the Lord. God’s spirits of the prophets (that is, God’s Angel to the servants) are sent from God’s presence to all the earth for the sake of all God’s prophetic messengers. The Angel/spirits are sent by God and/or Jesus (1:1; 5:6; 22:6) to show God’s servants the prophets, and through them all the churches, what must come soon (1:1; 22:6).
The Risen Christ, the Spirit, and the seven spirits
Like the Angel and seven spirits, the Spirit of prophecy sent by the risen Christ has a mission of showing God’s servants what must come to pass. Soon after the introduction, John sees a vision of the risen Christ. John says he came to be in the Spirit on the Lord’s day and heard behind him a great voice like a trumpet (1:10). This voice is again referred to in 4:1 when John hears "the first voice which I heard like a trumpet." The voice in 4:1 tells John to come up to heaven and the voice will show him what must come to pass after these things (the things in the vision of 1:12-3:22). So now the voice like a trumpet is described with the same mission as the Angel in 1:1 and 22:6, namely, to show God’s servants what must come to pass. And as in 1:10, the voice is again associated with the Spirit, since in 4:2, John comes to be in the Spirit.
Then John sees a throne in heaven (4:2), before which are the seven spirits (4:5; see 1:4), and out of which come lightnings, voices, and thunders. The great voice/trumpet of 1:10 and 4:1, like the lightnings, voices, and thunders of 4:5, all point back to Exodus again, to the stormy scene of God’s theophany/coming to Mt. Sinai in Ex. 19:16. This scene is a further development of the coming of the Angel in the burning bush on Mt. Horeb/Sinai in Ex. 3:2. So the great voice/trumpet of 1:10 and 4:1 fits together with the other stormy lightnings, voices, and thunders of 4:5. They all now link the fiery Angel of God (and the fiery spirits before the thundering throne in 4:5) with the great voice/trumpet and Spirit in 1:10 and 4:1-2. The Spirit is the trumpet voice and is the same as the Angel in the burning bush and the seven spirits like torches of fire. They all have the same task of showing God’s prophet(s) what must come soon. They are different ways of describing the same overarching reality of Revelation: the Spirit of prophecy.
Isa. 63:11-14 describes the days of Moses, God’s servant, when after deliverance from the sea, God put in their midst the Holy Spirit, who led them in the wilderness. (In the Hebrew text of Isa. 63:9-10 the angel of God’s presence is parallel to God’s Spirit.) The Angel/cloud/fire of Exodus that led Israel is now interpreted as the Holy Spirit. The hope of Moses in Num. 11:29 is that not only he but all the Lord’s people would be prophets, and that God would put his Spirit (of prophecy) on them. Moses expressed this after God came down in "the cloud," spoke to him, and gave some of the Spirit that was on him to the seventy elders, who then prophesied (Num. 11:25). The prophet Joel promised a future time when God would pour out his Spirit and all the people would prophesy (Joel 2:28-29). The risen Jesus who pours out his Spirit (of prophecy) fulfils that promise in the tongues of fire of Acts 2:3-4,17-18,33. (Similar to the development in Isa. 63, Acts 8:26 describes an angel of the Lord who guides Philip, followed by Acts 8:29,39 referring to the Spirit of the Lord guiding Philip.)
Thus the revelation of the seven spirits to the seven churches is also the message of the Spirit to all the churches (compare 1:4 and 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). That is also why the seven spirits are mentioned after God and before Jesus in 1:4-5. They are another divine source, the Spirit of prophecy. Indeed, throughout the New Testament, the main gift sent by God and the risen Jesus is the Holy Spirit. Especially the Gospel of John uses the imagery of both the Paraclete and the Spirit of truth for the one sent (pempo) by the Father and the Son (Jn. 14:26; 15:26; 16:7). This Paraclete/Spirit will also be the main witness of Jesus to/through the disciples (Jn. 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13-15) and will speak of things to come (Jn. 16:13), including the things that must come to pass soon. And the main thing to come soon is the risen Jesus himself, coming back to his disciples through the Spirit (Jn. 14:18-20,23; 16:7,13-16). The revelatory chain of command found in 1:1 (God gave the revelation to Jesus Christ who sent his/God’s Angel to reveal/witness to John and other servants/prophets) is matched in the Gospel of John, where the Paraclete/Spirit is the equivalent of the Angel in that chain. (See M. E. Boring, "The Influence of Christian Prophecy on the Johannine Portrayal of the Paraclete and Jesus," New Testament Studies 25 (1978), 113-123.)
I think the prophet John who wrote Revelation was the same John as the beloved disciple in the Gospel of John. He is a model disciple in the Gospel and a model prophet in Revelation. Thus, in Rev. 2-3, what Jesus says to each church is what the Spirit of prophecy, the Witness of Jesus, says to all the churches through the prophet John. At the end of Revelation, Jesus says he sent (pempo) his Angel to witness to you (the servants/prophets of 22:6) these things that concern the churches (22:16). Then the Spirit and the bride say "Come" (22:17). Again, the Angel and the Spirit are closely linked (as are the churches and the bride). The Angel/Spirit is the witness of Jesus through the servants/prophets to the churches.
Both "his angel" and the seven spirits are always described as belonging to divine beings (God or Jesus). In 22:16, "his angel" belongs to Jesus, while in 22:6, "his angel" belongs to God. In 1:1, "his angel" belongs to God (or Jesus). Being under dual ownership is also true for the seven spirits/Spirit. In 1:4 and 4:5, they are before the throne and thus belong to God, while in 5:6 they belong to the lamb. The Spirit as "his angel" solves the seeming omission of the Spirit in the revelatory chain of 1:1. Shortly after that, in 1:10 and 4:1, the Spirit is vital to the revelatory visions. (See A. J. P. Garrow, Revelation, 1997, p. 30.)
In the early second century Christian writing, The Shepherd of Hermas, Mandate 11, the revealing angel tells Hermas that the devil fills the false prophet with his own spirit. But the angel of the prophetic spirit fills the (true) prophet who, being filled with the Holy Spirit, then prophesies. Thus the Spirit of prophecy is portrayed as an angel. The later Christian account of the Vision of Isaiah in the Ascension of Isaiah (9:27f.) refers to the Holy Spirit as "the angel of the Holy Spirit." Earlier, 1QS 3:18f., from Qumran, describes the good spirit as both the Spirit of truth and his (God’s) angel of truth. Indeed the Qumran (Dead Sea) scrolls often describe the Spirit as an angel. Two famous first-century Jewish writers, Josephus and Philo, saw the Spirit of prophecy as an Angel. Both also used Num. 22-24 where the Angel of the Lord commands Balaam to prophesy only what the Angel says (Num. 22:35), and then Balaam’s oracle in Num. 24:2 comes from the Spirit. (See John R. Levison, "The Prophetic Spirit as an Angel According to Philo," Harvard Theological Review 88 (April 1995), 189-207.)
The phrase "Spirit of prophecy" had become especially popular in the Jewish Targums, Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Old Testament, many of which were present at the time of Christ. The Spirit of prophecy abounded not only in contexts of prophetic oracles but also where the Spirit gave revelation through a vision, dream, or hearing words. Such revelation could speak of the future or give special insight into the present time or heavenly realm. Other contexts included the Spirit of prophecy giving wisdom to leaders or elders, or inspiring thanksgiving and worship. (See Max Turner, Power from on High, 1996, pp. 88,92,108.)
After John hears the trumpet/voice/Spirit, he sees a vision of the risen Jesus (1:10ff.). Jesus’ eyes are like a flame of fire (1:14). The seven eyes of the lamb (Jesus) in 5:6 are interpreted as the seven spirits of God, which are also symbolized in 4:5 by seven torches of fire. (Compare Acts 2:3-4 where separate tongues of fire on each disciple shows that all were filled with the (one) Holy Spirit.) Clearly Jesus’ fiery eyes are symbolic of the seven spirits or Spirit. The fiery eyes are also similar to Jesus’ face which shines like the sun in all its power (1:16). As eyes or torches of fire are different symbols of the same reality, so the flaming eyes and shining face are both symbols of the same fiery spirits/Spirit. In 5:6 the seven spirits are also the meaning of the lamb’s seven horns. The horns of a lamb/ram (or other beasts) are symbols of power. So the fiery eyes and face of the risen Jesus shine like the power of the sun. The power of the sun is the power of the seven eyes/horns/spirits. The one Spirit is symbolized by these multiple images.
Since the Spirit is the witness of Jesus, the mouth of Jesus in 1:16 is another likely image of the Spirit. Coming out of Jesus’ mouth is a sharp two-edged sword. This sword is the witness of Jesus and the word of God (linked in 1:2,9; see Heb. 4:12). Jesus has the word of God and is himself the Word of God (see 19:13). And since the Witness of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy (19:10), the sword is likewise another image of the Spirit (see Eph. 6:17). What Jesus says to each church (with his "sword") is what the Spirit says to the churches. The two-edged sword is what both Jesus and the Spirit say, both the word/Word of God and the witness/Witness of Jesus.
Jesus’ mouth is also associated with a voice like many waters in 1:15. Since the great voice like a trumpet is the Spirit in 1:10, it might seem that a voice like many waters would be different. The sound of many waters is like the sound of great thunder (see 14:2; 19:6). Again, the theophany of God’s trumpet voice along with God’s thundering voice in Ex. 19:16,19 shows they are two ways of experiencing and describing the voice of God. See Ezek. 1:24 which links the sound of many waters with the thunder of the Almighty. While the modern scientific mind likes to analyze and differentiate and isolate the various characteristics of what it experiences, the biblical Hebrew mind likes to compare and supplement and synthesize. Especially Hebrew poetry with its parallelism and imagery illustrates that Hebrew mind.
Like the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire in Exodus, the Angel/Spirit can be visualized as both fire and water (clouds, thundering like many waters). Isa. 30:27-28 portrays the Lord’s tongue as like a devouring fire and his breath as like an overflowing stream. In fact, the sword from the mouth in 1:16 could also relate to the image of a fiery lightning bolt coming down like a sword from the clouds (see Ezek. 21:9-10). Ps. 29 combines these various images as it describes the voice of the Lord. Seven times the powerful, majestic voice of the Lord thunders over the waters, strikes with flashes of lightning, shakes the desert, and breaks the tall trees (Ps. 29:3-9).
Since the Spirit is connected with the face, mouth, and eyes of Jesus, probably the description of Jesus’ head and hair are also images of the Spirit. The white color of his hair is compared to the whiteness of wool and snow (1:14). The snow would be another form of moisture or water. And the wool could be a likeness of (fluffy) clouds (as well as a likeness of the lamb that died and now lives forever, as in 1:18 and 5:6). If so, the stormy scene around his face is supplemented by the white clouds above his head (a true thunderhead). Then his whole head would be bathed in the clouds and fire that symbolize the Spirit.
John’s stormy vision is therefore similar to the coming of God to Moses on Mt. Sinai (the same mountain as Mt. Horeb in Ex. 3:1 where Moses saw the burning bush). There God comes in a thick cloud (Ex. 19:9) and a storm of thunders and lightnings, including a loud trumpet blast (Ex. 19:16). All the people of Israel who saw it trembled. In John’s vision, the risen Jesus is like a great mountain surrounded by the storm/Spirit.
The one like a son of man in 1:13-16 (see Dan. 7:13) also looks like the man/angel in Dan. 10:6 (lightning face, eyes like flaming torches, legs like burnished bronze, and voice like a multitude). Thus he not only shines like the Angel/Spirit; he himself is "another" divine Angel.
John’s response to his awesome vision of Jesus and the spirits/Spirit is to fall down as though struck dead (by Jesus’ lightning/sword). But Jesus responds in turn by putting his right hand on John and telling him not to be afraid (1:17). While the right hand is comforting, it is also a sign of power. The (right) hand of God is often used as an image for the power of God. Hab. 3:3-4 describes God’s coming in glory and splendor like the sunrise, with rays flashing from his powerful hand. In Lk. 11:20, Jesus can even refer to the finger of God as the power by which he casts out demons and which shows the kingdom/kingship of God has come. The parallel account in Mt. 12:28 replaces the finger of God with the Spirit of God. Yes, the hand of Jesus is yet another image of the Spirit. Remember that in 5:6 the lamb’s seven spirits are portrayed by both seven eyes and seven horns. Thus the seven horns or spirits are the lamb’s power, just like the right hand is Jesus’ power. After Jesus puts his right hand/Spirit on John (who fell as though dead) in 1:17, he tells John not to fear because he (Jesus) is the living one who died and is now alive forever. The right hand of Jesus is the dynamic Spirit of resurrection.
As a result of the Angel/Spirit sent to John, he saw the word of God and the witness of Jesus (1:1-2). While in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, he saw the risen Jesus and his seven spirits/Spirit (1:10-16). The seven spirits before the throne in 1:4 are thus appropriately followed by Jesus in 1:5, described as the faithful witness and the firstborn of the dead. Jesus’ original stormy witness (of judgment against unfaithful Israel) remained faithful to the end, and his deadly end was only the beginning. Jesus’ physical body, slaughtered like a lamb, has been raised a spiritual body, resplendent with (the) glory/power/Spirit (see 1 Cor. 15:43-44).
Every day that the risen Lord comes with his witness (the seven spirits) is another Lord’s day, in the tradition of the older prophetic day of the Lord. For the churches, the Lord’s day was especially the first day of the week when they gathered to celebrate and worship the Christ who rose on the first day. When John sees the risen Christ, however, worship turns to fear of the fiery spirits/Spirit of Jesus (1:17). Especially Jesus’ face that shines like the sun in all its power is the rising sun/Spirit, the dawning of a new day of the Lord (see Mal. 3:1-2). While this rising of the sun of righteousness will bring healing for those who fear the Lord’s name, the day will burn up (with judgment) all those arrogantly doing evil (Mal. 4:1-2).
As the Lord Jesus speaks seven oracles to the gathered churches, much of the churches’ joyful worship will also be turned to fear from the mostly judgment spoken against them. So the Lord’s day will become a prophetic day of the Lord where the Lord comes and confronts his disobedient people (as in Amos 5:18-24). As the day of the Lord’s judgment would lead to exile in Amos 5:27, the Lord’s day of Jesus’ oracles against the churches could lead to their being "given up" to exile in rich "Babylon" and losing their place as a lampstand (see 2:5; 3:3,16). This also must come to pass soon, if they do not repent. Indeed, who can stand on the day God comes/appears? This question (of Mal. 3:2) relates not only to the churches or to the final great day of the lamb’s wrath (6:17) but also to John falling at Christ’s feet in 1:17. But God’s true servant John does not need to fear because Jesus lays his powerful right hand/Spirit on him and encourages him. Like the Spirit’s trumpet voice in 1:11, Jesus again tells John to write what he sees (1:19). John’s writing will bear witness to the word of God and witness of Jesus which he saw (1:2).
When John writes what he sees, he is not to leave the mystery of the imagery in a hazy fog. He is also to write what they are (a better translation than "what is"), that is, what the imagery symbolizes (1:19). (See J. Ramsey Michaels, "Revelation 1.19 and the Narrative Voices of the Apocalypse," New Testament Studies 37 (1991), 604-620.) John interprets the symbolism of the witness of Jesus later in such passages as 4:5 and 5:6 which explain the mystery of the seven spirits. By associating the seven spirits with Jesus’ eyes (5:6) and with torches of fire (and lightning bolts, voices, and thunders from the throne) (4:5), John helps interpret the stormy imagery of the witness of Jesus he saw in 1:14-16. The seven spirits are responsible for the original witness of Jesus and are the ongoing witness of the risen Christ, the firstborn of the dead (1:4-5 and 1:14-18). The Spirit will give John wisdom to interpret the meaning of the vision(s).
John will write not only about this initial vision and the meaning of its imagery. The risen Christ tells him also to write about what must come to happen after these things (1:19). The mostly stormy witness of Jesus in 1:14-16 and in the seven oracles to mostly unfaithful churches in Rev. 2-3 is only the beginning of John’s visions of the coming God, the risen Jesus, and the Spirit of prophecy. For Jesus’ seven eyes/spirits will be sent out to all the earth, not just all the churches (5:6). God not only "is and was" but will be the coming one, coming via the seven spirits who reveal the risen Jesus and speak the witness of Jesus. God gives a revelation of Jesus Christ to his servant John (through his Angel/Spirit) in order to show to his other servants what must soon take place (1:1). Every day that the word of God and witness of Jesus comes to (and through) God’s servant(s) is a day of the Lord’s coming.
The Angel and the angels of the churches
When John saw the right hand of Jesus in 1:16, it was not empty. It held seven stars. The imagery of stars suggests lesser luminaries than that of the sun (Jesus’ face shining like the sun). In 1:20 Jesus’ voice/Spirit tells John what the stars are (so he can write both what he saw and what they are; see 1:19). The mystery of the imagery of the seven stars in Jesus’ right hand is explained as the angels of the seven churches (and the churches are themselves the explanation of the mystery of the seven lampstands seen in 1:12). So the seven stars/angels are closely connected with the seven lampstands/churches. Yet the seven stars/angels are in the right hand of the risen Jesus (while Jesus is in the midst of the seven lampstands/churches, interpreted in 2:1 as walking among the lampstands).
The gold lampstands are like the gold lampstand in Zech. 4:2. In Zech. 4:3, two olive trees are introduced and in 4:12 provide the oil (literally "gold" in Hebrew) for anointing. In Zech. 4:5-6 the angel reveals "what these are" that he saw (like Jesus’ voice/Spirit to John in 1:19). The vision refers not to human power but to the Spirit of the Lord of heavenly hosts (Zech. 4:6). In John’s vision of seven gold lampstands, the gold is again the oil/Spirit that anoints and fuels the lampstands/churches. And the stars/angels that John sees above the churches are heavenly hosts in the hand/Spirit of the Lord.
The seven stars/angels are meant to be lights for the seven lampstands/churches. As in Zech 4:6, the vision is especially about the Spirit of the Lord of hosts. The seven spirits are the fiery Spirit/sun that enlightens/empowers the starry/angelic heavenly hosts, who in turn have their own witness to the lampstands. If the right hand of Jesus is an image of the Spirit/Angel, then the seven stars/angels are in that powerful right hand/Spirit/Angel. The angels are surrounded by the Angel and become part of this Witness of Jesus.
When Jesus puts his right hand on John in 1:17, John is touched/held by the hand/Spirit and thus becomes associated with the seven stars/angels. Like the prophet Jeremiah, John’s vision draws him into the heavenly council of the Lord, among the heavenly hosts, from which the fire/storm/wrath of the Lord comes forth (Jer. 23:18-19). John’s written witness will be especially a witness against the evil on earth and in the churches. Like the prophetic witness of earlier major prophets in Israel, John will bring a "covenant lawsuit" against those who disobey God’s covenant. Moses is again the prototype prophet as he confronts Israel with God’s covenant given at Mt. Sinai. Those who obey the covenant will be blessed, but those who disobey will be cursed. Because Moses knows most of Israel will disobey, he calls on heaven and earth to witness against them (Deut. 4:26). Heaven here is the host of heaven as in Deut. 4:19. Compare the prophet Micaiah who sees the Lord and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left (1 Kgs. 22:19). God discusses with his host how to punish Israel’s evil king Ahab. For Moses, in Deut. 30:19, Israel is about to enter the promised land and is presented with the covenant sanctions: life/blessing or death/curse. Yet even from the beginning, Moses primarily calls heaven and earth to witness against Israel (Deut. 30:19; 31:28-29). Moses ends his warnings with an eloquent, prophetic song that begins: "Hear, O heavens" (Deut. 32:1). Another major prophet, Isaiah, begins his long prophecy that includes a covenant lawsuit against disobedient Israel by saying: "Hear, O heavens" (Isa. 1:2).
John’s witness will confront mostly disobedient churches with God’s warnings, calling for repentance in order to receive heavenly blessings and escape heavenly curses/judgments. The seven angels John sees in Jesus’ right hand are heavenly hosts, the primary council who hears God’s judgments. As John obediently prepares to write (1:19), his prophetic lawsuit will address first the angels of the churches in the heavenly council. Like Moses, they are the original witnesses of God’s covenant. Above all, they have witnessed and written the new covenant/testament and so are the new prototype prophets, the primary link between the first faithful witness of the new covenant (Jesus) and all future witness. Each of the seven oracles to the seven churches will first speak to the angel of each church as a fellow-witness against most of the churches who have broken the new covenant of Christ and his angels.
Like the wise of Dan. 12:3, the seven angels will turn many to righteousness and shine like the bright stars forever. Their heavenly brightness will be the glory/Spirit, clothing them with light like a garment (see Ps. 104:2; Mt. 13:43; 1 Cor. 15:40-49). They are the seven stars John sees in 1:16, interpreted as angels in 1:20, whose light/Spirit will continue to illuminate lampstands and expose churches through their foundational witness to the new covenant/testament.
The Angel and angels at the forefront of John’s revelation can be signified alphabetically. God is the Alpha (and Omega) in 1:8, the first (and last letter of the Greek alphabet). God is the one giving this apocalypse (the Greek word for revelation in 1:1, which begins with alpha and which begins the whole book of Revelation in Greek). The revelation of Jesus is first God’s word. God gives the word/revelation to Jesus in order to show his servants the prophets "the things" (the Greek pronoun here is simply the Greek letter alpha) that must come to pass soon (1:1). All of this is not just an alphabetical game. It signifies the priority and preeminence of God, and those "things" aligned with the Alpha.
The alpha alliteration continues with the sent (apostello) Angel (angelos) in 1:1 and of course with the angels (angeloi) in 1:20. After the apocalypse/word of God becomes the witness of Jesus, the Angel/Spirit carries on the witness of Jesus beginning with the seven angels. In 1:19 John is to write what ("the things," again, an alpha in Greek) he saw and what (alpha again) they are. Then in 1:20 those "alpha" things turn out to be especially the seven stars (asteres) which are the seven angels (angeloi) of the seven churches. John will call on these heavenly angels to join him in witnessing against the disobedient churches.
When John later falls before the feet of the angel who had shown him "these things" (22:8), it seems John identifies that angel with the Angel mentioned in 22:6 (sent by God to show his servants what must come to pass soon). But the angel quickly informs John that he is a fellow-servant and one of his brothers (adelphoi) the prophets (22:9). John thought he was worshiping the Angel when in fact it was a heavenly angel/servant who was talking with him (and who, in 22:6, had spoken about the Angel). Compare the similar scene in 19:10 where John falls to worship and the angel tells him not to do that because he is a fellow-servant and one of his brothers who have the witness of Jesus. Being a brother (adelphos) means being a prophet associated with the witness of Jesus and John (see 1:9).
Of course Jesus himself is among the first (alpha) "things" since he is, among other things, the first (and the last) (1:17). Jesus is not only the first witness and the firstborn of the dead, but is the ruler (archon) of the kings (basileon) of the earth (ges) (1:5). So Jesus’ role as ruler (archon) has priority and preeminence over all the kings (basileon) of the earth (ges). (The first three letters of the Greek alphabet are alpha, beta, and gamma: a, b, and g.) Those kings were especially responsible for Jesus’ tribulation and death, and for John’s and Antipas’ tribulation and political problems on Patmos and at Pergamum (1:9; 2:13). But the apocalypse of Jesus shows the real truth: Jesus is the first and highest archon. And in the end, at Jesus’ final coming, every eye will see the true king, especially those earlier deadly kings who pierced him, and all will mourn because they preferred the kings of the earth to the archon (1:7).
In 3:14 Jesus introduces himself as the amen, the faithful and true (alethinos) witness, the arche of the creation of God. Like archon in 1:5, arche in 3:14 suggests preeminence. Indeed, the arche of the creation of God is full of meanings. If the creation means everything God has created, the use of arche reflects the phrase "in the beginning (arche)" in Jn. 1:1. There the Word (Jesus) was in the beginning with God and was God. And all things were made through him (Jn. 1:2). Similarly, arche can mean "cause" or "origin" so that as creator Jesus was the cause/origin of the creation of God. And arche can mean ruler so that like the archon of the kings of the earth, Jesus would be the ruler of the creation of God.
At the same time, creation in 3:14 especially means the new creation of God’s kingdom of faithful witnesses. In this case, Jesus as the faithful and true witness in 3:14 links with Jesus the faithful witness in 1:5. Then in 1:6 Jesus is addressed as the one who made/created a kingdom. Jesus is both the first faithful and true (alethinos) witness, and the cause/origin of the newly created kingdom of faithful witnesses. This new creation fits the beginning of another Johannine writing, 1 Jn. 1:1, which can be translated: "That which (or the one who) was from the beginning (arches), which we heard (akekoamen . . .)." The beginning here is not the creation of the world but the beginning of the faithful witness of Jesus. Finally, again, Jesus is likewise the ruler (arche) of the (new) creation of God. This new creation context of faithful and true witness also fits well with the new title of Jesus: the Amen (3:14). Usually "amen" is a word of affirmation at the end of a message or prayer. But Jesus sometimes affirmed the truth of his own message by beginning with the words amen, amen (often translated "truly, truly").
When Jesus refers to his Angel in 22:16, he goes on to describe himself as the bright/burning morning star (aster). Having completed his human witness in the Spirit/Angel, his witness as the bright morning star/Angel in heaven begins each new day of the Lord.
There is a final alpha to consider here that also accentuates Jesus’ heavenly preeminence. In 1:13 Jesus is referred to as one like a son of man (anthropou). At first sight, the mention of man seems to deflate Jesus’ divine dignity. But the background of the phrase "one like a son of man" is Dan. 7:13-14. There, one like a son of man comes with the clouds to God (called "the Ancient of Days"), who gives him an eternal dominion and kingdom. So he was not really just a man, but like a son of man. (Dan. 7:13 is also used in 1:7 regarding Jesus’ coming with the clouds.)
If the risen Jesus has the preeminence of one like a son of man, who is the man? It seems to me the man is "the Ancient of Days." Dan. 7:9 refers to God with this phrase and describes him as having a throne of flames of fire, a robe white as snow, and hair like pure wool. This is reflected in John’s vision where the one like a son of man has hair white as snow and wool, and eyes like a flame of fire (1:13-14). Like father, like son. In 2:18 Jesus refers to himself as the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire (and feet like bronze). So a connection is made between Son of God and one like a son of man. (Compare an angel that is a "man" in Dan. 10:5-6 described similarly.) If the anthropos of one like a son of man (anthropou) is Jesus’ heavenly father, we have made a round trip back to the original Alpha of this section. The Son comes from the Father, and the Angel/Spirit comes from the Father and the Son. The Father is the Alpha who comes through the Son and the Spirit. Thus the Father is continually the coming one, all the way to the end. The Alpha is indeed the Omega. Of course Daniel’s "Ancient of Days," while portrayed as an old man, was actually the Alpha and Omega, God Almighty (compare 1:8).
"God Almighty" is a translation of the Old Testament phrase "God of (heavenly) hosts." This God has the power to give the one like a son of man an eternal dominion and kingdom. Jesus, the firstborn of the dead, has freed his followers from their sins by his blood and made them a kingdom (1:5-6). Before Christ, God freed Israel from Egypt and made a covenant with them. If they obeyed the covenant, Israel would be God’s kingdom, a holy nation of priests (Ex. 19:5-6). Now Jesus Christ, the faithful witness unto death, has freed his followers from their sins (1:5). Jesus liberated them from the (sins of the) violent and greedy kingdoms of this world, bringing a new covenant of sacrificial love even unto death. And this Christ/Messiah made them a (new) kingdom, priests to his God and Father (1:6). Eternal power and glory belong only to him and his Father. All the power and glory of human kingdoms will fade and fail. All those who obey the new covenant and remain true to Jesus and his faithful witness will share in Jesus’ tribulation and kingdom and patience (1:9). They will reject the kingdoms of this world and their glory. They must remain true to the Alpha and Omega from beginning to end, or their end will be that of the earthly kingdoms who preferred human power and glory/wealth.
Before Christ, the angels of the God of hosts were heavenly servants of God sent to earth and associated with the giving of the law (Heb. 1:14; 2:2; see Deut. 33:2). When Christ comes, he is the Son, the (alpha) firstborn, far superior to all those angels (Heb. 1:4-14). The risen Son, not those angels, will rule over the future world (Heb. 2:5-9). And this Son will bring with him many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10). These risen sons in glory will be his brothers (including sisters, of course), children of God given to him (Heb. 2:11-15). The Son’s salvation has to do not with the former angels, but with his brothers (Heb. 2:16-17). These holy brothers share his heavenly call and inheritance (Heb. 3:1; 4:1). Thus when Heb. 12:22 refers to the heavenly Jerusalem and those part of it, the first ones mentioned are the last/least, the myriads of angels (those angels before Christ, connected with the law). As the firstborn Son is higher than they (Heb. 1:6), so is the assembly of the other (alpha) firstborn whose names are written in heaven (Heb. 12:23). Because of Jesus, their mediator of the new covenant, they will be made perfect in the very presence of the God who is judge of all (Heb. 12:23-24). Their heavenly call is to be the alpha firstborn, part of the royal ruling family. All the angels/servants of the old covenant/law are below them. In John’s revelation, the royal family of heavenly spirits or souls that are closest to the one on the throne is envisioned as angels. The one like a son of man looks like an angel, and is "another" Angel, and those in the churches who will rise to rule with him look like angels, aglow with the white glory/Spirit (compare 1:13-16 and Dan. 10:5-6; see also 2:26-28; 3:5,21).
The Living Creatures and Their Wings
After John writes Jesus’ oracles to the seven churches, he looks and sees an open door in heaven (4:1). The trumpet/voice of the Spirit calls him to come up through the door so that he can see what must come to pass next. So John, in the Spirit, then sees a throne in heaven and one sitting on it (4:2). The priority, preeminence, and hierarchy of the alphas (that were read and heard in chapters 1-3) are now being portrayed by spatial imagery. The one in heaven sitting on the throne is the highest and the center of all. Around the throne are a rainbow (shining like an emerald) and twenty-four elders on twenty-four thrones (4:3-4). Coming out of the throne are lightnings and voices and thunders. Seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, are before the throne (4:5). Also before the throne is like a glassy (icy) sea like crystal. John is like an angel, "flying high" into the heavenly council.
Both the seven torches/spirits/Spirit and the icy crystal sea are before the throne. Again, the two images of the Spirit as both fire and water or many waters (see 1:15) are portrayed. Moreover, the sea is pure like crystal. Compare the white snow and white wool/clouds in 1:14. Thus the one on the throne is at the center, and before the throne (as in 1:4) is the pure/white/holy Spirit as fire and ice. Then around the throne are a rainbow and twenty-four elders on thrones. The rainbow is a circle around the throne that combines the water/Spirit and fire/Spirit to form a colorful court in which are the twenty-four elders on thrones, the heavenly council.
In the midst of the throne, and around the throne, are four living creatures (4:6). They take up the space not only of the throne itself but also the space before the throne (where the fiery torches and crystal sea are) and extend out around the throne (where the rainbow and elders are). They’re in all three places at the same time. And they are already famous as a result of Ezekiel’s vision in Ezek. 1.
Ezekiel also saw the heavens open and a storm with fire flashing (Ezek. 1:1,4; compare John’s scene in 4:1,5). Ezek. 1:5 describes the likeness of four living creatures coming from the midst of the fiery storm cloud. (Compare John’s four living creatures in the midst of the throne and around the throne.) Ezekiel’s use of "likeness" shows they are really not creatures at all, but something much greater. In Ezek. 10:15, Ezekiel identifies them as cherubim (a high class of angels). Unlike Ezek. 1:18, where the creatures are connected with (chariot) wheels that have rims full of eyes all over them, the cherubim of Ezek. 10:12 (Hebrew text) and John’s living creatures in 4:6 have eyes all over themselves. Ezekiel also sees the likeness of a throne over the heads of the creatures and on the likeness of a throne is a likeness of a human (Ezek. 1:26). It’s interesting to compare this with Dan. 7:9 where the "Ancient of Days" has a throne that is fiery flames, and the throne’s wheels are burning fire. In Ezek. 1:12-13, wherever the Spirit goes, the creatures go, and in the midst of the creatures there are like torches and bright fire with lightning coming out of the fire. The creatures themselves flash back and forth like lightning (Ezek. 1:14). The Spirit of the living creatures is likewise in the wheels so that wherever the creatures go, the wheels go (Ezek. 1:19-21). They all form one unit, a Cherub-chariot that is the fiery Spirit.
Out of the throne that John sees come lightnings, and before the throne are torches of fire, with the living creatures in the midst of the (fiery) throne and around the throne (like the shining moisture of the rainbow). Thus they encompass both the fiery imagery and throne space of the Spirit. The four living creatures are another angelic image of the Spirit. The eyes all over them also link them with the seven eyes of the lamb in 5:6, which are the seven spirits of God. The Spirit is all-seeing and thus all-knowing. The Spirit is likewise omnipresent, being sent out into all the earth (5:6). In fact, this fullness is especially the significance of the number four; see, for example, the four winds or four corners of the earth (linked with four angels in 7:1). Compare the four winds that bring God’s judgment to earth from the four quarters of the heavens in Jer. 49:36, and also the Lord’s breath/Spirit that comes from the four winds in Ezek. 37:9,14. Like the seven spirits, the four living creatures are another "multiple" image of the one Spirit. (While most English translations of Ezek. 1 consistently use the plural for living creatures throughout that chapter, the Hebrew word for them becomes singular in Ezek. 1:20-22 so that the multiple image becomes one living creature there.)
John’s first living creature is like a lion, the second like an ox, the third has a face like a man, and the fourth is like a flying eagle (4:7). The mention of a face like a man makes a link with the one like a son of man in 1:13. And his face is shining like the fiery sun/Spirit (1:16). Compare Ezekiel’s creatures with the face of a man in front, and with the form of a man in general (Ezek. 1:5,10), which are similar to the likeness of a human on the throne in Ezek. 1:26. God’s Spirit or glory/presence/face is often used in the Old Testament for God’s coming to judge.
In Ezek. 8:3-4 the human-like form puts out a hand, grabs Ezekiel’s hair, and the Spirit lifts him up. After Ezekiel’s vision, he falls on his own face but is told to stand up, which he does when the Spirit enters into him (Ezek. 1:28; 2:1-2). Compare John’s falling after he sees the bright face (like the sun) of the stormy one like a son of man, but then being touched by his right hand/Spirit and encouraged to write/prophesy (1:13,16-19). Ezekiel is then addressed as "son of man" and sent as a prophetic messenger to rebellious Israel (Ezek. 2:1,3). He will not "fall on his face" in fear before a hardened Israel (Ezek. 3:7). Instead, the voice/Spirit who helped him stand up after seeing the awesome vision will also give him a hard face and forehead against the hard faces and foreheads of Israel (3:8-9).
Ezekiel is a newly commissioned prophet who goes in the power of the Spirit which is (in) the living creatures (with the face and form of a man). As a son of man Ezekiel is now closely related to and empowered by the divine "human" on the throne. God, through his stormy creatures/Spirit/glory, comes to Ezekiel and John so that they can reveal that God, and the truth of that God, to God’s rebellious people. Compare the prophet Isaiah’s commissioning before the Lord on the throne and the winged seraphim/creatures/angels (Isa. 6:1-2). When the seraphim speak, the foundations of the temple shake and the temple fills with smoke (Isa. 6:4). The name seraphim means literally the "burning ones." Like lightning and thunder they shake the foundations, and like fire they fill the temple with smoke. Their presence is like that of God’s own stormy coming/theophany.
The name "living creatures" (zoa) makes a special connection with the "living one" (zon) in 1:18 (who has the keys of death and hades). Death and hades merely mean a new beginning for Jesus as the "living one." The living creatures empowered (like a divine, roaring lion; see Amos 1:2) Jesus’ faithful witness until death (like a sacrificed ox/bull). The living creatures also empowered his escape from death and hades to live and rule as one like a (firstborn) son of man (with a face like a man), flying (with the divine eagle; see Deut. 32:9-12) out of the open door of hades and through the open door in heaven. In other words, the living creatures are the keys of death and hades.
The climax of a former earthly life of prophetic suffering is a future heavenly life of royal glory with the living God (the Father who is, the living Son, and the four living creatures). In Ezek. 1:7 the living creatures have feet like a calf and the feet sparkled like refined bronze. So the feet of Jesus, the one like a son of man, in 1:15 are like refined bronze and link with the second living creature (like a bull/calf) and Jesus’ suffering unto death. The living creatures/Spirit also relate to the meaning of the gold girdle around Jesus’ chest in 1:13. Both the gold/oil and girdle (zonen) symbolize the Spirit/living creatures (zoa) in whom Christ now lives eternally. Perhaps the chest points back to the deadly piercing of 1:7 (see Jn. 19:34) so that the oil/gold/Spirit of the girdle/living creatures gives Jesus eternal life.
John’s four living creatures each have six wings (4:8), like the seraphim of Isa. 6:2. That makes twenty-four wings all together. The number twenty-four is the number of the thrones and elders in 4:4. Thus the wings are an image of the thrones and elders. Since the four living creatures are an image of the Spirit of prophecy, their twenty-four wings are an image of certain heavenly prophets, the enthroned elders. The Creatures/Spirit with the twenty-four wings are like the image of the Angel/Spirit with the seven angels. The One is the source, origin, and power for the others. As the wings/elders are extensions of the Creatures, so the angels/elders are extensions of the Angel. The Angel/seven spirits come to all the earth through the seven angels/elders. The Cherub/four living creatures come to the four corners of the earth through the twenty-four wings/elders.
When John sees the elders, they have finished their earthly prophecy for they sit on thrones around the throne of God. In 3:21 Jesus promises the one who conquers that he will sit with him on his throne, just as Jesus will sit with the Father on his throne. So the new vision of 4:2 shows the beginning of the fulfillment of the conquering ones on the throne(s). The prophets/elders are not left in hades until the final coming of Christ but are "raised" immediately to sit and rule with Christ on heavenly thrones. Like those on thrones in 20:4, they live and rule as judges with Christ (see Dan. 7:9-14; Mt. 19:28). In 15:6 they will come out of the heavenly temple wearing gold girdles, the healing oil/gold of the girdles/living creatures so that they live eternally.
Is there one throne for everybody or are there twenty-four or more thrones? Since the four living creatures are "in the midst" (not "on each side," as some translate) of the throne (4:6), they are in fact part of the throne. Or better, they are the throne. In the original temple there were two giant cherubim over the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies. They were each around fifteen feet high and their wings covered the width (about thirty feet) of the holy of holies (1 Kgs. 6:23-28). They were thought of as God’s throne, since God’s presence dwelled over or between them in the temple (Ps. 99:1). Even outside the temple or tabernacle context, the Lord could be said to be enthroned on the cherubim above the ark of the covenant (1 Sam. 4:4). Similarly, the four living creatures of Ezekiel are identified as cherubim and represent God’s presence/Spirit/cloud of glory transferring from the temple to where Ezekiel is (in exile in Babylon) (Ezek. 10:3-4,15,18-19; 11:22-25). Just as the creatures flash back and forth like lightning, so lightning bolts come from God’s throne (compare 4:5 and Ezek. 1:14; see Dan. 7:9). And just as the one Spirit can be seen as seven spirits or torches of fire in 5:6, or as four living creatures in 4:6, so the one throne can be seen as twenty-four thrones. But it’s all the same throne/Spirit. The twenty-four thrones/spirits are "extensions" of the throne/Spirit in a similar way as the twenty-four wings/elders are "extensions" of the creatures/Spirit. These are multiple images to show the eternal connection between the Spirit of prophecy and the ruling heavenly elders/prophets.
Like the "alpha" things, the reference to elders suggests priority and preeminence. They are the first and foremost prophets. They are not the founding fathers, dead presidents, decorated generals, or other revered heroes of some society’s civil religion. They are rather the founding fathers of the early Church, the primary link between the witness of Jesus himself and all faithful witnesses who follow in their footsteps. They are the primary heavenly council who will help inspire and affirm John’s witness against the evil deeds of all the earth, including the churches. (Compare the seventy elders of Ex. 24:9-10 who joined Moses as the primary witnesses of God’s foundational revelation at Mt. Sinai. It appears these elders are later portrayed in Isa. 24:23 as having a permanent heavenly place.)
Since twenty-four is twelve plus twelve, they include the foundational twelve apostles of Jesus (Mt. 19:28) plus twelve others in close association with those apostles. (Compare Eph. 2:20-22 and 3:5 where Christ is the cornerstone of a holy temple and the foundation is the apostles and prophets, all of them being a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.) Besides the twelve apostles, foundational elders could include other writers of the New Testament like Paul and Luke. If John is the author of 2 and 3 John, in both letters he introduces himself as the elder. While elders came to be a title for various later leaders of churches, it could also be used for foundational leaders of all the churches to come in the future (see also 1 Peter 5:1).
So Christ’s seven stars/angels (in his right hand/Spirit), and the Spirit’s/living creatures’ twenty-four wings (on their thrones/Spirit) are both images of the elders. Their New Testament witness remains the foundational, authoritative witness of Jesus through the Spirit and elders. The heavenly angels/elders continue to speak to and through later prophets on earth who faithfully hear/read and speak/keep that same witness. All who discount that witness will later be discounted by that same heavenly witness.
Whenever the four living creatures go into action, their wings also become active. When the Spirit acts or speaks, the foundational elders act or speak. With the four creatures in the midst of the throne, and around the throne in the form of their twenty-four wings, they all offer continuous praise to God (4:8). God is praised as holy (agios), holy, holy. In Isa. 6:2-3, the seraphim have six wings each and praise God as holy, holy, holy.
When John sees the Spirit/creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the one sitting on the throne/Spirit, the twenty-four elders/wings then fall before the one sitting on the throne and worship (4:9-10). The worship of the creatures is expanded through the worship of their wings/extensions. Both the Spirit/creatures and the wings/elders worship the God who lives forever and ever (as in 1:6). In fact, it is precisely because the Spirit of prophecy is so closely united with the elders that it here gives (not receives) such worship.
Worthy (axios) is that God to receive the glory and the honor and the power from the elders (4:11). (The English word worship comes from the old English word worthship.) That glory and honor and power the elders give to God include the crowns the elders throw before the throne (4:10). The crowns/wreaths are symbols of glory and honor and power given to the elders and now returned to their source, the one on the throne. Indeed, the elders’ crowns/power are their thrones/Spirit. The gold crowns of 4:4 are the power and glory of those anointed by the gold/oil/Spirit. While God gives them to the elders to empower and finally glorify their faithfulness, ultimately they are God’s own power and glory. When they are given back to God, they (the spirits/Spirit) can then also be worshiped with God. Compare Isa. 28:5-6 which looks forward to the day when the Lord of (heavenly) hosts will be a crown of glory and a Spirit of righteousness/justice to the one who sits in judgment.
God is worthy to receive crowns/power/glory (4:10-11) because God created "all things" (especially these "alpha things" living in the new heaven). It was by God’s will that they "were" (like God who is the one who "was"). What were they? They were the first faithful witness (Jesus) and the early expansion of that faithful witness (apostles and prophets). They were that because they were created by God to be that. God, through sending the Spirit of prophecy, empowered/created that faithful witness. It was by God’s (fourfold) glory, honor, power, and will that the (twenty-four) elders/prophets were created. Yet, above all, they were then created anew as part of God’s new heaven, sharing God’s eternal glory/honor/power/will/Spirit. As God’s cloud/fire/glory/Spirit established God’s covenant with Israel on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 24:15-17), so God’s power/glory/Spirit would create a new people. (Compare Lk. 1:35 where the Spirit and the power (of God) are in synonymous parallelism.) They would all know the will/commandments and power of God (see Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:26-27), and eventually share God’s heavenly glory and power/crown(s)/throne(s).
This is not the end. In fact, it’s only the beginning. The Angel/Spirit has shown John what must come to pass soon. The risen Jesus in the stormy Spirit must speak through John’s prophetic oracles to the churches, and more prophetic judgment against most of the churches is imminent if they do not repent. God will continue to come as the plot thickens. The major (good) characters have been introduced. Those created after them will follow in their footsteps, future brothers and sisters of the one like a son of man and of their brother John and the other elders. That future family of angels/prophets will also first fulfil the same faithful witness on earth. And, as always, the witness comes at great cost. For there are other characters in this story who are crafty and cruel adversaries.
The dragon and the beasts
In 12:1,3 John sees two great signs in heaven: a woman and a dragon. The woman is clothed with the sun, with the moon at her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head (12:1). She is the great heavenly queen, shining like the fiery sun. Her rule in the past has especially involved twelve stars. Now she is an expectant mother, crying out with birth pangs (12:2). But that is only the beginning of her problems. For there is a great red dragon standing before her, waiting to eat the newborn child (12:3-4).
The dragon has seven heads, on which are seven diadems/crowns, and ten horns (12:3). As God on the throne/Spirit has seven spirits (1:4), which are also royal crowns (4:4), so the king dragon has seven royal heads with crowns/spirits. And the ten horns are royal powers/spirits, like the lamb’s seven horns/spirits in 5:6. Even the dragon’s tail is powerful, and throws a third of the stars in heaven to the earth (12:4). Those stars are not any of the twelve stars secure in the crown of the woman/queen. They are rather stars/angels under the royal power of the dragon. Like the twelve stars of the woman (and similar to the seven stars of the risen Jesus in 1:20), they are former earthly prophets. But the dragon’s stars are former false prophets.
In 12:5, the woman bears a son, a male (arsen). The queen’s son will escape the dragon (and his stars/angels) for he is the (alpha/foremost) prince whose destiny is to rule all nations with an iron rod (12:5). That destiny comes quickly for the son is taken up to God and God’s throne/Spirit. When the prince ascends into heaven, the queen descends into the wilderness (12:6). The earthly wilderness is the special place God has prepared for the heavenly woman. In that dry desert, God will nourish her the whole time, all one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
The son’s birth is essentially his resurrection and ascension into heaven as prince. There he rules over the nations. He is thus the long-awaited Messiah, the Christ. After his faithfulness unto death, Jesus Christ becomes the firstborn (son) from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5). In Rom. 1:4 Paul describes Jesus’ resurrection and rule as Son of God in power as all according to the Spirit. In a messianic psalm, the beginning of the messiah’s/king’s rule over the nations (with a rod of iron) is the time of his "begetting"/birth as God’s son (Ps. 2:6-9). Acts 13:33 quotes Ps. 2:7 and interprets the "begetting" as Jesus’ resurrection. The twelve stars in the crown of his mother are the former faithful servants from the twelve tribes of Israel, who prophesied (in Ps. 2 and elsewhere) about the future day of the Messiah.
If the birth is the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the birth pangs would be the suffering and death before that birth (see Acts 2:24). Jesus suffers "in" his mother, then ascends while she descends. In Jn. 16:21, just before his death Jesus uses a similar image of a woman in pain until her hour to give birth comes, when she rejoices. Jesus’ hour to suffer and be glorified has come (Jn. 12:23-24,27-28). But when he leaves, he will send the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, to be with them forever (Jn. 14:16-17). When Jesus ascends, the Spirit descends (see Acts 2:33).
The woman/mother/queen of Rev. 12 is the Spirit. Indeed, she is shining like the fiery sun/Spirit (12:1; see 1:16). In a context of the coming day of the Lord, Mal. 4:2 refers to a sun of righteousness that will rise with healing in her wings. While the word sun is masculine, the word righteousness is an absolute feminine noun that makes following words like "will arise" and "wings" also feminine. Compare Isa. 60:1-3 where the Lord rising and giving light/brightness at dawn is parallel to God’s glory appearing. God’s glory in Isa. 66:18-19 is set up as a sign, like the sign John sees in 12:1, and all nations come to see God’s sign/glory. In Ex. 24:16-17, God’s glory is also compared to the cloud and the fire on Mt. Sinai. For John, these phenomena symbolize the Spirit, and the Hebrew word for Spirit is feminine. (In the early second century Jewish-Christian Book of Elchasai, two giant angels, one male and one female, communicate a revelation. Both angels are 96 miles high, the height of the mountains near them. The male angel is identified as the Son of God and the female as the Holy Spirit. See E. Hennecke, W. Schneemelcher, and R. Wilson, ed.s, New Testament Apocrypha vol 2, 1965, pp. 747-8. Compare the giant son of man in 1:13-16 (and the angel of 10:1-2), along with the great sign/woman in heaven with the moon at her feet.)
Before Christ, the Spirit enlightened Jewish prophets (the twelve stars of her crown) to speak of things that were to come. After Christ, the Spirit will show her other children, especially the foundational elders (apostles and prophets), the things that are to come (Jn. 16:13). Those things to come include their witness on earth followed by their witness in heaven. All who come to share the witness of Jesus and who keep God’s commands will be her children (12:17). They will all be born of the Spirit (see Jn. 3:5). The first child, the one who was born of (the Spirit of) God, will keep everyone else who is born of God safe from the evil one (1 Jn. 5:18). Yet the child’s birth in 12:5 was the child’s new life in heaven, so the birth of the rest of her children (12:17) also would be their new life in heaven, ruling/judging with the child. They will also rule/judge over the nations with a rod of iron, the sword/Spirit, just as Jesus, the eldest child, received power from his Father (see 2:26-27).
Before their birth, they must first keep God’s commands, the word of God against idolatry and immorality. The pangs of childbirth are associated in Isa. 42:14 with crying out. The context portrays God as like that woman, crying out in judgment against idolatry while preparing to bring forth a new creation/exodus. In John’s context, there are birth pangs because the dragon is now trying to deceive or devour the rest of the Spirit’s children. Although they are "in the (womb of the) Spirit" they are also in the world where they will have similar tribulation as the firstborn of the dead (see Jn. 16: 33). As they cry out and continue the witness of Jesus, they will also be hated by the same evil world that hated Jesus (Jn. 15:18-27). The risen Jesus sends the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of prophecy, who will continue to be the Witness of Jesus, and empower the witness of Jesus (Jn. 15:26).
