Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation
After these things I heard[a] a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power [ belong ] to the Lord[b] our God! For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants [ shed ] by her.” Again they said, “Alleluia! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!” And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, “Amen! Alleluia!"
The book of Revelation has been termed, by some, a 'heavenly worship service', and rightly so, I believe, as witnessed by the episodes of praise and glory, with thanksgiving that are interspersed throughout the book.
'Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: “ You are worthy, O Lord,[g] to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist[h] and were created.”' ( Revelation 4:8-11 )
'After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “ Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, [ be ] to our God forever and ever. Amen.”' ( Revelation 7:9 )
We have noted before, how those faithful in 'Israel' had cried 'Lord, how long?' ( Isaiah 6:11 ( Psalm 13:1, 35:17 ( I Peter 5:8 ) Psalm 74:10, 90:13, Jeremiah 12:4, Habakkuk 1:2, Zechariah 1:12 ) In the previous studies; I have endeavored to show that it was old covenant Israel ( 'according to the flesh' ) that was the primary focus of the adverse judgment prophesied throughout Scripture, and finally, and significantly revealed through John in the Revelation. I believe that Scripture clearly presents the fact that the physical nation of Israel ( their leaders ), and Judaism in particular, was the 'adversary' of God's people throughout their history. Many examples have been presented, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures of other ( foreign ) adversaries that plagued the ( physical ) 'children' of Israel, but, as we have seen throughout these studies, they were but God's typical means of chastising His 'children', and revealing, through their disobedience and apostasy, His true people.
Then a voice came from the throne, saying, “Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both[c] small and great!” And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the[d] Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
It is customary in this 'day and age', for a bride to wear a white gown for her wedding ceremony, especially if, and in most cases, only if she has not been 'wedded and bedded', in other words, if she is a virgin. This has not always been the case, however; the idea of wearing a white wedding dress ( sometimes very elaborate ) was popularized in the 1800s, when Queen Victoria of England married Albert Saxe-Coberg in 1840, wearing a white gown. Till lately; a white gown was fairly uncommon as a wedding dress, as only the wealthy could really afford to keep a white dress for a singular use, such as a wedding. The white wedding dress has become traditional as a symbol of purity, although this seems to be a recent one, because up till the mid-19th century, blue was worn as a symbol of purity, by brides for their husbands. Biblically speaking; it is easy to see where this idea of white as a symbol for purity came from. From the passages that we read throughout the Revelation ( 3:4, 5 & 18, 4:4, 6:11, 7:9, 13 & 14 ( 15:6 ) 19:14 ), and even throughout the Greek Scriptures ( Matthew 17:2, 28:3, Mark 9:3, 16:5, Luke 9:29, John 20:12, Acts 1:10 ( II Corinthians 5:2-4, I Peter 5:5 ( Romans 4:6 ( Genesis 3:21 ) Romans 10:4, I Corinthians 1:30, II Corinthians 6:14, Ephesians 4:24 ( 6:14 ) Philippians 3:9, II Timothy 4:8 ( II Timothy 2:22, Titus 1:15, Hebrews 10:22 ( 14 ) James 1:27, I Peter 1:22, I John 3:3 ). In the Hebrew Scriptures; were are familiar with David's 'Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow', from Psalm 51 ( see also Ecclesiastes 9:8 ), and 'Come now, and let us reason together, says the LORD, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool' ( Isaiah 1:18 ). In Daniel 7:9, much as in Revelation 4, where the prophet was granted a vision of 'the Ancient of Days'; Daniel saw 'His garment [ was ] white as snow', and referring to 'the time of the end', also revealed in John's vision, the angel told Daniel 'Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand' ( 12:10 ).
'And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps.' ( Revelation 14:2 )
David, king of Israel, wrote 'The voice of the LORD [ is ] over the waters; the God of glory thunders; the LORD [ is ] over many waters.' ( Psalm 29:3 ) When God revealed ( in a vision ) to the prophet Ezekiel, the glory of His future Temple, the prophet was made aware of His presence by the sound of 'His voice like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory' ( Ezekiel 43:2 ). Previous studies have shone that 'waters' are often indicative ( metaphorically ), not only of the people of God, or people ( the nations ) in general, but of the blessings that God 'rains down' upon those people.
Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.” And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “See [ that you do ] not [ do that ]! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
'The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle [ are ] killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated [ them ] spitefully, and killed [ them ]. But when the king heard [ about it ], he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.' ( Matthew 22:2-7 )
Again; reading Josephus' history of the wars of the Jews, we can clearly see how this parable become a very literal, physical representation of what was about to take place. In Luke 14:15-24; Jesus tells much the same parable as the one in Matthew, and while Jesus, in the parable in Luke, specifically targets the physical Jews, saying, 'none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper'; He merely states in Matthew 22 that, although the city of those who were originally invited was burned up, those from the 'highways', 'both bad and good' ( verse 10 ) that came to the feast without the proper preparations were cast into 'outer darkness'.
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him [ was ] called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes [ were ] like a flame of fire, and on His head [ were ] many crowns. He had[e] a name written that no one knew except Himself. He [ was ] clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.
'In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.' ( Genesis 7:11 )
'Yet He had commanded the clouds above, and opened the doors of heaven, had rained down manna on them to eat, and given them of the bread of heaven. Men ate angels’ food; He sent them food to the full.' ( Psalm 78:23-25 )
'But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.' ( Matthew 24:37-39 )
'Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals;[a] and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, “Come and see.” And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.' ( Revelation 6:1 & 2 )
As Stephen stood trial before the Sanhedrin, most of which is recorded in Acts 7, and after his farewell address; he exclaimed, 'Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!' ( 56 ). This made them even angrier, because they must have known, and recognized, from their long and sordid history, that this kind of language usually signified an adverse judgment for the guilty ones, which they knew that they were!
Some have explained the first horsemen in John's vision in Revelation as speaking of someone other than Christ, but I believe that John's reference above, in Revelation 19, indicates that Jesus the Christ is in view here, if for no other reason than the fact that He is seen, mounted upon a white horse. A Wikipedia article that I found on the significance of the white horse has this little tidbit, 'White horses (which are rarer than other colors of horse) have a special significance in the mythologies of cultures around the world. They are often associated with the sun chariot, with warrior-heroes, with fertility (in both mare and stallion manifestations), or with an end-of-time savior, but other interpretations exist as well'. Another article says, 'Let the reader note particularly what John saw, and then remember that it is symbolical, and that instead of looking for a literal fulfillment, we are to ask the meaning of the symbols.' ( from the website 'The Official King James Bible online' ) Traditionally, I believe, the white horse has always been significant of the conqueror, and even of royalty. In our 'day', even, this is the traditional mount for kings, princes, and other royalty. Douglas MacArthur, in my understanding, rode a white horse, and history will tell us that many such generals, kings, and other such, employed the white horse, as a symbol of their status and intent.
As John described the Son of God earlier in the Revelation ( 1:14, 2:18 ) using these words; 'His eyes like a flame of fire', it should be clear that he is seeing a vision of the conquering King here. That He had 'a name written that no one knew except Himself' speaks of the fact that only God knows who's names are truly written in the Book of Life ( Malachi 3:16-18 ).
Describing the coming 'Day of the Lord'; when this conquering King was asked 'Why [ is ] Your apparel red, and Your garments like one who treads in the winepress?'; He answered, 'I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, and trampled them in My fury; their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes.' ( Isaiah 63:1-6 )
And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean,[f] followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp[g] sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on [ His ] robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
'Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.' ( Genesis 41:42 )
'He made the ephod of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet [ thread ], and of fine woven linen.' ( Exodus 39:2 )
'I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk.' ( Ezekiel 16:10 )
'There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.'( Luke 16:19 )
Some may wonder why I've quoted Luke 16:19: I believe, as my readers may have gathered, that Jesus told this parable, symbolic of the division between Jew & Gentile that was presented, most strongly, perhaps, in His day, the 'rich man' being indicative of the Jew, who rested upon his righteousness, or ability to keep the Law, for his salvation, and Lazarus ( corresponds to Eliezer, Abraham's servant, in Genesis 15:2 ) of the Gentiles, those who, as the Jews perceived it, had no interest in the covenant blessings God had promised. Linen, back in those 'days', although probably one of the more popular materials from which clothes were made, was, in its finest form, usually imported from Egypt, and so reserved mainly for the priests and wealthier people.
