Review: Not chronological – Today is past, present and future.
Radical Holiness, and to give us HOPE to endure to the end
Interlude – seals, trumpets – Bowls to come. Not in the order it happens, it’s the order that John saw these visions in
Review: Chapter 12 “Beast, Woman and the Baby”
Everything that happens on earth is part of a cosmic war being waged in the heavenlies (everything is tied to the supernatural!)
5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear:
10 If anyone is to be taken captive,
to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
with the sword must he be slain.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
Alright, onto Chapter 13, second vision, in this second vision, God shows John (and us) how
Starting in Chapter 13, we see how Satan (the dragon) rages against the woman (the church) in the world. And again, it’s not chronological—this happens, and now this happens. Instead, here in Chapter 13 we see a picture of how the battle in Chapter 12 is being waged (and will be waged in the days leading up to the return of Christ) between this dragon and this woman in the world. So starting in Chapter 13, we see a beast rising out of the sea, under the authority of the dragon.
Now there’s all kind of speculation about who or what this beast stands for. Is this beast a physical person, a particular empire, or an evil spirit behind earthly systems? First-century readers would have almost certainly identified this beast as the Roman Empire, the state- ruled government that was mandating the worship of the Roman emperor. Many may have even associated the beast with the Roman emperor, be it Nero or Domitian.
Beyond this, many twenty-first century commentators associate this beast with the antichrist who is mentioned in John’s other letters: a series of leaders leading up to one primary leader who would lead people astray through antichristian government. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul describes a “man of lawlessness,” a “son of destruction,” who will exalt himself “against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” So many equate this beast here with that man of lawlessness.
Still others don’t limit this beast to any particular person or empire in history, but point to various antichristian governments and leaders who oppress and persecute God’s people while leading the world astray. One can’t help but to think of various governments in history and in the world today, who much like the Roman Empire have oppressed and beaten down the church, setting up laws that forbid people from becoming Christians or following God’s Word or preaching the gospel. (China, Muslim Countries, India)
I lean toward this interpretation—that throughout the history of the church, from the resurrection to the return of Christ, there have been and will continue to be governments and leaders, systems, and structures that the devil uses to oppress the church and deceive the world. That doesn’t necessarily rule out a specific person or empire (a specific antichrist or man of lawlessness) to come in the days ahead, but the overall point is that Satan works through government that functions as divine authority instead of under divine authority.
Romans 13 is clear that government has a good place in the world under the authority of God, but when government begins to assert itself as god, then government goes terribly wrong. There’s a massive difference between leading under God and leading as god, and the latter is extremely dangerous as evidenced throughout oppressive governments in world history and around the world today, oppressing the church and deceiving people by the millions. Yet don’t miss this: even when governments do this, unbeknownst to them, though they think they are setting themselves up as God or even against God, they are ultimately under the sovereign hand of God.
The picture here in Revelation 13 is clear: God permits the beast to blaspheme His name, persecute His people, and control the nations. 13:5, “The Beast was giving a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.”
“It was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given to it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it.” (This is a reference to non-Christians here whose names are not written in the book of Life.)
God allows, permits, gives authority to this beast to lead people into blasphemy, to persecute His people, and to control the nations. This is much like Romans 1, when God gives sinful people over to themselves. It is a frightening thing when God gives people over to their sin, and these are the effects.
But don’t miss the encouragement here. To suffering Christ followers in oppressive states all around the world today and even to Christ followers in this country that is in some ways is becoming increasingly hostile to the church, do not fear. God is in control. Trust in Him. Hold fast to Him. Do not be surprised when government begins to operate as divine authority instead of under divine authority. Hold fast to your faith, even though the cost becomes greater and greater. Do not be deceived and pulled away.
Which leads to the next beast, where we learn that Satan deceives through teachers who look like friends yet speak like enemies, stimulating idolatry while slaying the innocent. Satan deceives through teachers who look like friends yet speak like enemies. All the language John uses in these visions of the dragon, the first beast, and the second beast is intended to be a parody or a mock treatment of the Trinity. These figures (the dragon and the two beasts) are described in language that’s eerily similar to how God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are described.
The first beast is said to have a mortal wound that has been healed, as if this beast has died and come back to life—an imitation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. When you get to 13:11and the second beast is introduced, John says, “I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb…” There are 29 times in the book of Revelation where a “lamb” is mentioned, and 28 of those times the “lamb” refers to Christ. The only other time “lamb” is mentioned without reference to Christ is here, where the second beast looks like a “lamb,” a picture of his effort to copy Christ. This second beast performs signs and miracles to draw people to worship the first beast.
And so we see the dragon, the first beast, and the second beast working alongside one another in a concerted effort to deceive people. They look like what they do is right and good, yet they are leading the world into idolatry and immorality.
