FORMATTED FOR SMARTPHONES:
FORMATTED FOR SMARTPHONES:
THE GREAT WHITE THRONE
20:11 A great white throne and Him who sat on it: The Father has given all judgment into the hands of the Son (Jn 5:22; At 17:31). Since Jesus will “judge the living and the dead at His appearing” (2 Tm 4:1), all men must submit to His word, for Jesus said of those who reject Him, “The word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (Jn 12:48). The earth and the heaven fled away: The physical world and present heavens will perish (See Ps 102:25-27; Hb 1:11,12; 2 Pt 3:10). Even those living on the earth seek to flee from the judgment to come, but there will be no escape. All must stand before the judgment seat of Christ (See 2 Co 5:10; see Rv 6:14; 16:20; 18:21; 19:20).
20:12 This verse possibly refers to the resurrection and final consignment of the saints to the eternal dwelling of the new heavens and earth (See 2 Pt 3:13). The following verse 13 probably refers to the final judgment of the wicked. Regardless of the interpretation, both verses state that everyone will be raised from the dead (Jn 5:28,29; At 24:15; 2 Co 5:10). Books were opened: These books are possibly a reference to Daniel’s vision of the judgment in Daniel 7:10. “The court was seated, and the books were opened.” The metaphor here could be from the “book of remembrance” in the Old Testament that was a record of the righteous (Ml 3:16). It could also be a metaphorical reference to the record of the deeds and character of the unrighteous as was spoken by Isaiah (Is 30:8,9). The metaphor could also include the Old Testament (Jn 5:36; 10:35; Lk 24:25) or the New Testament (Jn 12:48). Book of life: The names of citizens of Roman cities were inscribed in a “book of life.” John uses this book in a metaphorical manner to indicate the listing of the saved in heaven (See Ps 69:28; Is 4:3; Ml 3:16; Lk 10:20; Ph 4:3; 13:8; 17:8; 21:27). God certainly does not need a literal book in which to write a list of the saved. The One who knows every hair of our head can certainly call each of us by name. The metaphor, therefore, signifies that God knows exactly who the saved are. The thought is to comfort us. Judged … according to their works: The elect will be saved by grace, not on the merit of how they performed law and accumulated good works (See Rm 3:20; Gl 2:16; Ep 2:8,9). Christians are not saved as the result of legally keeping law simply because no one can keep law perfectly. However, they are created in Christ for good works (Ep 2:10). The result of their faith is that they obey the law of God (Rm 3:31). We would say, therefore, that it is by these works and obedience that we will be judged. The deeds of the Christian are the result of his salvation by grace. The works, therefore, are the manifestation of the Christian’s thanksgiving for his salvation in Christ (See comments 1 Co 15:10; 2 Co 4:15). Christians must respond to the grace of God in their lives with a working faith (Rm 3:31). James warned, “Even so faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Js 2:17; see Hb 4:13).
20:13 The sea gave up the dead: John emphasizes that no one of the wicked masses of the world will escape the final judgment. The beast (the wicked of Rome) and the false prophet (Roman religion) will all be judged. The sea refers to the masses of humanity from which the wicked persecutors of the church have come (See 13:1; 16:3; 21:1). They will all face the judgment. Death and Hades delivered up: Death and hades will deliver up those who are in them. Death and hades go together because hades is the abode of the souls and spirits of the dead. Even if the wicked have died, they will be resurrected in order to continue their torment. In this “end of time” picture, John also wants us to know that the termination of physical death is coming.
20:14 Death and Hades: When Jesus comes again, physical death will be no more. Therefore, there will be no more need of an abode of the souls and spirits of the dead. Physical death and the abode of the dead will be cast into the lake of fire, or place of fiery termination (Mt 10:28; 2 Th 1:7-9). The second death: This is the second death, or second time in the life of the wicked that they have been separated from God. In life, sin spiritually separates one from God (Is 59:2). He thus dies and is spiritually dead because his sins have separated him from God. In the second death, one’s existence is separated from God in the destruction of Gehenna (2 Th 1:7-9). Thus in the second death, the wicked will be sentenced to their just punishment that was incurred by their disobedience in life. They will be separated from the One who only is eternal. They will be separated from the eternal God.
20:15 Cast into the lake of fire: This statement certainly emphasizes the point that one should have his name recorded among the saved. Jesus will eventually say to the disobedient, “I never knew you. Depart from Me you who practice lawlessness!” (Mt 7:23; see Mt 25:41). It will certainly be a sad day when the unrighteous hear these words of departure from the One they resisted throughout their lives. Such words will mark the end of all things in reference to the earth and its purpose for existence (See 2 Pt 3:10-12). God will have concluded the plan of redemption to bring souls into eternal dwelling. In this last vision of God’s judgments and rewards, John’s picture of the gospel dispensation is complete. Through visions he has given the saints a picture of the gospel dispensation that was first announced on Pentecost in A.D. 30 and would extend to the termination of all things that have not been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. In this particular picture, he wants the righteous to know that the wicked persecutors of Christians will not escape their judgment that will be final (See Hb 9:27). Therefore, the saints must be patient, for vengeance belongs to God who will repay (Rm 12:19; see Rv 13:10). Regardless of what happens in life, God will settle the matter at the end of all things.
[End of lecture series 112.]
In this chapter, John uses prophetic figurative language in order to rehearse the effect the gospel has had on the work of the kingdom of darkness. This seventh and last symbolic vision of John in Revelation is given to manifest the totality of the victory of the gospel over the spiritual powers of darkness. The beast and false prophet have been judged. Now it is time for the vision concerning the judgment of the enemy of all righteousness. This vision begins with the revelation of the gospel. It concludes with the judgment of the wicked. In this one chapter, John is given a truly splendid picture of what this dispensation of the gospel is all about. It is a thrilling vision and revelation of what the early Christians experienced through the preaching of the gospel. It is a comforting vision because of the revelation of what will be the end of those who persecute the church. In reference to John’s audience, this vision concludes with the torment into which their persecutors are cast. In chapters 12-14, John gave an expanded picture of the beginning of the gospel dispensation to the time that the Son of Man was told to thrust in His sickle (Rv 14:15). In chapter 20 we begin with the coming of the binding power of the message of the gospel. The vision ends with the final judgment after the death of those who were “not found written in the Book of Life.” They were cast into the lake of fire which was especially prepared for the devil and his angels (vs 15; see Mt 25:41).
THE BINDING OF SATAN
20:1 An angel coming down: As in the other visions, this angel is simply another messenger of God. He comes bearing the power to confine. That which will confine the work of Satan is the gospel of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from physical death (1 Co 15:1-4). As the woman brought forth the Man Child (Jesus) in chapter 12, so the result of Jesus’ coming (the gospel) is emphasized here. Key: The key is symbolic of authority. This figure is taken from the Old Testament in passages as Isaiah 22:20-22. Eliakim was given the “key” of the house of David. He “will open and no one will shut; and he will shut, and no one will open” (Compare Mt 16:18,19; Rv 1:18; 3:7,8). This messenger, therefore, has the authority to bind the works of Satan with the power of the gospel (Rm 1:16). Abyss: The bottomless pit of the King James Version would literally be translated “abyss” (9:1,2,11; 11:7; 17:8; Lk 8:31). The abyss is confinement. It is the confinement of the power of Satan. Satan is thus thrown into a bottomless pit (KJV) where he does not hit the bottom. His confinement is sure. Chain: Satan is restrained with a chain. He is limited by that which confines him. Those angels who did not keep their original places for which they were created, but were disobedient, have been confined with everlasting chains (Jd 6; 2 Pt 2:4). During His ministry, Jesus was in the process of binding the strong man Satan and plundering his house (See Mt 12:29). By His miraculous works and preaching of the good news He was confining the work of Satan in this world. In this sense, therefore, Satan was being cast down in a world that he formerly controlled by deception. But when the truth of the gospel was revealed, Satan was bound.
20:2 Laid hold of the dragon: The dragon was a fictitious creature that caused fear in the hearts of men. The serpent was a cunning deceiver. The devil is the accuser. All such metaphors portray a grim picture of Satan as the enemy of humanity. Nevertheless, Satan is bound with the power of the gospel. Jesus died for our sins that cause spiritual death in our lives (Rm 6:23; 1 Co 15:3). However, He was resurrected in order that He might destroy death (See 1 Co 15:20-22; Hb 2:14,15). Bound him: Satan is bound. In chapter 12:1-9 the dragon, Satan, is cast out of his place of authority. He is cast down. The same truth is taught here by a different picture. Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world. Now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (Jn 12:31). The word “now” referred to the time of Jesus’ ministry. During His ministry, Jesus was in the process of beginning the casting down of the prince of the world. He visually manifested His power over Satan by His own supernatural power and by His giving control of supernatural power to the disciples, who in turn, manifested their power over Satan by casting out demons. After Jesus had sent them out on various preaching tours, they returned from one such tour and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name” (Lk 10:17). Jesus then said that Satan is fallen (Lk 10:18,19). Through the cross, men can be delivered from sin. Through the resurrection, they can be delivered from death, and thus, live forever. Therefore, Jesus “disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public display of them, triumphing over them in it [the cross]” (Cl 2:15). Jesus now exercises kingdom reign over all things (Ep 1:20-23). Through one’s obedience to the gospel, he can “reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ” (Rm 5:17). Though Satan goes about in the world as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, he cannot separate faithful children of God from God (See comments Rm 8:31-39; 1 Pt 5:8). For a thousand years: Since it is by the gospel that Satan is bound, then we conclude that the binding began when the gospel was first made effective in the lives of men. That time was when the first official announcement of the death, burial and resurrection and kingdom reign of Jesus was publicly made by Peter on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30 as Luke recorded in Acts 2. The binding will continue while the gospel is continually preached throughout the world. It will be preached until Jesus comes again. Therefore, we would conclude that the one thousand years of binding began in A.D. 30 and will continue until Jesus returns. This is the definite period of his confinement. However, the amount of time is not determined by the “one thousand years.” The number “one thousand” is only figurative of this period of confinement of the power of Satan by the preaching of the gospel. Again, this figure is taken from the Old Testament where the number 1,000 referred to a definite time, but not to a period of time that was determined by a specific number of years (Ps 90:4; 105:8; Dn 7:10).
20:3 Cast him into the abyss: Satan was confined. The binding was effective in reference to his work. He was also sealed, that is, consigned to the abyss and its consequences. He was not cast into the abyss as punishment, for this will come later in this vision. He is bound in the abyss to prevent him from ravaging the saints. He would no longer have the freedom to lead masses of people, especially the saints, into darkness by deception. The influence of the gospel would permeate the very constitutions of nations with values that would preserve societies. The whole earth would not be led astray as in the days of Noah when every imagination of man’s heart was continually evil (Gn 6:5). Before the preaching of the gospel, there was a time when men gave up the knowledge of God in order to worship the creation (Rm 1:18-32). But the gospel brought life and immortality to light (2 Tm 1:10). The binding of Satan by the gospel does not mean the cessation of the activity of Satan. Within the realm of the preaching of the gospel, however, he is bound by the gospel. He goes about outside the realm of gospel influence as a devouring lion (1 Pt 5:8). Wherever the gospel is preached and obeyed, he is confined. Where it is not preached, he seeks to deceive and devour. Those of the Roman Empire who rejected the truth of God continued in deception and the clutches of Satan. However, the saints of the Lamb did not fall under the deception of the harlot. In the church, God will not allow Satan to tempt the saints beyond what they are able to endure (1 Co 10:13). In this sense, Satan is bound. However, he goes about as a devouring lion among those to whom the gospel is not yet preached. Nevertheless, his work is bound in reference to the saints. The deceived of the world live without any understanding or concern for either their souls or eternal consequences of their sin. They live in ignorance of God and the judgment to come. However, those who have come to a knowledge of Jesus and His word have been enlightened through Jesus concerning the reality of God and our responsibility to His law. We are thus not deceived by our own ignorance of God and what He would have us do in reference to His will. The world that walks in ignorance of God and His will remains bound by darkness. Those who have a knowledge of Jesus and His word are no longer in darkness. Released for a little time: If Satan is bound within the area where the gospel is preached (the church), then he is unleashed in the church when members cease standing on the foundation of the gospel. This is certainly the meaning of Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian church when he wrote concerning their belief in the gospel, “… by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you …” (1 Co 15:2). The Corinthians had to continue believing the testimony of the gospel if they were to continue in a saved relationship with God. John seems to indicate that there would be a brief time when his audience would cease believing in the power of the gospel. When the church ceases believing in the gospel, Satan is unleashed. However, a second understanding of this “loosing” would be in reference to the end of time. Satan would be loosed for a little season. If he is bound by the preaching of the gospel, then at the end of the gospel dispensaton, he would be loosed when the gospel is not preached. Could this be a brief time before the end of time when the church has lost its purpose or is suppressed in persecution to the point that the disciples cease preaching the gospel? However, if we refer to the one thousand years as a quality of time in reference to the present dispensation of the gospel age that began with the establishment of the church in A.D. 30, then we would also assume that the little time here refers to quality and not a period of time. In other words, the effect of the gospel upon those who have obeyed it is much greater than the influence of Satan in their lives. The obedient live in the realm of the gospel, though they are not outside the temptations of Satan.
20:4 I saw thrones: The thrones were kingly seats of power or authority. This is a place of royalty. In this verse, authority and royalty are given to two groups of the saints. First, there were the martyrs who had given their lives for preaching the gospel (6:9,10). They continued to live and reign in the world through their testimony. They were as Abel who continues to speak though he is dead (Hb 11:4). Secondly, there were the living saints who refused to be identified with the worship of the Roman Empire. These were those of Revelation 13:12-15 who received great persecution because of their stand for the faith. They overcame the beast “by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (12:11). They lived and reigned with Christ: Those who did not submit to the worship promoted by Rome, lived because of their obedience to the gospel (Rm 6:4,5). They reigned with Jesus (Rm 5:17; 2 Tm 2:11,12). Christians have died with Jesus (Rm 6:6), and thus, they endure with Him in this life (At 14:22). While on earth, Jesus said the apostles would reign on twelve thrones in the time of the regeneration (Mt 19:28). The “time of regeneration” is the same as the “one thousand years.” It is the time when the apostles rule through the authority of their inspired word. This word brings judgment to those who do not receive it. Through the preaching of this inspired word, Christians bring judgment to those who reject it. They bring judgment by the preaching of the gospel because those who reject the gospel judge themselves by their rejection of Jesus (Jn 12:48).
20:5 The rest of the dead: John said that the rest of the dead, that is, the spiritually dead, did not live until the end of the one thousand years. This would be the time explained by Jesus in John 5:28,29. The spiritually dead would be resurrected to go away into eternal destruction (Mt 25:46; 2 Th 1:9). Those who do not partake of the spiritual resurrection will be raised to face the judgment of destruction (2 Th 1:7-9). The first resurrection: This is the key verse that helps us understand the meaning of the entire chapter. We assume from the first resurrection that there was a first death. This would be spiritual death in sin as a result of separation from God (Rm 5:12; 6:23; Is 59:1,2). When Adam ate the forbidden fruit, he spiritually died (Gn 2:17). When every man reaches the age at which he can determine rebellion against God, and subsequently chooses rebellion, he sins and thus spiritually dies (Rm 5:12). This is the one who “lives in pleasure,” but is dead while he lives (1 Tm 5:6; see Mt 8:22). The first resurrection, therefore, is a spiritual resurrection from spiritual death (Rm 6:3-6; Ep 2:5,6; Cl 2:12,13). The one who partakes of the spiritual resurrection has “passed from death to life” (Jn 5:24; 1 Jn 3:14). The first resurrection implies a second. Though the first is spiritual in the sense that one is spiritually regenerated when resurrected from the grave of water, it is the condition for the second to be bodily. The context of Revelation 20:4-6 speaks of a spiritual resurrection (resurrection from the waters of baptism), and the indication of the second resurrection (the bodily resurrection) at the end of time when Jesus comes again. In John 5:24-29, Jesus also spoke of both a spiritual and physical resurrection. Jesus said that those who believe on Him have “passed from death to life” (Jn 5:24). This statement refers to a spiritual resurrection from a state of being spiritually dead to a state of being saved, and thus spiritually alive in Christ. Jesus spoke of the final resurrection when the righteous would be raised to life (Jn 5:25). Those who would live are those who would hear, believe and obey the gospel by immersion for the remission of their sins (At 2:38; Rm 6:3-6). In verses 28 & 29 of John 5, however, Jesus changes in the context from the spiritual resurrection to a physical resurrection that would take place in the future. Those who have worked that which is good, will be resurrected to life. They will be resurrected at the same time as those who have worked evil. But the unrighteous will be resurrected to condemnation and punishment. According to the statement of Jesus in John 5:24-29, both resurrections will take place in the same hour. John 5:24-29, therefore, is a commentary on what John symbolically reveals in Revelation 20:1-6. Jesus came to preach to those who were spiritually dead. Those who heard could in their lives bind Satan by their obedience to the gospel. In Christ, therefore, they were protected from the power of Satan, for in Christ we are not allowed to be tempted beyond that which we are able to endure, but with temptation we are given a way of escape (1 Co 10:13). Through the blood of Jesus the Christian has come into a realm wherein Satan is bound. As long as one faithfully remains in this realm, he will not suffer the second death, that is, removal from the presence of God, and thus, destruction (See Rv 2:11; 20:14; 21:8; 2 Th 1:7-9).