Faithful witness is a major theme in Psalm 89. The psalmist says God’s faithfulness is as firm as the heavens (Ps. 89:1-2). Thus God will remember his covenant with David and give him descendants and a throne for all generations (Ps. 89:3-4). Then Ps. 89:27 refers to God’s making (creating) David the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. John’s revelation fulfills this on a higher level when he sees Jesus Christ/Messiah (son of David) as the firstborn of the dead and (highest) ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5). The Hebrew text of Ps. 89:37 refers to the witness in the skies as firm like the moon. This helps to interpret John’s vision of the moon under the woman’s feet. It must be connected with faithful witness. In 1:5 Jesus’ witness is faithful unto death so that he then becomes the firstborn of the dead. In 1:15 Jesus’ feet are like bronze refined in a furnace, linking his feet and the furnace of the abyss/death (see 9:1). Here, in 12:1, the moon of faithful witness unto death is associated with the feet of the woman. Compare Antipas also in 2:13, a faithful witness killed where Satan dwells. When the dragon wants to devour the child in 12:4, it stands before the woman, and is responsible for the final birth pangs of death. The suffering and death that comes before the birth/resurrection are the climax and culmination of that faithful witness. Jesus’ firm witness to death is the moon (that appears when the day turns to darkness). Then as the risen Christ comes in judgment, his face shines like the sun/Spirit (1:16). The parallelism of Ps. 89:36-37 links the witness in the skies not only with the moon but also with the sun, and even the royal throne. Thus ultimately all this witness is part of the Witness/Spirit of prophecy. The Witness/Spirit is (and comes to empower) the faithful witness unto death (the moon) and the heavenly witness of the fiery sun and powerful throne. So in 6:11-12 the final completed number of all those fellow servants and brothers (and sisters) to be killed is symbolized by the full moon becoming like blood. The faithful witness unto death of the lamb is not finished until all the other strong witnesses unto death, like Antipas, have come.
After John sees the woman in the wilderness, he notes that a war begins in heaven between Michael and his angels versus the dragon and his angels (12:7). In Dan. 12:1, Michael is the great angelic prince over God’s people. This new war, however, is between the new prince in heaven, the risen child, and the dragon.
When the new prince is born/risen, the dragon king wants to devour it. So the new ruler and his heavenly angels/stars start ruling by judging the dragon and its angels/stars as unworthy of this new kingdom. Michael’s/Christ’s stars/angels initially would probably be the twelve stars in the crown of the woman (12:1). If so, they are former earthly prophets, including those whose writing John has often alluded to (Moses, David, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, etc.). In Lk. 20:34-38 Jesus says those worthy of the resurrection from the dead become equal to angels, and gives as examples Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, "sons of the resurrection" now living. The dragon's stars/angels would then be their former counterparts, false prophets who opposed them on earth. Their earthly, and now heavenly, opposition will be settled by the new prince (and his stars/angels). So the dragon that threw a third of its stars/angels to earth in 12:4 to accuse the child is now thrown down itself, along with its angels (12:8-9). The dragon is then identified as the ancient serpent, also called the devil or Satan, the deceiver of the whole world (12:9).
The heavenly role of the devil/dragon (and its stars) was to accuse the heavenly (true) prophets. Now John hears the great voice of the Spirit prophesying praise through the victorious heavenly hosts (12:10). These "twelve" stars praise the coming of God’s salvation, power, and authority, and the authority of God’s Christ, shown in throwing the dragon (and its stars) out of heaven. This devil had been accusing their "brothers," all the former servants/prophets. No more. Those dwelling in heaven can now rejoice (12:12). They conquered the dragon through the preeminent blood (aima) of the (male (arsen)) lamb (arnios) and because of their prophetic witness (12:11).
The dragon is thrown down to the earth and sea, full of rage because its time is short (12:12). Before now the dragon was in heaven accusing/condemning day and night (12:10). Like the four living creatures in 4:8 who day and night praise God, the dragon had all the time in the (heavenly) world to accuse the angels before God. When it’s thrown out of heaven, its earthly time is short/limited. At the same time, the heavenly queen mother/Spirit has now also come to earth, and her time in the wilderness is to be "a time and times and half a time" (12:14). Compare the time, times, and half a time in Dan. 7:25, 12:7. The half a time links with the short time of the dragon. Her time on earth includes the dragon’s time to accuse/persecute on the earth and in the sea. (In Dan. 9:27, half a time/week is when an evil king will bring abominations and desolation to the temple.).
When the dragon first tries to pursue the woman, she is given the two wings of the great eagle (12:13-14). She flies like an eagle, like the living creature of 4:8. Compare Deut. 32:10-11 where the divine eagle finds Jacob/Israel in the wilderness. The God who bore Israel, who gave them birth (Deut. 32:18), then cared for her children like a mother eagle. The eagle’s two wings in 12:14 point to 4:8 where each living creature (including the one like an eagle flying) has six wings. The twenty-four wings are the two times twelve elders who are extensions of the living creatures/Spirit. The foundational apostles and prophets will protect and nourish the woman/Witness/Spirit of prophecy as their (written) prophetic witness continues to nourish the lives and witness of certain lampstands/churches. The wings are foundational elders who closely follow Jesus in leading the way in protecting and furthering the woman/Witness of Jesus.
In 12:15, the serpent throws water like a river out of its mouth after the woman in order to sweep her off her feet. The serpent’s mouth that produces a river is similar to the risen Christ’s voice that sounded like many waters (1:15). As those heavenly waters are the spirits/Spirit, so the serpent’s river is some of its spirits/demons. Jesus’ voice of many waters/spirits/Spirit will bring judgment. Likewise Satan’s mouth of flowing river/spirits/demons will accuse/condemn the woman and her wings (via human voices). For a short time, the special place set apart for the woman/Spirit in the desolate wilderness (see 12:6,14) is swamped by the flooding river. Since the woman’s/Spirit’s place is only in the dry wilderness, the earth opens its mouth and swallows the river (12:16). Compare John’s vision in 8:11 (deadly rivers from fountain(s)/dragon) followed by 9:1-2 (earth/abyss opening and renewing the Spirit’s witness). In 16:12-14 after the water of the great river dried up, all that came out of the mouth of the dragon (and two beasts) were three unclean/demonic spirits like frogs. The mouth of the earth is like the mouth of the abyss/hades, into which the river/demons go. For the heavenly prince has the keys of death and hades (1:18). And the flying eagle is one of those keys that frustrate the serpent’s demonic designs. Ps. 29:3 describes the voice of the Lord thundering upon the (many) waters, followed in Ps. 29:8 by a voice of the Lord shaking the wilderness. Despite the deadly waters, the Lord sits enthroned over the flood (Ps. 29:10).
When the dragon fails to overcome the woman/Spirit in the wilderness, it ends up standing on the sand of the sea/seashore. It can go no further. This sand is the boundary of the sea (see Jer. 5:22). The dragon’s home is now the (sand of the) sea. It’s a sea monster. Indeed, it seems to remain connected with the sea, since the (depths of the) sea is also the abyss where the dragon gathers the dead deceived nations. Like the dragon, they have been condemned and consigned to the sea/abyss. While the woman is giving birth to heavenly hosts, the dragon is gathering the earthly sand. Gen. 22:17 portrays Abraham’s future innumerable descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand on the seashore. To the woman/Spirit and heavenly prince (the son of David, the son of Abraham) belong the stars/angels of heaven. To the dragon belongs the sand/nations of the sea/abyss. Before their death, they joined the dragon in rejecting the woman and her children. After their death, they join the serpent and its waters/demons in the abyss/sea.
The dragon was thrown down to the earth and sea (12:12). The earth is seen as sitting/floating on the sea which is under and around it. The rivers on and under the earth are then identified with the sea waters (see, for example, Ps. 24:2; 136:6). While the woman and her seed are protected and nourished in the dry wilderness, the dragon and its demons are (confined to) the rivers and sea. So the dragon and demons have both a limited sphere (waters under, around, and on the earth) and a limited time (half a time). The purpose of the spatial imagery is not to describe scientific geography but to portray spiritual placement, power, and preeminence.
The dragon and the beast from the sea
Standing on the sand/nations of the sea/abyss, the dragon king sends an awesome/awful beast from the sea to fulfil the dragon’s deadly designs. (In 11:7 and 17:8, this beast comes out of the abyss, again connecting the abyss and sea.) Indeed, the beast is the spitting image of the dragon. Like the dragon (in 12:3), the beast has seven heads and ten horns (13:1). The beast, however, has ten diadems/crowns on its ten horns (unlike the dragon’s seven diadems on its seven heads). On the beast’s heads is a blasphemous name. The name seems to function like a diadem/crown, symbolizing the authority of the beast. The source of the beast’s power and throne and great authority is the dragon king who sends the beast from the sea (13:2).
Because of that great show of authority, the whole earth worships the beast and the dragon who gives it its authority (13:3-4). They ask, "Who is like the beast?" And, "Who can fight it?" No one, it seems. Of course the reader knows already from 1:5 that Jesus Christ/Messiah is ruler of the kings of the earth (alluding to Ps. 89:27). Thus the question of true worshipers is that of Ps. 89:8, "Who is as mighty as you, O Lord?" For God rules even the raging of the sea (and its beasts), including the serpent Rahab whom God crushes (Ps. 89:9-10; see Ex. 15:4,11).
The beast is given a certain time (by God) to use its authority (13:5). That time is forty-two months, the same time as 1260 days or as a time, times, and half a time (viewed as three and a half years with 360 days in a year). The time when the woman/Spirit (and all her children) remains in the wilderness (1260 days in 12:6 and a time, times, and half a time in 12:14) is the same time that this beast will linger and threaten (42 months). Thus the beast comes and goes throughout all of church history. During that time, the beast is given authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation (13:7), the future sand of the sea. So the beast is especially known by its great authority. The word authority is used four times in 13:2-7, the fourth time in connection with authority over the four "peoples" of the whole earth. In 13:16, the mark of the beast comes to be written on the right hand or forehead of those people. The mark/authority is then identified as the name of the beast, or the number of its name (13:17).
Despite the beast’s blasphemous name (13:1), it’s really only the number of a man (13:18). The beast claims to be much more than a man. The number is finally identified as the infamous 666 (13:18). That number in Greek is written exakosio (600), exekonta (60), ex (6). There is a connection between the number/name on the heads of the beast, and on (almost) everybody, and the repeated emphasis on the beast’s authority. That link can also be noticed simply by comparing the beginning of the Greek word for authority (exousia) with the beginning of the three numbers in 666. All four words begin with "ex."
In Greek, numbers can be designated not only by words like ex (6) but also by the numerical equivalent of each Greek letter. For example, alpha equals one. By adding the numerical equivalents of the letters in exousia the total is 746. Besides the last letter in exousia, alpha (1), the letters and their numbers in order are epsilon (5), xi (60), omicron (70), upsilon (400), sigma (200), and iota (10). In all four words that begin with "ex," the second letter is xi and equals 60. If the half a time of 12:14 linked with the short time of the dragon in 12:12, perhaps 60 could also link with the smallest of the three numbers that make up 1260.
But 746 doesn’t equal 666. True, but subtract the omicron (70) and the iota (10) and then the total is 666. After all, the authority of the beast is not the total authority of God. That is blasphemy. Its authority/exousia is less than the exousia of God. Its number/name/authority is only that of a man. Here is another limitation like the limits of time and place imposed on the dragon and demons. When such authority becomes an idol so that (almost) the whole earth worships it, the number 666 shows its authority is actually lacking.
In 9:20, idols are hardly worth worshiping because they can neither see nor hear (nor walk). This same taunt applies to the sea beast. Unlike the lamb and its seven eyes/spirits/Spirit (5:6), the dragon and beast seem to have only big mouths that spit rivers and speak blasphemies. The Greek word for eye is ophthalmos, which begins with an omicron. The idolatrous beast can’t see the truth because its authority has no eyes/Spirit, no omicron. Similarly, the Greek word for ear is ous, which also begins with an omicron. Thus the idol also can’t hear (what the Spirit says) because its authority has no ears, no omicron. Those in the churches who have no ear(s) to hear what the Spirit says (2:7) have become like their idols. Although the beast marks its worshipers with its idolatrous authority, those who have the wisdom and mind (13:18) of the Spirit can see the truth in the number 666.
There is still one piece of the puzzle. What about the missing iota when calculating 666 from exousia? The first and foremost iota is Jesus (Iesous, which begins with an iota), the Christ, whose authority (exousia) is celebrated in 12:10. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of Lords. In the Hebrew dialect Jesus spoke, Aramaic, the numerical equivalents of letters (like in Greek) in the phrase "King of kings, Lord of lords" totals 777. In 17:14 the Lamb (Jesus) is described by that phrase as he comes to conquer the beast and its ten horns/kings (who give their authority to the beast). Compare 19:16, where the name of the conquering Christ is "King of kings and Lord of lords." Full and final authority belongs only to Jesus. The name/authority of the beast is lacking that "iota." The Greek name Iesous by itself totals 888. The "e" in Iesous is the Greek letter eta, not epsilon, and equals eight. Both the 888 of Jesus and the 777 of this king of kings and lord of lords show that the 666 of the beast falls short of such authority.
In 5:5, just before John sees the lamb and its seven eyes in 5:6, a heavenly elder tells John about the lion from the tribe of Judah (Iouda). This lion has conquered and is the root of David. These allusions go back to Gen. 49:9-10 where Judah is promised an eternal rule as the lion/king. In 7:4-5, Judah is the first tribe listed among the twelve tribes. As John has an ear to hear the elder in 5:5, he also hears the number of those sealed on their foreheads in 7:4. That number is 144,000, from every tribe of the sons of Israel (Israel). So here are two more words beginning with iota (Iouda and Israel) that are connected with the one true king/authority and his mark/seal on the true children of Israel (who have their own number). Thus, right after 13:18 and the revelation of the number of the beast John has eyes to see the lamb and the 144,000 who have the lamb’s (and its father’s) name written on their foreheads. These 144,000 are the called, elect, and faithful who come with the lamb (who is Lord of lords and King of kings) in 17:14. For they follow the lamb wherever he goes (14:4), and are the heavenly armies following the one named King of kings and Lord of lords (19:13,16).
The name/number/authority of the beast is no match for the name/number/authority of the lamb. The beast claims ultimate authority and power, but its big mouth only tells lies. The truth is revealed to John (and the rest who have eyes to see, or ears to hear, John’s prophecy), whose authority is not the beast but the lamb. They have the eyes and ears of the Spirit so they can see and hear the truth. The true Israel follows the lamb/lion from the tribe of Iouda, Iesous Christos. No lie or falsehood is found in their mouth (14:5).
Because the beast has none of that ultimate authority, its blasphemies are lies. It has a mouth like a lion (13:2), but uses that mouth to blaspheme God’s name and dwelling (13:6). God dwells (among those) in heaven. On earth those had spoken against the beast. The beast seemed to have the last word. When they died, the beast continued to condemn them and God’s name. The beast blasphemes them because it wants to be honored as the earth’s lion/king. In truth, the beast is not even a lion. It’s mostly like a leopard and just has the mouth of a lion (13:2). It does have dangerous feet, like those of a bear. Between its lion’s teeth and bear’s claws it can be deadly. It looks wild and comes out of the demonic sea because it has already experienced the deadly waters of the depths/abyss. The symbolism using the lion, bear, leopard, and ten horns shows that the beast combines the characteristics of all four beasts (out of the sea) of Dan. 7:3-8.
The beast has a head like one slaughtered to death (13:3). The slaughtered head of the beast means death for the beast, but only temporarily. For the beast has plenty of heads, so by turning to another head the plague of its death is healed (13:3). Thus the beast comes alive again out of the depths/abyss of the deadly sea. Because of all its heads, the beast can keep coming and coming throughout the 42 months (all of church history), like the giant waves of the deep sea. As a result, the whole earth is in awe of this beast (13:3). They worship it and ask who is like the beast. Who is able/strong to fight against it (13:4)? So everybody accepts its lies and obeys its commandments. All, that is, except those whose names are written in the scroll/book of life of the lamb that was slaughtered from the foundation of the (new heavenly) world (13:8). As the first faithful witness unto death, the slaughtered lamb is the true firstborn of the dead, the beginning of God’s new creation (1:5; 3:14). That new creation is a new heaven, a new kingdom of priests who worship the one true God and who rule with God’s Christ (5:10). This is the God and God’s dwelling that the beast blasphemes (13:6).
Besides the lamb, Antipas is another example of a faithful witness killed where Satan dwells, where Satan’s throne/authority is (2:13). Other victims of the beast are taken into captivity (13:10). John himself is now captive on the island of Patmos on account of the word of God and the witness of Jesus (1:9). While perhaps there was no penal colony on Patmos, there seems to have been a military fort. First century Roman historians like Suetonius describe certain sentences against dissidents. These sentences could deport "dangerous" persons to some distant island. A provincial leader in Asia Minor could well have banished John to Patmos, a provincial island, due to John’s radical words against political power. (See David A. deSilva, "The Social Setting of the Revelation to John: Conflicts Within, Fears Without," Westminster Theological Journal 54 (Fall 1992), 285-286.)
Like the beasts of Dan. 7:3-8, the wild beast is a symbol of violent imperial authority (see Dan. 7:12,23-25). The armed world empires keep coming again and again in world history. The children of Israel thought they had escaped the Egyptian army when it was drowned in the sea, but that beast (in various forms and with other heads) would come again later in their history. Besides a resurgent Egypt, later world empires like Assyria and Babylonia would slaughter many and take captive even more. The Roman empire of John’s day was the most recent "reincarnation" of the awesome/awful sea beast. The Roman beast/empire had invaded Asia Minor by coming "out of the sea" in ships. Since then, various other empires have had their turn.
The world empire for most of the twentieth century (especially after World War II) was the United States, which has a history of violence all over the world. Throughout its first three centuries, European settlers on American soil slaughtered Native Americans (and eventually Mexicans), and enslaved African Americans. Over the last century, this violence has come out of the sea to places like east Asia, starting with a war to colonize and "civilize" the Philippines. At the beginning of the twentieth century, this war killed hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who fought this "civilized" beast.
In the twentieth century the growing international network of American military bases, "intelligence," and "special operations" as well as American aid, arms, and training for foreign militaries, police, "intelligence," paramilitaries, and death squads protected American assets and paved the way for new business investments. Even after winning the Cold War with the Russian bear, this massive military presence continues. Much of the world looks on with awe—and fear.
Those who obey the beast’s command to kill its enemies, or to lay down their lives for it, have chosen an idol as their god. Those who witness on its behalf and glorify it have chosen lies over the truth. As always, the beast says its wars are holy wars. A head of the beast proclaims war against an evil enemy and calls on God to bless America. Most U.S. churches agree and praise patriotic duty. The heroic victories of the powerful beast are supposed proof of divine favor. The world must be cleansed of evil that threatens the beast, who sees itself as civil and good. This latest beast calls itself the last, best hope of mankind, but this is false. It’s simply another (and not necessarily the last, worst) version of the sea beast of the dragon. (For my interpretation of Rom. 13, that supplements this interpretation of Rev. 13, see Steve Mosher, God’s Power, Jesus’ Faith, and World Mission: A Study in Romans, 1996, pp. 259-271.)
The dragon and the beast from the earth
After the first beast from the sea, another beast comes. This second beast comes out of the earth (13:11). It has two horns like a lamb (13:11). The horns suggest special authority/spirits, like the lamb’s horns/spirits in 5:6 and the dragon’s horns/spirits in 12:3. Unlike the wild sea beast, this earth beast seems tame, like a lamb. But it speaks like a dragon. Thus its horns are the dragon’s horns/spirits. The same spirits/demons that come out of the dragon’s mouth also come out of the mouths of the sea beast and the false prophet in 16:13-14. But the waters/demons from the earth beast are mostly the deceptively gentle rivers flowing over the earth. If the first beast is a series of violent empires and false messiahs, the second beast is a series of deceptive false prophets.
As the dragon gives its deadly authority to the beast from the sea, which has a steady supply of heads/kings (and horns/kings), so that beast shares its authority with the beast from the earth (13:12). (Note another reference, the fifth in chapter 13, to the authority of the first beast.) So the second beast acts on behalf of (by the authority of) the first and makes the earth and those dwelling on it worship the first beast. It elevates the first beast whose plague of death was healed (13:12). It deceives the earth into praising the idolatrous first beast. Part of this deception involves doing signs on behalf of (by the authority of) the first beast. It does signs like making fire come down from heaven to earth before the people (13:13), or like persuading the earth to make an image of the beast (13:14).
Fire from heaven seems to symbolize the lightning/Spirit coming from the throne (see 4:5). But the second beast’s fire is deceptive. It symbolizes a spirit, just not the Spirit. Thus in 13:15, the (earth) beast is given (time by God) to give a spirit to the image of the (sea) beast. Consequently, the image can speak. And it also speaks like a dragon, forcing all to worship it (the image) or be killed. This spirit is the dragon (or a demon), whose authority is given to the beasts.
For a sea monster confined to the sea, the dragon does get around. It comes via its proxies: a sea beast, an earth beast, and now an image of the sea beast. Like the seven spirits sent into all the earth (5:6), the dragon has its outlets over much of the earth. And as the Spirit/spirits can be portrayed as fire or water, the dragon and its demons/spirits can also be fire or water.
Jesus used the metaphor of throwing fire upon the earth, and interpreted it as bringing division and disrupting peace on earth (Lk. 12:49,51). In a different way, the dragon speaks fiery judgment and divides/disrupts the earth when it accuses those who refuse idolatrous worship. The earth beast does the sign of fire from heaven on behalf of (by the authority of) of the sea beast (13:13-14). For the false prophets, speaking like a dragon, call on the elevated/high sea beast, with its authority/fire, to fight against the true prophets (and raise its head high to blaspheme God’s dwelling). Likewise, the (spirit/fire that speaks in the) image of the beast not only enforces worship of itself, but also gives everyone a mark on the right hand or head if they are going to be able/strong to buy or sell (13:16-17).
This fire divides those on earth, marking off those who trust and obey the dragon and its beasts. The mark of the beast on the right hand suggests power/authority to wield the sword of the deadly sea beast (and the power/handiwork of buying and selling). The heads/kings of this beast are portrayed as mountains in 17:9, sitting high in the sky/heaven. When true prophets speak against them, their "heavenly" spirit/fire/dragon speaks/accuses them. True prophets are then in danger from the violent armies of the beast. The mark on the forehead suggests a mind that speaks with authority, using the deceptive, deadly mouth of a dragon or beast. They would be the false prophets and their deceived followers who make the image, and fire up the beast, and who prosper as a result. The violent sea beast/empire with its heads/kings and the deceptive earth beast/false prophets both flourish (for awhile). Compare the princes and prophets in Ezek. 22:27-28, where the princes are like wolves, shedding blood in order to take booty. Their prophets meanwhile whitewash over that blood and use lies to glorify the princes.
Deceptive prophetic words seek a popular following. Religious and cultural leaders speak on behalf of the great empire. Especially when the empire catches fire and shows its teeth, such prophets cry for war to overcome the empire’s enemies. Nothing must threaten the wealth of the empire. The image of the beast meanwhile decides who can buy and sell (and prosper). And the image catches fire and calls for death if others speak against it (that is, fail to worship it).
The popular image most Americans have of their country is that of a peaceful people. The prevailing ideology is that the U.S. only goes to war when world peace is threatened by evil forces. The truth is that the U.S. promotes violence all over the world. Dozens of wars are going on at the same time all over the world, wars affected by U.S. military aid and economic interests. But this monster is seldom revealed by the patriotic teaching of most religious and educational leaders. Because such leaders portray an idealized America and praise national honor/pride and national security, they prove to be false prophets, and thus become beastly themselves.
Indeed over the past several centuries, white Western empires have expanded at the expense of the nonwhite peoples of the earth. Bringing promises of economic development, various Western militaries and missionaries pioneered the way for acceptance of the great empires. Most white Christians supported their national authorities who governed the empires and their churches. Political and cultural/religious/racial domination joined hands with economic exploitation. That network along with the wealth and education of many (not all) missionaries enabled their dominance among "uncivilized" peoples/races. Such false prophets often complained about the beastly environments where they served. The irony is that they themselves were/are part of the worst beast(s) of the earth (and sea).
Within the U.S., civil religion has prospered from the beginning. The U.S. public and its popular pastors have generally agreed that the U.S. has been blessed by God and given a special mission in the world. From the founding fathers to the present, that mission has been to uphold democracy and individual liberties as "unalienable rights" given to all by their Creator. Almost all Americans agree to that supposed divine eternal law of liberty. (As for doctrinal and denominational differences between churches, there must be official separation of church and state since a state based on liberty can’t declare one church among many as the established state church.) Civil religion thus builds on a nation’s broad experiential intuition in deciding what God’s will/law is for the nation. The U.S. has also added a liberal dose of Old Testament passages, seeing itself as the new Israel.
Another infamous civil religion was a German national Protestantism that preached Christian communitarian/folk values and an authoritarian government to promote those values. While values might differ, all civil religion elevates national values and legitimates political authority. In Russia, the communist revolution attacked both the empire and the Russian Orthodox Church because of their long, close connection. Around two decades later, a few German pastors began to criticize openly the assumption that God’s will is found in the values and history of the German folk. After the devastating loss and Holocaust during World War II, certain German pastors pointed to their guilt in believing the dream of a special German mission that sanctioned chaotic/beastly political power.
The most famous false prophet since World War II has been Billy Graham. Graham clearly loves Jesus, but his Jesus also loves the beast from the sea, especially its heads. Always eager to provide biblical endorsement for his presidential friends, Graham was especially close to Eisenhower, Johnson, and Nixon. The violence of the beast was no problem, since Graham saw the Cold War against Communism as a crusade, a holy war. In the early 1950s, Texas oil tycoon Sid Richardson got Graham to help persuade Eisenhower to run for president. While Graham was traveling in Europe, he met with Eisenhower in France and told him how important he was to the destiny of the Western World due to the gains Communists were making around the world, especially in North Korea at that time. In December of 1952 Graham went to the Korean war zone and was excited about the U.S. military’s support of him. After President Eisenhower’s first foreign policy address, Graham compared the talk to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
During the Vietnam War, Graham had many talks with his buddies Johnson and Nixon, always supportive of their strategies. Those strategies resulted in over two million Vietnamese civilians killed, millions more wounded, around ten million refugees, and millions of gallons of toxic Agent Orange sprayed on people and land. At a prayer breakfast in 1966, attended by Johnson and other high officials, Graham interpreted Jesus’ statement about bringing not peace but a sword as proof that he was a "sword-wielder." Another religious man, Bill Moyers, Johnson’s press aide, said Graham "represented a basic kind of patriotism in this country--an unquestioning, obeying patriotism, a loyalty to the authority of the president. Billy was always uncritical, unchallenging, unquestioning."
By the late 1970s Graham became concerned about nuclear war. The Pentagon briefed him at his home about the terrible dangers posed by nuclear warfare. In 1982 Graham was invited to speak at an international peace conference in Russia. He contacted his old friend Richard Nixon for advice. Nixon said the Communists would try to use him for propaganda purposes. (Nixon knew all about such propaganda.) But Nixon still urged Graham to go. Graham also consulted the infamous news publisher Rupert Murdoch and the head of PepsiCo, Don Kendall (who had traveled often to Russia). Henry Kissinger invited Graham to come to Boston to discuss the conference, and Graham’s message, with him. Just before Graham departed for Russia, he was a luncheon guest of the Bushes (George the First), who also invited the Reagans and Arthur Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times. President Reagan told Graham he would be praying for him. Graham’s message at the conference said all nations shared some blame for the nuclear danger. When a certain speaker pointed out how the U.S. was leading the way in nuclear proliferation and confrontation, Graham (sitting on the platform) took off his translation headset.
By the early 1990s, Graham was again at the White House when his friend President Bush needed moral support to start the Gulf War. After Graham prayed at son George’s inauguration as governor of Texas in 1995, he reflected on the Bushes’ strong family ties and public service. The day before Graham and his wife received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1996, President Clinton invited him to stop by the White House, where they spent much of the afternoon talking. Graham described the time as one of warm fellowship with a man who desired to serve God. Graham even tried to play down accusations regarding President Clinton’s sexual immorality by saying he was a "strong, vigorous young man" with "such a tremendous personality" that "the ladies just go wild over him." (See Robert Sherrill, "Preachers to Power," The Nation 267 (July 13, 1998), 11-14; Billy Graham, Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham, 1997, pp. 188-190, 486, 499-506, 584-594, 654-657.)
The scarlet beast and the scarlet harlot
The great red dragon was a sign in 12:3 that threatened the first great sign, the woman of 12:1. That woman/Spirit ended up in the wilderness pursued/swamped by the river/demons of the dragon. In 17:3, John is again in the Spirit in the wilderness and sees a woman sitting on a scarlet beast. That beast is full of names of blasphemy and has seven heads and ten horns. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the sea beast from 13:1, now described as scarlet. That’s appropriate since, like the red dragon, it’s very bloodthirsty. Its lion teeth and bear claws are dripping with blood. Moreover, the woman on the scarlet beast is also scarlet, wearing purple and scarlet (17:4). She is also decked out in gold, precious stones, and pearls. In her hand is a gold cup, and written on her forehead is a name (17:4-5).
The mention of the forehead reminds the reader of the mark on the forehead that the image of the beast enforces (13:16). However, the name written on the woman is not the name or number of the beast. It’s a mystery, a name needing wisdom to interpret (like the name of the beast) (17:5). The name is Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots and abominations of the earth. She is great, another great "sign," like the great dragon and wilderness woman/mother. In contrast to the scarlet beast’s violent and idolatrous name of authority, the scarlet harlot’s name is a city (portrayed as a "sex object") that is the mother of the other cities (sex objects) of the earth. Indeed she is the queen city of the earth who rules over the kings of the earth (17:18).
Like the woman of 12:1, the scarlet harlot is an awesome queen and an earth mother. Even John in the wilderness looks at her with wonder, fear, and awe (17:6). Just as the whole earth was full of wonder when they saw the sea beast (13:3), now the peoples of the earth are under her spell (17:15). She sits as queen over them, who are (in) the many waters of 17:1, just like she sits as queen over the beast/empire from the sea (17:3). The harlot sits on the many waters of the great river Euphrates and the elaborate irrigation canals and lakes built around the river (see Jer. 51:13). The great river is described in Jer. 51:36 as her "sea" and her fountain (of fertility). These many waters are interpreted in 17:15 as (many) peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. These nations are awash in the many waters/"sea" just like the dead nations are the sand in the sea. For the queen city’s great river/"sea" is in fact the great dragon king.
The many waters, like the sea, of Babylon’s great river are another limited place for the sea monster to dwell. So these waters/dragon are the same as the fire/dragon of 13:13 that makes the image speak like a dragon. The fire/dragon from heaven relates to the image/city that proudly elevates itself up to heaven (see Jer. 51:53; also Gen. 11:4,9). Peoples/nations from all over the world flow to Babylon (see Jer. 51:44) to admire her and to hopefully share in her beauty/wealth. As she sits on both the many waters and the beast, she becomes even more transcendent than the awesome sea beast. If all the peoples worship the beast (17:8), their wonder at the great harlot will likewise be worshipful (17:6-7).
The goddess Cybele was often portrayed as riding on a lion. She originally came from Asia Minor and was the Great Mother. As the goddess of the waters, she was considered very important in providing/nurturing good (well-watered) harvests and good business in the port cities (by the sea). Compare the harlot’s luxuries in 18:12-13 that were imported on the ships of the merchants of the earth (18:11,15-17). Cybele was the first deity from Asia to be officially consecrated by the Romans. Worship of this mother then went hand in hand with loyalty to the empire and worship of the emperors.
The Roman goddess Roma also came to be worshiped in Asia Minor, especially during the time of Augustus Caesar. Roma had long been worshiped in Asia Minor, and her new association with the Caesars made her the embodiment/image of Rome, the imperial city. Municipal cults of Roma and Augustus spread quickly. This cult strengthened the ties between Rome and local leaders/aristocrats, who competed for the privilege of building temples and officiating as priests at the annual rites of the Roman temples.
The harlot’s elevated position in 17:1-6 identifies her with only one other earlier wonder/sign. That is the wonder/sign of the image of the beast in 13:14-17, a great sign that the earth beast persuades those dwelling on earth to make. The Greek word for image (eikon) is feminine. As the image of the scarlet beast, the image/harlot is appropriately scarlet. She sits on the beast, covering some of the beast with her scarlet and purple dress. As the image of 13:17 gives power to buy and sell, so the harlot/queen city of the earth is Babylon, the financial headquarters of the world. The beast from the earth makes the whole earth make the image/city as a monument to the sea beast. Indeed, while the sea beast is scary and can threaten others into submission with violence, it also could benefit from a more attractive image to seduce the rest of the world.
Jesus earlier connected the lordship/authority/dominance of kings over their people with a more attractive image of wanting to be known as benefactors (Lk. 22:25). Powerful, oppressive authorities like to glorify themselves through impressive showcase projects. Public monuments and other building projects, including the palaces/mansions of the capital cities all witness to the apparent majesty of the benefactors. In Dan. 4:30 King Nebuchadnezzar admires great Babylon which he built through his kingly power as a royal residence and for his own majestic glory. Isa. 14:19 describes Babylon as the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans. But Babylon’s towers and palaces will not stand forever (Isa. 14:22).
In John’s day, Roman emperors built huge arenas, temples, and other public monuments whose walls regularly recorded the name(s) of the benefactor(s). Such "gifts" to the public seemed generous, but were actually just public relations meant to impress. The temples included temples for the emperors as part of the emperor cult. Such temples were built at Pergamum (in 29 B.C.), Smyrna (A.D. 21), and then Ephesus. In Ephesus the imperial temple was decorated with portraits of swords, armor, and trophies of war, even prisoners. This religious cult legitimated the military violence of the state and idolized the emperors as more than mortal men, as those worthy to receive sacrifices. The emperors were seen as the architects of the common welfare, providing social services and protection, promoting prosperity and peace (the pax Romana). (See Giancarlo Biguzzi, "Ephesus, Its Artemision, Its Temple to the Flavian Emperors, and Idolatry in Revelation," Novum Testamentum 40 (1998), 276-290.)
The violent sea beast and deceptive earth beast lead the peoples of the world to admire and make sacrifices (of labor, land, and life) on behalf of the images/cities as they seek to be like the great city with all its gold and glory. (Compare the gold-plated images of Isa. 30:22 and the idols of gold that the people make in Isa. 31:7.) The gold or silver covering of idols/images is connected with coveting that silver and gold and called an abomination in Deut. 7:25. For in addition to their authority/power, the great goal of both beasts is the idolatrous luxury and wealth that the great city has stolen from the peoples of the world. Yet there is enough wealth in the world that the beasts can promote daughter cities among the nations. So the great city becomes the mother of other rich harlots/cities, who become part of the greedy earth’s abominations/images/idols of gold and silver. In those cities, the local kings and merchants of the earth, and their false prophets, expand the larger beastly agenda. Modern cities construct towering banks, office buildings, hotels, and churches that reach to the skies/heaven. Unlike the woman/Spirit and her children in the desolate wilderness, the great harlot Babylon sits on the wealth-producing waters of the great Euphrates. Her harlotry produces other harlots/cities that multiply along their own fruitful river beds. (Micah 5:11 has cities and strongholds in synonymous parallelism, followed in Micah 5:14 by Asherah/goddess (fertility) images and cities in parallelism.)
When the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, Satan showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their authority and glory (Lk. 4:1,5-6). As the dragon gave its authority over the world to the beast (13:4,7), and all the earth worshiped the beast (13:4,8), so Satan offers to give Jesus all this political/military authority and economic glory (Lk. 4:6). But Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, refuses such idolatrous worship (Lk. 4:1,8). Even the idolatrous seduction of economic glory must be overcome because the fertile foundation/fountain of the great city is the great river/"sea"/dragon. And that great river/fountain/dragon spits out the waters/rivers/demons that nourish the other harlots/cities of the earth.
The great harlot commits sexual immorality with the kings of the earth (17:2). She is their queen/ruler (17:18) and their harlot/lover. The kings of the earth are local authorities all over the earth who carry out the violence of the beast from the sea. The ten horns of the beast are interpreted in 17:12 as ten kings who will receive authority for only one hour. They quickly give their authority to the beast and fight together with the beast (17:13). Yet after the sea beast and its ten horns destroy the harlot/city, the (rest of the) kings of the earth and the merchants of the earth mourn her death (17:16; 18:9-17). While willing to condemn and kill those under their local authority, the kings of the earth also have a beneficial love affair with Babylon the great. Indeed, they have helped set her up as queen and have enjoyed the pleasures/wealth of her love.
The merchants of the earth mourn more than anybody when the great city falls. They are the international businessmen who lead the way in buying and selling, and whose headquarters is the great city. Indeed they are the "great" ones most closely identified with the great city (18:23). Compare the prophet Ezekiel’s allegory where a city of merchants (Ezek. 17:4) is later interpreted as Babylon (Ezek. 17:12).
The great city buys the wealth/fruit of the earth at bargain prices. The wealthy merchants in the city gain the most from this authority to buy and sell. They buy at low prices (both raw materials and workers) and sell at high prices. They also partake in the plunder and booty of the violent beast. Nevertheless, all those dwelling on the earth have become drunk from the pleasures of the wine of the harlot’s/city’s sexual/economic immorality (17:2). (Ezek. 16:23-29 portrays the city of Jerusalem as a harlot who built lofty places and chambers and then multiplied that harlotry by lustful/greedy trading with Chaldea/Babylonia, Egypt, and Assyria. Indeed the sexual/economic lust/greed of all of these places was insatiable. Giving in to lust/greed does not satisfy it. It only feeds it and multiplies it.) Most of the earth has sold (their resources and labor) low and bought high (or been robbed), yet they are still deceived by the intoxicating pleasures of the harlot.
Her cup is full of the abominations and unclean things of her sexual immorality (17:4). The harlot is drunk from the blood of the saints and from the blood of the witnesses of Jesus (17:6). The abominations of her cup/drunkenness and crown/name on the forehead (17:4-5) recall Isa. 28:1 and its woe against the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim/Israel. Isaiah adds that this crown is on the head of the rich valley of those drunk with wine. But woe/judgment is coming to this fading flower despite its great beauty.
The blood of the children of the woman in the wilderness is the wine in the cup of the harlot. The children in the wilderness keep the commandments of God and the witness of Jesus (12:17). Thus they suffer when they refuse the idolatrous worship of the beast and of its image/city. The showcase image/city bitterly calls for the death of those who refuse to worship it (13:15). The image/harlot drinks their blood. The beast from the earth that speaks like a dragon also makes the fire/dragon go into the image so that it/she also speaks like a dragon. Those they can’t seduce with financial prosperity or deceive through false prophecies they condemn with the fiery dragon. The wilderness children who reject her sexual/financial immorality must pay the price. When the fire/dragon and great river/dragon of the great city on the Euphrates condemn/kill prophets and saints, their blood flows into the cup of the harlot. Most of the earth goes along with the great river/dragon, the earth beast and the city/image. By sharing this immoral relationship they hope to share at least a few of the financial benefits that come from the fertile river, the great city, the beast of the earth, the kings of the earth, and the merchants of the earth. Yet they likewise share in the violence that is the basis for such wealth. They have been seduced to swim in the great river/dragon that amazes them with the powerful/violent kingdoms of the world and their glory/wealth. Only Jesus and his brothers and sisters in the wilderness are able to overcome these temptations of the dragon.
The great city sparkles with the wealth and luxuries of the earth. The whole earth looks with wonder at the towering buildings/skyscrapers. The great harlot is indeed beautiful to behold. And those who receive her mark on their head have the same mind as she does. As she glorifies herself, calling herself the eternal queen of the world (18:7), they join in that worship. As she calls for the death of her enemies, they cry out for war against her enemies.
It is interesting that about a third of the city’s imported resources in 18:12-13 are listed in Ex. 25:3-7 as part of the offering of materials for making the tabernacle and its contents (see Ex. 35:4-29). The great city is made of such splendor that she herself is not only the place of worship but even the one worshiped. In the Roman world, the temples of the gods/goddesses and emperors were also the marketplaces (and banks). Trade guilds and markets congregated around the temples. The presence of sellers and buyers made the temples the central public squares. Anyone who wanted to buy and sell had to cooperate with the temples. They were the key to the economic life of the beast/empire and its image, the harlot/city and her daughters/cities. The elite aristocracy who made up the heart of the harlot(s) used the luxurious temples to provide patronage to the poor. The poor responded with respect/wonder for the elevated status of the elite, giving them great honor and loyalty. (See Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther, Unveiling Empire, 1999, pp. 103-105.)
Since the violent sea beast doesn’t want to destroy the whole earth, it must convince most of the earth that it has their best interests in mind. So it presents an image that glorifies the wonders and pleasures of wealth and prosperity. Of course that wealth was stolen (literally, or figuratively in terms of exploitation) from other parts of the earth. But once collected in the great city of the beast it looks impressive. The city is a showcase of what the sea beast has accomplished. The beast from the earth, the kings of the earth, and the merchants of the earth persuade the rest of the earth to join the economic pipeline that flows back and forth among the cities and great city of the sea beast. The false prophets of religion and culture praise the sea beast and its image in order to benefit themselves (in the form of upward mobility, higher wages, and more prestigious offices or churches) from that authority and economic pipeline.
If the current sea beast/world empire is the United States, the beast from the earth includes the various religious and intellectual leaders of the world (especially in the U.S.) who praise the empire and want to work with the empire to build up its image. For example, the New York Times newspaper leads the way for other newspapers, and (usually) speaks for the established corporate/economic (and political) leaders. It rarely exposes the dirty secrets of those leaders’ domination, especially in the Third World. Journalists instead focus on America’s moral responsibilities in the world, and make average Americans feel like it is up to "us" to solve the world’s problems. They speak seductive words about working together to build great cities and promote prosperity for everyone.
Wealthy (upper middle class) and well-connected (to upper class conservative businessmen) mass media evangelists like Billy Graham also want the U.S. to be "revived." Such religious revival would supposedly return the nation to its original vision of being the bulwark of Christian civilization so that it could now be the righteous leader of the "Free World." This is deceptive because the freedom of the U.S. empire has above all been freedom to exploit the resources and wealth of the rest of the world.
The kings of the earth must go along with that freedom or the sea beast gets angry. When they resist, the beast comes quickly to solve the problem—like an angry lion overtaking a fearful fox. The world can only look on with awe at the seeming preeminence of the great civilization with its massive military power and dazzling urban wealth.
The long list of valuable imports to the great city in 18:12-13 could be greatly expanded by listing all the resources imported to the great city now. The modern industrial system and its global corporations buy and sell vast amounts of goods all over the world. Such businesses depend greatly on raw materials from the Third World. U.S. investment banks on Wall Street in New York encourage loans to poor countries to help develop their exports to rich countries, especially the U.S. And, again, the violent beast on which the harlot/city rides is the authority that conquers or steals new land(s) and guards the "private" property of the city’s banks and corporations. The U.S. State Department admits to (or boasts of) over 120 such direct military interventions overseas from 1851-1940. The ultimate secret weapon of the U.S. is the military coup, now instigated by the CIA since World War II. (A good study of how and why the CIA intervened in the Third World during the 1950s is: Richard Immerman, The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention, 1982. Since the early 1980s, tens of thousands of Guatemalans have been killed by U.S.-backed dictators. What Immerman describes for the 1950s has intensified all over the world up to the present.)
So this military-banking-industrial empire rules the world. It trains and equips local police forces and militaries all over the world, facilitating their land-grabbing and intimidation of peasant farmers. For example, between 1960 and 1980 over 28 million small farmers in Brazil who provided food for local consumption were displaced by foreign corporations (allied with the local government) who provided exports to the wealthy of the world’s cities. (See David C. Korten, When Corporations Rule the World, 1995, p. 49. Korten’s whole book thoroughly exposes the modern harlot(s) of economic globalization. Another unveiling of the latest greed and violence is Charles Derber, The Wilding of America, 1996. A wider critique of both political empire (the beast) and its rich image (the harlot) throughout the last several centuries can be found in Noam Chomsky, World Orders Old and New, 1994.)
American government aid/loans to poor countries require that the money be used primarily to buy American equipment, technicians, and services. The "kings" and cities of the Third World take/steal part of the financial aid and "development" loans. The main burden of repaying the aid/loans (and the usurious interest) falls on the poor public who must pay various taxes and suffer other economic "adjustments." Structural adjustment especially means long-term reforms that reduce restrictions on U.S. investment and imports. These investments demand land used for developing exports of raw materials and building sweatshops that make clothes, shoes, toys, etc. The dollars made by exporting to the U.S. help pay for more expensive products imported from the U.S. and part of the debt from former loans from U.S. banks. But in order to repay such loans, austerity measures include freezing wages, reducing state social services like education and medical care, and devaluation of currencies that lead to cheaper and more competitive exports and increased local prices for food, resulting in less access to food for the poor.
Restructuring is required by the great government banks, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, dominated by the U.S. government. The U.S. government has thus persuaded, threatened, or bribed the kings of the earth (especially most of Africa, Asia, and Latin America) to accept those loans. By accepting them, Third World nations essentially surrender their economies to U.S. government and private banks, and the banks of the other richest nations.
The poor (individuals or nations) very seldom escape poverty by borrowing money. Loans more often turn the poor into slaves of the creditors. This adds insult to the original injury of low wages. The worst insult is the millions of children who die each year due to hunger and poverty, while the world’s wealthy economic and political leaders blame the childrens’ parents. But most poor people in the world work, and are poor because they are paid poorly by overly rich employers (local as well as multinational employers). Yet when much of the world, including many poor people, look at the great city with wonder/worship, they quickly come to share the same values: buying nice things, and seeking work (and education) that will enable such consumption. After seeing the vision of the great city/cities, via the global American media, especially television (part of the tamer beast from the earth), people from all over the world want to immigrate there. The very people who suffer the most from the beasts are still fascinated/seduced by the image/city/harlot.
At the same time, the beast and its image encourage or force certain immigrants to come and provide cheap/slave labor in jobs no one else wants. (Note that bodies/slaves bring up the rear of the import list of 18:13.) Especially impoverished women in the Third World are forced to migrate to the city/cities. Their local economies have been ruined by the harlot and millions leave each year to work as domestic servants/slaves, service workers, and sex workers/bodies in the First World. Migrant women workers also often send money back to the families they left behind. Their own local "kings" and harlots/cities take/steal their "share" of the money/dollars (to repay their own dollar loans) as it filters its way back home. So these women are treated like economic pawns or commodities. (See Grace Chang, Disposable Domestics: Immigrant Women Workers in the Global Economy, 2000, especially pp. 123-151.)
The great city gradually receives greater and greater glory, greater even than that of the sea beast it rides. That’s where the problem lies. For the beast is not really tame after all. It is still wild and still wants to be worshiped. When it feels overshadowed (by its image) and unappreciated, it jumps into action. There goes the rider(s), the image. Those who ride the wild beast will eventually die from the beast. Those who live (in prosperity) by the sword (of the beast) also die by the same sword. A wild beast dressed up in fine clothes is still a wild beast. The primitive, powerful beast (like King Kong or Godzilla) endangers the "civilized" seductive harlot/city. At certain times, a new wild beast emerges that overcomes both the old beast and its image, replacing them with its own world empire and glory/image.
In 17:8, the sea beast is described as what "was and is not, and must come up out of the abyss." This description is a slap at the beast who boasts of its divine authority. Unlike the true God who is and was and is coming (1:4), the beast currently is not. Earlier it was indeed very powerful and violently active. Then it lost a head and fell into the sea/abyss. The heads are interpreted in 17:9-10 as symbolizing both mountains and kings. The mountains fit the portrait of the city on the hill(s)/(heads of the beast), sitting high like a queen, elevated above the whole earth. The heads/kings fit the portrait of the emperors/presidents of the world empire who rule, fall (sometimes violently), and are replaced by another. Of the seven heads/kings, five have already fallen, one is (currently ruling), and the other, the seventh, will come and remain only a short time (17:10). Compared to earlier heads the current head is tame, so the violent beast "is not." Thus the harlot is sitting pretty with not a worry in the world. Unfortunately for her, she’s sitting on a volcano that will erupt again in the future.
The beast that is to come up out of the abyss/sea and return to its natural violent nature is described as an eighth beast (17:11). Even after the beast uses up its seven heads, the end is not yet. This beast seems to be eternal. But the eighth beast, with its eighth head, is just a new version of the old seven-headed beast. As elsewhere in Revelation, the seven (heads) should not be taken too literally as though one could date Revelation depending on which head/emperor is number six (the one currently ruling). The time of the sixth head could be in John’s future, as part of a vision of the future. The seven heads represent all the heads who will rule until the king of kings comes to end this beastly history. The eighth head, however, will use the ten horns/kings and fight the final battles against the lamb and against the final city that overshadows it (17:14,16). So the beast does come back from the abyss/sea/death (see Jonah 2:2) riding the turbulent waves/demons of the sea monster. But unlike the true God who lives forever and ever, the beast is not eternal. After its final rampage, it will fall again, this time for the final time. It comes from the dead, and it will go to the perdition of God’s eternal judgment against it (17:8,11).
Thus the scarlet beast is the epitome of violent imperial power. Yet the violence is sporadic and varies with the head currently in charge. The kings of the earth wield the sword of the scarlet beast locally, and make love with the wealthy scarlet harlot. The beast from the earth persuades the whole earth to worship the scarlet beast and its image, the scarlet harlot. Manipulation, militarism, and materialism multiply. Whoever doesn’t follow the political and economic commandments of the beast and harlot is accused by the beast from the earth. The merchants of the earth are the very heart and hands of the harlot as she lusts after the luxuries of the world.
In John’s day the harlot/city was Rome. Located on the Tiber River, Rome was the great cosmopolitan city that ruled the kings/kingdoms around the Mediterranean Sea. It was the headquarters of the emperor and the aristocracy just below the emperor. At the top level of this aristocracy were the senators and their sons. They showed off their high rank by wearing togas with a broad purple stripe. (Compare the purple dress of the harlot in 17:4). The second level of aristocracy was the thousands of equestrians, mostly urban administrators in Rome and other cities. They also dressed conspicuously, marked by exclusive togas with a narrow purple stripe and gold rings on their fingers. To belong to each of these orders, one had to have a certain level of wealth. This insured that Rome and other cities were ruled by men of property (agriculture being the main source of wealth). Below such privileged honestiores were the humiliores, the great mass of the humble (primarily agricultural) workers. At the bottom were the slaves. There was also a major division between urban and rural workers. City residents looked down on the rural masses, seen as "rustics" unfamiliar with the sophisticated culture of urban life. (See Peter Garnsey and Richard Saller, The Roman Empire, 1987, pp. 113-119.)
