Submitted by Dr. GP
You will get much more from this booklet if you will prayerfully read the book of Revelation two or three times before starting it. The book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ is the only book in the Bible that a special blessing is pronounced on those who read, on those who hear, and on those who keep the things that are written therein (Rev. 1:3). This promise does away with the notion that we cannot understand this book and that we should not waste our time studying it.
It is true that there are portions of the book that are difficult to understand, but if the student will keep in mind four principles he will receive much blessing and benefit from the study of the book. These four principles are (l) Christ is the key. This is not the book of “Revelations” (plural), but it is “the Revelation (singular) of Jesus Christ.” When we call this book “Revelations” we study it as a series of revelations, but when we understand that Christ is the key, we study it as the Revelation or unveiling of the ‘”King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”(2) The Holy Spirit is the great teacher of the Holy Scriptures (John 14:26, John 15:26, I Corinthians 2:10). In a special way He delights to reveal prophetic truth (John 16:14). (3) This is a book of prophecy. It has to do with future events. God wants the believer to know and understand what the future holds. (4) This book must be interpreted in the light of other Scriptures. The best commentary on the book of Revelation is the rest of the Bible.
With this book, as with all of the Bible, there is the problem of interpretation. Many teach that the Bible is an oriental book written in highly figurative language, and that we are not to interpret it in a literal sense. It is true that some of the Bible demands a spiritual interpretation, but we believe that God intends for us to accept most of the Bible in a literal sense. A good rule is given by David L. Cooper: “When the plain sense of the Scripture makes common sense, seek; no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts ‘of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomated and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise. If we will follow this rule as we study the book of Revelation we shall be greatly helped in determining what we are to take literally and what we are to accept spiritually.
Relation to the Rest of the Bible
The book of Revelation is the great prophetic book of the New Testament. We study about the
beginning of all things in the book of Genesis, and we learn of their end in the book of Revela
tion. The Old Testament prophets foretold both the sufferings of Christ and the glory that was to
follow. The The Gospel tells of His suffering and humiliation; the Revelation tells of His power
and glory. As we study this book our hearts are thrilled with the wonderful harmony of the
Scriptures. All that John writes is in wonderful accord with Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel,
Matthew, Peter, and Paul. Just as a pyramid would be incomplete without its capstone, so also the
Bible would not be complete without the capstone of the Revelation.
This is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” and not “The Revelation of St. John the Divine.” The Apostle John was the human instrument that the Holy Spirit used to write the book, John had been exiled to the isle of Patmos in the Agean Sea for the Word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. He was commissioned to write to the seven literal, local churches in Asia.
Chapter one and verse nineteen is the key verse to the entire book, “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter” (Rev. 1:19). There are three tenses in this verse, past, present, and future. Chapter one tells us about the things'” which are in the past; chapters two and three tell us about the things which are in the present; and chapter four through twenty-two tell us about the things that are in the future.
Chapter one has four distinct divisions: (1) Introduction 1-3, (2) Salutation 4-8, (3) The glory of Christ 9-18, (4) The command to write 19-20. The opening words give us the theme of the book. “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” is about things that must shortly come to pass. It is sent to the seven churches in Asia. When Jesus comes the second time every eye will see Him, every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God, the Father.
In the Gospels we see Jesus as a bleeding Lamb. Here we see Him as a roaring lion.
In the Gospels His blood is shed, Here His garments are stained with the blood of the wicked.
In the Gospels “He answered them never a word.” Here He slays the wicked with the breath of His lips.
In the Gospels He cried, “I thirst,” Here He is the river of Living Water.
In the Gospels He rides on the foal of an ass, Here He rides on a white stallion.
In the Gospels He is a Savior who died, Here He is King who reigns.
If we are to know the Christ of the Bible we must know the prophecies concerning Him in the Old Testament, we must know the babe of Bethlehem, the Man of Galilee, and the Christ of Calvary as presented in the Gospels. We must know the Risen Christ of the Epistles, and we must know the King of Glory of the Revelation. How much we miss if we do not know Christ as He is revealed in the last book of the Bible!
The Seven Churches
In chapters two and three we have seven brief letters addressed to the seven churches. We are to study these churches from two view points. These churches were local assemblies of believers, which were in existence at the time that John wrote this book. They were located in the western part of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The word “Asia” does not refer to the vast continent of Asia as we know it today; it does not even refer to all of “Asia Minor.” At the time of the writing of this book it referred to the province in the extreme western part of modern Turkey. These cities were about twenty-five or thirty miles apart and were roughly located in the shape of an inverted horseshoe.
