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Book of Revelation Explained – Part 3

The Book of Revelation Explained – Part 3

The Book of Revelations BannerThe Book of Revelation is a series of visions, seen and recorded by John, one of Jesus’ apostles. We saw in the last two issues how the book uses imagery to depict the history of the Roman Empire from its early phases through to its eventual fall. In this concluding article we find that history is now being viewed from a different perspective: a spiritual one.

In the last ten chapters of the book, the reader sees everything working together towards the great climax of God’s purpose – the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth.

The Seed of the Woman

In Revelation chapter 12, we catch up with events inside the church, and the picture is not encouraging. John sees a vision of a pregnant woman in heaven who gives birth to a son. There is a conflict with a large red dragon, which is thrown out of heaven. This unusual imagery is based on the first prophecy in the Bible – the promise to Adam and

Eve that a descendant of the woman would destroy the serpent which deceived them andThe Serpent in the Garden of Eden led them to commit the first sin (Genesis 3:15).

That promise was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus, son of the virgin Mary, and therefore the seed of the woman, who defeated the power of sin in his death and resurrection. But that was long before and the Revelation now uses this Old Testament language to describe the fourth century battle between Constantine and the pagan emperor (Licinius) who ruled over the eastern third of the Empire. Paganism was overthrown and Christians could briefly rejoice that they could worship in peace, a short-term foretaste of the peace of God’s coming Kingdom.

Compromise and Corruption

But shadows lay ahead. The woman represents the church. She is no longer a virgin, pure and separate from the world, awaiting the return of the Lord as her husband–to–be (see 2 Corinthians 11:2). She is pregnant, unfaithful to him, and now in a position of power as a partner of emperors and princes. That is why in the vision she is depicted in heaven, and crowned with the sun and stars.

The effect of power was compromise and corruption; the true gospel of the First Century church was corrupted.

New teachings crept in from Greek philosophy, such as humans having immortal souls, and the myth that Jesus is God. A hierarchy of priests, bishops and archbishops replaced the simplicity of the early church. Christians once refused to fight in the Roman army, but now joined its ranks.

Persecution of True Believers

Persecution of the True BelieversThere were some who protested against this corruption. A tiny minority, they championed the true gospel as preached by the apostles, and they suffered in consequence. There is no intolerance like religious intolerance. As the centuries passed, they faced exclusion, imprisonment and death. The ousted pagan dragon is replaced in the next chapter by another composite beast, with seven heads, which has great power and we read:

“And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them…”  Revelation 13:7

The record goes on to describe harsh persecution – including captivity and execution – for true believers, really testing their faith and endurance.

More Beasts

Another beast appears, this time with two horns. It makes an image of the previous beast and forces people to worship it. It has the number 666.

What is all this about?

The different beasts are different phases of Rome’s religious development. The seven heads are explained for us in chapter 17, when we come to consider the last phase – a red beast ridden by a harlot.

The red beast still has the seven heads, and they are identified as a city of seven hills, ruling over the earth.

Rome was the political and religious power of the time, well fitting the various descriptions in the different phases. It was Rome that killed Christians when the pagan emperors reigned. When they were gone it was Catholic Rome, the new religion, which persecuted those faithful believers who protested against her.

Moving to the End

Chapters 14 and 15 comfort the true believers (called ‘saints’) with a picture of them with Jesus at the Day of Judgment, when their innocent blood will be avenged.

As we near the end of the story, the spotlight swings back to the secular world of politics, to see how this will be accomplished. In chapter 16, seven bowls are now poured in sequence onto the world. These are described as “the wrath of God”, a series of judgments on a world and a religious system that has persecuted God’s saints for too long.

These outpourings are setting the scene for the return of Jesus. And then he comes!

Like the thief in the night who catches us unprepared, he steals into the world:

“Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame” (Revelation 16:15).


The appearing of Jesus initiates the war of Armageddon, the climactic confrontation that runs through all the scriptures, when the united forces of the world set themselves against God and His son.