Several centuries later, the fall of Rome showed that it was not really the eternal city after all. Since then it has regained some of its stature and glory, but is not now the great(est) city of the world. Presently, the great city is especially New York, home of Wall Street and Madison Avenue, the great bankers and businessmen of the earth. New York is now the financial and cultural capital of the world. Its leaders have often filled the highest cabinet posts of U.S. presidents, having provided money to elect presidents and then give advice on national and international economic issues. Throughout the late nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, the Rockefeller family empire, centered in New York, led the way for economic and political plunder on a world scale. They also manipulated Christian evangelists, churches, and missionaries all along the way. (See Gerard Colby with Charlotte Dennett, Thy Will Be Done; The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil, 1995. This book exposes Rockefeller exploits throughout Latin America, and the complicity of some American Christians, especially various Bible translators in Latin America.)
From the fruit in the lush garden of Eden to the Big Apple on the Hudson River, by the Atlantic ocean/sea, the water serpent seeks to seduce all humankind. The great city is also mother of many other harlots all over the world, cities that lust to grow and glow like the queen city. Most of the religious, intellectual, and cultural leaders join the idolatrous praise and immoral promiscuity. Everyone loves and pursues the American dream. Only those in the wilderness expose the dream as an illusion, an idolatrous and immoral image.
The recent destruction of the World Trade Center, and the thousands of civilians killed there, was a violent attack against the harlot, the center of global economic power. The real beast and its image never lack lethal enemies. Those who live/rule by their own sword/violence must face the sword of their enemies. And the different levels of violence against nonviolent civilians by the great beast/empire, its many armed allies, or their lesser beastlike enemies are all simply different levels of terrorism.
But in the conflict discussed in my next three chapters, true prophets do not fight against the image or beasts with such lethal, beastly weapons/violence. The imagery will seem violent but it symbolizes a different kind of conflict than the usual wars between the kingdoms of this world. Instead, poor, powerless prophets face the rich and powerful beast and image and false prophets with "only" the word of God/witness of Jesus/Spirit of prophecy. Such a prophetic mission seems pitiful and hopeless. In reality, Revelation shows this mission comes from the highest powers of heaven and will lead to joining the true eternal city, the New Jerusalem.
Opening the seven seals
In chapters one and two the main characters have been introduced. Even glimpses of the plot conflict between Jesus, his Angel, and the angels over against the dragon and the beasts have been revealed. Now it’s time for the plot to thicken. The opening round of the cosmic conflict revolves around a scroll sealed with seven seals (5:1).
The scroll of the lamb
John first sees the scroll sealed with seven seals in the right hand of the one (God) on the throne (5:1). God has written on the scroll, both inside and on the back. In 4:8, the four living creatures with six wings each are full of eyes "around and inside." In 4:6 the creatures are full of eyes in front and on the back. Consequently, the writing inside and on the back of God’s scroll links with the eyes inside and on the back of the living creatures.
As the throne and right hand of God symbolize God’s power/Spirit, the living creatures likewise symbolize God’s Spirit. The eyes/knowledge/wisdom of the creatures/Spirit are linked with the writing/witness/wisdom of the scroll. The Spirit of prophecy has the power and wisdom to rule/judge. The Spirit sees all and the scroll knows all. The Spirit and the scroll are at the heart of God’s new heavenly kingdom. The scroll is another image of the Spirit of prophecy, and highlights the wisdom/knowledge of the Spirit.
John next sees a strong angel proclaiming with a great voice (5:2). The great voice resembles the great voice like a trumpet in 1:10. That same voice is the one who now shows John the new heavenly kingdom that is promised to God’s servants the prophets (4:1). Thus the strong angel is the Angel/Spirit, the power/throne/right hand of God. The Angel asks John who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose/break its seals (5:2). Of course God is worthy (see 4:11). But someone else is needed. Yet no one is able/strong to open the scroll or to see it (5:3). It seems God’s wisdom and new kingdom are beyond human ability. John cries (5:4).
Then one of the elders/wings, who is now part of the foundation of that new kingdom, tells John not to cry because there is one after all who can open the scroll (5:5). That one is the lion from the tribe of Judah, the root of David. He conquered and can now open the scroll and its seven seals. This lion is Jesus, who in 3:7 describes himself as having the key of David which can open and no one will shut. Jesus Christ has conquered the dragon by his faithful witness unto death, roaring like a lion. He has opened the door to heaven with his powerful key, the Spirit of prophecy. As the firstborn/risen (son/prince) of the woman/Spirit, Jesus has been taken up to God and God’s throne/Spirit, thrown out the dragon, and begun God’s new heavenly creation/kingdom (see 12:5,9-10). The elder can witness to the conquering lion/king and his kingdom because he has also conquered and joined that heavenly kingdom. As a wing of the living creature(s), the elder’s faithful witness unto death on earth was an extension of the witness/Witness/Spirit of Jesus. Now the elder is part of the heavenly kingdom, and sees even more clearly. The elder/wing shares in the wisdom/witness of the heavenly scroll/Spirit.
Having heard about the lion/king, John then sees a lamb in the midst of the throne/living creatures/Spirit, and in the midst of the elders/wings/apostles (5:6). If the living creatures and scroll are at the heart of the new heavenly kingdom, the (bloody) lamb is the heart. The lamb is standing, but looks like it has been slaughtered. The prophetic witness of the roaring lion remained faithful until it was slaughtered like a lamb. Yet Jesus’ faithful witness in the Spirit, even unto death, remains alive as he stands in the midst of the resurrection power of the throne/Spirit. And his foundational apostles and prophets, the elders, surround him in the new kingdom.
Compare Stephen in Acts 7:55-56 who, full of the Holy Spirit, sees heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. While they stone him to death for his provocative prophetic message, Stephen asks Jesus to receive his spirit (into heaven), since his faithful witness on earth has come to a climactic finish (Acts 7:59). So Stephen leads the way for the foundational elders who will surround Jesus after their own earthly witness has finished.
Like the living creatures, the lamb is full of (seven) eyes (and horns), which are the powerful seven spirits/Spirit of God (5:6). And the power/Spirit of the heavenly kingdom who sees all is not confined to the creatures/throne or scroll or lamb or elders. The lamb also sends the Spirit into all the earth. The conflict on earth has only begun. The lamb and elders have conquered the dragon. That’s a good start. Now the Spirit will show John what else must come to pass after these things.
The lamb then takes the scroll from the (powerful) right hand of the one (God) on the throne (5:7). The wisdom/word of God (written on the scroll) has now become the wisdom/witness of Jesus. When John sees God’s scroll given to the lamb, he sees the word of God become the witness of Jesus (see 1:2). Jesus’ faithful witness unto death is not dead, but lives forever in the heavenly kingdom of God. Since the witness of Jesus is also the Spirit of prophecy (19:10), the lamb now has control over the words/wisdom/Spirit of prophecy and will send the spirits/Spirit to all the earth.
Because the lamb is now Lord of the Spirit, the four living creatures/Spirit and the wings/twenty-four elders fall before the lamb (5:8). The Spirit and the elders glorify Christ (see Jn. 16:14). The elders are each given a harp to sing a new song as priests to the lamb of the new heavenly kingdom (5:8-9). The elders’ new song/wisdom shows they are now part of the newly revealed heavenly scroll/wisdom/witness of Jesus. Like the scroll, they are in the right hand/Spirit of the risen Christ (see 1:16). They now share in the heavenly Witness of Jesus.
The elders also have gold bowls full of incense (5:8). (Later, in 15:7, one of the living creatures gives the seven angels/elders seven gold bowls). The incense is interpreted as the prayers of the saints. As the elders sing a new song by means of their harps, saints pray by means of their incense in the gold bowls of the elders. The Spirit of prophecy as always is the main means by which elders sing/prophesy and saints pray/prophesy. Like the voice of the trumpet in 1:10 and 4:1, the song of the harp is another expression of the prophetic Spirit. And like the sound of many waters in 1:15, the prayers of the incense (many/much incense in 8:3) are yet another expression of the prophetic Spirit. The harp/Spirit leads elders to sing/prophesy, and the (liquid) incense/Spirit leads saints to pray/prophesy. The saints are "in" the incense/Spirit and pray/prophesy. The gold of the bowls is again (like the gold of the lampstands/churches) the oil/gold/Spirit. The bowls themselves are the major prophets (of the lampstands/churches) who are in the hand of the foremost elders and call/prophesy for all the saints to join their incense. The same oil/gold/Spirit that made them shine on earth is now their glory/gold in heaven. As the elders are extensions of the creatures, the bowls are extensions of the creatures and elders. The heavenly bowls/prophets (and saints) will come to pass after the creatures and elders.
With their harps, the elders take the lead in praising the lamb as worthy to receive/take the scroll and to open its seals (5:9). The lamb is worthy because it was slaughtered (and the seals will involve slaughter). The lamb’s blood was the price paid to buy for God elders, prophets, and saints out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation (5:9). When the four living creatures/seven spirits are sent out to all the earth, they will go first to the tribes of Israel and from there to the fourfold tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations of the earth. As the witness of Jesus continues to spread via the Spirit of prophecy and the witness of the elders and prophets, it will lead to creating new saints.
In 1:6 Jesus’ blood loosed/freed certain people from their sins and made them a kingdom of priests to God. They have been liberated from the kings of the earth and now live under the rule of heaven. They only give priestly praise to the risen ruler/judge of the kings of the earth (1:5-6). The heavenly elders’ new song of 5:9-10 celebrates the slaughtered lamb as worthy to take/receive the heavenly scroll/kingdom/Witness and open its seals. The reference in 5:9 to buying people from the earth suggests that, similar to 1:6, what is being loosed/freed/opened are such people. If the scroll is especially the heavenly kingdom of the word of God/witness of Jesus/Spirit of prophecy, then its seals are the earthly beginning of that witness. The witness of Jesus/Spirit of prophecy not only opens heaven, but does so by first being sent to earth to enable that witness on earth. To open the seals is to buy elders, prophets, and saints from the earth with the blood of the lamb and make them faithful witnesses.
The blood of the lamb not only buys people but also makes them righteous and faithful witnesses. In Jn. 1:29 John the Baptist confesses Jesus as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When Jesus’ hour comes to be lifted up (through death and resurrection returning/ascending to the Father), he says he will now draw all people to himself (Jn. 12:32-33). This will be done by sending the Paraclete/Spirit to his disciples, through whom the Spirit will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment (Jn. 16:7-11). When the disciples receive the Spirit, they are sanctified/holy and sent into the world, forgiving some of sin and not forgiving (speaking judgment against) others (Jn. 17:18-19; 20:22-23). Only when Jesus is glorified/lifted up (in death), streams of living water (the Spirit) will flow from within him (Jn. 7:38-39). Thus it is significant that when Jesus is lifted up on the cross, and has died, a spear in his side releases blood and water (Jn. 19:34). As the water of Jn. 19:34 fulfils the living water/Spirit of Jn. 7:38, so the blood also can be another (liquid) symbol of the Spirit that comes from the slaughtered lamb (see the liquid incense/Spirit above also). When Jesus earlier speaks strangely about drinking his blood (and eating his flesh) as the means to eternal life for the world, he explains to his puzzled disciples that he has really been talking about the Spirit who gives life (Jn. 6:51-63). The blood of the lamb becomes the Spirit of the lamb who draws people from all over the world, frees them from their sins and makes them righteous and faithful witnesses. There is indeed power in the blood of the lamb.
When they have been refined/washed through the blood/Spirit of the lamb, and remain faithful unto blood/death, the lamb will then make them part of the heavenly kingdom of priests (5:10). And that new heaven will rule over the earth. (The best early Greek manuscript (A) has the present tense, "are ruling.") Their rule is the heavenly rule "over" the earth during the thousand years. The Greek preposition epi is often used in Revelation in a figurative sense for authority "over." Compare the use of epi in 20:6: Over these the second death has no authority. Moreover, that rule will ultimately be on the new earth when the new heaven/Jerusalem comes down to that new earth in the end (see 21:1-2).
John then sees around the throne, creatures, and elders many angels, myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands (5:11). These include the future heavenly prophets and saints who will join the seven angels/elders in the scroll/kingdom. As further extensions of the living creatures (and elders, the first extensions) who glorify the lamb, all the prophets and saints speak with the great/loud voice of the Spirit (see 1:10; 5:2). They praise the slaughtered lamb as the one worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing (5:12).
In 5:12, Jesus’ sevenfold power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing describe the seven spirits in all their heavenly glory. (The Spirit rests on the branch/Messiah in Isa. 11:1-2. This Spirit is sevenfold as the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and power/strength, and the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.) Just as the lamb received the scroll from the right hand of God, so the lamb will receive the seven spirits/Spirit of prophecy. Receiving the scroll equals receiving the spirits/Spirit. And receiving power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing equals receiving the heavenly kingdom. When the fiery Spirit of the gold/oil lampstands/churches refines them, they then become part of the lamb’s heavenly wealth bought from the earth. In the end, all the prophets and saints will speak with the great voice of the Spirit, praising the lamb in the eternal kingdom. They will be heavenly priests by means of the Spirit of prophecy, who first inspired their faithful witness on earth. After their witness in the Spirit (as part of the seals) on earth, they will praise God and the lamb in the Spirit (as part of the scroll) in heaven.
So John sees the final resolution of the plot almost before it has even started. Bypassing all the coming conflict John sees the final winners. In 5:13, John hears all creation saying that blessing and honor and glory and power belong to God and the lamb forever and ever. All creation now includes what is in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. This is another fourfold praise and suggests the presence of the four living creatures. Yet the things on earth, under the earth, and in the sea are those who remained part of the kingdoms of the beasts from the sea and from the earth. The end has come, but not yet the new earth, which has no sea and no abyss/hades under the earth (see 20:14: 21:1). When the lamb’s enemies are brought before the throne for final judgment, even they will have to confess that blessing, honor, glory, and power belong to God and the lamb forever. So John here also sees the final losers of the conflict. In the end every tongue will confess that the lamb is Lord. Then all the beastly tongues will be condemned to the second death, the lake of fire (20:14). Everyone whose name was not written in the scroll/Spirit of life was thrown into the lake of fire (20:15).
As the conflict continues before the end, the beasts seem to have the upper hand. All on earth will worship the sea beast (13:8). All whose names have not been written in/on the scroll of life of the lamb which was slaughtered from the foundation of the (new heavenly) world will worship the beast. But those bought by the lamb from the idolatrous earth are those whose names are written on the lamb’s scroll of life. Like the seven stars/angels/elders in the right hand of the risen Jesus in 1:16, their future is secure in the powerful scroll of the lamb. After facing the wrath of the beasts, they will live in the new heaven and finally rule on the new earth.
From beginning to end, the lamb rules! Appropriately, the four living creatures say "Amen" to the confession/praise of God and the lamb by both the winners and losers (5:14). The lamb is the Amen, the beginning of God’s new creation (3:14). And he is the Amen, the end of God’s new creation when he comes with the clouds/Spirit, and all the tribes of the earth mourn and confess that he is Lord after all (1:7). Indeed. Amen. As the beginning extensions of the creatures, the elders fall and worship the lamb and God (5:14). While it is blasphemy to worship the beast and its image, it is appropriate to worship both God and the lamb. God is the alpha and omega (1:8). The lamb is the Amen, the first and the last (1:17).
Opening the first four seals
When the lamb opens the first four seals, the four living creatures are also involved. As the four living creatures and seven spirits are at the heart of the heavenly scroll, they are also at the center of the seven seals. Opening the first four seals especially means opening the mouths of the four living creatures. After the lamb opens the first seal, John hears one of the four living creatures say "Come" with a voice like thunder. The mention of a living creature along with a voice and thunder reminds the reader of 4:5-6 where the creatures/throne/spirits are associated with lightnings, voices, and thunders. The stormy witness of the risen Jesus and his voice like many waters/thunders (see 1:15) is about to come again.
After hearing the voice/thunder of the living creature, John sees a white horse (6:2). This reminds the reader of what John saw in 1:14. The risen Jesus’ head and hair were white like white wool, like snow. That "watery" image reflected the white cloud/Spirit of Jesus. Later in 14:14, Jesus, again as the one like a son of man (see 1:13), is sitting on a white cloud. Similarly, the white horse (on which a rider sits) in the sky is another image of the white cloud/Spirit. (Compare also the heavenly horses of fire and whirlwind in 2 Kgs. 2:11.) The witness of Jesus continues to come to earth through the Spirit of prophecy. The voice like thunder of the living creature fits this cloudy setting. A white horse/cloud comes when a voice of thunder speaks. Indeed the thunder comes from the horse/cloud/Spirit.
Someone is riding the white horse and has a bow (6:2). Since the rider rides the white horse/cloud called forth by the voice of thunder, the bow would be shooting arrows of lightning. Again, the thunderstorm is a common image for God’s theophany, God’s coming to earth. The imagery of Ps. 18:9-14 portrays God’s brightness/presence coming on the dark clouds/cherubim, on the wings of the wind, thundering from heaven, and shooting arrows/bolts of lightning. Similarly, Hab. 3:8-11 pictures God as a warrior riding horses/chariots and shooting his bow/arrows/lightning. The lightnings, voices, and thunders all come from God’s throne/creatures/Spirit (in 4:5).
The rider is given a crown, and comes conquering and in order to conquer (6:2). Already we have seen that the lion from the tribe of Judah conquered (5:5). Also the heavenly hosts/angels of 12:11 conquered by means of the blood of the lamb and by the word of their witness. As the witness of Jesus comes to earth via the heavenly founding (church) fathers/elders, they likewise conquer like the lion. Since the Witness of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy, Jesus as a conquering lion comes again through the first living creature that looks like a lion (see 4:7). Jesus once roared like a lion, speaking the word of God. As the risen lamb, Jesus continues his witness via the living creature like a lion whose voice roars like thunder (6:1).
As the creature’s wings are the elders, so the horse’s rider is an elder. In 4:9-10, when the creatures worship God, the elders do likewise. Now in 6:1-2, when the first creature thunders, the rider/elder(s) speaks/shoots (lightning/arrows). The bow helps identify the rider as an elder since it is the same shape as the rainbow, which in 4:3-4 is around the throne like the elders. (The Hebrew word qeset is used in the Old Testament for both the rainbow and the war bow.) So the rider with his bow is an elder, riding on the white horse/cloud/Spirit (and in the colorful rainbow/Spirit). The elder(s) with the bow/Spirit highlights the warfare/judgment of the heavenly council. When the heavenly rider/elder speaks/shoots with the voice/bow of the Spirit, the fiery Spirit of prophecy flashes to earth like lightning.
Thus opening the first seal/creature/Spirit looses/frees foundational elders to witness again against the earth and churches and conquer anew through prophets that pass on their witness on earth. The prophets who follow the lion from the tribe of Judah (and the wings/elders of the first creature/lion) are thus portrayed later in 7:4-8 as servants/prophets from the tribes of Israel. The voice of the first living creature like a lion with its conquering wings/elders and prophets comprises the first seal. And as in 4:4,10, the crown of the rider/elder(s) is the gold/oil/Spirit, the power/authority for their fiery witness (like the white horse/cloud/Spirit they ride).
The elders come conquering, and in order to conquer. Their foundational witness will continue to conquer on earth until the end. Their written New Testament witness will remain at the forefront of all the faithful witnesses who follow them. The ultimate victory over the dragon is their sitting on thrones (the spirits/Spirit) in the new heavenly kingdom (see 4:4). As Jesus’ witness continued on earth through the elders, their witness will continue on earth through their brothers and sisters, the rest of the prophets. This written prophecy of John is part of the foundational New Testament witness. John is/will be included among the elders, the foundational apostles and prophets.
When the lamb opens the second seal, John hears the second living creature say "Come" (6:3). The second living creature in 4:7 is like an ox or bull, a strong animal but one also especially associated with sacrifices. Like the lamb, the creature/ox/bull will end up slaughtered. After the roaring of the first creature, the lion, comes the slaughter of the second creature, the ox/bull. Thus the second seal involves the prophetic faithful witness unto death.
Another horse comes now, a red one (6:4). If the white horse was the cloud/Spirit, what is this red horse? The only other mention of "red" (purros) in Revelation is 12:3 where it is the color of the dragon. This red horse is another symbol of the red dragon. While the roaring of the lion and prophets in the first seal renewed the conflict on earth, now the battle becomes deadly again. For the rider on the red horse/dragon is given (by God) a great sword. The only other mention of this kind of sword (machaira) is in 13:10,14 in connection with the beast from the sea. As that sea beast is given the authority of the dragon (13:2), so now it is portrayed as riding the dragon.
The sea beast is wild, a symbol of violent imperial authority. When it comes, it is given (a short time by God) to take peace from the earth, and in order that they will slaughter one another (6:4). The only other mention of peace in Revelation is 1:4, where divine grace and peace are given to the churches. Thus the beast takes this peace from the earth by slaughtering strong prophetic voices, the peacemakers of the earth. Because they roared like lions against the idolatry of the beast, the violent empire strikes back. If the prophetic witness of the heavenly elders via thundering prophets is the opened first seal, their faithful witness unto death is the opened second seal. Before the lamb’s scroll of life is fully opened, faithful prophetic witness unto death must come first. As 13:10 says, if anyone is to be killed by the sword, then he is to be killed by the sword. (Jer. 43:11 says the king of Babylon will give to the sword those who are doomed/destined for the sword.) This tribulation/suffering calls for patience and faithfulness from the saints (13:10).
The beast is given a great sword not only to take peace from the earth but also in order that "they" will slaughter one another. "They" are those who are part of the beast (or who partake in its violence). The violent beast gets carried away while swinging its sword. For it sometimes cuts off one of its own heads! The beast/empire has various parts that would like to become a head. In 13:14, the beast has the plague of the sword and yet lives. This refers back to 13:3 where one of its heads was as slaughtered to death, but then the plague of its death was healed. By 17:10, five heads have already fallen, and there are still more to come. So while the sword can slaughter prophetic critics, it is also given to the beast in order that its heads (or would-be heads) should slaughter one another. Until the very end, there is always another head to take over whenever a ruling head is slaughtered. Its seven heads symbolize all its heads throughout its beastly history.
Emperors/heads come and go. Presidents, as commanders-in-chief, live by the sword. And sometimes they die by the sword (see Matt. 26:52). If the lamb’s kingship were of this world, his servants would also fight with the sword in order to protect him from other kings of the earth (Jn. 18:36). That’s the way political authority operates in the dragon’s world. But the lamb rules in the new heavenly kingdom. And the lamb’s Witness and witnesses refuse to glorify the beast and its violent authority. They rather witness against the violence and idolatry of the beast. It is this witness unto death that is the war of the lamb, its creature/ox/bull, elders, and peacemaking prophets against the dragon and its beast.
The irony is how often the beastly slaughtering sword throughout history has pretended to be God’s pure agent of judgment. Unlike the prophetic stormy words of condemnation, the beastly sword is never pure. Official histories of the present scarlet beast, the U.S., seek to glorify the God-fearing Puritan forefathers of the young, pure nation. Indeed early Puritan leaders used the imagery of Revelation to justify their bloody/beastly treatment of Native Americans. Their bloodiest war in 17th century New England almost exterminated the Wampanoag and Narraganset tribes, killing around 3000. This occurred during King Philip’s War in 1675-76. Puritan fathers who "feared God" saw the war as an apocalyptic judgment and said their New England army executed God’s wrath by treading down the wicked. (See Stephen L. Cook, Prophecy & Apocalypticism, 1995, p. 64.) Similar language has been used by "godly" U.S. leaders during most of their beastly slaughters up to the present. The most glorified heads of the beast have been presidents who won major wars: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Through mass media and public education they have gained "cult status." Their power, honor, and glory are praised.
When the lamb opens the third seal, John hears the third living creature say "Come" (6:5). Even after the sword and slaughter of the red dragon and scarlet beast, heaven still dictates the next developments in the conflict. In 4:7 the third living creature has the face like a man. In 1:13 the one like a son of man is the risen son of the heavenly "man" (see Dan. 7:9,13).
John now sees a black horse coming (6:5). If the white horse was the white cloud with the fiery lightning/Spirit (of the elders), the black horse means those same skies are getting darker. The white horse/cloud/Spirit is now the black horse/dark cloud/Spirit. The reason is because the witness of the heavenly rider/elder of the white horse through the prophets on earth has led to slaughter of the prophets by the rider/beast of the red horse. Apparently the red horse and beast have won the battle. No. Not really. The cloud/Spirit is back. And the cloud is now populated by darkened/slaughtered prophets who will add to the judgments of the heavenly council. This black cloud/Spirit thus encloses the "dead prophets society" who are now risen and ruling under the rider(s)/elder(s) of the heavenly council. Following the firstborn son of man, they now are born/risen as children of the woman/Spirit (see 12:5,17).
Just as the beast/empire keeps coming again like waves of the sea whenever one of its heads is slaughtered, so the seals/spirits/Spirit keep coming again like clouds of the sky whenever some of its prophets are slaughtered. Judgment continues to build in the new heavenly kingdom of the living God, the risen son of man (1:13,18), the living creatures, and risen elders and prophets. Ps. 16:9-11 says that God comes with dark clouds after the deadly chaos of Ps. 16:4-5. Compare 2 Sam. 5:24 where the Lord’s heavenly hosts, marching over the tree-tops, lead the way for David’s own joining the battle. This day of the Lord is going to be darkness and not light, black and not white (see Zeph. 1:14-15).
The rider sitting on the black horse has a balance in his hand (6:5). This shows the judgment given to the rider of weighing those in the balance. Like the bow/Spirit of the rider/elder of 6:2, the balance of the rider of 6:5 is another image of the Spirit of prophetic judgment. The balance (zugon) links with the living creature (zoon) who calls the rider to come. The rider’s role is to sell wheat and barley (6:6). Before that, John hears a voice in the midst of the four living creatures telling the rider what to do with the grain, and with the oil and wine. In 5:6 the lamb is described as in the midst of the four living creatures, so in 6:6 the voice is the lamb (who opens the seal in 6:5). The lamb/son of man is the ultimate source of the judgment to come. The lamb/son of man directs the heavenly rider/elder/child (who has the face like a man/woman) of the angry black horse/cloud/Spirit to sell one quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius. But he also says not to harm the oil and the wine.
The mention of buying and selling, and drinking wine, relates to issues connected with the image of the sea beast. In 13:17, the image dominates buying and selling. In 17:6, the image/harlot is drunk with the wine/blood of the saints and witnesses of Jesus. So on a day when it seems the sea beast has conquered the elders and prophets, and now relaxes while its image/harlot enjoys the fruit of its slaughter, the day turns dark. A day of judgment has come, but the oil and the wine will not be harmed. The wine/blood of the prophetic witnesses was the lamb’s blood/Spirit that empowered their own faithful witness unto death/blood. They conquered by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their witness (like those in 12:11). And as darkened heavenly hosts in the horse/cloud/Spirit they continue to come with the rider(s)/elder(s) of the black horse/Spirit of judgment. If the wine/blood points to the slaughter of the second seal, the oil points to the gold/oil/Spirit, the (gold) crown of the first seal. The rider of the black horse is the same kingly elder(s) that rode the white horse. As the preeminent prophetic witness of the heavenly hosts their witness continues to come and conquer (see 6:2). They are at the forefront of the opening of the seven seals and will continue to be at the forefront of the seven oracles, seven trumpets, and seven bowls. They are the foundational heavenly witness that earth cannot harm or escape. The earthly seals are an extension of the heavenly scroll.
Yet also at work is the earth beast that deceives by persuading people to make an image/harlot/city for the sea beast (13:14). Even many in the churches follow the false prophets into the arms of the great city, becoming part of the city. They prefer the pleasures of the harlot/city more than the prophetic witness of the wilderness woman/Spirit. Thus they join in drinking the wine of the harlot. They have forgotten/abandoned the devotion and love of their youth when they followed the Lord in the wilderness (see Jer. 2:2).
The wheat sells at a higher price than the barley, just as the false prophets (wheat) lead the way for their followers (barley). During John’s day, much wheat was exported to Rome, which preferred wheat to other grains like barley (eaten mostly by the poor). It seemed the wheat and barley in the churches were bought by the blood of the lamb. But since they prefer the harlot/city, their dark day of judgment has come. The lamb now tells the heavenly rider(s) to sell them to the great city. That’s where they really belong. The unfaithful are being sold into slavery to Babylon the great and its beast/empire. Dan. 6:27-28 also combines both of these types of judgment. Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, is told in Dan. 6:27 that he has been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Then in Dan. 6:28 he is told that his kingdom will be divided and given to the Medes and Persians. (Ezek. 34:12-13 says God will later seek out his sheep/people among the nations (especially Babylonia) where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. Using similar imagery, Ezek. 30:18 describes a dark day when a proud Egyptian city will be covered by a cloud and her daughters go into captivity.)
Since the Babylon of John’s day is Rome, the rich city pays the Roman denarius for the wheat and barley. What the false prophets and their followers consider paradise on earth, the stormy witness of the elders and prophets considers slavery to the city. While some are to be killed with the beast’s sword, others are to go into captivity (13:10). John’s own captivity on Patmos is one form of such captivity, but the great city also takes captive many unfaithful witnesses (compare Jer. 43:10-11). What God planted is now being pulled up (and sold), since they sought great things for themselves in the great city/cities (Jer. 45:4-5). They have been captivated by the city. Thus part of the cargo that rich merchants buy and then sell to the city is wheat (18:13). The poor people/barley is not included on the list of 18:13 because it is not that important to the rich city merchants. Yet at the end of the long list of exports to the city are "bodies and souls of men." The poor barley becomes slaves.
The barley that was once bought by the blood of the lamb could not conquer its fear of, and/or admiration for, the beast and its image. It is especially a dark day for the lamb to sell the bodies and souls of men to the great city (see Isa. 50:1,3). As the elders and prophets once witnessed to the death against the dragon, its beasts, and the image/city, their earthly followers will keep alive that witness. As John the Baptist, filled with the Spirit, came in the spirit/Spirit and power of Elijah (Lk. 1:15,17), so future prophets in the churches will be filled with the Spirit of prophecy and come/speak in the spirit/Spirit of the elder(s) and prophets who preceded them. These angels in heaven are the angels of these "little ones," these despised prophets on earth, who humble themselves and speak as obedient children on behalf of the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 18:4,10). The same Spirit that spoke through the elders/angels speaks through later prophets. This produces continuity with the prophetic tradition of both Jesus and the foundational elders.
Church members who choose the great earthly empire and city over the greater heavenly kingdom and city will be judged as sold into slavery to Babylon. Even then, there is still hope for some of them in the future. For future prophetic calls will continually urge them to come out of Babylon (18:4). Compare Jer. 12:14-15 where after God uproots his people/plants, he will again bring them back to their own country. The false prophets were especially responsible for the uprooting/removal from their own land (Jer. 27:10,15). When God gathers them back again, he will no longer hide his face from them but pour out his Spirit on them (Ezek. 39:28-29).
Ezek. 39:23-24 says God’s disobedient people went into captivity because God hid his face from them (see Deut. 31:17-18). Deut. 32:20 also refers to God hiding his face from unfaithful children (who have waxed fat in 32:15). In the same context, Deut. 32:18 portrays God as the rock/mother who gave birth/bore those children. Later, Deut. 32:30 describes that rock as having sold them. Thus the third living creature with the face of a man/woman hides/darkens his/her face in 6:5-6 as greedy Christians are sold to the great city.
Around 1995, a study of eighteen new Christian books on work, money, and possessions revealed that all of them legitimated modern materialism. These popular evangelical books reaffirmed the Protestant work ethic where work is an obligation, a "calling." Every book likewise promoted success in jobs and financial security. These would result from obeying authority, being harmonious and polite, and never confronting or insulting others. Limits on consumption of goods must remain vague or else they will be legalistic. Accumulating money is fine as long as one’s attitude is right. Faith is thus especially psychological feelings and attitudes, free of anxiety or guilt. God (and human ministry) is primarily therapeutic, nonjudgmental, and unconditionally accepting and forgiving. (See Marsha G. Witten, "’Where Your Treasure Is’: Popular Evangelical Views of Work, Money, and Materialism," pp. 117-141 in Robert Wuthnow, ed., Rethinking Materialism, 1995.) Hopefully, the reader realizes that these popular views are precisely what must be rejected by true prophets.
When the lamb opens the fourth seal, John hears a voice of the fourth living creature saying "Come" (6:7). In 4:7, the fourth living creature is like an eagle flying. John then sees a green horse coming (6:8). Most translators don’t like green horses, so they try to color this horse more appropriately as pale or some such color. But the word is green (chloros) and is used two other times in Revelation, both times in connection with green grass or trees (8:7; 9:4). In 6:6, the wheat and barley are contrasted with the (gold) oil and (red) wine/blood. Thus green partly reflects the fertile vegetation that forms part of the wealth of the great river city. The queen city sits on the waters and rural areas under and around her. The fountain/foundation of the fertile harlot/city is the great river/dragon and all the greedy nations/peoples going with/in that flow.
As the red horse is the bloody (sea) dragon, the green horse is the bountiful river/dragon. The many green waters/dragon/horse enable the green abundance around the queen city. This authority/power is also given to the earth beast which makes the earth-dwellers build the image/city (see 13:11,14). As the white horse/Spirit of 6:2 turns into a black horse/Spirit in 6:5, the red horse/dragon of 6:4 turns into a green horse/dragon.
Instead of someone riding on the green horse, John sees one sitting over it, as if hovering above it (6:8). The rider’s name is death, and hades follows after it. Death is personified as the rider of the green horse and hades follows as its kingdom. This reveals that the new green horse/dragon is really the old red horse/dragon from the sea/death/hades. This kingdom of death and hades is thus comparable to the sea beast/empire that rides the red dragon. But death and hades are here associated with the green horse/dragon and the wealth of the queen city, all promoted by the beast from the earth. Such associations are found in Ps. 49:5-9 where the wealthy persecute the righteous and think they themselves will never see the pit/hades/sheol. But the final fate of such arrogant ones is the grave/sheol and (personified) death will be their shepherd (Ps. 49:11-14). So the righteous need not fear the rich, for their wealth and arrogance are destined for death (Ps. 49:5-6,16-20). In John’s vision, the queen city boasts that she is no widow and will never see mourning (18:7). But the death of the saints and prophets that she celebrated (17:6) will come back to haunt her (18:2,8).
Death and hades are also given (by God and the eagle/vulture that hovers with even greater authority over the riders) authority over the fourth of the earth (6:8). The fourth of the earth is like the peace of the earth in 6:4. It is where the heavenly "fours" (the four living creatures, twenty-four elders, and some of the 144,000 prophets) continue to speak on earth. It is the wilderness where the children in the womb of the woman/Spirit cry out and carry on the heavenly witness. It is also where the green horse shows its true colors, the colors of its riders.
Death and hades are given authority to kill with the sword and with famine and with death, and by the beasts of the earth (6:8). While killing with the sword reminds the reader of the rider of the red horse in 6:4, the word for sword in 6:8 is different. Instead of the machaira/sword of 6:4, the killing in 6:8 is done with a romphaia/sword. The romphaia is used elsewhere in Revelation for the sword that comes out of the mouth of the risen Jesus. This sword is first used in 1:16 as part of the stormy witness of judgment of the one like a son of man. Shortly after that, in 1:18, this son of man identifies himself as the one who died but now lives forever—and has the keys of death and hades. This sword is like the imagery of Hos. 6:5 where God will cut Israel in pieces with his prophets, kill them with the words of his mouth, his judgments flashing like lightning upon them. (See also 2 Thes. 2:8.) So the sword of 6:8 is more like the lightning arrow/sword of the elder(s) in 6:2. Compare, again, the fire/spirit/dragon given to the image/harlot by the earth beast in 13:13,15. The earth beast (false prophet(s)) can do this sign because it also speaks like a dragon (13:11). So the sword of 6:8 is the dragon and its witness/slander against a wilderness that has spurned/condemned the (green) wheat and barley and their queen city. This fiery witness comes especially via the earth beast/false prophet(s), which includes the wheat, and the image/harlot. Because the green horse and its spokespersons have deceived and seduced the wheat and barley out of the wilderness, they have been the cause of famine there (6:8). And to the degree that they collaborate with the sea beast that swings a literal sword, they can cause the literal death of some in the wilderness. At that point, the riders of the green horse can capture and consume those lying dead in the wilderness. It sounds grim. But remember, this is only the fourth seal, and the story is about a scroll with seven seals. Indeed, the slaughtered lamb who has the scroll is the one opening these seals. And this lamb has the keys of death and hades.
Opening the last three seals
When the lamb opens the fifth seal, there is no living creature that says "Come" as in the first four seals. For now John sees under the heavenly altar the souls of those slaughtered on account of the word of God and the witness they had (6:9). Those slaughtered to death by the never-say-die beast of 6:4 (and 6:8) have not been abandoned in hades. Instead, they have received a new life in heaven under the altar of the heavenly temple.
They have joined the slaughtered lamb, who in 5:6 stands in the midst of the throne/Spirit, the four living creatures/Spirit, and the elders. The Greek words for seal (sphragida) and slaughtered (esphagmenon) in 6:9 both look and sound similar. Those who are slaughtered on earth as part of the second and fourth seals now turn out to be alive and well under the altar in heaven. The heavenly altar is like the former earthly altar of burnt offering because of the bull and rams slaughtered there (see Ex. 29:10-25). Those slaughtered in 6:4 are linked with the second living creature like a bull/ox (and the slaughtered lamb/ram of 5:6). In Ex. 29:12 much of the bull’s blood is poured out at the base of the altar. Compare those under the heavenly altar who cry out for vindication of their blood in 6:9-10.
The prophetic heavenly witness now cries out with a great voice (6:10; see 1:10 and 4:1 and a great voice like a trumpet/Spirit). The same great voice of the Spirit that got them slaughtered now cries out for vindication from God. They ask how long it will be until God judges those still dwelling on the earth. This looks forward to the future day of God’s final judgment/wrath. On that day, there will be no more forgiveness or repentance for those who were part of the idolatry that slaughters strong prophets. Until that day, prophetic judgments on earth are warnings meant to lead to repentance. In 6:10 the heavenly prayer focuses on the final judgment, a judgment that will confirm and vindicate their own earlier judgments/warnings. These prophets are now angels, part of God’s kingdom/dwelling place, the scroll in heaven. Their speaking earlier was part of the word of God and witness that led to being slaughtered by the beast and those dwelling on the earth.
God’s response is to give each of these angels a white robe (6:11). Having faithfully served as slaughtered lambs of the lamb and its seal(s)/Spirit, they will now join the shining white stars/angels of heaven.
These whitened prophets are told to rest for a short time (6:11). The short time is the same as the dragon’s short time in 12:12 (and the half a time in 12:14) and is the time of the dragon’s violent authority on the earth and in the sea. Thus the slaughtered angels/prophets must rest until their fellow-servants and brothers (and sisters), the rest of the children of the woman/Spirit of prophecy, are killed or condemned also (by the literal machaira/sword or by the slanderous romphaia/sword of the beasts and the image). Such slaughter will continue until the final prophet on earth is silenced. The dragon still has a short time to slaughter other prophets by means of the beasts with the swords. Ironically, by doing so, the dragon will then complete the full number of the prophetic family of the woman/Spirit. The dragon’s limited time is short compared to the eternal kingdom of the Angel and angels.
When the lamb opens the sixth seal, the short time has ended (6:12). The full number of those who must be killed for their witness has been fulfilled. This is symbolized by the whole moon becoming like blood. The slaughtered lamb with its faithful witness unto death is the moon covered with blood. Yet that witness continues after the lamb’s death through all who follow the lamb wherever he goes (see 14:4). Only when their number (144,000) is complete is the full moon covered with blood. The bloody moon is like the bloody altar of 6:9. Thus the altar/moon is the faithful witness unto death of the slaughtered lamb and all the slaughtered lambs/prophets who continued his strong prophetic witness. (Josh. 22:26-28 portrays an altar as a witness, and in Josh. 22:34 the altar is called "Witness.") If the red dragon came in 6:4 to take peace from the earth, the red moon comes in 6:12 to judge the violent earth. The cry of 6:10 is being answered, and the bloody moon/altar is part of the answer to their own cry. Those angels/prophets come as part of God’s final judgment against those dwelling on the earth.
So opening the sixth seal means opening the final witness/judgment of God and family against their earthly foes. A great earthquake shakes those dwelling securely on the earth, and in the earth (6:12). The sun becomes black like the sackcloth of goat hair. Like the black horse/Spirit in 6:5, the black sun/Spirit brings bitter judgment, now the final judgment. The black hairy sackcloth also symbolizes mourning over all those who refused to repent, including many in the churches. John’s only other use of sackcloth is in 11:3 for the sackcloth of the two witnesses. When that suffering witness on earth has finally been rejected, they will all be part of the darkened sun/Spirit for the final witness against the earth. The final day of the Lord has dawned, and it turns out to be a day of darkness for many who expected light. (Compare Amos 5:18. Joel 1:13 calls for priests to put on sackcloth and mourn. For the day of the Lord is near and will mean destruction (Joel 1:15).)
Moreover, there are falling stars (6:13). The earth is bombarded with stars. It is like a fig tree "throwing" all its fruit to the ground when a great wind shakes it. All the stars/angels, all the prophets and saints who were given white robes (see 6:11) so that they shine, lighting up heaven, fall to earth to participate in the final judgment. The Spirit through which they received oil/gold/Spirit as lampstands on earth, now is the wind that shakes them from their heavenly dwelling so that they join God’s judgment against the earth, and against those under the earth. (Mk. 13:24-26 connects the darkening of sun and moon, and the falling of the stars, with the final coming of the Son of man.)
The heaven/sky that formerly hid the heavenly kingdom/scroll now disappears like a scroll that is rolled up (6:14). This scroll is not the scroll/kingdom of life of the lamb, but the scroll/kingdom of death and hades of the dragon. While the scroll of life is opening for all to see, the scroll of death is closing. Every mountain and island that reached high into the sky/heaven are removed from their proud places. Remember that the heads of the beast from the sea symbolize both kings and mountains (17:9-10). The mountains are the kings/emperors/presidents of the violent imperial authority. When the beast comes out of the sea, its heads are mountains/kings. And as the beast’s seven heads are associated with its ten horns, the mountains are linked with the islands. Both the heads/mountains/kings and horns/islands/kings have elevated themselves (high in the sky) and use their violent authority against the earth, even against the great city of the earth (see 17:12-17). Compare Ezek. 26:16,18 and its parallelism between the appalled, trembling princes/kings of the sea and the dismayed, trembling islands of the sea. Moreover, the great city/harlot that sits high on the beast (17:3) also has sins heaped as high as heaven (18:5).
It is appropriate that the commanders-in-chief of those who slaughter the prophets should be the first to fall from their high places. These heads called on the whole earth to worship them and their empire, the beast (13:4,8). They blasphemed God and the heavenly dwelling/kingdom (13:6). They sat enthroned over the earth, slaughtering at will. Now the stormy Spirit/witness of Jesus shakes the earth and sky, and these highly inflated mountains and islands disappear into the depths from which their beastly authority came. The highest heaven now condemns them. Their big mouths are speechless. Their big swords are the history they will never escape.
When the foundation stones are removed, the whole building begins to collapse. After the mountains and islands are removed, a sevenfold list is given of those who make up the empire (6:15). As the beast/empire once thrived under its heads/kings, it now hides in/under those same heads/mountains. The first, third, and fifth groups on the list are the kings of the earth, the generals, and the strong. They carried out the orders of their commanders-in-chief as he wielded the great sword. The second, fourth, sixth, and seventh groups on the list are the great ones, the wealthy, and every slave and free person. The only other use of "great ones" in Revelation is 18:23 where they describe the merchants of the earth. The merchants bought and sold the cargo of 18:11-13, which includes wheat and bodies/slaves, to the wealthy city. Thus these four groups are the more seductive image of the beast, the great harlot/city. The slaves include the barley sold into bondage by the lamb (see 6:6). As in Jer. 6:13, everyone has been greedy for unjust gain, from the least to the greatest (see Jer. 49:18,20).
The beast/empire and the image/city hide in the caves and rocks of the mountains/heads (6:15). Compare the cave covered by a rock in Jn. 11:38 where Lazarus is buried. In Isa. 22:15, Shebna is a steward/administrator over the household of Judah/Jerusalem. He uses his wealth and power to build a tomb in the rock on a high mountain (Isa. 22:16). God speaks to Shebna through the prophet Isaiah and asks why he prepares his burial place here because it will not be his future dwelling place. The place Shebna chooses is an elevated/proud location. The king of Judah at this time is Hezekiah, who came to be buried among the high/elevated tombs of the sons of David (2 Chron. 32:33). Shebna is preparing a similar highly honored burial place for himself among the tombs of the kings (called the "house of heroes" in Neh. 3:16). But God’s judgment against Shebna is that in the future he will be thrown violently away like a ball, hurled down from his powerful and wealthy position (compare Jer. 49:16,19). God will replace him with Eliakim (Isa. 22:20-21), who will receive the key of David (Isa. 22:22, a verse alluded to in Jesus’ oracle in 3:7).
The imagery of the sixth seal makes a similar point. The focus in 6:15 is on the powerful and wealthy who benefited from the mountains/kings during their lifetime—and would share their honor and glory in death as they build tombs in the rock and caves of the mountain heights. But God’s judgment shakes the mountains/kings and exposes the powerful and wealthy. The latter prefer to be remembered as honorable and remain in honorable tombs. They cannot, however, remain hidden there from the final judgment against them. While they prefer an honorable death to eternal judgment, the mountains and rocks in which they found security and rest are suddenly being thrown down from their high/honorable place.
Isa. 31:9 likewise portrays the Assyrian king as a (high) rock/mountain being brought low, along with his princes, by God’s sword. In contrast, a righteous king and princes will then rule (Isa. 32:1). Each will be a hiding place from the stormy wind, like the shade of a great rock/mountain (Isa. 32:2). But the powerful and wealthy who were formerly considered noble and honorable will be exposed as those who destroyed the poor while covering it up with lies (Isa. 32:5-7).
Before the final day, all the earth melted at the sight of the hard face of various high mountains/kings. They did what they were told, and foolishly glorified their kings. Now a different face appears, a face so hard that the mountains and islands have melted. This is the face of the one sitting on the throne (6:16). This is the third living creature/Spirit who has the face like a man (4:7). This is the black horse/sun that brings the great day of the Lord’s final judgment (6:17). As the word of God, this face answers the prayers of angels/prophets who cry to the holy and true despot of heaven to judge those who slaughtered them (6:10). As the Witness of Jesus, this face comes with the lamb to condemn the earth, and all that is on it and in/under it. So now, who is able/strong to stand? Can anyone’s face match that of the Spirit and the lamb? This lamb was slaughtered on earth but now stands tall in the midst of the heavenly throne/Spirit and living creatures/Spirit (5:6). The one like a son of man comes for the final time (6:17), and his face still shines like the sun in its power (1:16). Those who once asked who could fight against the beast (13:4) now have their answer. All those who fought for the beast’s heads/mountains/high places, and who shared some of the beast’s/empire’s pride and prosperity, finally meet their match and desperately call on those mountains and rocks to fall on them and hide/protect them from the fearful face (6:16). On the final day of judgment, human history’s famous warriors/kings/saviors will be helpless to rescue anyone, even themselves.
After the sixth seal, and before opening the seventh seal, there is a description of the sealing of the 144,000 and the heavenly kingdom of myriads of angels. Then in only one verse, 8:1, the lamb opens the seventh seal. And the result is curious: silence in heaven for like a half an hour. But the half an hour links with the half a time in 12:14. There, the half a time is the short time (see 12:12) the dragon has to wreak havoc on the earth. This same short time was also referred to in 6:11 regarding the time when other servants/prophets are to be killed like those under the heavenly altar. So the seventh seal is the special time of the dragon. But it’s now the judgment time of the dragon whose short time or half a time was previously spent attacking God’s prophets and saints.
The final judgment of the sixth seal affects especially the dragon’s sea beast and its image. Now it’s time for the leader of the pack. The dragon’s long history was one of accusing God’s people (see 12:10). All the big mouths of the heads and horns of the beast, and of the image/harlot and the beast from the earth, reflected the dragon’s deceptive and blasphemous mouth ever since Eve in the garden. After the final judgment of the dragon’s followers in the sixth seal, the dragon stands alone before the judgment throne of God and the lamb. Yet like the others, it can not stand before God’s wrath (see 6:17). Like the others, it cowers in silence. The nonstop mouth of the dragon finally stops. It is speechless on the great day of judgment. The half a time it was allowed to persecute God’s saints becomes the half an hour it must kneel before God’s throne. It’s time to give the devil its due. (After calling all people to be silent in Zech. 2:13, the Lord then rebukes Satan in 3:1-2 because he stood with God to accuse Joshua the high priest. Compare Mk. 1:24-25 where Jesus commands a demon to be silent. Note also Satan’s gathering all the nations for his final attack/judgment against God’s people in 20:7-10, after the beasts have been thrown into the lake of fire. Ps. 31:17-18 articulates well God’s judgment against the wicked who proudly speak with contempt against the righteous. Their punishment is to lie silent in Sheol/hades so that their lying lips are silenced. For those arrogant mouths, such silence will be hell.)
The sealing of the 144,000
After the description of the sixth seal, and before the seventh seal, a special sealing takes place. John sees four angels standing over the four corners of the earth (7:1). These four awesome angels must be the four living creatures/cherubim. The number four here is directly connected with the four corners of the earth, showing that the four angels/cherubim have authority over the whole earth. Thus they are the Angel/Spirit sent into all the earth (see 5:6).
The angels/Angel are holding the four winds of the earth so that no wind should blow upon the earth or upon the sea or upon every tree (7:1). As in Jn. 3:8, the wind is another symbol of the Spirit (and another translation of the Greek word for Spirit). Compare also Ezek. 37:9 where the Lord’s breath comes from the four winds and gives life to the dead. This is interpreted in Ezek. 37:14 as putting God’s Spirit in them so that they live.
So as the four living creatures and the seven spirits are both symbols of the Spirit, the four angels and four winds are likewise both symbols of the Spirit. (See Ps. 18:10 where God rides on a cherub, on the wings of the wind. The angel/cherub is linked with the wind. Ps. 104:3 similarly describes God riding on the clouds, on the wings of the wind. In Revelation, the parallelism of clouds, cherubim, and winds makes them all images of the spirits/Spirit.) The mention of wind also points back to 6:13 where the stars fall to earth like figs thrown by a great wind. Thus the four winds symbolize especially the great wind of the final judgment of the Spirit. That wind/Spirit will blow the stars like figs from a tree as they speak their final condemnation against the beasts.
