Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation
Previously; we studied what John reported seeing when his 'eyes' were opened and he saw into 'Heaven' and Him who sat on the throne there, and the worship that He continually received: now we enter upon a study of the revelation of God's righteous judgment on His Old Covenant children.
Moreover the LORD said to me, “Take a large scroll, and write on it with a man’s pen concerning Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.[a] ( Isaiah 8:1 )
Now it came to pass in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, that this word came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying: “Take a scroll of a book and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel, against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah even to this day. ( Jeremiah 36:1 & 2 )
Traditionally, I believe, as I've written before, the Revelation of Jesus Christ has been viewed as relating, if not to the 'end' of the physical universe as we know it, then at least to the judgment of the nations, not least of Rome itself, those who persecuted the nation of Israel, as many view it, God's special people, when in actuality, it is yet another ( in finality ) judgment of God upon apostate Israel, His Old Covenant children in type. Let us now return to the throne room where we left John, no doubt partaking in the worship of awe which he observed.
And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals.
In Daniel 12:4, when God was revealing to His servant what would happen to his people in 'the latter days', He told Daniel, 'shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end', and later, in the same chapter, 'Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end'. As we have seen in our studies of Scripture; the number seven, particularly in the prophetic Scriptures, is often clearly indicative of a perfection, a wholeness, a completeness. Several Scriptures that show this are Genesis 4:24 ( 5:31 ), Leviticus 4:6 & 17 ( 16:19 ), Numbers 23:1, 4,14 & 29, Deuteronomy 28:7 & 25, Joshua 6:15 & 16, Judges 16:7 & 13, Ruth 4:15, I Kings 19:18, II Kings 4:35 ( 5: 10 & 14 ), Psalm 12:6, 119:164, Proverbs 6:31, Isaiah 11:15, 30:26, Jeremiah 29:10, Ezekiel 39:9 & 12, Daniel 3:19, 9:24, Micah 5:6, Zechariah 3:9, Matthew 12:45, and 18:22.
Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?”
John saw this 'angel' or 'messenger of God', not only as a messenger of God, but as a 'strong, or mighty' messenger of God. Remember that back in Matthew 24:36, Jesus told His disciples that 'of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven'. The angels themselves, 'the spirits of just men made perfect', who dwelt in the very presence of God, were not even able, or as the text says, 'worthy' to 'open the seals', to know the day or the hour, which God the Father had before determined to loose His judgment on the 'world' of Old Covenant Judaism.
When Belshazzar, king of Babylon made a feast for his courtiers, wrongly using the spoils that he had taken from God's temple at Jerusalem, as recorded in Daniel 5; God wrote on the wall of the palace a message of impending and imminent doom upon the kingdom of Babylon. We see, in verse 8 that, 'all the king’s wise men came, but they could not read the writing, or make known to the king its interpretation.' As we continue to read, we find that one was found who was able to read the writing, and interpret the message for the trembling king, for he ( Daniel ) was found worth, by God, to relay God's message to the king. John wrote, above, that 'no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth' was able to loose the seals, arguably, of this same message of impending doom and destruction upon His typical Old Covenant children which Daniel, as in chapter 12 of his prophecy, had been told to 'seal up'; but we will see that One was found worthy, in fact, the very same one whose Spirit had made Daniel able to interpret the 'writing on the wall', as well as many meaningful and prophetic ( revealing ) dreams.
So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read[a] the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose[b] its seven seals.”