Starting in Exodus 26, and continuing till near the end of the book; it is interesting to note that many of the trappings, one of which was fine linen, which were employed in the making of the tabernacle and the priestly garments, are very nearly the same as those used symbolically to describe the clothing of God's covenant people.
'You shall break[a] them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.' ( Psalm 2:9 )
'And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me, and made Me a polished shaft; in His quiver He has hidden Me.' ( Isaiah 49:2 )
John used some very familiar imagery here, recalling prophecies of old, to describe the vision that he observed. As we noted several studies ago, John heard 'The kingdoms[f] of this world have become [ the kingdoms ] of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!' ( Revelation 11:15 ), and in the very next study, John witnessed a woman who was about to deliver her Child, and 'She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron'. This Child, of course, was none other than the Son of God, who was promised by His Father that the 'nations' would be His 'inheritance', and 'the ends of the earth, His 'possession'.
Another interesting fact, concerning the quote from Isaiah 49, is that when God talks about His Servant whose mouth He will make ( like ) 'a sharp sword', He reveals in the very next verse to whom He is speaking; 'You [ are ] My servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified'. This is part of the mystery 'hidden from ages and from generations' ( Colossians 1:26 ( Ephesians 3:9, I Corinthians 2:7 ), that His only begotten Son was the true Israel, of which Jacob and his progeny were mere shadows.
Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, “Come and gather together for the supper of the great God,[h] that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all [ people ], free[i] and slave, both small and great.
'And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh,[a] Meshech, and Tubal; and I will turn you around and lead you on, bringing you up from the far north, and bring you against the mountains of Israel. Then I will knock the bow out of your left hand, and cause the arrows to fall out of your right hand. You shall fall upon the mountains of Israel, you and all your troops and the peoples who [ are ] with you; I will give you to birds of prey of every sort and [ to ] the beasts of the field to be devoured.' ( Ezekiel 39:1-4 )
'Your carcasses shall be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and no one shall frighten [ them ] away.' ( Deuteronomy 28:26 )
'The dead bodies of Your servants they have given as food for the birds of the heavens, the flesh of Your saints to the beasts of the earth.' ( Psalm 79:2 )
'The corpses of this people will be food for the birds of the heaven and for the beasts of the earth. And no one will frighten [ them away ].' ( Jeremiah 7:33 )
'They shall die gruesome deaths; they shall not be lamented nor shall they be buried, [ but ] they shall be like refuse on the face of the earth. They shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, and their corpses shall be meat for the birds of heaven and for the beasts of the earth.' ( Jeremiah 16:4 )
'I will leave you in the wilderness, you and all the fish of your rivers; you shall fall on the open field; you shall not be picked up or gathered.[b] I have given you as food to the beasts of the field and to the birds of the heavens.' ( Ezekiel 29:5 )
That this angel was standing in the sun ( Greek-ἥλιος=helios ) should be noted, considering that the sun, or 'greater light' was made to 'rule the day' ( Genesis 1:16 ), and, in places like Genesis 37:9; is clearly shown to be commonly significant of a 'head', whether of a family, ( 'Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me' ), or of a nation ( Isaiah 13:10, 24:23 ( 60:19 & 20 ) Jeremiah 15:9, Ezekiel 32:7, Joel 2:10 ( Habakkuk 3:11 ). God's promise in Isaiah 60:19 & 20, that 'Your sun shall no longer go down', and that 'the LORD will be your everlasting light' makes the place where John saw this angel standing even more significant; we will see several studies from now the significance, as well, of this important phrase.
In the passages above, we can see throughout Scripture that this 'feast', though symbolic of the defeat of the enemies of God's people, had a very real ( and physical ) aspect to it, and especially when read in the context of the creation account in Genesis 1 & 2, could have some interesting connotations.
And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.
Because of the use of this phrase, 'the kings of the earth', among others, maybe, some have gotten the notion that this battle, infamously called 'the battle of Armageddon' ( Harmagedōn-the hill or city of Megiddo ) will be a world-wide conflict, but as we've seen much throughout these studies; the word 'earth' here, might better, and possibly should be, to avoid confusion, 'land'.
