Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Faithful Physicians Of The Soul (Revelation 10:1-11)

Multiple times in our series through Revelation I have used the analogy of physicians needing to speak truth to their patients so that life and health can be pursued and experienced more fully. I have said that we would run physicians and hospital administrators out of town if they decided to give only positive diagnoses to patients and never speak negative words, such as, “You have a tumor,” “you have cancer,” “You have diabetes,” or “your blood pressure is dangerously high.” We easily see that such negative messages are necessary so remedies can be sought.

As we discover in Revelation 10:1-11, the same necessity of speaking truth (even the negative message of judgment) is upon the Church. In this first half of an interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets (just as there was an interlude in Revelation 7 between the sixth and seventh seals), we are reminded that in the midst of hostile cultures that ignore the true God at best and flat out reject him and his truth at worst, we are called to speak the whole truth of God. This means not only speaking positive and encouraging messages, but also speaking the truth about where people are at without Christ. We are to proclaim a gospel that also explains why the good news (there is a remedy, there is salvation in Christ!) is needed in the first place, namely that we all are terminal in our condition. In other words, we are sinners who are spiritually dead, under God’s judgment, and if this is not taken care of, it becomes eternally permanent. Though not a popular message, it is what faithful physicians of the soul, obedient witnesses to Jesus Christ, share.

And it is this very message that the Church facing push back at best or persecution at worst is tempted to abandon, tweak, or change completely. This is why in this interlude Jesus Christ recommissions John and the Church to keep proclaiming the whole gospel of the glory of salvation in Jesus so God’s judgment on sinners can be avoided (Rev. 10:1-11), even though it will mean persecution for many—a persecution in the midst of which God will protect his people in the ultimate sense (Rev. 11:1-13).

In this week’s post, we will unpack the first half of this interlude, which includes our reminder to preach the entire truth of God: Both judgment and salvation.

1. The Reality This Is An Interlude Between Trumpets Six And Seven, And Spans This Entire Age. 
Virtually all commentators acknowledge Revelation 10:1-11:13 forms an interlude or parenthesis between the sixth and seventh trumpets, for in Rev. 8:13 it is introduced that the final three trumpets will be three “woes,” i.e. especially severe judgments upon the God-opposing earth. In Rev. 9:12, after the fifth trumpet (Rev. 9:1-11) has been blown and described, we read, “The first woe has passed; behold two woes are still to come.” This refers to trumpets six and seven. We then read of the sixth trumpet (which is the second woe) in Rev. 9:13-21. However, we do not read of the closing of this second woe and the introduction of the third woe (trumpet seven) until 11:14: “The second woe has passed; behold the third woe is soon to come.” This means that Rev. 10:1-11:13 forms an interlude between the two trumpets (trumpets 6 and 7).

Based upon the material in this interlude, along with the final statement just before the interlude (“The rest of mankind…did not repent of the works of their hands…nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts,” Rev. 9:20-21), what we find in this interlude is not only one of the reasons why God is bringing judgment upon the unbelieving and rebellious world (because they persecute the church), we also find a call to the church to remain faithful in gospel ministry, even though the strong temptation is to cut corners so we can be accepted by the God-opposing world system around us.

That this interlude also covers this entire age (and is parallel to the seals and trumpets) follows from how the book of Revelation is structured and how it is recapitulating through different views of this current age so we can learn how to live as joyful followers of Christ to God’s glory in the face of hostility. It also follows from the parallel nature of 10:1-11:13 to the first interlude we saw between seals six and seven, that is, Rev. 7:1-17. Since it covered this entire age between the first and second comings of Christ, this interlude most likely does as well. We should also not miss that both interludes show that believers are protected from being destroyed in the ultimate sense (facing God’s judgment and missing eternal reward) in the midst of great hostility.

2. Jesus Christ Comes To John To Recommission Him And The Church To Proclaim The Message Of Judgment And Salvation. 10:1-7
This main message of this paragraph is unfolded in the following ways.

a. Jesus Christ Comes To John In The Form Of The Angel Of The Lord. 1
In this verse we read: “Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.” Like the angel in 5:2, this is a “mighty angel” who makes his proclamation “with a loud voice” (v. 3). These are the first of several elements that seem to link Revelation 5 with this interlude. Most likely the connection is that the accomplishing and applying of salvation and judgment we see in that fifth chapter lead to the need for the church to proclaim that dual message and it also is partly what is behind the persecution of the church in Rev. 11.

This angel is most likely similar to the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament. In other words, the angel is Jesus Christ. The reasons for this understanding are as follows:

·         He is envisioned wrapped in a cloud (a vehicle God uses to progress [Ex. 13:21; Dt. 33:26; Ps. 104:3; Is. 19:1] and the same way the Son of Man is seen coming in Daniel and Revelation [Dan. 7:13; Rev. 1:4; 14:14]). 

·         He has a rainbow over his head (associated with God in Ezekiel 1[1] and Revelation 4, as well as symbolic of God’s mercy and faithfulness [Gen. 9:12-16]).

·         His face is like the sun (this is spoken of Christ in Rev. 1:16).[2]

·         His legs are like pillars of fire (which is similar to the way Christ is seen in Rev. 1:15 and it evokes the pillar of fire by which the Lord was present with and led Israel in the wilderness [Ex. 13:20-22; 14:24; Num. 14:14; Neh. 9:12, 19]).

Part of the reason it is significant we understand this is Jesus Christ coming to John is that it displays that not just God the Father, but also God the Son is sovereign over the accomplishing and application of salvation and judgment, and that in the midst of all the hardship the church faces, this glorious, exalted, mighty, merciful, faithful, Savior is with his people in the midst of our wilderness (our hardships and trials).[3]

We must continually remember that the book of Revelation primarily is revealing to us Jesus Christ, how he is with us, empowering us, and is the source of our salvation, hope, happiness, significance, and security (Rev. 1:1-3, 5-7, 12-20; 5:1-14). Greg Beale, in his commentary on Revelation, asks us this pointed question: “Has a shallow reading of Revelation, with a focus on misguided [end-times teaching], drawn us away from its presentation of the exalted Christ? What has drawn us to focus on (often poorly understood) [end-times] timelines and miss the heart of the book, which is the glory of God and of Christ?”[4]

b. Jesus Christ, Sovereign Over All The World, Brings To John And The Church A Reminder To Proclaim The Full Gospel. 2-3
Here is what John writes: “He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded.”


Because of the parallels with chapter 5, the “little scroll” is parallel with the scroll whose seals Jesus, the Lamb has unsealed.[5] In other words, it has to do with salvation and judgment accomplished and applied in this age. However, it is also somewhat different than that scroll. This one is to be taken and eaten and is both bitter and sweet (Rev. 10:9-10). As we will see shortly, this is the language of the call of prophets in the Old Testament to internalize and then proclaim God’s message. This scroll, then, is not merely the saving and judging events unfolded in this age, but it is a message based on that. That it is a “little scroll” most likely means it is smaller than the previous scroll. It does not equal the decrees of God in regard to the events, but the proclamation to people of what God is doing.

One final description of this little scroll will help see what it is. In Rev. 10:7 it is said of this “mystery of God” that God literally “gospeled [it] to his servants the prophets.”  For New Testament believers, calling it a “mystery” and speaking of “gospeling” it, most likely would make them think of the gospel (Mt. 11:5; Lk. 2:10; 4:8; 1 Cor. 1:17; Eph. 3:2-13 [esp. 6, 7, 8]). What Jesus Christ is calling John and the church to do is to proclaim this gospel, which includes both the diagnosis of the problem (sin that brings God’s judgment) and the remedy (trusting in Christ, his life, his substitutionary atoning death, and resurrection for salvation). This gospel proclamation, and all that emerges from it, are also part of the overall sovereign plan of and outworking of the saving work of Christ (See Rev. 5 and the larger “scroll” [5:1]).