At the grave-side of Lazarus, as recorded in John 11; we see that 'Jesus wept' ( verse 35 ), not so much because Lazarus had died, but because of the blindness and hardness of heart of His own people ( Romans 11:25 ), most of whom did not believe in His divinity and ability to do as He had promised, not having been found worthy before God ( Philippians 1:29 )! As I said above; One was found worthy to reveal the message of God's judgment, the very One that Jacob had foreseen back in Genesis 49:8-12, the same One that God Himself had promised the serpent in Genesis 3:15, 'And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.' ( see also Romans 16:20 ) Isaiah had much to say concerning this 'Root of David'; beginning in chapter 11 of his book of prophecy, he wrote, 'There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,and a Branch shall grow out of his roots', and 'in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious', while in Isaiah 53; we find that, 'He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him', and Jeremiah prophesied ( Jeremiah 17:8 ) of those who put their trust in this 'Root', 'For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear[b] when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit' ( Psalm 1:3 ). John uses the Greek verb νικάω here, giving a more literal meaning of 'to conquer', and lending more credence to the fact that this is just more metaphorical language, pointing back to His ( God's ) promises back in Genesis 3:15 and Romans 16:20, for instance, of One to come, who would 'conquer' the enemies, the adversaries ( satans ) of God's people.
And I looked, and behold,[c] in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.
My readers probably are somewhat familiar, anyway, with the story of the typical substitutionary atonement that God made for His friend Abraham when he, in perfect obedience, would have offered his beloved son Isaac as a burnt sacrifice, in Genesis 22:13;
Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.
I'm sure that John, when he set his pen to paper after seeing this vision, was inspired by this story, as well as other Hebrew Scriptures, such as Exodus 12:3-13, when God instituted the Passover sacrifice of a lamb in place of the firstborn of all those who were obedient. Isaiah prophesied of this substitutionary atonement that God would make for His people, in Isaiah 53:7, where God reveals the suffering that His Son would undergo in our place.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.
We saw earlier that horns are often indicative of strength, whether that of an individual or a nation. Asaph wrote, in Psalm 75:10, in praise of our mighty and just God: 'All the horns of the wicked I will also cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted', while Daniel's visions in chapters 7 & 8 of his prophecy are quite familiar to most of my readers as well, as speaking of the strength of the adversaries of God's people ( see also Zechariah 1 ). John saw this 'lamb, as though it had been slain' ( Revelation 1:18 ), and having 'seven horns and seven eyes', indicative of the perfectness and completeness, even to infinity, of the strength, power, and vision of our Lord, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God!
We saw earlier in this chapter, that this scroll was 'written inside and on the back', full of the revelation of a righteously angry and just God: Ezekiel 2:9 & 10 record that 'Now when I looked, there was a hand stretched out to me; and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. Then He spread it before me; and there was writing on the inside and on the outside, and written on it were lamentations and mourning and woe'. God then tells the prophet, in Ezekiel 3:10 & 11, '“Son of man, receive into your heart all My words that I speak to you, and hear with your ears. And go, get to the captives, to the children of your people, and speak to them and tell them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ whether they hear, or whether they refuse.' When the 'lamb' took the scroll from the hand of Him who sat on the throne; He thus signified His acceptance of the mission that God, His Father had given Him, to judge the nations ( Psalm 82:8 ( Psalm 2:7-9 ).
Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying: “ You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us[d] kings[e] and priests to our God; and we[f] shall reign on the earth.