20:6 The second death has no power: John talks of a coming second death (Rv 2:11; 20:14; 21:8). The second death is the removal from the presence of God of those who are presently spiritually dead because they did not obey the gospel (Mt 10:28). The result of their removal from the presence of God will be their second death with unending consequences (See comments 2 Th 1:9). However, those who are obedient to the gospel are made spiritually alive. They are priests of God and Christ who minister the gospel to the world (1:6; 5:10; 1 Pt 2:5,9). They are reigning with Christ during this gospel dispensation (1:6; 5:10; Rm 5:17). Reign with Him a thousand years: Those who partake of the first resurrection (obedience to the gospel), reign in life by their victory over sin. Because of their obedience to the gospel, they have victory over death (Hb 2:14,15). They were thus reigning on this earth with Jesus at the time John recorded this vision (2 Tm 2:12). This is what John had earlier written in chapter 5:10. Jesus has made us “a kindgom and priests to our God. And we will reign on the earth.”
THE DEFEAT AND DOOM OF SATAN
20:7,8 Satan will be released: The beast, or Roman government, oppressed the church. The period of oppression was earlier identified by John to be the three and a half years, though this time is not a specific three and a half years in reference to time (Rv 12:12; 13:5). This was a “short time” (vs 3). In the brevity of such a short time, Satan will be released at the end of the one thousand years, or gospel dispensation. He will be released from confinement because of the lack of the preaching of the gospel, or the suppression of preaching by governmental powers. The majority of the inhabitants of the world will thus be deceived as they were during Roman oppression in the 1st century. Deceive the nations: Satan will go forth to the four corners of the world, that is, the entire world. Gog and Magog are references to God’s enemies in the Old Testament (See comments Ez 35-40). The battle is parallel with the Harmagedon of 16:16. At the end of the gospel dispensation, the number of the deceived will be as the sand of the sea. In other words, the vast majority of the inhabitants of the world will be resistant to the truth. They will be resistant to the gospel either by indifference, or through oppression.
20:9 Surrounded the camp of the saints: The “beloved city” is the church of saints who have not submitted to the intimidation of whatever Satan uses. These are those who have not become indifferent to the gospel, or submitted to the oppression of any force that might intimidate them to reject the power of the gospel. The end of the gospel dispensation will be a time when it seems that the church will be oppressed out of existence. However, “fire,” or God’s judgment, will come upon those who persecute the people of God (2 Th 1:7-9; compare Jd 14,15). As God intervened in the days of Noah with the global flood (Gn 6), and in the case of delivering righteous Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah (Gn 18,19), so He will deliver those who remain faithful. In the historical context of John’s readers, this surely referred to the persecution of the church by Rome. The enemies of God went throughout all their world (the Roman Empire) to encompass and attack the church. However, in a secondary sense, this has happened to the church among wicked governments since the days of the 1st century. In numerous places of the world, the church has been suppressed out of existence. It is suppressed out of existence by those who have given themselves over to false religious beliefs. As in the days of Roman imperial religion, religiously misguided men deceived themselves into following after false religions in order to reject the commandments of God (Compare Mk 7:1-9). It was God’s purpose in the creation of the world to populate heaven. When the present world ceases the purpose for which it was created, then God will terminate the world. Therefore, when few people will respond to the message of the gospel, then there will no longer be a reason for the existence of the world.
20:10 The devil … was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone: All the wicked hear the words of Jesus, “Depart from Me you cursed into everlasting fire that is prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:41). Hell is the intended place of punishment for Satan. All those who would be messengers of his cause will end up in the same place and suffer the same punishment. The severity of the punishment is manifested in the metaphor “fire and brimstone.” We do not make the mistake, as some biblical interpreters, of literalizing the metaphor. “Fire and brimstone” is something literal and of this world. That which is signified by the metaphor in the heavenly realm is always greater and above this world. Therefore, we must assume that hell is more horrible than the literal fire and brimstone of this world. Where also are the beast and the false prophet: The nature of this statement indicates that the wicked Roman persecutors had already been cast into this place of torment before the devil is cast there. This indicates that at the time of physical death, one immediately faces final judgment, and is subsequently cast into torments as the rich man was in Luke 16 (See Hb 9:27). The beast (Roman government) and the false prophet (Roman religion) have been cast into the place that is reserved for the devil who will end up in torment at the conclusion of all things (Mt 25:41). John’s comfort to the righteous is that those who have tormented them are now in torment themselves. Forever and ever: The duration of the torment is indefinite, though certain. It is everlasting (aionios) in the sense that God has appointed it to happen, therefore, it will not be taken away. The destruction into which they are cast will have unending consequences that cannot be undone. There is thus no chance to escape the finality of the consequence that will result from the destruction of both soul and body in hell (See comments Mt 10:28). As in the Old Testament, “everlasting” and “forever” are English words that translated the Hebrew word olam. This word carries with it the Jewish understanding that the torment will last throughout God’s intended time of duration. Emphasis is not on the length of time, but on the certainty of the punishment’s existence and the consequences that will result from such after the punishment has served justice for the crime. Consider the use of the Hebrew word olam that is translated “everlasting” and “forever” throughout the Old Testament (Ex 12:24; 29:9; 40:15; Lv 3:17; Dt 15:17; Ja 14:9; I Kg 8:12,13; 2 Kg 5:27). When the Jews translated the Old Testament into the Greek language (the Septuagint), they used the Greek word aionios to translate olam that carries with it a similar meaning. Therefore, time without end must not always be read into the meaning of the texts that use these words, for both olam and aionios are used to refer to God’s covenant with Israel (Lv 24:8), slavery under the law (Dt 15:17), the Passover (Ex 12:24), the Sabbath (Ex 31:16), the levitical priesthood (Ex 40:15), leprosy (2 Kg 5:27) and mountains (Hk 3:6). All these things had an end, and thus, olam in reference to these things and institutions did not continue without end. Therefore, with reference to the use of the equivalent Greek word aionios we must not assume an unending existence of those who will be separated from the presence of God (See 2 Th 1:7-9). The fact that God can destroy both soul and body (Mt 10:28), and that the disobedient will face destruction from the presence of God, assumes that there will be a termination of the unrighteous after just punishment has been rendered. The process of destruction will not go on without end, but the results of the destruction will.
[Lecture continued tomorrow.]
THE LAMB AND THE SAINTS
In the previous chapter, John portrayed the overthrow of the persecutors of the saints. In this chapter he discusses the glorious victory of the saints over the beast and false prophet who have persecuted them. John also reveals the horrible fate of those who were so arrogant as to set themselves against the flock of God. The vision of this chapter is divided into three sections. The three sections begin with the phrase “I looked” (vs 1), “I saw” (vs 6), and “I looked” (vs 14).
14:1 The Lamb stood on Mount Zion: Jesus is pictured standing with those who are His. The symbol of Mount Zion is from the Old Testament where the name referred to Jerusalem (2 Sm 5:7; 1 Ch 11:5; Ps 149:1,2; Zc 9:9; Is 28:16; Ml 4:1-6). Here reference is to the heavenly Zion (vss 2,13; 21:2; Ps 125:1; Hb 12:22-24). One hundred and forty-four thousand: This is the 144,000 of 7:4 who compose the whole community of God on earth. In one sense these who are redeemed have reached heavenly Zion as a result of coming to the sanctuary of the Lamb. The reality of their blessings in Christ, however, will not be fully realized until they have come into the new heavens and earth that are yet to come. His Father’s name: In 13:16 there were those who had submitted to the beast, and thus, they had his name written on their right hands. But these here are identified by the disposition and nature of the Father that they manifested, and thus, are identified to be with the Lamb (3:12; 7:3; 22:4; see Ph 2:5).
14:2-5 Sound … as the sound of many waters: This is a powerful voice that thunders and demands the attention of all (See 1:15; 6:1; 19:6). Harpers harping: The metaphor emphasizes the sound of the voice. The voice had the melodious appeal of the sound that is made by a harp (See 5:8). A new song: They sang the song of victory because they had overcome all enemies by the power of the Lamb (See 5:9). No one could learn: It was a song that was sung only by those who were of the nature of the Lamb. The song, therefore, could originate only out of the hearts of those who had submitted to the kingship of the Lamb. The ones who were not defiled: Those who had given themselves in submission to the Lamb had not compromised themselves with the worship of idols. They had not committed spiritual adultery (See 2:20; 3:4; 17:5,6; 2 Ch 21:11; Jr 3:9; 2 Co 11:2; Js 4:4; 1 Jn 5:21). Firstfruits to God and to the Lamb: As the best at the beginning of the harvest was offered to God in the Old Testament, so here the best of humanity is offered to God. These are those who have given themselves in submission to the will of God (Js 1:18; 1 Pt 5:5,6; compare Hb 12:23). They are without fault: It is not that they are without sin, for Christians commit sin. However, they are cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, and thus, seen by the Father through the blood (1 Jn 1:7-9). It is the blood of the sacrificial Lamb that presents them perfect before the Father (7:17; see Cl 1:22,28; compare Ps 32:2; Zp 3:18; Ep 5:27; Jd 24).
JUDGMENT ON BABYLON
14:6,7 Having the everlasting gospel to preach: The angel is used to signify all those who have gone out with the message of the gospel (Mt 28:19,20; Mk 16:15; At 8:4). They go with the message of the Lamb’s death for the redemption of all who would hear and learn from the Father (Jn 6:45). They go with the message of the resurrection of the Lamb for those who have been held captive by the fear of death (Hb 2:14). The message, therefore, is God’s answer for mankind’s sin problem and physical death problem (See Rm 5:12; 1 Co 15:20-22). Fear God and give glory to Him: As opposed to fearing Rome and State religion, the plea of the evangelists of God is to fear Him who has power that infinitely exceeds that which is presumed by Rome or any earthly power (11:18; see Mt 10:28; At 10:2,22,35; Rm 11:20). Christians must fear God more than they fear anything that is of this world. Worship Him who made heaven and earth: It is only natural to worship the Creator of all things. That which is created can never logically demand worship that is to be given to God (See At 17:22-29).
14:8 Fallen is Babylon: Rome is the Babylon that is fallen (16:19; 17:2,5; 18:2,3,10). Though the actual fall of the city of Rome occurred in A.D. 476, this is a prophetic statement. The fulfillment of the prophecy is spoken in the present or past tense as if fulfillment has already taken place. In other words, the fulfillment of the prophecy is certain because it has originated from God. It is so certain that it is conveyed to men in either the present or past tense in order to convey certainty of fulfillment. Such was the manner by which the prophets spoke in reference to those who were against God’s people in the Old Testament (See Is 46:10; 48:3; Jr 51:8). God used Babylon to take Israel into captivity in 586 B.C. However, He pronounced judgment on Babylon for her onslaught against His people. He would in a similar manner use Rome to terminate national Israel in A.D. 70. But He would bring judgment on Rome for her merciless actions as He brought judgment on Babylon. Made all nations drink: The Roman State and religion had intimidated the citizens to submit to both the State and religion as men should submit to God only. She thus intoxicated the minds of the citizens with the venom of religious deception. Since the Roman State allowed herself to be so used by Satan to deceive the nations, God would pour out His wrath upon her (See Ps 75:8). And so it is with any earthly government that sets itself against God. Those governments that give themselves over to evil and to the forceful subjugation of their citizens, have pronounced their own judgment. They will eventually be swept from the pages of history to make way for a government that brings freedom.
14:9,10 If anyone worships the beast: Those who would submit to the worship of Rome and her diabolical imperial religion (vs 8; 13:14), will also be recipients of the wrath of God that will be unleashed on the State and her pagan priests (Compare Jr 25:15,27-29; 51:7). Receives his mark: These would be those who both spiritually and mentally dedicate themselves to the State in order to trust in her for both economic security and spiritual fulfillment. Poured out in full strength: The wrath of God will not be diluted as with some wines that were served. The wicked politicians and priests, with those who have given allegiance to them, will receive the full measure of God’s judgmental wrath. God will have no mercy on those political leaders and their cohorts who set themselves against humanity, and especially, against His sheep. They will reap the full condemnation and fury of God’s wrath. Tormented with fire and brimstone: This metaphor of their punishment is the most severe that could be constructed from the realities of this present world. It is the greatest metaphor of human experience that could be used to portray the punishment that is awaiting wicked government officials who would torment their people, and especially, the people of God (See 19:20; 20:10,14ff; 21:8; Gn 19:24; Ez 38:22; 2 Th 1:8,9).
14:11 These wicked government rulers are subjected to a definite punishment that matches the crimes they have inflicted upon the citizenship of the nations they ruled (19:3; Is 34:9,10; Mt 10:28; 25:41; Mk 9:44). We need not view this punishment of torments as something that is yet in the future for the wicked. After death, comes final judgment for all men (Hb 9:27). As the rich man of Luke 16, he, as well as all the wicked, go immediately into torment when they die. John wants us to understand that the “fire and brimstone” for the wicked is not something that is still in the future in reference to the death of the wicked. It is happening simultaneously as he writes to comfort persecuted Christians. “In the presence of the Lamb” signifies that Jesus has all authority over this matter and will render punishment to those who have harmed His body. And truly, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hb 10:31).
14:12 Those who undergo the pains of persecution know that their persecutors will receive their just punishment at the time of their death. Therefore, the saints are patient for the retribution that God will render to those who have afflicted His flock. They are also patient concerning their rest. At the moment of death, the righteous go to be with the Lord (2 Co 5:8; Ph 1:23). At the time of their death, the wicked go into everlasting torment for their rebellion.
THE TIME OF REAPING
14:13 The dead who die in the Lord: Those who have died to the world can die in the Lord in peace (See Rm 6:3-6; 2 Tm 2:11,12). Those faithful Christians who physically die in the Lord are in the care of the Lord after death (2 Co 5:8; Ph 1:23; see Rv 2:10; Ph 3:9; see 1 Th 4:13-18). Their works follow them: Their works are not the condition upon which they have been saved, but the manifestation of their faithful thanksgiving for their salvation (See comments 1 Co 15:10,58; 2 Co 4:15). The good works of the righteous are not in vain because they are in the Lord (1 Co 15:58). However, the good works of the unrighteous are in vain because they are not in the Lord (See Rm 6:3-6).
14:14 A white cloud: This is symbolic of judgment (Is 19:1; Jr 4:13; Mt 24:30; 26:64; compare Mt 24:30; At 1:9,11; Lk 21:27). Judgment means calamity to the wicked but deliverance for the righteous. When in-time judgment comes upon the wicked in this life, then the righteous are relieved of the persecution the wicked bring upon the righteous. One like the Son of Man: The term “Son of Man” was the Jewish reference to the Messiah, the Christ. Jesus is the one who has been anointed to be the judge of all things (Jn 5:22,27; At 17:31). All things were created for Jesus (Cl 1:16). He died for the sins of mankind (Jn 1:29; 1 Co 15:3). Therefore, He is the One who will judge those He created. In the historical context of the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies in reference to Jesus as the Messiah, it was prophesied that when the Messiah came, national Israel would be brought to an end. Jesus was proclaimed to be the Messiah in A.D. 30 (See At 2:36,37). His work as the Messiah was not only to bring salvation to all men, but also to bring an end to national Israel. Once this was accomplished in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, then it was time to bring judgment upon the fourth kingdom of Daniel 2:44 and 7:13,14, which kingdom was used as God’s instrument to bring national Israel to an end. A golden crown: The Greek word here (stephanos) is the one that is used to refer to the victory crown (6:2). It is the crown that was given to those who had been victorious in battle. A sharp sickle: This was a sharp harvesting instrument that was used to gather in the fruit of the harvest. The meaning here is that all men are gathered in for judgment (See Jl 3;12,13; compare Mt 13:30; 9:38). The gathering in is pictured as sufficient and complete.
