THE last book of the Bible is called "The Revelation," or "The Apocalypse," which word means "to uncover." Genesis 3:15 is the text of the Bible. In Revelation we see the fulfillment of the promise made therein. This book is indeed an uncovering of the future. It is not a mystical, intangible, unintelligible volume. A special promise is held out to the one who will study it.
There is little that is new in this book. Everything in chapters 1-20 is taken from the messages of the prophets. Some of the symbols, however, are not found there; nevertheless the germinal thought is latent in the Old Testament. Unless a person knows this background, he cannot possibly understand the Revelation. Someone has said that it gathers up the threads left dangling in the air, figuratively speaking, from various Old Testament messages. John wove these into a beautiful fabric of the most gorgeous revelation. This statement is true with reference to chapters 1-20. The last two chapters, however, are an entirely new disclosure that is not dealt with anywhere else in the Scriptures. One must not confound the new heavens and the new earth of Isaiah 65; 66; and II Peter 3 with the new heavens and the new earth of Revelation 21 and 22. The former prophecies apply to the millennial heavens and earth, whereas the latter, as we have already seen, looks beyond that period to the eternal order.
The Book of Revelation falls naturally into three sections which are indicated in 1:19: "the things which thou sawest"; "the things which are"; "and the things which shall come to pass hereafter." The things which John saw are the things connected with the vision of the glorified Son of man (chapter 1). "The things which are" appear in chapters 2 and 3 and are the letters to the seven churches of Asia. Though these messages were written to local churches of John's day, a careful study of them and a comparison of the characteristics of each with the parables of the kingdom found in Matthew 13 prove that they give us "an outline of church history pre-written." This statement is certainly true. That Matthew 13 is an outline of the present dispensation--beginning with Christ, the Sower, and concluding with the pulling in of the dragnet at the end of the age--there can be no doubt. When those parables are studied carefully and these seven letters are compared with them, it becomes immediately evident that each of these reflects certain dominant characteristics of the subdivisions into which the Christian Era naturally falls.
As indicated on the chart above, the rapture of the church occurs before the Tribulation. Christ has not appointed us unto wrath (the Tribulation is called the time of wrath) but unto the obtaining of salvation--deliverance from the wrath to come. Thus Christ will deliver us by coming for His saints prior to the Tribulation. Whether or not the Tribulation follows the rapture immediately is a question that has never been absolutely settled. Some students think that no time will elapse between these events, whereas others are convinced that there is an indefinite period. As for me, I cannot say; for I do not know. The one thing which I do know is that He will come for His saints before the Tribulation, and I wish to be ready when that moment comes.
The Tribulation is a period of seven years during which God is pouring out His judgments upon the world. Chapters 4 and 5 constitute a vision of heaven, in which the Almighty is seen upon the throne with the four and twenty elders in His presence. These are representative, as many scholars believe, of the raptured church. The living creatures that are called "beasts" in the Common Version are seraphim (Isa. 6) or cherubim (Ezek. 1,2).
Events of the Tribulation are presented under the symbolism of seals, trumpets, and bowls. For the sake of convenience in presenting pictorially these judgments, in their proper relations, I have, as indicated on the chart, divided the Tribulation into halves. The first is subdivided, the result of which is the first and second quarters. The first of these is covered by the six seal judgments; the second by the six trumpets; and the second half by the seven bowls. These are found respectively in chapters 6, 8, 9, and 16. When the first seal is broken something definite takes place upon the earth. The same is true with reference to seals, 1-6, but, when the seventh is broken, nothing takes place upon the earth; on the contrary, the seven angels who have the seven trumpets prepare to blow. In the same manner, when each trumpet is blown, something definite takes place upon the earth; but, when the seventh sounds, nothing occurs; on the contrary, the seven angels who are to pour out the last judgments take their bowls, preparatory to playing their part. When each of these bowls is poured out upon the world, something definite takes place. Thus in the Tribulation there are six seal, six trumpet, and seven bowl judgments, the total of which is nineteen.
The first half of the Tribulation is covered, as seen above, by the seals and the trumpets. Hence we are in the middle of the Tribulation when we come to chapter 11, as is indicated in the first few verses. The first half is mentioned in verse 3, whereas the second is seen in verse 2.
Chapter 7 constitutes the first parenthesis in the unfolding of this drama. Here we see the 144,000 Jewish evangelists who will give forth the truth to the entire world during the first half of the Tribulation. The result of their labors is the conversion of an innumerable host of people from every nation, tribe, tongue, and language, who wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb, and who "come out of the Tribulation, the great one." There will be a world-wide revival in the first half of the Tribulation conducted by these 144,000 "Jewish Pauls," to whom we who now see God's plan for Israel are endeavoring to give the truth, in such a way that they can recognize the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (II Cor. 4:4-6).
When God called Abraham, He announced His intention of blessing all nations in and through his seed. Everything of a spiritual nature which we enjoy has come to us through the Jews. God has never turned from this announced plan. He will yet bless all nations in and through his seed in the measure contemplated in the promise (Gen. 12:1-3). Thus the blessing of the world will come through these evangelists. No Gentiles can be in this group, because all of these are of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Chapters 10-15 constitute the great parenthesis. In chapter 10 we read of the little book which John ate. Ezekiel (chapter 3) did a similar thing. This act was symbolic, indicating John's receiving a revelation additional to that which he had already been given.
