Revelation seems to be one of those Bible books that no one reads because it is "too symbolic" for anyone to understand. In my usual sensitive, gentle, understanding vernacular - Hogwash!
In the Complete Jewish Study Bible, translated by David Stern and published in 2016, there is an introduction to the book of Revelation that indicates some of the controversy over interpreting the content of John's book. Stern mentions an outline by a Merrill Tenney that lists the four major, and most common, interpretive methods:
1. Preterist - this approach views the book of Revelation as a reference to the developments of the first century
2. Historicist - this view sees the book as being fulfilled in the progression of history
3. Symbolic - this view holds that "we should not seek to identify specific events as fulfilling the book, but rather as a symbolic representation of the battle of good and evil for all generations."
4. Futurist - holds that the book is about the future, specifically the period most refer to as the Tribulation, the time just before the return of Christ
A little of each
As you will see, there is likely some of each of these views in the final picture, but we will not pretend to be the ones who know everything there is to know about a subject that has been controversial among even the scholars for about 2000 years. Each reader probably has a personal view that came from personal study, a pastor, some book written by someone, or even a story from Gramma.
The biggest thing we should get from Revelation is the message that John was passing along to us after receiving it from Jesus Christ - the end is coming and here is how it will appear. Jesus received this from His Father (Revelation 1:1
The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,
), so it is not some softer, gentler modification of something that God once said that supposedly no longer applies to us special Gentiles.
There are some "events" described in the book that are hard to visualize, not to mention probably hard for John to describe. While we may not understand exactly what he saw, we definitely get the impression that he was describing "events" that will impact everyone on the earth in one way or another.
There is some symbolism in the book, but even if you have no clue as to what the exact symbolism represents, the meaning of the words is clear with no interpretation needed. You get the idea that good is good and bad is bad without someone to "guide" you into some off-the-wall speculation that eases your fears. The book of Revelation should scare everyone to death if they live a life outside that indicated by God. Unfortunately, we see around us that most (90% or more) are doing exactly that. Not in a mild or accidental way, but in a blatant, in your face, "No, God, I won't do that!" way.
"It's too symbolic to be for us."
It seems that this rumor of "deep symbolism" started because some people didn't like the harsh message they could see in John's words. That message - that some are going to be saved and living in Paradise and the rest are going to suffer unimaginable punishment and anguish - is just too much for many. So, instead of finding out by reading, they listen to their pastors and think everything is "hunky-dory", and feel that knowing anything about Revelation is only for the professors.
Just like the rest of the Bible
However, few realize that same harsh message is stated over and over in the rest of the Bible as well, and John is just giving us a summary of that message in one place so that we cannot miss it. Unfortunately, the pastors of today have been able to sugar-coat the New Testament parts because of the many, and varied, translations of the Bible available on the market today.
These softened, paraphrased Bibles mention the truth in vague, sometimes incorrectly translated, words and terms that can be interpreted by different pastors in many ways that often actually oppose each other - causing the birth of many different churches and "truths". And most of these interpreting pastors also tell their audiences to ignore the Old Testament, which is also harsh, because, they say, it "no longer applies to today's world".
Where in the world do they think the message of the New Testament, including Revelation, originated? It was written by Jews with the Old Testament, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to guide them. It is simply re-iteration of the Old, with Jesus added for our sakes.
Which one is right?
So what we have is a mish-mash of churches, each calling themselves the "true church of Jesus". The Bible says that Jesus built one church - the one He called "my ecclesia" in Matthew 16:18
18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
, a word that is incorrectly translated into English as "church". If you think He will come back and spread His arms and welcome all these opposing beliefs and practices, it would be nice if you are right - but the Bible does not tell us that is the case. Remember the 10 virgins? Only half of them made it to the Wedding Dinner, and all 10 thought that they were ready. In which group are you? How do you know?
Some authors can help...
Occasionally we find an author who cares enough to share his discoveries about the real truth in the Bible with the world. Larry W. Wilson is one of those. His 2014 booklet Warning! Revelation is about to be fulfilled (2014) is one of those gems that gets right to the point and seems to get most of it right. While there are a few of his deductions in the book which seem to fly in the face of the book of Revelation itself, most of what he says is accurate and scary in its message.