14:15,16 Another angel came: This is the messenger that comes from God and announces that all has been concluded. It was time for the end of all things (See Mt 24:46; compare Mt 13:39-41). Thrust in Your sickle and reap: The fruit of the harvest for judgment is taken from mankind (Jr 51:33; Mt 9:37ff). At the command of the messenger from God, Jesus thrusts the sickle throughout humanity in order to bring men into judgment before Him (Mt 25:30,31; 2 Th 1:7-9).
14:17-20 A parallel command goes out in order to reap the wicked for their judgment and condemnation. Grapes are fully ripe: When the grapes were ripe, it was time for harvest. The metaphor, therefore, is that the wicked have come to the time of their judgment where they must reap what they have sown among men (Is 63:2,3; Jl 3:13). Outside the city: Jesus was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem (Hb 13:11,12). It is appropriate, therefore, that the wicked will be punished far from the presence of the city of saints (See 21:10; Hb 11:10; 12:2). Blood came out: The cryptic imagery here is to make Christians wonder with awe at the judgment God has in store for those who persecute the body of Christ. One thousand six hundred furlongs: This imagery is difficult to explain. It could be that the vision seeks to portray the severity of the judgment in terms that would strike horror in the minds of the wicked. Whatever the real meaning, at least one thing is very clear. The punishment that is in store for the wicked cannot be explained with the most horrifying words of the human language. There is no metaphor that will lift our minds high enough in order to contemplate the horror of hell. The reason for such cryptic language here is obvious. The saints are to be comforted in knowing that their persecutors will be punished. The wicked who care nothing about these things will with their seared consciences carry on in life until they are doomed to the punishment of hell.
[Next lecture: The Binding of Satan – April 18]
THE LAND BEAST
13:11 I saw another beast: Here is imperial religion, or emperor worship, that forces upon all Roman citizens the worship of Caesar. This is the “false prophet” of 16:13; 19:20 and 20:10. Out of the earth: This religion rises out of the earth, for it is of human origin. It is a religion created after the desires of men. Two horns like a lamb: This religion has the deceptive appearance of an innocent lamb. However, since this book of Revelation was originally directed to churches in Asia, John possibly has in mind a figure of two powers in the Asian province that worked against the church. First, by Roman law the Roman proconsul of the area enforced Caesar worship on all citizens. Second, a religious commune was established in the area to promote the cult of emperor worship. In the following verse, John continues an explanation of what this religious cult did.
13:12 Exercises all the power of the first beast: Roman religion was forced upon the populace by the authority of the Roman government. Domitian claimed deity. Submission to him as lord signified loyalty to Rome. Those who did not submit were viewed as insubordinate to the Empire. In this theocratic condition of the Roman Empire at this time in history—the time of Domitian’s reign—government and religion were entangled together into a powerful cult that trampled on any who would resist total submission.
13:13,14 He performs great wonders: What the Roman religious commune sought to do reminds us of Jesus’ warning, “Be not deceived” (Mt 24:4,24). John later says that these religionists go out “performing signs” (16:14). This is the false prophet “who performed signs in his [the beast’s] presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image” (19:20). But these are those who are deceived, and who deceive (2 Tm 3:3). They worked great wonders that are false (2 Th 2:9). If the wonders were actually miraculous, then those who followed the false emperor worship would not be deceived by believing the wonders. They would have been believing that which was true. Makes fire come down from heaven: Only those who were deceived affirmed that fire came down out of heaven. “Fire coming down out of heaven” was a miraculous sign of the presence of God in the Old Testament (See Gn 15:17; Lv 9:24; Jg 13:20; 1 Kg 18). But here John uses the symbol, not to speak of something Roman religious leaders actually performed, but to show the strength of their deceptive power. He deceives: God did not allow Satan to work miracles through false priests of Caesar worship in order to lead Christians to submit to the beast. We do not serve a God who would cast such a stumbling block before the saints at a time when they were under severe persecution, and thus, so vulnerable. God does not allow Satan to have authority over the supernatural to the extent of being able to work miracles before men in order to confuse those who believe (See Mk 16:14-20; At 8:1-25).
13:15 It was given to him to give: God allowed the deceptions by not countering with true fire from heaven (Compare 2 Th 2:10-12). The deceptive works were not true for such would have nullified all the miraculous work the Holy Spirit had done through the early church in order to confirm the word of God’s early messengers (Mk 16:20; Hb 2:3,4). Roman religionists set up busts (images) of Caesar throughout the Empire in order to promote Caesar worship. These images were the symbol of Rome’s false religion. Those who would not submit to Domitian’s image were subject to the penalty of death. The fact that John is not talking about real miracles in verses 13-15 is seen in the imagery of this verse. Give breath to the image: The image certainly did not become a living thing and literally begin to speak as a man. Naïve interpreters who believe that Roman religionists actually worked miracles are inconsistent if they do not continue the literality of their interpretation of verses 13 and 14 into verse 15. If real miracles are indicated in verses 13 and 14, then certainly the same would be true of verse 15. But who wants to take the position that these images of Caesar actually began to speak like men? John’s point with the “speaking image” figure is to show the intensity of belief in false religion of those who refused to worship the one true God. However, many Jews and Christians did succumb to confessing Caesar as lord in the heat of persecution. They were intimidated by the mass belief of those who affirmed that Roman religionists were working miracles of some god. They thus confessed Caesar as deity. Those faithful Christians who did not reverence “lord Caesar” as deity were persecuted unto death. However, the angel warned in 14:9,10 that if any would succumb to the initimidation of the beast he would drink of the wrath of God (See 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). Christians, therefore, should be very careful when they start believing that false religionists can work real miracles. We must remember that God would not allow Satan to work miracles through false religions in order to entice Christians to believe false teachings (See 2 Th 2:10-12).
13:16,17 He causes all … to receive a mark: Rome commissioned that all citizens give both political and religious allegiance to the State. In this sense, Rome became to some extent a theocratic system. At least from the viewpoint of the Roman priests, one had to submit to the religious laws in order to be true to Rome itself. The “mark” refers to those who would direct worship toward Rome (14:9; see 20:4). The mark, or identification, was both psychological (on “their foreheads”) and physical (“on their hands”). Domitian wanted total allegiance. He wanted the minds of the people. He also wanted an outward manifestation of allegiance. If one would not submit to confessing Caesar as lord, he or she was subject to the fury of the Roman government. That no one may buy or sell: There was a boycott against those who would not give their allegiance to Rome. They would not be able to carry on the normal work of life in buying and selling goods.
13:18 The number of the beast: John knows that the number referring to the beast can be understood by the immediate readers. As verse 10 stated the end of the “sea beast” (Roman government), so verse 18 signals the end of the “land beast” (imperial religion). John identifies the beast by the number of man. It is not the number of a man. The indefinite article “a” does not need to be placed in the text before the word “man.” It is simply the “number of man.” The same word structure is used in 21:17 in reference to the measuring of the holy city “according to the measure of man.” The indefinite article here does not signify a specific man. It means only that the calculation was according to man’s numbering rules. His number is six hundred and sixty-six: The most consistent interpretation is to maintain the figurative significance of numbers as John uses them throughout the visions. A Hebrew method of communication through numbers was to use the number of letters in words or numbers themselves to signify something other than the numbers. This is called a gematria. Therefore, as a gematria, the number six was used by the Jews to signify that which was imperfect or incomplete. Six is also the number that signifies that which is earthly. The three sixes used together in a gematria in this text would possibly indicate that which is “triple” imperfect or incomplete. It is that which originates “out of the earth,” but tries to claim heavenly origin. It is found to be fake and incomplete. And so it is with Caesar worship and the whole system of Roman religion. Roman government originated from the populations of the world. Roman emperor worship originated from arrogant Caesars who claimed to be deity. Both government and religion were earthly and totally insufficient. When it came to religion, they had insufficient truth and were incomplete in being acceptable to God. In reference to government, all governments change throughout history. No nation exists throughout history. Such would be the case with Rome. Rome would come to an end.
[Next lecture: The Lamb & The Saints – April 15]
THE SEA BEAST
Though the initial persecutor of the church was institutional Judaism, the primary persecutor of the church in the 1st century was the Roman Empire. In the time after A.D. 70, Rome made Christianity an illegal religion, viewing it as an insurrection against Rome. When the Roman emperors deified themselves, and subsequently demanded to be referred to as lord, they emposed the submission of the subjects of the Empire to their lordship. When Christians would not confess Caesar as lord, they were thus considered insurrections to the Empire. During this time, Christians were tortured and killed as insurrections. This government opposition to the church had its beginnings in the insane behavior of Nero who persecuted both Jews and Christians in the early sixties. This persecution, though centered in Rome, eventually set the stage for a government policy of opposition against Christianity in the years of Domitian. This opposition would periodically arise in the behavior of Roman Caesars against Christianity well into the 2nd century. However, the severest time of this persecution occurred during the reign of Domitian (81-96). Only when Constantine became Emperor of Rome did the dark age of State persecution pass. The official lifting of the persecution occurred by the issuing of the Edict of Toleration in 311, and then the Edict of Milan in 313.
Until the relentless persecution ceased, however, the church went through a time of turmoil that has been unparalleled throughout history. Christians have suffered persecution in hostile environments. However, the persecution that was carried out by the Roman State was the persecution of a world empire that was specifically aimed against the church in its infancy. For this reason, God saw it necessary to write this special revelation in order to comfort the church throughout these years of great testing. Regardless of the conflict between good and evil, God wanted the church to know that she would always emerge victorious over any persecution Satan might launch against her. Though the members of the church in the times of persecution may lose their lives, the church itself would continue to exist throughout history until Jesus comes.
Chapter 12 began the second major division of the series of visions to encourage the church. The vision of chapter 12 began with a pictorial account of the birth of Jesus and concluded with the dragon launching persecution against the church. In 12:17 the dragon became enraged with the woman (God’s people who brought forth the Christ). He then launched war against the heritage of the woman. When the vision comes to chapter 13, the two beasts of Roman government and imperial religion now arise out of humanity through the working of Satan to make war against the church.
The first major persecutor of the church in the 1st century was Judaism. Opposition toward the “Man Child” (Jesus), the woman (God’s people of the Old Testament), and the woman’s offspring (God’s people of the New Testament), was carried out through Satan’s apostate Judaism. However, in A.D. 70 this persecuting force was essentially eliminated by the destruction of national Israel by the Roman Empire. After the demise of this persecuting force, however, a second and more terrible persecutor arose. This was the governmental power of the Roman Empire. In chapter 13 of Revelation, the inspired John pictures this persecutor as two beasts that emerge from the populations of humanity. The sea beast is the legislative strength of the Roman Empire that is launched against the church. The land beast is Roman imperial religion that is upheld by the legislative power of the sea beast. Roman religion is forced upon all citizens of the Empire in order to stamp out any opposing insurrections against Rome. The church did not submit to such religious tyranny, and thus, Rome launched persecution against Christians whom she considered to be insurrectionists against the authority of the Roman Empire to impose religion upon its subjects.
It is in the context of Revelation 13 that John pinpoints the persecution of the church by a state government. It is possible that John received this vision during the time Vespasian was Caesar of Rome. Vespasian is the “one who is” of chapter 17:10. Nero (54-68) led a personal vendetta against Christians during his reign in the 60’s. This persecution of Christians was only a prelude to what was to come under the reign of Domitian. When Domitian came to power in 81 A.D., he instituted State persecution of the church by making Christianity an illegal religion. Those who would not give total allegiance to Rome were tried on charges of treason. Submission to Rome meant submission to Caesar as lord. Those who would not confess Caesar as lord, therefore, were considered insurrectionist rebels by the Roman State. The persecution led by Nero was nothing in comparison to that which was unleashed by Domitian to turn the Roman State against Christianity.
The vision of this chapter is given to John in order to prepare the church for the coming decades of persecution. The message of the vision is to assure the church throughout the Roman Empire that the persecution was coming. However, Rome would come to an end. It would end when the instrument used by Satan—ungodly Roman Caesars who use Roman government to satisfy their egos—was taken out of the way. The church, therefore, must be patient and endure, though their faithfulness will mean the death of many Christians (Rv 2:10).
13:1 A beast rising up out of the sea: The sea beast (Rv 15:2; 16:13)—Rome’s legislative power—is here set against the church. Rome originated from the sea which represents the restless and ever changing populations of humanity (See Is 57:20ff; Jr 49:23). World governments arise out of conflict among world population groups. Thus humanity is as a turbulent sea that continually gives birth to different governmental powers throughout the ages (See Rv 16:3; 20:13; 21:1). Seven heads: The sea beast had the seven heads of great control. Rome was seated upon seven hills. John possibly took his imagery from this geographical position of the city in order to convey the meaning that the rulers of Roman government are sick with pompous power. Ten horns: The sea beast has ten horns, or ten kings that exercise complete governmental power throughout its designated territory (See Rv 12:3; 17:3). Ten crowns: It had ten crowns of complete authority that could be possessed by an earthly government. John’s vision refers to the fourth world kingdom of Daniel’s recorded visions of Daniel 2 and 7. Daniel interpreted in Daniel 2 Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of a great image. The vision was of four kingdoms. The fourth was Rome. It was in the days of this kingdom that had feet part of iron and clay, that God set up the kingdom reign of the Son (Dn 2:44). The church to which John was writing, therefore, existed in the days of the Roman kings. Daniel’s personal vision of Daniel 7 was also of the four world kingdoms. Daniel’s vision portrayed the rise of the Roman Empire. In the vision of Daniel 7, Rome was pictured as the beast that was “dreadful and terrible” (Dn 7:7). It was the kingdom that devoured and broke into pieces the other kingdoms. However, the kingdom glory of the previous three kingdoms was exemplified in the totalitarian rule of Rome. Daniel pictured the stirring of the sea (the populations of the world) as the cause that produced the four governmental powers (Dn 7:2). The origin of all government is from the people of the world. God has ordained that government exist to prevent anarchy (Rm 13). However, men devise all types of government. The fourth governmental power of the world of Daniel’s vision unleashed its strength against the people of God. This government had a blasphemous name. It was known to speak great things against those who represent God. This is the same beast of 17:3 that is identified with “names of blasphemy.” The visions of chapters 13 and 17, therefore, have their background in the prophecy of Daniel 7. In view of this, the vision of Revelation 13 refers to the Roman Empire. For this reason, the interpretation of chapters 13 and 17 must be consistent with the fulfillment of Daniel 7 which foretold events that would transpire during the days of the Roman kings. There are at least five historical and interpretive thoughts that one must consider in order to interpret chapters 13 and 17.
A. Rome’s totalitarian influence over the territory it controlled: In 17:9-12 the “heads” and “horns” refer to kings and their reigning control. Rome was seated on seven hills. John may have been referring to this geographical fact in order to symbolize the powerful control that radiated from this seat of the Empire. Rome was the seat from which the “horns” exercised their power. Thus, the symbol of “heads” and “horns” could be understood in this way in Daniel 7, Revelation 13 and 17.
B. God’s viewpoint of Rome’s history: God looks at the beast of the Roman Empire from a “collective time.” His omnipresence in eternity allows Him the privilege of such a perspective of history. In other words, God sees the whole of the time of the kingdom as one point in time. He sees time instantaneously. It would be like God’s knowledge of an entire book while we have to read the book page by page in order to understand the book and come to the final chapter. Through His omniscience, God knows the conclusion and every detail of the book. However, because we are limited to living out time one page at a time, we can read only one page at a time until the entire book is completed at the end of time. The book of Revelation gives us a panoramic view from heaven of the kings of Rome as they lived out history. However, God’s view of Rome’s history is from the perspective of knowing all the book of Roman history from beginning to end. What we see as unfolding in the early years of the Roman Empire, God has already viewed through His foreknowledge of all things. He thus gives us a view of the kings of this kingdom from such a view point. It is important to understand this “view” of the Roman Caesars in order to understand Revelation 17 as it relates to the history of Roman Caesars in chapters 13 and 17.