The fact that he set his right foot on the sea and his left on the land reveals his authority and jurisdiction over all the world, but especially over the beastly world system and its servants that do Satan’s work and are viewed later as coming out of the sea (Rev. 13:1ff.). 

Next, we read that Christ “called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring.” Though we do not read until 10:8ff. what he calls out, we do know from the wording here that he is announcing God is on the move in a very significant way—to carry out his purposes and plans (see the following Old Testament background to God roaring as a lion: Jer. 25:30; Hos. 11:10; Amos 3:8). Additionally, since we read, “when he called out, the seven thunders sounded,” this reiterates that this message he is calling us to proclaim is one of divine power and judgment. When Scripture uses the word “thunder,” nearly without exception it brings a message of divine power and judgment (e.g. Exodus 19). Also, in Revelation “thunder” repeatedly accompanies divine activity and messages (e.g., 4:5; 6:1; 8:5; 11:19; 16:18).

c. It Is Clarified That Not All That God Is Doing Is Revealed. 4
In verse 4, following the imagery used in Daniel 12, sealing speaks of a hiding or lack of full revelation: “And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.’” This appears to be a symbolic way of reminding us of what we read in Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” In other words, God reveals some things to us—certainly enough so we know how to trust in and follow him. However, he does not unveil all things. In regard to the current recommissioning, the church knows it faces great hostility in the world, that it should continue the gospel ministry of discipling, and is given much in these chapters about its divine resources and how we can trust in Christ to move forward to God’s glory. However, we do not fully comprehend all about why things are happening the way they are.

d. Jesus Christ Clarifies That Now Is The Time For The Unfolding Of God’s Salvation, Judgment, And The Church’s Proclamation Of The Same. 5-7
Here the apostle writes: 
And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.

What we have here is a direct allusion to Daniel 12:7 where we also find an angelic being standing above waters, raising his hands toward heaven, swearing by the eternal God (to show the importance and the certainty of what he is saying will take place). What he is swearing the truthfulness of is his answer to the question in Dan. 12:6, “How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?” “These wonders” refers back to Dan. 12:1-4, where it is prophesied that at the end of a great time of trouble there will be a great resurrection and God’s people will realize their eternal reward. The answer to Daniel is this:  “it would be for a time, times, and half a time….” In other words, it would be for 3.5 years. We discovered when we were in Revelation 7 that this language in Daniel and in Revelation speaks of a time of terrible tribulation and difficulty that brings to the Jewish mind the trouble under Antiochus Epiphanes almost two centuries before the days of Jesus. The fact that Revelation 10:5-7 alludes to Daniel 12:7 (and its context), and includes the words, “that there would be no more delay”[6] (Rev. 10:6) leads us to believe that this time of tribulation has already begun and will be completed at the sounding of the seventh trumpet (which is the final judgment, 11:15-19).[7]

So, Jesus Christ is saying that right now, in this age, now is the time to proclaim the start, continuation, and future culmination of God’s judgment upon sin and sinners, but also that sinners can be forgiven and reconciled to God in Jesus Christ.

As we come to verse 8 and following, we come to the actual commission that Jesus Christ gives to John and the Church.

3. Jesus Christ Commissions John And The Church To Speak The Whole Gospel To All Peoples. 10:8-11
We read: 
Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.”[8] And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”

The Old Testament background to this recommissioning of John is Ezekiel 2:8-3:3, where the prophet was given a scroll (2:9) to eat and it was sweet as honey in his mouth (3:3). Written on that scroll for Ezekiel were “lamentations, mourning, and woe” (2:10). Ezekiel is told to go, not to a foreign people, but to Israel, a rebellious people, who, for the most part, will not listen to him.

Background to this text is also found in Jeremiah 15:15-20. There, Jeremiah speaks to the LORD of finding his words and eating them (16a) and he writes (16b-d): “And your word was to me as joy and rejoicing for my heart, for I am called by your name upon me, Yahweh, God of Hosts” (my translation).  Clearly, this is a commission given by Yahweh to Jeremiah (15:19-20). It appears that in both cases (Jeremiah and Ezekiel) the word is sweet or a joy because it is from Yahweh and he has placed upon them his divine call, to proclaim his word. Yet, in both cases, the call also involves difficult aspects to the message and outcomes (cf. Jer. 15:17-18).

Here in Revelation 10:11 we find out the proclamation is to be made about “many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” Multiple terms for the different kinds of people throughout the world to give a sense of the entire world or all kinds of people are found in Rev. 5:9 and 7:9 of those people whom Jesus Christ has redeemed. In Rev. 11:9 and 17:15 similar terms are used to speak of the entire world or all kinds of people who remain unrepentant and opposed to God. The background to such language for all kinds of people throughout the world is found in the book of Daniel (3:4, 7; 41; 5:19; 6:25; 7:14) to speak of those who are part of the kingdom of Babylon. Here in Rev. 10:11 the focus is on proclaiming the gospel (including judgment and salvation) to all people throughout the world so that some will be part of the redeemed in heaven praising God and the rest will hear their judgment justly pronounced.

It is also true that since the readers of Revelation (especially the church) are called to hear and keep the words of this prophesy (1:3; 22:7, 9), and we see that the messages are to the church in this inter-advent age, this prophesy going out from John after his recommissioning is also against compromisers within the visible new Israel, who are from all peoples and nations and tongues and tribes.[9]

So, what John sees here in Revelation 10:1-11 is a visual commissioning of the church to preach the gospel to the world so that many can come to true salvation and escape judgment. Throughout the book of Revelation it is emphasized over and over again that at the core of what the church is and what it is supposed to do is the gospel ministry. No where in the New Testament is the church every described positively as merely living for itself and not on mission for the glory of God and the benefit of people.

May we live as faithful physicians of the soul, who live to save the lives of others and deliver both the bad news of diagnosis and the glorious good news that there is a remedy in Christ!

Joyfully Serving As A Faithful Physician Of The Soul With You,

Tom

[1] The pattern of the Ezek. 1-3 vision is followed here in Rev. 10:2, 8-10, where the heavenly being like that in Ezekiel holds a book, and the book is taken and eaten by a prophet. This is another indication that the angel is the angel of the Lord, i.e. Jesus Christ.

[2] This is also an exact reproduction of the phrase describing Christ’s transfigured appearance in Mt. 17:2.

[3] Paul even makes the point that God was present with his Old Testament people in the wilderness in the form of Christ (1 Cor. 10:4)!

[4] Beale, Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 212.

[5] More specifically, parallels include: (1) Both books/scrolls are opened and held by Christ (who is compared to a lion (cf. 10:3). (2) Both are allusions to the scroll of Ezekiel and are associated with a ‘strong angel’ who cries out and with God who “lives forever and ever.” (3) Both books are directly related to the end-time prophecy of Daniel 12. (4) In both visions someone approaches a heavenly being and takes a book out of the being’s hand. (5) Part of the prophetic commission of John in both visions is stated in near identical language (‘I heard a voice from heaven speaking’: cf. 10:4 and esp. 10:8). (6) Both scrolls concern the destiny of “peoples and nations and tongues and tribes [kings].”
[6] The verbal parallel between the end of v. 6 (lit. “that there will be any more time/delay”) and 6:11 (lit. “yet a little more time,” which in Greek is much more like the 10:6 clause than we see in English) suggests that the content of the seventh trumpet spoken of here in 10:7 is the final judgment—that brings ultimate salvation and vindication for God’s people (after the number of martyrs has been completed), as well as judgment upon the unregenerate (see also Deut. 32 and Dan. 12 background texts). Also, in part, it shows the judgment comes in response to the prayers of the saints.