Thus follows a very worshipful scene, in which the 'host of heaven' joins in adoration, ascribing worth to their God. Besides having 'harps' with which to bring praise to His name, this 'host' also brings manifold 'bowls of incense', which John explains, are significant of the prayers of the saints ( Revelation 6:9-11 ( Ezekiel 37:1-14 ), imprecatory prayers ( Psalm 9:19, 94:2, 109:7, Isaiah 5:3 ) against those who were their adversaries and persecutors ( Acts 8: 1-3, 13:50 ). Psalm 98 starts out, 'Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.' In Psalm 144:9 & 10, David wrote, 'I will sing a new song to You, O God; on a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You, The One who gives salvation to kings, who delivers David His servant from the deadly sword.' Psalm 149 brings praise to God for His judgment and salvation; 'Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, and His praise in the assembly of saints. 'We are commanded, in Isaiah 42:10, to 'Sing to the LORD a new song, and His praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you coastlands and you inhabitants of them!' because of the revelation of His Son. I am reminded, as well, of 'The Song of Moses' in Exodus 15:1-17; 'I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!, which Moses sang after God's gloriously righteous judgment on the Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea ( see also Revelation 15:3 ). When God instituted His typical covenant with the children of Israel which He had just brought out of bondage; He spoke these words to them, as recorded in Exodus 19:5 & 6; 'Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.' Peter uses similar language in I Peter 2:9; 'But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light' . John further notes that this 'host of heaven' proclaimed that 'we shall reign on the earth'; remember when Jesus had told His disciples, back in Matthew 19:28, 'Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel', and in a parallel passage in Luke 22:28-30, 'But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.' In the 32nd chapter of his prophesy; Isaiah spoke of the coming 'Reign of Righteousness', saying in verse 1 that 'a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule with justice', while we find in Daniel 7:27, we see that 'Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him'. All this should remind us, of course, of God's words to our first 'parents' back in the Garden, in Genesis 1:28, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “ Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!"
'But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.'
The Author wrote these words to His people, in Hebrews 12:22-24, reminding them prior to this passage that they had not come to 'the mountain that[c] may be touched', for, as Jesus said in Luke 17:20 & 21, 'The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!;[d] For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you'. David wrote of this 'mountain' in Psalm 68:17; 'The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of thousands; the Lord is among them as in Sinai, in the Holy Place.' In Daniel 7:10, when the prophet had his first vision of 'Heaven'; he wrote 'A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court[b] was seated, and the books were opened', and Jude 14 records that 'Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints"' We have seen, in these and other passages, that the word 'thousand' is often indicative, not always of a literal or certain number but of 'a great number, even to infinity', a limitless number as in Hebrews 12 above, 'an innumerable company': a few examples are Exodus 20:6 ( 34:7 ), Deuteronomy 1:11 ( 5:10 ), Deuteronomy 33:2 ( 17 ), I Kings 19:18, I Chronicles 16:15 ( Psalm 105:8 ), Psalm 3:6, 50:10, Daniel 5:1, I Corinthians 14:19, and Revelation 7:4. The focus here, again, is the worship of an almighty and just God, who had become a man and shed His blood that He might redeem them from the bondage of sin, and that because of that redemption they might once again rule with Him, taking up the reigns of the dominion that He had given them back in the Garden!
And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “ Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!”[g] Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four[h] elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.[i]
In an example of this 'biblical parallelism' of which I often speak, John here reiterates that all God's creation now worships Him, bowing the knee, and praising Him for what He has done. In the previous passage, it was those in 'Heaven', 'around the throne' ascribing worth, and praising God, and in the passage above, he writes that 'every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them'. Paul used this sort of language in Philippians 2:10, writing that 'at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth'. Neither Paul or John were trying to tell us that there were creatures living under the earth ( although it could be argued that those Old Testament saints, or 'souls under the altar' ( Revelation 6:9 ), who had 'fallen asleep' ( I Thessalonians 4:13 ) were 'under the earth' ); just that all creation sings the praises of it's almighty Maker! When John writes of those creatures 'such as are in the sea'; he refers simply to those, I believe, of the nations, specifically those that were outside of the covenant that God had instituted through Moses. ( Psalm 65:7, 98:7, Isaiah 5:30, 57:20, 60:5, Jeremiah 6:23, 49:23, Ezekiel 26:3, 47:8 ( Revelation 22:2 ), Amos 9:6, Habakkuk 3:15, Zechariah 9:4, 10:11 ) Again, as we noted above John repeats his previous assertion in the last passage ( Genesis 41:25-29 ), reporting that 'the four living creatures...........and the twenty-four elders' fell down and worshiped 'Him who lives forever'.
I will stop here for now by saying that I hope that God receives all the glory; I want none! I do hope by writing to begin, maybe, to correct some of the misunderstandings that the church has labored under, concerning this Revelation of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
in His service,
and for His Kingdom,