Ephesus, the metropolis of Asia, was sixty miles northeast of the Isle of Patmos from where the Apostle John was writing. The magnificent temple of Diana was one of the seven wonders of the world.
Smyrna was thirty-five miles due north of Ephesus. It was the most splendid of the seven cities and was the pride of Asia. The Christians who were there suffered much because they would not call Caesar Lord. Policarp, the bishop of the church, was martyred here in 156 A.D. because he refused to call Caesar Lord.
Pergamos, a strong center of paganism, was fifty-five miles due north of Smyrna. It was fifteen miles from the Agean Coast. The Acropolis of Pergamos crowned a steep hill that rose a thousand feet above the plain. It was an immense altar to Zeus.
Thyatira, the least important of the seven cities was about halfway between Pergamos and Sardis. It had a commercial rather than political distinction.Sardis was thiry miles southeast of Thyatira and fifty miles due east of Smyrna. It was here that Croesus reigned with his treasures. Sardis had been devastated by an earthquake.
Philadelphia was about twenty-eight miles southeast of Sardis and it was built in a dangerous volcanic area. It had been completely demolished by an earthquake in A.D. 17 but now had been completely rebuilt. Laodicea is about forty miles southeast of Philadephia and due east of Ephesus. It was a banking center/and it had a famous medical school. The city is now in complete ruins.
The chart in the center of this booklet will give much helpful information about the letters to these churches. There are seven things in common in each one of the letters. First, ‘”the”” command to write; second, the description of the speaker; third/the condition of the church; fourth, a warning of weakness; fifth, the promise of His second coming; sixth, the exhortation to hear, and seventh, the promise to the overcomer.
Not only are these letters important because they were addressed to local churches that were in existence at the time John wrote. But also because they represent seven periods of church history from the beginning of the church to the second coming of Christ. Ephesus represents the Apostolic Church (A.D. 33 to A.D. 100). Smyrna represents the church of the martyrs (A.D. 100 to A.D. 313). Pergamos represents the period of pagan Rome (A.D. 313 to A.D. 590). Thyatira represents papal Rome (A.D. 590 to A.D. 1517). Sardis is the church of the refomation (A.D. 1517 to A.D. 1792). Philadephia is the missionary church (A.D. 1792 to A.D. 1914). Laodicea is the apostate church (A.D. 1914 to the second coming of Christ). The time element for the last four churches overlaps.
The Throne of God and a Book
As we begin chapter four it is important to notice that the scene changes from earth, (chapter two and three) to Heaven. (Watch for this shift in scenes as you read this book.) “After this I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven (4:1). In chapter four, as in no other place in the Bible, we have a picture of the throne of God.
In chapter five our attention is drawn to a book that is held in the hand of God. It is not a book in the sense that we think of a book today, that is, a book that is bound and having pages, but rather it is a scroll. The Bible says that it was written within and on the back side and was sealed with seven seals. A strong angel steps out and proclaims with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof” When John saw that no man on earth or in heaven was worthy to open the book he wept much. Then the angel said to him, “Weep not: behold the lion of the tribe of Judah hath prevailed to open the book and loose the seals thereof.” This causes the redeemed to sing a new song, “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth (5:9, 10).
The Great Tribulation
In speaking of the last day Jesus said, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time., no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should be no flesh saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matthew 24:21, 22). This period is also called: “The day of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:12, 13:6, 9, Jeremiah 46:10, Joel 2:1,11, 3,14, Amos 5,20. Zephaniah 1:7, Zechariah 14:1), The Indignation (Isaiah 26:20, 34:2), the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7), a time of trouble (Daniel 12:1), Daniel’s Seventieth Week (Daniel 9:25-27), and the hour of temptation (Revelation 3:10), and “The Great Day of His Wrath” (Revelation 6:17).
Chapters six through nineteen of the book of Revelation give the details of what will take place during this period. In this portion there are three series of divine judgments; the opening of the seals, the blowing of the Trumpets, and the pouring out of the seven vials of wrath. It will help us not to be confused if we recognize that between the sixth and seventh seal and between the sixth and seventh trumpet and the sixth and seventh vial of wrath there is a parenthetical portion. By this we mean that the writer digresses from his main trend of thought to give an explanation that is needed at that point.