[7] Beale, Campbell, Revelation, 204-5, add: “These words [also]…mirror the prophetic words of God to Moses in Deut. 32:40-43, where God swears that He will judge the ungodly. In Deut. 32:32-35, God’s judgment is described as ‘the wrath of serpents and…of asps,’ and one Aramaic version of Deut. 32:33 (The Palestinian Targum) compares the plans of the wicked to ‘serpents’ heads’ and ‘the heads of asps,’ which was a significant image in the preceding context (Rev. 9:19). And in the same passage (Deut. 32:34-35), God says that his judgments are ‘sealed up’ (cf. v. 4) and will be released in due time, as they were in Israel’s subsequent history.”
They add (205-6): “The identification of this time formula from Daniel is evident in Rev. 12:4-6, where the period begins at the time of Christ’s ascension and is the church’s time of suffering (so also 12:14; see on 12:4-6, 14). In the context of the book, this period must cover the church age and be concluded by Christ’s final coming. Therefore, vv. 6-7 are speaking of the end of this period, which is the end of time or of history. The angel told Daniel that the meaning of the prophecy was sealed up until the end time, when it would be revealed. In contrast to Daniel 12, the angel’s oath in Revelation 10 begins an emphasis on ‘when’ and ‘how’ the prophecy will be completed, which is amplified in ch. 11. When the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, the prophecy of Dan. 11:29-12:13 will be fulfilled and history (Daniel’s ‘end of the age,’ 12:13) will come to an end (i.e. historical ‘time shall be no longer’).”  

[8] Most likely the words for John are sweet, not only because they involved the proclamation of the gospel and its outworking, but also because, even in the words of judgment (and most likely this is why the words are bitter in his stomach) God’s glory is manifested. Additionally, as Beale, Campbell, Revelation, 209, write: “the sweetness of the scroll likely includes reference to God’s redemptive grace in the gospel to those believing, and its bitterness to the fact that this grace must be experienced in the crucible of suffering (cf. 2 Cor. 2:15-16).”

[9] Beale, Campbell.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Power Of Prayer In God's Satan-Defeating Plan (Revelation 8-9)

“If God is sovereign, then why do we pray?”  This often-asked question reveals a mistaken assumption:  “If God has ordained all that will happen, then no event, choice, or action can be changed and so there is no real impact that is seen in and through prayer.” Even if we had no other statements in the Bible that lead us to conclude this is a mistaken conclusion, Revelation 8-9 would be sufficient to do just that. In this lengthy post we will examine closely these two chapters that unveil for us not only the power of God unleashed through prayer, but also the glory and comforting nature of God’s plan he is currently unfolding in the world.

Because this is a long post, don’t hesitate to break it up and go through it in two or three sittings.

Before we look at these two chapters, we need to remind ourselves where we have been so far in the book.

1. Review
After reminding the Church in the first three chapters that with the presence and power of Jesus Christ and in the face of hostile cultures, we are to endure in living on mission, we discovered in the next two chapters that all which is happening in the world during this current age is ordained by God and flows out of the central set of events of all time—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The unfolding of these events is envisioned by the breaking of seals on a scroll (or book) that signifies the unfolding of history in the sixth chapter. After the sixth seal is broken, there is an interlude in chapter seven to show that in the midst of the brokenness and trials in this current world, genuine followers of Jesus are protected from being destroyed in the ultimate way (that of facing the judgment of God by falling short of their eternal reward).

Revelation 6:12-17, the opening of the sixth seal, has brought us to the very end of this age and to the final judgment of God. It is because of this that 7:1-17 takes a step back to show that genuine saints are protected against this judgment.

2. The Bridge From The Seven Seals To The Seven Trumpets[1]
Revelation 8:1 brings us to the seventh seal. We read there: “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” This is the first break in the continual worshiping in heaven we have seen so far in Revelation. The quiet may be due to the fact that the unfolding of events in this age has positioned us at the coming of Jesus Christ, and silence in the presence of our holy Lord and in the face of catclysmic events (especially judgment) is very appropriate (see Hab. 2:20; Zeph. 1:7; Zech. 2:13). The silence for about a half an hour (a short period) may also remind us that during this age it can appear that God is delaying the coming of our Savior, but the reality is that it is certain to happen.

What the seventh seal consists of is the unfolding of another set of seven actions, this time the blowing of seven trumpets. We read of this in 8:2: “Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.” Yet, before these angels blow their trumpets (see 8:6-9:21), which take us through another view of the unfolding of events in this current church age, the vision reverts back to the subject of the final judgment (the focus of 6:12-17, just prior to the interlude). We read in verses 3-5:
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

The phenomena on the earth we see in verse 5 speak of the time of God’s final judgment on the earth and of sinners (cf. Acts 2:19-20; Rev. 6:12-17). Yet, notice that this judgment is pictured as being poured out of a censer from the altar whose smoke and fire are mixed with the prayers of the saints. Since this takes place at the altar in the heavenly temple and we saw souls under that same altar in 6:9 praying for justice in the world and judgment upon persecutors, we are intended to conclude here that God’s final judgment upon sinners comes, at least in part, in response to the prayers of his people.

We might ask the question, “But if God has already decided to bring this final judgment, how can saints’ prayer have an impact?” Now, if we stop and think about the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, we see another example of praying for something God has promised he would bring (his full kingdom, Mt. 6:10a). Just what are we to make of this all?

We must understand, as 17th century Christians put it, “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass; yet has done it in such a way that God is not the author of sin; the will of the creatures is not violated or passed over; and the genuine possibility of various outcomes or choices included in second causes is not removed, but rather established.”[2]  In other words, God works through means and agents who make genuine choices that matter!  As we have discovered over and over again since Revelation 4, God is both absoutely sovereign and we are genuinely free in and responsible for our choices.

So, for example, though we know that if we are genuinely saved, we will persevere and receive our eternal reward (see Rom. 8:29-30), nevertheless, God works through and in response our praying so that we can persevere. Likewise, we know that God has either ordained that our neighbor will trust in him as Savior or not. Yet, we also know that our neighbor will not trust in Jesus Christ as Savior unless someone prays for him (cf. Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:2-6) and he comes into contact with the gospel so he can respond in faith (Rom. 10:13-17). So, if we pray for and share the gospel with our neighbor (or someone[s] does) he might trust Jesus. If we or no one else does, he will not. Choices and actions matter, for God ordains not just the end results, but also the means behind what happens.

So, what Jesus Christ reveals about our triune God through John is that he is soveriegn to bring about the ends he has ordained, he can and does direct the course of history (including choices), and he also answers prayer. In fact, if he were not soveriegn in this way, that is, directing history’s course, and also able to direct hearts and wills, he would not be able to answer prayer! God’s absolute sovereignty, properly understood, is not an impediment to prayer or gospel work. Rather it should serve as an encouragement for prayer and gospel work.  

As we pray, then, for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom and his promises, as well as full justice and judgment in this world, we are certain that a day is coming when God will answer those prayers and all peoples and nations will either be subdued by his grace to worship him (Is. 25:3; Rev. 5:9-10) or they will face God’s judgment (Rev. 10:11; 11:19).

What an amazing truth: God responds to our praying in carrying out his plan!

Once we grasp this, we are now ready to move on and look at the further unfolding of God’s plan as envisioned in the first six trumpets.

The First Six Trumpets

In Revelation 8:6-9:21 we see the blowing of the first six of the seven trumpets that flow out of the seventh seal. We discover, then, what God is doing in the world during this current age and in response to the prayers of his people to execute judgment on the persecuting world—leading up to the last judgment.[3] It seems as if the Exodus plagues (Exodus 7-12) and the trumpets of Jericho (Joshua 6) serve as the background to these trumpet judgments.

What is envisioned in the first four trumpets are events of history that are packed with biblical significance. In other words, they are strongly tied into Old Testament events and signify that God deprives the ungodly of earthly security due to their persecution, rebellion, and idolatry, and does this in order to indicate their separation from Him. Here is what we read in 8:6-12:
Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.
7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
8 The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. 9 A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.
12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.