Aside from his date-setting for end-time events, some of which have already passed without the predicted activity occurring, the tone of his booklet is pretty much the same as that of the pages on this website, but with some excellent insight added from Wilson's point of view. If you would like to know more, see the Menu item for "Warning! Revelation is about to be fulfilled" (or click this link) in the center menu on this page.
The best place to look is the Book itself
While reading the facts and opinions of an author is often educational, the best place for the facts is from the book of Revelation itself. Let's take a brief peek and see if we can "decode" some of this "excessive symbolism" ourselves. No, I'm not going to tell you what it means by pompously assuming that only I am the only one in the world able to do so. So, read along in your Bible and let's just see what it says.
In chapter 1, without symbols John tells us that he had a revelation from an angel about things that were going to happen soon. He said that as a result of this spiritual vision, he is writing a letter to the seven churches of Asia. To each of these churches, he has some advice from some being who looked like a "son of man". Ready to take a wild guess who that Son of Man was? Well, partly because we have heard this description before, and partly because the words are in red in the NIV, let's take a guess that this is a symbol for Jesus. And, who was He talking to? The "church" (ecclesia), letting them know who was keeping in line and who was not. You might even notice that the problems those churches had are the same as the churches of today. This is pretty hard but, are you with me so far? (Tongue in cheek, please)
Chapters 2 and 3
John lists Jesus' statements about the problems the being experienced by each of the churches - things like love lost, idolatry, sexual immorality, and lazy faith. There are two churches in the list with no complaints against them who are advised to hang in there until He comes. If there is symbolism in that, other than which of today's churches are represented, I can't see it. But we don't have to know which church, as long as we stay in line with the will of God. Otherwise, we can look forward to Revelation 2:26-27
26To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations - 27 that one 'will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery' - just as I have received authority from my Father.
and be "dashed to pieces" like pottery.
Here, a voice tells John what is about to happen. Then John describes, in the only words he knew how to use, the scene in Heaven including Awe and Majesty and the worship shown by those creatures who surrounded the throne. It's hard to visualize the beings and creatures he saw, but how do you think you would describe them if they look anything like his descriptions? How would you describe four beings that were covered with eyes? The one thing that is clear from the descriptions is that God Almighty is in charge and deserves the worship of His creation.
Still with me? Now, John sees that a problem has cropped up in Chapter 5 - no one seems to be qualified to open a scroll with some seals on it - and starts to weep (that means to cry, if you fell behind). Then One stepped up who was worthy. Now here is where the symbolism gets really, really deep - that One is called a Lamb. No, no, relax, that's OK, we can do this. That Lamb is really a symbol for Jesus. Got it? If not, I'll wait. Let me know. OK? Good. Note that once the Lamb (Jesus) steps up, everyone breaks into praise and happiness!
This chapter does have a little symbolism, but the verses themselves tell us what they mean! The first seal on the scroll is broken open by the Lamb. The act of breaking the seal somehow allows one of the living beings start some action. John describes a rider on a white horse going out to conquer. There is a little confusion in all the churches over who this rider is, so let's not make up our minds just yet. After the second seal is broken, a red horse now emerges, and his job seems to be removing peace from the world, so let's just say he stirs things up. The third seal releases a black horse and rider that seem to be making it hard to get food - like in a famine. And the last of the four seals releases a sickly looking horse and rider that has the power to kill a lot of people. He accomplishes this by causing wars, famines, plagues, and using wild animals. So, in general, we know that the first horse was to conquer, and then after that things go to pot with the rest of the horses and riders.
Ready to make some guesses? If the first horse and rider are to conquer and the rest that come right after him are up to no good, the first one must be someone who sets things up for the rest to do their thing. Any thoughts on who that might be? That's right! The Antichrist himself. The rest are things that happen as a result of the setup from the first rider. Good job. Not so hard now, is it?