In 6:14 every mountain and island is removed from its proud place. The mountains symbolize the heads/kings of the sea beast and the islands its horns/kings. Here, in 7:1, the wind is aiming not only at the earth and sea, but especially at every tree. Since every mountain and island receive first "honors" in the final judgment of 6:14, now every tree receives special mention in 7:1. If the mountains and islands are the main authorities of the violent beast coming out of the sea, then it appears the trees are the main authorities of the deceptive beast coming out of the earth. Then the stars falling like figs would appropriately be blown by the great wind/winds against all the trees/false prophets of the beast/false prophet of the earth. In the end, it will be the true (fig) trees/prophets and their final fruit/stars empowered by the wind(s)/Spirit who will overcome all the other (false) trees/prophets.
John next sees "another" angel (after the four angels/Angel) coming up from the rising sun (7:2). That would be from the east, but the phrase "from the rising sun" especially symbolizes the angel of the new day of God’s heavenly creation. This angel/star in the east is the bright morning star, the first faithful witness whose face now shines with the resurrection power of the sun (see 22:16; 1:16). The Angel is the risen Jesus, aglow with the fiery sun/Spirit. Isa. 60:1 describes the glory of the Lord rising (like the sun) on Zion/Israel, and the preceding verse (Isa. 59:21) refers to God’s Spirit who is on Zion/Israel. God thus rises on Zion/Israel through God’s glory/Spirit that appears on/over them (Isa. 60:2). John will later see the New Jerusalem shining with God’s glory/Spirit (21:11). In 22:16 the morning star is also the root of David, used earlier in 5:5 to describe the lion of the tribe of Judah, the first tribe of 7:5-8. (In Num. 2:3, the tribe of Judah encamps on the east side of Israel’s camp, toward the sunrise. According to Num. 2:9, they will thus set out first on the wilderness march.)
Jesus has the seal of the living God. God put this seal first on Jesus (see Jn. 6:27). Now, the slaughtered and living lamb of the living God will join with the four angels/living creatures to seal the servants of their God (7:3). Before that, the Angel cries out to the four angels/Angel with a great voice (of the Spirit), telling them not to harm the earth, sea, and trees until after the sealing is complete (7:2-3). The final judgment/blowing of the sixth seal is not to happen until all the servants are sealed on their foreheads (7:3). These servants are the same servants referred to at the beginning in 1:1, namely, God’s servants the prophets. They are all fellow servants who are slaughtered or condemned because of the word of God and the witness they had (see 6:9-11). Indeed, the Greek word for sealing in 7:3 (sphragisomen) looks and sounds very similar to the Greek word for slaughtering in 6:9 (esphragmenon). This suggests that the sealing of their foreheads not only "hardens" their faces (see Ezek. 3:7-9; 9:4) and minds with the truth of God’s word, but also leads to their slaughtering/beheading by those who want to silence that witness.
Because sealing is connected with preparation for witness and its consequences, it is appropriate that the first faithful witness, slaughtered and now living, has the seal. The living lamb also joins with the four angels/living creatures to seal the servants/prophets. As the angels/creatures are the Spirit of prophecy which is the ultimate Witness of Jesus, and the power/sun of the risen Jesus, the seal is that same Spirit. Thus the angel/morning star Jesus comes from the rising sun/Spirit with the four angels/Spirit and with the seal/Spirit.
When God’s servants the prophets are sealed with the Spirit of prophecy, they are prepared to continue Jesus’ faithful witness, even unto suffering and death. Their sealing is a prophetic anointing on the head by the oil/Spirit (see the oil of 6:6). This anointing/sealing will also lead to conflict with the beasts who will slaughter them and pour out their blood/wine (see the wine of 6:6). Only after they have been condemned by the trees/false prophets of the earth and/or killed by the mountains/kings of the earth will they blow like fig trees from heaven bringing final judgment against them. On that final day of judgment, they will stand strong with the slaughtered Lamb (6:16-17) because they have first been anointed with the seal/Spirit and thus stood firm with the first faithful witness (see 2 Cor. 1:21-22). Even before that final day, their anointing as prophets on earth also proves to be their anointing as future priests and kings in heaven. They will rule with Christ in heaven because they share Christ’s throne/authority/seal/Spirit (see 20:4,6).
After being sealed with the Spirit, the servants/prophets become linked with the seal/Spirit. The angel/living lamb is the one opening the seals, and the four angels/creatures are especially the ones speaking and empowering the earthly prophetic witness. The seal/Spirit of the living God comes again and again through new prophets speaking the same old witness. Despite the deadly riders of the red horse/dragon and green horse/dragon over the fourth of the peacemaking earth, the fourth living creature, the flying eagle, will still have the final word. Indeed opening each of the first four seals means opening the seal/Spirit to speak since each living creature calls each horse to come. And opening the fifth seal leads to the great voice of the seal/Spirit crying out through those slaughtered for their word/witness/Spirit. Opening the sixth seal includes reopening the black horse/sun/Spirit, the wind/Spirit that activates the stars/angels, and the face of one like a man who speaks with the lamb on the final day. Above all, those come when the seals are opened. The seal/Spirit and the lamb rule the seals. More than anyone else, the seal/Spirit is the seals. The lamb holds the scroll/kingdom/Spirit with its seven seals/spirits/Spirit.
While slaughtered prophets cry out to God for final judgment against their enemies, they must rest until the full number of their fellow servants is complete. This full number is the 144,000 in 7:4. The number four of course links with the four angels/creatures who help seal them. As the twenty-four elders are the wings/extensions of the four living creatures, the 144,000 will be the total number of their fellow servants/prophets who have the seal/Spirit of prophecy. The twenty-four elders are two times twelve, and the 144,000 are twelve thousand times twelve.
The number 1,000 in 144,000 and 12,000 could be linked also with the 1,000 years of 20:4, the infamous millennium. After God’s servants the prophets are sealed on their foreheads and finish their faithful witness on earth, climaxed by their beheading (literally or figuratively), they join the living God, living lamb, and living creatures in the heavenly kingdom. Having served as part of the opened seals, due to the seal/Spirit, they end up as part of the heavenly scroll/Spirit/kingdom. For the seal is also the key of death and hades, so that the flying eagle/Spirit transports them immediately into the new kingdom. This is the first resurrection of 20:5-6. They were slaughtered/beheaded, but lived and ruled with Christ for the thousand years (20:4). The thousand years is the time for the first risen witness to rule with the thousands of other servants/prophets who speak as part of the opened seals on earth and then as part of the scroll in heaven.
Their rule involves judgment against their enemies. The thousand years is the full time for Christ and his prophetic brothers and sisters to prophesy on earth, and then rule from heaven. In heaven they are the "dead prophets society" which is never really dead but lives on as their faithful witness is passed on from generation to generation. Then at the end of that time, they also share in the final judgment. During the first few centuries of the church, those (like Justin and Irenaeus) who taught a more literal thousand year millennium on earth at the end of the age also tended to teach that dead Christians only come back to life at that end. Others (like Hermas, Ignatius, and Clement) who taught that dead Christians go immediately to heaven likewise did not teach a future earthly millennium.
The Greek word for thousand (chilias) also suggests a link with the Greek word for generals (chiliarchoi) in 6:15. While the prophets "fight" with the sword of the Spirit, the generals use literal swords and carry out the violence of the beast from the sea. And as the elders, followed by the 144,000, are the frontlines of the "army" of prophets, the generals are the frontlines of the dragon’s beastly army.
The first faithful witness who conquered was the lion of the tribe of Judah (5:5). He is the first of the thousands. Then the first living creature like a lion calls for the first sealed/anointed elders to come and conquer (6:1-2). Opening the first seal revives the witness of the frontline of elders who are also of the tribe of Judah in the sense that they are the leaders of all the prophets. That is why the first 12,000 of the 144,000 listed in 7:5 are from the tribe of Judah. The number 12 also points to the twelve tribes of Israel, now symbolic of God’s servants the prophets. While these "Jews" symbolize prophets, the symbolism builds on the earliest primary prophets (Jesus, the elders, and other major witnesses), most of whom were literally Jews. Those grafted into this Jewish prophetic "tree" thus become "Jews" like them (similar to those in Paul’s olive tree metaphor in Rom. 11:24). Every one of the twelve tribes is fully numbered/named/sealed by the Spirit of prophecy. They are from every tribe of the sons of Israel and must contend with every beast that stands tall against them (7:1,4). Because these "sons" are the strong (male and female) leaders of Christ’s ongoing witness on earth, they receive the strongest reaction from the dragon and beasts. That is why their sealing is associated with being slaughtered. Not all of them are literally slaughtered by the sword of the (sea) beast, but all of the "144,000" are more strongly condemned and/or persecuted than the multitudes/saints who come to join them.
John’s portrait of "sons" of Israel as the frontline of servants/prophets, followed by myriads from every nation in 7:9, should not be applied nationally. Israel here is a symbol of major prophets, not of a nation (even if most of the earliest major prophets were Jews). And the myriads are minor prophets who come to join them, not actual nations (even if most of the later minor prophets were Gentiles from every nation). Both groups of prophets refuse the idolatry of nationalistic false prophets.
Over the past few centuries such false prophets in the U.S. have especially included famous revivalists/evangelists. Even in the early eighteenth century, the so-called Great Awakening led to widespread evangelism that promoted a national civil religion. The leading evangelist at first was Jonathan Edwards, who thought this revival of heartfelt faith would mean the beginning of the millennium in America, and would spread to the world. This evangelistic faith became the basis for an emotional future-oriented American civil religion.
Evangelists who glorified their nation came to receive financial support from some of the nation’s great merchants. In the early nineteenth century, Charles Finney became the premier evangelist of the new nation. A group of wealthy New York businessmen and bankers who called themselves the Association of Gentlemen persuaded Finney to join their cause. That cause was to reform the nation and bring in a perfect society. They hoped their reforms would end evils like drunkenness, profanity, Sabbath-breaking, slavery, war, and poverty. They thus talked about bringing in the millennium, understood as a literal thousand years of peace and prosperity. This optimism came to be labeled as post-millennialism because Christ would only come again after (post) the millennium these men had built.
Charles Finney traveled nationally to promote this vision. For Finney, the great business of the church was to reform the nation and then the world. His revival preaching inspired new hopes that saving the nation, and with it the world, would bring in the millennium. This so-called progressive vision came to a head by the middle of the nineteenth century and then began to crumble as the nation and its regional religions split over slavery and the Civil War.
Another national evangelist emerged in the late nineteenth century with a revised vision called dispensational premillennialism. Dwight L. Moody preached a revival that would prepare for Christ’s second coming, which would happen before (pre) the millennium. Large city revival meetings, financed by conservative businessmen (notably John D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, and Cornelius Vanderbilt), would rescue as many Americans as possible from an evil world before the end came. At a time of increased labor unrest in the Chicago factories of those businessmen, Moody exhorted workers to "higher thoughts than labor agitation." Prophetic books like Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation provided the blueprint for the last days before the rapture and great tribulation.
By the early twentieth century, yet another evangelist took the nation by storm. Dramatic and entertaining, Billy Sunday praised patriotism and free enterprise. During World War I he led "Wake Up America" rallies and called for imprisoning those who criticized President Wilson. Sunday’s praise of capitalism attracted America’s elite capitalists, names like John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Andrew Carnegie. U.S. presidents and national legislators invited Sunday to visit them in Washington and pray or preach. Of course, another national evangelist named Billy (Graham) has built on that long tradition in the late twentieth century. (For further details about that earlier revivalistic tradition see William Martin, With God On Our Side, 1996, pp. 2-13.)
The multiplication of national televangelists in the 1970s and 80s was related to the boom in energy prices in the 70s. Certain oil barons increasingly patronized right-wing evangelists as part of the "New Right" movement. This group was even more nationalistic than the older and larger multinational barons (like the Rockefellers and Morgans). While the older ruling class traditionally wielded power through groups like the Council on Foreign Relations or the Committee for Economic Development, the "New Right" tried to fight back through groups like the Council for National Policy. This latter Council included right-wing businessmen (like Nelson B. Hunt, Cullen Davis, and Joseph Coors) and over two dozen evangelists (like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Robison). At the same time, the traditional core of big business moved right, while continuing to patronize "moderate" evangelical leaders. Thus the beast from the earth (the false prophets) helped persuade the "nation" to trust and obey the beast from the sea (and its more violent heads/presidents) and to seek first the gospel of free enterprise promoted by the image of the beast (their rich patrons). (See Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers, Right Turn, 1986, pp. 89-91,103-104; also, Laurence Shoup & William Minter, Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy, 1977.)
The "many" multitude from every nation and tribe and people and tongue
The slaughtered lamb not only seals the "sons of Israel" but also buys with his blood people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (5:9). The fourfold description of tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations points to the four corners of the earth where the four angels with the four winds will finally blow/judge the earth (see 7:1). Yet those who are bought by the lamb come out of every corner of the earth and are ultimately made/created anew to be part of the heavenly kingdom of priests and kings (5:10). Already in 5:11 John sees the final multitude in heaven and their number was myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands. The thousands of thousands refer to the 144,000 of 7:4-8, the servants/prophets responsible for calling the rest to escape the final judgment of the earth. The myriads of myriads of 5:11 are those from the four corners of the earth who respond to the servants and join the family of God.
In 7:9, after John has seen the full number of the 144,000 sealed, he then sees a great (literally, "many") multitude whose number no one could count. The Greek word for "many" here is polus and is the word used in the somewhat familiar phrase, the hoi polloi (the "masses"). These myriads of myriads come out of every nation, tribe, people, and tongue (7:9). As the full number of the thousands continues to fill up through history by each new generation of servants/prophets, so the full number of the myriads continues to fill up through history as they respond to the witness of the servants. When the rest of the earth finally falls before God’s final judgment, these myriads will be standing before the throne/Spirit and before the lamb (7:9). So the myriads are another answer to the question of the beasts in 6:17 as to who is able to stand before the throne and lamb.
They can stand because they are dressed in white robes, like those of the slaughtered servants in 6:11, all aglow with the Spirit responsible for their holiness. They kept God’s commandments against the idolatry and immorality of the beasts and the image because they responded to the faithful witness of the servants/prophets. They refused the trees/false prophets of the earth. Thus the palm branches, or palm leaves, in their hands in 7:9 are another "tree" symbol of the faithful trees/true prophets who nurtured them so that they became part of the heavenly tree of life. (Isa. 9:14-15 uses the palm branch to symbolize the head/elder of the people.) Because the ultimate source of their righteousness is the Spirit, it is with the great voice of the Spirit that they cry out in praise to God and the lamb in 7:10. Their salvation belongs to the one true God who sits on the throne/Spirit and to the lamb. And because they cry out with the great voice of the Spirit, they also can prophesy praises to God, for as part of the tree of life they also are angels/prophets who speak the truth before God.
In 7:12, the circles of angels of 7:11 begin and end their praise with Amen. Jesus, the Amen (see 3:14), is the first and foremost faithful witness. He was faithful unto death and now lives, his face shining like the sun. He is the beginning of God’s "first resurrection" creation in heaven and is the end, the final witness, before whom all will bow. The Spirit of prophecy leads all the angels/prophets in priestly praise of God and the Amen. That praise is sevenfold, as in 5:12, and points especially to the seven spirits/Spirit which belong to God. The spirits of blessing, glory, wisdom, thanks, honor, power, and strength are the Spirit of prophecy and are attributes of God. That is, the Spirit is the strength, power, honor, wisdom, and glory of God. And the Spirit leads the prophets to speak blessings (or curses) to others and thanks to God. In John’s Revelation, there are seven blessings (see 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7,14). The seven spirits/Spirit of prophecy is at the heart of true worship of God and the risen Jesus.
After hearing the heavenly praise of the angels, John hears one of the elders ask him to identify those dressed in white robes (7:13). And from where did those in white (see 7:9) come? John replies that (only) the elder knows (who they are and what they escaped), so the elder then tells him (7:14). They are those coming out of the great tribulation, who washed their robes and whitened them in the blood of the lamb. Just as the 144,000 must be sealed before the great wind of judgment blows, so the myriads that come out of every nation must be made righteous before the great tribulation. Compare Joel 2:31 where the great and terrible day of the Lord comes after the sun becomes dark, and the moon becomes blood (the latter being part of John’s vision of the final judgment in 6:12). Yet all who call on the Lord shall be delivered from that day (Joel 2:32). The slaughtered lamb buys for God with his blood out of every nation (5:9). The bloody witness of the lamb/moon continues via his thousands of sealed and slaughtered witnesses. The lamb, through his future faithful witnesses/prophets, not only sells the unfaithful to the rich city Babylon, but also buys others who come out of Babylon (see 6:6 and 18:4).
The city/harlot sits on many waters, the many multitudes of the world that are in the great river/dragon, but a "many" multitude will also escape from that captivity (see 17:15; 7:9). Those who come out change their color from the green of Babylon’s unclean river/dragon to the white of the lamb’s Spirit. They will thus escape the future plagues of great tribulation/judgment, the great day of wrath (6:17) that will come to the great city and great river. Like the lamb and prophets, they will trade the watery comforts of Babylon for a new Exodus into the wilderness/tribulation suffered by God’s family. But in the end they will escape the great tribulation/final judgment against the enemies of God.
The (red) blood of the lamb ironically washes their robes white. The blood is portrayed here as another liquid/spirit. While the unclean green river/dragon colors its captivated multitudes green, the pure red blood/Spirit of the lamb washes its myriads white. Such a use of Christ’s blood, as Spirit, would fit the earlier uses of Christ’s spiritual body of head, hair, face, eyes, mouth, and hand as spirts/Spirit (see 1:14-16; also 1 Cor. 15:44-45). It especially fits the voice of Christ like many waters (1:15), where the waters were the heavenly crystal (pure) sea/Spirit, in which the many multitude would be awash as myriads of white stars/angels.
Already some of the "many" multitude have been made part of the heavenly kingdom and praise God as heavenly priests (7:9-10; see 5:9-10). Therefore they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his heavenly temple (7:15). Instead of the great harlot sitting over them, it is now the one sitting on the throne who will dwell over them. They are now God’s dwelling, part of God’s heavenly city/kingdom. Because of that, they will not still be part of the last plagues/great tribulation against the great city. In the end the harlot/city that prospered at the expense of God’s prophets and saints will suffer famine and the final judgment of the hot sun/Spirit (see 17:6; 18:6-8). The river city drunk with the blood of the prophets and saints will finally suffer the famine of hunger and thirst when she is burned with fire where there are no prophets or saints (for food or drink). But those who come out of her, and thus escape her great tribulation, will not still hunger or thirst or be tormented by the hot sun/Spirit falling on them in the wilderness (7:16; see Isa. 49:9-10). Because they responded to the earlier "prophetic heat" they will join the new Exodus in the hot wilderness and escape the final fire of the Spirit’s judgment against Babylon.
Instead of the harlot, the lamb who is in the midst of the throne/Spirit will lead/shepherd them (7:17). The lamb will finally lead them to the fountains of waters of life. As the slaughtered/risen lamb can open the scroll/Spirit/kingdom, so the lamb will lead to the living waters/Spirit of life (see Jn. 7:38-39). Unlike the deadly waters/dragon of the great river, the lamb’s waters and blood bring life, eternal life. While the dragon and beasts end up in the lake of fire (19:20; 20:10), the lamb and angels end up with the waters of life. Having suffered tribulation in the dry wilderness from the dragon and beasts, the 144,000 prophets and many multitudes of saints will escape the great tribulation of the lake of fire (compare Isa. 35:6-7,10). In the end God will wipe every tear from their eyes (7:17).
The Greek word for tear in 7:17 is dakruon, which looks and sounds like drakon, the word for dragon. When they were part of the multitudes in the great river of the harlot/city, their eyes were full of the waters/dragon. After they came out of the river city into the wilderness, the dragon would still spit out other rivers/demons to flood their healed eyes. After the thousand years are over, the dragon will come out of the sea to deceive the remaining (dead) multitudes at the four corners of the earth to fight/condemn God’s beloved city/saints (20:7-8). But when they surround the beloved city, fire comes from heaven and consumes them (20:9). The same lightning/fire/Spirit that began the long conflict now ends it. It is now time for the four angels at the four corners of the earth to harm/condemn the earth and sea and every tree (see 7:1). While the Spirit as fire/judgment will continue to hound all God’s enemies in the lake of fire, God will have wiped every tear/dragon from the eyes of those who are part of the heavenly city. No one will accuse them there.
Thus the seventh seal in 8:1 concludes the conflict between the seal/Spirit of prophecy and the dragon with its beasts. The beasts cannot stand before the great day of wrath of the sixth seal. The great sea dragon cannot stand before the great day of the seventh seal. (Compare Jesus’ rebuke/silencing of the raging sea in Mt. 8:26.) Because the dragon’s accusations are finally silenced with the seventh seal, it is not only the end of the conflict but the beginning of the eternal "rest" of God’s family. In 6:11, certain slaughtered prophets are told to rest until the rest of their brothers are killed as they were. Right before that they ask how long it will be until God judges against their enemies. With the seventh seal, the time for God’s final vindication of the prophets has reached its climax with the silencing of the dragon. So all God’s family can now rest eternally, for God’s righteous judgment has concluded. The seventh seal is the beginning of the eternal sabbath, the seventh day, the day of rest.
Speaking the seven oracles
Jesus’ seven oracles to the seven churches are a message to all the churches (2:7,11,etc.) (especially then but also now). The risen Christ gives those messages to John who then writes to the heavenly angels/elders of the seven churches in Asia. For the angels/elders are the foundational apostles and prophets who first planted and nurtured the young churches. They are also the writers of the new testament/covenant witness. John is one of them and now writes Christ’s oracles to churches that have mostly broken Christ’s new covenant. The oracles are mainly prophetic "lawsuits" exposing disobedience and calling for repentance. Because the seven angels/elders were the original witnesses of this agreement/covenant, they are addressed as heavenly witnesses against those who break the covenant. Compare Moses’ words in Deut. 32:1 (Hear, O heavens . . . and let the earth hear), calling heaven and earth to witness against God’s disobedient people (Deut. 31:27-29). Besides Moses, the foundational prophet of the old covenant, note also the prophet Isaiah’s beginning words (Hear, O heavens and . . . earth) in his witness against a rebellious Israel (Isa. 1:2).
John hears heaven addressed again later in 12:12 and 18:20. Both times heaven is told to rejoice because of God’s victory. In 12:12 heaven includes earlier (old covenant) conquerors who are to rejoice because Satan has been thrown out of heaven by the risen Christ. In 18:20 heaven is all the (new covenant) saints and apostles and prophets who are to rejoice because it is the final judgment and Babylon has fallen. Likewise the heaven addressed by Christ in 2:1,8,etc. is the angel(s), the elder(s) of the risen Christ, the foundational apostles and prophets of the new covenant.
When the right hand/Spirit of Christ that holds the seven stars/angels of the churches is laid on John (1:16-17), his commission to write shares the same authority as that of those angels/elders. He becomes one of them, an authoritative messenger/witness of the kingdom (1:19). The seven angels are the twenty-four elders who rule with Christ in heaven, having finished their foundational witness on earth. John’s commission makes him one of their group except that he has not yet finished his mission on earth.
The seven churches are located in seven cities in Asia (a province in western Asia Minor, currently part of western Turkey). Because these cities look up to the great city of Rome, their "mother," their goal is to become more and more like it. For churches in those cities, the danger is to adopt the hopes and dreams of their cities. Desiring greater growth, glory, and gold for their cities and themselves, most churches have been seduced by the great harlot/city, the attractive image of the beast. As they give in to such temptations, they will then be in danger of being sold by the lamb/Christ into slavery to Babylon the great. So the seven oracles to the churches in the seven cities are especially meant to lead them to repentance so that they do not end up captivated by the beautiful harlot (see 6:5-6). Jesus’ oracles come from the stormy clouds of 1:14-16 and address the heavenly witnesses/angels whose written covenant has been broken by five of the seven churches. The oracles are thus like the lightning bolts/arrows shot from the rider/angel(s)/elder(s) of the white horse/Spirit of 6:2.
Speaking the first two oracles
The churches of Ephesus and Smyrna are a pair of contrasts. It seems the church of Ephesus has a lot going for it as it works hard in the important port city of Ephesus on the shore of the Aegean Sea at the mouth of the Cayster river. In contrast, the church of Smyrna is struggling as it faces difficult obstacles like poverty and opposition in the city of Smyrna, another important port city just north of Ephesus. But the oracle spoken to the church in Ephesus is a prophetic call to repentance, while the oracle to the church in Smyrna is a call to celebrate.
In 2:1, Jesus tells John to write to the angel(s)/elder(s) of the church in Ephesus. Jesus singles out the angel(s)/elder(s)/founder(s) of the church in Ephesus as one(s) especially involved in the mediation of this oracle. What John writes is of special interest to the angel(s) of the church, is written as a fellow-witness with the angel(s), and indeed reinforces the earlier earthly messages of the now heavenly angel(s).
Jesus’ stormy oracle calling for repentance is of course aimed at the church, not its angel(s). The angel(s) is secure in Jesus’ strong right hand (2:1). The mention of the church’s angel/elder is also for the sake of the church because it has abandoned its founder(s), including John. The church probably thought it had progressed beyond the angels/elders. This oracle will try to set them straight, and highlights from the beginning the special status and authority of the one(s) writing. Jesus’ first words to be written are that he holds the seven stars in his right hand.
Christ’s message also begins like the great oracles of the prophets: Thus says the (Lord). Compare especially the eight brief oracles to certain geographical places that begin the book of Amos (Amos 1-2). These oracles all begin with "Thus says the Lord" and most end with "says the Lord God." In the oracles John writes, the Lord of the opening formula is the risen Jesus. At the end of John’s oracles is also the formula "what the Spirit says." As Amos’ written oracles are full of prophetic judgment, so John’s written oracles are mostly prophetic judgments.
The risen Jesus in 2:1 holds the seven stars/angels/elders in his strong right hand, the Spirit of prophecy (see 1:16). At the same time Christ walks in the midst of the seven gold lampstands (2:1; see 1:13). Like God walking in the garden of Eden at a time when temptation has won the day (see Gen. 3:8), the risen Lord now walks among the lampstands/churches, most of whom have been tempted/seduced by the great river city and its false prophets.
This image of walking among the lampstands from 1:13 also draws in the images of 1:10. The Lord’s day in 1:10 is linked with the Spirit and a great voice. These images in turn are a further link with Gen. 3:8. In the latter, Adam and Eve hear the (loud) sound/voice of God "walking" in the garden and hide. Some translations also have the phrase "in the cool of the day." But the word "cool" translates the Hebrew word for Spirit or wind (ruah), thinking in terms of the cool wind. A better translation is "the Spirit of the day" who exposes the guilty couple hiding in the shadows among the trees. Thus the sound/noise/voice is the familiar thundering/trumpet sound from later theophanies/comings of God, especially God coming in judgment. And like later uses of the "day of the Lord," the Spirit of the day (of the Lord) comes in judgment. (See Meredith Kline, Images of the Spirit, 1980, pp. 105-107,114,123-124.)
Because the gold/oil/Spirit of most of the lampstands on earth is shining/burning dimly, Jesus sends his oracle via the shining stars/angels and their fellow-witness John. This light will expose the dark deeds of most of the churches. Will the lampstand/church of Ephesus repent and once again shine with the gold/oil/Spirit? If it does not repent and return to its golden days, Jesus is coming soon to remove that lampstand from its place (2:5). Where there is no fiery Spirit of prophecy, there is no need for a lampstand. Just as Jesus comes now through this oracle to the church, the next oracle spoken could be one of judgment against the church. If there is no repentance, the prophet(s) will tell it like it is: the church is no longer a church of Christ. This is one of the things Christ shows his servants/prophets that will come to pass soon (see 1:1,3,19).
Jesus knows all about the church of Ephesus (2:2). A number of good things have happened in the past. When some came to the church (probably a group of house churches in Ephesus), they called themselves apostles. They claimed the authority of the foundational apostles/elders and would have led astray the church(es). But the church tested them and found them to be false apostles (2:2). At that time, the church remained true to its founders, including the first faithful witness, Jesus Christ. Yet now the church has forgotten its first love (2:4). It has fallen away from the first faithful witnesses and gone its own way (2:5). Elders like the apostle Paul and later John were the foundation in Ephesus for a church built on Christ as the cornerstone (see Eph. 2:20; Acts 19:1-10). Paul’s last words to the Ephesian church warned that wolves would come in after he left (Acts 20:29). They would feed off the Ephesian flock, unlike Paul who coveted no one’s silver or gold (Acts 20:33). Now Jesus’ oracle tells them they need to repent and do the first works. While the church hates the works of the Nicolaitans, it needs to return to its own first works (2:6). The church has rightly rejected later false apostles or prophets like the Nicolaitans whose apostolic travel itinerary included Ephesus. But it has also forgotten the first faithful witnesses, the foundation of the church. So they have settled in under their local false prophets.
The church does have patience or patient endurance (2:2-3). In 1:9 John mentions his partnership with others in the tribulation and kingdom and patience in Jesus. Those who suffer tribulation due to faithful witness against the kingdom of the beasts and the image share in the kingdom of the new covenant (see 1:5-6). And the heavenly kingdom awaits them. Thus they can patiently wait for that kingdom. It seems the church of Ephesus is patiently waiting for that kingdom, looking to the future glory of the heavenly city. Yet their first works of following the foundational faithful witness have been forgotten. There is no mention of tribulation. They think that they have suffered enough and can now just celebrate their future kingdom. Later John will spell out what true patience includes. In 13:10, after referring to the tribulations of captivity and death, he concludes: Here/This is the (true) patience and the faith of the saints. Then in 14:12, the true patience of the saints is further defined as those keeping the commands of God and the faith of Jesus. The first faithful witness of Jesus that kept the commandments against idolatry and immorality (and suffered for it) is the first love and true patience.
Mt. 24:9 describes a witness that leads to tribulation. That tribulation, however, also leads to stumbling by many, so that when false prophets come with a message that involves no tribulation, many follow them (Mt. 24:10-11). The result is not more love but less love (Mt. 24:12). For true love includes an ongoing witness to the kingdom of heaven throughout the world (Mt. 24:14). Only those who remain faithful witnesses to the end will be saved (Mt. 24:13). That witness must come first.
First things first. First, let those who have an ear hear what the Spirit says to all the churches (2:7). For there are many other churches in the future who will hear this same message. They must remember that it is only those who conquer by holding on to their first love and first faithful witness who will finally be given the tree of life in God’s paradise/garden. For the firstborn/resurrected faithful witness is the root and branch (of David) of the heavenly tree (5:5; 22:16). And the two times twelve foundational elders are the trunks and fruit of the two trees of life (see the later discussion of 22:2). Only those who remain true to them through tribulation will share in their heavenly tree/kingdom. Before one rules in heaven with Jesus Christ, the son of David, and the elders on their thrones, one must share the suffering and witness (and elders) of Jesus, the son of the Mother/Spirit with birth pangs before she gave birth (see 12:2).
This church must repent because it has moved from the desolate wilderness of faithful witness in the Spirit/Mother into the more comfortable green gardens of their city/harlot. And most of the other churches are in the same situation. That is why Jesus walks in the midst of the lampstands/churches as God walked in the midst of the garden of Eden after the serpent’s successful temptation. Most churches think they have been blessed by God with a degree of peace and prosperity, and look forward even more to the future final blessing of God. But God’s blessing is found only where this prophecy is read and heard and kept (see 1:3). For those who have forgotten that blessing, the time is near for Jesus to come to them and remove their lampstand from its place. The Spirit of the day (of judgment) will take away their future paradise because they preferred a present earthly paradise. Lampstands belong in the wilderness tabernacle, not in the city temple. (The seven-branched gold lampstand of Ex. 25:31-40 is for the tabernacle, and is not mentioned later in connection with the temple.)
If this is a correct reading of the churches’ situation, they are like many churches today that take great delight in Revelation. They love to talk and sing about Jesus’ return in glory and the future heavenly city. Yet there is little or no faithful witness against the violent beast from the sea (who protects and promotes their prosperity). They are mostly patriotic Christians, praising God and country. And they think a certain level of prosperity is a blessing from God. So they do not denounce the attractive image of the beast. They fail to see the main sins that Jesus witnesses against. So they speak of the future kingdom and continue that work patiently. They want to save souls for heaven. That is not enough. Jesus will indeed come again soon, but not in his final glory. He will come through a prophetic witness that says such a church is tarnished gold and will lose its lampstand. Removing a lampstand would mean a judgment like that of Mk. 6:11. Jesus told his disciples/apostles/prophets to leave those places that did not receive or hear them, shaking the dust from their feet as a witness against them.
The church at Smyrna is a different story. To the angel/elder of that church, John writes: Thus says the first and the last, who became dead and lived (2:8; see 1:17-18). Jesus is the first faithful witness. Because he was faithful unto death, he lives in the heavenly kingdom and will have the last word against all who oppose him. Now his oracle comes to the church via John and their first elder(s) in the heavenly council. When the risen Jesus looks at the church of Smyrna he sees their tribulation and poverty (2:9). Whereas the church’s emphasis in Ephesus was on patience in looking ahead, the church in Smyrna wants to remain a faithful witness from first to last, remembering their first loves, Jesus and the elders. As a result, they experience tribulation and poverty. This is what must come to pass first before entering the heavenly kingdom.
In the port city of Smyrna, they speak against the violent beast from the sea and suffer tribulation. They can also speak with integrity against the wealthy image of the beast because they are poor. Thus they remain in the desolate wilderness of poverty and tribulation while the church of Ephesus is becoming green wheat and barley on the outskirts of the city. The poor, suffering prophets in Smyrna are children of the woman/Spirit in the wilderness who keep the commands of God and the witness of Jesus (see 12:17). They are in the city but not of the city.
The risen Jesus reveals the truth of the church’s ugly situation in Smyrna. Despite their poor appearance, they are actually rich (2:9). As children of the Spirit who share Jesus’ witness and tribulation, they are also heirs of the Spirit and will share Jesus’ wealth/Spirit (see 5:11-12).
Present tribulation includes (or inclines one toward) poverty. The poor in the Spirit (the best translation of Mt. 5:3) refuse to prosper at the expense of the poor. They prefer a simple life and generosity to the poor rather than material "blessings" and avoidance of the poor. Much of the middle-class world thinks only isolated "super saints" like Mother Teresa are called to such sacrifice. It’s true that most Christians don’t need to move to the most impoverished places on earth and live in destitution. But most middle-class Christians do need to move in the direction of poverty, a downward mobility that sells material "blessings," lives more simply, and gives to the poor.
The irony of Mother Teresa’s example is that her poverty and sacrifice among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India, blossomed into a successful career. Her popularity attracted large donations leading to huge bank accounts and led to travel all over the world, honoring and being honored by political tyrants. (See Anne Sebba, Mother Teresa: Beyond the Image, 1997). Indeed, much social work and international relief among the poor are done by those paid middle-class salaries. Giving to such organizations means paying those salaries and supporting the programs those professionals think the poor need or deserve. True saints do not seek such glory from their sacrifice. And their tribulation is multiplied because they expose and oppose the inflated self-images ("selfless saviors of miserable foreigners") that wealthy benefactors and philanthropists promote.
Broadly speaking, most foreign aid is big business and does more harm than good. Politicians use aid projects as gifts to their supporters. The U.S. government, especially through USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development), gives aid to foreign governments it wants to promote or perpetuate. Those foreign governments, in turn, funnel the aid through their powerful friends and armies, who all take (and sell) more than their fair share. Aid workers from the U.S. (and Europe) arrive and rent bigger houses (from the wealthy) and ride in nice vehicles. Local workers hired by aid projects praise their foreign bosses and beneficiaries and profit from their local leadership. Famine and destitution become an opportunity for economic growth for those administering international charity. This aid industry thus also serves those who run it. Real famines are found especially where civil wars and land-grabbing deplete food reserves. Imported food then becomes subject to the same violent and greedy tyrants.
Besides exposing and opposing the powerful beast and its attractive image, along with its kings (of the earth) and their cities/harlots, prophetic churches or Christians must take steps that move them closer to poverty and the poor. Instead of giving charity from a distance, true children of the woman/Spirit in the wilderness prefer to give directly to the poor they are coming to know personally. By giving generously they become more poor themselves. They are not just using the poor to advertise or empower themselves.
As for private charitable non-government organizations, Save the Children has been a leader, pioneering child sponsorship in the 1930s. Such sponsorship seems to link the donor directly with the child, who receives most of the twenty dollars a month donated by the sponsor. Save the Children advertises itself as a responsible steward; one "pie chart" said 82.9% goes to "program services." But as with government aid, its programs include millions of dollars for staff travel, supplies, rents, and salaries (including the $200,000 salary of the president). In 1994, less than 50% of sponsors’ gifts went to grants for field programs. And about half of those grants went to other organizations that had their own salaries and administrative expenses.
Save the Children makes sponsors feel good, saying it’s easy and cheap to change lives. Save’s in-house counsel, Pamela Winnick, took a tour of their projects in 1994 to see for herself. She reported back to the board that in some programs, no sponsored children were receiving benefits. Even in their best programs (in the U.S.) only 60% of the children received benefits. Their best field office in Appalachia spent 30% of sponsorship money on actual programs. When Winnick visited an elementary school in Bridgeport, Conn., the over 400 sponsored children (who generated $96,000 in donations for 1994) had received no benefits. (None were sent to the school.) A month later, Save sent $10,800 to the school for a writing contest for all 840 kids in the school. In Arizona, Save grants to Hopi children were so small they only paid for little treats or Christmas parties. Outside the U.S., over 300 children in the Quime area of Bolivia brought Save $576,000 over eight years. They received less than $10,000 from Save. (See Michael Maren, The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity, 1997, pp. 23,139-154. Maren is a former Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya and spends much of the book exposing governmental aid, especially in Somalia, during the 1980s and 1990s.)
Jesus’ point in 2:9 is that the church’s poverty is a good thing, given the way human power and wealth operate in the world. For their poverty is part of their faithful witness against the deceptive beasts of the world and against the great and small who glorify them. Like (the angel/elder) Luke wrote in Lk. 6:20-23, Jesus blessed his poor disciples who mourned in this world and were hated, excluded, and reviled because they were prophetic. Such prophets who are exclusively loyal to the kingdom of God rejoice because their reward will be great in heaven.
Jesus knows the truth about the exemplary poverty and tribulation of the church in Smyrna. He also knows the blasphemy of those saying they themselves are Jews (2:9). The mention of Jews points to the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel, the 144,000 (7:4-8). The 144,000 symbolize the full number of true servants/prophets sealed by the Spirit of prophecy (7:2-3). Thus the main enemies of the poor, prophetic church of Smyrna are false prophets. For while they say that they themselves are God’s true prophets, they are not really what they claim. Actually, they are a synagogue of Satan (2:9). They are part of the beast from the earth that looks like a lamb but speaks like a dragon (see 13:11). They are wolves in sheep’s clothing (see Matt. 7:15). They are serpents, a brood of vipers, a synagogue of Satan (see Matt. 24:33). Because they share the goals of the kingdoms of this world (being rich and enjoying the "good life"), and speak on behalf of those goals, they are false prophets (Lk. 6:24-26). Perhaps the false prophets in Smyrna are associated with the false apostles traveling to Ephesus (2:2) and elsewhere.
As the church of Smyrna remains a faithful witness against Satan’s synagogue of false Jews/prophets, it will continue to suffer. But it need not fear that coming tribulation (2:10). The devil, by means of its beasts, will throw some of them into prison in order that they might be tested. The earth beast will persuade the sea beast to imprison some of them. Can they continue to speak against the beasts even if they are in prison? They can take comfort in the fact that their tribulation will continue for only ten days (2:10). This is like the limited short time, the half a time, that the dragon has to persecute faithful witnesses. After its use in 2:10, the number ten is always used later to refer to the ten horns of the dragon (12:3) or sea beast (13:1; 17:3). In 17:12-14 the beast’s ten horns are identified as ten kings who will fight against the Lamb and his faithful followers for one hour. Thus the number ten is associated with Satan, his sea beast, and some of its domineering kings as well as with their short time to cause tribulation against faithful witnesses. (Compare the ten horns of the fourth sea beast in Dan. 7:7, identified as ten kings in Dan. 7:24, one of which fights against the saints in Dan. 7:21,25. And as in Revelation, the number ten is first used in Daniel for ten days of testing God’s servants in Dan. 1:12-15.)
In contrast, the risen prophets will rule with Christ in heaven for 1000 years (see 20:4-6). The ten days of suffering will turn into a thousand years of glory. The ten will be multiplied many times to make a thousand. And the days will be multiplied into years. Their witness will not be forgotten. They will continue to judge from heaven against the beasts of the earth as their followers pass on that faithful witness.
During that 1000 years the dragon is also thrown into its own prison, the abyss/sea, so that its time to do damage is short and its means (the beasts) are limited (see 20:1-3). Because of those limitations, a "many" multitude will come out of every nation to join the family of God. The dragon in the abyss/sea will not be able to continue to deceive all the nations/Gentiles who previously followed the beasts. And the great river/"sea"/dragon will not be able to keep captivated all the multitudes carried in the current under the great city/image. For the angel/morning star who seals the true servants/prophets/sons of Israel (7:2-4) who call captive multitudes to come out of Babylon, is the risen Jesus, coming up with the rising sun/Spirit and now having the keys of death and hades/abyss/sea (see 1:18; 20:1).
So when the dragon, through its beasts, throws some of the prophetic church of Smyrna into prison for ten days, it’s no big deal. True prophets must remain faithful until death, and then Jesus, the first faithful witness who died and came to life, will give them the crown of life (2:8,10). They will rise and live with Jesus in the heavenly kingdom until the end of the thousand years of prophetic rule/judgment against the beasts of the earth. Their witness will continue through others who come after them. True prophets who conquer will not be harmed by the second death (2:11), the lake of fire reserved for the dragon and beasts (see 19:20; 20:10,14). Then even death and hades, and the dead in them, will be thrown into the lake of fire (20:13-14). Faithfully facing the first death means conquering the second death. Whoever has an ear (of the Spirit) can hear what the Spirit says to (all) the churches (2:11).
Speaking the middle three oracles
The next three oracles form the center of Jesus’ message to the churches. Because many of the churches have been deceived by false prophets, they must hear this urgent call to repentance. They think they can be a church of Christ while at the same time disobeying the new covenant/commandments of God. They are listening to too many voices instead of focusing on the faithful Witness of Jesus, the Spirit of prophecy, and the foundational witnesses/elders.
To the heavenly angel/elder(s) of the church in Pergamum, Jesus commands John to write: Thus says the one having the sharp two-edged sword (2:12). This is the same sword as in 1:16 with the stormy witness of Jesus. Jesus’ oracle to the Pergamum church(es) will be a warning, cutting through all the talk of false prophets with the sharp sword/Spirit of prophecy.
Jesus is well aware that the church in Pergamum dwells where the throne of Satan is (2:13). Since the sea dragon gives its throne/authority to the beast from the sea, that beast has spread inland and has a strong presence in Pergamum. Pergamum was the first city in Asia Minor to build a temple for the Roman emperor (in 29 B.C.). This beastly presence of violent imperial authority has manifested itself in the killing of Antipas (2:13). Antipas was Jesus’ faithful witness against the deadly beast, and his death revealed the true nature of the beast. At that time, the church supported Antipas and stood up for the name and faith of Christ.
Like Antipas, Franz Jägerstätter became a faithful witness unto death where Satan’s throne was. Before and during World War II, Franz dared to defy the Nazi beast and finally paid the price of imprisonment and death. He was a simple farmer in Austria who stood courageously as a solitary witness against the beast and its head, Adolf Hitler. Austria was allied with Germany and everyone else in Franz’s village was on the side of Hitler. Unlike Antipas, even Franz’s church refused to support his defiant witness. His Catholic church and priests (and bishop) all told him he should submit and fight on behalf of the violent beast. At the very least, they said he should serve nonviolently in the military. Otherwise, he would face death. Such a choice they considered irresponsible for a man with a wife and three daughters (and a farm to manage).
For Franz, taking the required oath of allegiance to the bloodthirsty Hitler would have been unChristian. Although Hitler boasted of a "Thousand Year Reich" and had most churches in Germany and Austria hoping he would succeed, Franz begged to differ. It was clear to him that the horrible slaughter revealed a Nazi monster. A faithful witness must speak prophetically against such Satanic beasts. Franz spoke out for over a decade and suffered rejection from his Austrian village and death from the German military. Franz remained faithful because his hope was the heavenly kingdom of God. Thus Franz now rules as part of the "Thousand Year Rule" of Christ and his prophets. (See Gordon Zahn, In Solitary Witness, 1964.)
In Pergamum, the problem after Antipas’ death is that the church is supporting other leaders who are not faithful witnesses. False prophets have come in and passed on the teaching of Balaam (2:14). In the Old Testament, Balaam was a Gentile prophet who told king Balak to throw a stumbling block before the sons of Israel. That stumbling block was eating food sacrificed to idols and committing immorality (see 2:14). In Numbers 22-24, Balaam is more like a true prophet speaking against the wishes of king Balak. But Num. 31:16 also blames Balaam’s counsel for leading the people of Israel astray. It refers to the matter of Peor, a reference back to Num. 25:1-3 where Israel "played the harlot" and joined in sacrifices to other gods, eating with Moabite women and becoming "yoked" to the god Baal of Peor.
Such idolatrous teaching is also connected with the Nicolaitans in 2:15. Already in 2:6 the Nicolaitans were introduced, their name probably connected with the false apostles of 2:2. The names of both Balaam and the Nicolaitans are similar in meaning. The name Nicolaitans means conquering the people(s), and the name Balaam combines the Hebrew words for Baal and people to suggest Baal/Lord of the people. But if Balaam is a more local Gentile false prophet, the Nicolaitans could be Jewish false apostles (from Jerusalem?) who claim to be preeminent like the elders, the foundational apostles and prophets. If so, the Nicolaitans would be like the false apostles, the "super apostles," Paul had to contend with in other areas surrounding Asia Minor. In 2 Cor. 11:4-5,13-14, Paul exposes "super apostles" as false, as deceitful angels of Satan. Such apostles claimed to be elite Jews, champions of the Jewish law (2 Cor. 11:21-22; see Gal. 1:8,11-14; 6:12-13; Phil. 3:2-7). Besides the false apostles John mentions in 2:2, linked with Nicolaitans in 2:6, the false Jews of 2:9 (a synagogue of Satan) could have been associated with these false apostles traveling around to the churches.
A later tradition in the early church says the Nicolaitans were named after Nicolaus, a (Gentile) proselyte from Antioch, who became one of the seven "deacons" in the Jerusalem churches (see Acts 6:5). A more intriguing possibility is that the Nicolaitans were named after Nicodemus, a key figure in John’s Gospel who has a special interest in Jesus, yet who wants to keep his special role as a rich (young?) ruler of the Jews (Jn. 3:1; 7:48-50). Like Balaam and the Nicolaitans, the name Nicodemus also means conqueror of the people.
Nicodemus’ attraction to Jesus probably included a political ambition (both nationalistic and personal) that wanted to make use of Jesus’ miraculous powers (see Jn. 2:23-3:2; 7:31; compare similar ambitions of the multitude in Jn. 6:14-15). Jesus’ response to him is to contrast the things of the flesh with the things of the Spirit (Jn. 3:6). Paul makes the same point against the super apostles who boast in their (Jewish) flesh (2 Cor. 11:18; Gal. 6:12-13; Phil. 3:3-4). Jesus makes light of Nicodemus’ status as the teacher of Israel (Jn. 3:10) since he can’t understand Jesus’ teaching. In Jn. 7:15-23 leaders of the Pharisees are impressed by Jesus’ teaching but still seek to kill him because he healed a man on the sabbath, a violation of Pharisaic law. Although Nicodemus in Jn. 7:51 stands up for Jesus and says they need to learn first what else Jesus does, the ultimate standard for judgment remains their Pharisaic law. Even when Nicodemus helps bury Jesus in Jn. 19:39-42, with an ostentatious display of wealth (one hundred pounds), it is in contrast to Mary’s acceptable anointing for burial in Jn. 12:3,7 (with one pound). And the same concern for the sabbath and Jewish traditions comes out again in both Jesus’ death and burial (Jn. 19:31,40,42). Some scholars suggest John’s comments about the inferior role of John the Baptist are in his Gospel because of later followers of the Baptist who competed against John’s followers. The same could be said about Nicodemus if the Nicolaitans are his followers and serve him as a rich (Jewish) apostle/ruler/teacher from Jerusalem. (Later Christian legend says Nicodemus came to be baptized. The fourth century Acts of Pilate gives Nicodemus, and Pilate, a prominent, positive part in its narrative about Jesus’ trial, death, and resurrection.)
False prophets (and apostles) have begun to lead astray the church in Pergamum. While the church showed strength in supporting Antipas against the violent beast from the sea, it has now been deceived by the beast from the earth. Nicolaitans have come in and are conquering the people and their prophets. As in 13:11-12, the earth beast/false prophet(s) deceives by causing the people to worship the sea beast and to glorify the rulers of the world (including Jewish rulers like Nicodemus). And they call for great signs that build the image of the sea beast (13:13-14), and glorify the rich harlot/city and her daughters/harlots/cities of the world (including Jerusalem and rich leaders there like Nicodemus). In 6:6 the wheat symbolizes false prophets that stand over the barley/people that are sold into slavery to the great city/harlot. So the Nicolaitans are part of the imported wheat, whose teaching is being eaten up by the people. In that sense, the false prophets and their teaching are the food sacrificed to idols, the idols of the beast and its image. When the people of the church follow such prophets, they become part of the fertile river valleys over which the harlot and harlots sit (see 17:1,15). In another sense, the wine of 6:6 that symbolizes the blood of persecuted true prophets could be viewed as food sacrificed to idols. Because true prophets speak against the ruling beasts, their blood/wine is poured out like a sacrifice by (the sword of) those idols. All who tolerate or condone such sacrifices could be seen as eating/consuming that wine (or as getting drunk on the wine/blood of the prophets, as in 17:6).