We can say the following about these four trumpets:
·         Exodus 9:13-33 (seventh plague in Egypt) and Ezek. 4-5 (judgment of Jerusalem because of idolatry) stand behind Trumpet 1.

·         Exodus 7:14-25 (the first plague in Egypt) and Jer. 51 (Destruction of Babylon) are behind Trumpet 2. “Mountain” in Revelation tends to speak of kingdoms or nations and here is based on the mountain of Babylon in Jeremiah 51 which is destroyed in God’s judgment. 

·         Famine is probably involved in the first three trumpets.

·         Several passages seem to be behind the third trumpet: Ps. 78:44; Is. 14; Jer. 9:15; 23:15; Amost 5:7. In Amos 5:7, as God, through the prophet, confronts Israel in her sin, he describes them as those who “turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth.” Wormwood is a plant native to Europe, Asia and northern Africa and that has a bitter-tasing and poisonous extract. The point in Amos is that Israel, rather than acting justly and righteously, they are acting in a bitter and poisonous fashion—deserving of judgment! The point of the third trumpet, then, is in the same way people have acted poisonously and bitterly (rather than justly and righteously), so their just desserts will be poison and bitterness.

·         The fourth trumpet is similar to what we see of the sixth seal in Rev. 6:12-13 (final judgment), but it does not deal with the whole earth and so is not final judgment, but only a precursor to it.

·         The fourth trumpet is also a logical climax of the first three and it has Jer. 15:9; Amos 8:9; Joel 2:1-10; Zeph. 1:15-16; Is. 13:10; Ezek. 32:7-8 behind it.

·         The parallelism of the first four bowls (Revelation 16:1-9) with the first four trumpets confirms that the judgments in both series come because of idolatry (Rev. 16:2). Yet, they also occur in response to the persecution of the saints (Rev. 16:5-7).

·         Commentator Greg Beale adds: “The Exodus plagues are understood in Revelation 8-9 as a typological foreshadowing of the trumpet plagues, whose effect is escalated to the world now.”

These first four trumpets show that the events of history (esp. in this inter-advent age) are not spiritually neutral. They flow out of the life, death, resurrection, ascension, session of Jesus and the working out of God’s salvation history—as well as the world’s response to all this—and God’s just response to the world’s cross-defying, resultant evil.

In the fifth and sixth trumpets we discover that demons are commissioned by the angels blowing the trumpets to punish hardened unbelievers (8:13-9:21). It is also made clear that ultimately God is the one who has ordained the actions of these demons and so we see his sovereignty even over the most evil dimension of our world.

In Rev. 8:13 we have a new vision that comprises the introduction to the fifth, sixth, and seventh trumpets: “Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, ‘Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!’” The Exodus model is still in view since plagues get more severe as they go. The spiritual heightening of the last three trumpets is indicated by the direct involvement of demons  Flying in mid-air elsewhere refers to flying creatures that anticipate final judgment  (14:6; 19:17; cf. 18:12). Even beyond this, eagles often signal coming destruction in the Old Testament (Dt. 28:49; Jer. 4:13; 48:40; Lam. 4;19; Ezek. 17:3; Hos. 8:1).

In Rev. 8:13 we also are introduced to the reality the final three trumpets are each referred to as a “woe.” This is seen in, “Woe, woe, woe…at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow.” This is also seen in 9:12 (“The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come.”) and 11:14 (“The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come”).[4]

In the fifth trumpet (9:1-12) demons are commissioned to torment hardened unbelievers by further impoverishing their souls and reminding them of their hopeless present and future. When the fifth angel blows his trumpet, here is what we find: “and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit” (9:1). Since this star is the same or similar to what we see in 8:10 (an angel representing sinful people and undergoing judgment along with them), since the star is a being that can open the bottompless pit, since the Old Testament background is Is. 14:12-15 (the fall of the Babylonian king as a type of Satan), since Jesus uses almost identical language to speak of the fall of Satan (Lk. 10:18), and since Satan is said to be king over the demonic locusts that this star unleashes from the bottomless pit (9:11), it seems most likely this start is a fallen angel (i.e. a demon).[5]

Given the strong liklihood the fallen star is a satanic angel who will inflict judgment on unrepentant humanity, readers gain an ever-expanding view of the sovereignty of God in Revelation. He is even sovereign over satanic and demonic activity, using it for his glory and purposes. The reader of Revelation dare not miss the later picture of an angel coming down from heaven, holding a key in his hand to the bottomless pit in 20:1—and the picture there of Satan being bound for a thousand years before being released. Here, in 9:1-14f., this angelic being opens the pit and eventually frees evil angels. The point seems to be that their activity is fully under the sovereign control of God! That God is sovereign over the activity of even these evil angels (demons), is additionally supported by the structure of Revelation. It is the Father and the slain-and-risen Lamb who are sovereign over and who are unfolding all the events of this age that include what we see in the seals (Revelation 4-6)—seals which give way to the trumpets (8:1-5). The point is unmistakable, that God has decreed the events we see here.

In verse 2 we see smoke arise from the opened bottomless pit: “He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft.” In the Old Testament smoke suggests God’s holy presence and, as such, the judgment that comes upon those who do not worship and follow him (Gen. 19:28; Exodus 19:18; Dt. 29:20; Isaiah 6:4; Nah. 2:13).

In verses 3-11 we see locusts unleashed upon the earth that signify demons. Because they emerge from the bottomless-pit at the ultimate bidding of God and with the smoke, they are serving as God’s agents of judgment. In these verses we read: 
Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.
7 In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, 8 their hair like women's hair, and their teeth like lions' teeth; 9 they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10 They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.[6]

As I have studied Revelation these past few years and seen the vast Old Testament background behind what we read at almost every point along the way, I have become even more convinced we are not to try and understand these locusts by looking around us at military weaponry (e.g. helicopters) or anything else we might imagine existing in the future that they might represent. Rather, we are to see how these visions emerge from the Old Testament and how they are used in context here in Revelation. Their Old Testament backgrounds are found in the eighth plague unleased on idolatrous, rebellious, persecuting Egypt (Exodus 10:1-20) and in the book of Joel, where we see locusts as judgment upon those who falsely profess faith in the true God. The vision of these locusts is intended to communicate that during this current age one of the things God is continually doing is revealing his wrath against sin (cf. Romans 1:18) through demons.

There is no doubt that Jesus has defeated Satan and his demons and this has tremendous potential to strengthen and encourage genuine Jesus followers in the face of satanic hostility (cf. Rev. 12). Yet, for those without Jesus Christ and without his Spirit, there is no protection. Satan blinds their eyes to the truths of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4), they face the great dragon, Satan, and these demons who permeate the entire world, with no armor and no protection (Eph. 6:10-18). As they give into him more and more and give him more and more of a place in their lives, he destroys them that much more (Eph. 4:26-27). Though there can be strong and visible displays of demonization (e.g. Mark 5:1-20), much of the work of Satan and his demons is also behind the scenes and unknown to those who are not spiritually empowered or illuminated (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4; 11:14; Eph. 6:10-13).

Just one of the many examples that could be offered of how this can happen is through alcoholism and narcotics addiction. Being under the influence of such substances is the opposite of being filled with the Spirit of God and thus directed by him (Eph. 5:18). The strong connection between the activity of Satan, demons, sorcery, and being under the influence of other substances (which give even greater openness for the work of Satan and demons) is seen in the Greek work for “sorcery” or “witchcraft” (pharmakeia [see Gal. 5:20; Rev. 9:21; 18:23]). It is the word from which we get our word for pharmacy or pharmaceuticals. In part, this arises from the strong, consistent, and multifaceted use of drugs in sorcery. When we look around us at the widespread devastation that comes from alcoholism and drug addiction (consider our present opioid crisis!), there should be no doubt that there is an enemy behind this who seeks to devour and destroy.[7]  

The way that the material in Revelation 6-20 works is that what is taking place can serve as trials and discipline in the lives of genuine believers, as well as judgment upon those who do not worship and follow the true God and Savior. There is also room for people to repent and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior in the midst of these events (and even motivated by the strong demonic activity [cf. also Mk. 5:1-20; 2 Cor. 4:4, 6]). After all, the 144,000, which is also the great innumerable multitude redeemed from all the nations (see Rev. 7:1-9f.), also comprises those “coming out of the great tribulation” (Rev. 7:14). In other words, in a context of this strong, devastating demonic activity, many people will turn to Jesus Christ as Savior, realizing he is the only remedy for and salvation from sin and the great enemy!

