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The Book of the Revelation

A Simple Overview


Highlights of end time conditions and its message for us

The Book of Revelation is part of the apostle John's ministry, which covers the past, present and future, with a special emphasis on Christ's personal greatness. This disciple and apostle is pictured in his Gospel as the disciple whom Jesus loved.[1] He has an intimate knowledge of the greatness of this Person, who is the Eternal and the Unique Son of God, the Son of the Father and Eternal Life (1 Jn. 5:20). In the book of Revelation, John's special commission is to unveil[2] to believers the greatness and glory of Christ. He does this against the background of a world-system in which the Lord Jesus has been and still is rejected. Do we realize that this 'outcast' who was despised and rejected by men (Jn. 1:10-12; Isa. 53:1-3), will be reintroduced into the same universe (Heb. 1:6) so that every knee will bow before Him (Phil. 2:10-11)? This is exactly the subject of Revelation.

Framework and purpose

Revelation gives a kind of framework for all Biblical prophecies, in order to help us understand the meaning and order of the prophetic writings. With this framework we are able to put all the bits and pieces of prophecy together in an understandable outline. Its main purpose, however, is to show how our Lord Jesus will manifest His glory through and in the events described in this book. Therefore we read of a threefold blessing at the beginning and six more blessings further on in this book of judgments, in different connections. How blessed it is to be occupied with such a glorious Person! Consider Him in His greatness as Judge, King, Priest, but also as the Executioner of God' s judgment (Rev. 1). He is the Same who will be seated on the great white throne (Rev. 20), the One who is the Alpha and Omega and the Eternal I Am. He is the great Lover of our souls, our Bridegroom (Rev. 19 and 22). His voice thrills the hearts of those who read this book and who know Him as their Creator-Redeemer (Rev. 4 and 5). No wonder that the book of Revelation starts with a doxology, the moment He is mentioned (1:5). John responds in the only right way, 'And when I saw him I fell at his feet as dead' (1:17-19); in other words there is no room left for self, for the flesh, nor for the glory of man. Through this 'death' experience, John has the privilege to be strengthened and instructed by his beloved Master (1:19). Thus he is made fit to communicate to us the glories of his and our Lord.

The seven letters and a survey of the history of the church

Right from the beginning in the history of the Church, deviations have started. It is important to realize therefore that John's ministry is characterized by what is essential, in order to preserve the believers in the knowledge and enjoyment of God's blessings. In one word: it brings us back to first love! He presents to his readers things that remain till the end and thus he gives strength to the overcomer. The Church as a professing body has left this first love (2:4), more than that, has forsaken it. Nevertheless, whenever there is failure in the public testimony, we find that the individual believer is addressed in John' s writings. It is in order to restore the believer to first love and to keep him or her in this condition and relationship till the very end, that is till the rapture. The unfolding of Christ's glory throughout this book, before the coming of the Lord in public display, has a moral result, namely to prepare the Church, the true bride, to be ready for the Bridegroom. The Spirit and the bride say: 'Come' (Rev. 22:17). This is the only word the bride publicly speaks: it is an expression of desire, of longing, of love, of anxious waiting.

The order of events in the history of the church (Rev. 2-3) may be summarized as follows.

  • In Ephesus the Church as a whole has left her first love, historically at the end of the first century.
  • Therefore, the Lord allows the persecutions, Satan acting as a roaring lion in the second and third century (Smyrna).
  • However, despite and perhaps because of the many faithful martyrs, the church is then attacked in a different way by Satan, acting as an angel of light, with the result that she places herself under the protection of this world system. This development is presented in the letter to Pergamos, which corresponds historically with the events in the fourth century and later.
  • This link with the world gradually gives rise to the desire in the church to rule over the world, which ambition reaches fruition in Thyatira. This was especially the case in the 12th century, when the absolute authority of the papal system climaxed and the moral corruption worsened (but the final climax will be seen in the great Babylon of Revelation 17f).
  • Therefore, in Sardis a remnant is led out of this degenerated system, in the days of the Reformation in the 16th century. However, the letter to Sardis describes the condition approximately 100 years after the Reformation, when a general state of spiritual death characterizes the national Protestant churches.
  • Then, in sovereign grace, the Lord raises a remnant from among the dead, seen in Philadelphia, a glowing revival and a testimony for Himself, although with little strength because of man's failure. It is a witness nevertheless, distinguished by faithfulness to His Name and to the Word of God (19th century).
  • Soon we come to the last phase in this development, Laodicea, where the Lord, who is everything for Philadelphia (being a collective restoration to this first love), has to leave and finds Himself outside, knocking at the door.

Please note carefully: in suggesting this outline, I am not limiting the teaching of Scripture to this flow of events. Each letter has a message for every believer at any time in the history of the church. Another point to underline is the circumstance that these local assemblies coexisted at the time John wrote, with this variety of features. These local assemblies have all disappeared since.

Overview of Revelation 4-22[3]

In the third division of the book, our attention is first directed to two scenes in heaven, at the time of the rapture of the Church:

  • The throne of God in heaven (ch. 4);
  • The Lamb in the throne with the scroll of ownership (ch. 5).

The seal judgments and two parentheses

Then the seven seals (6:1- 8:5) are opened by the Lamb: the first four of general providential judgments, followed by the last three that lead on to the Great Tribulation. After the 6th seal there is an interruption in ch. 7, to present the 144,000 sealed ones of Israel, as well as the great multitude of redeemed ones of the nations. Both groups will be preserved throughout the Great Tribulation, to be introduced into the millennial reign in Revelation 20. After the 7th seal we find another parenthesis (ch. 8:3-5) concerning intercession in heaven for the believers on the earth during this difficult time.