C. Rise and fall of Roman Caesars: As stated before, the “heads” of Revelation 17 possibly find their symbolism in the seven hills upon which the city of Rome was situated (Rv 17:10). Therefore, the figure is probably a reference to the power that was manifested by the Caesars (kings) from the seat of Roman government. In Daniel’s vision, the eleventh horn (“king”) “will subdue three kings” (Dn 7:24). In the vision of Revelation 17, three of the kings are simply ignored (Rv 17:10,11). They are ignored because they are of no significance to Rome’s history or persecution of the church. What John is doing is using Daniel 7 as the prophetic historical background for counting the kings (Caesars) of Rome. He is ignoring the kings that have no significance in the persecution of the church because they were Caesars that assumed the throne out of selfish ambition and plots of murder. In view of the preceding thoughts, therefore, consider the Caesars of the beast (kingdom) that were “dreadful and terrible” (Dn 7:7) as they relate to the early church. The following are the Caesars of Rome during the time when the church began in the 1st century to the time John recorded the visions of Revelation:
Augustus (27 B.C. – A.D. 14), Tiberius (A.D. 14-37), Caligula (A.D. 37-41), Claudius (A.D. 41-54), Nero (A.D. 54-68), [Galba (A.D. 68), Otho (A.D. 69), Vitellius (A.D. 69)], Vespasian (A.D. 69-79), Titus (A.D. 79-81), Domitian (A.D. 81-96)
These were not all of the Roman Caesars that reigned throughout the history of the Roman Empire. However, these were those Caesars that affected the beginning of the church in the 1st century and the evangelism of the early Christians. When studying the New Testament, it is good to keep in mind those Caesars who were reigning at the time the early Christians were preaching throughout the Roman world. When considering the Caesars that reigned during the time of the beginning of the church, one wonders why Daniel said that Galba, Otho and Vitellius were “subdued,” whereas this statement is not made in reference to the other kings. The reason may lie in the historical fact that these three Caesars never really exercised any power or influence during the two years of civil war when they rose and fell as Caesars. In a space of two years these three became Caesar and were quickly removed. Galba came to power by the sword. However, he enraged all classes of citizens in Rome. After being in power for only six months, the historian Seutonius says that Otho had him murdered by a group of assassins. Otho then siezed power as Caesar. However, Otho came into conflict with Vitellius. After Vitellius defeated Otho in battle, Otho committed suicide. He had ruled only ninety-five days. The soldiers of Vitellius revolted against him as a result of his cruelty. After less than a year in control of Rome, he was murdered by Vespasian’s guard. His body was thrown into the Tiber River. Because these three kings played no significant part in the history of the Empire, they were ignored as “subdued” (or, “uprooted” in some translations). Daniel and John did not consider them as Caesars of Rome.
D. The date of Revelation: If the preceding background history is accepted, then the visions of Revelation would have occurred during the reign of Vespasian (69-79). While John was experiencing the visions—not necessarily the writing of the book—“one [king] is” (17:10). Five previous kings had fallen (17:10). Those who had fallen would be Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. Since John ignored the three who were “subdued” (Galba, Otho and Vitellius), the one who is would be Vespasian. Thus, the revelations to John would have occurred during the reign of Vespasian, and probably before A.D. 70. This date of the visions would harmonize with the historical context of the visions. John speaks of the great persecution that was yet to come. “The beast that ascends out of the abyss will make war against them [the saints]” (Rv 11:7). The tense of the verb here is future in reference to the time the saints lived. The saints to whom John wrote were yet to endure a great persecution. The same future tense is again found in Revelation 17:8 in reference to the beast that “will ascend out of the abyss and go to destruction….”
E. The persecutions of Nero and Domitian: It is true that Nero launched a limited persecution against Christians. However, this persecution was not an official legislative edict of the Roman government. In fact, there is no evidence that this persecution spread outside the area of Rome to the rest of the Empire. Imperial Roman persecution against the church would come later. Vespasian and Titus, as far as historical records are concerned, were indifferent to Christianity. However, Domitian unleashed an official Roman policy against Christians. He demanded of all Roman citizens their confession of him as “god.” Those who would not so recognize the “deity of Caesar” were viewed as insubordinate to Roman rule. In the Roman Empire insubordination was equal to insurrection. Thus, capital punishment was handed down to any who would not submit to “Caesar as lord.” Since Christians would not confess “Caesar as lord,” such meant that they would suffer the punishment of the Roman State that was carried out against all insurrectionists. Such meant capital punishment for many Christians during the reign of Domitian.
13:2 Leopard … bear … lion: In Daniel 7, the lion of Daniel’s vision represented the Babylonian kingdom, the bear, the Medo-Persians, and the leopard, the Greeks. Their collective power and glory is now resurrected in the fierceness of the fourth beast, the Roman government. In Daniel’s vision, the “dominion” of the former three kingdoms was terminated (Dn 7:12). However, “their lives were prolonged for a season and a time” (Dn 7:12). In other words, the power that is characteristic of governmental rule was continued in the existence of the fourth beast, the Roman kingdom. However, their “lives” were prolonged only for a short season. The wickedness of the three former kingdoms was added to the wickedness of the fourth (Rome). Their punishment would be fulfilled in the destruction of the fourth. Therefore, when God’s judgment came upon the fourth, it also symbolically fell upon the first three, Babylonia, Medo-Persia and Greece. Satan is thus working behind the scenes to persecute the offspring of the woman (the church) with the totality of Rome’s government. Satan could not directly overthrow the power of God in the heavenly realm (Rv 12:9), therefore, he “resurrected” in an ungodly king his work to lead a pagan government to carry out his mission. Satan is the “god of this age” (2 Co 4:4) and the prince of the world (Jn 12:31). He is the one who has blinded the eyes of the unbelieving in order to destroy the work of God through the church.
13:3 Nero launched the first major persecution of the church in the latter part of his reign (54-68). He was Caesar of Rome when Paul was beheaded around A.D. 67. Mortally wounded: When Nero committed suicide in A.D. 68, his personal vendetta against Christians ceased. Thus the wave of persecution that swept through Rome was wounded. However, the persecution of the church later went from the personal onslaught of one corrupted Caesar to the entire legislative government of Rome through the leadership of Domitian. A statement that was made by the historian Eusebius (260-340) in his Ecclesiastical History (Book 3, Para. 17) is very significant concerning this transition of persecution. Eusebius wrote,
He [Domitian] finally showed himself the successor of Nero’s campaign of hostility to God. He was the second to promote persecution against us, though his father, Vespasian, had planned no evil against us. With this agrees Tertullian, who said, “A long time after, Domitian, a limb of the bloody Nero, makes some like attempts against the Christians ….”
The historical significance of Eusebius’ statement helps us understand how the “deadly wound” of the beast was healed. Though Nero did not launch an official government persecution against Christianity, the severity of his persecution would be resurrected and increased by a later Caesar. Nero’s persecution only gave birth to what would later become an official policy of the Roman Empire. This official policy would be born (“resurrected”) by Domitian who would launch legislative persecution against Christianity which would be considered an illegal religion. Domitian would resurrect the behavior of Nero in his persecution of Christians. Vespasian and Titus would be indifferent to Christianity. Therefore, we go from the personal persecution of Nero to the resurrected persecution of a governmental force that was led by Domitian. All the world was amazed: “All the world” is a limited figure referring to the world of the Roman Empire. The phrase is so interpreted in passages as Luke 2:1 when a decree went out from Augustus that “all the world” of the Roman Empire be registered. This certainly did not include the entire physical world. Only those who were in the jurisdiction of Rome’s control were to register. The same meaning is in the context of Revelation 13. Everyone in the Roman Empire marvelled at the strength and control of Rome in its power over people.
13:4 They worshiped the dragon: The world of unbelievers in the Roman Empire worshiped Satan in their reverence of Rome. When Domitian became Caesar, Roman imperial religion was propagated throughout the Empire through Caesar worship. Domitian claimed to be deity. The test for allegiance to Rome became one’s submission to “Caesar as lord.” Those who would not confess Caesar as lord, were accused of insurrection. Such insurrection carried with it the death penalty, and thus, came the great persecution against Christians who would not confess Caesar as lord. Worship of a man as a god was also given to Herod. The unbelieving world said of Herod, “The voice of a god and not of a man” (At 12:22). Herod was subsequently eaten by worms as a judgment by God. Those on earth who would profess to be gods, will certainly find their destiny in the place where the “worm does not die” (Mk 9:44-48).
13:5,6 Speaking great things and blasphemies: Rome would set her course against the church. Eventually, Caesars would exalt themselves to the status of god. They would be as “a mouth speaking pompous words” against the church (See Dn 7:8,20). Daniel prophesied of Rome, “Then the king will do according to his own will. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god. He will speak blasphemies against the God of gods and will prosper until the wrath has been accomplished. For what has been determined will be done” (Dn 11:36). War forty-two months: The governmental authority that is given to the beast would continue for forty-two months. This was the time when the horn of Rome “was making war against the saints and prevailing against them” (Dn 7:21). Domitian’s arrogance as deity would lead him to “speak pompous words against the Most High” (Dn 7:25). He “will persecute the saints of the Most High, and will intend to change times and law. Then the saints will be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time” (Dn 7:25). The “time, times and half a time” is the same as the forty-two months (11:2). This is a specific time, but limited in duration. Thus, there would be a specific time of persecution, but the persecution would end. Though Rome would “tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months,” God would not allow the persecution to continue indefinitely. His tabernacle: The tabernacle of God is the church (See 11:1,2). Because the church receives her origin and authority for existence from heaven (Mt 16:18), blasphemous words that are spoken against her are spoken against God (See At 9:4,5).
13:7 Given to him to make war with the saints: The deceived citizens of the Roman Empire (vs 14) are led by the pompous behavior of Domitian to launch full persecution (“war”) against the church. The duration of the persecution is limited (vs 5). Daniel had prophesied, “I was watching, and the same horn was making war against the saints and prevailing against them” (Dn 7:21). John’s vision of chapter 11 revealed, “… the beast that ascends out of the abyss will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them” (11:7). Any who would persecute the church find their origin in the kingdom of darkness. Given: Keep in mind that this authority to make war against the church was “granted to him.” Satan would be the immediate source of such wicked behavior. However, God allows Satan to go about as a roaring lion among the nations in order to devour the world of unbelievers (1 Pt 5:8). Satan is allowed by God to have his way with wicked governments. God is not responsible for the wicked behavior of unbelieving governments whose dignitaries choose wickedness. It is Satan working in the individuals of government. God has ordained that government exist in this world (Rm 13:1-3). However, He allows Satan to have his way with government officials who reject the will of God.
13:8 All who dwell on earth will worship him: All who are under the jurisdiction of the Roman State gave their reverential allegiance to Caesar and the Roman State. Those who believe that reference here is to the entire literal earth, miss the hyperbole of the metaphor. John wants us to understand that in view of the fact that all the citizens of the Roman Empire paid homage to Caesar and Rome, it would be very difficult for believers not to do the same. It would appear that everyone has been deceived by the beast and the false prophet of Roman government and religion. John says that those who have been so deceived are not written in the book of life (20:12). And the end result of those who are not written in the book of life will be eternal destruction (Mt 25:41; 2 Th 1:9; Rv 20:12-14). Herein is the comfort of the saints. The saints are comforted in knowing that God has all things under control, which control extends to those who persecute them. The Lamb slain from the creation of the world: The Lamb (Jesus) was foreordained before creation to be crucified for the sins of man (See Is 53). One can only marvel at the love of Jesus for His creation because of His foreknowledge of the cross even before the incarnation. Those who choose to submit to the Lamb, and thus, be cleansed by the blood of Jesus, are written in the book of life. God foreordained that the “recorded saints” (the church) would be destined to eternal salvation (Ep 1:4-11). The church is predestined to eternal glory. Those who free-morally choose to be a part of the church by obedience to the gospel are destined to heaven (See comments Rm 8:28-30). One is thus destined to heaven when he makes a free-moral choice to become a part of the group that is destined to heaven.
13:9,10 Will go into captivity: John now demands that the readers give special attention to what he is saying (See Rv 2:7,11,17, Mt 11:15). The persecutors would take saints into captivity. However, there is here a turn of events in the spiritual war against the saints. The forty-two months (time, times and half a time) are now pictured to come to a close. The captors themselves will now be led into divine captivity. This is reminiscent of the destiny of the disobedient angels who, because of their rebellion against God, are “reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jd 6; See 2 Pt 2:4). And so Domitian and his host of persecutors are reserved today in the tormenting captivity of the hadean world in order to be condemned to Gehenna in the last day. They will eventually go away into the punishment and destruction of Gehenna (Mt 25:41; 2 Th 1:9). The patience and the faith of the saints: The second death is reserved for those who would launch carnal persecution against the city of God, the church. When Christians know this, then they will remain patient under persecution (14:12). They can maintain their faith in God who will eventually deliver them (See Hb 6:12). The principle is stated by the Hebrew writer, “But we are not of those who draw back to destruction, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Hb 10:39). John’s statement in verse 10 is reassurance to the persecuted church that she has victory over the Roman State by faith in Jesus (1 Jn 5:4). Christians must therefore remain faithful (2:10). They must remain faithful to their calling in view of the fact that they will receive a reward for their faithfulness to the Lord in times of persecution. They must not give in to the temptations of Satan (See 1 Co 10:13).
[Next lecture: The Land Beast – April 12]
This chapter of Revelation begins the second series of visions of the book of Revelation. The visions of this section portray the effect on society that took place with the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. The visions also picture the church under persecution, but reveal the victory of the church at any time in history, as well as, the victory of the church at the end of time. Beginning with this chapter, and extending through the end of chapter 14, John first records the visions that picture the beginning of the gospel dispensation. He then records the effects of the gospel that continue throughout the gospel dispensation until the end of time. He seeks to encourage the saints by reminding them that Jesus has already given them the victory. They must stay in the battle. They already know the final score of the game. They win! Therefore, they must simply stay in the game. The persecuted must always understand that their victory is their faith.
THE WOMAN AND THE DRAGON
12:1 There appeared great wonder in heaven: The following battle between good and evil takes place in the spiritual world. It is not a physical battle since it is between the forces of evil and good. John writes from the viewpoint of heaven. In vision he is viewing the events from heaven’s viewpoint. A woman: This is a reference to God’s remnant of those Jews who were sons of Abraham by faith (vss 5,17; see Is 54:5,6; Mc 4:10; Rm 3,4; compare Gl 3:26; Ep 3:15). This remnant of the twelve tribes of Israel came into the church of Christ because their faith moved them to respond to Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. It was the seed of the woman (the church) that was persecuted after the church was established (See vs 17). Clothed: She was clothed with the heavenly glory that is characteristic of the sons of God (See Gl 3:26,27). Twelve stars: The heritage of the woman would be in the twelve tribes of Israel who were the manifestation of God’s people before the coming of the Messiah. It was from the Jews that Jesus was born. It was also from the Jews that the first members of the church originated (At 2:41,47).
12:2 She cried out in labor: Hatred of the Christ child began even before His birth (Mt 2:13-21). Righteous Jews by faith even endured suffering and persecution in hope of the birth of the Deliverer (Lk 2:25; Rm 8:22). Jesus said during His ministry, “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Mt 11:12).
12:3 A great, fiery red dragon: Satan is here pictured behind the scenes (See verses 9,13; 13:2,4,11; 20:2). He is waiting with evil forces in order to destroy the Seed of woman he knows will deliver him a crushing blow (Gn 3:15; see Is 24:1; Jn 12:31). Satan did not know the mystery of God before it was revealed. However, he knew that something was up when the Deliverer was about to be born into the world (See 1 Pt 1:10-12). Seven heads and ten horns: In view of 17:10,12, this could be the full wisdom and power of worldly governments and institutions that Satan uses against the work of God through His people (See 13:1; 17:3,4,12,16). As will be explained in chapter 17, this could refer to the Caesars of the Roman Empire, which Empire is here beginning to rise up in persecution against the saints of God. Seven diadems: These are not crowns of victory (See 13:1; 19:12). They indicate royal power or rule.
12:4 His tail drew a third of the stars: Here is symbolized the power of Satan to deceive the nations (“stars”). It is within this environment of deceived national leaders and nations that the community of God must live until the end of time on earth. Because the inhabitants of the nations have been deceived by Satan, they often present an environment that is hostile to Christianity. The dragon stood before the woman: This is simply one more attempt by Satan to destroy the Seed of the seedline of woman that began in the garden of Eden (Gn 3:15). Satan had sought in the past to destroy the seedline. He now seeks to destroy the Seed in order that the foreplanned crushing blow by the Seed not be inflicted upon his control over the nations (See Ep 3:8-13).
12:5 A male child: Jesus is born into the world as the rod of iron (Ps 2:9). Who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: It was prophesied that Jesus would be King of kings and Lord of Lords (Dn 7:13,14; Lk 1:31,32). Since His ascension to the right hand of God, He has exercised this reign over all things (Ep 1:20-22; Ph 2:8-11; 1 Tm 6:15). His kingdom reign was never meant to be an earthly kingdom (See comments Jn 18:36-38). His rule was always meant to be from heaven in the obedient hearts of men on earth who submit to the power of His word (See Lk 17:20,21; see Rv 2:27; Rm 1:16). Caught up to God: Satan assumed he had gained victory over Jesus at the moment of His death on the cross. However, Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Satan thought he maintained control over all the world by His deception of the nations. However, Jesus ascended to the right hand of God to receive authority over all things (Ep 1:20-22; Hb 8:1).