In Revelation 9:12 we have a transition from the fifth to the sixth trumpet: “The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come.”

Revelation 9:13-21 tells of the sixth angel and what happens when he blows his trumpet, and it also takes us right up to the interlude between trumpet six and trumpet seven (10:1-11:14). The main activity we discover is that demons are commissioned to judge hardened unbelievers by ensuring the final punishment of some through deception until death, leaving the deceived remainder unrepentant. In verses 13-21 we read the following: 
Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. 16 The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. 17 And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions' heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. 18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.
20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.[8]

What we find in the sixth trumpet is God commissioning demons to carry out judgment, just like we saw in the fifth trumpet. Whereas in the fifth trumpet the emphasis was upon pain, destruction, and hopelessness among those who refuse to turn to the true God, the emphasis in this sixth trumpet is on the increase of deception that the demons bring about among the unrepentant, a deception that is not only their just desserts, but also confirms them in their unbelief and prepares them for ultimate judgment. We see that deception is the emphasis here in the following ways: 
·         First, we are told that “the power of the horses is in their mouths” (19). Perhaps, if we did not have such strong evidence surrounding this statement that focuses upon the messages they advance, we might think the picture is of horses biting. But this is not the case. It is on what they say.

·         Second, we read that “the power of the horses is…in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound” (19). In other words, the horses (which make us think of demons going forth in battle) are snake-like beings, who wound with not just their mouth, but also their tale. This may confuse if we are trying to read this literally. Snakes do not wound with their tales. The point of the vision is that these demonic hordes wound like the ancient serpent did in the garden and just like he has done since then—through his lies, his deception (cf. Gen. 3:1, John 8:44; Rev. 12:9). These demons deceive people and apart from the sovereign, powerful, and regenerating work of God in the hearts of people (2 Cor. 4:6; Titus 3:5-6), they will stay in blindness and never see their need for Christ (1 Cor. 2:13-14; 2 Cor. 4:4). We must not miss that for these people to believe the lies that lead to more deception, deeper blindness, and deeper spiritual death, is part of their just desserts.

·         Third, in verses 20-21, we learn that those who are the focus of this demonic activity are blinded and deafened just like the demonic idols they worship. This emphasizes a theme in Revelation and throughout the Bible—namely we become like what we worship and this includes the inability to hear and see our need for the true God and Savior and a lack of desire to repent and trust in him. This strongly suggests what is going on is deception upon the hearts and minds of these unbelievers.[9]

Why?
What we see, then, in the first six trumpets is that during this current age God is continually revealing his wrath and judgment for the sin of idolatry, rebellion, and the persecution of his own people. He is doing this, in part, by commissioning demons to bring destruction and deception upon the earth, which comprise the just desserts mankind is bringing upon himself. What is also clear is that God is not only unleashing these events (which could include natural disasters, but also and mostly war, human trafficking, addictions, false teachings, harsh governmental regimes [as we’ll see later in Revelation], destruction of the family, and destruction of marriage, and other forms of social injustice, et. al.) in response to the prayers of his people for justice, he has also decreed them as the absolutely sovereign God who is over all the universe.

This leads to a very important question: Why would God ordain such events? The ultimate answer is found in a pattern we see elsewhere in the Bible, namely, God has ordained sin and its outcomes (hard hearts, pain, suffering, and judgment) so that he could put his grace and mercy on display to an extent that is far greater than without such things—and in a manner that angels and people make genuine and responsible choices (see God’s dealings with Egypt and their Pharaoh in Exodus 3-14, as well as Paul’s statement in Rom. 9:22-23). When we apply this pattern, this way of thinking, to God’s ordination of the work of Satan and his demons in this age, what we discover is the most likely answer to our question is that God has ordained that he would permit these actions so that it intensifies the struggle between Satan, demons, and God, and highlights that much more the glory of God’s grace, mercy, goodness, and his power.

What we are left with in our daily experience is that though we cannot explain why certain horrific things in the world are happening—especially in relation to each individual impacted (is it trial, discipline, or judgment?), we do know at least that the world is the way it is because God has ordained it; it is also broken and not in accordance with God’s holy moral will; we face a formidable set of enemies in sin and Satan, and yet God is far greater; God is answering the prayers of his people and as such, these prayers are greatly impacting history; God is not overlooking the pain, suffering, and evil in the world, for he is revealing his judgment on it currently, and will bring ultimate judgment and justice in the future—making all things right; in the midst of it all, we can trust God in the face of great hostility, pain, and suffering; and we can be assured that God will keep his promises to us and will glorify himself in it all.

One of the great gifts that God gives to us in Revelation, especially in the seals and trumpets, is that he shows us at least in a big picture way why things are the way they are and assures us that all the attributes of God that Scripture reveals continue to be true of him now and always. So, we can trust him!

Delighting In The Power Of Prayer In God’s Plan With You!

Tom











[1] These five verses (8:1-5) serve as both a conclusion to the seals (vv. 1, 3-5) and a transition to the trumpets (v. 2). We see this same kind of phenomenon in 15:2-4, where the beginning narration of the following plague series is temporarily interrupted by a continuing description of the final judgment scene in 14:4-20. These verses cover the final judgment and demonstrate that this final judgment (and even the trumpets that flow out of this text) is in response to the saints’ prayer in 6:10.

[2] Westminster Confession, 3.1 (“Of God’s Eternal Decree”). Some of its language has been updated.

[3] Both assertions in this sentence are made based upon contextual grounds. In regard to the prayer it is the immediate context of Rev. 8:1-5. In regard to the focus being on this current age it is the numerous indicators of this we have already seen in the first seven chapters.
The seven trumpets stretch from 8:6-11:19 and comprise the second cycle or view of this current age we find in Revelation 6-20. We find an interlude between trumpets 6 and 7 in chapters 10-11, as we did between seals 6 and 7 in chapter 7. The more carefully we look at the details of the entire book, the more we see it is tightly put together, intentionally structured, and truly does recapitulate through this current age and progresses in the vision of this age with each cycle.

[4] That the statement on the second and third woes does not come until the end of the interlude (11:4), shows the parenthetical nature of 10:1-11:14.

[5] This is also validated elsewhere in Revelation, since stars can represent angels (albeit good angels: 1:16, 20; 2:1, 8, 12, 18, et. al.) and by the reality the bottomless pit is the place of Satan and his demons (20:1-7).
[6] Some of the key points we should not miss in these verses are as follows: (1) The mixing of appearances (locust, scorpion, human, women’s hair, lion, horse) is typical for apocalyptic literature. The point is to heighten and emphasize their distorted and monstrous character. (2) The sting or hurt that comes like a scorpion is intended to convey and emphasize the painful nature of what they do. (3) That their destruction is not on all the earth or all mankind without exception (v. 4) conveys this is not the final judgment. It is what is happening before that time. (4)That people want to die and cannot, simply gives a picture of the devastation and hopelessness many can be in. Their lives are a mess and they feel like they’d be better off dead. (5) The five month period of the destruction of the locusts appears to communicate two truths. To begin, since a normal locust swarm would last a few days (and yet at the same time, many swarms could be seen as long as five months), there is a sense in which these demonic armies torment for a long period of time throughout this age. Yet, the other truth intended is probably this: Five months is relatively short compared to the other time spans in the book (3.5 years, 1,000 years, eternity). So, a point may be that there is a limited period this will take place. There will come a time when mankind will  no longer deal with Satan and demons (cf. Rev. 20:7-15). Also, for any one individual, the sufferings of this present life are not even worthy to be comared to the glory that will be revealed in us—making them seem, in one sense, light light, momentary afflictions (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17). (6) The main focus of this demonic activity is those who are not Jesus followers (v. 4). As we will see below, this does not mean demons have no impact or influence upon believers (cf. Eph. 6:10-18; Rev. 12). It does mean that the main focus here in trumpet five is the impact upon the unbelieving world. (7) Verse 11 is a fitting summary for what we see happening here. The main point in this trumpet is that God commissions Satan and his demons to destruction upon those who refuse to trust in and worship the true God. Their judgment, then, is they are reaping their just desserts as their death leads to more death.