Still in chapter 6, we see the fifth seal is broken and a lot of souls under the altar are heard asking a question about how long they will have to wait for their blood to be avenged. They are told to hold on until the time comes. Some want to throw some symbolism ideas in here about where the altar stands (in heaven or on earth). Since we are not told, we won't guess. We are just told that God hasn't forgotten those who died in Christ. He told them that they will have to wait for a little longer until the number of saints killed (martyred for their faith) reaches some magic number, so we know more people must die during this period (Tribulation). Just note that the next seal takes place on earth, as did the first four (not symbolism), and the seventh one speaks of silence in heaven.
People in heaven?
For those who consider these people under the altar as proof that people are now in Heaven after their deaths, explain to me why God would make people who "made it" to Heaven stay under an altar and complain about what is taking so long. That does not fit with the rest of the Bible and the character of God or fit what He has prepared for us as revealed in His word. This passage is speaking to the readers so that we know there is an end to all this misery.
Next, John speaks of two groups of people. The first group seems to be a specific number (144,000) of people selected from the tribes of Israel. They are chosen from Israelite tribes so they are probably descendants way down the line of the original children of Jacob (later renamed Israel). We are not given a reason for their selection other than that they are Jewish and that they have been marked with a sign from God that later we will see is to make them stand out from the non-believers.
The second group is a huge number of people in white robes that came out of tribulation. Note that "came out of" is not the same as "kept from" or "raptured before". The sealed group is protected from all the destruction that is about to follow - the 144,000 by the seal given on their forehead, and the multitude that had their robes washed in the blood of the Lamb (verse 14
14 I answered, "Sir, you know."
And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
), so they have have gone through some kind of testing period.
Of this second group, there is no specification about whether some or all of them have died while going through persecution, but we do know that they have made their stand for Christ and are saved. In order to come out of something, you have to have been in it (room, car, war). Another thing we know for sure about this second group is that they will never have to worry again (verses 16 and 17
16'Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,
nor any scorching heat."
17"For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Commercial break. A thought to help you out
Take a deep breath and relax. You may consider this cheating, since I said that the ultimate meaning of Revelation was fairly clear. It is. However, watch for a change in the events. There seems to be a switch in mood starting with the opening of the seventh seal. Notice that, throughout recent history, people have been trying to tell us that we are polluting the earth with our cars and factories, but that it has been taking us a long time to do it. What you are about to see in the next few chapters are massive changes creating immediate, deadly pollution effects. These are no longer man-causes disasters, but these are being created by God through the angels' trumpet blasts. So, this is the second "half" of tribulation, called the "Great Tribulation", and is the expression of what the Bible has referred to as "the wrath of God". Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.
Chapters 8 and 9
Now, here is where most people get nervous and have trouble seeing sense in the words. Chapter 8 and 9 list a series of events that seem to be tied to the end of the breaking of the seals. Remember Who is worthy to break the seals on the scroll? Yep, the Lamb, Jesus Christ.
Chapter 8 starts with the breaking of the seventh seal, which is followed by silence in heaven for about a half an hour. This seems to be a transition from the seals to a series of trumpet blasts by seven angels. Symbolism? Well, what do we need to know? There are some events about to take place on the earth and these trumpets are going to be used to announce each of them. Before the trumpets, an angel takes something called a censer, fills it with fire and throws it down to the earth resulting in thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. We don't know what the censer is, but it doesn't really matter, does it? At some point in the future, there will be easily detectable disasters - everywhere - and they will be caused by an angel. We should be able to detect earthquakes, rumbling, thunder and lightning without having to see it on the news.
More bad stuff
The angels start to sound the trumpets, each one followed by a disaster of some kind. The first one mentions hail and fire mixed with blood. Now, this could be symbolic or just John describing what it looked like to him. Do we need to know? Nope. Whatever it is, it causes a disaster effectively destroying one-third of the surface of the earth and its plants. It seems that something that big will likely make the news if we are not paying attention when it happens.