The outcome is clear: defeat for the opponents of God and the Lord Jesus. The battle is marked by an earthquake which shatters the world, and the coalition is destroyed by giant hailstones, like the enemies of Israel in Joshua chapter 10.

The religious conflict reaches its finale in chapters 17–18, where the adulterous harlot is thrown down into a fiery and fatal destruction.

In the meantime, Jesus’ faithful bride–to–be prepares herself for the marriage supper of the Lamb. This is a picture of the true body of believers getting ready for the Kingdom of God to begin.

A Glorious Conclusion

Through chapters 19–20 John observes amazing events, foretold throughout the Bible. In the vision, he witnesses the resurrection of the dead, and the day of judgment. The wicked are condemned to death, but the faithful are granted to live for ever and to reign on the earth with their Lord, with great rejoicing.

The final chapters of the Revelation paint a glorious picture of the new world, the Kingdom of God.

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Ultimately, God will live with men in His holy city Jerusalem, and living waters will glide out of that capital city to bring healing and peace to all nations. We can read about this in Revelation 22:2.

God's Kingdom Temple on Earth

The good news, the Gospel, which flows through the whole of the Bible, is that we can be there. If we read and learn from the pages of the Bible, and we live faithfully watching for Jesus’ coming, then, in the beautiful words of Revelation 22:14, we will be given the right to eat of the tree of life and live forever.

By David M Pearce

See Book of Revelations Explained – Part 1

See Book of Revelations Explained – Part 2


See The Kingdom of God on Earth – What will it be like?


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Book of Revelation Explained – Part 1

The Book of Revelation Explained – Part 1

The Book of Revelations BannerThis last book of the Bible was penned by the apostle John, probably towards the end of the First Century. He writes in a time of persecution, when he has been sent into exile by the Roman authorities, marooned on the island of Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony about Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). Patmos is a tiny island off the coast of Turkey, about 13 square miles (34 square kilometers) in area.

Inspired Visions

The Revelation is the record of a series of inspired visions in which John sees and hears his Master Jesus talking to him, passing on a message for the Christian brothers and sisters. The opening verse is important – “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place” (Revelation 1:1).

In doing this we are told that this message of the future of mankind ie. the rise and fall of world powers and governments, was revealed to John in a symbolic way ie. in Revelation 1:1 it goes on to say that “he (Christ) sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.”

The symbols used are the same as those found in earlier prophecies in Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. So in understanding Revelation we much first appreciate this way in which it was written and that much of what we read is a symbol of a future power and powers to arise and that the depictions of them and the events they would bring about are not to be interpreted in a literal sense but by the symbols used.

The vision was to show John things that must take place, so it was a prophecy, like the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. It predicted the course of events far into the future, so that God’s servants would be prepared and strengthened in times of persecution, knowing that world events are in God’s hands, and move steadily towards the goal of His Kingdom being established on earth.

To appreciate the book of Revelation we need to have read the rest of the Bible first, because it is full of links and allusions to the earlier writings. Practically every phrase and theme has been plucked from the Old Testament (in some cases the New Testament), and applied to a new but similar situation.

We will find strong links to the visions of the prophet Daniel, who saw four amazing beasts with features that foretold the course of history from his day up to the First Century. John’s visions take over where Daniel’s left off, and we shall meet Daniel’s beasts in a new guise, used this time to predict the events of European history through many centuries.

Perfect Number

A key idea in the Revelation is the number seven. Seven is the perfect number, the cycle of days that completes a week and then starts again.

The book is divided into groups of sevens – seven lampstands and seven letters, seven wax seals on a scroll, seven trumpets that blow in turn, and seven altar bowls poured out on the earth.

There is another twist – seven in seven. This concept comes from the conquest of Jericho by Joshua.

The soldiers of Israel marched round the city of Jericho once a day for six days. But on the seventh day they marched round seven times, and on the 13th circuit, the walls collapsed and the city fell. So in the Revelation there are six seals, but when the seventh is cut through it is found to enclose the seven trumpets, and when the seventh trumpet begins to blow it conceals the seven bowls. Only when we reach the seventh bowl does the Kingdom of God finally arrive in all its glory.