[7] By this I do not mean that every alcoholic or drug addict is demon possessed or that they have consciously opened themselves up to demons or the occult. There are different degrees of demonization that range all the way from the influence and oppostion demons can carry out against believers (e.g. Eph. 6:10-13) all the way to full-blown possession (and everything in between).
[8] Some of the key points we should not miss in these verses are as follows: (1) That a voice comes from the the four horns of the golden altar before God, telling the sixth angel to release the four angels bound at the river, most likely is intended to tie this sixth trumpet back into the transition from the seals to the trumpets (8:1-5) and ultimately to the prayers of the persecuted and martyred saints for justice (6:9-10). It is another indication that what God is doing in this current age is not only flowing out of his eternal decrees, but also in response to the prayers of his people. (2) The larger context suggests the voice is coming ultimately from God himself. He has decreed these events. (3) The release of four angels bound at the river Euphrates not only calls readers back to Old Testament history and how enemies multiple times came from the direction of Babylon, but we also find parallel between this sixth trumpet and also the sixth bowl judgment (16:12), emphasizing again the recapitulating nature of these chapters. (4) That these are evil angels is seen from the parallel to Rev. 16:12 (see especially 16:14) (5) That these evil angels have been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year (v. 15) emphasizes God’s sovereignty and his decree behind what is taking place. (6) The gigantic size of this demonic army (200 million) is, on the one hand, not as large as the innumerable great multitude of the redeeemed in 7:9. Yet, on the other hand, the size is intended to convey to the reader that this is no merely human army. Rather, it is an army of demons that stretches across the globe and influences all kinds of people. To say it is a formidable enemy is a gross understatement! (7) The mixed appearance of horses, soldiers, sulfur coming out of mouths, tails like serpents (vv. 17-19) is intended to highlight the monstrous and distorted nature of these demonic beings that are unleased on mankind. (8) Fire, smoke, and sulfur in the Old Testament depict God’s judgment (see esp. Genesis 19). Just like with trumpet five, so here, God has commissioned demons to bring judgment upon rebellious, idolatrous, persecuting mankind. (9) That only 1/3 of mankind is killed shows these events are not part of the final judgment, which will be all-inclusive, but rather precedes it.

[9] We should also not miss that many during this age will be killed as a result of this blinding and deafening work of demons (v. 18), but not all will be (v. 20). Yet, even among those who are not killed as a result of this demonic activity, they will not repent and believe apart from the sovereign grace of God!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Tribulation

In my previous blog post I stated that “the great tribulation” John alluded to in Rev. 7:14 is a tribulation (we could say a pressing in on people of trials and persecution) that spans the entire church age, from the first coming of Christ to his second coming, rather than alluding to a brief period of time (three and a half years or seven years) at the end of this age. Because the view of the tribulation I am setting forth is different than what many of us have heard and previously been taught, I want to defend this understanding in this post.

So, my task in this post is simple. I will set forth the following eleven reasons why I believe the tribulation spans the entire church age and is not merely a brief time at the end of this age. My goal is to help you see that my understanding emerges from the text of Revelation and from the text of the rest of Scripture and is not forced upon it, and then also to see why our grasp of this view of the tribulation is significant.

1. Because we have already seen that the book of Revelation signifies with a great amount of symbolism its message (1:1), we should not be surprised that the tribulation would have a symbolic nature to it—especially when it comes to those times when the numbers that so often stand behind the Tribulation (e.g. three and a half years) are used.

2. Because we have already seen that the book of Revelation has a tendency to use numbers symbolically (e.g. 1:4; 4:5; 5:6; 7:4-8), we should not be surprised that the numbers used in reference to the tribulation (e.g. forty-two months [11:2], 1,260 days [11:3], or time, times, and half a time [3.5 years, in 12:14]) are used symbolically.

3. Because we have already seen strong evidence in Revelation (from the statements in 1:3, 19 that suggest that Revelation is displaying the unfolding of the events of this current age foretold in Daniel and from the recapitulating nature of the book) that its material covers the entire church age and does not focus primarily upon a brief time at the end of this age and then beyond, it makes sense that the tribulation spoken of in Revelation covers this entire age.

4. One of the reasons that some read Revelation in a manner that tribulation deals only with trials, persecution, discipline, and judgment (the latter on unbelievers) at a brief time toward the end of this age is that they believe the church has been removed from the earth after the material of chapter 3 and so all the subsequent chapters must deal with events in the future, after a future secret rapture of the church. However, as we just demonstrated in our treatment of Revelation 7, this chapter makes the point that the true people of God (the Church!) now consists of Jew and Gentile who believe in Christ. We see this same truth over and over again throughout Revelation 6-20 and so conclude the church is still present on earth. In fact, in this present context of Revelation, what John sees in Revelation 7 precedes the final judgment (and thus the second coming of Christ), which is covered in 8:1-5. It is fallacious to read all the material of Revelation 4-20 as being sometime in the future and focusing only upon a brief time at the end of this age and beyond.

5. All of the references to tribulation in Revelation, if read in context, are spanning the entire age of the church. We have already demonstrated this for the reference in Rev. 7:14. Let’s look at the rest:
a. The word “tribulation” is used five times in Revelation (7:14 being the fifth and final use). In its first four uses, the word clearly refers to trials, discipline, persecution, judgment (the latter on unbelievers) during this entire age. In the introduction to the chapter one vision of Jesus that John received, the apostle said of his original readers that he is a partner with them in tribulation (1:9). In other words, he assumes that these seven churches (representing the church throughout the ages!) experience tribulation currently in this broken and sin-cursed world.[1] Similarly, in the messages to the seven churches in chapters 2-3, John affirms that churches currently experience tribulation, which includes trials and persecution (2:9, 10), as well as discipline and judgment (2:22). “But,” some might argue, “in Revelation 7:14 we read of ‘the great tribulation.’ Doesn’t the presence of ‘the’ and ‘great’ mark this tribulation off as being something different and worse than what the church experiences throughout most of this age?” No it does not.

To begin, in Rev. 2:22 the discipline and/or judgment threatened against a false prophetess and her followers in Thyatira is spoken of as “great tribulation.” But, again, some might respond, “But this could refer to a ‘great tribulation,’ and still not be ‘the great’ or ‘the greatest tribulation.’”

This is true, but when we go to Jesus’ words in the Olivet Discourse, where he talks about what this age will be like from his first coming to his second coming, he makes it clear that believers should expect to experience tribulation now (Mt. 24:9), which in context, speaks of various kinds of trials and suffering (natural disasters, wars, famine) and also persecution. He does go on to suggest that during this period there will be “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Mt. 24:21; Mk. 13:19 [Mark does not include the word “great”]).