The second trumpet does the same thing to the sea. The third one does something to the fresh water on the earth. Now, these all affect our food and water supply, so this is going to be bad for more than just plant life - it will affect both animals and humans. Even the fourth one causes a dimming of the available light. We can deduce that this will also cause a problem with the remaining plants that need light to grow. It seems pretty clear that when these things start up, we won't need CNN to tell us that something is happening. In fact, with all the earthquakes and damage, CNN may not even be able to broadcast by this time, so there may be other ways of informing people of what is happening, like us walking outside and looking around.
And now, a word from our sponsor...
Now there seems to be some kind of "commercial break" where an "eagle" is flying around shouting a warning to the earth that things are about to get really bad with the last three trumpet events. Is it really an eagle? All we really need to know is that there will be an announcement of warning, and it appeared to John as something he called an eagle. If he was seeing the events of something that is in our future, it could have been something that we would maybe call an airplane or a helicopter, or something that flies that hasn't even been invented yet. Maybe God will allow an eagle to have a human voice like He did with the donkey of Balaam in Numbers 22. The bottom line is that John said there will be a warning before the last three events, so the symbolism doesn't really matter.
Back to the mayhem
Chapter 9 begins the last three "woes" with the fifth trumpet causing the release of some kind of demons that appear to have been trapped in something called the Abyss. That Abyss was opened by a "star" that was given a key to the Abyss so it could be opened. The star is referred to as a "he", so it was some sort of being sent either by Satan or his representative (verse 11) or an angel sent by God, following the orders to open the Abyss. We need only to know that something is going to be released on the world that will cause pain and suffering for a period of time (called five months) from which there is no rest - not even death. Note in verse four that no one with a seal is to be harmed.
Symbolism, but is it needed?
Now, if there is any important symbolism in Revelation, this could be where it is used. The creatures released from the Abyss are described as something that we just don't see while walking around the neighborhood. Does it matter what the symbol is or what it represents? Nope. Whatever they are, the people they affect, and those without the seal or protection of the Lord (Chapter 7, verses 4 and 11 mention those protected), are not going to enjoy the association with them. If there are clouds of them flying around from out of the Abyss, we will have a pretty good idea that this is happening, so the symbolism doesn't really matter.
We shouldn't be confused about whether something out of the ordinary routine is going on. This isn't going to resemble anything normal. Also, remember, you won't be affected if you are on the right side of Jesus and the commands of God.
This is coming to a neighborhood near you
When the sixth trumpet sounds, there are four angels that have been waiting in the wings for this very event. They are released and somehow have control of some 200,000,000 mounted beings or creatures that are sent out to kill another third of mankind. Symbolism? Well, if John looked at them and described them as he did in verses 17 and 18:
17 The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur. 18 A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths.
then they either looked like that, or they were something from the future that John had no words to describe, so he did his best. We could guess, but that would just give people something to lock onto and cause them to miss the whole idea if they didn't resemble our guess. Symbolism? Maybe, but so what? Trouble is coming on a larger scale than we can even imagine - we won't miss it when it gets here.
With 200,000,000 of anything that either looked like this, or was so bizarre that it caused John to use these words to describe it, it should be easy to recognize them. Think of it. With all the destruction and killing going on in the world at that time, it seems hard to believe that we will not know that God is keeping His word that John was, is still, warning us about through Revelation. However, verse 20 clearly indicates that the rest of mankind that were not killed (meaning the left over ones without the seal or protection of God) did not get the message and will continue on with their "me-ism" of doing whatever they feel like - murder, magic arts, sexual immorality, thefts, and, we can be sure, a lot more that disgusts God.
Chapter 10 "Keep this part secret, John"
After this, we are told about a mighty angel who stands on the sea and the land and shouts a message. We don't know what he says because John was told not to tell us. After that, this angel said that the seventh trumpet is about to sound and the end of times will come as God has promised. Next, we might have a little symbolism, but it's meaning is pretty straight forward. John is told to eat a scroll.
A scroll contains words, so John is supposed to take the contents of the scroll in and then tell the world what he will know after that. I take that to mean he is to take in the vision and then write the book of Revelation so we can learn what is coming down the road. It's pretty clear that he will enjoy the intake, but when he figures out the meaning, it will make him sick to his stomach. You can take that as symbolism, but it would be hard to make it mean something else.