Many understand that first beast as antichristian government, and subsequently they understand the second beast as antichristian religious and economic and social systems associated with antichristian government. Those who see the first beast as a specific antichrist see the second beast as a false prophet arising even from within the church that encourages devotion to the antichrist.
Reading this from the perspective of first-century hearers, you can’t help but to the think about how the Roman Empire was surrounded by an economic and social and even religious system that supported—even mandated—worship of the emperor. We’ve talked about how in order to have business in a certain trade, you would have to participate in a certain guild and go to feasts where food was sacrificed to idols or outright emperor worship took place. And teachers were rising in the church and saying that was okay to do, that it was okay for the sake of making money to worship other gods and to bow before the emperor.
Bring this over into our day, and you think of false religions and cults that exist around the world, as well as the secularism that pervades our culture—where success is worshiped as God and money is sought as they key to satisfaction.
So the picture is clear when it comes to Satan’s deception through false teachers and leaders. He massacres all who refuse him. Notice the ultimate sovereignty of God here in 13:15, which says, “It was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.”
Mark it down. There will always be a price to pay for believers who do not worship the idols of this world. Life will not be easy in this world when you fight the idolatry of this world. Plain and simple.
He massacres all who refuse him, and He marks all who follow him. Literally hundreds of different possible interpretations have been proposed for what the mark of the beast is here—from a literal mark given to people in the days before the final coming of Christ to a symbolic picture of those who identify with the ways of this world and thus set themselves up against God.
And why is it “666”? Well, we’ve already seen (and will see again in just a minute) that the church has the name of God symbolically written on their foreheads, and the church has a number (144,000) to symbolize the completion of God’s people, so it makes sense that those who set themselves up against God in Christ would also have something symbolically written on their heads, associated with a number not of completion (like seven or four or ten), but incompletion (like 6 repeated over and over again).
But don’t miss the point. Every person in all of history leading up to the end of history either belongs to God in Christ or to this world and its ways. And Satan, all throughout history and continuing today, is deceiving many through friendly words, enticing ideologies, appealing economic policies, and attractive religions that all subtly yet eternally pull people away from worship of the one true God. This is how the dragon works through these beasts, and just when these visions take us to a low point, John looks up and behold, he sees the church.
All of a sudden, a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and the sound of loud thunder reverberates as the people of God (symbolized by 144,000 here, just like we saw in Revelation 7) stand with Him and sing to Him as they are satisfied in Him. Yet again, John gives us a glimpse of the church in the midst of the challenges of this world, and he does this for a reason.
Look at 14:4. John writes, “It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins [we’ll come back to that in a second]. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Rev. 14:4). John is encouraging readers then and readers now to faithfully follow the Lamb amidst the idolatry and immorality of this world.
It’s why, even back in Chapter 13, right after the first beast was described, John stopped and said in 13:9, “If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword he must be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints”
John’s saying, “It is and will be costly to follow Christ in this world, but don’t compromise! Even if it means you’re being slain, hold fast to your faith. Even if it means you lose your job and all your money, hold fast to your faith. Even if it means ridicule and oppression and isolation or imprisonment or death, follow the Lamb!” And one day you will stand with Him, you will sing to Him, and you will be satisfied in Him.
This is the reward of being set apart, holy in this world. That’s what is meant by not defiling themselves with women. This is not a literal, physical picture of celibate people but of Christ-followers who have not given their hearts, minds, and lives over to the gods of sex, success, and power in this world. They’ve held fast to Christ amidst the temptations and enticements of this world.
This is the reward of holiness/purity in the world, and this is the reward of being bold with the gospel. 14:5 says, “…In their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.” This is a contrast with the false teaching at the end of Chapter 13. Here in Chapter 14, these are the saints who have proclaimed the truth of God and the gospel, who have faithfully witnessed to the Word of God in a world full of lies.
Faithful followers of Christ will one day stand with him, sing to him, and be eternally satisfied in him, which leads right into the fifth vision, where we learn that who we worship on earth determines where we go in eternity. These three angels cry out in 14, “Fear God and give him glory…worship him who made heaven and earth, for the gods of this world will show themselves to be empty and will lead you to eternal death.” These verses set up quite a contrast.
We learn that all who indulge in the enticing wine of this world will one day drink from the everlasting wrath of God. Now, I want to be careful as soon as I say that, to emphasize that I am using imagery from this text in this statement. I am not saying, that if you drink a glass of wine, you will experience the wrath of God.
But when you look at 14:8, and you see “Babylon the great” mentioned, you see an image that we’re going to see more of in the rest of Revelation, where Babylon symbolizes the intoxicating immorality of this world in all of its forms, particularly in the form of sexual immorality. This picture is exactly what we see all over our culture: people who indulge in, who drink down the sexual pleasures and temporal pursuits of this world, thinking this is where satisfaction and delight are found. And Revelation is shouting loud and clear: that cup will prove empty! It will not satisfy!