So, certainly, there is a great tribulation, an intensified tribulation. But when does it happen according to Jesus? The careful reader of the Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24; Mk. 13; Lk. 21) will grasp that the events Jesus speaks of occur from right away in reference to the days of himself and his disciples and span to the point just before his second coming (“immediately after the tribulation of those days”: Mt. 24:29; Mk. 13:24). There is nothing in the Olivet Discourse that locates tribulation or even a great tribulation only at the very end of this age (even though room is left for tribulation to escalate during this age, as Revelation teaches). In fact, Jesus locates “the abomination of desolation” (Mt. 24:15) that Daniel spoke of (Dan. 9:27) and which, as will be seen, forms part of the background to tribulation language during the time of the disciples to whom he is talking. This strongly suggests the tribulation begins after the death and resurrection of Jesus and spans until his second coming. There is nothing, then, about the language of “the great tribulation” that would lead us to believe it must refer only to a short period of time at the end of this age and just before or after the second coming of Jesus Christ.[2]

b. In Revelation 11:2 we find the period of “forty-two months” of suffering and persecution for the church at the hands of the unbelieving nations, which is another way of talking about a figurative three and a half years of tribulation, which finds its background in Daniel 7:25; 9:27; 12:7, 11, 12. Most likely Daniel has some reference in these passages to persecution of Jews at the hands of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Greek king of the Seleucid Empire) in the early half of the second century, B.C. This persecution that lasted about 3.5 years was some of the worst the Jewish people ever faced and so 3.5 years became synonymous with great persecution that God also would bring to an end, as he did with that period. The persecution and destruction by Antiochus IV also prefigured what would happen in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (cf. Mt. 24:15), which itself was a harbinger of more tribulation to come throughout the church age. What we need to see about Revelation 11:2 is that it is found in an interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets (which is parallel to the interlude between the sixth and seventh seals). This, coupled with the vast amount of material in Rev. 11 that suggests what we are seeing in that chapter is a figurative depiction of the church during this age on mission, strongly suggests that the forty-two months is to be taken figuratively as a period of significant suffering and persecution through which God will protect his people in the ultimate sense and which he will eventually end. It is the same span of time as we see in the Chapter 7 interlude (v. 14).

c. We also see a reference to “forty-two months” of suffering and persecution in Rev. 13:5, at the hands of the beastly world-system, which wields the authority of and represents Satan himself. Again, when we get to that chapter we will discover strong evidence it is speaking of this entire age. But additionally, the reference to “forty-two months,” as we saw in 11:2 is most likely intended to make the reader equate the two references as the same period.

d. In Rev. 11:3 we find a reference to 1,260 days, which is three and a half years as calculated with a 360 day year (which many in that day and time used). In this verse the point is that the two witnesses (representing the church in this age) will prophesy (most likely the sense is tell forth God’s Word, the gospel) for that period. The background of Daniel, Antiochus IV, and the close proximity to the “forty-two months” of 11:2 strongly suggest that the period spans the entire church age.

e. In Revelation 12:6 we find another reference to 1,260 days, a period of time the people of God, those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus (12:17) are in the wilderness of this world and face persecution at the hands of the dragon, i.e. Satan, and his evil spirits (cf. 12:3, 8-10, 12, 15, 17). This chapter clearly spans the entire church age and it is another demonstration that the 1,260 days is meant to be taken figuratively to speak of a significant period of great tribulation for God’s people.

f. In Revelation 12:14 we find another way to speak of the three and a half years: “a time, times, and half a time,” which is evidently to be taken as the same as the 1,260 days in 12:6. The background for “a time, times, and a half times,” is Daniel 7:25; 12:7. Based on that background the figure is that of three and a half years that symbolizes great suffering for God’s people.

g. So, in summary, all the uses of tribulational language in Revelation seem to support my assertion that what it symbolizes is the entire span of the church age, along with the trials, suffering, discipline, persecution, and judgment (for unbelievers) that takes place.

6. The use of “tribulation” elsewhere (especially in Mt. 24; Mk. 13) supports it spanning the entire church age. Since we dealt with this thoroughly in the previous point, we need not say more here.

7. As we have already explained, the use of language that speaks of three and a half years (in all its forms), makes us lean in the direction that what is being symbolized by it is a time of suffering and persecution for the people of God, a time that is not intended as a literal three and a half year period of time. 

8. The astute reader will insert somewhere in this discussion, “Ok, if most of the tribulational numerical language speaks of three and a half years, how Christians come up with the idea of seven years for the full tribulational time?  The answer to that comes from Daniel 9:24-27. We want briefly to look at this passage since it not only provides the foundation for the idea of a seven year tribulation that consists of 2 three and a half year periods, but a proper understanding of it also supports the assertion that the tribulation is to be taken figuratively to refer to the entire span of the church age.[3] In Daniel 9:24-27, as part of the angel Gabriel’s answer to the question of Daniel regarding Jeremiah’s prophecy of seventy years of captivity for Judah (and so when will the people of God be restored? See Dan. 9:2), we read the following: 
Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”

Though there are many interpretations of this passage that seek to calculate the number of years and a specific timing of what Gabriel communicates (suggesting a more literal understanding), I believe the best way to understand this passage is figuratively. After all, it is found in the second half of Daniel and in the midst of apocalyptic literature that is steeped in symbolism. Since Daniel has asked about the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy (see Jeremiah 25:12) of a seventy year captivity and judgment for sin and when would Judah be restored, Gabriel offers an answer that builds off of that seventy years and also communicates something that goes well beyond merely a return to their land, but also is meant to show God’s larger purposes: “to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness” (Dan. 9:24).

In other words, in this answer that includes the “seventy weeks,” each week envisioned as seven years (so 490 years), is meant somehow to focus upon Jesus Christ and the ultimate salvation, forgiveness, righteousness, and transformation he brings—which accomplishes what Israel never could on their own. The seventy weeks are divided up as follows: seven weeks until the decree to rebuild the temple and Jerusalem (v. 25), which deals with Daniel’s original question; sixty-two weeks that span that rebuilt city and temple—leading to a time that the city and temple are destroyed again (vv. 25-26); and then finally one week during which time an anointed one (Christ) will make a strong covenant with many, i.e. the Church, which is divided into two segements (v. 27). It is the dividing of this last week (that is seven years) into two segments that forms the foundation for seeing the tribulation as envisioning a seven year period, made up of 2 three and a half year time spans.

It appears as a strong possibility that the reason “70 weeks” (or 490 years) was chosen as the whole period is that 490 years=10 jubilee periods. In Leviticus 25:8-55 we learn that Israel at the end of every sabbath of years (7x7 years or 49 years) was to recognize a year of jubiliee in which all debts were cancelled and slaves freed. What the angel Gabriel appears to be communicating to Daniel is that not only will God restore Judah to their land after seventy years of captivity, but he will someday bring about through a special anointed one (the Christ) the ultimate and eternal jubilee—the ultimate freedom, cancellation of debts, restortion, and transformation.

I take all this to mean that the years are not to be calculated in a manner in which we are asking exactly when does this set of years start and when exactly does it end? Rather, we are to look at the overall picture focusing upon the idea of the ultimate jubilee in Christ.

If this is a correct assessment, then the New Testament Church is currently in the last week of the seventy weeks—and so exists in this long tribulation period. Most likely from this text, the intent is that the first three and a half years lasted until the destruction of Jerusalem and the second three and a half years lasts for the remainder of the church age. Not only has Christ brought freedom and the cancellation of our debts, but someday all of this will be fully consummated in the new heaven and new earth, in our eternal reward (our eternal jubilee)!

9. The ninth reason for seeing the tribulation as spanning the entire church age has to do with a follow-up on #8. If we understand the entire message of the book of Daniel, it supports the understanding of Daniel 9:24-27 I just set forth and so provides another reason for seeing the tribulation as I have explained it.