'So King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom. And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart.' ( II Chronicles 9:22 & 23 )
'It shall come to pass in that day [ that ] the LORD will punish on high the host of exalted ones, and on the earth the kings of the earth.' ( Isaiah 24:21 )
'The kings of the earth, and all inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem— ' ( Lamentations 4:12 )
'When your wares went out by sea, you satisfied many people; you enriched the kings of the earth with your many luxury goods and your merchandise.' ( Ezekiel 27:33 )
Scripture, as I believe I've mentioned before, is centered in and around the 'land' of Palestine, and later, extended to pretty much the whole Mediterranean region, so it should be fairly obvious, especially when considering the historical context of the above passages, that the authors are not referring to rulers of the nations of the whole earth, as we know it, but rather to kings of the earth, or world, that they were familiar with, in that prescribed area of the earth.
'Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.' ( Revelation 13:11 )
We read in Revelation 13 of two beasts, the first from the sea, which can be interpreted as being from the Gentiles, and the beast from the earth, or land, or a Jew. I believe that, though these beasts can be actually identified as separate individuals that lived and died in the first century; John, or Jesus rather, is speaking of two aspects of one spirit ( I John 4:1-6 ).
'The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their [ own ] power; and My people love [ to have it ] so. But what will you do in the end?' ( Jeremiah 5:31 )
'If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.' ( Deuteronomy 13:1-3 )
Later, in Deuteronomy 18:21 & 22, the 'children' of Israel asked Moses how they would be able to tell the difference between His prophets and self-appointed prophets: Moses told them 'when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass', then they would know that he was not a true prophet ( of God ), and that they were not to fear him. As the 'beasts', above, that we read about in Revelation 13; I believe that Scripture tells us, that though there may have been on particular figure ( individual ) that John ( Jesus ) had in mind here, as 'the' false prophet, who then perished in a very physical 'Lake of Fire' ( the conflagration of Jerusalem and the Temple, in AD70 ); it was not so much an individual figure that John 'saw' as a 'sign' of the spirit of anti-Christ that we read about in the letters of John.
These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.
'For Tophet [ was ] established of old, yes, for the king it is prepared. He has made [ it ] deep and large; its pyre [ is ] fire with much wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of brimstone, kindles it.' ( Isaiah 30:33 )
'Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “when it will no more be called Tophet, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Tophet until there is no room.' ( Jeremiah 7:32 )
In our studies of the Revelation; we have read about how this 'breath of the LORD', or 'fire of the LORD', at the prayer of Elijah ( "Yahweh is my God" ) fell from heaven and burned up the sacrifice ( I Kings 18:20-40 ), and how, later in the same chronicles ( II Kings 1:9-15 ) the same man of God called down the same 'fire of God', when faced with an adversary ( whose lives he later spared at their own prayer ). It is interesting to note here, that this same 'breath of the LORD' that burned up His adversaries, and the adversaries of His people, is the same 'breath' ( Genesis 2:7 ) that brought Adam to life, and which was the means of resurrection of the house of Israel ( Ezekiel 37 )!
'For the word of God [ is ] living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.' ( Hebrews 4:12 )
We read earlier, in Isaiah 49, and other passages, how God had made His Servant a 'sword', both to redeem His people ( Psalm 58:10, Psalm 99:8, Isaiah 35:4, 61:2, 63:4, Jeremiah 50:28 ), and to take vengeance on His adversaries ( Deuteronomy 32:35 ( 41 ), Psalm 94:1, Isaiah 34:5-8, Jeremiah 46:10 ( Luke 21:22 ) Micah 5:15, Nahum 1:2 ). Josephus, the Jewish historian who chronicled the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, reported that during these 'days of vengeance', a sword appeared in the sky over Jerusalem ( likely a comet ), so, in these events, one can even 'see' almost a physically literal fulfillment of Jesus' words of condemnation, not only from 'The Olivet Discourse ( Matthew 24, Luke 21, and Mark 13 ), but throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, as well!
May this study, as we near the end of it, be a blessing to it's reader, as the Revelation was to its original recipients!
In the love of God,
Charles Haddon Shank