12:6 The woman fled into the wilderness: Because of persecution, the sons of God by faith who brought forth the Messiah, now flee into the wilderness from persecution. However, though they are persecuted, God continues to care for His people. He providentially watches over those who are His (Mt 18:18-20; 23:20). The time in the wilderness is 1,260 days (11:2,3). It is a determined time set by God until His deliverance of His people from persecution.
12:7-9 There was a war in heaven: John writes from a heavenly viewpoint in explaining that spiritual warfare broke out in the heavenly realm. Michael: This angel’s name means “who is like God” (See comments Jd 9; see Dn 10:13,21; 12;1). Michael is the archangel (1 Th 4:16; Jd 9). However, in reference to the birth of Jesus we must keep in mind that Gabriel played a significant role in both announcing the birth of the male child Christ, as well as, in His protection from the wicked hands of Herod (See Lk 1,2). The great dragon was cast out: He was cast down in the spiritual realm (vs 10). Before Jesus came into this world, Satan controlled the world by the power of his deception. However, beginning with the ministry of Jesus, Jesus’ word and works have cast Satan and his forces down from their control over all humanity of the world (See 20:1-6; Jn 12:31; 16:11; Mt 12:29; Lk 10:18; 11:21ff). Those who hear and believe the gospel are not under the deceptive control of Satan. When Jesus was resurrected from the dead, He signalled the resurrection of all men at the end of time (Jn 5:28,29). When Jesus ascended to the right hand of God, He became King and head over all things for the sake of the church (Ep 1:20-22). Every aspect of Jesus’ work was against Satan in order to cast him down. John’s visions show that Satan was defeated on earth by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Satan’s power in the heavenly realm was defeated by Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of the Father to receive kingdom reign over all things. This vision actually symbolizes a conflict that raged since the garden of Eden but came to its climax with the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The conflict simply carries on with Satan’s attack against the spiritual seedline of the Lamb, that is, the church. Satan lost the battle against the Seed at Calvary and the garden tomb. He now thinks he can win the battle against the sons of the kingdom of the Seed.
12:10 Now the salvation … the kingdom … have come: The eternal plan of redemption was accomplished on the cross and in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (See Ep 1:3-14; 3:1-11). The predestined redemption through the cross and resurrection have taken affect in the lives of men through the preaching of the gospel to all nations (Mt 28:19,20; Mk 16:15). Men can now free-morally choose to allow the kingdom reign of Jesus to come into their hearts (See comments Mt 6:9,10; Lk 17:20,21). They have been delivered from the fear of physical death (Hb 2:14,15). Cast down: When men choose to allow the will of the Father to be done on earth in their hearts as it is done in heaven, Satan is cast down. Jesus’ ministry began the defeat of Satan (Jn 12:31). The final blow came with the events of the cross and resurrection (See Cl 2:15; 1 Co 15:1-4,56; Hb 2:14). What subsequently followed in Acts 2 was the first official announcement of the kingdom reign of Jesus (At 2:29-36). When men and women submitted to the kingdom reign of Jesus, His reign was established in the hearts of men (See 1:9; 11:15; Dn 2:44; 7:13,14; Mt 16:18,19; Cl 1:13).
12:11 Overcame him by the blood … by the word: The saints had power over the results of their sins by the power of the cleansing blood of Jesus (7:14; At 20:28; see 1 Jn 1:7). They had power over the kingdom of darkness by the power of the gospel (Rm 1:16) and the word of God that they preached (1:9; 6:9; Hb 4:12). They were willing to suffer unto death because they knew that death was only a transition into a better realm (2:10; See At 22:4; Ph 1:23; Hb 2:14,15).
12:12 Has a short time: In comparison to eternity, the time Satan has before being cast into the torment of hell is short (Mt 25:41). Knowing that there will be an eventual end of Satan does bring comfort. Christians know that they will eventually enter into an environment that will be free from the presence of Satan and his deceived followers (See Rm 9:28; 1 Co 7:29; Rv 3:11; 10:6; compare Rv 6:11; 20:3,7). However, because Satan knows that his time is limited, he unleashes all his powers against the unregenerate world (“the earth”) and the masses of humanity (“the sea”). It is his goal to destroy the work of the Seed by taking as many of the inhabitants of the world as possible into his realm of deception, and eventually, into his own eternal destiny of a fiery hell (Mt 25:41).
12:13 When Satan was defeated by Michael at the birth of the male Child (vss 7-9), he turned his powers to incite persecution against the spiritual heritage of the woman. He thus launched his attack against the saints of God who were to live after the establishment of the kingdom reign of the Christ (Jn 15:20; At 8:4). All who determined to serve the King of kings made themselves the enemies of Satan.
12:14 Fly into the wilderness: Wings signify God’s deliverance of His servants (See Ex 19:4; Dt 32:3,11; Is 40:31; Ps 36:7). He providentially protects His people from those who would seek to destroy His work through them. A time and times and half a time: The number three and a half is one half of seven which is the number that represents God’s perfection and completion of eternal redemption. Three and a half, therefore, symbolizes a limited time of turmoil and trouble for those who suffer as a result of those who work against God’s cause. This is the same period of time as the forty-two months and 1,260 days (See 11:2,3; compare Dn 7:25; 12:7). Reference here could be to the time when the church was under the persecution of Judaism and the Roman Empire. Reference could also be generic in the sense of having application to the time until the end of time. It will be at the end of all things that the true instigator of persecution, that is, Satan, will finally be destroyed in the lake of fire (Mt 25:41). However, in the context of John’s message, reference must be primarily to his audience who would suffer the intensity of Roman State persecution.
12:15,16 Water … like a flood: Satan uses every form of destructive force—lies, false philosophies, false religions, malicious slander, wicked governments—against the church in an effort to destroy her (Ps 69:15; 90:5; Dn 9:26; 11:22; Is 59:19; Jr 46:7; see Js 3:14,15; 4:1ff). The minds of the unregenerate inhabitants of the world soaked up the lies and falsehoods of Satan. As dry riverbeds, the willingness of men to be deceived by the lies of Satan is unending. However, because the church is not of the world, she can know that those things that the world believes are certainly not the truth of God. And thus, she shuns the empty philosophies of the world and does not believe such simply because those of the body love the truth (See 2 Th 2:10-12). The church derives truth from God, not deceptions of the world.
12:17 Rest of her seed: Satan launched his war against those who were the Israel by faith in order to destroy the birth of the Seed of woman. But he failed. He then turned his attack against the heritage of the Israel by faith (the church) in order to take his rage out on the saints of God. John now moves us into this rage of Satan against the saints of the 1st century. Satan raises up religious and state persecution in order to destroy the church. However, as John will reveal to us, Satan can never win against the saints of God. God takes Satan’s work and turns it against him.
[Next lecture: The Sea Beast – April 9]
There has been a great deal of discussion among Bible students concerning the date when this book was written by John the apostle. Some say it was written in the 60s during the reigns of Nero and Vespasian who were Caesars of Rome. Others affirm the traditional date of A.D. 95 or 96. This latter date is supported by most church writers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Consider also with this the fact that it is unlikely that the churches discussed in chapters 2 and 3 would have digressed so much in so little time if the book was written in the 60s. Compare Ephesians 1:15, which was written around A.D. 61, with the state of the church in Ephesus as described in Revelation 2:4. Their spiritual state as described in 2:4 does not seem to be the their spiritual condition as described in Ephesians 1:15. Compare also the lukewarmness of the church in Laodecea (3:15,16). This city was destroyed by an earthquake during Nero’s reign, but had been rebuilt and was prospering by the time John wrote (3:17). We must also consider the fact that it was the practice of Domitian to exile religious and political leaders. Tradition says that John was exiled to Patmos around the end of the 1st century. What John says in 1:9 seems to indicate that he was suffering from such an exile at the time he saw the visions.
In view of the content of the book, we would not rule out the early date. Some Bible students have affirmed that John saw the visions before A.D. 70 but recorded them after the event of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This date is held in conjunction with the view of some students that the beast and false prophet in Revelation refer to Judaism and not the Roman Empire. This is at least one view that should be considered. In the years preceding the consummation of national Israel in the destruction of Jerusalem, there was great turmoil throughout the Roman Empire in reference to the insurrection of the Jews. Even in the church there were those who were questioning the messiahship of Jesus, and thus were being recruited by zealot Jews who were working to inspire all Jews to rebel against the Roman domination and occupation of Palestine.
However, the extent and nature of the persecution that was launched against the church that is portrayed in the book seems to reach far beyond the persecution of the Jews against the early members of the church. The political and economic onslaught that the beast and false prophet launched against the church seems to be much greater than the Jewish persecution that was only regional and was always controlled by the laws of the Roman government. The Jewish persecution of the church was small in comparison to the persecution that was launched against the church by the Roman Empire.
In chapters 13 and 17 John seems to speak of kings and kingdoms as a chronology in order to identify the date of writing. If reference in the context of these two chapters is to the Caesars of Rome, then the one who was in power at the time of writing was Vespasian who was Caesar from A.D. 69 to A.D. 79. Therefore, it would have been during the early part of his reign that Revelation was written. In view of the turmoil that prevailed throughout the Empire during Rome’s destruction of the Jewish State that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, it could be concluded that the letter was written in A.D. 69 or 70.
Regardless of the date of writing and the persecutors of the church to who John refers, references to the characters and symbols in the book cannot refer to the end of time. Whether reference was to Jewish persecution or Roman persecution, the textual content of the book does not refer to the end of time. John was writing to those immediate recipients who were enduring persecution, or headed for persecution in their lifetime.
The theme of Revelation is expressed in 17:14. Throughout the revelation, John portrays the victorious Christ over all evil power (1:18; 2:8; 5:9,10; 6:2; 11:15; 12:9-12; 14:1,14; 15:2-4; 19:16; 20:4; 22:3). Christ is pictured as leading the church into victory over Satan and all obstacles that Satan can place in the way of Christian faithfulness (17:14). It is the theme of Jesus throughout the visions to reassure the persecuted saints that they have a greater future than the hostile environment in which they were persecuted. There was a reward for those who endured (2:10). This hope in the reward that was yet to come gave them strength and encouragement to overcome the onslaught of persecution into which they had gone and were going. The message of the book is the victory of the saints over the evils of this world.
The general scope of Revelation is that God brings down judgment on those who would persecute His people, even though He has used pagan nations to discipline His people. Through the proxy of the Assyrian Empire God brought judgment on the northern kingdom of Israel in 722/21 B.C. However, Isaiah said that God would bring judgment on the Assyrian Empire. Through the proxy of the Babylonian Empire God brought judgment on the southern kingdom of Israel in 586 B.C. However, God brought judgment on the Babylonians, and subsequently, brought the Babylonian Empire to a close. Through the proxy of the Roman Empire God brought judgment on national Israel who had rejected Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. However, God eventually brought down the Roman Empire in 476 B.C. with the fall of Rome. The recipients of the book of Revelation were living in a time when God was bringing national Israel to a close, which close happened in A.D. 70 with the fall of Jerusalem. Though God was using the Roman Empire to bring national Israel to a close, he wanted to reassure his readers that as God had brought down judgment on the Assyrians and Babylonians, He would also bring down judgment on the Roman Empire.
John knew the persecution that the church endured in its early beginnings. It was a persecution led by a Jewish leadership who saw the early growth of Christianity as a threat against Judaism wherever it went. However, John saw a greater persecution that was coming in the near future. It would be the persecution of Imperial Rome in her efforts to crush those who would not submit to the tyranny of the Caesars who presumed themselves to be deity. Those Caesars who presumed to be deity imposed their self-deification on the populous of the Empire. Therefore, John sees 175 years of persecution that would begin in the near future, but would eventually come to an end when God would eventually bring judgment upon the Roman Empire. John’s purpose for writing, therefore, was to encourage the disciples in order that they endure the onslaught of Rome’s persecution until God brought down judgment on the Empire (15:2; 17:14). John’s final encouragement was in the fact that God would bring the whole world to a conclusion.
This inspired letter of the New Testament is apocalyptic in style and presentation of its message. Apocalyptic literature was written in times of suffering and persecution by the Jews. The message of the writer was composed in apocalyptic writing in order to conceal the real message from the enemies of the truth. At the same time, the message of the literature was revealed to the faithful recipients. The general purpose of apocalyptic literature was to encourage the recipients to believe that they would be victorious over their enemies because God was working on their behalf.
The message of apocalyptic literature is presented in a figurative manner with the use of many metaphors (See 1:1). Students should be cautious not to literalize the figures lest they miss the message of the writer. The writers of apocalyptic literature often used cryptic symbols. These are figures of speech that are often very graphic and terrifying. John uses many cryptic symbols in this document in order to either produce shock or emphasis concerning the message he is conveying.
Because Revelation was written in figurative language, our approach to the interpretation of the book must be different than our interpretation of non-apocalyptic literature. Our approach to non-apocalyptic literature is to first understand the text in a literal manner unless there are contextual reasons to understand the text in a figurative manner. However, in apocalyptic literature the reverse is true. We must first understand the text in a figurative manner unless there is contextual justification to understand the text in a literal manner. Many interpreters of Revelation misunderstand the message of John because they fail to follow this simple method of biblical hermeneutics when studying this particular book. John knew this. Therefore, he introduces the book with three notes of caution to those who would take the message of the visions out of their historical context or twist them to fit preconceived ideas.
It would be the tendency of those who came later in history to seek to apply the message of Revelation directly to their own circumstances. In a spiritual sense, the message of Revelation certainly applies to the church at any time in history. However, the actual events of the letter were written with direct application to the first readers of the message. All readers after the 1st century Christians are secondary recipients of the message. Therefore, we can apply the message of the letter to ourselves only in the sense that the message offers encouragement to the church by seeing how God has worked to deliver His saints. All truth in the message applies to the church in any age. However, the historical content of the book refers to the early Christians who endured these sufferings.
By the time John wrote this letter to the seven churches of Asia, all truth had already been delivered to the church through the apostles (Jn 14:26; 16:13; Jd 3). Therefore, there is no more revelation of fundamental truth in this letter that is not found in other epistles of the New Testament.
God does not reveal fundamental truth through apocalyptic language. The reason for this is obvious. If He did reveal fundamental truth through language that was subject to the interpretation of men, then we could never come to an agreement on what was fundamental for salvation. Therefore, interpreters who go to this book as their primary source for establishing doctrinal beliefs should be cautioned concerning this point in their deductions from the book. The biblical interpreter must understand that God never revealed that which was essential to believe in order to be saved in a manner that was difficult to understand. Though fundamental teachings can be embedded in figurative language, the teachings themselves must be clearly revealed in other texts. In fact, understanding figurative language depends on the revelation of fundamental teachings that are clearly revealed in other books of the Bible. When we come to a book of apocalyptic symbols as Revelation, our understanding of the book must to be based on our understanding of clearly interpreted concepts from other inspired books.
Endure To The End
24:13 He who will endure: Those who remain faithful while in the midst of persecution, apostasy and tribulation will be delivered from the end of national Israel (See Rv 2:10). They will be spared (10:22). Jesus even promised the disciples that not a hair of their head will be lost in the destruction (Lk 21:18). However, the condition not to fall victim to the calamity that was coming was to heed Jesus’ warning concerning the destruction (See Lk 21:36). We can now see why Jesus was giving these immediate disciples the information of this discourse. Those who believed these pronouncements would not fall victim to the certain destruction of Jerusalem. The faithful would save their lives if they heeded these warnings. Those Jewish Christians who were still clinging to Judaism had to make a decision. They had to relinquish loyalty to Jerusalem and the temple and cling to Jesus. We can see in the contexts here why Jerusalem and the temple had to go. There was too much Jewish sentimentality connected to both the city and the temple. By A.D. 70 God would have been patient with Israel for forty years after the cross. In A.D. 70, it was time to cut national Israel off. Jewish Christians had to move on, on to a Christianity that was neither culturally nor nationalistically linked to Judaism or held up by an attachment to physical structures, leaders, or a particular cultural group (See Jn 4:20-26). The end, therefore, would be a paradigm shift that would purify Christianity of Judaism. Throughout history God does such things in order to bring us back to Him.