In chapter six the Lord Jesus Christ, having taken the book from the hand of God, begins to open the seals of the book one by one. When He opens the first seal John sees a rider upon a white horse. Many have interpreted this to be the Lord Jesus Christ, but we must remember for all that God has that is true and genuine the devil has a counterfeit. Later in chapter nineteen we will see the Lord Jesus Christ riding upon a white horse, but the rider here is not Christ but rather Satan’s counterfeit of Christ, the antichrist. The Bible has much to say about this man who will reign on the earth during the period of the great tribulation. We will study more about him in chapter thirteen.
It is not difficult for us to identify the red horse for the Bible says the power was given unto the rider of this horse to take peace from the earth and that they should kill one another. He has a great sword. We will call him “War.”
It is not difficult to identify the black horse because he who sat upon him had a pair of balances in his hand and we see him as he weighs out the wheat and barley. This horse is “Famine.” Death rides on the fourth horse which is pale or livid green. He will kill one-fourth of the people on the earth with the sword and with hunger. The population of the earth at the present time (1964) is about three billion people. This means that 750 million people will be killed in this one series of judgments.
When the fifth seal is opened we see under the altar the souls that were slain for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held.
When the sixth seal was opened there was a great earthquake, the sun became black as sack cloth of hair, and the moon became as blood, and the stars of heaven fell to earth even as the fig tree casteth her untimely figs when she is shaken by a mighty wind. In the midst of this terrible catastrophe we see the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the chief captains, bondmen and the free men hiding themselves in the dens and the rocks of the earth crying out, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sitteth on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”
Chapter seven is the parenthetical portion between the sixth and seventh seal. It mentions two distinct groups. The first group is one hundred forty-four thousand which are sealed of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. The second great group is composed of a great multitude (not a definite number as in the case of one hundred forty-four thousand) from all nations (rather than being from the one nation of Israel. This group is identified as “they that have come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” The question is often asked, “Will anyone be saved during the tribulation?” The Scripture clearly shows that people will be saved, but it also shows that those who are saved will seal their testimony with their own blood. The, only ones who will be saved during the tnbulation will be the ones who have not heard the Gospel previous to that time. All who have heard the Gospel during the present age of grace, but who have rejected it, will be damned (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).
In chapter eight and verse one we have the opening of the seventh seal. The Bible says, “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” What does this mean? If we begin to speculate and theorize we will never have any idea as to what these simple words mean, but if we accept them in a literal sense, at their face value, there is no difficulty whatever in understanding their meaning.
The context indicates that we are to accept literally that there will be silence in heaven for the space of half an hour. The next series of judgments is the blowing of the seven trumpets. (Think of the tremendous psychological effect this will have on the inhabitants of the earth when they see the seven angels standing on the walls of heaven preparing to blow their trumpets, but before they blow there is silence for half an hour.
When the first trumpet is blown, the Bible says, “There was hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.” What does this mean? Once again if we theorize and speculate we will never have any idea as to what it means, but if we accept it in its literal sense there is no problem at all. When the second trumpet is sounded a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea and the third part of the sea became blood.”
Some of the learned scholars tell us that this refers to all of the great maritime battles of history. You may believe this if you like, but I prefer to accept it in its literal sense.
When the third trumpet is blown a great star from heaven falls upon the third part of the rivers and the fountains of water, causing them to become bitter.
When the fourth trumpet sounds the third part of the sun and the third part of the moon and stars are smitten so that they do not shine for the third part of the day.
When the fifth trumpet is sounded a star falls from heaven to the earth, and the Bible says. “To him was given the key to the bottom-less pit.” This would indicate to us that the star is not to be taken in a literal sense, but it refers to a person. When the bottomless pit is opened a great swarm of locusts pour forth from the pit appearing to be a great cloud of smoke. The Bible says that the shape of the locusts are like horses, that they have the faces of men and hair of women, and the teeth of lions, breastplates of iron, and that the sound of their wings is as the sound of the chariots of many horses running to battle. They sting men with their tails and the sting lasts for five months.
When the sixth angel sounds his trumpet four angels are loosed which have been bound in the River Euphrates. These four angels have been prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year to slay the third part of the men. We have seen that the population of the earth is roughly 3 billion people. Seven hundred and fifty million were killed in the judgments of the seals. This vast army of two hundred million will kill another seven hundred and fifty million people.