The trumpet judgments and the three woes

Then the seven angels with trumpets start their course. Again four of them act in rapid succession, connected with the whole earth, or at least the area of the Roman Empire. The trumpets suggest an intense appeal to the conscience of man that he should repent.

The 5th trumpet introduces the first woe, referring especially to the land of Israel: an invasion of demonic forces to control the multitude of Israel under the Antichrist's leadership and lead them into idolatry. This is followed by the second woe: demonic forces will be involved in the attack by the king of the north,[4] but also against the revived Roman Empire. Just before the 7th trumpet, another parenthesis shows the Lord' s rights over the land of Israel and the whole earth (ch. 10). This is followed by an overview of the ministry of the faithful witnesses (11:1-13) who will remain in Jerusalem, in the time of the great tribulation, when most of the faithful remnant will have fled from Judea. Just as we had two parentheses around the 7th seal, so it is with the 7th trumpet and the 7th bowl of the wrath of God, for Revelation shows a very regular pattern. Then the 7th trumpet introduces the third woe, giving way to the 7 bowls or vials of the wrath of God, because people did not repent after the trumpets.

Important parentheses: the signs

In order to give us a clear insight into these judgments, we have now another one of these seven so-called parentheses. This one shows three signs in heaven, together with an overview of seven scenes of the Great Tribulation in chapter 14.

In Revelation 12 we find the first sign: a woman, the Israel of God, with her child, the Messiah.

The second sign in heaven deals with three beasts.

The first one is the dragon (who is also the serpent, Satan and the devil) thrown out of the heavenlies. He tries to devour the people of God on earth. At that time the dragon will completely control the two other beasts.[5]

The beast out of the sea represents the revived Roman empire, linked with the three significant world empires of the past (Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece), and connected with the apostate church (Rev. 17 gives more details).

The beast out of the earth represents the leader of apostate Israel, imitating the true Lamb. Both beasts represent these kingdoms as well as the leaders themselves. They both work together against God, but finally as responsible individuals are cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20). We need the information of chapters 10-13 for a good understanding of the seven scenes of chapter 14, a sub-parenthesis describing details with regard to the Great Tribulation.

The third sign in heaven is found in Revelation 15:1-4 and this shows us the final victory of the martyrs of this same period. Later in the book, we read that they will be raised from among the dead and be given a place in heaven, at the beginning of Christ's millennial reign (ch. 20:4).

The Bowls of God's Wrath

In the third series of seven judgments, the four bowls (dishes) of God' s wrath or fury will be poured out in rapid succession (Rev. 15:5-16:9). Again, there will be a parallel with the four seals and the four trumpets, but now in final judgment. After the 5th and 6th bowl, we have another parenthesis, concerning Armageddon (16:13-16).

After the 7th bowl (16:17-21), another parenthesis is given (17:1-19:10) to explain God's judgment over the false bride, who is the great harlot (wrong affections) and the great city (wrong administration). After this judgment the true bride is presented, in connection with the Lamb's marriage supper.

The Millennium and the Eternal State

In chapter 20 we have a short description of the millennial age (often called 'the world to come'), providing some elements we do not find in the Old Testament, namely how the Bride will appear with Christ to this world and how He will judge the two beasts. A few more new elements: Christ will bind Satan during 1,000 years, He will complete the first resurrection by raising the martyrs of the period after the rapture who lost their lives during the great tribulation period. Chapter 20, too, gives details about the end of the millennial reign, and about the great white throne judgment. Then God will introduce the eternal state, the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 21:1-8). The 7th parenthesis in Revelation 21:9-22:5, gives a description of the Lamb' s bride (true affections) who is also the heavenly Jerusalem (linked with administration exercised from heaven), during the millennial reign.

Three Appeals

In the last words of Revelation 22:6-21, three appeals are found confirming that this Book of Revelation is true. Three times we read about the imminent coming of our Lord. No mysticism, nor higher criticism, nor any human philosophy can help us. Only true devotion to the Lord will do: 'Amen; come, Lord Jesus.'

'And the world is passing, and its lust, but he that does the will of God abides for eternity' (1 John 2:17).

[1]John had the privilege to rest in the Lord's bosom while here on earth. He was the disciple who was most intimately acquainted with our Lord; he was the one who followed Him quietly (Jn. 21:20; 'the disciple whom Jesus loved'). He was also the one of whom the Lord said, 'If I will that he abide until I come, what [is that] to thee?' Is it not appropriate that this disciple would see the Lord in all His greatness? On the one hand as future Judge and King, and on the other as the One who walks presently among the candlesticks?

[2]The Greek word for 'Revelation' may be translated with 'unveiling.' In this Book it is the Lord Himself who unveils what is hidden.

[3]There is much confusion as to the interpretation of the book of Revelation. The key is found in 1:19, which divides it into three portions of past, present and future. The future is now from ch. 4 onwards.

[4] For more details, see Daniel 9:26-27; 11:40-45.

[5]The term beast indicates no link whatsoever with God. Furthermore, the word sometimes designates the leader, sometimes the whole realm of his reign, either in connection with the first beast and his realm (the restored Roman Empire) or the second beast (the Antichrist) and his realm (Israel).