The two witnesses of 11:1-14 are in all probability Moses and Elijah, who will participate in the great revival as it pertains to the land of Israel.
In 11:15-19 appears a resume announcing, ahead of the events, the results which flow from the judgments of the second half of the Tribulation. These verses might be compared to the headlines of an important article in a daily paper. They tell the whole story; but, if anyone wishes to have the details, he must read the entire article.
The great parenthesis properly consists of chapters 12-15. The sun-clad woman of chapter 12 is none other than Israel who gives forth the truth to the world during the Tribulation. The dragon is Satan, and the man child who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron is the mystical Christ--Christ, the head; the church, the body.
The first beast of Revelation 13 is the fourth one of Daniel 7 and its ruler is the willful king of Daniel 11, the man of sin of II Thessalonians 2, and the Antichrist of I John 2:18. He is the world emperor. The second beast of Revelation 13 is none other than his aide whose sole object in life is to magnify and glorify the Antichrist.
In chapter 14:1-5 we see a vision of the millennial Jerusalem with the Lord Jesus Christ in His glory, accompanied by 144,000 who "were not defiled with women; for they are virgins." These are taken from among men--from among all nations. They are men who have lived out and out for God Almighty and the Lord Jesus.
In verses 6 and 7 an angel is seen flying in mid-heaven, proclaiming the everlasting gospel--the one and only gospel. This fact indicates that there will be those in the latter half of the Tribulation who will proclaim the truth.
In verse 8 is the announcement of the fall of Babylon. It will be overthrown at the end of the Tribulation as indicated in chapter 16. In verses 9-12 is a warning to men not to take the mark of the beast; for, if they do, they will suffer for ever and ever. But a blessing is promised to those who remain faithful and true to the Lord during the rest of this period.
In verses 14-20 appear the harvest and the vintage scenes, which are pictorial representations of the closing judgments of the Tribulation. In chapter 15 is the preparation for the pouring out of the bowls of God's wrath.
Chapter 16 covers the latter half of the Tribulation. If one wishes to understand the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments, one will do well to study the ten plagues--strokes of the Lord Almighty--against Egypt and her gods (Ex. 1-14). Let us not "evaporate" these statements, but take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the context indicate clearly otherwise.
We reach the end of the Tribulation in chapter 16. The seventeenth is a further description of events which take place in the middle of the Tribulation. This account supplements chapter 13. Here we see a harlot riding upon a scarlet-colored beast. This woman is a symbol of the false ecclesiasticism which will be supported by the world government in the first half of the Tribulation. The beast is none other than the world empire which will, during the first half of the Tribulation, be tolerant toward religion; supporting actively, however, the false system developed then, and, at the same time, permitting the 144,000 Jewish evangelists to continue their work to the middle of the Tribulation--at which time the emperor, the Antichrist, becomes arrogant and conceited to the extent that he presents himself to the world as God. Then all religion is suppressed and men are required to worship the beast.
Chapter 18 relates the destruction of Babylon, the city, which occurs at the end of the Tribulation. Thus three and one-half years intervene between chapters 17 and 18. Babylon, the city, was never destroyed in fulfillment of Isaiah 13; 14, and Jeremiah 50; 51. Those prophecies await a complete fulfillment. It will therefore be rebuilt and will be destroyed according to all these predictions.
Chapter 19 describes the marriage supper of the Lamb. It seems that this crowning event will occur in heaven at the very end, or near the end, of the Tribulation. At the close of this period of disaster, the Lord Jesus Christ with the armies of heaven (the saved) will appear upon earth. The Antichrist will have drawn up his forces to battle at Jerusalem against Christ when He appears, but he and the false prophet will be taken and cast alive into the lake of fire. Then Satan will be bound for a thousand years in the abyss.
At that time Christ sets up His glorious reign upon this earth. Those who have suffered with Him will reign with Him. The curse will be lifted and the earth will bring forth its strength.
At the end of the Millennium Satan will be unloosed and be permitted to deceive men again. Many will go up from the four corners of the earth in rebellion against Christ. Then fire will come down out of heaven and consume them. At this point, Satan will be cast into the lake of fire where will have been the false prophet and the beast throughout the Millennium.
At this time John saw a great white throne upon which the Son of man is seated. Before Him appear the wicked dead. Their doom is announced, and they are sent into everlasting punishment. Then will be fulfilled the prediction made by our Lord in the following words: "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matt. 24:35). John tells us in Revelation 20:11 when this prophecy of Jesus is to be fulfilled; namely, at the great white throne judgment. Then the material universe--the heavens and earth--will pass away, and there will be found no place for them; that is, they will completely pass out of existence.
After the judgment of the great white throne, God will create the eternal order--the new heavens and the new earth. These will be entirely new. They will have no connection with the present material order, that has been contaminated by Satan and sin and that passes away, as we have just seen, completely at the great white throne judgment. "Behold, I make all things new."
Out of the eternal heavens will descend the new Jerusalem, the city four-square. It will come down and rest upon the eternal earth. Obviously, it is to be a perfect cube fifteen hundred miles in dimensions. Such an enormous city resting upon the eternal earth argues that it will be an indescribably large one since God has the correct idea of proper proportions. It will be in this city that all the redeemed of this earth will spend eternity with God. There will be glory for every one. We shall serve God day and night and shall reign with Him for ever and ever (Rev. 22:5).
Like John, who received this revelation, we pray: "Amen: come, Lord Jesus."