Here is a schematic diagram which illustrates the way the book of Revelation is laid out in sets of sevens:

Unfolding Drama

In the opening chapter John sees his master, the Lord Jesus, in heavenly glory. Jesus is walking amongst seven golden lampstands, which John is told represent seven Christian congregations in the province of Asia. Each in turn is given a written report, dictated to John, outlining their successes and their weak points, just like the traditional end-of-term report at school. Each letter ends with a beautiful promise, held out to “him who conquers”.

The Book of Revelations unfolding historical eventsIt is a surprise to find seven churches in the same area with such a variation in their spiritual health, from Ephesus – patiently enduring and bearing up for Jesus’ sake; to Laodicea – smug and complacent, but in Jesus’ view close to death (see Revelation 1:11 to 3:22).

At this point John is invited to come up into heaven so that he can watch history unfold before his eyes.

Unlike the Seven Letters, which were sent to his contemporaries, the rest of Revelation relates to events after John’s lifetime. To understand the setting from this point onwards, we need to imagine a drama, a historical pageant acted out as a series of scenes on the stage of a theatre. John the observer is invited up into the royal box for the performance.

Looking down, he sees the earth and the sea below him.

As each act is announced, the characters come and go, accompanied by appropriate sound effects. As an added refinement, the ‘royal box’ is defined in chapter four as the Temple from the Old Testament, complete with:

❖an Ark (the ‘throne’ on which God’s angel once sat as His representative),

❖an incense altar, an altar for sacrifices,

❖a great reservoir or ‘sea’ for water,

❖a lampstand, and

❖four cherubim or ‘living creatures’.

He also sees in the foreground 24 elders, who serve the Lord as did the 24 orders of Levites in the Temple of Solomon.

The Scroll Opened

In the opening scene, John sees the Lord God, seated on the throne, holding a scroll in his hand. It is made up of seven sections, each separately sealed with a string and a wax pendant. Nobody could read the scroll until the strings were cut. John sees a wounded Lamb approach the throne. It is Jesus, the Lamb of God, and he is given the right to open the scroll.

He cuts the first string, and as the scroll flies open a white horse gallops across the stageThe Third Horseman of Revelations with a warrior on his back. The next seal introduces a red horse ridden by a man with a dagger.

The third horse is black. His rider carries scales for weighing out daily food rations. The fourth is the colour of a corpse, and the skeleton on its back is accompanied by a symbolic grave, shovelling up the dead over a quarter of the earth.

Four Horsemen

The four coloured horses are taken from the Old Testament prophet Zechariah. It is not difficult to line up the four seals with the history of the Roman Empire after John’s death – an initial period of prosperity and peace, followed by civil war, then famine and pestilence, especially in the Italian division of the Empire, which was divided into four quarters at this time. The time period covers AD 100 to AD 270.

The next Seal introduces an altar said to represent the lives of Christian believers. Many of them were indeed martyred for their faith by the pagan (idol worshipping) Emperor Diocletian around 300 AD.

The Sixth Seal opens with dramatic sound-effects – an earthquake, and the removal of the sun, moon and stars – a traditional Bible symbol for a change of rulership.

This links with the revolutionary change that took place when Constantine battled successfully for control of the Empire. Pagan Rome became Christian Rome as he removed, once and for all, the persecution of those who refused to worship the ancient gods.  Constantine came to power in AD 312.

The 144,000

During the quiet time that follows, John sees in chapter seven 144,000 people, marked in the forehead by an angelic messenger, like those faithful men Ezekiel saw set aside for God before the fall of Jerusalem in his vision (Ezekiel 9:4). They come from the 12 tribes of Israel, but one is omitted from the list, for these are not literally Jews, but a harvest of believers, reaped under the new and favourable regime, in the lull before the destruction of the Empire by the barbarian tribes.

They form part of a huge multitude, from all nations under heaven, that John now hears praising God, in a comforting vision of the Kingdom of God. But before that reward can be given, there are others who must be called out to join them, and so Seal number seven introduces the seven trumpets – the next phase of “those things that must soon take place”.