The immorality taught by the Nicolaitans is likewise sexual immorality with the harlot/image (like that of the kings of the earth in 17:2). Christ’s teaching against literal lust, fornication, and adultery here becomes mainly a metaphor for economic greed/lust for the great city/harlot. This sexual immorality thus means joining in the greed of the great city and enjoying the pleasures of wealth. In 2 Pet. 2:1,15, false prophets follow the way of Balaam, who loved gain from wrongdoing. They are teachers whose greed exploits others with false words (2 Pet. 2:3,14). In Jude 13, the same ones are called wandering stars (see Jude 11). Paul equates such greed with idolatry in Col. 3:5. Isa. 1:21 says the faithful city (Jerusalem), once full of justice (linked with helping widows and orphans in Isa. 1:17), has become a harlot.
Many ministers throughout church history have admired wealth and the wealthy, especially rich members who could lead the way in constructing nicer church buildings and increasing pastoral salaries. Such "sexual"/economic immorality between churches and rich members was justified since it promoted successful (more respectable and professional) churches. Thus the pastors mostly massaged the egos of their best financial givers and criticized the poor for their lack of discipline. They didn’t dare bite the hand that fed them. Rich employers also needed disciplined, dependable employees if they were to maximize profits. Church members were usually such dependable/domesticated employees. Never mind the low wages, long hours, and tedious work. And never mind the violence against employees who stood up to employers or punctured their upright image as the respectable leaders of a great city and great civilization.
Even in smaller cities, similar dynamics prevailed. In a classic study, Liston Pope shows how church ministers consistently supported cotton mill employers (at the expense of exploited employees) in Gastonia, North Carolina, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The pastors praised those who constructed and managed the mills since the same ones built and benefited the churches and pastors’ parsonages. Ministers claimed that industrial leaders would develop the community and bring more prosperity to the city. Indeed the new industry did build (rental) homes and elementary schools (through the third grade) as well as lower class Baptist and Methodist churches. But this was done to recruit and retain employees. And the mills also hired hundreds of children, and paid most employees as low as ten cents a day as late as 1900 (when salaried officers and employers received over two dollars a day). This eventually led to union organizing and strikes. To the bitter end, the preachers criticized critical employees and praised paternalistic employers. The few pastors who resisted were punished. One mill executive complained about a young fool pastor who said the mill helped pay preachers’ salaries in order to control them. The executive called this a lie and ironically added that he got rid of the pastor. (See Liston Pope, Millhands and Preachers, 1942.)
Jesus calls the Pergamum church to repent, to return to its earlier faithfulness (2:16). If they do not repent, he is coming soon to fight against them with the sword from his mouth. Unlike the sea beast’s sword, Jesus’ sword is the word of God, the witness of Jesus, the Spirit of prophecy. The current oracle is a word of warning that more and stronger words are to come soon if the church doesn’t repent. Jesus will come through true prophets who speak the stormy witness of heavenly judgment against an unfaithful church. This is what Jesus will show his servants that must come to pass soon (1:1). When this present oracle is read, those hearing must obey its call to repentance, for the time of judgment is near (1:3). Thus the one having an ear (of the Spirit) must hear (and obey) what the Spirit says to the churches, at Pergamum and elsewhere (2:17).
Those who hear and obey this message will conquer (nikon) the Nicolaitans, the conquerors of the people. Conquering (nikon) is used at the end of all seven oracles due to the special threat the Nicolaitans or their teaching pose to all the churches. To those who conquer, Jesus will give hidden manna (2:17), the "bread of the angels" (Ps. 78:25). The hidden heavenly manna will be a counterpart to the earthly wheat/food sacrificed to idols (2:14). Those who reject that food now and remain hungry in the wilderness are promised a heavenly shepherd who will lead them to living water, the Spirit of paradise (7:17; 22:1). They will no longer hunger or thirst then (7:16). If the food sacrificed to idols includes the Nicolaitans and/or their teaching, then the hidden manna will include the true prophets and their fruit/teaching that are portrayed in the trees of life in paradise (see 2:7; 22:2).
The one conquering the Nicolaitans will also be given a white stone with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one receiving it (2:17). That is, all who conquer will have and know this name, and all the rest will not have it or know it. As later in 19:12, knowing and not knowing is used in the sense of acknowledging as one’s own and not acknowledging as one’s own. Compare Mt. 7:23 where Christ’s declaration that he never knew those evildoers means not acknowledging them as his own. Even evildoers who used his name were not really serving him as Lord (Mt. 7:22). Similarly, the new name they receive and know in 2:17 is one that others cannot acknowledge in the end as their own. (See Meredith Kline, Images of the Spirit, 1980, p. 130.) The stone and name are similar images as the pillars and name(s) of 3:12. In 3:12 the conquering one(s) are the pillars/stones with the new name(s) written on them. The name(s) there will be interpreted as the Spirit, which is also the significance of white here in 2:17. They will all be stamped/sealed and delivered to heaven in the white/pure brightness/name/mark/Spirit. Yet the main white stones in the new heaven and new earth will be the pearls that make up the twelve gates (21:21). And on the gates will be the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel (21:12). These pearls would be a counterpart to the pearls of the immoral harlot (2:14; see 17:4; 18:12,16). Thus as the hidden manna will offset the food sacrificed to idols, the white stone will offset the sexual/economic immorality. Compare the similar combination in 22:14 where the blessed/conquerors who washed their robes in the white/bright Spirit will have the authority/Spirit over the heavenly tree of life and can enter the heavenly city by the (white, pearly) gates.
Jesus’ oracle via the angel/elder(s) of the church in Thyatira is the longest of the seven oracles. And it is at the very center of the seven. This church is especially representative of all the churches. Certain aspects of the oracle to Pergamum are repeated and developed further. The heavenly storm against unfaithful churches continues to intensify.
Jesus’ message begins: Thus says the son of God, who has eyes like flames of fire and feet like refined bronze (2:18). These eyes and feet point back to 1:14-15. The one like a son of man of 1:13 now describes himself as the son of God. This is simply an interpretation of the one like a son of man of Dan. 7:13 since the "man" of Dan. 7 is the Ancient of Days, the God who sits on the throne to judge the evil beasts (Dan. 7:9,13). In Dan. 7:9 God’s throne is flames of fire. Now the risen Jesus has eyes like flames of fire, which are the seven spirits/Spirit of 4:5 and 5:6. The feet like refined bronze in 2:18 are described in 1:15 as like refined bronze that has been burned in a furnace. Like the bronze "calf" feet of the living creatures of Ezek. 1:7, the feet are images of the creatures/Spirit, especially the second living creature like a (sacrificial) bull/calf. The fiery witness of the eyes/Spirit will lead to a sacrificial witness unto death.
In 2:19 Jesus acknowledges that good things have happened in this church. His eyes/Spirit have seen and thus he knows about their works, love, faith, service, and patience. Indeed, unlike the church of Ephesus, their last works are greater than the first (2:19). But like the church of Ephesus, patience is mentioned while tribulation/sacrifice is not. This church has faith in God, helps others, and looks forward with patience to the future kingdom.
So what’s the problem? It seems this church has everything it needs. But it turns out the church has much more than it needs. First of all, it tolerates the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet (2:20). Like Balaam in 2:14, Jezebel is another Old Testament figure used as a negative symbol for false prophets. While the church in Ephesus hates the Nicolaitans (2:6), this church is much more open-minded and tolerant. Like Balaam and the Nicolaitans (2:14), Jezebel teaches and tries to deceive Jesus’ servants/prophets, the sons of Israel, to commit sexual immorality and eat food sacrificed to idols (2:20). She is another example of those who would conquer the people through such idolatry and immorality. Jesus has given her time and warnings to repent but she refuses to turn away from her sexual immorality (2:21). As Jezebel was a (Gentile) queen, she is part of the wealthy elite at the heart of a harlot/city. Like Nicodemus in Jerusalem or the aristocracy in Rome, this aristocratic leader in the church of Thyatira has prospered at the expense of the poor and seduces/pays (other) local kings/politicians/police well so that they protect her interests. Of course she also speaks highly of God, gives to her favorite charities, and looks forward to eternity in heaven.
All around Jezebel are the hungry and destitute. But the main food she gives them is her teaching to build up their beautiful city and glorify the great city/harlot and empire/sea beast from which those blessings flow. Even worse, the city’s aristocracy lives in luxury and drinks the wine/blood not only of the prophets and saints but of others slaughtered on the earth (see 18:24). All who protest the stealing of their land or labor by greedy landowners and business leaders will face the violent police and armies that promote and protect the great city/cities. If the church in Thyatira (and elsewhere) swallows Jezebel’s food and drink, and seeks only the love and lust of the city and empire, it will abandon its mother/queen in the wilderness and disobey its father in heaven.
The present world empire, the United States, and its aristocratic urban leaders, continue that tradition of violent imperial authority/idolatry and lustful urban wealth/immorality. An appropriate example here is U.S. involvement in Turkey, the same geographical area where the seven churches were located. Those churches were in what is now western Turkey. Presently in southeastern Turkey is a minority ethnic group called the Kurds. A Kurdish Workers Party fought a civil war there during the late 1980s and 1990s. The local "kings" and armies of Turkey and the head and image of the latest imperial beast, the U.S., joined forces to crush the Kurds. Over 25,000 were killed, mostly civilians (Kurds), many of them during President Clinton’s first term in office. The U.S. sold or gave billions of dollars of weapons to Turkey to fight that war. Elite corporations like Boeing and General Dynamics made large profits from those weapons they made. The wealthy businessmen of the great city/cities drink the wine/blood of all those slaughtered on the earth. Since 1990, over 3000 Kurdish villages have been leveled, torched or evacuated.
Such local wars with U.S. weapons and intelligence are raging all over the world. Most U.S. citizens know little about them because the same businessmen who profit from the wars also own and/or influence the media. The media of television and newspapers, and even the articles and books of most university intellectuals, are part of the beast of the earth that seeks to promote an attractive image for the great city. So the violent beast is either ignored or described as fighting for democracy, freedom, or justice. For if these false prophets told the truth, they would lose their own favored positions as part of the powerful beast. As a result most U.S. citizens watch television shows and news that promote police "protecting" their cities (against ethnic minorities) and pass on gossip about the rich and famous, including the head of the beast (and his own adultery). The role of false prophets is to remain positive about the future prospects for their society, affirming its special place under heaven, and inspiring others to be all they can be.
In 2:22, Jesus, through John and the (other) angel(s)/elder(s) of Thyatira, says he will throw Jezebel onto a bed. The best early Greek manuscript for Revelation has the word prison instead of bed. Either way, the bed or prison is interpreted as great tribulation and includes those committing adultery with her. Those in the church who leave the poverty and tribulation of the woman/mother in the wilderness for the bright lights of the harlot/city will finally share the city’s great tribulation/judgment. That is why they need to repent and return to the wilderness. If they refuse to come out of Babylon and her daughters/cities, they will share her plagues of judgment (see 18:4; 17:15). Only those who come out of the idolatrous and immoral peoples of the earth will also come out of the great tribulation (see 7:9,14). The peoples who flow to the cities/harlots awash in the unclean/green rivers/demons might improve their economic position. But in the end they will face the final judgment, the great tribulation, from the heavenly city. At that time, the river bed will go dry and the rich leaders will have no waters to sit/rule over. The Jezebels will be thrown down from their high places into the lake of fire. Even before that end, they will flow into the abyss/prison/sea of hades via the great river/dragon and its rivers/demons.
As the mother/Spirit in the wilderness has children who continue the witness of Jesus, the mother Jezebel over the river also has children who will continue her false witness (2:23). These city children will share her fate. Jesus will kill/condemn all false prophets with death. The word death here could also be translated disease or pestilence and would then fit the image of being thrown onto a bed in 2:22. Or death could simply be death, the second death, the final prison of the lake of fire. This death is Jesus’ final judgment against them. In that sense, Jesus will kill them with death. Their disobedience leads to Jesus’ verdict.
At that future time, all the churches, especially the unfaithful churches, will know that Jesus is the one true king who searches even the minds and hearts (2:23). In the final judgment Jesus will give to each according to their works. To most of the world it might appear that Jezebel, her children, and her lovers are upstanding citizens, church leaders, people of faith. But Jesus knows that their heart is where their treasure is (see Mt. 6:21). It’s not possible to serve both God and mammon/wealth after all (Mt. 6:24). Jezebel and her children are wrong. In Jude 11, such false prophets like Jezebel and Balaam are said to abandon themselves to Balaam’s error for the sake of gain. They are religious leaders/city leaders who worship God, prophesy, and do good works. The problem again is that they end up doing very well (financially) by doing good. On the final day of great tribulation/judgment, Jesus will expose them as evildoers (Mt. 7:22-23).
Currently, pastors and other church leaders who manage successful middle-class (or upper-class) careers have done well by doing good. Professional pastors seek to move up the ladder of serving larger churches with bigger buildings and budgets. To do that, they must raise funds and work closely with the most successful business leaders in their churches and cities. As a result the churches end up being led by the beast/false prophet(s) from the earth and by the rich image/harlot of the sea beast. Their heart is thus where their treasure is. And those treasures are hardly heavenly. True prophets do not have to literally leave the earthly cities, but must leave the leaders’ wealth and praise of such wealth. They must go against the flow of the city’s river/demons and not lust for religious and economic leadership over the many peoples in the river. Giving up such sexual/economic immorality would mean no more nice buildings that would beautify the harlot/city. And meeting in homes could mean a more moral and pure interaction/"intercourse" among those who were, or were becoming, poor.
There are, in fact, still some in the church of Thyatira who have not followed Jezebel’s teaching (2:24). They are part of the little flock that will be given the heavenly kingdom (see Lk. 12:32). Those who had more possessions than they needed are selling them and giving the money to the poor (Lk. 12:33). By doing so, they would have treasure in heaven, and that is where their heart is (Lk. 12:33-34). God knows they need basic necessities like food, drink, and clothing. But God also knows that all the earth, especially the elite of the earth like Solomon or Jezebel in all their glory, anxiously desire/covet the best of those things, and much more. Only God’s little flock in the "wilderness" seeks God’s kingdom first (Lk. 12:22-31). Life in the wilderness ordinarily doesn’t mean being completely destitute, but it also doesn’t mean being overconsumers. It is not possible to be an overconsumer and to love your neighbor because there are too many neighbors in the world who are destitute. And too much of the world is still destitute because the elite they work for pay them too little and build businesses that mainly benefit themselves. Because they are leaders of their cities, they also easily end up as leaders of the churches, at least of the churches that seek the same treasures the cities do.
As churches become more and more respectable, they become attractive gatherings for leaders who want to be considered respectable. When churches become more "civil" and don’t refer to their nation and its heads as beastly, or to their great city/cities as harlots, they become like every other civil religion that legitimates national security and civic pride. Then leaders of their city like "Jezebel" will find a home among them. Whenever she speaks, the church listens. Thus the church begins to look more and more like the "developed civilization" around it, building impressive buildings and hiring professional pastoral/managerial staffs. The impressive show of the rich city’s towers/monuments/skyscrapers is supplemented by cathedrals/churches/steeples.
Those in the church who do not follow Jezebel also do not know the depths of Satan (2:24). It seems Jezebel refers to the depths of Satan as a good thing. These depths start in the unclean rivers/demons that Satan spits out to make the cities flourish and prosper. Indeed Satan himself is the green river/"sea"/horse/dragon, the great river (bed) in which the fertile peoples flow under the great harlot/queen Babylon, who sits on them (see 6:8; 17:15). The depths could likewise extend into the sea, the home of the dragon, the dead, and the beast/empire that keeps coming back from the dead wielding its sword. As a rich city leader, Jezebel would be identified most closely with the beautiful image of the beast. Yet like the rivers on which the cities sit, the sea and its violent beast are the deeper waters and heads on which they sit pretty. And as a false prophet, Jezebel is also identified with the beast from the earth. For those in the church who refuse this idolatry and immorality, and remain in the wilderness (with the birth pangs in the womb of the woman/Spirit there), Jesus will not throw on them another burden (2:24). Jezebel will finally be thrown down, but those who reject her will escape such future burdens.
So the faithful must hold on to what they have until Jesus comes (2:25). When Jesus comes for the final time, he will give authority over the nations to the one conquering and keeping up his works to the end (2:26). Indeed this heavenly authority/Spirit to rule/judge over the nations/earth already begins when they die and rise to join the heavenly hosts (see 5:10; 20:4). Like the firstborn (risen) son of the woman/Spirit in the wilderness, they will also rise and rule the nations with a rod of iron (2:27; see 12:5). The faithful family will rule/judge with the rod/Spirit who breaks into pieces the proud, strong nations/beasts and cities/harlots as if they were fragile earthen vessels. Compare Jer. 23:29 where God’s word is like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces. In the end, they will help bring the great tribulation of final judgment upon these beasts. This authority to judge was given to Jesus by his father and he will share it with his brothers and sisters (2:28). Included in this package deal is the risen Jesus himself, the morning star who has the key of David and opens the way for others to share his kingship and authority in heaven (2:28; see 22:16; 3:7). The one who conquers will be the one who has the ear to hear and keep what the Spirit of prophecy says to the churches (2:29).
Jesus next speaks via the heavenly angel/elder(s) of the church in Sardis (3:1). The oracle comes from the one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. The seven spirits are the Spirit of prophecy, the authority/rod by which he judges the churches and nations. The seven stars are the seven angels/elders of the churches, special stars in his right hand/Spirit who rule with him, the morning star. Jesus’ oracle comes to this church through them, and they will confirm his witness/judgment against the church.
Jesus gets right to the point. The church has a name that it is alive, but the truth is that it is dead (3:1). Its works will not stand the final test of God’s judgment (3:2). The church has not been watchful, with the eyes of the Spirit. But Jesus’ seven eyes, the seven spirits, see the truth. The church has not remembered its first love, the first faithful witness and foundational elders, which they received and heard (3:3). They have forgotten the bright morning star and the seven stars/angels/elders. Through Jesus’ oracle via the angel(s) of Sardis, they must hear them anew. Founding fathers are vital to the beginnings and to the continuation of any movement or family.
James Dobson focuses on foundational fathers, both in the nuclear family and the national family. His organization, Focus on the Family, now affects millions of religious Americans—and reaps millions of dollars for Dobson. By the late 1990s, the organization received over $100 million a year and employed over 1200 at the forty-seven acre complex in Colorado Springs. Dobson’s radio broadcasts, books, magazines, films, and albums are popular all over the U.S. His educational materials on parenting and marriage have attracted a large following. The royalties from those materials have made him a multi-millionaire. His plush home and offices reflect his proud self-image and qualify him to be part of the elite image/city. Dobson also elevates the American founding fathers and calls on his followers to write to politicians about issues that would restore the nation’s original righteousness. He has set up coalitions of local political action groups in every state. Dobson is often in Washington building his power network and contacts among members of Congress. During the 1980s he was a regular "consultant" to President Reagan. He deplores the humanism of current leaders and applauds the biblical base of the founding fathers. This diligent watchfulness aims to restore life to the national family and nuclear family. But as for the focus of Jesus and his foundational elders on their heavenly father and against earthly political idolatry and economic immorality, James Dobson is dead asleep. (See Gil Alexander-Moegerle, James Dobson’s War on America, 1997.)
Because the Sardis church has closed its eyes to the truth and is dead asleep, Jesus will come like a thief at an unexpected hour (3:3). It appears the thief will take their lampstand/church, removing it from its place (see 2:5). If the church refuses to listen to this oracle of warning, Jesus will come again through his prophet(s) and speak worse words of judgment against it.
False prophets have built up the reputation of the church as one that is alive. Its worship services are alive. It’s active in the community. And it looks forward to the final day of the Lord. That Lord now tells them through his founding fathers, including John, that he will come before that. They will be surprised when that oracle of judgment comes because they have forgotten all the warnings that could have alerted them to their true state. If they don’t repent and return to what they first received and heard, Jesus will abandon them even before the final day comes.
There are some who are about to die that could still be rescued. Jesus calls those still watching and following the seven stars/elders to strengthen the rest so that they keep the commandments of God (against idolatry and immorality) and the witness of Jesus (3:2-3). So there are a few in Sardis who have not gotten their garments dirty (3:4) in the unclean/green waters/demons of this harlot/city. The garments again are a symbol of their righteous works (see 19:8) and the white Spirit who cleans/makes righteous. Those who continue to keep God’s commandments will finally be worthy to walk with Jesus in white in the heavenly kingdom (3:4). Thus the one conquering will wear white garments and his/her name will not be erased from the lamb’s scroll/Spirit of life (3:5). They will become a part of the great white Spirit/scroll/kingdom of heaven. The lamb has the power to open or close the scroll/kingdom to whomever he chooses (see 5:2-5). The one conquering will be able to stand before Jesus’ father and his angels (especially the seven angels/elders) because the son of God, the bright morning star/angel, will confess that he/she is worthy. They will join all the angels and be white shining stars. Whoever is not asleep and is listening and watching will hear what the Spirit says to the churches (3:6).
The three oracles to the churches of Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis are thus primarily words of warning. Like his first oracle to the church of Ephesus, Jesus calls them to repent and return to what they heard from the beginning. If such a message was urgent in the first century, how much more so in the twenty-first century. Yet we still have the foundational witness in the form of the New Testament. Through that witness, the heavenly elders still speak/rule over the earth today. And there are still true prophets in every generation who pass on the truth of the Spirit of prophecy. Whoever has an ear from the Spirit will hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Speaking the last two oracles
Just as two churches, one faithful and one not, were contrasted in the first two oracles, another two contrasting churches appear with the last two oracles. Like the church of Smyrna, the church of Philadelphia has been faithful. Like the church of Ephesus, the church of Laodicea needs to repent. So only two of the seven churches are faithful. Some of those in the other five churches are still faithful but most are not. The beginning, middle, and end of the seven oracles are primarily warnings to five churches that have exchanged the original witness of Jesus for something "better." The second and sixth oracles honor churches that have suffered from the beastly throne and synagogue of Satan because of their faithful witness.
The sixth oracle via the angel/elder(s) of the church in Philadelphia comes from one who describes himself as the holy one, the true one (3:7). As the one with a long robe of righteousness reaching to his feet, Jesus is the holy one, the saint of all saints (see 1:13). As the one who has the sword/Spirit coming from his mouth, he is the true witness (see 1:16). Because his witness was faithful unto death, he has the keys of death and hades (1:18). Now the risen Christ/Messiah says he also has the key of David (3:7). With this key he opens and no one will shut, and he shuts and no one will open. Then, in 3:8, he says he has set before this church an open door that no one is able to shut.
As the lion from the tribe of Judah, the root of David, Jesus has conquered and can open the scroll/kingdom/Spirit and its seven seals (see 5:5). The key of David is the key to that kingdom. The first true and faithful witness opens the way for future witnesses/prophets. The holy one pioneers the trail for the saints to go marching in. When they have finished their holy and prophetic work on earth, they will join him and the angels/elders in that kingdom. In 4:1 John will see a door opening in heaven and the Spirit showing him what must come to pass after these things concerning the seven churches.
As for the church in Philadelphia, Jesus knows their works (3:8). They have little power. In Philadelphia they are vulnerable to the powers that be, but before them and above them is their future, the Almighty and the heavenly kingdom. As the church in Smyrna is poor yet rich (see 2:9), they are powerless yet powerful. For through the power/Spirit of the risen Christ they have kept his word and have not denied his name. They have remained true to the true and faithful witness. And they have done so in the midst of the synagogue of Satan (3:9; see 2:9). As in Smyrna, this synagogue calls themselves Jews/prophets, but they are actually false (prophets). Perhaps those in Smyrna and Philadelphia also call themselves Jews because they are associated with the (literally) Jewish Nicolaitans, apostles who travel among the churches and multiply their deceit more than other false prophets (see 2:2,6,15). Presently they are among the powerful and promote the powerful. But the risen Jesus will later "give" them to the faithful from Philadelphia (3:9). That is, he will make them come and bow down before their feet (during the final judgment). Then the false prophets who claimed to speak for God and for Christ will know that Christ loved only the true prophets and saints of Philadelphia (3:9).
In early eighteenth century Germany, Eberhard Gruber began to discern between true and false prophets. Guided by the examples of Old Testament prophets and especially of Christ and the New Testament apostles, Gruber concluded that the gift of prophecy would be found in all true and righteous Christians in every generation. The goal of that common prophetic mission was to awaken false Christians who had fallen asleep and to pronounce God’s judgment on rulers and priests throughout the German Empire. They would go to those in power and reveal to them their true spiritual condition. By doing so, they would bear the contempt and affliction of the world, and would show that they were true followers of Christ. This persecution would also further reveal the corruption of powerful church and state authorities. Some accused these prophets of being only like angry Old Testament prophets, and unlike loving New Testament prophets. But Gruber pointed out the many warnings and judgments in the New Testament. Such words come from a lowly Jesus and his simple followers, who challenge the high and mighty. The Holy Spirit seizes young and old, women and men, to do this prophetic work.
Gruber was already a well-educated theologian when he began to follow this more lowly prophetic path. In 1703, the established church warned him that his criticisms were undermining church authorities. Two years later, they dismissed him from his church. Several years later, seventeen people formed a small group of women and men that pledged to sacrifice their lives for Christ and his prophetic mission. They thought of themselves as the True Inspired, inspired by the Spirit of God to be the true model of prophecy, speaking and acting according to the Spirit’s long-ago revealed word and will. (See Walter Grossmann, "Gruber on the Discernment of True and False Inspiration," Harvard Theological Review 81 (Oct. 1988), 363-387.)
The church in Philadelphia has kept the word of Christ’s patient endurance, so Christ will keep them from the hour of testing (3:10). Christ’s patient endurance (unlike that of the church in Ephesus) involved persecution and suffering from those who rejected his prophetic word. In the midst of that, the test/temptation of the great river/"sea" dragon and its rivers/demons is to water down that prophetic word and promote the kingdoms of the world and their glory/image. The synagogue of Satan does that and so shares in the power and prosperity of the fertile river(s) and great city/cities. Yet those who remain true during such present tests/temptations will not have to take the great final exam of Christ. That final hour of testing will come suddenly upon the whole inhabited earth and test/judge those dwelling comfortably and flowing easily upon the earth. They failed the earlier tests of the dragon and demons, and will flunk Christ’s final exam.
Indeed Jesus is coming soon (3:11). Earlier messages also referred to Jesus coming soon but in a context of judgment spoken through prophets of the churches (see 2:5,16; 3:3). The context before 3:11 suggests the final judgment of the whole world. And the faithful will be among the judges before whom the rest will fall on their knees (see 3:9). Jesus encourages the church to keep the faithful witness it has so that no one takes its future crown (3:11). If they water down their prophetic witness against the present powers that be, they will lose their future crown as rulers/judges with the risen Christ. So how soon is soon? How soon is Jesus’ final coming? One could use 2 Pet. 3:3-4 where some scoff or mock the promise of Christ’s coming soon. The response to that in 2 Pet. 3:8-9 is that the Lord’s time is different than ours (our thousand years is like one day to him). And the time is delayed to give more time for repentance.
Another alternative is to look at John’s context in 3:11 as not a warning of imminent danger against the world (as in 3:10) but as an encouragement to a faithful church that Jesus will soon welcome them to his heavenly kingdom. Already in 2:25-28, Jesus’ coming could include his giving them authority over the nations during their heavenly millennial rule before the final judgment. Thus 3:11 goes on to encourage them to keep their witness faithful to the end so that no one will take their heavenly crown. Jesus will come soon when their faithful witness ends and give them their heavenly crown. Compare the earlier focus of 3:7-8 where Jesus has the key of David and sets before them an open door to the heavenly kingdom. Now they have little power, but soon they will rule in heaven with Christ.
This encouragement continues in 3:12. Jesus will (soon) make the one who conquers a pillar, permanent and secure in the temple of Jesus’ God. Those conquering the dragon and its earthly kingdom(s) will become part of the heavenly temple. As pillars on which names are engraved, they will be like the (white) stones with new names (3:12; see 2:17). Jesus will write on the conquering one the name of his God and the name of the city of his God, the new Jerusalem, and his own new name (3:12). The faithful conquerors will be priestly pillars in the temple of the heavenly Jerusalem. Jesus’ God will be their God forever, for they remained faithful to the word of God. Their name(s) will show to whom they belong. Jesus will be their Lord forever, for they remained faithful to the witness of Jesus.
In 5:12 seven attributes of the lamb, Christ’s power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing, could be identified with the seven spirits (the Spirit). And in 7:12 seven similar attributes of God are listed. In the Old Testament some of these same attributes are closely connected with God’s name. For example, the name of God and the glory or power of God can be used in parallelism (see Ps. 54:1; 72:19). Thus the name of God, the new name of Jesus, and the name of the new Jerusalem could point to one name, the Spirit who is written on them. The name/Spirit of God, of Jesus, and of the new Jerusalem will be theirs forever so that they share in God’s eternal power, glory, and kingdom. Instead of the mark/name of authority of the beast on them, they will have God’s own mark/name/authority.
After the final judgment the new Jerusalem will come out of heaven and be part of the new heaven and new earth (3:12; see 21:1-2). But perhaps in 3:12 the coming down of the heavenly city is also like the welcome of the coming Jesus in 3:11. Jesus and the rest of the heavenly city come to welcome those who conquer as they pass through the door of the heavenly kingdom (3:8). Jesus comes and frees them from death and hades with his keys, and then uses the key of David to usher them into the heavenly temple (3:7). Whoever has an ear can hear what the Spirit says to the churches. This oracle of Jesus is also the Spirit of prophecy speaking to the churches.
The seventh and final oracle Jesus speaks to a church comes via the angel/elder(s) of the church in Laodicea (3:14). This last oracle comes from the Amen. The name Amen points to Jesus as the faithful and true witness (3:14). As Amen is a final affirmation of one’s words, Jesus remained the faithful witness even unto death. Yet Jesus also used the Hebrew word Amen (often translated as "Truly") at the beginning of some statements to verify their truth from the beginning. From beginning to end Jesus is the faithful witness (see 1:5).
In 3:14 he also describes himself as the beginning of the creation of God. Having finished his faithful witness unto death, he is the firstborn of the dead (1:5), the first to rise from death and rule with God in the heavenly kingdom. So 3:14 expands on two facets of 1:5. Jesus the faithful witness is now Jesus the faithful and true witness. And Jesus the firstborn of the dead is now Jesus the beginning of creation. The apostle Paul, another angel/elder of the church in Laodicea (see Col. 4:10), also connects Christ as the beginning with Christ as the firstborn of the dead (Col. 1:18). Christ is the first and foremost, the beginning of the new creation, the new heaven of angels that rule over the earth (see 5:10-11; 20:4-6).
As the risen lamb with the seven eyes/spirits of God, Jesus sees and knows the works of the church in Laodicea (3:15). They are neither cold nor hot. Jesus wishes they were cold or hot, but they are only lukewarm (3:16). So Jesus is about to spit them out of his mouth. If they were hot, they would be under the hot sun of the wilderness with their mother/Spirit (see 12:17). Since they are lukewarm and carried along by the waters/demons that the dragon spits out (see 12:15), they cannot remain in Jesus’ mouth. The seven spirits are seven torches of fire that would heat up their watered down witness (see 4:5; 5:6). And such a fiery witness could antagonize a flood of angry waters/demons. It might even make them cold corpses.
The cold imagery becomes more clear after John sees the door open in heaven in 4:1. For among the things he sees there is something like a glassy sea, like crystal (4:6). This sea is before the throne, the same position as the seven torches of fire in 4:5. The hot torches or spirits/Spirit of prophecy are before God’s throne along with this crystal, glassy "sea" ( the many waters of 1:15). A glassy sea like crystal is a cold, icy sea. When the fiery judgments have finished, the heavenly sea will rest in peace, all cool, calm, and collected like an icy sea. The Spirit is both hot lightning and cold clouds, both fire and water. Those who have been formerly fired up by the Spirit of prophecy will finally be refreshed in the cold ice of the heavenly sea/Spirit.
Jesus thus prefers that the church was cold or hot. Cold comes first because ending up in the heavenly sea/Spirit is the reward for being in the earthly fire/Spirit. Jesus himself is the beginning of God’s creation of that heavenly kingdom that includes the icy sea. If the church had been faithful and true witnesses like himself, some of them might have joined him there already. And those remaining on earth would at least be hot with the fiery Spirit of prophecy.
But the church in Laodicea is lukewarm. The Greek word for lukewarm (chliaros) looks and sounds like the word for green (chloros) used in 6:8 for the fourth horse. Instead of being in the hot dry wilderness with their mother/Spirit, they have transferred to the greener pastures on the outskirts of the great city/harlot, the image of the sea beast. They are now part of the peoples awash in the unclean/green waters/demons of the great river/dragon. Their own city, Laodicea, reflects her own mother, the great city, the mother of harlots/cities.
The church is lukewarm/green because it says it is rich and has prospered and has no need (3:17). It enjoys the wealth of a city that is the spitting image of the great city, the image of the sea beast. By joining in the prosperity of the city, it has also joined the luxurious life of Babylon the great. Jesus, however, informs the church that it does not know that it is miserable and pitiful and poor and blind and naked (3:17). If the church in Smyrna is poor yet actually rich, this church is rich yet actually poor.
All the rich churches of the cities look impressive. Eventually they want to show their wealth by constructing temples that tower among the other monuments of the city. Their false prophets are close friends of certain wealthy businessmen. Other churches are tempted to look at them with envy. They have the best leaders and musicians that money can buy. Worship there is like worship in heaven. Not really. Not according to the king of heaven. He can’t begin to swallow this lukewarm watered-down worship and witness. He’s ready to spit it out.
As a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Seminary, I find the story of Russell Conwell relevant here since it is like that of the church in Laodicea. In the early 1890s Conwell was the minister of the largest Protestant church in North America, Baptist Temple in Philadelphia. He was famous for his lecture "Acres of Diamonds" which he gave over 6,000 times all across the U.S. The lecture featured a story about a man who traveled the world seeking his fortune but discovered on returning to his home that his land had become the world’s richest diamond mine. The moral of the story was that anyone could become rich, and that it was one’s Christian duty to get rich (and to use some of that wealth to help others). (See John R. Wimmer, "Russell H. Conwell," in Charles Lippy, ed., Twentieth-Century Shapers of American Popular Religion, 1989, pp. 80-88.)
This message echoed the traditional American religious view that poverty is punishment for laziness and wealth is reward for honesty and hard work. This seductive gospel of success/wealth is now popularized by television evangelists like Robert Schuller, Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, and Kenneth Hagin. And it remains part of the mainstream middle and upper-class gospel of most churches in the U.S. Likewise, when many middle-class U.S. missionaries see the vast poverty of the Third World, they self-righteously think in these terms.
Conwell wrote glowing biographies of U.S. presidents and was friends with various Congressmen. On national holidays like Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving, he decorated his majestic sanctuary with American flags and worshiped the American god with patriotic songs. He declared that American military might was indispensable to the U.S.—and he was right. But might doesn’t make right. Conwell thought the success of American militaries and businessmen was a sign of God’s favor. This success, he said, should lead to extending our moral superiority throughout the world. He quoted President Theodore Roosevelt as saying the U.S. built the Panama Canal for all the nations to use. For Conwell, the canal was the greatest wonder of the world, greater than the pyramids, Babylon, or medieval cathedrals. He thought the moral individual and nation would do well (financially) by doing good. By promoting "democracy" all over the world, the voice of the majority would be the voice of God. (See Warren Vinz, "American Foreign Policy through Benediction: The Case of Russell Conwell," in Gustavo Benavides and M. Daly, ed.s, Religion and Political Power, 1989, pp. 133-150.) Such deception remains popular among patriotic preachers today.
If the church in Laodicea thinks it is rich, Jesus would become their financial adviser and strongly recommend that they buy from him gold refined by fire (3:18). The gold they have now is fool’s gold. The golden lampstand/church they are now is moldy gold, with green fungus growing on it. Only when the church buys the oil/gold that is the fiery Spirit of prophecy will they be truly rich (like the church in Smyrna). For true prophets call wealthy Christians to sell their luxurious possessions, give to the poor, and join Jesus’ little wilderness flock that will inherit the kingdom (see Lk. 12:31-33). Then they will become like the church in Smyrna, poor yet rich. Then their gold lampstand/church will be refined by the oil/fire/Spirit which burns off the green fungus and mold. If Jesus does not buy them with his blood (his faithful Witness unto death), he will sell them into captivity to Babylon (see 5:9; 6:6).
Jesus also advises them to buy from him white garments so that the shame of their nakedness will not be revealed (3:18). White garments again symbolize the righteousness that comes from the Spirit of holiness. Because the church has kept most of its wealth for itself and its own self-serving "enterprise," they are without righteousness in Jesus’ eyes. Only if they listen to Jesus’ counsel to the rich will they begin to clothe themselves with the righteousness of helping the poor. The treasure of those who give to the poor is the white garment of the righteousness of the Spirit they will wear in the heavenly city.
The third thing they need to buy is salve so they can anoint their eyes and see. Only if they have Jesus’ eyes, the seven spirits, will they see the truth. This salve/Spirit will anoint their eyes so that they can see/know in order to speak and do the truth. As it is now, they see their wealth as a great blessing from God. But the false prophets who bless them are not from God. They are the beast from the earth, part of the fertile green river valley of the rich city.
This oracle of warning is also a message of love, for Jesus would discipline and teach them like a father does his wayward child (3:19). As with four earlier churches, Jesus’ main oracle becomes a call to repentance. Here, he adds the call to become zealous (zeleue). Then they would become hot (zestos) from the refined oil/gold that is the fiery Spirit of prophecy.
He who has the key to the heavenly city now stands at the door of the church and knocks (3:20). Their lukewarmness has locked him out. Yet if anyone in the church should hear his prophetic voice (via the angel/elder(s) of the church) with the ear of the Spirit and open the door, Jesus will come in to him/her and dine with them. Instead of being part of the lukewarm water that Jesus spits out, they will become zealous/hot servants/prophets like Jesus who feast on the olive oil/Spirit and the olive trees/elders (see 6:6).
It is ironic that 3:20 is a favorite evangelistic verse of rich churches and false prophets. They interpret it in terms of inner feelings and decisions, inviting Jesus into one’s heart. The context of a call to repentance to a rich church is ignored, for obvious reasons. Perhaps also they don’t think they are rich. Yet they thank God every day for their manifold blessings (of wealth). The middle class of North America and Europe, and of all the cities of the world, look at the upper class and say they themselves are not the rich. Jesus looks at the vast multitudes of the world in the lower class and concludes rightly that both the middle and upper classes are (too) rich. What this means for rich Christians and churches is downward mobility, instead of the expected upward mobility. To become more like the poor church in Smyrna does not usually mean destitution, but it does mean living a more simple lifestyle, content with humble basic necessities. My wife and I now live in a one bedroom apartment and enjoy walking or using the bus for transportation (and doing without a car). My wife is a secretary, earning most of our income, and I do research and writing. Formerly I pursued the professional pastorate (beginning in a small rural parish in Kansas), a doctoral degree, and the professional mission field (as a university/seminary teacher in the Philippines). It was in the Philippines that I saw most clearly the unholy contrast between American middle-class life and Third World poverty.
As most first century churches showed, churches don’t need wealth for buildings (or pastors). They can meet in homes and informally teach and encourage one another to be faithful to the first faithful witness and the foundational elders/apostles and prophets. My wife and I also prefer to meet with other Christians (and non-Christians) in a context of home bible studies or house churches. Jesus still speaks through the New Testament witness of the seven angels/elders.
The Spirit of prophecy is at home in the wilderness of the poor (in the Spirit). I think the first beatitude/blessing of Jesus in Mt. 5:3 should be translated as blessed are the poor in the Spirit. If so, it would be like the beatitude in Lk. 6:20 which blesses the poor, for theirs is the kingdom. Jesus is talking there primarily to his poor disciples who have left "more professional" careers to follow him. It is not just any poor, but poor disciples, the poor in the Spirit, who have the kingdom of heaven. As for Jesus’ rich followers, he only speaks woe to them (see Lk. 6:24).
The one conquering in Laodicea will be the one opening the door to this Jesus, the poor, prophetic Jesus. When they have finished conquering on earth, Jesus will open the door to heaven and reward him/her with sitting with him on his throne (3:21). Jesus’ key of David will enable them to rise and rule with him as judges of the churches and world around them. Jesus as the lion of Judah, the root of David, first conquered as the beginning of God’s new creation and then sat down with his father on his throne. When faithful Christians also conquer by remaining faithful unto death, Jesus will in turn allow them to share that heavenly throne/Spirit, on the basis of which they will continue to speak the truth and rule as judges. May the one who has the ear of the Spirit hear what the Spirit now says to the churches (3:22). Churches that are now powerless, like the church in Philadelphia, have an open door in heaven set before them, through which they will later enter. Then they will share the power/Spirit of Jesus and rule on his throne. Amen.
Blowing the seven trumpets
After Jesus’ oracles to the seven churches, and after the lamb opens the seven seals, it seems the final judgment has come. But the opening of the seventh seal in 8:1 abruptly leads back to an earlier time of giving trumpets that will especially affect only a third of the earth. Thus in 8:2 John sees the seven angels who stand before God, and who are given seven trumpets. The seven angels are the seven stars/angels/elders of the seven gold lampstands/churches (see 1:20). They are now standing before God in the heavenly temple.
Then John sees another (special) angel come and stand upon the altar of the heavenly temple (8:3). This angel has a gold censer and is given much/many incense in order that he might present it, with the prayers of all the saints, upon the gold altar before the throne. The much/many incense links with Christ’s voice like many waters (1:15). The Spirit as both liquid and fire is back. The many incense (and waters) also absorb the many multitude of 7:9, and all the saints of 8:3. In 5:8 the four living creatures and twenty-four elders each have gold bowls full of incense which is defined as the prayers of the saints. There the elders’ heavenly gold bowls are the prophets who extended the witness of the elders and are now all aglow in the gold/oil/Spirit, while the incense/Spirit in the bowls is the voice/prayers of the saints who joined the prophets/bowls. So again in 8:3 the incense is mixed with the prayers of all the saints, all the saints that are now in heaven in the gold censer/bowl in the hand of the angel. In 6:9 the slaughtered prophets who were part of the fifth seal/Spirit on earth are in heaven under the bloody altar praying/crying out with the great voice of the Spirit. The saints are followers of the elders and prophets and some have now joined them in the heavenly temple.
The altar of 6:9, however, is the altar of burnt offering, the bloody altar/moon where all the slaughtered lambs/prophets of the lamb cry out for vindication (6:9-10). The altar of 8:3-5 is the altar of incense, and the much/many incense contains some of the "many" multitude of 7:9. That incense is in the gold censer/prophets (some of the 144,000). And the altar itself is gold (8:3), like the altar of incense in Ex. 30:3. Given the greater scope of the symbolism here, with incense full of a many multitude and a censer of various prophets, the scope of the gold altar should also be enlarged. If the bloody altar of 6:9 is the bloody moon of 6:12, then the fiery altar of 8:5 is like the fiery sun (darkened in 6:12; see 8:12; but fiery in 7:2,16).
The temple altar offering of incense/Spirit/prayers/voices of the saints is mixed with fire and smoke (8:4-5). Out of the hand of the angel who is before God rises up smoke from the incense, along with the prayers of the saints (8:4). Then the angel takes the censer (of smoking incense/prayers), mixes it with the fire from the altar and throws it to the earth. In this mixed metaphor, the fire from the altar is of course the familiar fire/Spirit of prophecy. The smoke that rises with the prayers of the saints is like the incense/Spirit that is mixed with the prayers. So the smoke, like the incense, is another symbol of the Spirit. As both fire and smoke were part of God’s coming to Moses and Israel on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19:18), so the Spirit here is both fire and smoke. The gold of the altar is the oil/Spirit that fires up this altar that is like the sun/Spirit.
The angel that stands over the altar is "another angel," like the (another) angel of 7:2 who comes up from the rising sun. That angel was the risen lamb who had the seal/Spirit of the living God and sealed the 144,000 prophets (7:2-8). Now the angel/lamb of 8:3 stands over the altar/sun and holds the censer/prophets with the incense full of multitudes (7:9). Originally, in 1:16 the risen Christ held the seven stars/angels/elders in his right hand. Now those angels/elders stand before God in 8:2 and are given seven trumpets/spirits/Spirit with which to continue their prophetic witness on earth. The censer and contents of the incense are now in the hand of the angel, the risen Christ, and will also have a continued witness against the earth and sea. The earth, including unfaithful churches, cannot escape Christ’s ongoing lawsuit or judgment against it.
When the angel/lamb throws the fire/Spirit now in the censer/prophets (full of smoking incense/prayers) to earth, the fiery Witness of the risen Jesus comes again. Thunders and voices and lightnings come again (8:5). The Witness of Jesus is the fiery Spirit of prophecy (see 1:14-16). The voice of thunder of the first living creature that brings arrows of lightning to the earth via the elders is being recycled (see 6:1-2). For the seven angels/elders are trumpeting. The risen angel/lamb comes again and again, having followed up his first faithful witness on earth with an expanded witness through the elders and then other prophets, including the saints (as "minor" prophets). The trumpeting of the angels/elders over a third of the earth will continue to expand that witness (see Isa. 58:1).
If the seven trumpets are rams’ horns (see Josh. 6:4), they could link with the seven horns/spirits of the lamb in 5:6. Such trumpets or rams’ horns are connected with God’s stormy coming to Mt. Sinai in Ex. 19:16 and 20:18. The trumpets/spirits/Spirit of the angels/elders mean another stormy coming is on the horizon. The Spirit’s great voice like a trumpet will be heard again (see 1:10; 4:1). Standing tall on the heavenly horizon is the great sun/altar of saints, like a fiery mountain. Their smoking voices are ignited by fire/lightnings and sound like thunder. When all the mountains/kings of the earth are finally removed (see 6:14), this mountain of myriads from all over the earth will stand tall (see 6:17; 7:9). In 8:4-5, all these voices/tongues (see 7:9) are on fire and are thundering from on high. Even the earthquake of 8:5 is from the shaking of the heavenly altar/mountain, just as smoking Mt. Sinai quaked in Ex. 19:18.
The addition of an earthquake in 8:5 also links with the final great earthquake of the sixth seal in 6:12. For the message of the trumpets will reveal similar things as in the final judgment of the sixth seal (and of the seventh seal and seven bowls). This connection is meant to show that the prophetic judgment from heaven against a third of the earth will also be a preview of the final judgment from heaven against all the earth (found also in the seventh trumpet). Compare the seven priests in Josh. 6 who blow trumpets for six days as a preliminary to the climactic judgment on the seventh day when the great city Jericho burns and falls. Perhaps the three groups of Josh. 6:9,13 (trumpet priests, armed men, and rear guard) are like those John sees around the heavenly altar (the trumpet angels/elders of 8:2, the front line of the gold censer/prophets, and the rear guard of many saints in 8:3-4). If so, John’s three groups could also be seen as the twenty-four elders, some of the 144,000 servants/prophets, and some of the "many" multitudes/saints. The last group is all the saints that are in the incense so far. The judgments of the first six trumpets will be a sort of preview of the final judgment (that includes the final fall and burning of Babylon, the great harlot/city).
As the new heaven is being built up by the risen lamb, that heaven (and earth) now witness against the great city and the beasts. And in the end all the heavenly apostles, prophets, and saints will rejoice because God will vindicate their judgment(s) against her (18:20). What is said on earth is what is said in heaven, both now and in the end. What is "bound or loosed" on earth is "bound or loosed" in heaven (see Mt. 16:19; 18:18). When God hears the cries of heaven, the earth shakes, and God comes breathing fire and smoke, bringing judgment of hail and coals of fire (compare Ps. 18:6-13).
The elders’ new oracles of judgment continue to come to earth as a message from heaven’s hosts/judges. This unwelcome message can’t be dismissed as simply the raving of cranky misfits on earth. Compare Isa. 28:22 where Isaiah tells Israel to stop mocking him because the Lord Almighty, the Lord of the heavenly hosts, has given him his oracle of destruction. Likewise Elijah assures a frightened Obadiah with the words: "As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand . . ." (1 Kgs. 18:15). Elijah will meet king Ahab, whom he has angered, because he is the prophet who stands before and serves the Lord of heavenly hosts.
Blowing the first four trumpets
When the first heavenly angel/elder trumpets with the voice of the Spirit, hail and fire mixed with blood are thrown to the earth (8:7). These heavenly hosts are trumpeting a renewed call to battle on earth. The hail and fire link with the cold and hot that the church in Laodicea was not (see 3:15-16). Thus the hail also connects with the icy sea before the throne/Spirit in 4:6, just as the fire connects with the seven torches of fire before the throne (4:5). Both the sea/Spirit and fire/Spirit are before the throne. And the fire/Spirit of 8:5 is connected with smoking incense and prayers of the saints in 8:4, and is thrown to the earth. Since the heavenly icy sea/Spirit is the many waters of Christ’s voice in 1:15, and now includes some of the "many" multitudes of 7:9, the hail would symbolize all the heavenly saints in the many waters/incense/Spirit. Mixed with both the fire/Spirit and ice/Spirit are the prayers/voices of the heavenly saints. (Ps. 147:17 describes God hurling hail to the earth, and the context of the poetic parallelism of Ps. 147:15,18-19 is that of God sending/revealing his command/word to the earth.) Compare all the stars/angels in the final judgment of 6:13 that fall to the earth like figs from a fig tree in a wind/Spirit storm. The heavenly fire and hail are mixed with blood, the heavenly witness of the slaughtered/bloody prophets, who are now the gold censer thrown to earth in 8:5.
It is the fire that does the damage of the first trumpet. Like the fiery lightning/arrows of the rider/elder(s) of the first seal, the angel/elder that first trumpets is part of the thundering voice of the first living creature. The third of the earth is burned, the third of the trees and all the green grass (8:7). The third of the earth and all its green grass link with the multitudes/peoples/nations (out of which all the saints of 8:3 came) that remain in and around the green horse/dragon (see 6:8), the great river of the great city. (Compare Mic. 5:7 where many peoples are parallel to grass. Mal 4:1 portrays evildoers as stubble that will be burned up, leaving no root or branch.) The incense/prayers of all the saints in 8:3 call for judgment against all their former fellow earth-dwellers. The green grass is also like the barley sold into slavery to Babylon in 6:6. Thus the judgment of the third seal (6:5-6) resembles the judgment against the third of the earth and trees in 8:7. And the ratio of three quarts of barley to one quart of wheat (6:6) resembles the ratio of all the grass to a third of the trees (8:7). The green grain and grass are nourished by the green horse/river/dragon of 6:8 that killed the fourth of the earth, those in the wilderness. As the fourth of the earth was killed by famine in 6:8, so now the third of the green earth is burned (see Ezek. 5:12,16). The color green (chloros) is also reflected in the lukewarm (chliaros) wealthy church in Laodicea, a tarnished/moldy/green lampstand/church lacking the refining gold/fire/Spirit. The city of Laodicea is a true child of the great harlot/city, Babylon. As God plagued powerful and prosperous Egypt with hail and fire in Ex. 9:23-24, now Babylon and her daughters are bombarded. And as Israel was warned about similar plagues/diseases against them if they disobeyed God (Ex. 15:26), now the churches who remain in Babylon/Egypt will share in her plagues (see 18:4). Only those churches/Christians who have come out of Babylon/Egypt into the wilderness/weakness/poverty of the woman/Spirit will escape these plagues/judgments.