Chapter 11 "Listen up, people"
Before the seventh trumpet is sounded, John tells us about two "witnesses" who will prophesy for a period of time called 42 months or 1260 days (these both are the same amount of time - 3 1/2 years). Now, this time, to "prophesy" is more like being told to "tell people the truth about God" (preach) rather than to "predict the future". In case you think this is making things up, here is what Merriam-Webster says:
Definition of prophesy
1 :to utter by or as if by divine inspiration
2 :to predict with assurance or on the basis of mystic knowledge
1 :to speak as if divinely inspired
2 :to give instruction in religious matters :preach
3 :to make a prediction
This is more like item 2 of the second definition (intransitive) because John calls their prophecy a "testimony" (preaching), and we are not told by the witnesses of any predictions for the future. You can call it prophecy as in the predictive part of the definition, but then you must be able to understand what we are told to expect. Predictive prophecy is worthless if the message is not given.
So, you can see that in Chapter 11, God is still trying to get people's attention. Too many people, even today's "Christians", think they already have it down pat, so they just go their own way without thinking - or checking to see what He is really saying and has been saying for thousands of years. This witnessing will also come to an end, but only after the beast (Antichrist) does everything he can to shut them up, but he can't even kill them until he is allowed to do so. Once their time is up, he can then kill them, but God even uses that as a tool to show that He is still in charge. After a period to show they are really dead, they are resurrected in front of the whole world and sent to heaven in a cloud.
There is a little message in this last resurrection event that should kind of drive God's point home with a knockout punch. One of the things that make the concept of Christianity so hard for the atheists is the thought of a Savior being brought back from the dead. Imagine the shock to their hearts when they see it happen right in front of them. Hopefully, some of them will see the truth and make the commitment that can save them. However, having seen so many special effects in the movies and on TV, and a lack of belief in anything supernatural, many will still not believe (Luke 16:31 NIV
"31 He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
After this, the seventh trumpet is sounded, and amidst a lot of praise, God's temple was opened amid lightning, rumblings, thunder, an earthquake, and a hailstorm.
Chapter 12 and 13
Next comes another place where there seems to be a lot of symbolism. Chapter 12 appears to be a history review. This may take a little story telling to have it make sense, but let's not make up something that makes our church special. Let's try just following a story that has already been told. As you read along in your Bible in Chapter 12, see if you can spot the parts of the story that seem to pertain to the following:
The prediction birth of Jesus (Rev 12:1-2)
Satan trying to kill Jesus shortly after birth by using King Herod (Rev 12:3-4)
The War in Heaven and removal of Satan and his cohorts from Heaven (Rev 12:7-9)
Satan trying to lead the people of God astray because he failed to kill Jesus (Rev 12:17)
This chapter confuses a lot of people because there is a kind of parallel story here along with the history of the Israelites in the wilderness and the story of Jesus's birth and mission on earth. This chapter is not so much a straight timeline, but a loose tale of the Israelites and their troubles with staying close to God and the Devil interfering. Satan is in the background the whole time, stirring up trouble.
Back on track
However, the prophecy about the end times starts right back up in Chapter 13. Here we are on track to watch the beast come in (Rev 13:1
1 The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.
), take over the world (Rev 13:2-4
2 The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. 4 People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, "Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?"
), and start smart-mouthing God (Rev 13:5-8
5 The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. 7 It was given power to wage war against God's holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. 8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast - all whose names have not been written in the Lamb's book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.
). We know this guy as the Antichrist. He is joined in verse 11 by the False Prophet who supports him. The False Prophet seems to be the one that gets everyone else to worship the beast (Antichrist) by issuing decrees (laws) and making images to be worshipped on pain of death, with special emphasis on the punishment of the saints (believers in Jesus).
You can call this symbolism if you need that view, but if you were John and saw these things he described in your mind, how would you describe them in writing? If he had seen a man or series of mere men, would we know how to see what he meant about their power and actions? The general idea is that toward the end of time, people are going to try to convince most people to go against what God has been saying to the world through His word. Not only that, but most of the world will be looking in the wrong direction, all the while thinking they are obeying God because of this silver-tongued devil. How hard will that be if most "religious" people are already looking away from God - doing what He said not to do?