Preaching To The Empire
24:14 This gospel … will be preached: The good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection would be preached to all parts of the Roman Empire, before the destruction of A.D. 70. All the world: “All the world” is here certainly a reference to the Roman Empire as the phrase is so used in Luke 2:1 when Caesar Augustus sent a decree throughout all the world. This was not a decree that was sent to the entire world. The idiomatic expression “all the world” referred only to those who were under Roman jurisdiction. This same meaning is in Romans 1:8 when Paul said that the faith of the Roman Christians was known throughout the Roman Empire (See Rm 10:18; 15:19,24-28; Ph 1:13; Cl 1:6,23). The Roman Christians’ faith was certainly not spoken of throughout the rest of the geographical world. Reference to “the whole world” is again to the perimeters or jurisdiction of the Roman Empire. In Romans 10:18 Paul does use the phrase “all the earth,” or “ends of the world,” to refer to the complete world. Keep in mind, however, that Romans 10:18 was a quotation from Psalm 19:4. In prophetic language it is stated in the past tense. Paul quoted it in the past tense as it was written by David. This does not mean, therefore, that at the time Paul quoted Psalm 19 in Romans 10 that it had been completely fulfilled. In Romans 15:24-28 Paul desired to go to Spain and preach the gospel. The gospel had evidently not yet gone to Spain. Therefore, when he made the statement of Romans 10:18, the gospel at the time of his writing the letter of Romans had not yet literally gone to “all the earth” or “ends of the world.” In the context of Matthew 24, therefore, we would understand that the meaning of “all the world” refers to the extent of the Roman Empire. The practical reason for the preaching of the gospel to the Roman Empire before the destruction of Jerusalem is obvious. During the Passover/Pentecost feast, Jews of the Roman Empire would make the long journey to Jerusalem to celebrate this great Jewish feast. On the particular Passover/Pentecost feast of the Acts 2 events, there were Jews in Jerusalem from the eastern extent of the Roman Empire, that is, Parthia and Media. There were Jews from the southern extent of the Roman Empire in North Africa. There were Jews from all Asia and Italy. This journey to Jerusalem for Passover and Pentecost was a very precious event in the lives of devout Jews. In the context of Matthew 24, therefore, Jesus was giving a warning to the disciples throughout the Roman Empire in order to save their lives. When the gospel was preached to the Jewish inhabitants of the Roman Empire, they were to give up the Sinai law that mandated that Jewish males appear before the Lord on the Passover (Ex 12; 23; Nm 9). Those Jews who obeyed the gospel would be taught the prophecy of Matthew 24. They would thus stay away from Jerusalem. When the Roman army did come to Jerusalem in A.D. 70, they came at the time of the Passover. Those Jewish Christians who lived outside Judea believed the message of Matthew 24, and thus, were not there. Those resident Christian Jews of Jerusalem had fled before the coming of the Roman army (Compare At 8:4).
The Abomination Of Desolation
24:15-18 Abomination of desolation: The abomination of desolation would be the pagan Roman army in Judea. The army would be there to desecrate the temple. The presence of Rome’s army would be an abomination to the Jews. However, it would be the will of God, who was by proxy, bringing judgment on Israel through the power of the Roman army. Luke records, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near” (Lk 21:20). Daniel had prophesied of this event in Daniel 9 & 11. Jesus was saying, therefore, that we must understand that the A.D. 70 event was the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy (See Mk 13:14). Daniel said, “And the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it will be with a flood, and until the end of the war desolations are determined” (Dn 9:26,27). Forces “will defile the sanctuary fortress. Then they will take away the daily sacrifices and place there the abomination of desolation” (Dn 11:31). “And there will be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation …” (Dn 12:1; see 12:11). Antiochus Epiphanes first desecrated the altar of Jerusalem by offering a pig on the altar. However, the final desecration would happen when the Roman army would destroy the altar in the destruction of the temple. Flee into the mountains: At the beginning of the time of destruction, the resident Christians of Judea must flee. They must heed Jesus’ warnings in order to perceive that the end of national Israel was near. The urgency by which they must flee is here revealed. In the ancient cities one could actually go from house to house on the roof tops of the houses. The houses were joined together so that one could simply go from one roof to another. Jesus says that they must not take the time to return to their houses for coveted possessions when they see the chance to escape the city. They must flee with what they have in hand. Jesus also warned that no one is to go to Judea during these days (Lk 21:21). This warning was possibly to those who might travel to Jerusalem and be caught in the war that was to rage throughout Judea. Jesus’ warning, therefore, was to save lives, the lives of those Jewish Christians who might still be honoring the Jewish feasts. The Roman army of Titus was under the command of Cestius Gallus. For some reason during the destruction of the city, he removed his encircling army from the city for a brief period of time. This gave all resident Christians of Jerusalem time to flee. This was possibly the time Jesus said that they must not come down from their roof tops. They must take the window of opportunity and flee from the city.
Pray For Flight
24:19,20 Pray: It would be difficult for pregnant women to flee during the war. Those with small nursing babies would also have difficulty in the flight from Judea. The prayers of the saints evidently had some determining factor as to when this destruction would occur, for Jesus asked them to pray that such not happen in winter when the journey of flight would be difficult. They must also pray that their flight not begin on the Sabbath, for fanatical Jews would close the city gates on the Sabbath and hinder any from leaving the city.
24:21 There will be great tribulation: Daniel prophesied that no nation from the beginning of time would have suffered as Israel was about to suffer at the hand of the Roman army. He wrote, “And there will be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation” (Dn 12:1; see Dn 9:26). It would be a destruction that would occur over a few months, but a destruction that would terminate a nation forever. The siege occurred during the Passover, the time when the most “faithful,” or at least fanatical Jews were in Jerusalem. These Jews were trapped in the city. Over one million perished. The rest were sold into slavery. It was a time that the Jewish nation suffered more in just a few months than any nation before them. In fact, it was a time when national Israel, as a chosen nation of God, died.
War Shortened For Christian’s Sake
24:22 No life would be saved: God would shorten those days of the war. If the rate of killing Jews continued as it did during the battle, the slaughter of all Jews throughout the Roman Empire would have resulted in their annihilation. The killing would have spilled over into the community of Christian Jews. But for the sake of the Christian Jews, God would not allow the killing to continue past the destruction of Jerusalem. Therefore, the destruction was contained in Judea. For the elect’s sake: Titus expedited the battle against Jerusalem in order to hurry back to Rome. However, the battle continued for about five months. Josephus records that the Roman army crucified about 30,000 Jews outside the city walls. Titus did such in order to discourage the Jews within the city, and thus, expedite their surrender. But the Jews persisted until both the city and temple were destroyed.
24:23 Do not believe it: Jesus again emphasized the concept that believers not be led astray by the deceptions of false messiahs. In time of national calamity He knew that the people would seek for a national savior. There would be those self-proclaimed deliverers who would seek to lead the nation in rebellion against Rome. Jesus tells the disciples not to follow such false guides. When the disciples later asked in Acts 1:6, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel,” Jesus knew that they still retained nationalistic hopes. In the context of Matthew 24, therefore, He gives teachings upon which they could reflect when the countdown started toward A.D. 70. They could reflect on what Jesus said in this discussion and know that His intention was not to establish a physical kingdom reign here on earth. It was never His intention to do so. It will not be His intention to do so when He comes again. Jesus’ kingdom reign was always planned to be from heaven, not from this earth.
False Messiahs And Prophets
24:24 False christs and false prophets: False christs and prophets would arise in the time of calamity in order to call people after futile causes, particularly the survival of national Israel. They would deceive people by assuming that they could work signs and wonders. These magical tricks of wonder would be so good among the false messiahs and prophets of the Jews that even some Christians would fall victim to their deceptions. Show great signs and wonders: These “signs and wonders” could not be real miracles simply because Jesus says here that Christians might be deceived into believing them. The point is that they would not be deceived if the supposed miracles were true. One is not deceived when he believes that which is true and real. This context is similar to Paul’s warning in 2 Thessalonians 2:9 where he stated that there would come those who worked lying wonders. In the 2 Thessalonians text the word “lying” modifies power, signs and wonders. All supposed miracles of Satan are false. Those who work deceptive powers, signs and wonders, are the instruments of deception. But Paul warns that “such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Co 11:13). They are not deceivers because they work true miracles. They are deceivers because they claim that what they do is the miraculous work of God. Jesus said, “Be not deceived.” The elect: All Christians are elect of God (1 Pt 1:2,10; 2:6), for in the end they will be elected out of the world for eternal salvation in heaven.
24:25 I have told you: Jesus told the disciples these things beforehand in order to prepare them to believe in Him when His prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem was fulfilled. He made a similar statement in John 13:18 after quoting Psalm 41:9 in reference to the betrayal of Judas (See comments Jn 18:19). The false workers about whom Jesus spoke existed in the times preceding the destruction of Jerusalem. Such false religious workers have prevailed throughout history. Christians, therefore, who would be disciples of Jesus must heed His warnings concerning such people (See 2 Pt 3:1-4). Peter stated that in the last days of national Israel, there would be those who would mock Christians for their belief in the consummation of national Israel by the coming of the Lord (2 Pt 3:1-4). The words of Jesus in Matthew 24 were in the mind of Peter when he made the statements of 2 Peter 3. He stirred his audience to remembrance by reminding them that they were in the last days. He wrote the letter of 2 Peter between A.D. 65 and 67. This was only a short time before the destruction was to begin. He reminded the people that Jesus was manifested in the last times of national Israel (1 Pt 1:20). The Hebrew writer stated to the Jewish Christians that God had spoken through Jesus in the last days of Israel (Hb 1:2). This was the “fullness of the time,” (Gl 4:4) and the end of the age of Israel (Ep 1:10). It was in the last times of national Israel that God sent forth His Son. The last days in these statements does not refer to the last days of the world, but to the end of national Israel in A.D. 70. It was the “last times,” the last times of national Israel. Jude and James also wrote just a few years before the fall of Jerusalem (See Jd 17). The few years preceding A.D. 70 were the last times of national Israel. God was bringing judgment upon the wicked vinedressers (the Jewish religious leadership) who attempted to steal the fruit and inheritance of the vineyard (See 21:33-45). National Israel had rejected God, and thus, God was rejecting national Israel. National Israel’s persecution of the “Israel by faith” was coming to an end. James wrote to suffering Jewish Christians of the Roman Empire around A.D. 62 or 63. He comforted the persecuted “Israel by faith” (the church) by saying that the coming of the Lord was at hand (Js 5:7,8). James was not talking about a “coming of the Lord” at the end of time. Discussion concerning a coming at the end of time would not have been an encouragement to his immediate readers. The “coming” in the context here is about judgment in time upon the nation of Israel. National Israel was the primary persecutor of Christians before A.D. 70. Jesus’ “coming in judgment” upon Israel was at hand, that is, it was near unto happening. In Matthew 24 Jesus was explaining the calamity of national calamity that would come forty years after the establishment of the church in A.D. 30.
24:26,27 Do not believe it: Before the end of national Israel there were those false christs (messiahs) who led gullible Jews into the wilderness in hope of deliverance from Rome. Jesus is here warning the disciples not to accept anyone who would lead them into believing that the Christ would come in time in a manner that would be characteristic of His final coming. When Jesus comes at the end of time it will not be a happening that must be communicated by people to people. It will be a happening that will be at the sound of the last trumpet, with the voice of an archangel (1 Th 4:15,16). In other words, Jesus says that if they are told that “the Christ” has come, they should not believe it, for the next personal coming of Jesus will be worldwide and heavenly announced.
Consumption Of The Carcass
24:28 Carcass … vultures: The carcass was the Jewish national carcass of Israel. The gathered vultures was the Roman army that came to consume the nation. When the disciples started seeing the gathering of the Roman army over Palestine as vultures gather over a dead carcass, they would know that the destruction of the spiritually dead Israel was about to happen.
Downfall Of National Israel
24:29 Immediately after … those days: The great tribulation of verse 21 would precede the final destruction of the city. Therefore, immediately after the tribulation of those days, the splendor of the Jewish nation would fall by the destruction of Israel’s pride, the city of Jerusalem and the temple. Sun will be darkened: Jesus uses apocalyptic judgment language from the Old Testament to portray the fall of the nation. Such language was commonly used by inspired writers in the Old Testament to symbolize the fall of nations (See Is 13:6-18; 14:12; 24:23; 34:4; Jr 4:23,24; Ez 32:7,8; Dn 8:10; Jl 2:30-32). The sun usually represented the king or monarch of the nation. The heavenly bodies represented the rest of the government officials. We must not allow ourselves to become inconsistent in understanding Jesus’ use of this figurative language by affirming this to be a literal falling of the sun, moon and stars. If taken literally, to where would the sun, moon and stars fall? We should consistently interpret such language as it was used in the Old Testament. It is symbolic language that refers to the fall of an earthly kingdom. Powers of the heavens will be shaken: When God shakes the heavens, there is great change on earth among the nations. This is the meaning of the figure in Haggai 2:6,7 from which Jesus draws this figure, “shaking the powers of the heavens.” God was going “to shake” heaven and earth in order to sift out of national Israel those who could not be shaken because they had submitted to the kingdom reign of Jesus in their hearts. This is precisely what the Hebrew writer stated when he wrote a few years before A.D. 70 (See Hb 12:26,27). National Israel was being physically removed in order to allow the “Israel by faith” to shine forth as the true people of God. These are the people who cannot be shaken (Hb 12:28).
The Sign Of The Son
24:30 Sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven: Jesus had earlier spoken to His disciples on the subject of His coming judgment. He had said that this coming (presence) would be “in the glory of His Father with His angels [messengers]” (16:27). Jesus had said in chapter 16 that some of His immediate disciples would experience this coming (16:28; Mk 9:1). So the sign here in verse 30 is discussing what Jesus had previously prophesied. When the Roman army eventually came, such would be God’s final signal that we believe in Jesus who made this prophecy. The fulfillment would be God’s last proof of Jesus as the Messiah. See: The word “see” (horao) could be translated “perceive” or “discern.” When all these things happen, men would perceive the judgment of Jesus on Jerusalem. Son of Man coming on the clouds: “Coming on the clouds” is judgment language from the Old Testament (Is 19:1; Jr 4:13; Ez 30:3; Dn 7:13). When Jesus brings this judgment through the Roman army, then people will perceive the judgment power of the Son. The disciples would thus witness the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy. They would understand that Daniel 7:13,14 had been fulfilled. Daniel 7:13,14 speaks of the ascension of Jesus, for Jesus ascended unto the Ancient of Days who is the Father. However, before Jesus ascended to heaven, all authority in heaven and earth had been given to Him (28:18; Jn 13:3; 17:2). Many would not realize this until the physical fulfillment of the prophecy Jesus was making here in this chapter. When Jesus came in judgment on Jerusalem, then men realized that Jesus was exalted as King of kings and reigning over all things (Ep 1:21; 1 Tm 6:15; see Ph 2:9-11). Jesus was Lord of lords and King of kings before A.D. 70 (1 Tm 6:15). However, true Israel by faith did not “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (13:43) until after national Israel was shaken. When national Israel was taken away, the true Israel (the church), that could not be shaken, shined forth in the kingdom. This was a marvel, “a sign,” that the disciples would experience in their lifetime. If reference in this verse is not to the ascension of Jesus to the Father by the coming in the clouds, then the figure is to coming in judgment. It is a figure from the Old Testament that signified God’s coming in judgment upon the unrighteous (Is 19:1; Jr 4:13; Ez 30:3). This could possibly be what Jesus is here signifying. He indicates this same thought during His trial when He stated to the high priest that he would see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God and coming in judgment on the clouds of heaven (26:64). Of course the high priest would not literally see Jesus at the right hand of the Father with all authority. Only Stephen had that privilege (At 7:55). However, the high priest of Israel at the time of the judgment would see this power manifested by the judgment of God through the proxy of the Roman army. Those unbelieving Jews who experienced the destruction of Jerusalem certainly wondered why God was judging them. The disciples before A.D. 70 recognized the kingdom reign of Jesus. This kingdom reign would be manifested after A.D. 70 by the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy here in Matthew 24. The destruction possibly encouraged many disheartened Jews to turn to Jesus. This is possibly what Paul referred to when he mentioned their conversion in the context of Romans 9-11. A partial blindness had truly come among the Jews. It happen from the time of the establishment of the church in A.D. 30 to the time of the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, a time of 40 years, which was possibly symbolic of the 40 years of wilderness wanderings when the unbelieving Jews fell in the desert of the Sinai wilderness. This was the time when the fullness of the Gentiles was completed in the sense that the early evangelists went to the Gentiles because they were rejected by national Israel (See comments Rm 11:25,26). Israel would be saved in the same manner as the Gentiles, that is, through obedience to the gospel. However, because of the stubborn nature of some Jews, they had to experience the destruction of the symbol of their religious heritage, before they would understand that God was finished with national Israel. The Messiah had come and Israel must accept the new King and kingdom of the Messiah.