By David M Pearce

See Book of Revelations Explained – Part 2

See Book of Revelations Explained – Part 3



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Book of Revelation Explained – Part 2

The Book of Revelation Explained – Part 2

The Book of Revelations BannerIn the last issue, our first section on the fascinating Book of Revelation began to explain how the book is structured and what it is about. We looked at the opening verses of the book and saw that the writer, the Apostle John, was being shown things which must shortly take place (1:1) and traced the unfolding plan of God through the first seven chapters and to about 312AD.

In this article we take the next step as history unfolds and the Roman Empire comes under attack from external forces.

Western Rome DestroyedWestern Rome Destroyed

In the first section of the historical vision, seven seals were each broken and dramatic events followed in the vision seen by the apostle John. During that period, a storm of winds had been held back from devastating the earth:

After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree (Revelation 7:1).

These winds represented barbarian invasions that were going to sweep the Empire and snuff out the political power of Rome in the West. Now, seven trumpets will sound one after theTrumpets other, heralding the next stages in history as these barbarians attack:

  • As the first trumpet sounds, hail and fire (as seen in the plagues God brought on Egypt through Moses) strike one third of the earth as the Goths sweep into Italy (Revelation 8:7).
  • With the second trumpet, a burning mountain falls into the sea – the navy of the Vandals sinks the Romans from the Mediterranean (8:8–9).
  • The third trumpet sees a meteor strike the region of rivers and streams, as Attila and the Huns crashed into the Alpine region (8:10–11).
  • The fourth darkens the sun, moon and stars, which corresponds to Odoacer king of the Goths removing the last Emperor in the city of Rome, and crowning himself as king (8:12).

The Empire had three divisions in this period, and the Western third had now ceased to exist.

Eastern Rome Suffers

The Eastern side of the Empire, ruled from Constantinople, was not to escape the judgement of God. And so the fifth and sixth trumpets continued to sound.

  • The fifth trumpet blared, and a swarm of locusts emerged like smoke from a pit (this image links with Abraham’s cliff-edge view of the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 19:28) and covered the face of the earth. The star that led them was Mohammed, and his followers were to overpower the Mediterranean region for three hundred years (Revelation 9:1–12).
  • Trumpet six sees a huge force of cavalry race across the earth, as the Turks in turn subdue the Eastern Empire. In May 1453 they take Constantinople, and the Roman Empire comes to an end (9:13–21).

The sixth trumpet continues to reverberate for some time. Revelation chapter 10 has a vision that was kept sealed up, but in chapter 11, John sees two ‘witnesses’ speak out ‘in sackcloth’ against the evils of their time.

These men are linked with Moses, who turned the rivers of Egypt to blood, and Elijah, who caused it not to rain. These two great prophets from the Old Testament each had to stand up and witness for God to evil, godless rulers in their own day.

By the time these witnesses were in action, the Christian church itself had become corrupt, and those who protested risked their lives. The witnesses continued to preach for 1260 years (in Bible chronology a day stands for a year) but were eventually extinguished. This period would take us to the darkness that fell upon Europe at the time of the historic Massacre of St Bartholomew in 1572AD.

This in turn was only relieved by another great earthquake (Revelation 11:13), in which once more John sees a drastic change of rulership. This lines up with the French Revolution in AD 1789, which restored freedom of speech, overthrowing the total control of the church and kings over men’s lives, first in France and then spreading to the rest of the world.

In Revelation 11:15 we eventually come to the Seventh (and final) Trumpet:

“Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ,” . The kingdom of God is announced because all of the prophecy in Revelation and the history it describes, is God’s plan leading to that kingdom.

However, this does not mean that the end has come and God’s plan is complete, for there is more history to follow. The kingdom will not actually be established until the last saint (believer set aside for God) has been called by Him. In fact men and women from all over the world are still responding to the Gospel and being baptized today. At this point in the Revelation, the narrative of the drama goes back in time, like a novel, to look at what has been happening on the religious front while all these political changes have come and gone.

By David M Pearce

See Book of Revelations Explained – Part 1

See Book of Revelations Explained – Part 3