The third of the trees, like those of 7:1,3, are the counterparts of the slaughtered and sealed servants/prophets in 7:3. False prophets are other trees whose fruit is rotten. The third of the trees/false prophets are all those growing/prospering as part of the third of the earth that surrounds the great river city and her daughters/cities. The fraction of one-third will identify them as the (earth) beast/false prophet(s) that glorifies the image/city (of the beast/empire) and its green third of the earth. The fraction one-third also links with the third of the dragon’s stars/angels/false prophets thrown to earth in 12:4 by the dragon’s tail.
When John the Baptist prophesied in the wilderness and saw Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him, he called them a brood of vipers (Mt. 3:7). He also compared those elite Jewish leaders to trees that do not bear good fruit (Mt. 3:8,10). Because of that they were in danger of being cut down and thrown into the fire (Mt. 3:10). Jesus continued this prophetic symbolism when he connected false prophets with bad trees that bear bad fruit (Mt. 7:15-18). He also said they would be cut down and thrown into the fire (Mt. 7:19).
Modern Pharisees and Sadducees could include liberal/progressive as well as conservative religious leaders. For example, while conservative leaders are more obvious supporters of the economic and political status quo, liberal leaders seek reforms that would supposedly spread wealth and power to even more people. Such progressive leaders praise the benefits provided by progressive heads (of the beast) and by the great city. Such benefits, for example, include the aid sent all over the world for the sake of "development" of "underdeveloped" nations and cities. They only complain that more aid is needed. If the truth be told, most talk of development is a lie that hides the main purpose of such aid: expansion of American markets and protection of raw materials needed by American corporations. Progressive religious leaders who think American wealth can serve the poor end up deceived and co-opted by the greed of the great city. Wealthy middle-class religious leaders have no basis for a more radical rejection of the greed of the great city because they are green trees prospering at the banks (literally and figuratively) of the river city. They might not consider themselves rich but they are part of the mainstream.
The beast from the earth, the false prophet(s), grows tall (from the earth) like a tree(s) and calls the multitudes to seek its shade near the great river city. As they seek the greater kingdoms of the world and their glory/image, they become more green. When churches, or some in the churches, do the same they become more lukewarm.
Yet true prophets on earth continue to echo the faithful witness from heaven against such wealth and deception. The heavenly prophets (the elders, prophets, and saints) all have their earthly followers/disciples/prophets who are earthly extensions of their heavenly prayers/cries. Part of that witness involves warning lukewarm/green churches to repent, or later speaking judgment against churches that refuse to repent. In Ps. 50:3-7 God comes to judge and speak against his people Israel. The heavens declare that God is a righteous judge (Ps. 50:4,6). When God comes, there is devouring fire before him and a raging storm around him (Ps. 50:3). As God came in similar fire and storm in Ex. 19 to establish his covenant with Israel, so God comes in like manner to judge those who break the covenant (Ps. 50:16-17). (See Isa. 28:1-2 where God sends a storm of hail to the rich, beautiful, and proud valley on earth. Isa. 28:7,14-15 adds that Israel’s rulers, including the drunk priests and prophets, have made a covenant with death and Sheol.)
A major false prophet of the twentieth century who prospered from his covenant with death was the American Catholic cardinal, Francis Spellman. Spellman’s residence on Madison Avenue in New York was called "the Powerhouse" in rectories, boardrooms, and government offices. His power was due to his closeness to Pope Pius XII. And Pius XII used the Catholic Just War theory to justify the Cold War waged by the U.S. (As pope, Pius XII lived in a huge royal palace as Pontifex Maximus, the State Sovereign of the Vatican city-state and the supreme administrator of all the church’s vast properties.)
In 1950 Spellman met Ngo Dinh Diem, an exile from Vietnam living at the Maryknoll Seminary in New York state. Spellman sympathized with Diem’s opposition to Communists and introduced him to U.S. business leaders and government officials like Joe Kennedy and his son, John, then a U.S. senator. After the French defeat in Vietnam, the U.S. government arranged for Diem to become the new head of state there. With support from President Eisenhower, Pope Pius XII, and others, Diem returned to Vietnam in 1954. A few months later, Spellman gave the first major American declaration of support for Diem’s regime at an American Legion convention in Washington. Diem’s brother Thuc became archbishop of Saigon, and another brother became head of the notorious secret police.
Another Spellman favorite was Tom Dooley, a Navy doctor in Vietnam who wrote best-selling books about Catholic refugees being driven from their homes in North Vietnam by the Communists. This led many Americans to believe that Vietnam was a Catholic country under Communist torment. Actually, Catholics were less than ten percent of the population and Dooley’s books were part of a CIA strategy that included the transfer of Catholics to South Vietnam (by the CIA) to bolster Diem’s political base in Buddhist Saigon.
By 1956 Senator Kennedy said Vietnam was the "cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia." Early American support for Diem was channeled through Spellman as millions of dollars were processed through the Catholic Relief Service. While the U.S. government said Diem was cracking down on Communists and dissidents, he was mainly waging a vicious war against Buddhists, especially rural families. Diem ruled like a medieval Catholic, believing he ruled by the will of God, and ruling with the faith of the Inquisition. Because this drove more and more Vietnamese into the arms of the opposition Vietminh, American support for Diem gradually decreased. By 1963 even Spellman no longer supported him, and he was killed in a coup approved, and probably engineered, by the Kennedy administration. When President Johnson later intensified the war, Spellman, in a Christmas visit to GIs in Vietnam, made his famous statement of faith, "My country right or wrong." (See James Carroll, An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War that Came Between Us, 1996, pp. 51,70-72,164-169.)
The blowing of the trumpet/Spirit by the second angel/elder(s) brings destruction to a third of the sea via a great burning mountain (8:8-9). Something like a great mountain burning with fire is thrown into the sea. Since the mountain is burning with fire when it is thrown into the sea, this suggests it has the same fire of 8:7 that consumes/condemns the third of the earth. As the fire from the altar was thrown to earth in 8:5, now the same fire is burning something like a great mountain that is being thrown into the sea. (And in 8:10, a great star will fall from heaven, burning like a torch. The use there of both burning and torch link with the burning seven torches of fire of 4:5. These seven torches are the seven spirits, portrayed in 5:6 as the seven horns and eyes of the lamb, sent out/down to all the earth.)
The burning mountain, like the hail and fire of 8:5,7 is being thrown from heaven. All the stormy imagery of 8:5 led to a link between the fiery altar/sun/Spirit and Mt. Sinai. As the fire/lightning from the altar/mountain was thrown down to earth first, now the altar/mountain itself is being thrown down, burning with the same fire/Spirit.
The result of this fiery sun/mountain/Spirit coming down to earth is that the third of the sea becomes blood. This is appropriate because the scarlet sea beast slaughtered all the prophets under the bloody altar/moon (6:9), and their blood joined the hail and fire of the first trumpet. Those already (dead) in the sea/abyss who worshiped the violent beast turn to blood because they are judged with the beast they loved (and served, joining in its violence). So the third of the creatures in the sea, namely those that have human souls, are killed/condemned by the heavenly trumpet and fire and mountain/altar (8:9). These creatures/souls include those in churches who were loyal to the beast from the sea. (Compare Ezek. 29:3-5 where the king of Egypt is the great dragon that lies in the Nile. When it is captured, the fish that stick to its scales are also captured. Then all of them, the king and his subjects, are thrown into the wilderness.)
The third of the sea beast’s/empire’s ships on the sea are likewise destroyed (8:9). Later on, those who sail on ships of the sea grow rich by selling to the beast’s image/city (18:19). Of least value to them, and last on the list of 18:12-13, are slaves, human souls. These souls are among those souls killed in 8:9. The freedom to buy and sell depends on the deadly sea (and its invading ships). The wealth on the later commercial ships, that ends up in the city/cities, is the fruit of the imperialistic beast/empire of the sea. As the harlot/city rides on that sea beast, so the ships/merchants ride on the beastly sea.
In 8:10 the third angel/elder trumpets from heaven and a great star falls from heaven burning like a torch. The great star points back to the special angel/lamb who stands on the heavenly altar and throws the fire/Spirit to earth anew (see 8:3,5). After the fire, hail, and blood are thrown down, and then the burning altar/mountain (and blood), the angel/lamb that stands on/over all that in 8:3 falls from heaven. (Compare again the stars/angels/saints falling like figs in 6:13.) Now the great star/angel/lamb itself is burning like a torch. The only other use of "torch" in Revelation is in 4:5 for the seven torches of fire that are identified as the seven spirits of God. (These same torches/spirits are the eyes and horns (trumpets) of the slaughtered lamb in 5:6.) When the third trumpet/Spirit blasts, it is the burning but living lamb that comes again.
The great star/angel/lamb falls on the third of the rivers and on the fountains of the waters. Already in 7:17, the lamb is the one who will lead the "many" multitude (that come out of the great tribulation/judgment reserved for the great river city) to the fountains of the waters of life. The waters of life are later linked with the river in the center of the New Jerusalem (22:1). The city is thus also a paradise where on each side of the river is a fertile tree of life bearing fruits (22:2).
The waters/rivers of 8:10, however, are waters of death. The third of the rivers are those nourishing the third of the trees (and all the green grass) of 8:7. These waters/rivers are thus the unclean/green waters/demons that enable the trees/false prophets and green grass/multitudes to flourish. The river waters produce green fertility all around the river cities. The river beds of the harlots/cities attract and seduce lovers from all over the earth. The cities are like their mother, the smooth seductive image of the rough sea beast. In the Ancient Near East, rivers (as well as cities) were sometimes personified as gods. In early Babylonia, great statues/images of rivers were dedicated in temples as emblems of fertility.
Since the dragon spits water out of its mouth like a river in 12:15, it is the main fountain of those waters/rivers. Other fountains would be death and hades, the abyss/sea, the headquarters of the dragon and its demons. This draconic sea/abyss that is (viewed as) under and around the earth also spits up through the earth in the limited (by heaven) form of rivers/demons.
It is thus appropriate that the great star/angel falls on the rivers and fountains. For this great star is also the angel of 7:2 who comes up from the rising sun. If the dragon and demons of the abyss/sea continue to wreak havoc on earth, the angel/lamb who was slaughtered and died continues to come from the rising sun/Spirit and plague its arch rivals, the dragon, death, and demons. The great morning star is the great angel Michael who already threw the dragon from heaven all the way down to the sand/nations of the sea (see 22:16; 12:7-9,18). The great star is the same angel that comes down from heaven in 20:1 and seals and chains the dragon in the abyss/sea for the thousand years that the heavenly prophets rule. Consequently, not all the nations/multitudes are deceived by the dragon (20:3). The "many" multitude of 7:9 will come out of the nations and join the heavenly sea and heavenly altar/mountain when they die. Yet the dragon still causes woe on the earth and sea (see 12:12), beginning with the waters/demons (12:15). Thus the fallen star/angel/lamb of 8:10 comes again to further disrupt those deadly demonic rivers and fountains. As the fire/Spirit earlier burned the third of the trees that grew (green) by the rivers, now the torch/Spirit again fires up the first faithful witness, to fall again on the rivers and their fountains.
The name of the star is Wormwood (Apsinthos) (8:11). It is the bright (like a torch) morning star that is not only the root of David but also the descendant of David (22:16). This Jesus is the root of the tree of life. Now he comes (again) as the branch of David (see Isa. 11:1) that falls in the third of the rivers. The Amen is the beginning, middle, and end, and comes now as the Apsinthos. When he does, the third of the waters become bitter/poison (apsinthon).
This is the opposite of Ex. 15:23,25 where the bitter water of Marah became sweet and drinkable for Israel in the wilderness after Moses threw the tree into the water. It is more similar to the poetry of Job 21:12-21 that compares the prosperity of the wicked to sweet rivers flowing with honey. But their swallowing such sweet riches turns into drinking the poison of asps. Thus they will get no enjoyment from the profit of their trading, for their greed has exploited and stolen from the poor. In Job 21:27, the end result is that the heavens will reveal this sin, and the earth will rise up against them. This is precisely what the star falling from heaven does in 8:10; it poisons the rich river city/cities. The star likewise exposes the rivers’ fountains in the bitter/violent salt/sea water. And the result will also be that these waters rise up against those who poison them.
In Isa. 19:5-6, God dries up the Nile river and, along with its branches/mouths and irrigation canals, it becomes stinking puddles. Then the river’s grassy meadows and grain fields that surround it also dry up and disappear (Isa. 19:7). This leads all who profited from the river to despair, from the elite pillars of Egyptian society to their lowly employees (Isa. 19:8-9). (Compare also Isa. 66:12 where prosperity is like a river.)
The third trumpet/voice/Spirit of the third angel/elder thus leads to further witness by the first faithful witness. Even like Ezekiel among those captive in Babylon by the Kebar River, the Spirit produces hot anger and bitter prophecy against a disobedient, captivated people (Ezek. 3:11,14-15). When the angel/lamb and angel/elder(s) expose the deadly dragon fountains and demonic waters that nourish the unclean/green earth, the waters then show their true nature. They react violently, like a den of angry snakes.
Many of the people died from the waters, because they were made bitter/poison (8:11). This could mean the multitudes in the rivers and cities who died. But the many people/multitudes seem to be the angels’ earthly voices/saints who have abandoned and angered the waters, having come out of the unclean/green rivers into the hot wilderness that wages war against the waters. They are then poisoned/killed/condemned after the waters are embittered/angered. For whoever no longer drinks from the unclean/green rivers must be killed/condemned. The ongoing witness of Jesus angers/embitters the rivers/demons, causing them to react violently, like their deadly fountains in the bitter sea. After many people leave them for the wilderness and join the woman/Spirit, the demons/spirits pursue them and kill/condemn them through their own earthly voices. (See 18:24 where in the great river city was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all those slaughtered on earth.)
So the special angel and all the heavenly host continue to live and speak through true prophets on earth who now confront the third of the earth. The third of the trees/false prophets of the earth are burned by heavenly fire/Spirit, the third of the sea is bloodied by the burning heavenly mountain/altar/Spirit, and the third of the rivers are poisoned by the burning heavenly angel/Wormwood/branch of David. The fire/Spirit of prophecy, by means of the heavenly angel/lamb, seven angels/elders, and all the other angels (saints as well as prophets), confronts the deceptive trees, deadly sea, and demonic rivers—and judges accordingly. This is all done via the ongoing judgment of true prophets and saints on earth who echo the heavenly judgment of all those angels. And in the end, the earth, sea, and all rivers and trees will be harmed/condemned by the four angels/Spirit with the four winds (see 7:1-3).
Such provocative prophecy must pay a price. The heavenly sun/Spirit, moon (faithful witness unto death of/like the lamb), and stars/prophets have had their say over a third of the earth and sea. The heavenly lights are then plagued, in turn, by the dark demonic spirits and their fountains (8:12). It is (a brief) time for the dark side. As a result, the day does not shine for a third of the time, and the night likewise. The day of the fiery sun/altar/mountain and the night of the poison/bloody great star/moon and stars/hail are darkened by the dragon’s demons and beasts. The heavenly witness over the third of the earth and sea has come to an end. Or has it? Stay tuned for more trumpets.
Blowing the fifth trumpet
With the fourth trumpet, the lights in the sky are darkened by the deadly dragon and its demons and beasts. Like the literal darkness at the death of Jesus (see Mt. 27:45), the symbolic darkness of 8:12 represents the (brief) end of that light/witness. But such darkness is also associated with Jesus giving his Spirit (perhaps in Mt. 27:50, and more clearly in Acts 2:18-20). So the next thing John sees and hears is one lonely eagle flying in midheaven, among the darkened lights (8:13). This is of course the fourth living creature that is like an eagle flying (see 4:7) and that hovers over the dark riders, death and hades, that kill the fourth of the earth in 6:7-8. Since it is the eagle/Spirit, it speaks with the great voice of the Spirit and warns those still dwelling comfortably on the earth to watch out for the last three trumpets. For the last three voices/trumpets to come will bring three woes to the earth.
Rich green dwellers on earth enjoy worshiping God and drinking the fruit of the vine (see Joel 1:5,16), sure that the Lord’s heavenly hosts are blessing and protecting them. The eagle, however, warns them of coming woe, for a new day of the Lord comes with the trumpet that sounds the alarm to all those dwelling comfortably on the land/earth (Joel 2:1). This day will bring another kind of darkness, the darkness of the black horse/Spirit via a dark cloud of winged creatures. These dark locusts/horses will be God’s army, God’s great host, and will devour/torment those dwelling on the earth (see Joel 2:1-11). Like the cherubim of Ezek. 1:9,12, these agents of God’s judgment advance straight ahead and can’t be turned away from their appointed mission (Joel 2:7-9). (See Meredith Kline, Images of the Spirit, 1980, pp. 119-120, who also sees the similarities between John’s eagle, Joel, and the fifth trumpet, but still agrees with most interpreters who say this is about a demonic host.)
When the fifth angel/elder trumpets, John sees a star that has fallen out of heaven onto the earth (9:1). The star/angel was given the key of the mouth of the abyss. This special star/angel is the great star that fell out of heaven in 8:10. So just as the risen Christ has the keys of death and hades (see 1:18), the great star/angel/lamb is given the key of the mouth of the abyss. And as the fourth living creature in 6:7-8 has authority over death and hades, so the eagle in 8:13 flies in the sky darkened by the deadly dragon and demons from hades. Along with the sea, the abyss, death, and hades all refer to the same deadly reality (see Jonah 2:2). The slaughtered lamb as well as slaughtered prophets and condemned saints are all too familiar with the abyss. Yet they have now risen and are ruling in heaven. Their stay in the abyss was very short.
The fallen star/angel/lamb opens the mouth of the abyss (9:2). (Several Jewish apocalypses also reveal such an angel. The Apocalypse of Zephaniah 6:11-15 portrays Eremiel, the good angel who is over the abyss and hades, with much the same imagery as that used for the risen Christ in 1:13-18. A similar angel in 4 Ezra 4:36 is called Jeremiel. In 1 Enoch 20, Remiel is set over those who rise.) Smoke comes up out of the abyss like the smoke of a great furnace (see Ex. 19:18-19 which combines the smoke of a furnace with a loud trumpet as part of God’s coming down upon Mt. Sinai). This smoke from God’s fire/furnace (see also Isa. 31:9) rises into the air and darkens the air (and the high mountains/kings and tall trees/false prophets there) and sun. Compare the black horse of 6:5 and the black sun like sackcloth of hair in 6:12. The black/darkened sun of 6:12 is part of the final judgment of the sun/Spirit and heavenly hosts. The rising smoke also points back to the smoke of the incense/prayers/voices of the saints in 8:4. And the fiery furnace reflects the fiery altar in 8:5. Even when the fire/sun/Spirit is quenched, the dark smoke/Spirit from the great fiery furnace/Spirit in the abyss continues to rise and spread. The eagle/Spirit flying in midheaven is now the smoke/Spirit darkening the earth’s high and mighty/beastly air in midheaven. This air is the sky that rolls up like a scroll in 6:14.
Although the major lights in the sky have been darkened by a third (see 8:12), and the hot fire from heaven has finished its burning the third of the earth, sea, and rivers, one should not underestimate the fire and smoke freed from the abyss by the fallen angel and flying eagle. The furnace fire from the abyss fires/raises up the spirits of prophets and saints. Their rising smoke/Spirit is crying out again. The prayers of all the risen saints in the incense/smoke/Spirit portend a new day of the Lord of hosts (see 8:3-4). The newly risen prophets and saints now join the darkened third of the heavenly lights and will intensify the dark judgments/woes to come.
After opening the abyss in 9:1 to free newly slaughtered prophets and condemned saints, their spirits rise up and renew their witness. As in Ps. 18:4-5, death (the torrents/sheol/hades/abyss) overwhelmed them. But in their distress they cry/pray to God and God in his (heavenly) temple hears and comes anew in the midst of a quaking earth, smoke, and burning coals/fire, riding the dark clouds/cherubim/living creatures, with darkness and dark clouds around him (see Ps. 18:6-11). This awesome God reaches down and rescues from the depths of death (see Ps. 18:16). The black horse/cloud/Spirit of 6:5 (and 6:12) is back as the black smoke/Spirit. As in 12:15-16, the Spirit is alive and well after the angry dragon/fountain spits a (poison) river after her (see 8:10-11) because the earth opens/quakes and swallows/condemns the river. But now when the earth opens, the smoke/Spirit also rises.
Out of the smoke come locusts onto the earth (9:3). These locusts are given authority like that of the scorpions of the earth. Scorpions are associated with serpents in Lk. 10:19 and 11:12 (and Satan in Lk. 10:18). In Lk. 10:19 Jesus gives the seventy authority over the scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy. The locusts in 9:3, however, are the spirits of the newly risen prophets and saints who conquered (and will conquer) by means of the same authority/Spirit of the lamb. This authority is like, but not the same as, that of the scorpions/serpents. It is like the former heavenly authority of the devil who accused/condemned the prophets before God (see 12:10). But now the authority/Spirit of God’s Christ has come (12:10), and keeps alive the witness of dead/risen prophets and saints.
Similar to the flying eagle/Spirit and the black horse/Spirit, the flying locusts are heavenly creatures whose authority/Spirit will bring woe to the earth. The locusts are told (by the angel with the key to the abyss) not to harm the grass of the earth, or the green (things) or every tree, except those men/people who don’t have God’s seal on their foreheads (9:4). Compare the voice of the lamb in 6:6 that instructs the rider of the black horse to sell wheat and barley. The mention of limited harming in 9:4 is likewise another link with the black horse of 6:5-6. The risen locusts are not to harm the earthly green grass/multitudes (the barley of 6:6; see also 8:7). They focus rather on the trees/prophets (the wheat of 6:6 and the trees of 8:7) who don’t have God’s seal/Spirit telling them what to say. Compare all the trees of 7:1,3 (the counterparts of the sealed servants of 7:3) who are not to be harmed by the final judgment until all the servants are sealed. As in Ezek. 17:22-24, these tall/proud green/flourishing trees could be contrasted with the low/humble dry trees produced by the Lord’s shoot/branch/(Wormwood). In 9:2,4 these tall trees reaching high in the sky/air are going to get their fill of the smoke that blows there.
Thus the target is more limited than that of the hail, fire, and blood of 8:7 that burned the third of the trees and all the green grass. Moreover, their mission is also limited in that they are not to kill those false prophets but only torment them for five months (9:5). Yet their torment will be like the torment of a scorpion when it stings. For their former witness is alive and will accuse the false prophets of murdering or silencing the true prophets (including themselves, the dead/risen prophets and saints). The five of the five months fits this fifth angel/elder who is trumpeting from heaven. The months point to the lunar cycle of the moon, which symbolizes the faithful witness unto death/blood of the lamb and the lamb’s strong prophets (see 6:12). The fifth seal fittingly includes this bloody moon/altar of slaughtered prophets (6:9). It was after their slaughter in 6:4 that the black horse/sun appeared in 6:5, leading to the sale of the wheat in 6:6. So the five months especially respond to the darkening of the third of the moon in 8:12. The prophets killed in 8:12 as a result of the first three trumpets, now rise and return to torment their former counterparts on earth, the tall trees/false prophets.
Compare the Spirit’s empowering Peter after the darkness of Jesus’ death (Lk. 23:44-45; Acts 2:20). Peter boldly accuses/torments those who crucified Jesus, who now rules as Lord (Acts 2:36). As a result, they are cut to the heart (Acts 2:37). When Peter accuses the rulers, he adds that they acted in ignorance. So the judgment (of Christ through Peter) against them torments, but is mixed with a message of repentance and hope (Acts 3:19,26). Peter’s prophetic judgment becomes more tormenting in Acts 4 when he targets the rulers (including Gentile rulers in Acts 4:27) as those who crucified Christ (and does not mention repentance). By the time of Acts 5:29-33, Peter and the other apostles enrage the Jewish leaders when they again witness against their deadly violence. Their courageous witness continues, empowered by the Spirit of the crucified and risen Jesus. This is the kind of torment that the locusts John sees will bring.
Compare the limited authority given to Satan (literally, the adversary) among the heavenly sons of God in Job 2:1,6. Satan goes to earth with the authority to torment Job with sores all over his body. Now such authority is given to the heavenly locusts in 9:3-5 (and is a precursor of the final judgment in 16:2, where the evil sores could result from the stings of the locusts). Unlike Job, who refused to curse God (Job 2:5,9-10), those suffering the "sores" of final judgment in 16:2,11 do curse God.
In 9:6 those tormented seek death but do not find it. This can also be compared with the misery of Job, who longed for death but it didn’t come (Job 3:11,21-22). While Job’s friends were wrong to accuse him of great sin as the reason for his suffering, those tormented in 9:4 are rightfully accused for their allegiance to the dragon. They do not have the seal/authority/Spirit of God.
The locusts look like horses prepared for battle (9:7). Like the black horse/Spirit of 6:5, these horses/spirits are part of the darkened sun/Spirit. And like the rider/elder of the white horse/Spirit in 6:2, they have on their heads what looks like gold crowns (9:7). As in 6:2 the gold is the oil/gold/Spirit and the crown is the authority/Spirit, so the gold crowns of the horses/locusts in 9:7 are their authority/Spirit, the same authority as in 9:3. The risen locusts/horses will come to do battle by means of the power/authority of the Spirit. They are the spirits of the prophets/kings who come from the darkened sun/Spirit.
Compare the situation of Elisha in 2 Kgs. 6:15-17 when his frightened servant sees Syrian horses and chariots surrounding them. Elisha tells him not to fear because "those who are with us are more than those with them." Then God opens the eyes of the servant and he sees the mountain full of (heavenly) horses and chariots of fire around Elisha. Similarly, John’s locusts/horses should be seen as a dark cloud of witnesses (see Heb. 12:1) who will inspire those still on earth to prophesy.
The faces of the locusts/horses are like faces of men (9:7). In 6:5, the third living creature with the face like a man opens the third seal. That creature/Spirit is then associated with the black horse/Spirit. So here in 9:7 the horses/spirits from the darkened sun share the likeness of the third living creature/Spirit. Compare 8:13 where the fourth living creature, the flying eagle, announces the coming woes, the first of which is these flying locusts. Like the rider of 6:5, their faces are "hard" and stare down the hardened faces of disobedient wheat/trees/false prophets.
The hair of the locusts/horses is like the hair of women (9:8). The hair could link with the sackcloth of hair in 6:12 which describes the black covering the sun. There the black sackcloth symbolizes the bitter anger and mourning of the black sun. Here the locusts come out of the darkened sun in 9:1-2 to express anger against the trees/false prophets. As the hair of the risen Jesus in 1:14 is another symbol of the Spirit, so the hair of the locusts/horses is part of the spiritual body of the risen prophets. Yet the much hair that extends out (from the prophets) could also "enclose" the much/many multitudes/saints that come to join the prophets (first on earth, and now as risen saints).
In Mic. 1:16, Zion is portrayed as a woman who will cut off her hair (and mourn) because her children go into exile. The loss of all the hair relates to the loss of all her children. John sees a similar dark day in 6:5-6 when the black horse/Spirit brings warfare/judgment that sells the wheat/false prophets and barley into exile. But now, in 9:8, these locusts/prophets come out of the darkened sun to torment the trees/false prophets. And with them is their long hair, the much/many multitudes/saints that heard their call to come out of exile/Babylon, to abandon the unsealed trees and join the sealed servants/prophets.
The teeth of the locusts/horses are like that of lions (9:8). Here is another connection with a living creature. The first living creature is like a lion (see 4:7). In 6:1, this first living creature/Spirit calls for the white horse/Spirit to come. The rider/elder of the white horse has a bow shooting arrows/bolts of lightning (6:2). Like the sharp sword that comes out of the mouth of the risen Christ (1:16), the lightning bolt symbolizes the fiery Spirit. The teeth of a lion would be a similar image and point to new stormy torments coming from the mouths of the locusts/horses.
The locusts/horses also have breastplates like iron breastplates (9:9). Elsewhere, iron is linked with the iron rod, an image similar to the sword (see 2:27; 12:5; 19:15). As the sword is multiplied into many teeth, so the rod is multiplied into much iron around the breast. It seems the Spirit is not only attacking (false prophets) but is also protecting the locusts/spirits from any further attacks. The breastplates could also symbolize the healing of the wounds they suffered on earth (like Christ’s "girdle" around his breast in 1:13).
The sound of the locusts’ wings is like the sound of many chariots pulled by horses as they charge into battle (9:9). This is similar to the sound of the risen Christ’s voice in 1:15 that is like many waters. Like the hair in 9:8, this points to the Spirit/spiritual bodies. Yet also like that hair, the mention of "many" again alludes to the many multitudes/saints who join the risen prophets. The many chariots link with the many multitudes. As wings of the horses/spirits, they are like the wings of the living creatures/Spirit. These wings are extensions/attachments like the long hair of 9:8. As the elders are the wings of the living creatures, the risen saints are the wings (and hair) of the risen prophets.
The locusts likewise have tails like scorpions, and stings (9:10). Their authority/Spirit to harm/torment the men/false prophets for five months (see 9:4-5) is in their tails (9:10). Tails that sting are like teeth that bite (see 9:8). The "scorpion" tails are the authority to harm of the locusts (see 9:3), and the lions teeth are the authority to harm of the horses. These are two different images of the same authority/Spirit of the locusts/horses. As the now fallen ancient serpent, Satan, earlier accused true prophets (12:9-10), these locusts with tails like scorpions (like serpents in 9:19) now rise to sting/accuse false prophets. As the hail and fire against the trees and grass in 8:7 resembled the plague/judgment of Ex. 9:23-25, now the locusts against the unsealed trees in 9:3-4 resemble the plague/judgment of Ex. 10:4-5. The tails like scorpions or serpents also resemble the plague of Ex. 7:10-12 where Aaron, the true prophet, has a rod that turns into a serpent and swallows the rods/serpents of Pharaoh's magicians/false prophets.
Compare the winged seraphim in the temple in Isa. 6:1-2, which seem to be related to the serpent (Hebrew sarap) of Num. 21:8. That latter bronze snake/serpent is lifted up on a pole to deliver Israel from the other snakes. Later on, the bronze serpent seems to be in the temple (2 Kgs. 18:4). Thus, that sarap in the temple could be linked with the seraphim Isaiah later sees in the temple (where they resemble the cherubim/living creatures). While the seraphim in Isa. 6:2,6 have human faces, wings, etc. (like Ezekiel’s living creatures), they could well have a serpent’s body. Later, Isa. 14:29 has a sarap that is a flying serpent. (See John Day, "Echoes of Baal’s Seven Thunders and Lightnings in Psalm XXIX and Habakkuk III 9 and the Identity of the Seraphim in Isaiah VI,""Vetus Testamentum 29 (1979), 143-151. Among the oral Jewish sayings written later in the Mishnah (around A.D. 200) is a comparison in Aboth 2:10 where the words of wise teachers/sages are described as coals of fire that can warm hearers or burn hearers like the sting of a scorpion or the hiss of a serpent.)
John’s locusts/horses have over them as king the angel of the abyss (9:11). This is the same angel as in 9:1, the fallen angel (of 8:10) who has the key of the abyss and opens the mouth of the abyss so that the locusts/spirits can rise, and so that their smoke/Spirit can revive their witness on earth. The Hebrew name of this angel is Abaddon, and its Greek name is Apollyon (9:11). These names link with the name of the angel in 8:11, Apsinthos. All begin with alpha, and point to the Amen, the beginning of God’s new heavenly creation (see 3:14). As Apsinthos fell from heaven to poison the earthly waters/demons in 8:11, so the star/angel/lamb is the deadly destroyer (Abaddon and Apollyon) who releases the locusts that sting like scorpions/demons. As the preeminent alpha, this angel (angelos) is the king of all the locusts (akridon). And the fifth angel (angelos), a foundational elder, trumpeted to begin it all.
Blowing the sixth trumpet
The first woe has now passed (9:12; see 8:13). Two more woes will come after these things (of the first woe). When the sixth heavenly angel/elder trumpets, the second woe begins (9:13). John hears one special voice from the four horns of the heavenly golden altar which is before God. In 5:6 the lamb has seven horns and eyes, which are interpreted as the seven spirits/Spirit sent out to all the earth. These rams’ horns can also be linked with the seven trumpets/spirits/Spirit. The four horns of the altar likewise point to that same divine power, the four living creatures, who are also the four angels who stand on the four corners of the earth in 7:1. The special voice in the midst of the four horns/Spirit is like the voice in the midst of the four living creatures in 6:6. That voice is the lamb that stands in the midst of the creatures (see 5:6). Thus, as in 8:2-3, the trumpet angel(s) is followed by another angel (the slaughtered and risen lamb) who stands upon the golden altar. And the altar in 8:3 and 9:13 is the gold altar/sun/Spirit.
The voice (of the lamb) tells the sixth angel/elder, who has the trumpet/Spirit, to loose or liberate the four angels who are bound on/over the great river Euphrates (9:14). Like the four winds/spirits of the earth in 7:1 that are held back by the four angels/creatures, the four angels/creatures in 9:14 have been held back from judging the great river. The great river Euphrates in turn links with the great city Babylon (see 17:5,18). And the great river links with the rivers of 8:10-11. Yet Babylon’s great river is also like a sea. In Jer. 51:36-37, Babylon’s waters are "her sea" and parallel to "her fountain." John saw the fiery mountain/altar thrown into the sea in 8:8, so in 9:13 the altar is firing up for a further round of woe/judgment. The great river is the leader/fountain of the other rivers/demons, namely, the great (sea) dragon of 12:3 (see 12:15). It is the green horse/dragon of 6:8 that inspires the killing of the fourth of the earth, those in the dry wilderness. This fountain is still active in 8:10-12, killing saints and darkening the heavenly lights. But hovering over all that death is the fourth living creature, the flying eagle (see 6:7; 8:13).
Now the time has come to loose/free the four angels/creatures. For those creatures are well prepared for this very hour and day and month and year (9:15). The judgment of the four living creatures will now encompass the fourfold time of the hour, day, month, and year. The fourfold judgment by the Spirit will include judgment by risen prophets (the thousand years), torment from the poison/bloody great star/moon (the five months), a day of the fiery sun/altar/Spirit, and an hour of God’s judgment (especially against Babylon and those dwelling comfortably on the earth around her in 14:6-8 and 18:10,17,19). The five months of lesser harm/torment has passed (9:5). Now comes a foreshadowing of the final judgment, of the final hour or day of wrath (see 6:17; 14:6-8). These judgments will be affirmed and finalized in the final judgment. The woe that the flying eagle/Spirit brings now to those dwelling comfortably on the earth is a preview of what is to come in the end.
John hears the number of the armies of the heavenly horse(s) coming to renew the battle. The number is two myriads of myriads (9:16). The horses point back to the locusts that look like horses in 9:7. The myriads of armies link with the multitudes that are too many to count (see 7:9), myriads of myriads. The myriads of armies are like the many chariots/wings of 9:9, and like the long hair of the horses in 9:8. Now these armies/multitudes are the riders of the horses (9:17). Like the chariots/wings of 9:9, and hair of 9:8, they are again extensions of the horses. The rider(s) of the white horse in 6:2, and of the black horse in 6:5, is an elder(s). Now the riders/armies are the multitudes/saints. And as in 9:7-10, the horses are the (major) prophets. The symbolism for the number two will be developed more in 11:3-4 (which is still within the context of the sixth trumpet/second woe according to 11:14).
The mission of the four angels and the horses is to kill/condemn the third of the men/people (9:15,18). The time for tormenting has passed. The angels/creatures/Spirit of prophecy and horses/prophets will now increase the intensity of judgment against those dwelling comfortably on the earth. As in 8:7 there will be fire that consumes the third of the earth. Yet now there are even more heavenly hosts added to that fire. The killing in 9:15,18 is like that of 2:23 and 6:8. The same imagery is found in Hos. 6:5, which portrays God’s cutting a disobedient Israel into pieces with his prophets, killing them with his words, his judgments flashing like lightning upon them. It’s a war of words.
John sees that the riders of the horses have breastplates of fire, hyacinth, and sulfur (9:17). The iron breastplates of the horses in 9:9 link with the iron rod/Spirit that now protects or heals those earlier "wounded" on earth. Here in 9:17 the breastplates of the riders also link with the fire/Spirit. Another form of the Greek word for hyacinth is used in 21:20 for the eleventh jewel of the twelve that make up the foundation of the wall of the New Jerusalem. Thus the huakinthinous of 9:17 can be identified as the hukinthos of 21:20. If so, the hyacinth reflects the foundational elders at the head of the armies. The third description of the breastplates, that of sulfur, links especially with the lake of fire burning with fire and sulfur in 19:20, 20:10, and 21:8 (see also 14:10). As the Spirit is both fire and smoke in 8:4-5, and furnace and smoke in 9:2, in the final judgment the Spirit is both fire and sulfur. Compare Isa. 30:33 where the breath/Spirit of the Lord burns like a stream of sulfur/brimstone. This symbol of judgment goes back to the sudden destruction of Sodom in Gen. 19:24, including the green valley around it, with fire and brimstone/sulfur. So it is interesting that 11:8 (again, in the context of the sixth trumpet/second woe) refers to the great city as spiritually/symbolically named Sodom. The breastplates that anchor the riders in the witness of the Spirit and the elders also assure them of the future judgment that will affirm their own present judgments. The breastplates of the fiery and sulfur Spirit will secure them to their foundational elders/apostles and show them the final outcome of their present war of words.
John sees the heads of the horses, and they look like heads of lions (9:17). This confirms that the horses are like those of 9:8 that have teeth like lions. But these horses/prophets now have fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. These three plagues of fire, smoke, and sulfur that come out of their mouths end up killing the third of the men/people (9:18). The authority/Spirit of these horses/prophets is not only in their tails that sting like scorpions, as in 9:10, but also in their mouths (9:19). For the fire, smoke, and sulfur coming out of their mouths are the spirits/Spirit of prophetic judgment. (Compare Jer. 5:14 where God’s words become a fire in the prophet’s mouth, devouring/judging an unfaithful people like wood.) They not only torment with their tails/Spirit. They now also kill/judge with their mouths (in the war of words). Similar to the tails like scorpions of the horses/locusts of 9:10, the tails of 9:18 are like serpents. These tails have heads, and continue to harm/torment others, as in 9:4-5. Compare Amos 5:18-19 where the darkness of (the day of the Lord’s) judgment is portrayed as a serpent biting someone. Similarly, after John associates the darkness of 9:2 with scorpion stings (9:5,10), he then links a new day (of judgment) with serpent heads that harm (9:15,19). The seraphim of Isa. 6:2-4 are again smoking.
These judgments of the second woe against the third of the men/people begin among the increasingly multiplied voices of the heavenly lamb, Spirit, elders, prophets, and saints. Their prophetic counterparts on earth are mostly assumed more than seen here. Yet the second woe extends until 11:14, so the responsibilities of prophets still on earth like John (10:8-11) and the witnesses of 11:3-7 will be fleshed out there. And their prophetic witness will mirror that of the heavenly hosts here. For the Spirit of prophecy is sent from heaven to earth.
The plagues of words from the fiery and smoking sulfur/Spirit fail to lead the rest of the men/people to repent from the works of their hands (9:20). Like the Exodus plagues against majestic, imperial Egypt, flourishing around the Nile, these plagues on the third of the earth flourishing in and around the Euphrates do not lead to repentance. These judgments have focused on the great river/dragon, its great river city, and those who dwell comfortably in the luscious green river valley. That is where this third of the people live. And the rest of the earth looks up to these wealthy people and authoritative voices and worships their prosperity and power (9:20). What they don’t realize is that these voices are really voices of the great river/dragon and its rivers/demons. All the accumulated wealth is composed of mere idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood. The great towers/temples/buildings of the city, sparkling with precious stones, are awesome and are worshiped by the people of the earth. The beast from the earth has persuaded them to make this idolatrous image/city (13:14-15). But such idols are not even able to see or hear or walk (9:20). Like the number/authority of the beast/empire (see 13:18), the idols do not have the eyes or ears of the Spirit and can not walk among all the churches like the lamb.
Besides their idolatry, the rest of the earth also did not repent from their immorality (9:21). This immorality includes murder, sorcery, sexual immorality, and stealing. For the idolatrous sea beast and its image, the great city, drink the blood of the prophets and saints. To worship them is to approve and perhaps participate in their slaughter of prophets and saints (and others). The (earth) beast/false prophet(s) and the image it engineers deceive the nations with their sorcery (18:23; see Jer. 27:9), making them worship the (sea) beast and its image. Those who accept their explanations for "just wars" also accept their calls to sexual/economic immorality. They call all to work hard, accumulate more, and build up the great city and nation. The problem is that such prosperity comes at the expense of the bounty and raw materials of the poor multitudes of the earth. The rich get richer by stealing from the poor. The rich resources of the whole earth are grabbed by the rich and powerful. If the poor complain too much, the circle of immorality goes back to the beginning: murder.
Since 10:1-11:14 is within the context of the sixth trumpet/second woe that starts at 9:13 (and ends at 11:14), I will discuss this passage as part of this section on the sixth trumpet. In 10:1 John sees another angel besides the seven angels of 8:2 who have been trumpeting. There was also "another angel" in 8:3, the lamb who stood on the altar. Similarly, the description of the angel in 10:1 points to the risen Jesus. He is strong, coming down out of heaven, "dressed" in a cloud with a rainbow on/over his head and a face like the sun. He is another strong angel, like the strong Angel/Spirit of 5:2 yet different/another. His feet are like pillars of fire. Jesus is coming again, but this is not his final coming in the clouds (as in 1:7). For John is the only one who sees him now. The face and feet recall the risen Jesus John sees in 1:15-16. There his face is like the sun shining in its power (1:16) and his feet are like refined bronze that has been burned/fired in a furnace (1:15). A furnace is connected with the abyss in 9:2 so this seems to be an image of two "feet" that have come out of the abyss and now come down from heaven with the risen Jesus. In 9:1 Jesus is also the angel who has the key to the mouth of the abyss (compare 1:18). As in 1:15, where the feet like bronze refined in a furnace were linked with the living creatures and their refined bronze feet like a calf in Ezek. 1:7, the feet here are again symbols of the sacrificial creature/bull/Spirit. The image of pillars of fire also reflects the pillar of fire and pillar of cloud, both images of the Angel/Spirit leading Israel in the dangerous wilderness.
The heavenly rainbow is mentioned earlier in 4:3 where it is around the throne. Also around the throne in 4:4 are the twenty-four thrones of the elders. Like the angel/Christ in 10:1, they are dressed in white garments (or clouds/Spirit). The rainbow looks like an emerald (4:3), which links with another precious stone, the hyacinth of 9:17 (and 21:20), and other precious stones that make up the foundation of the walls of the New Jerusalem in 21:19-20. Thus the twelve precious stones of various colors look like the rainbow. The rainbow is an image of the multifaceted Spirit, the bright shining cloud, that encloses the foundational elders/apostles.
The risen Jesus has in his hand a small scroll that is open (10:2). In 5:7 the risen lamb takes a heavenly scroll with seven seals from the one sitting on the throne. The symbolism of that scroll with writing all over it includes that of the word of God which then becomes the witness of Jesus. And since the witness of Jesus is also the Spirit of prophecy, opening the scroll’s seals leads to the prophetic witness on earth of the sealed prophets. But in 10:2 the Greek word for scroll suggests a little scroll. And it is open/unsealed. The elders/foundational apostles and prophets have now unsealed their frontline witness. As the angel of 10:1 is like the risen Christ of 1:15-16, so the little scroll in the hand of the angel (10:2) is like the seven stars/angels/elders in the hand of the risen Christ in 1:16. The elders, therefore, are also at the forefront of this vision (and found in the rainbow and little scroll). Their witness in the written New Testament is the bedrock word of God and witness of Jesus but there is still a little more witness that must be added to that. The little scroll/witness is open but needs a final "chapter."
The strong angel is gigantic (like a great mountain), putting his strong right foot on/over the sea/abyss and his left foot on/over the earth (10:2). The witness of the two "feet" will again encounter the deadly sea and deceptive earth. The feet/pillars/creatures, especially the creature/Spirit like a sacrificed bull/calf, continue the faithful witness of Jesus on earth unto death (in the sea). The suffering from that witness seems to be due to the superior strength of the dragon and beasts (of the sea and earth). But Jesus’ feet are merely refined like bronze from the furnace/Spirit in the abyss/sea and stand tall with authority over the sea and earth.
The angel/lamb cries out with the great voice of the Spirit, like a lion roaring (10:3). The slaughtered lamb is also the lion who conquered (5:5-6). This lion roars with the great voice of the first living creature/Spirit that looks like a lion (see 4:7). This great voice was first introduced in 1:10 as a voice like a trumpet. When the sixth angel/elder(s) trumpets, the strong Angels/lions of heaven are trumpeting/roaring (see the strong Angel/Spirit with a great voice in 5:2).
When the strong Angel cries out, the seven thunders speak their own voices (10:3). This recalls the lightnings, thunders, and voices that come out of the throne in 4:5 (and the seven torches of fire there that are the seven spirits of God). Likewise in 6:1 the first living creature/Spirit (like a lion) speaks like a voice of thunder.
When the seven thunders speak, John is about to write (10:4). But then he hears a voice from heaven telling him not to write. Instead he should seal what the seven thunders speak. What the seven thunders speak is not necessary to write. Already the seven seals, seven oracles of the churches, and seven trumpets have revealed the Witness of Jesus as it spreads over the earth (see 5:6). The seven thunders are another expansion of the prophetic Spirit’s witness. Since they extend the same witness of the trumpets, on a new level at a later time, there is no need to repeat it here. John’s revelation already shows how this witness develops in the beginning stages and climaxes in the end. The two feet/creatures (the first like a roaring lion, and the second like a sacrificed ox/bull) of Jesus are leading that ongoing witness. (In 19:6-7, a voice of strong thunders is linked with a voice of many waters and a voice of a many multitude as they praise God for the final marriage of the lamb and his bride.)
John then sees the gigantic angel that stands over the sea/abyss and over the earth raise his right hand into heaven (10:5). As in 1:15-16, the right hand and feet are images of the power/Spirit of the risen Christ. The angel swears by the one (God) who lives forever that time shall be no more (10:6). That is, in the days of the voice/sound of the seventh angel/elder, when he is about to trumpet, the mystery of God would be fulfilled (10:7). Then the time for the deadly sea and deceptive earth will have ended and God’s final judgment and salvation would come. This is what has been continually promised to God’s own servants, the prophets (10:7). The angel/lamb swears by God because God is the only true living one, who never dies, and because God created the heaven, earth, and sea, and the things in them (10:6). The risen lamb is the beginning of God’s salvation, God’s creation of a new heaven (see 3:14). As for those who choose to serve the idols of the earth and sea, the judgment of God and the lamb will consign them to the sea/abyss and finally transfer them to the lake of fire.
Then the voice that John heard out of heaven speaks again with him (10:8). This is the voice of 10:4 that told John to seal what the seven thunders speak. Again, the voice leads John back from the future to the task at hand. The voice tells John to take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who stands on/over the sea and earth and to eat it. This act of eating a scroll is like that of the prophet Ezekiel whose eating was connected with hearing God’s word and speaking to God’s rebellious people (see Ezek. 2:8-3:4).
John goes to the angel/lamb and tells/asks the angel to give him the scroll (10:9). The angel/lamb tells John to take it and eat. He adds that it will be bitter in his stomach but sweet like honey in his mouth (see Ezek. 3:3,14; Jer. 15:16-17). So John takes the scroll from the angel’s hand and eats it, and it is sweet like honey in his mouth, but then his stomach becomes bitter (10:10). The scroll/witness of Jesus becomes the witness of John. So they (the angel and the voice) tell John he must prophesy again over/against many peoples and nations and tongues and kings (10:11). As in 1:17 when Christ’s right hand (with the seven stars/elders) was put on John, now the little scroll in Christ’s right hand is put into John. Both actions lead John to write/prophesy as one of the seven angels/elders. This second commission in 10:8-11 will lead to the second half of John’s prophecy, the final "chapter" of the elders’ foundational written witness.
Among the four groupings of the peoples of the world, kings are mentioned for the first time in 10:11. This fits with the emphasis of the angel’s right foot on the deadly sea (see 10:2,5,8). Much of what follows will expose in great detail the sea beast and its kings, including the queen/image of the beast. A revelation about such violent kings of the deadly world empire/beast who slaughter prophets that speak against them is a bitter pill to swallow indeed. But the bitterness of such suffering is only the birth pangs of the queen/Spirit who will then bear/raise them into the heavenly kingdom (see 12:2). To speak/write the word of God and witness of Jesus is sweet, but to suffer for it is bitter.
Compare the witness of Jesus that embitters the royal fountains and a third of their rich rivers in 8:10. Then the embittered waters cause many (saints) to die in 8:11. Again the end result is bitter suffering for the saints who share the witness of Jesus.
In 11:1 John is given a measuring stick like a rod. The word for rod here is always used elsewhere for the iron rod/Spirit that rules/judges the nations (see 2:26-27; 12:5). Here the rod/Spirit will enable his measuring the temple of God. John is told to rise and measure God’s temple and the altar and those worshiping in/on it (11:1). Later, in 21:15, one of the seven angels/elders has a measuring rod of gold/Spirit to measure the New Jerusalem. Here John rises up among the (fellow) elders and measures the heavenly temple and altar. As the angel/Christ of 10:1-2 had an open little scroll, now the elder John rises to measure the open (big) scroll, the heavenly kingdom/temple of worshiping angels. After being thrown from heaven in 8:8, the gold altar is back in place and helps initiate this sixth trumpet (9:13). The measuring will make sure that its horns (9:13), censer, and incense (8:3) are secure. All the saints in the much incense of 8:3 are accounted for, as well as the prophets/censer. They and their former earthly "extensions" have all come out of the abyss (9:1-3,16). None have been lost or stolen (see Isa. 34:16-17). The rod’s/Spirit’s role is thus similar to that of the iron breastplates of the horses/prophets in 9:9, and of the riders/saints in 9:17, that secure the heavenly prophets and saints.