Sending Forth Of Evangelists
24:31 He will send His messengers with a great sound: The Greek word angelos is translated “messengers” in this text. It is so translated in Matthew 11:10, “Behold, I send My messenger [“angelos”] before Your face ….” It is so translated in Luke 7:24, “When the messengers [“angelos”] of John had departed ….” Also, Jesus “sent messengers [“angelos”] before His face” to Jerusalem (Lk 9:52; see 2 Co 12:7; Js 2:25). Because some translators have believed that Matthew 24 refers to the end of time, they have translated the word angelos to refer to heavenly angels. But the context does not warrant this translation. Jesus was not historically leaping from a context of events that would transpire in A.D. 70 to events that might occur over two thousand years later. They will gather together: Jesus did send His messengers forth (28:19; Mk 16,15-20). The disciples were dispersed from Jerusalem in Acts 8:4 in order to take the message of the gospel throughout the world. Those who would believe were gathered together into the body of Christ, the new Jerusalem that had come down out of heaven (See comments Rv 21). Those who recognized that all things were fulfilled (5:18) came to Jesus. They converted from Jewish theocratic nationalism to spiritual revivalism. They realized that the new Israel was spiritual and was not confined to race (See comments Gl 3:28,29). Sound of a trumpet: The messengers (evangelists) went forth with the sound of a trumpet. This was symbolic language taken from the Old Testament. The trumpet was sounded in Israel as a warning of impending danger (Nm 10:2; Jl 2:1ff; Is 27:13). The disciples went forth not only with the message of hope in the gospel, but also the message of Matthew 24. Those Jews who did not obey the gospel would possibly suffer their own physical destruction in the calamity of A.D. 70. If those who refused to obey the gospel did not suffer the destruction of A.D. 70, then they would in final judgment face another destruction (2 Th 1:7-9).
Parable Of The Fig Tree
24:32,33 When you see all these things: The meaning of the parable from the fig tree was given in order to illustrate the nearness of the destruction as indicated by Jesus’ statements of verses 5-29. The fig tree puts forth her tender branches and leaves in the spring. Such indicates that summer is coming. The happening of the events of verses 5-29 would indicate the nearness of the destruction of Jerusalem. The disciples would understand that the coming of the Lord in judgment in time was at hand (Js 5:9).
Fulfillment Of “This Generation”
24:34 This generation: Some of those of Jesus’ generation, the generation to whom Jesus was speaking, would not die before all that He had just said had occurred. This verse is certainly parallel with what Jesus said in 16:27,28. Thus the disciples would go from city to city, preaching the gospel of the kingdom. This would be their message of hope. However, the messengers would also have on their lips a message of doom for national Israel. In their preaching, the unbelieving Jews would persecute them from city to city (10:23). Because of the Jews’ persecution of the messengers, God would bring judgment upon national Israel in order to confirm His messengers. Before Jesus arrived at this context of His message to the disciples in Matthew 24, He had stated, “Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (23:36). All these things are fulfilled: “These things” refer to the events of the coming destruction. These things would “come upon this generation.” God would bring the punishment of judgment upon the generation to whom Jesus personally ministered because they had personally rejected Him (See 12:41,42; Jn 1:11). Jesus’ generation would receive a more harsh judgment because they had personally witnessed the presence of the Son of God. The harsh judgment would be that they would not die a natural death, but in the calamity of the fall of national Israel. The destruction of Jerusalem, therefore, was not only God’s intended time to terminate a dispensation of work through Israel, it was His judgment upon a generation that personally rejected His Son.
The Word Endures Forever
24:35 My words will not pass away: Jesus seems to comfort the disciples at this point in this most terrifying proclamation. No matter what the national calamity might be, they must trust in the word of God that endures forever. Peter possibly reflected on the thought of this statement of Jesus when he wrote just a few years before Jerusalem’s destruction that the word of God endures forever (1 Pt 1:24,25). Because of his nationalistic thinking, it is doubtful that Peter realized what Jesus was saying to the disciples in Matthew 24. Nevertheless, he, as well as the other disciples at hand, would soon realize that they could not put their faith in any nation, even though it had been ordained by God some 1,400 years before to bring the Blessing of Abraham into the world (Gn 12:1-3). The only thing that would permeate the destruction of all things would be the word of God. Eventually, the present heaven and earth would pass away (2 Pt 3:10,11). But the pronouncements of the Lord endure forever. Jesus assumed that they will wholeheartedly trust in His proclamations concerning national Israel.
Time Of The Destruction
24:36 That day and hour no one knows: “That day” is here a generic term as “the Sabbath” is in verse 20. In other words, this was “that time of destruction.” The indication is not in reference to a specific 24-hour day, but to the time when the destruction would occur. While on earth, Jesus did not know this time, for the saints had not yet prayed that it not be in the winter or on a Sabbath. The exact time had not yet been determined by the Father. Neither did the angels know. At the time Jesus was making these pronouncements, it was not necessary that either He or the angels be aware of the actual time of the destruction. Luke’s account of Jesus’ statement helps us to better understand the flow of the text in order to understand “that day” to refer to the context of the destruction of Jerusalem. Luke recorded that it would come at an unexpected time in the lives of the disciples (Lk 21:33-36). Therefore, they must watch in reference to what Jesus had just told them. Those Jews who were consumed in the affairs of the world would certainly not believe in Jesus or His prophecy, let alone expect the coming judgment upon Jerusalem. In fact, Peter stated that they would be mocking this belief of Christians (2 Pt 3:3,4). Of course, the scoffers had forgotten the flood of Noah’s day. They had forgotten Sodom and Gomorrah. Those who flee from the judgments of God willingly forget that they must be accountable for their sins. Regardless of their forgetfulness, however, God would bring this judgment upon Jerusalem. The key word here is “watch.” Mark records more information that Jesus gave at this point in the discourse (See Mk 13:33-37).
Wicked Taken Away
24:37-39 Coming: The “coming” in judgment on Jerusalem about which Jesus was talking would be as the days of Noah. Both the flood of Noah’s day and the destruction of Jerusalem were “comings” of the Lord in judgment in time. However, the final coming of Jesus in judgment at the end of time will be different. The flood of Noah’s day and the destruction of Jerusalem may be typical of the final coming. However, we must understand that nothing has ever happened in the history of man that will fully explain what will happen at the end of time. Therefore, all illustrations to the “end of time” judgment must be understood in a way that cannot be fully comprehended by comparing happenings of events in time with events that will transpire at the end of time. The New Testament writers took that which was literal, and had actually happened in history, to illustrate that which will happen at the end of time. We must keep in mind, however, that these historical events that are metaphorically used to illustrate final judgment do not fully explain what will happen when Jesus comes again. Days of Noah: Jerusalem’s destruction will be as it was in the days of Noah (See Gn 7:6-23). God sent the flood because of the wickedness of man (Gn 6:5). Such wickedness would be characteristic of the unbelieving Jews who crucified the Son of God. They were hardened against repentance, though they personally experienced the miraculous confirmation of God directly from heaven (Jn 3:2). Men were more concerned about the material aspects of existence than spiritual matters. The Pharisees lustfully consumed the financial help the children were to give to their parents (Mk 7:9-13). The rich Sadducean Jews had “lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury” (See Js 5:1-6). They had cheated in the wages that were due to their laborers (Js 5:4). As it was in the days of Noah, so it would be in the days of Israel before A.D. 70. Eating and drinking: In verses 37-40 Jesus was saying that people would be living their own normal wicked and materialistic lives prior to “that day” of destruction. It was this way in the days of Noah. It would be the same in the destruction of national Israel. And, it will be the same at the end of time. Those who reject the pronouncements of the word of God see only those things of this world. They refuse to submit to the “coming of the Lord” in judgment.
The Righteous Are Left
24:40,41 One will be taken and the other left: Here is another similarity between the times of Noah and the destruction of Jerusalem. When the flood came, righteous Noah and his family entered the ark. The flood then came and took away the wicked. Only the righteous were left safely in the ark. So it would be in the destruction of Jerusalem. The wicked would be taken and the righteous would be left. Jesus said that two men would be in the field. One would be taken and the other left. Some have taught that when Jesus comes at the end of time the righteous will be taken from the earth and the wicked will be left. In their attempt to force this passage to refer to the end of time, they twist the Scriptures (See 2 Pt 3:15,16). Simply keep in mind that Jesus’ use of the flood of Noah’s day to illustrate the events of the destruction of Jerusalem is to show that in the destruction “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” for it would be the righteous who would be left (13:43). The wicked would be taken. At the end of time when Jesus comes, He will take the righteous from the earth (1 Th 4:17). In the context of Matthew 24, however, it is the wicked who are taken. Though the destruction of Jerusalem illustrates the coming of Christ in judgment at the end of time, the context here clearly shows that the end of time is not under consideration.
24:42 Watch: The term “day” is here used with a generic meaning. It is not a specific 24-hour day, as “the day” of verse 36 was not a specific 24-hour solar day. Reference is to a time when all this would take place. Emphasis is on the fact that there would be a specific time in history when all this would happen, though the time of the destruction of national Israel would occur over a period of days and months. The point is that believers must continue to watch lest they become caught up in the affairs of the world. And such is a general exhortation to all disciples. Involvement in the affairs of this world will always lead one to being distracted from the fact that Jesus is coming again.
24:43,44 In this context Jesus gave “generic signs” from which the disciples could deduct the end of national Israel and fall of Jerusalem. No specific details were given. No names were stated. No calendars were distributed to the disciples. He gave just enough information to generate “watching” on the part of those who accepted what He said. Those who believed would need no more information. After the establishment of the church in A.D. 30, the apostles evidently stayed in Jerusalem for as long as fifteen years. The reason for this was obvious. Jerusalem was where devout Jews came to offer sacrifices at the altar every year at the Passover/Pentecost feast. It was the prime opportunity to evangelize the lost sheep of the house of Israel. In A.D. 58 or 59 Paul made a last trip there in order to make a final plea to Jews who might obey the gospel (At 21). Their vehement rejection of the gospel, and attempted murder of Paul, was evidence that at this time (A.D. 58,59), the Jerusalem Jews were ripe for the judgment of God. What Jesus had pronounced in 23:34-36 was ready to happen, and would happen only a few years after Paul’s Acts 21 visit. The “righteous blood” of all the innocent prophets of God was about to be brought on his generation of defiant Jews. You also be ready: In Jesus’ pronouncements of this chapter He wanted to give the faithful adequate indications of when to stay away from Jerusalem and Judea. They must not become caught up in the nationalistic frenzy of the times. It would be best that they sell “their possessions and goods” and be ready to flee the city (At 2:45; see At 4:32-37). Residents of Jerusalem were going to lose their possessions anyway in the coming destruction.
The Faithful And Wise Servant
24:45-47 Faithful and wise servant: The faithful and wise servant understands the responsibility of his relationship to the master’s household. So it was with those disciples who remained faithful and wisely understood their duties to serve the Lord. They would not be diverted to the cares of this world, nor drawn away by the politics of nationalistic Israelites. Their citizenship in heaven would be stronger than their connection to the physical “seed of Abraham.” Spiritual loyalty to Jesus would rise above nationalistic pride. Therefore, they would take heed and watch for the coming of the master of the household. In the historical context of the prophecy of Matthew 24, the disciples would take heed to their Master’s prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem.
The Evil Servant
24:48-51 Evil bondservant: The evil servant will not be spiritually awakened by the imminent coming of the Lord in his lifetime. He puts the thought out of his mind and carries on with the ordinary things of life. In Jesus’ personal conversation here with His disciples He was emphasizing the fact that this coming of the Lord would happen “in this generation” (See 16:28; 23:36). Jesus was not leading them to believe that the final coming and end of the world would be in their lifetime. The New Testament does not teach the imminent final return of Jesus. That is, the Holy Spirit did not inspire the New Testament writers to believe that the final coming of Jesus would happen in the lifetime of the 1st century disciples. However, Jesus and the inspired writers did teach the imminent coming of Jesus in time in judgment upon Jerusalem (See Js 5:7,8). Therefore, Jesus urged His disciples to look for this coming. Those who would not heed these warnings of Matthew 24 would suffer the weeping and gnashing of teeth in the destruction of their prized city. They would realize after it was too late and that they lost out on an opportunity to believe on Jesus.
[Tomorrow’s lecture: The Revelation of Comfort]
END OF NATIONAL ISRAEL
(Mark 13; Luke 21:5-36)
Unfortunately, some biblical interpreters have placed little emphasis on the consummation of national Israel that was finalized in the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Emphasis is more on the end-of-time coming and final judgment by Jesus rather than the end of national Israel by the coming of the Messiah in judgment upon Israel in time. Interpreters forgot that the Old Testament prophets, during and after the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, focused the Israelites on the finality of Israel when the Messiah would come into the world. The termination of national Israel would be a tremendous social shock for the Jews, and thus God, through the prophets, prepared the minds of His people for the end of the nation. We must not rob the Israelites of these prophecies in order to satisfy our desire to follow after end-of-time speculations. As a result of the emphasis on the end of time, biblical interpreters read into the texts of Matthew 24 many end-of-time speculations.
We must always keep in mind two very important things when interpreting the book of Matthew. First, Jesus’ ministry was first to those of His immediate company, the Jews. He came to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” in order to call them to repentance (10:6). He came to His own, the Jews (Jn 1:11). He came to choose the twelve apostles and commission them to a worldwide task of preaching the gospel to every creature (28:20; Mk 16:15,16; Lk 6:13). The immediate ministry of Jesus was worldwide and throughout all history until the end of time in the sense that He would continue His ministry and accomplish His task of worldwide evangelism through the global ministry of His disciples. In order to accomplish His goal, Jesus came to work within His immediate Jewish environment.
Second, Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience about Jesus as the Messiah. Matthew’s statements, therefore, have direct reference to the Jewish situation. The Jews must accept Jesus as the Messiah. They must do so because God was about to physically bring the Jewish State to a close. Those who would not accept His messiahship would probably be caught up in the destruction and close of national Israel in A.D. 70.
The pronouncements of Jesus in Matthew 24 emphasize an imminent coming of Jesus and an “end.” This imminent coming would be in the lifetime of the disciples to whom He made these statements (See 16:27,28; 23:34-36). The Holy Spirit did not inspire any New Testament writer to deceive the 1st century disciples into believing that Jesus would personally return in His final coming in their lifetime. But the context of Matthew 24 is talking about a “coming” within the lifetime of the immediate disciples. This “coming” cannot refer to the final coming of Jesus. Therefore, we approach this context from the viewpoint that Jesus was giving information to His immediate disciples about something traumatic that was going to happen in their lifetime. He was going to come in judgment in their lifetime.
Many Bible commentaries in recent years have correctly emphasized the importance of the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem in both the Old and New Testament. This has led to a more consistent interpretation of many passages throughout the Testaments. Since the destruction of Jerusalem was the primary emphasis of Jesus in this context, we would conclude that the early disciples took special note of what Jesus said. Throughout the New Testament, therefore, we would also conclude that the Holy Spirit mentioned these things again about which Jesus spoke here.
While studying the text of Matthew 24, one must consult the parallel accounts of Jesus’ words on this occasion that are recorded in Mark 13 and Luke 21. Both Mark and Luke record additional thoughts that Jesus gave in the discourse. However, neither Matthew, Mark nor Luke give the complete discourse as it was spoken by Jesus. Each inspired writer only recorded that information that emphasized the theme of his particular book. Matthew, however, gives the most complete information. For this reason, Matthew is used here as the guideline text for our interpretive comments of this historical event about which Jesus prophesied.
Also keep in mind the dates of writing of each book. Since the impending destruction was in the near future in relation to the dates of writing, we cannot but feel that this destruction in A.D. 70 was one reason that stimulated the writing of certain New Testament books in the 1st century. At least, certain portions of the New Testament letters concerning the destruction of Jerusalem were included in the New Testament. These portions were included in order to forewarn the Christians of the coming calamity of Israel, and thus to keep them away from Jerusalem.
Mark wrote around A.D. 50-52, Matthew around A.D. 60, and Luke around A.D. 61,62. All three writers sensed in the political atmosphere of the times that finality to national Israel was near. As A.D. 70 drew near, the prophetic elements of Jesus’ prophecy concerning national Israel were becoming clear. In order to expedite conversion from Judaism, and also encourage the converted not to return to the religion that God had set aside, Matthew, Mark and Luke write. Their writings have an air of urgency, a sense of a final call to a generation seeking for hope in a political environment that was in upheaval.