John mentions again the 144,000 chosen ones who seem to be special and follow Jesus closely. The only way people can get back on the right path is to follow the lead of these 144,000. What makes them so special? Well, the Jews have had a direct relationship with God for over 3500 years. They know His word and the smart ones have added faith in Jesus to that knowledge. The ones who got the message are better qualified to teach the world than the wishy-washy pastors of today's churches who have gone astray from the word of God and practice exactly what He said not to do. That's likely why we don't see any Gentiles in the list of those sealed by God.
Next, three angels go about telling the world the rules for making the right decision:
1. Fear God who created everything, worship Him, and give Him alone glory
2. The powers in the world who have misled you have collapsed - stop following them
3. If you don't follow rule number 2, it will not go well for you
We don't know if these will be the kind of angels we think of when we read the English translations of the Bible, but there will be a message out there that clearly passes the need-to-know information in the chart above. Now, you can read the fancy KJV text and make it more flowery and symbolic, but this list above shows you all you need to know to understand the message of the three angels.
More symbols, but easy ones
Now, the next part of Chapter 14 is clearly symbolic, but let's see if we can make sense of it. Who might be meant by the "one like a son of man" seated on a cloud? I realize that is pretty deep, but take a guess. Correcto! Jesus Christ! Now, an angel came out of the temple and gave a message to the one on the cloud. Who might be in the temple that would have a message for the "son of man"? The Father - God Himself! The message given? Things are set and the time is right to gather the harvest of the world. Now, I doubt if John is speaking here about wheat or grapes, so what would the harvest be? Right! Souls of people!
Now this first harvest does not say whether the harvest is good or bad. However, another angel comes out and tells him to harvest again, but the second harvest is "trampled in the great winepress of God's wrath". Stepping out on a limb here, I am going to say that the first harvest was the true, believing people of God, and the second one was everyone else.
Hey! It fits!
Lookig ahead, that is also in line with the words in Chapter 20 that describe a first resurrection of the righteous, a pause of 1000 years, and then a second resurrection of everyone else. And based on the amount of blood coming out of the winepress, bridle high on a horse for 180 miles, that would be a lot of people who are not true believers. Of course, we are not told if it would be a straight line with a certain width, like a river, or if it would be a circle, like a lake, 180 miles across - but it is still a lot of people's blood.
So, the general message is that there will come a time when the world is ready for the decision and final judgment. We know that there is only one Boss who can make that decision. Symbolism? Sure. But, the message is still pretty clear without having to have some pastor interpret for you.
The main theme in this chapter speaks of two things: a group of people who successfully overcame the deception of the beast and his cohorts, and a group of angels with some bowls full of yucky stuff. In this chapter, the timeline seems to get a little weird because it is still talking about the second of the two events in Chapter 14.
Try to think of it like this. If you go to a track meet or even the Olympics, there are a lot of events going on at the same time. If you watch the high jump to the end, you will miss the sprints. If you watch the sprints you will miss the pole vault. When you watch the review of the events on the news, you can see a short recap of each of the separate races. They all happened at the same time, but there were important things that happened in each. When you watch the recap, you can see what happened while you were busy elsewhere. This is like that recap.
The first event was the gathering of what we think of as the righteous. These were the ones who followed the truth and the commands of God. After the gathering (whether the sealing of the righteous, or some other way of isolating them from the wicked) of the righteous, we see the method that is going to perform the punishment of the wicked that was called the "winepress of God's wrath" in Chapter 14. Here we see that this punishment is caused by the "plagues" from the bowls of the seven angels, further described in Chapter 16. This must be the case because the only way the plagues would have any effect is if there is still someone on the earth to be affected.