But John is told to cast out the (outer) court outside the temple and not measure it (11:2). So a boundary then separates the measured temple from the unmeasured court. While those who conquer are secure, those in the outer court outside the temple are being cast out further. For they have been "given" to the earthly nations, who will trample the holy city for 42 months (11:2). In the end, all those conquering will receive the iron rod/Spirit, not to measure themselves but to rule/break/judge the nations (2:26-27). Until then, the holy city of gold lampstands/churches includes many that have been "given"/sold into slavery to Babylon (see 6:6). Such tarnished gold will never be part of the golden altar in the heavenly temple. The judgments of the sixth trumpet come especially from the four horns/spirits/Spirit of the golden altar (9:13) and the four angels/creatures that have been bound upon/over the great river Euphrates (9:14). Most of the holy city on earth has now become part of the great city Babylon, preferring the lukewarm/fertile waters/demons of the dragon/Euphrates to the hot Spirit or heavenly icy sea.
A part of the holy city, however, is two witnesses whom God gives the authority/Spirit to prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth (11:3). The sackcloth points to the black/bitter sackcloth of 6:12, and thus also the black horse of 6:5 (and the darkened sun of 9:2). This image is then related to the bitter stomach of 10:9-10 and points to bitter judgments against the holy city, and especially the resulting suffering due to that witness.
The 1,260 days equals the 42 months of 11:2, so the two witnesses/prophets are those in the holy city that are trampled for 42 months. Much of the rest of the city will be dwelling comfortably like green grass under the shade trees in or near Babylon "on the Euphrates." The two witnesses/prophets are then linked with the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth (11:4). The two olive trees of Zech. 4:3 are interpreted in Zech. 4:14 as two who stand before the Lord of the whole earth. Thus the two olive trees serve as special sources for the olive oil/Spirit (see also the two trees of life with twelve fruits each in 22:2).
The two lampstands point back to the seven gold lampstands that are the churches (1:20). Out of the seven churches, only two (the second church addressed in Smyrna, and the second to last church addressed, in Philadelphia) receive no witness against them. These two gold lampstands/churches now come to symbolize all the true prophets and saints on earth, clothed in the gold/Spirit, who will later become part of the gold censer/prophets or many saints inside the much incense of the gold censer. The ongoing witness of the two lampstands/churches is thus led by the two olive trees (see Zech. 4:2-3,6,11-14). The bitter witness of prophets and saints on earth is empowered by the oil/gold/Spirit from the two olive trees. The olive trees are thus the source of the oil/Spirit that is poured out on the two (gold) lampstands. Because of both his atoning sacrifice and risen rule, Christ (the root and branch of David) is the source (olive trees) of the oil/Spirit. His two feet like pillars of fire (10:1) signify both Christ (with two giant feet/trees) and his Spirit (oil) of fiery faithful witness unto death now empowering the two lampstands/churches. The two olive trees are also like the two-edged sword of 1:16, which is both what Christ speaks and what the Spirit speaks, both the word/Word of God and the witness/Witness of Jesus.
This vision of the lampstands helps fill out the earthly counterparts of all the heavenly horses/prophets and riders/saints of 9:16-19 (the two myriads of myriads). The two olive trees lead the way for the prophetic witness of the myriads of myriads of prophets and saints. Indeed the two lampstands/witnesses encompass the true witness on earth from the time of the elders to the end of the age. Their time, 1,260 days, will be the same as the full time their mother/Spirit is in the wilderness (11:3; 12:6).
The witness of the two olive trees and two lampstands is not limited to a third of the earth. While part of the sixth trumpet (9:13-11:14), this witness includes the outgrowth of the sixth trumpet’s witness over a third of the earth. Earlier witnesses who confronted a third of the earth are those now measured in the heavenly temple (11:1). Yet their influence on earthly witnesses will now be seen in more detail. The earlier olive trees and lampstands began the 42 months or 1260 days, and continue to be a source of the fire and smoke that will come to more and more of the earth via new earthly lampstands (see 8:2-5). Thus the second woe/sixth trumpet continues through the two witnesses beyond the third of the earth, until the third woe/seventh trumpet (11:14).
If anyone wants to harm these witnesses, fire comes out of their mouth and consumes their enemies (11:5). The fire/lightning/arrows of the first seal and first trumpet will continue to strike the earth throughout the time of these witnesses. And if anyone should want to harm them, then he must be killed. As in 6:6, the fiery olive oil/Spirit (of the two olive trees) is not to be harmed. And as in 9:4, those trees/false prophets not having the seal/oil/Spirit are to be harmed. The fire coming out of the mouth is like the horses of 9:17-18. The fiery oil/Spirit of judgment is a greater authority than the dragon’s beastly number/authority (9:19). The witness/Witness of the prophets and saints against the beasts that kill them (literally and figuratively) will, in turn, (figuratively) kill/condemn them (in the war of words).
These witnesses even have the authority/Spirit to shut heaven so that no rain should fall during the days of their prophecy (11:6). This is similar to what God did during the time of the prophet Elijah. After Ahab became king of Israel and married Jezebel, he built an altar for Baal (1 Kgs. 16:29-32). So Elijah told Ahab there would be no more rain until Elijah spoke the word (1 Kgs. 17:1). While Elijah hid, Jezebel began to kill other prophets (1 Kgs. 17:3; 18:4,13). After over two years, this led to the famous confrontation at Mt. Carmel between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who all ate at Jezebel’s table (1 Kgs. 18:19-22). Idolatrous gods like Baal and goddesses like Asherah were worshiped as the fountains of fertility and prosperity. But God sent drought through the prophet Elijah to reveal the truth.
"Jezebel" lives on through the self-proclaimed prophetess of the lampstand/church at Thyatira (2:20). She still tries to deceive God’s servants the prophets and lead them to practice sexual/economic immorality and eat food sacrificed to idols. Instead of Baal and Asherah, the idols now thought to bring fertility and prosperity are the great river/dragon, the scarlet beast, and its image, the scarlet harlot. False prophets like Jezebel, who is also with the elite in the heart/center of a harlot/city, promote those idols and purchase the wheat and barley of the churches, causing famine there (see 6:8). True prophets refuse to bless the bountiful city. For it is all riding/built on the violent beast and its deadly sword. No cold showers of blessing will come to a mostly lukewarm/green holy city/church that drinks from the great Euphrates, the great river/dragon. The lamb that will lead the saints to the heavenly fountains of the waters/Spirit of life (see 7:17) now gives them the authority/key/Spirit to shut off those same waters and to shut the door to the heavenly kingdom (see 3:7). The woman/Spirit in the dry wilderness speaks through her children to condemn the harlot/city on the Euphrates and other harlots/cities of the earth. The heavenly waters of life will not join the earthly waters of death. Those dwelling comfortably in the earthly outer courts of the heavenly temple will never see the heavenly waters/Spirit. Unlike the temple and altar, they will not be measured by the rod/Spirit. They will not be awash in the heavenly icy sea.
The witnesses also have authority to turn the earthly waters/rivers into blood (11:6). In 8:10-11 the great star/angel/lamb falls into the third of the rivers/demons and poisons them. In 8:8, the great mountain/altar/sun is thrown into the sea and the third of the sea becomes blood. So the imagery of the second and third trumpets is now somewhat combined in the extended sixth trumpet when the waters are turned into blood. The blood is that of the peoples/multitudes in the sea/abyss with the dragon or that are flowing with the dragon’s river currents. For the dragon with the big mouth is the main fountain of the waters/rivers and is the primary monster of the sea. Since the main water of the sixth trumpet is the great river/dragon Euphrates (9:14), the waters of 11:6 are part of the dragon’s waters. The great harlot that sits on the great river seduced much of the holy city so that it dwells comfortably in, on, and around the green river/dragon of Babylon.
As the nations have trampled on the holy city (11:2), so the witnesses will strike the earth with every plague, as much as they want (11:6). For they have authority over the earth as well as the waters. This is the same authority/Spirit to harm as in 9:3,10,19. The mention of plague also connects with the earlier description of the sixth trumpet when the horses plague the third of the people with fire, smoke, and sulfur (9:18). Like Elijah who shut the heavens, and Moses who plagued Egypt, these prophets are also linked with the wilderness and suffering/rejection (see Acts 7:37-39). After confronting the false prophets in the cities, Elijah and Moses found refuge in the wilderness. Especially the Angel of the Lord in the wilderness enabled and encouraged these special prophets (Moses in Ex. 3:1-2,10; 14:11,19; 23:20; 32:34; and Elijah in 1 Kgs. 19:3-8). Similarly, the Angel/Spirit of prophecy now enables and encourages prophetic words from all her wilderness children who plague the harlot(s)/city(s).
It is only when the olive trees and faithful lampstands have finished their witness that the beast is allowed to come (back) out of the abyss and fight against them, conquering and killing them (11:7). The finish/fulfilment of their witness over all the earth is also the time for the mystery of God, announced to the servants/prophets, to be finished/fulfilled (see 10:7). This will mark the end of the second woe/sixth trumpet and the beginning of the third woe/seventh trumpet (11:14).
The dead bodies of (all) the prophets end up on the street of the great city that can be called spiritually/allegorically Sodom and Egypt (11:8). That is, the great city Babylon follows in the footsteps of one of the first great cities, Sodom. In 9:17 the mention of sulfur pointed back to the judgment against Sodom in Gen. 19:24. In Gen. 13:10-12, Lot chooses to dwell in Sodom among the cities of the Jordan valley. That valley was well-watered by the river and described as being like the garden of the Lord (Eden), and like the land of Egypt (around the Nile river). When the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, Gen. 19:25 says God destroyed those cities and all the (green) valley (around them). The prophet Ezekiel later describes Sodom as proud and haughty, prosperous gluttons (Ezek. 16:49-50). Ezekiel adds that as they enjoyed their wealth and luxury, they also refused to help the poor and needy. The prophet uses this to compare Sodom with Jerusalem, who had become a sister city of Sodom, even worse than Sodom (Ezek. 16:47-48).
So Sodom was the forerunner of Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified (11:8). Now the outer courts of the holy city include other (tarnished) lampstands that are part of the beastly network of the great city (compare 11:2 and 11:8). In Jesus’ time, Jerusalem was one of many other daughters/harlots of the great harlot, Rome. In such cities, the aristocrats indulge themselves, and rid themselves of any prophets that plague them. Thus the violent beast/empire (like the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, etc.) on which they ride attacks their enemies, the two true lampstands. Leaving their bodies on the street shows their contempt for them. Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations of the earth see their bodies for three and a half days (11:9). This time links with the time, times, and half a time of 12:14. The half a time, and half a day, reflect the short time the dragon has to work its violence through its beast from the sea/abyss (see 12:12). The lampstands/witnesses end up with dead/condemned/shamed bodies in the rich and powerful cities of the dragon and beasts.
Again it seems the dragon and beasts have won the day. Meanwhile, those dwelling comfortably on the (green) earth and in the green rivers celebrate the death of the two prophets (11:10). They rejoice and even give gifts to one another after finally getting rid of these pesky prophets who tormented them with their judgments against their greed and violence. (Compare the torment of the judgments of 9:5). But their party comes to an abrupt halt.
After the three and a half days, a spirit/Spirit of life from God comes into the (two) prophets, and they stand on their feet (11:11). The cause of the world’s joy now becomes the cause of its horror. Great fear falls on those who now see them (11:11). The great city and great river known for great power and prosperity are now full of great fear. Compare the fear of kings and merchants in 18:10,15 due to the fall of the great city (see also Ex. 15:14-16). The risen prophets then hear a great voice (of the Spirit) out of heaven telling them to come up there (11:12). The great voice is like that of 1:10 and 4:1 (like a trumpet) and is here the seventh trumpet (a preview of 11:15 and the great voices there). They go up into heaven in the cloud/Spirit, and their enemies see them. The time of the prophets has come to an end (11:7). As the time of the Lord led to his bodily resurrection (after around three days), now the times of the prophets have led to their bodily resurrection. This is the "second resurrection" since the first resurrection is the immediate transfer of all dead prophets and saints to the heavenly temple. During the 1,260 days (which links with the 1,000 years of 20:4), the dead prophets society rules in heaven via those who follow in their footsteps. In 11:11-12 that time has come to an end, and the end has come.
After the prophets/witnesses rise bodily (11:12), the final hour (see 9:15) has come for a great earthquake, and the tenth of the city trampled by the nations falls (11:2,13). Unlike the earthquake at the beginning of the trumpets in 8:5, this is the great earthquake that ends the plagues of the trumpets (11:19). As in 6:12 and 16:18, the great earthquake means the final shaking/judgment of the earth. The tenth of the city links with the ten days of tribulation in 2:10. Elsewhere ten is used for the ten horns of the dragon (12:3) or sea beast (13:1; 17:3). So the tenth of the city that falls first in this final judgment is similar to the symbolism of 6:12,14, where a great earthquake removes every mountain/head and island/horn of the sea beast.
While the true prophets and saints enjoy the "second" resurrection (of the body) in 11:11-12, their main counterparts, the false prophets, are next to suffer the second death in 11:13. This is similar to the focus of 7:1 where the wind/Spirit (of 6:13 that shakes the stars of heaven) is held back from its final purpose of blowing against the earth, sea, and trees. These unsealed trees are likewise especially targeted in the first woe/fifth trumpet (9:4). These trees/false prophets helped cause the ten days of tribulation for true prophets and now follow the tenth of the city that falls from the final judgment of the great earthquake. Their total number is 7,000 (11:13). As the full number of the true Jews/prophets is 144,000 (see 6:11 and 7:4), so the full number of those who claim to be Jews (part of the thousands of prophets) is 7,000.
After their kings and spokesmen are judged and revealed as false, the rest of the city becomes afraid and gives glory to the God of heaven (11:13). They are afraid because their earthly lives have given glory to the beast from the sea, its image, and the beast/false prophet from the earth. Now that those beasts have fallen, they are forced to confess that there is only one true God, the God of heaven, who condemns them after first condemning their idols. Like their leaders (see the false Jews/prophets in 3:9) Christ will make/force them to come and bow before the true God (and the saints). When confronted by the superior authority of Jesus, even the demons must fall before him and confess he is the son of God (see Mk. 3:11).
In Josh. 7:19 Joshua tells Achan to give glory to God and to tell Joshua what (sin) he has done. Achan then confesses his sin (Josh. 7:20-21), which leads to Joshua’s word of judgment and to Achan’s death by stoning (Josh. 7:25). (Compare 1 Enoch 62-63 where on the day of judgment especially the kings and rich landlords become terrified and try to glorify God, saying Blessed is the Lord of kings and the Master of the rich. But God’s vengeance sentences them to eternal darkness.) In the end every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. The lamb is worthy to receive glory even from every creature on the earth and under the earth and in the sea (see 5:12-13). There will be no more doubt as to who rules, but the fears of most of those knees and tongues will still be realized. When the lamb comes for the final time, all those who pierced him will mourn (1:7). They will suffer the second death of eternal condemnation. While even the demons believe there is only one true God, they shudder at the thought (James 3:19).
Blowing the seventh trumpet
Since all of 9:13-11:13 is both the sixth trumpet and second woe, the second woe has now ended (11:14; see 9:12). Indeed the time of the second woe/sixth trumpet over a third of the people (9:15,18) has already been stretched out to the end by the witnesses of 11:3-13. That is why the third woe/seventh trumpet is coming soon (11:14), and (in the Spirit of Jn. 5:25) now is. For the seventh trumpet already sounded when the great voice spoke in 11:12. So when the seventh angel/elder trumpets, great voices in heaven speak (11:15). The great voices are the living creatures/Spirit, the four horns/spirits/trumpets of the altar (see 9:13), trumpeting the grand finale. They proclaim that the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ (11:15). These two will now rule forever and ever. The great voices of the four living creatures/Spirit are echoed by the twenty-four wings/elders who sit on their thrones/Spirit before God and then fall on their faces to worship God (11:16; see 4:10). The foundational apostles and prophets begin their praise by echoing the earlier praise of the living creatures. In 4:8, the creatures praised the Lord God, the Almighty, as the one who was and who is and who is coming. In 11:17, the elders give thanks to the Lord God, the Almighty, who is and who was. Because God has already come for the final time, they go on to thank God for taking his great power/Spirit and ruling.
That is good news for the elders, but bad news for the world/nations. Those formerly celebrating their "good life" on the earth are now not only afraid (see 11:13) but also enraged because God’s wrath has come (11:18). It is now the time for the dead to be judged and condemned. God will also give his reward to his servants the prophets and to the saints and to those fearing God’s name, the small and the great (11:18). If those fearing God in 11:13 are most of the people among the nations who finally give glory to God reluctantly, those fearing God’s name/Spirit in 11:18 are those saints who come out of every nation before the final judgment (see 7:9). They are the true God-fearers, "Gentiles" who leave their idolatrous and immoral world to join the true "Jews"/prophets (of 7:4-8), who called them to come to the one true God. As a result, both the small (all the minor prophets/many multitudes who fear God’s name/Spirit) and the great (all the major prophets/144,000 servants) will receive their rewards.
Like the nations they led, the earth’s former leaders are also enraged because it is now time for them to be destroyed (11:18). Through their greed and violence they destroyed the earth, including most of those among the nations. Now it is their turn. The star/angel/lamb who is king over the abyss is Apolluon (see 9:11), the preeminent Destroyer of all the deadly kings of the earth. The firstborn of the dead is the ruler/judge of the kings of the earth (see 1:4). Thus the kingdom of the world has now come under the judgment of God and his Christ. When every creature of that condemned world must finally give glory to God and the lamb, the living creatures acclaim the Amen, and the elders fall down and worship (5:13-14; 11:13,15-16).
The heavenly temple of God made up of prophets and saints that John measured in 11:1 now opens in heaven (11:19). The ark of God’s covenant is seen in God’s fully completed temple. The ark in the holy of holies is both before God’s presence (like a throne of God) and the bearer of God’s covenant words. Like the living creatures/cherubim that soar above the ark, it is another symbol of the Spirit of God that is also the Spirit of prophecy, the Spirit of God’s prophetic words. And like the throne/Spirit of God in 4:5, over which God’s presence dwells, the ark/Spirit is associated with the lightnings/fire, voices, and thunders in 11:19. Yet the final judgment has now come, so 11:19 also includes the (great) earthquake (of 11:13; see 6:12; 16:18) and great hail (see 16:21). The earthquake and hail that began the blowing of the trumpets in 8:5,7 now reappear at the end with the seventh trumpet. For the earlier trumpet judgments are a preview of the final great judgment of the seventh trumpet. The ark/Spirit accompanies God’s "army" as they fight this final battle. As seven trumpets and the ark were central in the battle of Jericho (Josh. 6), so now in the final battle(s). The prophets that earlier shut the sky (11:6), now open the flood gates of the heavenly icy crystal sea, awash with all the saints, and they fall to earth like great hail, pounding/judging the raging sea.
Pouring the seven bowls
Seven angels receive seven bowls full of seven plagues that will fulfil God’s final wrath (15:1,7). Already the sixth and seventh seals have previewed this great day of wrath (6:12-17; 8:1). And the end of the sixth trumpet merged into the final woe of the seventh trumpet (11:11-19). Like the end of the sixth trumpet (11:11-13), chapter 14 will also preview the final wrath from the seven angels and seven bowls of chapters 15-16.
The heavenly judges
In 14:1 John sees the lamb standing on Mt. Zion. With the lamb are the 144,000, who have the name of the lamb and the name of his father written on their foreheads. The full number of God’s servants the prophets is now complete (see 6:11). So the scene is the heavenly Jerusalem. On earth they kept the witness of Jesus because their foreheads/minds were sealed (see 7:3) with the name/power/Spirit/Witness of Jesus, which is also the name of Jesus’ father. Now the earthly prophetic witness has ended, and it’s time for the final judgment.
The heavenly altar/mountain/Spirit over which the lamb stands in 8:3 is here the heavenly Mt. Zion. This is the same mountain as that thrown into the sea in 8:8. There it was an image of the heavenly altar burning with fire (see 8:3-5), bringing prophetic judgment to a third of the sea (8:8-9). Associated with the fire from the altar in 8:5 were the thunders, voices, lightning, and earthquake, all links with Mt. Sinai in Ex. 19:16,18; 20:18. The Greek word for Zion is Sion, so Mt. Zion is Mt. Sion, and the same mountain/altar in 8:3-5,8 resembles Mt. Sinai.
In 14:2 John hears a voice/sound from heaven (from Mt. Sion) like a sound of many waters and like a sound of great thunder. Compare the voice of the risen Christ in 1:15 that is like a sound of many waters. Again, the Witness of Jesus is the stormy thunder/waters/sea/Spirit. And the many waters include the many multitudes/saints in those waters/spirits/Spirit (see 7:9,17). The voice/sound John hears is also like harpists harping on their harps (14:2). In 5:8 each living creature and each wing/elder is given a harp and a gold bowl full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. Compare 8:3 where the much/"many" incense is like the many waters/Spirit that engulf the many saints. The mixture of incense and prayers in the gold censer is also associated with the gold altar before the throne (8:3). The gold altar is the heavenly mountain/Spirit, and the gold censer is the bowl/prophets who enclose/collect the incense and saints. The gold is the gold/oil/Spirit.
After introducing the seven angels/elders of 15:1 (who will receive the seven gold bowls in 15:7), John hears those who conquered the beast, its image, and the number of its name (15:2). All of them now have the harps of God. This larger number is all those who have built on the foundation of the twenty-four elders (and four creatures). It is the 144,000 prophets portrayed in 14:1 after describing the beast, its image, and the number of its name in chapter 13. The harps are the heavenly sounds/voices of the Spirit of prophecy and major prophets. Since harps are shaped like bows and rainbows, they might especially portray the rainbow/Spirit in whom are the elders around the throne (4:3-4) and the bow/Spirit given to the rider/elder in 6:2.
With the harps/spirits/Spirit, the 144,000 sing a new song before the throne and the four living creatures and the elders (14:3). This also echoes the new song of the living creatures and elders in 5:9. The new song of 5:9 praises the lamb as worthy to take the scroll/Spirit and open its seals. The seals are the Spirit of prophecy coming to earth and speaking especially through the heavenly elders and the 144,000 on earth who receive the seal/Spirit on their foreheads and prophesy. Unlike those who claim to be Jews/prophets, but are false and lie (2:9; 3:9), these Jews/prophets do not lie (14:5).
The only other mention of a song is in 15:3 where the same 144,000 harpists sing the song of Moses, the servant/prophet of God, and the song of the lamb. According to 14:3 no one else is able/strong (in the power/Spirit of the lamb) to learn the song except the 144,000, who were bought from the earth. So this song of the lamb is a new version of the older word of God, as spoken through Moses, the foundational prophet of God’s covenant with Israel (who also called Israel to come out of Egypt).
The new song of 5:9 also praises the lamb who bought for God (with his blood) out of every tribe, tongue, people and nation. No longer is God’s covenant only with Israel. The new covenant/song includes those from every tribe and nation. The twenty-four elders are the foundation of that new creation. The 144,000 are the firstfruits (and the multitudes of 5:9 are the final fruits) for God and for the lamb, bought from the men/people/earth (14:3-4). They are the ones who follow the lamb wherever he should go, even unto death, unto slaughter by the beasts of the earth. Thus they will offer themselves as an acceptable, blameless sacrifice (14:5).
The content of the song of 14:3 and 15:3 is given in 15:3-4. It praises the Lord God, the Almighty (the Lord of heavenly hosts), for his great and wonderful works. God has worked through the witness of Jesus to create a new kingdom and a new city that is greater and more full of wonder than the awesome beast/empire from the sea (see 13:3) or the awesome great image/city of the earth (see 17:5-7). The dragon worked through the beast from the earth, the false prophet who made the earth worship the sea beast and made/did great signs like telling the earth-dwellers to make an image for the sea beast (13:11-14). But unlike the beast with a number/name of authority (13:18) or the great city that sat like a queen (see 17:15; 18:7), God is the true king (15:3). And unlike the beasts and their image/city, God’s ways are righteous and true. As the prophets conquered the beasts and their image through their faithful witness unto death, they continue to praise the true king in heaven (15:2-3).
The heavenly prophets also sing a song that questions the idolatry of the nations (15:4). They sing a question for God: Who should never be afraid, Lord, and glorify your name? Most of those among the nations refused the prophetic call to worship only God. Their eyes were full of the awesome beast and its wonderful image. They feared the beast and glorified its image. But God alone is holy (15:4). Only God’s ways are righteous. The nations should have feared God while they were on earth because when all the nations finally come and worship before God it is only because God’s righteous judgments against them (and their idols) have now been revealed (15:4). This reluctant worship that is part of the final judgment is thus like the worship of 11:13 (compare all those on the earth, under the earth, and in the sea in 5:13).
An angel flying in midheaven speaks a similar message in 14:6. The mention of flying suggests the fourth living creature like a flying eagle (see 4:7). As in 8:13, where it also flies in midheaven, it has a message for those dwelling on the earth. But in 14:6 that message is described as an eternal gospel to be proclaimed over those sitting over the earth and over every nation and tribe and tongue and people (14:6). In other words, this message focuses first on those sitting like kings over the earth (see 10:11), and then includes the nations that worshiped and served them. The eternal gospel is the same message as the old song of Moses and the new song of the lamb: Fear God and give him glory (14:7). And that message continues forever since the end of history has come and the hour of God’s judgment has come. The Greek word translated as "proclaim" or "announce" in 14:6 is used one other time, in 10:7 for the final mystery that God announced to his servants the prophets. Moreover, the same Greek word translated as "fulfilled" in 10:7, referring to the time of the seventh trumpet, is the same word used in 15:1 for the fulfilment or end of the wrath of God, the seven last plagues. Now it is revealed that all the idols of the earth were merely part of the creation of the one who made the heaven and earth and sea and fountains of waters (14:7). These creations include not only the dragon in the sea/abyss who spits water like a river from his mouth (see 12:15), but also the beast from the sea, and its image, and the beast from the earth. Throughout history, the nations worshiped mere creatures of the one Creator they should have worshiped, feared, and glorified.
The angel/eagle is then followed by a second angel, perhaps the second living creature like a bull/ox (14:8; see 4:7). The second angel focuses on the fall of Babylon the great. The great city that sat upon the waters/nations (see 17:15) like a queen, glorifying herself (see 18:7), fell quickly, in one hour, the hour of God’s wrath (see 18:8,10). Moreover, all the nations glorified her and drank from the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality (14:8). Since that wine was the blood of the saints and prophets (see 17:6), it is appropriate that the creature like a (slaughtered) bull/ox speaks of her fall/judgment. The passion/greed of her sexual/economic immorality enraged the rich city to kill/condemn prophets and saints who refused to serve or glorify her. Indeed her nations were captivated by her great river/dragon, the Euphrates, the unclean/green horse/dragon.
In 14:9, a third angel, perhaps the third living creature with a face like a man/woman (see 4:7), follows the first two angels/living creatures (of 14:6,8) and focuses on those men/people worshiping the beast (from the sea) and its image. Speaking with a great voice (of the Spirit), this angel/creature/Spirit speaks of the judgment against those worshiping the beast and its image. Already the first angel in 14:6 spoke of every nation on which the "kings" sat. Then the second angel spoke of all the nations that drank from the wine of queen Babylon. Now the third angel speaks of those worshiping the beast (and its kings, its heads and horns) and its image, the queen city. All the nations received the mark of the beast upon their foreheads or upon their hands, the mark/number/name of authority/power (see 13:16). Thus they belonged to, were servants/slaves of, that violent empire and its rulers. The marks on the foreheads confirmed that such ones (especially the false prophets who claimed to have wise "heads") were not children of the third living creature that has a face like a woman/man.
The marks on the hands allowed them to buy and sell because they worked hard for the rich landowners and businessmen at the heart of the great city (see 13:17). But as in 14:8, this sexual/economic immorality also meant eating/drinking food/wine sacrificed to such idols. Those who serve the scarlet beast and scarlet harlot also drink their red wine, the blood of prophets and saints and of all who have been slaughtered on the earth (see 18:24). As a result, their judgment appropriately includes drinking from the wine of the passion of God (14:8).
All the nations were deceived by the sorcery of the great harlot/city (18:23). When she finally is thrown down/judged, the sound/voice of prophetic harpists or trumpeters will never be heard in her again (18:22). Those prophets, however, will lead the way as judgment is poured out on her. Unlike the nations and the beasts, the 144,000 were among the few who did not soil/defile (their white garments, or righteous deeds) themselves with the women/harlots/cities of the earth (14:4; see 3:4). They overcame the image/city of the beast by refusing the seductive wealth of her and her children, lesser harlots/cities (see 17:5). Meanwhile, the harlot was "riding" the scarlet beast (17:3) and committing sexual immorality with the kings of the earth (17:2). And all those dwelling on the earth were drunk with the wine of her sexual/economic immorality (17:2). For the luxurious wealth of the harlot (and her children) included the wine/blood of the prophets and saints (17:6). All the earth was fascinated by her charms.
Ironically, while they were staring wistfully at her (with dollar signs in their eyes), and standing up for her cause against prophets and saints, most of them were also being robbed by her merchants and intimidated by her kings. All the while, false prophets like Jezebel kept telling them to trust and obey the violent beast and work hard for the greedy landowners and businessmen (like her). In contrast, the true prophets, the 144,000, stood out as those who spoke against the great harlot and her daughters (and her Jezebels). They remained "virgins" because they refused the charms of such women of the world.
John’s male virgins are symbolic of all true prophets, male and female, who refuse the seductive wealth of the harlots/cities of the world, and the deceptive teaching of false prophets (male and female) who glorify such economic prosperity. So male church leaders should not use such passages to quiet or control women, as has happened so often throughout church history. Several decades after John wrote, various male church leaders denounced Montanist churches, partly because they were often led by female prophets, many of whom shared John’s emphasis on speaking the truth with courage through the power of the Spirit. They saw themselves as continuing the prophetic movement portrayed in John’s Revelation (and the Gospel of John), confronting political powers and comfortable churches. They also considered Ammia, the prophetess of Philadelphia, active during the early second century, as a link between them and John’s prophecies. (See David E. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World, 1983, pp. 313-316.) Although sometimes they spoke wrongly (like Priscilla’s prediction that the New Jerusalem would soon appear in Pepuza), it was more wrong for male leaders to condemn all of them.
Thus the true prophets are blameless/pure, because nothing false was found in their mouth (14:5). By remaining faithful witnesses of the lamb until (a slaughtered) death, they joined the "alpha" firstfruits on the heavenly Mt. Zion. Other prophets who claimed to be "Jews" were not what they claimed, but false (see 2:9; 3:9). The heavenly prophets now rule with Christ as royal judges and priests. They are the final fulfilment of the priestly messenger (angelos, in the Greek Septuagint translation) of Mal. 2:6-7 who speaks only the truth—and nothing false is found on his lips. Joining the final prophetic judgment is the sound/voice of the heavenly many waters of 14:2, that appear again in 15:2 as part of the crystal/icy sea. The many waters/Spirit include the "many" multitude awash in it.
All the other nations will drink the wine of the fiery passion/Spirit of God "mixed unmixed" in the cup of his wrath (14:10). (In Old Testament passages like Zech. 6:8 where God’s Spirit is God’s anger/wrath, the Greek Septuagint translates it with thumos/passion.) The nations will be tormented with fire and sulfur before holy angels and before the lamb (see 9:17-18). The fire/Spirit and sulfur/Spirit will mix together to form a pure/unmixed word of judgment against them. In 14:11, the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. In 15:8, the heavenly temple is filled with the smoke of the glory/power/Spirit of God. So the smoke/Spirit again is connected with the prophets and saints and their message of torment/judgment. Like smoking Mt. Sinai in Ex. 19:18, 20:18, the heavenly Mt. Zion/Sion is smoking. Those who worshiped the beast and its image, and received the mark of its name/authority, will have no rest day or night in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur (14:11). This is the second death (see 19:20-21; 20:15).
In contrast to those greedy nations/peoples that live for the present moment, the patience of the saints is defined as keeping the commandments of God (against idolatry and immorality) and the faith of Jesus (14:12). Their faith is in God alone, and they remain patient and faithful unto death. That faith/faithfulness will then be rewarded when they join in the final judgment and speak a message that will torment the nations forever.
John then hears a voice from heaven telling him to write the following: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on (14:13). This supplements the encouragement of 14:12 to have patience. Those now condemned, cursed, or killed by God’s enemies will turn out to be those blessed by God. Indeed, says the Spirit, affirming the voice from heaven and now adding another reason for patience: they will rest from their labors, and their works/labors will follow after them (14:13). The wording of this extended blessing recalls Jesus’ oracle in 2:2-3 that praises the church in Ephesus for its patience, but calls them back again to their first love and first works (2:4-5). Those looking forward with patience to the final blessing must also see that the blessing is a reward for continuing their first works to the end. Those who keep the commandments of God and remain faithful to their first love are the truly patient ones and will be blessed.
John next sees a white cloud, and upon/over the cloud is one sitting who is like a son of man (14:14). This of course is the risen Jesus, described as one like a son of man in 1:13. Now this son of the heavenly "man" sits on a cloud like his father sits on a throne. For both the cloud and throne are symbols of the Spirit. The risen Jesus no longer walks among the gold lampstands as in 1:13 and 2:1, with white hair like wool or snow (see 1:14). Now he sits and rules on the white cloud/Spirit, wearing a gold crown on/over his head (14:14). The gold crown, again, is the gold/oil/Spirit who anoints all the heavenly kings. As the third living creature with the face like a man/woman speaks of judgment from saints and prophets in 14:9-11, so here the one like a son of man/woman prepares to rule/judge with a gold crown on his head.
The first and preeminent son of the woman is the child who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron (12:5). Yet the rest of her children who keep Christ’s works until the end will also be given this rod/authority/Spirit to break in pieces the idolatrous and immoral nations (see 2:26-27). That time has now come and the one like a son of man/woman sits with a sharp sickle in his hand (14:14). Like the sharp two-edged sword of 1:16, this sickle points both to the sword/rod/Spirit and to the two witnesses (see 11:3) who speak the judgments of the Spirit of prophecy. All the heavenly judges are ready.
Then another angel comes out of the heavenly temple, crying with a great voice to the one sitting upon/over the cloud (14:15). The only angel who could command the risen Jesus is the Angel/Spirit who always speaks with a great voice. Jesus must now listen to his "mother." The Angel tells him to send his sickle and harvest because the hour to harvest has come and the harvest of the earth has ripened (14:15). It is the hour of final judgment, and all the wheat and barley that were earlier sold into slavery will be the first to fall (see 6:6). The sickle/Spirit with the two-edged prophets will cut down/judge the wheat/false prophets and barley/false saints that had once been part of the gold lampstands/churches. The poorer barley admired the wheat which was also the trees/false prophets in the rich river valleys around the great city (and other cities). Those shady trees and gentle rivers deceived them and led them to reject the sharp two-edged sword that warned and threatened them. The same one like a son of man who warned the lampstands/churches with the sharp sword/Spirit from his mouth at the time of John (1:13-3:22) will finally judge those who refused to repent, again by means of the sharp sickle/Spirit. The sword is back. It is now a sickle and will not be denied. The one sitting upon the cloud/Spirit obeys the Angel/Spirit and throws the sharp (two-edged) sickle/Spirit upon/over the earth (14:16). And the earth was harvested (see Jer. 51:33).
Then another angel comes out of the heavenly temple and also has a sharp sickle (14:17). Finally, yet another angel comes out of the altar, the angel who has authority upon/over the fire (14:18). This last angel would be the angel/lamb of 8:3, described there as another angel who came and stood upon/over the altar. In 8:5 this angel/lamb then takes the gold censer and fills it with the fire of the altar. This is the angel who has authority upon/over the fiery Spirit. The same angel/lamb who initiated the seven trumpet judgments (and the seven oracles and seven seals) will also initiate this part of the final judgment. The angel/lamb speaks with a great voice to the angel of 14:17 who has the sharp sickle, telling it to send its sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the grapevine of the earth because its grapes are ripe (14:18). Thus the angel/lamb and the Angel/Spirit (and the sharp two-edged sickle/Spirit of prophecy) are again the primary heavenly judges of the earth.
When the Angel/Spirit throws down its sickle (Spirit of prophetic judgment) onto the earth, it gathers the grapevine of the earth and throws it into the great wine press of the fiery passion/Spirit of God (14:19). (In Joel 3:11-14, harvesting the grapes/nations with the sickle and trampling them in the wine press symbolize the final judgment of all the nations on the day of the Lord.) While in 14:19 the clusters of grapes would be part of the grapevine there seems to be a focus on the vine here. The wine press is outside the city, and, after the trampling there, blood comes out of the wine press until it reaches the bridles of the horses, a distance of 1,600 stadia (14:20). The grain harvest of 14:15-16 judged the wheat and the barley that had once been part of the gold lampstands/churches. They were part of the outer courts of the holy city, trampled by the nations (see 11:2). They were not measured in 11:2 because most of them would end up identified with the great city. Now it’s time for the judgment of those who were never part of the holy city. As they trampled the outer courts of the holy city, they will in turn be trampled.
The grapes of wrath are all the clusters/nations that were deceived by the grapevine/beast(s) from the earth. The grapevine is a combination of the violent beast from the sea and the deceptive beast from the earth. The scarlet beast and false prophet(s) formerly trampled and slaughtered the saints and prophets and thus drank their blood/wine. Now all those who followed those beasts, and so were the fruit of the vine, will be the blood/wine of God’s wrath. Because they were part of the empire/vine, they will be judged with it. Their blood will reach as high as the bridles of the heavenly horses that trample them.
The horses link with the locusts like horses of 9:7-10 and 9:16-19. The fiery Spirit of judgment comes from the mouths of the horses/prophets in 9:17-18. In the final judgment these heavenly horses/prophets will judge with fire until the full amount of wine/blood is complete. That will be when the blood is as high as their bridles/mouths (that condemn/drink them). The final judgment will confirm their earlier torments and judgments (in chapter 9; see 11:5-6). Before the end, the grapes/nations thought they were safe and secure under the beast and its heads/mountains/kings and trees/false prophets. The truth is that they were actually in the great wine press, the great city, the scarlet harlot, and all of them were drunk with the blood/wine of the prophets and saints (17:1-6). In the end, the tables are turned and they are the ones trampled in the great wine press/city outside the holy city.
In 15:5 John sees the temple of the dwelling of the witness in heaven open. Earlier, the beast from the sea opens its mouth to blaspheme God, God’s name, and God’s dwelling, defined as those dwelling in heaven (13:6). So now the heavenly temple opens, where the dwelling of the witness is. Throughout Revelation, the word witness is especially connected with the witness of Jesus (a phrase used seven times), with the Spirit of prophecy (19:10), and with the prophets who continue and extend that witness (e.g., 1:2; 6:9; 11:7; 12:11). Thus the dwelling of the witness would be the Witness/Spirit and witnesses/prophets, including the first faithful witness, dwelling in heaven. Appropriately, John then sees the seven angels/elders (the foundational witness) who have the seven plagues come out of the temple (15:6). These angels/elders are the wings of the living creatures who dwell in the temple of the dwelling of the Witness in heaven. When this part of the temple opens, the angels/elders come out.
Around the chests of the seven angels/elders are gold girdles (15:6). This links with the gold girdle around the breast of the one like a son of man in 1:13. Like him, the seven angels/elders have overcome earthly death/slaughter/piercing (by the sword) by means of the healing oil/gold/Spirit that covers the wounds and gives them the eternal life of the girdle (zonas)/living creatures (zoa).
Some early Greek manuscripts say the angels/elders wore clean, bright linen in 15:6. Other early manuscripts say "stone" instead of linen. If the correct reading is linen, this would point to their righteous deeds (in the Spirit), as in 19:8. If stone is used, the angels/elders are portrayed in 15:6 as wearing clean, bright stone (along with gold girdles). The stone, like the gold, is the Spirit, secure around the angels/elders who are thus in the dwelling of the Witness in heaven. Indeed, from the beginning the seven angels/elders have been in the strong right hand/Spirit of Christ (1:16).
When the seven angels/elders come out of the temple, one of the four living creatures gives them seven gold bowls full of the fiery passion/Spirit of God who lives forever and ever (15:7). As each living creature (and elder) was given a gold bowl (and a harp) in 5:8, so now a living creature gives the gold bowls to the seven angels/elders. In 5:8 the bowls are full of incense/Spirit. In 15:7 they are full of God’s fiery passion/Spirit/wrath. Thus the smoke/Spirit that fills the temple in 15:8 links with the smoke of the incense/Spirit in 8:4 (and the smoke of 9:2-3,17-18). The imagery of 8:3 also includes the gold censer/prophets and the much incense/Spirit inside it, along with (the prayers of) all the saints. The smoke of chapters 8 and 9 signals the Spirit’s heavenly judgments through the ongoing witness of heavenly prophets and saints that come to earth when the beast and its image cover a third of the earth. Now, in 15:8 the smoke signals the final heavenly judgment being poured out from the gold bowls/prophets against all those who worshiped the beast and its image (see 14:11).
The smoke is also linked with the glory and power of God (15:8). All three (smoke, glory, and power) have already been connected with the Spirit of God. Compare 1 Kgs. 8:10-12 where the dark cloud/glory of the Lord filled the new temple of Solomon such that the priests could no longer remain in the holy place. In Ex. 40:34-35, Moses could not enter the tabernacle when the cloud/glory of the Lord filled it.
Because the end has come, no one is able/strong (with the Spirit) to enter into the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels should be completed (15:8). The mystery of God is to be completed because time is no more (see 10:6-7). All the heavenly judges are poised and ready. There will be no repentance during the time of the last plagues/judgment.
Pouring the first five bowls
John hears a great voice (of the Spirit) from the heavenly temple telling the seven angels to go and pour out the seven bowls of the passion of God onto the earth (16:1). The Angel/Spirit of prophecy again leads the way for the seven angels/elders to speak the word of God. And all the bowls/prophets and saints (in the incense) that had ears to hear the foundational elders on earth now join them in revealing God’s final wrath.
The first heavenly angel/elder comes and pours out its bowl onto the earth (16:2). This results in a bad and evil sore on the men/people who have the mark of the beast and who worship its image. In 9:4,10, those who don’t have God’s seal on their forehead end up getting stung by the locust/horse tails (like a scorpion). Delivered from the furnace of the abyss, the locusts in 9:2 fly in the air/heaven and cause stings/sores (9:10) on the unsealed trees/false prophets (9:4) of the (sea) beast/empire. (Compare Ex. 9:8-11 where Moses takes ashes from the kiln/furnace, throws them into the sky/heaven, and they become boils/sores on the great empire’s (Egypt’s) magicians/false prophets, and on all the Egyptians.) This torment (see 9:5) is a preview of the final torment of 14:9-10 and 16:2 on those marked by the beast. Now that the end has come, such tormenting sores have become permanent for those who preferred the mark of the beast on their forehead or hand. The mark that revealed their true master now turns into an eternal bad sore. The mark that was their former source of pride now turns into their main source of shame. The mark that gave them imperial protection and financial security now turns into their main liability. And that mark was above all the violent name/authority of the scarlet beast from the deadly sea.
The authority of the beast and the evil sores reappear in 16:10-11. There the fifth angel/elder pours its bowl upon the throne of the beast (16:10). The throne is the authority of the sea beast that rules over all the earth (see 13:2-4). That authority/throne lasted for the 42 months of prophetic witness (13:5; see 11:3). It included the slaughter of the prophets (see 6:4,8-9,11; 11:7) and the trampling of the outer court of the earthly holy city/church (see 11:2). Thus the throne/authority of the beast darkened the stars, moon, and sun, all those part of the heavenly kingdom/Spirit of prophecy (see 6:12; 8:12). When the fifth angel pours its bowl on the beast’s throne/authority, its own kingdom is now darkened (16:10). Its kingdom is the same as those affected by the first bowl, those who have the mark/authority of the beast and who worship its rich image/city. That kingdom was controlled at the local level by the kings of the earth.
Much of the earth praised and glorified the beast and its image. But when God’s judgment comes, they bite those same tongues because of the pain (16:10). Compare the similar image of darkness and gnashing teeth in the final judgment Jesus predicted (Mt. 25:30). Those who worshiped the beast now blaspheme the (one true) God of heaven because of their pains and sores (16:11). Their painful tongues and sore marks show that God’s judgment focuses like a laser on their worship and service of the beast. Despite that idolatry and immorality, they still refuse to repent from their works. As far as they are concerned, the beast and its image were blessings from God. So who is this God that now condemns them for their devotion to the beast? Why must they have to listen to the judgments of the elders, prophets, and saints, those pests who earlier tormented them on the earth? God’s final judgment is turning out to be very confusing indeed.
While the throne/authority of the beast is darkened in 16:10, the sun that it formerly darkened now shines brighter than ever in 16:8, where the fourth angel pours its bowl on the sun. The final judgment is prime time for the fiery Spirit/sun. The sun was given (by God) the authority to burn the men/people with fire (16:8). So the people were burned with great fire (16:9). The great voice of the Spirit reveals the full truth about the idolatry and immorality of the people as it burns/judges them. The great fire/voice is especially appropriate for the great city/image, whose fall in 17:16 and 18:8 includes being burned with fire. For the rich river city and her harlots/cities were the counterpart of the poor wilderness woman/Spirit and her children (17:4-5; 12:6,17). In the end, those formerly suffering hunger and thirst in the hot wilderness will enjoy the cool living water/Spirit of paradise (7:16-17; 22:1-2). And it will definitely not be cool then to be a harlot or one who loved harlots.
The plagued people blaspheme the name/Spirit of the God who has the authority over these plagues (16:9). Despite the hot sun/passion/Spirit bearing down on them, the people do not repent. They refuse to give glory to God. Before or after this there will be a point of time when they are forced to acknowledge the obvious. But right now, the heat is excruciating.
Returning to 16:3, the second angel pours its bowl into the sea, the turbulent demonic source of the deadly beast. The sea becomes blood, like of a dead person, and every living soul died, the things in the sea. This judgment is similar to the second trumpet when the third of the sea became blood and the third of the creatures in the sea, the things having souls, died (see 8:8-9). When they chose to serve the beast, their true destination became the deadly sea instead of the crystal sea in heaven. One cannot serve two masters. By including the sea beast among their masters, they included the demonic sea/abyss and excluded the God of heaven. The violent empire, and all those approving and participating in its violence, will finally die an undignified death (and not reappear again).
The third angel/elder pours its bowl into the rivers and the fountains of the waters (16:4). As the second bowl intensified the second trumpet, so this third bowl intensifies the third trumpet. In 8:11 the third of the waters/rivers were poisoned. That poison/bitterness led to the death/condemnation of many people/saints. Now all the rivers/demons and their fountains, the dragon and demons that make up the sea/abyss, (who empowered the greening/flourishing cities and great city/image) are turned into blood (16:4). The earlier trumpet judgments that blew/sounded within earlier history are now confirmed and finalized at the end of history. Indeed the same heavenly elders, prophets, and saints that spoke the earlier judgments now have their say in the final judgment.
John then hears the angel of the waters speaking (16:5). This description is similar to that of another angel who has authority upon/over the fire in 14:18. That angel was the lamb of 8:3,5, who initiated the trumpets by throwing fire from the heavenly altar to earth. Similarly, the angel of the waters is probably the special angel of 8:10 who fell upon the third of the rivers and upon the fountains of the waters. That angel was also the risen Christ who comes again (in 8:10) to bring judgment against the third of the rivers and their deadly sea fountains.
Thus the angel/Christ now praises God, the one who is and who was, as righteous and holy because God judged these things (16:5). This God, who was, came again and again through history. But now those comings have ceased and God simply is the one who lives forever (see 11:17). And this God’s final judgment is righteous and holy. It should not be surprising or confusing because it simply reflects God’s earlier judgments in history through the prophets and saints. The trouble is that people preferred to drink from the seductive river(s) instead of living in the wilderness of the Spirit of prophecy.
The rivers are the silky smooth demons whose fountains are especially the dragon (who spits out water like a river in 12:15) and innumerable multitudes of demons, the sea. But the "gentle" rivers rage against heavenly angels who condemn their demonic deceit and greed. Thus the risen Christ, the angel over the waters, says it is appropriate that God judged these things, the rivers and their fountains, because they poured out blood of saints and prophets (16:6). Especially the red dragon and scarlet beast from the sea used the great sword to slaughter God’s servants (see 6:4). Yet the rich cities that sit on the rivers, like their mother/image, drink the blood of the saints and the witnesses of Jesus (see 17:1,6). So they are all worthy of the blood/demons that God now gives them to drink (16:6).
In 16:7 John then hears the altar speak. The vision of the fiery altar/Spirit speaking, praising the Lord God Almighty, appropriately follows the angel of the waters (16:5-6) and precedes the fiery sun (16:8). For the fiery altar is the fiery sun/Spirit who is part of God Almighty’s true and righteous judgments. And the word "Almighty" translates the Hebrew expression "God of (heavenly) hosts." The word of God’s final judgment now comes via the fiery sun/Spirit and all the heavenly hosts/angels.
Pouring the sixth and seventh bowls
The sixth angel/elder pours its bowl upon the great river Euphrates (16:12). The focus on the rivers in 16:4 now zooms in on the great river of Babylon. As in 9:14, the great river is like a sea and is the great (sea) dragon. So the sea of the dragon can include this great river as it rises from the sea under the earth. But the dragon has now dried up. The dry wilderness of the woman/Spirit and her children has overcome the great river/dragon (see 12:15,17).
The dry river/dragon becomes the road for the returning heavenly prophets, the kings from the rising sun (16:12). The rising sun/Spirit has given birth/resurrection to persecuted prophets, and they now cross over the once great river/dragon. The great sign/Spirit of 12:1 has dried up the great sign/dragon of 12:3. Now all the Spirit’s children, the risen princes/kings, can cross the dried dragon /river and inherit the promised land, the new earth. They are the new kings of the (new) earth. As the tribes of Israel once crossed the dried up Jordan river to enter their promised land, now the tribes/prophets of 7:4-8 are inheriting the earth. As Jesus promised, the meek/nonviolent will inherit the earth (Mt. 5:5). Their full number has been sealed/anointed with the Spirit by the angel/Christ (the anointed one) from the rising sun (7:2). (Compare Isaiah’s prophecies of an anointed one from the east sent by God to defeat Israel’s powerful enemies: Isa. 41:2; 45:1; 46:11. In Isa. 44:27-28 God dries up the deep (sea) and its rivers, proclaiming his anointed (Cyrus) as his shepherd/king.)