Nationalistic Pride Of The Disciples
24:1 Jesus had just pronounced judgment on the city of Jerusalem in 23:38. He had also just stated, “Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (23:36). The disciples were surely stunned by what He had said. In response to Jesus’ statements, Peter, James, John and Andrew later came to Jesus privately while He was on the Mount of Olives (vs 3; Mk 13:3). At least these four disciples showed their nationalistic feelings by expressing their pride in the physical structures that Herod the Great had constructed. Surely, they were thinking that these buildings, and especially the temple, could not be destroyed by the will of God. God would not bring an end to Israel. Their nationalistic feelings were struggling against Jesus’ prophecy.
Imminent Destruction Of Jerusalem
24:2 Not be left here one stone upon another: Jesus had prepared the disciples for this final pronouncement of judgment on Israel. The parables of 13:3-9,36-43; 21:33-46; 22:1-14, and the definitive proclamation of 23:29-39, prepared the disciples for what He was about to say in this prophecy. Jesus had earlier prophesied that the end of national Israel was at hand. The ax was laid at the root (3:10) and was to come with a destructive blow in about forty years from the time Jesus made these pronouncements. All these things of Israel would come to an end. This is the last prophecy of Jesus of the coming destruction of the temple and Jerusalem by Vespasian, Emperor of Rome, through his son Titus. This would be the final fulfillment of Moses’ prophetic curse upon a people who had rejected God (Dt 28:15-68). The destruction would be great and final.
Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived during the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. He personally witnessed the war and final fall of the city of Jerusalem. In his Wars of the Jews he stated that over 1,100,000 Jews died in the destruction. The few 80,000 or so who were left were sold into captivity. The last holdouts at Masada committed suicide. The temple was burned and the city levelled to the ground. The prophecy of Jesus in Luke 19:43,44 was fulfilled in A.D. 70. “For the days will come on you that your enemies will cast a barricade around you, and encompass you and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you. And they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
The destruction of the temple would be God’s physical manifestation that He was finished with national Israel. He had accomplished the purpose for which Israel was established as a nation, and thus it was time to bring the nation to a close. The promises had been fulfilled to the fathers (Gn 12:1-3). The Messiah and Savior of the world had come. And thus, it was time to assimilate national Israel into spiritual Israel, the church.
The use of the pronoun “your” in 23:38 is significant. “See,” Jesus said, “your house is left to you desolate.” It was not God’s house for the temple was never a part of the Sinai law. In the mind of God, the Jewish religious leaders had already stolen the inheritance of the vineyard (See 21:38,39). Jesus had said that they had rejected the commandments of God (Mk 7:9; see Mt 15:1-9). God would thus reject them (Hs 4:6). Paul was certainly correct by calling Judaism the Jews’ religion (Gl 1:13). They no longer submitted to the word of God. Once again in their history the curse for rejecting God was coming upon them (Hs 4:6). Because Israel had rejected God and His commandments through Jesus, final judgment was coming upon her as a nation.
The Disciples Question Jesus
24:3 We can understand the astonishment of the disciples concerning the words of Jesus. They realized that He was talking about a dreadful event that was to befall national Israel. In view of the fact that they still believed that Jesus would establish a physical kingdom (At 1:6), they were having a hard time accepting His statements here concerning the destruction of the temple. When will these things be: When we consider the parallel accounts of Mark (13:4) and Luke (21:7), the disciples seem to be asking two questions: (1) When will the things of 23:36 happen? (2) What will be the sign of Jesus’ “coming” (or “presence”) and the end of the age? They still remembered Jesus’ teaching in the parable of the Sower, that the tares should be left with the wheat until the time of judgment (13:29). Your coming: Jesus answered the above two questions in the context of Matthew 24 and 25. He used the word “coming,” which is from the Greek word parousia. A better translation would be “presence.” In other words, the disciples are asking what the sign of His presence would be. He discussed two “comings” or “presences.” (1) There would be a coming (“presence”) in time in judgment upon the nation of Israel. He had earlier referred to this event in 16:27,28. “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels [messengers], and then He will reward each according to his works.” (2) By the end of chapter 25, Jesus has “thrown in” a coming in judgment at the end of time. This would be a final presence, a final judgment upon all the world. The entire context of Matthew 24 refers to the coming of judgment upon national Israel. Only in chapter 25 does Jesus turn in the discourse to final events. All “comings in judgment” of God in time are symbolic or typical of His final judgment at the end of time. However, we must keep in mind that the disciples at this time did not comprehend or understand Jesus’ previous discussions concerning His death, resurrection and kingdom reign. It is not probable here, therefore, that they would be asking questions concerning a final coming and judgment of Jesus. Since they did not understand the end of national Israel, so they would not be asking questions about the final coming of Jesus and judgment of the world. This does not mean, however, that Jesus did not speak concerning final things while He was with the disciples on earth. He discussed with them many things they did not fully understand. Only when such things were brought to their remembrance with the revelation of all truth, did they understand (See Jn 14:26; 16:13). End of the age: Jesus said, “Therefore, as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age” (13:40). Jesus was talking about His age, not some far off event that was beyond the lifetime of the immediate disciples. The Greek work aionios in 13:40 is correctly translated “age” as it is so translated in 28:20. This Greek word was unfortunately translated by some versions with the word “world.” But in this context, Jesus is primarily emphasizing judgment “in time.” A secondary consideration, or application of these thoughts, is judgment at the “end of time.” The destruction of Jerusalem in time would only be a metaphor of what would happen at the unique final coming of Jesus at the end of time.
It is best to understand Matthew 24 as a type, or metaphor of the unique destruction of the world at the end of time. Jude quoted Enoch and used the judgment of the flood of Noah’s day in reference to the coming judgment upon Jerusalem for “all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jd 15,16). In the context of Matthew 24, Jesus also uses “judgment language” in order to prophesy the destruction of Jerusalem. Such language is also used in other texts in reference to the end of the world.
We are discussing two “ends” in the context of chapters 24 and 25. (1) There is the end of national Israel that would happen in the lifetime of the immediate disciples of Jesus (23:36; see Mk 9:1). Reference to “these things” center around this end (See 23:36; 24:2,8,33,34). (2) There is also the end of the world that is illustrated by the judgment and destruction of the flood in Noah’s day and the destruction of Jerusalem. In an illustrative way, therefore, the end of national Israel would illustrate the end of the world. As the typical Jew could not comprehend the end of Israel, so men today cannot comprehend the end of the world.
Warning Against Deception
24:4,5 Take heed that no one deceives you: In view of the many modern-day, self-proclaimed prophets and seers, it is little wonder that Jesus here makes this statement. He knew that at the end of national Israel there would be many self-proclaimed “messiahs” who would lead rebellions against Roman domination. Some had already come, and subsequently been squashed by Roman authorities (See At 5:36). Such messiahs and their rebellions were what eventually motivated Rome to enact a final solution to the “Jewish problem.” That solution came in A.D. 70 with the termination of national Israel. Jesus’ message here certainly has a secondary application to Christians of all time. Christians must be warned in every century that there are many who come “in the name of Christ,” but are teaching false prophecies in order to lead people astray after traditional religion or religions that are centered around the emotional hysteria of misguided religionists (See Jr 29:8; 1 Tm 4:1,2). In verse 24 Jesus said that in the religious environment prior to the end of national Israel “false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” John possibly wrote 1 John in the few years before A.D. 70, near the end of national Israel. At least we see in 1 John a sense of finality, for John wrote, “Little children, it is the last hour. And as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now there are many antichrists. By this we know that it is the last hour” (1 Jn 2:18). For this reason, John warned that Christians “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God … every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not of God” (1 Jn 4:1-3). Simply because one claims to come “in the name of Christ,” and cries out “Lord, Lord,” does not mean that he is a Christian. Only those who do the will of the Father in heaven should wear the Christian name (7:21). Only those who are willing to submit to the gospel of Jesus by immersion into His death, burial and resurrection will inherit eternal life (Mk 16:16). This would be the condition for salvation, the condition for deliverance from a world of turmoil and sin. Salvation, therefore, is more than simply “believing on Jesus.” One’s faith must be manifested in obedience. Through obedience to the will of Jesus one proclaims Jesus as his Lord. It is through this obedience, therefore, that we determine one to be of the spirit of Jesus and a true disciple. Faith is essential, but the nature of the faith that is pleasing to God is the faith that takes action to serve God (See Js 2:14-26).
Rumors Of Wars
24:6 Wars and rumors of wars: When Rome started her campaign against Palestine, she marched down through Asia Minor with skirmishes here and there in order to eradicate from the Empire the “Jewish scourge.” There were also other wars throughout the Roman Empire that evidenced the political instability of the era. These wars would not be the end of national Israel. They would only indicate the beginning of the end. But such wars would be a warning to Christians who were in Jerusalem to leave the city. All these things must come to pass: Jesus is here giving pronouncements of prophecy that would be spoken among the disciples throughout the Roman Empire. Jewish Christians were to take heed to these prophetic utterances. If they did not, they might continue to cling to the traditional Jewish Passover/Pentecost journey to Jerusalem. Subsequently, they might possibly be entrapped in the city when the Roman armies came. One reason Jesus was giving these warnings, therefore, was for the sake of the early Jewish Christians. They must take heed to these warnings and stay away from Jerusalem when the hour approached (See comments Hb).
The Consequences Of War
24:7 The internal strife in the Roman Empire only increased its intolerance of any who would cause disorder. In the two year period before the destruction of Jerusalem, Galba, Otho and Vitellius struggled to seize power in order to become Caesar of Rome. Insurrectionist movements occurred throughout the Empire. At one time about 50,000 Jews were killed in an insurrectionist movement in Seleucia. Another similar movement led to the death of about 20,000 Jews in Caesarea. There will be famines: Famines occurred throughout the Empire prior to A.D. 70. Agabus had prophesied of one in Acts 11:28. Paul dealt with another with the “famine contribution” of 1 Corinthians 16:1-3. Earthquakes: In conjunction with the famines, earthquakes seemed to have plagued the Mediterranean area in the years prior to A.D. 70. Ancient historians recorded at least eight major earthquakes in the area in the few years before the end of national Israel in A.D. 70. Luke records that Jesus also said that pestilence, or disease and plagues, would occur. Such pestilence usually accompanies famines. Pestilence would intensify the trauma of the wars. In God’s judgments of apostate Israel in the Old Testament, He brought upon them famine and pestilence in order to bring them to repentance. We would conclude that the same purpose for the famine and pestilence before A.D. 70 came for the same reason.
The Beginnings Of Sorrows
24:8 Beginning of sorrows: The events of verses 6 and 7 would only be the beginning of the sorrows. Such would not constitute the end. Unfortunately, the disciples must to live in the midst of these sorrows. They could not escape their environment. Specifically, the Jewish Christians must live in a hostile environment that is against that message which they preach (See intro. to 1 Pt). The environment is hostile simply because Satan is the prince of this world who has deceived the masses of humanity. Those he has deceived make the world difficult for Christians. Luke also adds that “great signs from heaven” would be seen (Lk 21:11). This would possibly be the unusual occurrence of heavenly phenomena that some would interpret as “signs of the end.”
Hated For Jesus’ Name
24:9 Deliver you up to be afflicted: Luke is more explanatory in his record. Before the finality of “these things” (the destruction of Jerusalem), he records what Jesus said, “They [the enemies of the disciples] will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and rulers for My name’s sake” (Lk 21:12). The apostles would be tormented in their ministry (10:17). Jesus was certainly talking about the persecution of the early disciples because of the mention of “synagogues.” This is specific and Jewish in context. And this is exactly what happened (See At 4:1-22; 5:17-40; 8:3,4; 12:1-5; 16:23; 21:33-40; 24:23-27; 28:30). It is worthy of note that Mark records that this discourse was delivered privately to Peter, James, John and Andrew (Mk 13:3). James would be the first martyred apostle (At 12:1-5). Peter and the others would suffer extensively at the hands of the persecuting Jews (See comments At 14:22). Hated: The disciples were hated by the persecuting Jews. But this hate by the Jews would not match that which would be heaped upon the disciples by the end of the 1st century. Rome would eventually unleash its power against the disciples. When Nero was Caesar during the middle of the 60s, he launched in Rome a personal vendetta against those who claimed the name of Jesus. But this was only the beginning of Roman persecution against Christians. Such “hate” had been spoken before by the Lord (Jn 15:18,19; see Jn 10:17-19; At 3:4; 7:59; 12:2; 16:23; 18:12; 24:26; 28:22). Persecution of the early Christians was so prevalent that the early evangelists exhorted and comforted new Christians with the teaching that they would suffer (See Jn 16:1-3; At 14:22; 2 Tm 3:12). There were, therefore, two forces that persecuted the early Christians. The first was Jewish persecution that was first led in the beginning by Saul (At 9:1-3). This persecution eventually extended throughout many places of the Roman Empire. The second persecution was carried out by the head of the Roman Empire. Nero launched this personal vendetta against Christians in the middle 60s. However, all historical evidence indicates that this persecution was localized in and around Rome. It was not until the reign of Domitian that Roman State persecution was launched against Christianity throughout the Empire. In Rome’s early persecutions of Jews, the Roman State made little distinction between Jews and Christians. Christians were only considered a sect of Judaism. And since Judaism was causing the incessant problems of Palestine, Rome launched reprisals against both Jews and Christians. It is also significant to note from this context, and the context of John 16:1-3, that persecution would also come from those who were religious, and thus, believed that they were serving God by persecuting Christians. Even Rome’s persecution was instituted by religious leaders of Roman religion (See comments Rv 13). Persecution of Christians rarely comes from the state alone. It is usually generated by religions that seek to dispel competitive religious beliefs within the state, and thus seeks to suppress all other religious beliefs. A false religion can be determined by its will to suppress all other faiths by use of the sword of the state.
The Offended And The Betrayed
24:10 Many will be offended: Those with weak faith who were offended, or who were ashamed of the gospel (See Rm 1:16), would succumb to the pressure of persecution. They would call Caesar lord at the demand of Roman soldiers who had the power to kill them. They would inform on fellow brothers and sisters who were Christians (See Ph 1:12-18). But Jesus said, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (11:6). Luke records the extent to which some would go in their betrayals. Christians would be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends (Lk 21:16). Knowing that these first disciples would be in such trying situations, specifically the Christ-sent apostles, Jesus promised that He would through the Holy Spirit reveal to them what to say when under trial (Lk 21:14,15). There is a practical principle here we must not overlook. Those who would take a stand for truth will be persecuted by the deceived. When one preaches truth, Satan, will not be silent. He will not stand at ease while his kingdom is ravaged by the truth of the gospel. The evangelist who goes forth and finds it surprising that there are those religiously misguided people who oppose him, has much to learn about the conflict between good and evil in this world.
24:11 Deceive many: Here again Jesus emphasizes the concept of deception. Jesus knew man’s fickle nature to follow after man. He knew the “sheep nature” of people to seek for a shepherd (Mk 6:34). This urge to seek for a shepherd is so strong that innocent, if not gullible, sheep would follow after any self-proclaimed prophet who might show some religious inclinations and leadership. Jesus knew that there would be those who would take advantage of the innocence of the sheep. Therefore, He warned the sheep that false prophets would come in among them as ravenous wolves (7:15). These imposters would often “practice sorcery,” “astonish the people,” and claim that they were “someone great” (At 8:9-11). Paul warned that from the elders of the church men would arise speaking perverse things (At 20:30). But he warned that such were false prophets who sought to deceive the people as masquerading apostles (2 Co 11:13; see 2 Pt 2:1,2; Gl 1:6-9; 1 Tm 4:1-4; 2 Tm 3:1-9; 1 Jn 4:1; Jd 11,16). The fact that both Jesus and the inspired writers warned of false teachers is enough to alert us to always be on guard against such. The only way to be on guard is to know well that which protects us against erroneous teachings. We must know the Bible. Biblically ignorant people do not guard against false teachers. They only persecute those who preach the truth.
Lawlessness And Lovelessness
24:12 Lawlessness will abound: It will be a social environment where men do not submit to the laws of either God or man. Human relationships will digress to animal instincts. There is no love of one’s neighbors in a state of anarchy. For this reason, God ordained governmental law (Rm 13:1,2). Anarchy among rebellious Jews would bring judgment upon themselves in A.D. 70. Because the Jews continually fought against the Roman occupation of Palestine, Rome unleashed her judgment upon the anarchists. The love of many will grow cold: In times of trial and persecution it is easy for some to fall from the love of the brethren (Compare 1 Tm 1:8,9; Rv 2:4,5). When men refuse to submit to God, they will not submit to one another. Submission to one’s fellow man begins with a humble submission to the will of God. But when arrogance is admired, humble submission is discouraged. The arrogance of the Jews was what led to their uprising against the Romans, and subsequently, Rome’s eventual crushing of the Jews.
[Lecture on Matthew 24 continues tomorrow.]