So, this is a description of the devastation of the wicked who paid no attention to the commands of God and even persecuted the saints. The first bowl was sores on those who followed the beast (Antichrist), the second bowl was the fouling of the oceans, the third was the fouling of the fresh water. If these sound familiar, there were similar descriptions in Chapter 8 above. Things are a little different on the fourth bowl from the one in Chapter 8 because this one affects the sun and causes things to get really hot. The fifth one is directed toward the throne of the beast (Antichrist) causing complete darkness. We don't know if this is real darkness, like night, or darkness like evil, but that symbolism really doesn't matter for us to get the idea that this is not good for the bad guys. Then the sixth bowl causes the bad guys to be affected in a way that causes them to start gathering the army that will eventually attack Jesus on the day of His return to earth. That will take place at that famous battleground Armageddon.
Notice that in verse 15 we see an encouragement of those saints to keep their eyes open and not fall under the spell of the evil ones (keep their clothes with them) so they will be ready to go when the time comes to be taken out of the world when Jesus returns. (For those of you who are certain there will be a Rapture before this all started, where did these believers come from if they are not the ones persecuted by the Antichrist? That can't happen if there is a pre- or mid-trib Rapture.)
Then the seventh bowl is poured out, finishing the ordeal with a monstrous earthquake and some equally monstrous hailstones. This earthquake seems to affect even the mountains as everything gets "flattened".
This chapter is a description of the punishment of "Babylon the Great", the ruling "nations" or "emperors" of the world that have led the people astray. We really don't need to interpret the symbolism to know that this "Mother of Prostitutes" could easily be all the entities that distract people from the truth. Whoever or whatever this is in reality, these passages describe them in terms that seem to point at the only place that many see in the term "seven hills".
My interpretation is not intended to be definitive, but the use of the term is understood by an overwhelming majority (not necessarily making it a fact) of people to refer to the papacy in Rome - a dominant influence for millions (billions?) of Catholics around the world (see verse 15). In fact, a majority of the practices of "Christian" churches around the world came right from the Catholic church.
"But, I would never do that..."
Please notice, however, that the power of the woman (church?) is transferred to the beast (Antichrist) in some sort of change in authority. So, the influence of the popular churches of today is given somehow to the Antichrist...does that mean that the people in those churches will follow the influence? Remember, Revelation 13:8
8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast--all whose names have not been written in the Lamb's book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.
says that the world will worship the beast. If your church pastor follows him, thinking that Jesus has come, will you? How will you know that the Antichrist is false?
John starts with the announcement of that change in authority from the prostitute (Babylon, a typically anti-God society) to the beast (Antichrist), along with a plea for people to stop following what the prostitute taught (think not keeping Sabbath, celebrating pagan "holidays" of Easter, Halloween, and Christmas). The only way that they can avoid the punishment that is to follow is to come out of her and stay away from her followers. Evidently this deposing of that powerful organization is going to cause worldwide financial difficulty (see verses 11 through 20). Sure, there is some symbolism here, but the message is clear without knowing the details.
Here, John starts with describing rejoicing and praise, evidently about the deposing of Babylon (see verse 3), and some of the symbolism is actually explained in the text itself (verse 8). Because of something an angel says, John feels compelled to bow to the angel, but the angel refuses that respect and refers all worship to God.
The second part of Chapter 19 describes the entrance of a "Faithful and True" figure on a white horse with the name "Word of God". Any guesses as to Who this might be? He seems to be powerful enough to strike down entire nations (verse 15) and take over the ruling of them all. Ruling of the world means that He is King of the earth. But first, there is a battle that takes place between the "kings of the earth" and the armies they gathered in order to fight this Rider on the white horse and His army.
The attacking kings' armies are slain
There is no suspense about the outcome as the leaders of the world, the beast and the false prophet, are thrown into some sort of prison/punishment called the "Lake of Fire". The rest of the bad armies are slain and their bodies come to a gruesome disposal method of some kind (all the birds). We don't know what the "Lake of Fire" looks like, but one guess is that it is not a place where you would want to hang out for the rest of...well, a long time. We get the idea without deciphering any symbolism. The bottom line here is that Jesus came back and is now in charge.