In the book of Daniel the faithful Israelites serve as a type of the ultimate faithful man/person of God who trusts him, follows him, and remains faithful even in the face of great evil and suffering. As such, they form types of Christ (even to the point of Daniel being sealed for a time in the lion’s pit, i.e. in the realm of death, and being raised and vindicated out of that [ch. 6]), foreshadowing the death and resurrection of Christ. As such, the book of Daniel depicts the faithful as suffering for a time and then being raised and vindicated (see 12:2-3). Such a paradigm looks forward to Christ, the coming Son of Man (cf. 7:13-14), with whom will come “an end to sin,” and who will “atone for iniquity” (9:24). The sense seems to be, however, that all who truly come to God in faith and who seek to follow the Son of Man’s example of living redemptively will suffer, yet will be vindicated in the future through resurrection. What this means is that the suffering of the Jews under Antiochus IV Epiphanes (the little penultimate horn [8:9]) is a type of, i.e. it looks forward to more ultimate suffering of an ultimate horn or opposition to God that precedes the end of the end (cf. 7:24-26). The fact that the saints will be given into the hands of the horn “a time, times, and half a time” (Dan. 7:25 [see also 12:7, 11-12]), most likely is paradigmatic (see also Hos. 6:2)—looking forwad to the ultimate suffering of the Son of Man in behalf of the people of God (cf. 1 Cor. 15:4), who would be under the power of death for this time, before vindication. As such, the 3 ½ times x 2 (cf. Mt. 24:21; Rev. 7:14; 11:2, 9 [3.5 days—see Hos. 6:2]; 12:6, 14; 13:5-7) most likely depicts a long time of suffering and desolation—reminiscent of the typological tribulation under Antiocus Epiphanes, as well as the fall of Jerusalem under the Roman, Titus, in AD 70 and following. All of this language, then, suggests that Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the suffering Son of Man, the Son of God, who will be vindicated and those who are united to him also will suffer and be vindicated! Such is especially supported by the same language of Daniel being found in Revelation—to refer to times, time, and half a time, etc. When the best understanding of Daniel 9:20-27 is set forth, it also is seen that the Church is currently in the last three and a half year period of suffering, trials, discipline, and persecution.    

10. Given the ground we have covered, we also can say there is an historical reason for using three and a half years (or 3.5 x 2) to speak of tribulation. New Testament scholar, D. A. Carson explains: 
In Israel, the period of time with…mythic power was three and a half years. Two centuries before Christ, there arose one of the most grisly episodes in Jewish history, an episode foreseen by Daniel. In the book of Revelation, the crucial period of time is indicated by four synonymous expressions: forty-two months (based on the ideal month of thirty days), 1,260 days, three and a half years, and time…times…, and a half a time…. For Jewish Christian readers in the first century, this period of immense suffering instantly calls to mind the wretched reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes…. Because that three-and-a-half-year period was such a burning memory in the Jews’ mind from that point on (and they understood it in connection with their interpretation of Daniel), they came to think of three and a half years as a time of severe testing, opposition, and tribulation before God himself gave his people rest again.

And so what three and a half years would conjure up in the minds of readers steeped in the Old Testament and/or Jewish history, was something akin to our saying of someone experiencing great loss today, “This was his 9/11 moment!” We all would understand what this signifies in light of the horrific events of September 11, 2001.

11. The final reason given for seeing the tribulation in the manner I have explained in this post has to do with answering another objection by some, who have concluded the tribulation period is primarily a time in which God works with ethnic Jews, to bring them to their true Messiah. They point to Jeremiah 30:7 as proof. This verse is found in a section of Jeremiah that is promising future restoration for Israel and Judah. The verse reads: “Alas!  That day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it.” The argument from some is that “a time of distress for Jacob” refers ultimately to the tribulation and, if taken literally, would suggest strongly that the tribulation is a time in which God is focusing upon ethnic Israel—and once the church is removed from the earth. The fact that the verse goes on to read, “yet he shall be saved out of it,” leaves room for the tribulation to be a time in which the distress works to bring many in Israel to trust in Jesus Christ.

Even if we agree that this verse has reference to the future time of tribulation we are addressing in this blog post, there is no reason at all to see this reference as dealing only with ethnic Israel. After all, in Jeremiah 31:31-34, where God promises to make a new covenant with “the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” this has a larger pattern of meaning than referring merely to ethnic Israel, as the New Testament clarifies (Luke 22:20; Heb. 8:8-13). It refers to all who will be part of the true Israel and Judah, be they ethnic Jews or Gentiles! So, there is no reason to think of the tribulation as having to be merely a time of focus upon ethnic Jews.

Some of you might think, “Tom, why does this really matter? After all, as long as we know Jesus is returning, that is the main thing!” There is some truth to that statement. However, for some people, especially Americans who have experienced a significant level of wealth and comfort in a reasonably friendly environment over the past sixty to seventy years, it has been easy to conclude, “God would surely not let us go through the kind of suffering we read of connected to tribulational texts in particular and Revelation 6-20 in general.” This thinking has been the soil in which another conviction has been planted and grown, namely that if we are engaging in fruitful and effective ministry, we will have positive results almost always, and people (including the world) will like us since we are being loving and positive in our approach.

Now, what this thinking does is to skew the church in an imbalanced direction when it comes to setting out our ministry approach and philosophy. We believe we need to be so positive that all we can do is speak of God’s love, his redemption of our brokenness, and we can never (or rarely) speak of judgment, sin, church discipline, the need for correction, the need to avoid idolatry, or the need to oppose false teaching. So, on the one hand, we avoid conflict and being at odds with others. And, on the other hand, if we find that others are opposing us, we decide we need to change our ministry philosophy and approach, because we have not been “successful.”

This culture that the American church has formed has not only led to preaching a different and diluted gospel, it has also led to a weak and anemic church that is little different than unbelievers around us. And for those who have sought to remain faithful to Scripture and the undiluted gospel, it has resulted in a great wrestling match. After all, such persons can often feel they may be wrong and everyone else who remains inordinately positive and encouraging is right.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that everyone who believes in a tribulation in the future (be it literally seven years long or not) and/or those who believe the church will be removed before it, falls prey to this. They don’t. I am simply saying in its worst version it has contributed to the formation of a way of thinking that does not appear to square with Scripture.

I believe Christians should be as winsome as we can and think hard about the best ways to teach biblical truth and the undiluted gospel. Yet, the reality is that if we are not sometimes experiencing at least push-back to our teaching and proclamation, we are probably not teaching the right gospel (or at least not the whole gospel). And, as changes take place in our society and in our own community (and they will likely continue to change), the reality of push-back and even persecution for doing the most loving thing in the world—sharing the undiluted gospel so people can know and follow Jesus—will increase. Keep in mind that the most loving and the only sinless, perfect person who ever lived in this world was rejected by most, beaten, ridiculed, vilified, and nailed to a cross!  Why do we believe that as we live by, for, and like him it will all be always positive, encouraging, and easy for us?

This is much of what the book of Revelation is about:  How to remain faithful and joyful followers of Jesus, those who live on mission, in the face of the hostile cultures around us.

This is why I have taken the time through three blog posts so we can understand Revelation 7. We need to be aware of the challenges and dangers we face. Yet, we must also be aware of the glorious promises God has made to us as well, so we can face these with courage and boldness.

Living Joyfully, Boldly, And Courageously In Tribulation With You,

Tom 

[1] Consider also what Jesus told his disciples and subsequent readers about what our experience would be in this age (John 16:33): “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

[2] In fact, based upon the Olivet Discourse (esp. the versions in Mt. 24 and Mk. 13) it is very difficult to place a coming of Christ and resurrection of the Church before the tribulation. It goes against the very clear language we find!

[3] For the following summary discussion of Daniel 9:24-27 I am dependent upon Meredith Kline, “The Covenant Of The Seventieth Week,” in The Law And The Prophets: OT Studies In Honor of Oswald T. Allis, ed. John H. Skilton (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian And Reformed, 1974), 452-469, and also Sam Storms, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Christian Focus, Ross-Shire, Scotland, 2013), ch. 3.