In fact, it will do the opposite. You indulge in the wine of this world, and you will one day drink from the wrath of God. The imagery is strong. “[You] will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and [you] will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of [your] torment [will go] up forever and ever, and [you will] have no rest, day or night…” (Rev. 14:10-11).
This is the destiny of all who live for the enticing indulgences, sexual pleasures, material possessions, and selfish pursuits of this world. Don’t buy the idea that your actions today don’t have consequences tomorrow—everlasting, never-ending, soul-tormenting consequences tomorrow. (14:11)“The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever…no rest…”
George Whitfield, a great preacher from centuries ago who would speak to crowds by the thousands in a day where they had no sound systems, used to urge those crowds to consider “the torment of burning like a livid coal, not for an instant or a day but for millions and millions of ages, at the end of which you will realize that you are no closer to the end than when you first begun, and you will never, ever be delivered from that place.”
Listen, every person within the sound of my voice, turn aside from the enticing wine of this world (in all of its forms), for it only leads to the everlasting wrath of God!
Revelation 14:12 says, “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints!” It’s as if John is saying to people in the church: “Wake up! What are you doing? Don’t compromise with the ways of this world; they lead to everlasting wrath!“
And then he shows us the contrast in 14:13. “I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.’”
All who indulge in the enticing wine of this world will one day drink from the everlasting wrath of God, but all who endure amid the trials and temptations of this world will one day enter into the rest and relief of God. From torment day and night to rest forever and ever. One of only two times where the Spirit of God directly speaks in this book, and He says: “Endure. It’s not easy in this world to turn from the enticements of this world, but endure, endure, endure and one day rest will be yours, for your enduring deeds will follow you.”
Eternity is coming.
The sixth vision. The judgment of God is inevitable and intense. You have two visions of harvest back-to-back here—a grain harvest and a grape harvest. The picture is clear that Christ will one day harvest all the saints who trust in Him. He will bring all true followers of his to Himself.
And at the same time, He will tread every sinner who turns from him. That’s strong language, but it is language that is necessitated by this text. Is there any more graphic portrayal of the judgment of unbelievers than the picture of grapes being crushed in a winepress to flow out for miles like blood?
Please don’t get confused by all these verses and all these symbols throughout this book, for the essence of this book and the essence of these visions is clear. Every single person in this room will one day come face-to-face with God. And You and I will either stand before God alone in our sin, or we will stand before God with Jesus our Savior. We will either have lived for the ways of this world, or we will have endured in the Word of God. Which will it be for you on that day?
If you have never trusted in Jesus as the only One who can save you from your sin, I urge you to do that today—even right now! Trust in Him as the One who has taken the wrath you deserve in your place, follow Him, as your Lord and your life.
And Christian, if you are today in any way wavering from Christ, wandering toward the ways of this world, I urge you to repent. Repent, for the wrath of God is coming to those who indulge in the wine of this world. Repent and endure, Christian. Endure even when it’s not easy, even when it’s most difficult.
Soon all the saints throughout all of history will rejoice together in the song of the redeemed.
Hold fast to your faith for—seventh vision—soon all the saints throughout all of history will rejoice together in the song of the redeemed.
The backdrop for the song of the redeemed in Revelation 15 is the song of Moses in Exodus 15. When God had delivered His people from slavery in Egypt and He brought them to the Red Sea and it looked like the Egyptians were about to overtake them, God split that sea in half. He sent His people through the middle on dry land, and then those waters overtook the Egyptians. Safe on the other side, Moses sang, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously… The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is His name…. Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty, you overthrow your adversaries… The Lord will reign forever and ever!” (Ex. 15:1, 3, 6-7, 18)
And that’s the song we’ll one day sing. One day soon conquering Christians will shout as they consider God’s incomprehensible works. “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!” Rev. 15:3. One day, Christian, we will look back and see how all of history finally unfolded, and we will praise our God for the way He brought all of these things to pass. We have questions today about why this or that in this world, but on that day in the future, we will see that in it all, God was great and amazing in all His deeds.
“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Rev 15:4).
Pastor Matt Surber studies Revelation 12 and reminds us that the spiritual battle that is being waged today in the world is a battle that’s already been won by God.Read More /
Pastor Matt Surber discusses Revelation 6 and 7 and reminds us that Revelation is written to encourage suffering Christians, call us to radical holiness, and give us hope to endure to the end!Read More /
Pastor Matt Surber studies The Throne Room in Revelation 4 and 5 as we look at God’s sovereignty.Read More /