This one begins with some passages that have caused a huge controversy in current theology and modern beliefs. Some say that, after this coming of Jesus, the earth is now desolate because all of those who do not follow God and Jesus are dead, killed by the brightness of Jesus' return. It is not clear how people can come to that conclusion based on what this text actually says. Usually the reasoning includes other verses that say something like "all the wicked were killed by the brightness of His coming" as they claim is stated in 2 Thes 2:8
8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. (NIV)
. While the wishful thinking here is understandable in a slanted way, the impression given by that interpretation cannot be right because of the actual wording of those verses in 2 Thes 2:8
8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. (NIV)
and here in Chapter 20, especially in verse 3.
OK, let me lead you a little, but disagree if you want...
Let's slow down here and explain this dastardly statement. Most Bibles actually refer to the "Wicked" (note the capital "W") mentioned in the KJV here in 2 Thes 2:8
8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: (KJV)
as being the "lawless one". Now, this is a little symbolic, but not so symbolic as to be camouflaged beyond recognition. You might have suspected that the "lawless one" is a reference to the Antichrist. In the King James version of the Bible, the words used of "lawless one" are "that Wicked" (not "the wicked", as many misquote), referring to an individual or an entity that has been doing bad things. This is who was "destroyed by the brightness of His coming". So, for those who claim that the KJV is Authorized, the meaning is still clear and allows for Jesus to have destroyed only the wicked in charge, so to speak, not every unbeliever on earth. What? How can I say this?
Well, according to Rev 20:3, when Satan is bound and thrown into a locked pit, it is to keep him from "deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years are over." (NIV). How do you deceive anyone if there is no one left alive on the earth to deceive? Not only that, once Satan is finally released after the thousand years are over, where does he he go to gather an army for battle? That would be the "four corners of the earth - God and Magog" (verse 8), and there are enough of them to be "like sand on the seashore" in number. It sounds like there are still people on the earth during the thousand years and not all of them are peace-loving Christians. Now, this view allows Zechariah 14:16-19
16 Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. 17 If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, they will have no rain. 18 If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain. The Lord will bring on them the plague he inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. 19 This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.
to be accurate and true, instead of "conditional" as some would have you believe with no Scriptural support.
O.K., all done, back to the basics
Moving on in Chapter 20, after Satan and his "army" are destroyed, he is thrown into the "lake of fire" with the beast and false prophet where "they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever". Also, everyone whose "name is not written in the book of life" will go into the same lake. Now, remember that the beast and the false prophet have already been in there for 1000 years, and the text does not say "he" (the Devil) alone will be punished, but "they" will be punished. This means that people will not just be "poofed" into non-existence when thrown into the lake of fire, but must endure eternal punishment along with everyone else in there.
Chapter 21 speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, and the New Jerusalem descending from heaven. Of course, you can try to make this symbolic, but why would you? The plain statements that God will dwell with men and set up a new order of things means to me that He will take charge and make things as they should be. All those who did not agree with this new regime are in a bad way because they won't be there.
We are also given a glimpse of what the new Holy City will look like. Whether symbolism or not, it seems impossible to understand exactly what John was shown. Things like gates being made of a single pearl and a city made of gold stretch our minds that are used to a different reality. However, given the nature of God, the language gives us comfort and assurance that we will be happy there - those that make it to this wonderful place, that is.
And finally, Chapter 22 explains briefly how things will be. There will be abundant food, healing for the nations, and one King for the rest of forever. John is told not to hide this part of the prophecy because the time approaches for each one of us to decide where we want to spend eternity.
The recap begins with the promise of Jesus that He is coming soon, a blessing for those who align themselves with the words of this Book, and a curse on those who do not. I think this means the book of Revelation, but easily includes the whole Bible since the message of God is one message throughout time.
There you have my take on the book of Revelation. Now, some parts may be a little wrong, but the flow works with the rest of the Bible and the interpretation of symbolism does not require a theological degree or pastorship of 30 years in a church. Like the rest of the Bible, just take it for what it says and you won't be far off the message. Sometimes you have to look at interlinear versions to get the real words used in the original language to find out what was really written, but with today's tools, that is not too hard to do. For those who disagree, I will be happy to discuss alternate ideas on parts or the whole of this book and my views of it. Please, let me know your thoughts.
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