The dried up (sea) dragon/river only has a frog coming out of its mouth (16:13). It’s hard to speak when you have a frog in your throat. Moreover, the big mouths of the (sea) beast (see 13:5-6) and false prophet (the earth beast that speaks like a dragon in 13:11) have frogs coming out of them. The three frogs are defined as unclean spirits/demons who do signs (16:13-14). Which sign will the kings of the whole (old) world rally around? The answer is the sign of the great dragon (12:3) and their beloved harlot/image of the (sea) beast (see 13:14; 17:2). In contrast, the sign of the kings from the rising sun/Spirit is the wilderness woman/Spirit, their queen mother (12:1). The earlier signs of the earth beast/false prophet were especially the fire/dragon and the image of the beast from the sea (see 13:13-14). That fire/dragon made the image speak like a dragon (13:15).
These spirits/demons now come out of the dragon and beasts, under whose authority were and are the kings of the whole world. The kings recognize the voice of these spirits/demons, since they spoke all along through the dragon and beasts. The beast from the earth spoke like a dragon and shared the authority and spirit(s) of the dragon with the beast from the sea (13:11-12). The dragon and beasts are calling all (their) kings to join them in one last stand against the true king(s). This will be the "battle" of the great day of the one true Almighty God (16:14), the God of (kingly) hosts.
The place of the battle has a Hebrew name, transliterated into Greek as Armagedon. That Greek word also has a rough breathing sound before it, resulting in a pronunciation of "harmagedon." The Hebrew word for mountain is har. After har comes "magedon." While some try to see the Old Testament city Megiddo in "magedon," one could also divide "magedon" into two words. Mag is a Hebrew word for great, which becomes mega in Greek (and magnus in Latin). Indeed mega is one of John’s favorite (Greek) words. It has just been used in 16:14 for the great day of God Almighty (and in 16:12 for the great river/dragon). So it would be appropriate for the great day to happen on the "great mountain" (combining har/mountain and mag/great). The spirits/demons of the great dragon (and beasts) are gathering all their kings (all their heads/mountains and the kings of the world) for a battle before the great/magnificent mountain/king of God Almighty (see 17:9-10).
Psalm 48 uses similar imagery. Ps. 48:2,4 describes kings joining together to travel to Mt. Zion, the city of the great king. Although the mountain is the city here, it is part of the context of the great king facing other kings who gather against him. Above all, the Lord God is great and causes the conniving kings to tremble, flee, and be destroyed (Ps. 48:1-7).
A Hebrew name like Armagedon that starts with the first Greek letter, alpha (aleph in Hebrew) links with the Hebrew name Abaddon in 9:11. Abaddon is also described as a king, the angel of the abyss. Both Armagedon and Abaddon end with "don." The Hebrew word adon means lord. Just as Abaddon is a king or lord, so Armagedon is the great mountain/king/lord. (Abaddon is the Hebrew word for place of destruction, the abyss, but becomes the king/Destroyer over the abyss in 9:11.) Since Armagedon is both the first and foremost king as well as the last lord bringing the final judgment, his name begins with the Greek vowel alpha while its last Greek vowel is omega. From beginning (as firstborn of the dead) to end (as final ruler/judge of the kings of the earth), he is King of kings and Lord of lords (see 1:5). He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.
Abaddon is the great star (astera)/angel (angelos) who has the key of the mouth of the abyss in 9:1. This same star/angel also has two other related names: Apolluon (9:11) and Apsinthos (8:11). Thus, the one whose names include Armagedon, Abaddon, Apolluon, and Apsinthos is the Amen, the beginning and end of God’s new creation (see 3:14). The first faithful witness who began the conflict with the dragon and beasts will now finish it. The lion/king from the tribe of Judah conquered and will now conquer for the final time (5:5; 6:2). For the faithful witness is the ruler (archon), the judge of the beastly kings of the earth (1:5). As firstborn of the dead, he has the keys of death and hades (1:5,18). This great ruler is the gigantic one like a son of man in 1:13-16, and the angel/Christ as big as a great mountain in 10:1-2. He is the great star/angel Apsinthos over the rivers/waters (8:10-11; 16:5). And he is Abaddon and Apollyon, the angel/king over the abyss (9:1,11), who all along quickly released the kings of 16:12 from the darkness of death. Now these tribes/princes come from the rising sun/queen/Spirit, crossing the dried up dragon. The kings of the world have nowhere to hide. The great day of the wrath of God and of the lamb (arniou) has come (6:16-17). All the former kings of the earth must now bow before their ruler/judge. Jesus is king of kings, and this means he is the final judge over all the kings of human history. Their former glory, that so many trusted and obeyed, is now their shame.
In 16:15, the great mountain/lion/lamb warns the readers that this final coming will also be like a thief (see 3:3). All who rested secure in their idolatrous beasts and kings will be grabbed/"stolen" from the abyss/hades and thrown into the lake of fire. Only those who are watching the lion/lamb and keeping their garments (white) will be blessed (16:15). Only they will not walk naked and be ashamed/exposed before the great mountain/lion/king. For their garments/works (in the Spirit) followed them to the end and they have rested content in the heavenly crystal sea (see 14:13). Those who preferred the unclean garments of the harlot/city will discover they are naked when the thief suddenly appears (see 3:18).
When the seventh angel/elder pours its bowl, the greatest earthquake of all time breaks the great city into three parts (16:17-19). This quake that opens the mouth(s) of the earth is associated with the familiar great voice (of the Spirit) that comes out of the heavenly temple from the throne/Spirit. The Spirit now declares that God’s words of judgment are complete (16:17; see 10:7; 17:17). That voice is the climax of all the lightnings, voices, and thunders that have come from the throne since the beginning (16:18; see 4:5). This seventh bowl will be the last straw, the culminating cup out of which comes the passion/incense/Spirit of God’s wrath (16:19).
The great earthquake is not only greater than the great city/harlot, but is so great that all the cities/harlots of the nations fall. The woman of the wilderness earth has opened her mouth and dried up the great river/dragon of the great city (16:12). So the great harlot/city that sits on her great river/dragon, and the other harlots/cities sitting on their rivers/demons, fall down on their dry river beds as part of this great tribulation/judgment (see 2:22).
When the great city falls, every island/horn/king lying under her flees, and no mountain/king was found (16:20). The whores/cities are busted, and their tall horny kings/lovers are running out the back door. The image/harlot that sat on the heads and horns of the (sea) beast (and great river/dragon), and that had provided rest and recreation for her macho heroes, falls suddenly and they are left lying naked. How embarrassing. Before the great mountain/king, they are exposed.
The rest of the people who rested secure in the depths of the draconic sea are suddenly bombarded by hail from heaven (16:21). This hail is as big as humans because it is the saints in the heavenly icy sea coming down to condemn those who preferred the deadly sea beast/empire. Hail was part of the earlier judgments (see 8:7), but now falls with its fullest force at the final judgment (see the great hail in 11:19).
In the later description of this judgment of the harlot/city, it again mentions the angel coming down from heaven who has great authority and glory (18:1). This is the great mountain/king (Armagedon) who comes with the authority/glory/Spirit of God. As "another angel" with a "strong" voice (18:1-2), this is the same strong ("another") angel of 10:1-2 who towers over the earth and sea like a great mountain/king. All heaven is called to rejoice over the judgment of the harlot because God judged her with their judgment (18:20). That is, all the heavenly hosts (the saints and apostles and prophets) who had spoken against her while on earth, and later while in heaven, will discover that their words are part of God’s final judgment against her. Perhaps saints are mentioned first because this judgment fulfils that predicted in Dan. 7:22 where the (angelic) saints are to receive the kingdom (of God) and rue/judge with the Most High God (see also Mt. 13:49-50; 1 Cor. 6:2). Thus in 19:1 John hears something like a great voice of a "many multitude" in heaven saying/singing: Allelouia. This first hallelujah chorus is the great/many multitude of saints of 7:9. They are followed by a second group who also say/sing: Allelouia (19:3). And they are followed by the twenty-four elders and four living creatures who worship God by saying/singing: Amen, Allelouia (19:4). The alpha Amen is now included in the priestly/prophetic Allelouia praise. This is the new song of the lamb (arniou) as in 15:3.
Since the multitude of 19:1 is the saints of 18:20, and the elders of 19:4 are the apostles of 18:20, the second group of 19:3 is probably the prophets of 18:20. This praise begins with the outer circle of saints, proceeds to the more inner circle of (major) prophets, and then penetrates into the most inner circle of elders and living creatures. Finally, in 19:5, the very heart of the circles, the throne/creatures/Spirit, speaks/sings with a voice that calls on all God’s servants (the prophets) and those fearing God (the multitudes), both the small (multitudes) and the great (prophets) to praise our God (see 11:18). For the throne/Spirit and the creatures/Spirit that are part of the throne have always led the way in promoting the worship and service of the one true God who sits on/over the throne and the Amen who shares that throne.
The Spirit’s mission comes to a climax in 19:6 as John hears like a voice of a "many" multitude and like a voice of many waters and like a voice of strong thunders saying/singing: Allelouia. All the prophets and saints give glory to the Lord God Almighty who has now ruled/judged (19:6-7; see 5:11). Thus the voice/glory/Spirit given to them is given back to the source, God. The glory of God Almighty, the God of all the heavenly hosts, is recognized and praised by those hosts as the divine glory/Spirit. They give this gold crown back to God (see 4:10).
It is now time for the wedding of the lamb (arniou), who will marry the woman/bride prepared for him (19:7). Unlike the harlot, this woman is dressed in clean, bright linen (19:8). For the many multitude have come out of Babylon to join the strong prophets who called them out, and they all wear the bright white Spirit and the righteous works that Spirit produced. These are the ones who are blessed because their works follow after them, and those works are their white clothes of righteousness (19:9;see 14:13; 16:15). Or perhaps the multitudes are themselves also works that follow after the prophets who called them out of Babylon. Unlike those exposed in hades, the prophets and saints are dressed and prepared for their wedding with the lamb (see Isa. 61:10-11).
In 19:11, John sees heaven open (like a scroll, as in 6:14). And behold, there is a white horse. This is the same white horse/Spirit of 6:2, who began the opening of the seals of the scroll. Now the seals have all been opened, and the scroll/Spirit who brightens and whitens all of heaven appears for the final ride. Sitting on the horse now is one called faithful and true. Yes, it’s the first faithful and true witness (see 1:5; 3:14), the Amen who is the beginning (arche) of God’s heavenly creation (3:14), and now the end. As always, he finally judges/fights with/in/on righteousness as he rides on the bright, white horse/Spirit. His eyes are like a flame of fire (19:12), the same fiery Spirit eyes as in 1:14, 4:5, and 5:6. On his head are many diadems (19:12). His hair in 1:14 was like white wool or snow, and now on his head are many diadems. The "many" are again the "many multitude" of 7:9 who come to be dressed in the white cloud/snow/Spirit, the heavenly icy sea. They are the crowning work of the first faithful witness and the Witness of Jesus, the Spirit of prophecy.
The final true and faithful witness has a name written on him that no one knows except he himself (19:12). In 19:16 this written name will be revealed. In 19:13 his name is called the word of God. As in 3:12 (but not in 19:16), this is the name/Spirit, for the word of God becomes the witness of Jesus, which is the Spirit of prophecy (see 19:10). Jesus is the only one worthy to take the scroll/word/witness/Spirit because he is the slaughtered lamb (see 5:9). Worthy (axios) is the lamb (arnion). Thus the rider of 19:13 wears a garment with his blood (aimati) on it.
The rider is not alone. The coming lamb is also the conquering lion from the tribe of Judah (see 5:5). As such, he leads the way for all the sealed servants/prophets from the twelve tribes of Israel (see 7:3-8). These are the heavenly armies that follow him on white horses, dressed in clean, white linen (19:14). For the 144,000 servants/prophets follow the lamb, the first and foremost of the thousands, wherever he should go (see 14:1,4). As the elder(s) rode the white horse/Spirit of prophecy in 6:2 and continued the witness of Jesus, so have the rest of the prophets in their turn. Now it is time for the final witness/judgment against their enemies.
Out of the mouth of the rider/word comes a sharp sword (19:15). As in 1:16, this symbolizes the word of God/witness of Jesus/Spirit of prophecy. The rider uses the sword to strike (pataxe) the nations (19:15). Then the rider is ruling/shepherding (poimanei) them with an iron rod (19:15). Like the sword, the iron rod is another instrument of judgment used against the nations (see 12:5; 2:26-27). The slaughtered lamb now comes as the shepherd/king ruling/judging the nations who opposed/pierced him (see 1:7). Isa. 11:4 uses the image of the rod of his (the Spirit-anointed Messiah’s/king’s) mouth, further portrayed as the breath (Spirit) of his lips which will slay the wicked (see Isa. 11:1-3). The third image related to the sword and rod is that of treading/trampling (patei) the wine press of the wine of the passion of the wrath of God Almighty (19:15). So the rider strikes (pataxe), rules (poimanei), and tramples (patei) with the passion/Spirit of the wrath of God Almighty (pantokratoros), the God of all the heavenly hosts. Because the nations trampled the holy city on earth (11:2), they are now the wine trampled by the holy one and all his heavenly hosts (see also 14:20).
On the (bloody) garment and thigh of the rider is written a name: King of kings and Lord of lords (19:16). This is the written name of 19:12 that no one else knows. As in 2:17, this knowing refers not to knowing about, since the written name of 19:12 is revealed here in 19:16. The knowing refers rather to acknowledging as his own, as belonging to him only. Only Christ can acknowledge/own this name, King of kings and Lord of lords. No one else can claim that name. Like the strong right hand (see 10:5), the large thigh muscle points to the power of the one trampling the wine. It is especially as ruler/judge of the kings of the earth that Christ is the King of kings (see 1:5). In 17:14, the final head/king of the beast and its ten horns/kings fight against the lamb. The lamb conquers them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings. And with the lamb are the called, elect, and faithful (witnesses) (17:14) who follow the lamb wherever he should go (see 14:4) and who now rule/judge with him as kings. All the majestic, arrogant heads/mountains/kings (and horns) are no match for Armagedon, the great mountain/king.
John next sees one angel standing in the sun (19:17). This angel cries out with a great voice to all the birds flying in midheaven. Earlier, the eagle/living creature flies in midheaven (8:13). In 14:6, an angel flies in midheaven, probably another image of the eagle/Spirit. The image of an angel standing in the sun is closest to that of 12:1 where the woman/Spirit stands over the moon while clothed with the sun. Now the end has come and the Angel/Spirit is the fiery sun/Spirit of prophetic judgment. All of her children who kept the commands of God and witness of Jesus (see 12:17) are born/risen and fly in midheaven under their mother/eagle in this final witness against their enemies. Compare the flying eagle/Spirit of 8:13 with the flying locusts of 9:3. The Greek word for eagle can also be translated as vulture. Thus the mother eagle/vulture and all her birds/eagles/vultures now fly/hover over their food/flesh below. As the armies/prophets of the great king with many diadems/saints come to kill/judge, all the birds (the prophets and saints) will eat their fill of flesh (19:21). The Angel/Spirit calls them to come and gather for the great supper of God.
It seems the second resurrection has come and everybody, the good and the bad, have received their resurrection bodies. It’s the time of final judgment and those who formerly despised the lamb’s bride are now being "eaten alive." The supper is another image for judgment. The lamb’s bride, however, had been both literally and figuratively part of the blood/wine in the cup of the great harlot/city before it fell (see 17:6). The eating of flesh by birds is similar to the image of 14:20 where the blood/wine flows as high as the mouths of the heavenly horses.
The great supper appropriately begins with those who especially carried out the violence of the beast/empire from the deadly sea. The menu consists of flesh of kings, flesh of generals, flesh of the strong, flesh of horses and of those riding on them, and flesh of all the free and slaves, the small and great (19:18). If banquets are a chance to feast on fatted calves and other choice meats, the great supper is a meat-lover’s dream. The menu includes all those participating in, or encouraging, the slaughtering of the prophets and saints--and all the rest slaughtered upon the earth (see 18:24). Now the tables have turned. The relatively short time of tribulation they suffered from violent men has ended. Now the eternal time of great tribulation has come for those violent men (and women).
John then sees the beast (from the sea) and the kings of the earth and their armies gathering to make war against the one sitting on the (white) horse and against his army (19:19). All the kings of the world are gathering at Armagedon, the great mountain/king, and would fight him and his armies, the kings from the rising sun/Spirit (see 16:12,14,16). But their horses/spirits/demons are no match for the horse/Spirit and horses/spirits/Spirit of Armagedon. The King of kings and Lord of lords (777) will now show that the authority/mark (666) of the beast is not the ultimate authority. For it lacks the eyes/ears/spirits/Spirit and Jesus, the lion/king from Judah, who leads the armies/servants of Israel (see the earlier discussion of 13:18). As the thousands (chiliades) from the tribes of Israel follow the lion/king from Judah, so the generals (chiliarchon) follow the kings of the earth (see 6:15; 7:2-8). Even in the final judgment, the most violent parts of the beast challenge the authority of Armagedon and his armies.
The beast has no choice but to fight to the end. It’s no contest. The beast is taken captive, just as it had earlier taken captive so many of the peoples of the earth (19:20). Taken captive with the beast is the false prophet (the beast from the earth) who made the signs in the presence of the first beast (19:20; see 13:14). One of those signs was the fire/spirit from heaven in 13:13,15, which turned out to be the dragon. This unholy trinity of dragon, beast, and false prophet together speak with the forked tongue of demons/frogs in 16:13-14 as they call the kings to gather at Armagedon. Now they have a frog in their throats as their voices are muffled by the great king. Using the signs of the fire/dragon and the image/city (see 13:13-18), the false prophet deceived those receiving the mark of the beast and those worshiping its image (19:20). The whole earth (except for the prophets and saints) had been deceived by the religious and cultural spokesmen of the beastly empire to seek first its kingdom/power and glory/wealth.
The two beasts are finally thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur (19:20). The beast/empire from the violent sea and the beast/false prophet(s) from the deceptive earth end up in a fiery lake. Because of the second resurrection when all, the good and the bad, shall receive eternal resurrection bodies (see 20:5), the beasts will live forever in the fiery lake. The judgment against them by the fire/Spirit and sulfur/Spirit will remain with them forever. This fire and sulfur was part of the plague in 9:17-18.
The rest were killed by the sword of the one sitting on the horse (19:21). This sword is the Witness coming out of the mouth of the one called the word of God (see 19:13,15). It is also the iron rod with which Christ rules/judges the nations (see 19:15). The sword/rod is the Spirit of prophecy, the Witness of Jesus (see 19:10). From beginning to end (see 1:16), the warfare of the one like a son of man (and his brothers and sisters) has been with the word of God/witness of Jesus/Spirit of prophecy. It has challenged violent empires and deceptive prophets with words of warning and condemnation. And it has suffered tribulation for those challenges. But in the end, in the great tribulation that continues forever, the war of words from the fiery Spirit/sword will silence all the enemies of the one sitting and ruling on the white horse/Spirit. The slaughtered lamb and its bride, the birds/hosts of heaven, will feast eternally on the resurrection flesh of their enemies (19:21). They will have the last word, and their word will last forever. Earlier words of warning and condemnation will find their fulfilment in the eternal words of judgment.
The ultimate enemy from beginning to end is the dragon. Before the dragon is finally thrown into the lake of fire in 20:10, John sees its whole life quickly pass before him. At least John sees a snapshot of the life of the dragon after it’s thrown out of heaven in 12:9. (Like the sudden transition from the final judgment of the seventh trumpet back to the beginning when the dragon is thrown out of heaven in 11:15-12:9, in 20:1-3 John returns to that beginning right after portraying the final judgment.) The same angel (the risen Christ) that is king of the abyss (and can free the locusts/birds) first throws the dragon into the abyss/sea for the thousand years that the king and his heavenly armies rule (20:1-4; see 9:1-3). The dragon must remain in the sea (on the sand/nations of the sea in 12:17) so that it won’t deceive all the nations on earth (20:3). The result is that a multitude from every nation comes to join the armies/144,000 (see 7:9). All the others among the nations end up judged/killed by the sword/word/Spirit of Christ in 19:15,21.
Before that, the dragon sends beasts and demons from the sea and earth that damage and deceive those on the earth. Yet Satan is not able to stop the flight to freedom (even from the abyss of death) of the Spirit’s children. All the prophets and saints who do not worship the beast or its image, and are not marked on the forehead or hand by it, suffer and die but come quickly out of the abyss and live and rule with Christ in heaven for the thousand years (20:4). This is the first resurrection (20:5). That the rest of the dead didn’t experience the first resurrection shows that those who did were dead (physically). The second death of the lake of fire will not touch them. And during the thousand years of "warfare" on earth, the risen prophets and saints will praise God and Christ as priests in the heavenly temple, where they will also rule/judge with Christ (20:6).
After the thousand years, the dragon, Satan, will be set free to lead the final battle against God’s beloved city (20:7-9). This is basically the same battle as that of 16:13-14, except that now the final focus is on the first and foremost enemy, the dragon (and its deceived nations). In 20:8, the emphasis is on Satan’s deceiving the nations which are on the four corners of the earth (Gog and Magog). Their number is like the sand of the sea. These nations/peoples are those the dragon has continued to deceive/stand on (see 12:17). The thousand years of prophetic "warfare" has ended and the saints in the beloved city are left facing Satan’s final assault. Are they helpless as Satan and the deceived nations/peoples come upon the plateau of the earth and surround these peoples who have come out of those nations (and witnessed against them) (20:9)?
Of course not. This camp of saints/holy ones is in the heavenly temple. As in Lev. 10:4, the camp of God’s people is closely connected with the sanctuary and altar. In 8:3-5, the prayers of all the saints/nations are part of the incense of the fiery altar. The context of Lev. 10:4 includes unholy priests who offer unholy fire on the altar (Lev. 9:24-10:1). The result is that fire comes from the (altar of the) Lord and consumes them (Lev. 10:2). Similarly, in John’s vision fire comes down from heaven, from the altar/sun/Spirit (see 8:5), and consumes Satan and his nations (20:9). Just as fire came out of the mouths of prophets and saints on earth and consumed their enemies (see 11:5), so they finally rule/judge with that same fire in the end. And as fire/Spirit and sulfur/Spirit came out of the mouths of the horses in 9:17-18, so now the devil ends up thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur (20:10). The earlier plagues are now reinforced and intensified in the final judgment.
The names Gog and Magog also fit this imagery. In Ezek. 38:2, Gog is the prince/king of the land Magog. He leads many peoples from even the outer parts/edges/corners of the earth against God’s people (Ezek. 38:6). They all gather against God’s people, who also have been gathered from many nations and are now on the mountains of Israel (Ezek. 38:8). Gog and his many peoples/nations will come across the land like a storm cloud (Ezek. 38:9). But Gog and his many peoples will be destroyed by God’s greater storm of hail, fire, and brimstone/sulfur. Gog is like his earlier namesake king Agag in Num. 24:7 (part of Balaam’s oracle), later referred to as Amalek, the "first of the nations" (Num. 24:20). Agag/Amalek was an "alpha" king, but in the end he will go to destruction (Num. 24:20). The star/king out of Jacob/Israel will rise and crush Israel’s enemies (Num. 24:17). Thus Israel’s camp(s) will prosper and grow tall like cedar trees beside the waters, with God’s seed in the many waters (Num. 24:5-7). A final link could be the Hebrew word gag, since Hebrew focuses on the consonants. This seldom-used word is used figuratively in Ex. 30:3 for the "top" or cover of the altar. This is the altar of incense (Ex. 30:1) in the wilderness camp of Israel. Since John’s camp of saints/nations in 20:9 is connected with the altar of incense of 8:3-5, it is appropriate that Gog wants to become the top (gag) king of the altar/Spirit with its saints/nations in 20:8-9.
All the above imagery shows that the Gog of 20:8 should be identified as the dragon. The nations/sand would then be Magog. They are deceived into thinking they can accuse the camp of saints and become the dragon’s great mountain, ruling with/under the dragon/gag who wants to be on top, the first of all the kings, the first of the nations.
When John sees a great white throne/Spirit and the one sitting on it, the earth and (its arrogant mountains in the) heaven/sky flee from his face/Spirit (20:11). But they find no place to go. After deceiving the nations of the earth and darkening the lights of the heaven/sky, they have no place to hide from the face/Spirit of the one sitting on the throne (see 6:14-16). John sees the dead, all those not part of the first resurrection (see 20:5), the great and the small, stand before the throne/Spirit (20:12). Scrolls/books are opened. These contain the names and evil deeds of those standing before God. Nothing has been hidden from the lamb’s seven eyes/spirits/Spirit that has been sent into all the earth (see 5:6). The judgment of these scrolls is the climax of the earlier judgments through the seven seals (and seven oracles to churches, and seven trumpets) that must come to pass before the scroll/book of life is opened.
Then another scroll is opened, the scroll of life (20:12). This is the lamb’s scroll of life and anyone not found in that scroll was thrown into the lake of fire (20:15). So the dead standing before the throne are judged by their deeds that were written in the scrolls (20:12). Those judged were all the dead who were not part of the first resurrection. Those dead who had been part of the beast/empire from the sea are given up by the sea (20:13). Those dead who had been part of the green horse/dragon of the great city over which death and hades hovered (see 6:8) are given up by death and hades. Thus each is judged according to their works.
Finally, death and hades are thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death (20:14). The dragon’s kingdom has gone down in smoke. The first death had captivated in hades all those killed and slaughtered by the beast from the sea. The deadly sea/abyss seemed to be the dreaded destination of everyone, never to return. But not even death and hades continue forever. In the final judgment, all the dead who remained there are transferred to the lake of fire. That, not death and hades, should be the dreaded destination because it is the final eternal home of all the dead not written in the scroll of life.
The final judgment is part of the great resolution of the earlier plot conflict on earth between saints and prophets and their enemies. Pouring the bowls concludes and punctuates (with an exclamation point) the earlier opening of seals, speaking oracles, and blowing trumpets. Nevertheless, this is only part of the resolution. For the wedding of the lamb includes not only that feast but also a whole new heaven and earth.
The new city on the new earth
The final battle has ended. The good guys and gals have won. They have the final word. So the conclusion of the resolution of the complicated plot now celebrates the new heaven and new earth (21:1). Say goodbye to the first red/scarlet heaven/sky and the first green earth for they have passed away, along with the bloody sea (21:1). All the old majestic mountains/kings in the sky and all the old river cities (and sea) have fallen into the lake of fire (and can’t get out).
John now sees the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (21:2). Unlike the former harlot city, this city is like a faithful bride, all dressed and ready for her bridegroom. As in 19:8, she is dressed in clean/pure bright linen, the righteous deeds of the prophets and saints due to the bright/white Spirit who prepares her/them for this day. John then hears a great voice from the throne/Spirit saying: Behold, the dwelling/Spirit of God is with the men/people and they shall be his people(s) (21:3).
As promised in 7:17, God will wipe every tear (dakruon) from their eyes (21:4). For the dragon (drakon) in the abyss was the source of all the former death and mourning and weeping and pain. All those things that dominated the first heaven/sky and earth and sea are now gone (21:4). The first shall be last, and the last are now first. For those who mourned are now comforted (see Mt. 5:4). Those who were persecuted for their righteousness (keeping the commandments of God) and for their prophetic words (keeping the witness of Jesus) will be blessed (see Mt. 5:10-12). For the meek will inherit the (new) earth (see Mt. 5:5).
The one sitting on the throne says: Behold, I make all things new (21:5). God then tells John to write that these words are faithful and true. The word of God is faithful and true, like the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s (new) creation (see 3:14). Do I hear the Amen? God’s promises and plans have come to fulfilment. The mystery of God is complete (see 10:7). So God says: It is finished; I am the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end (21:6). The same God who created the old/first earth and sea and heaven/sky now ends it and makes a new heaven and new earth.
To the one (hungering and) thirsting (for righteousness), God will give from the fountain of the water of life freely (21:6; see Mt. 5:6). All the poor in the spirit/Spirit/woman of the wilderness, far from the rich river valley and great city/harlot, will receive free the Spirit’s clothing of righteousness and the water/Spirit of life (see Mt. 5:3,6). The one conquering the old/first things will inherit these (new) things (21:7; see Mt. 5:5). God says: I will be his/her God, and he/she will be my son/daughter (21:7). For the peacemakers who rejected the wars/death of the kings and generals of the earth will be called children of God (Mt. 5:9). The word of God and witness of Jesus concerning these future blessings will come true. All seven beatitudes promised earlier (in Mt. 5:3,4,5,6,9,10,11; compare the seven beatitudes in Rev. 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7,14) will come true. Bet your life on it.
Everyone else will be excluded from that blessing, ending up in the lake that burns with the judgment of the Spirit of fire and sulfur, the second death (21:8). That eightfold group includes cowards, unfaithful, abominable, murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars. The cowards feared the violent beast and the unfaithful left the lamb to commit immorality with the beast’s image, the harlot/city. The abominable drank from the abominations/blood in the cup of the harlot (see 17:4-5). Murderers joined the killer beast and fornicators committed sexual/economic immorality with the beast’s image. Sorcerers like the harlot/city and her daughters/cities seduced all who came under their spell. Such sorcery received its power from the demonic spirit world, the dragon/fountain of the rivers/demons. They blinded idolaters whose glazed eyes came under the spell of the awesome beast/empire and its showcase image/city. And all liars included especially the false prophets who deceived the peoples of the earth.
Taking second place in a contest between two opponents means taking last place. The self-proclaimed great city now becomes the second city. And being second means the second death, the lake of fire and sulfur. All the cowards who feared the first death from the great sword of the beast now join it in the second death. Only those who bravely challenged the beast and faced the first death for the sake of the lamb came to life in the first resurrection.
The false prophets were liars who promoted the image/city of the beast (see 13:14). In 17:1, a true prophet, one of the seven angels who have the seven bowls, tells John he will show him the judgment of the great harlot/city. Now, in 21:9, one of the seven angels/elders who have the seven bowls (full of the seven last plagues) tells John he will show him the female bride of the lamb. When John is taken up in the Spirit to a great, high mountain (21:10), he sees the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. The great mountain is Armagedon, the great mountain/lion/king, the lamb who welcomes his bride/city from heaven (see 19:7; 21:2,9).
The city glows with the glory/Spirit of God (21:11). Its brilliance is like precious stone, like crystal/jasper stone. The crystal points back to the crystal sea/Spirit in 4:6. In 4:3, the one sitting on the throne looked like jasper stone. Since God now dwells with the holy city/saints (see 21:3), the city shines with God’s own glory.
Like the great, high mountain/king on which it sits, the city has a great, high wall around it (21:12). The wall also stands tall like a king. It is made of jasper (see 21:18) and is part of the city in 21:11 that glows like jasper/crystal. Like the rest of the city, the wall glows with God’s glory/Spirit. (Compare Zech. 2:5 where God will be a wall of fire around Jerusalem, and the glory within her.) This wall is then associated with twelve gates with twelve angels on/over the gates. These twelve gates have written on them the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel (21:12). In 21:21, these gates are made of pearls. Each gate is made of one pearl. The twelve angels/sons/prophets are dressed in pearly white and open the way for all the saints who shine like crystal/jasper to come in to the city. Honored elders/prophets not only open the doors for incoming saints. They also are framed doors, around and above which are formed the walls of all the sons/angels/prophets who come after them.
The city has four walls with three gates in each wall (21:13). The four walls point back to the four living creatures/cherubim/Spirit, an image similar to that of Gen. 3:24 where the cherubim guard the east side of the garden of Eden. In 21:13, the three gates from the east, from the rising sun, are mentioned first. For the sons of Israel began their prophetic service after being sealed by the angel from the rising sun and by the four angels/cherubim at the four corners of the earth (see 7:1-2). And they ended their prophetic warfare against Christ’s enemies by coming like kings from the rising sun/Spirit (see 16:12). So the great, high walls are like the great, high mountain of 21:10. The first faithful witness becomes the lion/king/mountain from the tribe of Judah. The sons of Israel who follow faithfully that witness/prophet become the kingly foundations, gates, and walls of the New Jerusalem. The four walls with gates also show that the fourfold multitudes, peoples, nations, and tongues have come to the city from the four corners of the earth.
The wall of the city has twelve foundations (21:14). Like the gates, these foundations have names written on them. The twelve names on the foundations are the names of the twelve apostles of the lamb. As the first half of the twenty-four elders, the twelve apostles of the lamb are the foundation on which is built the twelve gates (the rest of the elders) and the walls (the rest of the prophets). Thus the city began with the great, high mountain (Armagedon) on which it stands, followed by the foundations/apostles, followed by the gates/remaining elders, and then the walls/prophets. (Jer. 1:18 and 15:20 portray the prophet Jeremiah as a bronze wall who will stand tall against disobedient Israel. Deut. 21:19 depicts elders at the gate who serve as judges for Israel. Compare Deut. 22:15; 25:7; Ruth 4:1-2,11. 1 Chron. 26:17-19 lists twenty-four gatekeepers for Jerusalem, after describing the twenty-four orders of Levites in 1 Chron. 25 who prophesy in the temple with harps, lyres, and cymbals. And Isa. 62:6 refers to watchmen on Jerusalem’s walls, who will never be silent.)
Next John sees that the angel/elder speaking with him has a gold measuring stick so that he might measure the city and its gates and its wall (21:15). Earlier, in 11:1, John himself is given a measuring stick like a rod in order to measure the heavenly temple and the altar and those worshiping in it. That stick/rod was the Spirit, so here also the angel/elder with the gold stick/Spirit will measure the city and its surrounding gates and wall. Like the gold stick, the city is plated/coated with clean/pure gold/Spirit like clean/pure glass (21:18). Unlike the unclean spirits that haunt the fallen great city in 18:2, the new city/bride is clean/pure in the Holy Spirit. They are like precious stone because they are in the glassy sea/Spirit and shine like gold/Spirit.
The street of the city is clean/pure gold like clear glass (21:21). These are the saints/agioi/holy ones who came through the gates from the four corners of the earth. These saints were part of the gold lampstands/churches that remained true to the lamb. Then they became part of the glassy/crystal sea, the many waters, in heaven. Now they are the classy/glassy street of the gold/Spirit city.
The city is foursquare, having an equal length and width (21:16). And its height is also equal, making the city a cube. The angel/elder measures the city with his stick upon/over 12,000 stadia. The walls are 12,000 stadia long/wide and 12,000 stadia high. The 12,000 stadia link with the walls/tribes/prophets built on the twelve gates/elders/prophets of Israel. (Compare the 12,000 from each tribe who are the sons of Israel in 7:4-8.)
The angel/elder then measures the wall again (21:17). It is 144 cubits. Since the length/width and height of the wall have already been measured, the 144 cubits seem to be the thickness of the wall (see Ezek. 41:5). But the main point is that the wall is again associated with a multiple of twelve. The number 144 multiplies the twelve gates and twelve foundations that anchor the wall. The wall is the 144,000 prophets whose witness multiplies that of the foundations and gates. This measure of the wall is said to be a measure of a man, that is, of an angel (21:17). This could simply point to the angel/elder who measures the wall. Or it could point to the men/angels/prophets who compose the wall.
In 21:19-20, the foundations of the wall of the city are made of a sparkling mosaic of precious stones. The various colors suggest a splendid rainbow. If so, this would be the rainbow around the throne/Spirit in 4:3 (and upon/over the head of the angel/Christ in 10:1), now set in stone. The fourth foundation stone is like an emerald (21:19), and the rainbow of 4:3 is like an emerald. The colorful foundation stands out with its coat(s) of many colors. Yet the foundation, wall and gates, and city all share the glow of jasper, and the first foundation stone is jasper (21:19).
John sees no temple in this city because the Lord God Almighty is its temple, along with the lamb (21:22). The heavenly temple and altar where the prophets and saints cried out for vindication is no more. For the Lord God Almighty, the God of the heavenly hosts, has vindicated them. The final day of wrath of the Lord and of the lamb has come. It is finished, and all the former fire and smoke of God’s judgment through the Spirit, prophets, and saints is now found only in the lake of fire and sulfur. Only the glory/Spirit of God, as brilliant as jasper, now enlightens the city and its foundation and wall and gates (see 21:11,18-19).
Thus the city has no need for the sun or the moon (21:23), for the hot fiery sun/Spirit and the faithful witness unto death of the lamb/moon are among the former things that have passed away. The glory/Spirit of God will enlighten it, and its lamp will be the lamb (21:23; see 21:11). The glory/Spirit of God permeates the rainbow foundation/apostles, pearly gates/elders/prophets, jasper walls/prophets, and gold street/saints. As the holy of holies in the former earthly temple was cubical, so is the new Jerusalem. The new Jerusalem is itself the final holy of holies of God’s presence. The former hot sun/Spirit is replaced by the glory/Spirit, and the former bloody moon/lamb is replaced by the lamp/lamb.
The nations that formerly became part of the golden lampstands/churches, and that remained faithful unto death, will walk by means of the light/glory of the city (21:24). There is a great convergence of light as the kings of the new earth bring their glory into the city. These kings of the new earth are the major prophets/kings of heaven who ruled with Christ after their prophetic witness unto death and (first) resurrection (see 20:4). They are the armies of Christ who join him in the final judgment (see 19:14). They are the kings from the rising sun who join Armagedon, the great mountain/king, for the final battle (16:12). Their glory is the same glory/Spirit that enabled their earthly prophetic witness, the same white throne on which they sat as heavenly kings, and the same white horse on which they sat as heavenly armies. As the foundations, gates, and high walls of the high mountain city, they welcome the refined gold saints into the city.
The twelve gates/elders/prophets shall never ever be shut during the day (21:25). And there will be no night there, so they will always be open. There will be no dragon or beasts to darken the lights of the new Jerusalem. Because all God’s enemies are imprisoned in the lake of fire, the gates of the new city can remain open permanently. As prophets/elders/kings, the gates share the key of David with the great lion from Judah (Christ) and can open so that no one ever shuts (see 3:7).
The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into the city (21:26). The major prophets in/through the Spirit of prophecy called all the nations, multitudes, peoples, and tongues to come out of their idolatry and immorality. All those among the nations who did so became part of the gold lampstands/churches. They came to share in the same glory/Spirit and its prophetic witness (as "minor" prophets). Now the major prophets are kings, keepers of the gates (indeed, the gates and walls themselves) that welcome in the nations who come to share their glory and honor. These nations/saints will walk through the gates and become the gold street. Like the former heavenly city, the whole city will be a kingdom of priests who will rule on and over the new earth.
As for the rest who formerly refused the prophetic witness, they will never ever enter into the city (21:27). They preferred to remain part of the common/unclean crowd who obeyed the beasts and adored the image of the beast. They were/are without glory/Spirit and thus without honor. They preferred to practice the abominations of the image/harlot and to pass on the lies of the false prophet(s), the beast from the earth. Only those written in the scroll/Spirit of life of the lamb will ever enter the city.
This is the true eternal city, in contrast to all its former cheap imitations, from Babylon to New York. The clear crystal city could also be contrasted with current constructions like the Crystal Cathedral in California. It’s a twenty million dollar worship center with glass walls and a glass roof. Ten thousand supporters each gave five hundred dollars to have their names engraved/written on one of the window panes. What a beastly parody of John’s vision. The beast/false prophet who made/persuaded all those people to build this showcase cathedral was Robert Schuller. He called it a monument toGod, like Europe’s Gothic cathedrals. Schuller’s worship service, the "Hour of Power," is one of the most watched religious television programs in North America. The smiling Schuller seeks to provide an enjoyable, inspiring, positive worship experience. He is the latest star of a long line of positive thinking false prophets who praise human potential. Nothing controversial will ever be said, the reason for its being the only regular religious broadcast on the Armed Services Network. To increase income for all this glamour, Schuller offers free gifts like religious jewelry which ordinarily draw in donations from those requesting this fools’ gold. All those who look up to Schuller as a shining star need to look higher at the true stars of the New Jerusalem. (See J. Gordon Melton, Phillip Lucas, Jon Stone, Prime-Time Religion, 1997, pp. 306-310.)
The angel/elder next shows John a river of living water, bright like crystal, coming out of the throne of God and of the lamb (22:1; see 7:17). The scroll/Spirit of life is also the water/Spirit of life, and comes out of the throne/Spirit. The bright Spirit will bring life and righteousness to all the prophets and saints. The heavenly crystal sea/Spirit now flows like a crystal river in the paradise of God and the lamb (see 2:7). This paradise is still the city, so the river flows through the street/saints of the city (22:2) (making the city bright, as in 21:11,23).
It seems on each side of the river is a tree of life bearing twelve fruits, one for each month (22:2). Two trees bearing twelve fruits each point to the two times twelve elders. Like the rainbow colors of the foundation of the city, the various (colorful) fruits portray the early apostles and prophets whose witness grows out of the first faithful witness, the root and branch (of David). Together with the river/Spirit of living water, the root and branch produce other branches (the elders) and the two times twelve fruits (the twenty-four elders), and the leaves. Compare Jn. 15:1-5 where Jesus refers to himself as the vine and to his disciples (foundational elders) as the branches.
The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (22:2). The Greek word for leaves (phulla) looks and sounds like the Greek word for tribes (phulai). Thus the witness of the twenty-four elders is continued through the tribes/leaves of Israel, the 144,000. Just as the walls/prophets of the city are built on the foundation/elders/apostles and gates/elders/prophets, so the leaves/tribes/prophets grow out of the branches/elders of the trees of life. Furthermore, as the gates and walls of the city open the way for the nations to come in, so the leaves/prophets of the trees provide healing for the nations (who eat/believe/join the leaves). That is why the nations in 7:9 hold palm branches/leaves (phoinikes) in their hands as their heavenly chorus celebrates God’s salvation.
Unlike the original paradise and the special trees in the garden of Eden, there is no curse connected with the trees of life here (22:3). The throne/Spirit of God and of the lamb will be in, not upon or over, this city/garden. God’s servants the prophets will serve him and see his face/Spirit (like a man), and his name/Spirit will be on their foreheads (22:3-4; see 7:3; 14:1). There will be no night anymore so they have no need for the light of a lamp or sun (22:4; see 21:23,25). The lamp/moon of the slaughtered lamb and prophets as a result of their fiery sun/Spirit of prophetic judgment is not part of this city/paradise. For the beasts of the night that once darkened those lights are now at the bottom of the lake of fire. Thus the Lord God shines over them and they all will rule forever and ever (22:5).
Is all this too good to be true? The angel assures John that these words are faithful and true (22:6). For the Lord, the God of the spirits/Spirit of the prophets, sent his Angel/Spirit to show his servants/prophets what must come to pass soon. These words echo the beginning words in 1:1 and thus encompass much of what comes between 1:1 and 22:6. The reminder in 22:6 is followed by the statement: And behold I am coming soon (22:7). Throughout Revelation what must come to pass soon usually involves the coming of God soon. Thus in 1:4 God is the one who is and who was and who is coming. In 2:16 and 3:11 the risen Christ says to certain churches: I am coming soon (in prophetic judgment spoken by prophets). The opening of the seven seals, the speaking of the seven oracles, and the blowing of the seven trumpets all include aspects of the coming of God and the lamb through the Spirit of prophecy.
John then assures his readers/hearers that he is the one hearing and seeing these things (22:8). Those in the seven churches must not doubt this prophecy. It comes straight from their apostle/elder John. Yet John also again shows his own weakness when he falls to worship the angel showing him these things (22:8; see 19:10). Perhaps John thought the angel was the Angel/Spirit, but the angel/elder quickly stops him from any such worship of angels who are glorified humans. Another message here for other prophets and their followers is that even major angels/prophets, even elders, are not to be revered. All angels/prophets are mere fellow-servants and brothers and sisters of each other and of all who keep the words of this scroll/book (22:9). So worship God alone. Only God is the true reverend, the one and only most reverend.
The angel/elder next tells John not to seal the words of this prophecy because the time is near (22:10; see 1:3). The time for some of the things prophesied in this scroll to be fulfilled is near. So let the one who harms continue to harm (22:11). Harming has meant the harm of the final judgment (see 2:11; 7:2-3) or the earlier harm of heavenly horses/locusts (see 6:6; 9:4,10,19). But in 11:5 harming is what the enemies of the two witnesses/prophets want to do to them. Because the time of God’s coming is near, it means the warfare/harming that comes from heaven as well as from the earth must continue.
Moreover, let the dirty/greedy one still be filthy (22:11). There will still be many who have soiled their clothes by their sexual/economic immorality with the harlot(s) (see 3:4; 14:4). These are the ones not written in the lamb’s scroll of life from the foundation of the world, who will never repent (see 17:8; 20:15). They prefer the unclean/green horse/dragon and its kingdom.
Yet also let the righteous one still do righteousness, and the holy one (saint) still be holy (22:11). For the clean, bright linen is the righteous deeds of the saints (see 19:8). They have washed their clothes white in the blood of the lamb (see 7:14).
Thus when the Lord God and his Christ, the lamb, come soon, righteous saints need not fear (22:12). For that coming means each will be rewarded for his/her work. As in 14:13, those who die in the Lord will be blessed because their works will follow them as they ascend into heaven (the first resurrection). For the Alpha/Amen who is the beginning (arche) of God’s new creation, the firstborn of the dead, is also the Omega, the final judge, the end of all the earthly witness and warfare (22:13; see 1:5;3:14). So those who wash their robes are blessed (22:14; see 7:14; 22:11). All the saints who wash their robes in the white/bright Spirit that comes from the bloody/slaughtered lamb (see 7:14) will come into the holy city via the gates/elders/prophets (22:14). The white pearly gates and the trees of life will fulfil the promises of 2:7,17.
Outside the city, the new Jerusalem, will be the dogs, sorcerers, fornicators, murderers, idolaters, and everyone who loves and does what is false (22:15). This sixfold list is similar to the eightfold list in 21:8 which also includes sorcerers, fornicators, murderers, idolaters, and ends with all liars. And the threefold list of 21:17 likewise ends with doing what is false. Thus the emphasis is on those loving lies and speaking and doing what is false. The new term here in 22:15, dogs, probably relates to such false prophets (see Isa. 56:10). In Mt. 7:15 Jesus warned of false prophets who are hungry wolves. This should probably be linked with Jesus’ statement in Mt. 7:6 about not giving dogs what is holy. The holy/saints belong with the true prophets, who are good shepherds and courageously face the hungry dogs/wolves (see Jn. 10:12-16). In Phil. 3:2, the apostle Paul refers to Jewish false prophets who require circumcision as dogs. Returning to Revelation’s symbolism, they would be those claiming to be Jews/prophets but are not (see 2:9; 3:9). They are false. Since they reject the true prophets who are the foundation, gates, and walls of the new city, they will remain outside the city forever.
In 22:16 Jesus tells John he sent his Angel/Spirit to witness to you these things over the churches (and that concern the churches). (Compare Jn. 15:26 where Jesus tells his disciples he will send the Paraclete/Spirit to witness to them about himself.) Above all, there is Jesus himself, the bright, morning star, shining over the churches and continuing to speak his faithful witness to the churches (22:16). As the root and descendant of David, he has the authority/key/Spirit that opens the door to heaven, and opens the gates to the final river city (22:16; see 3:7). Thus the Spirit and the heavenly bride both say "Come" (22:17). The one hearing all this should also say "Come," preferring the true and faithful witness to all the liars of the earth. And the one thirsting for the pure/clean water of the new river city, let him/her come and receive the water/Spirit of life freely (22:17). This river city will not be for the enjoyment of the rich who can afford it. For the poor in (the) Spirit will receive this kingdom/city of heaven (see Mt. 5:3). They will thrive as part of the trees of life that grow out of the root and branch of David.
Finally, Jesus witnesses/warns everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll/book (22:18). If anyone should add on/over these things (in order to subordinate them to the dragon and beasts or water them down with the earthly river city) God will add on/over him/her the plagues written in this scroll (22:18). And if anyone should omit or subtract from the words of this prophetic scroll (in order to soften its judgments), God will take away his/her place in the tree of life and in the holy city (22:19). For this scroll is now part of the little scroll of 10:2,8-10, which is the written new covenant/testament. If Moses could warn Israel not to add to or subtract from the old covenant he spoke and wrote for Israel (see Deut. 4:2), how much more can John warn the churches. If Israel did not escape God’s judgment due to disobeying Moses’ old covenant, much less will the churches escape when they disobey this new covenant/scroll (see Heb. 12:18-25).
The one witnessing these things then says, "Indeed" (22:20). The Spirit is the Witness of Jesus who affirms his witness (in 22:18-19) with "indeed." In 22:16-17 the Angel/Spirit who witnesses these things joins the bride in calling Jesus to come. Thus in 22:20, after the Spirit says "indeed," Jesus says "I am coming soon." As in 2:16 and 3:11 Jesus is coming soon to unrepentant churches and Christians, bringing judgment/plagues and removing lampstands from their places (see 2:5; 3:3).
John’s final response is: Amen (22:20). Jesus is the Amen, the first and last, and the one who comes again and again. So John adds, "Come, Lord Jesus." Then John ends with a benediction. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all (22:21). The grace (charis) that enables spiritual gifts (charismata) like prophecy and witness will indeed shine over God’s servants the prophets who continue the witness of Jesus. And the same grace/Spirit of prophecy will draw all the saints who are lost among the trees of the filthy river city to come to the healing/righteousness of the tree of life that will finally stand forever beside the crystal clear river city of God and the lamb. Amen.
About the Author
This study of Revelation is Steve Mosher’s second book. His first book was published in 1996 by Herald Press and entitled, God’s Power, Jesus’ Faith, and World Mission: A Study in Romans.
Prior to researching and writing those books, Steve served eight years in the Philippines as an American Baptist missionary teaching New Testament at the College of Theology of Central Philippine University in Iloilo City. Just before going to the Philippines, he finished a Ph.D. in New Testament at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
From 1972-76, Steve pastored a rural American Baptist parish in southwest Kansas (Plains and Kismet). He completed his M.Div. degree at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. (1972) and is a graduate of Sterling College in Sterling, Ks. (1969).
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.