This lesson decodes the symbolic language used in John’s visions to tell his story.
Revelation is the vision that John the Apostle has concerning the church’s struggle with Rome in the 1st century. The theme of the book is the revelation of Christ, a more perfect vision of the Lord in His glorified state.
So far we have:
- Seen the glorious vision of Christ as He speaks to John, 1:1-8.
- Heard Christ’s instructions to the church to be faithful and to persevere in suffering (Vision I – 1:9-3:22).
- Watched as John describes the throne of God and the scene as Christ begins to display the power at His command that will be used to destroy the enemy, Rome.
- We have also heard the prophecy as to the events that will take place that will lead to the church’s victory. The church will grow quickly, it will be persecuted and seemingly crushed, it will survive, and the enemy will eventually fall.
All of this information, these images, and these symbols have been presented in the second vision, chapters 4-11.
Now we begin studying the third vision as John describes the actual struggle itself. First, he introduces Christ, then there is the viewing of His power, now a play-by-play of the actual struggle.
Remember, when John is writing, the persecution by Rome has begun and what he is writing about informs the church of the 1st century concerning their immediate and future struggle; in this way it was prophecy. We read it today and see that the prophecy was fulfilled: Rome did fall, the church did survive, however, the book prophesizes that the cycle of evil and struggle will continue and one day Jesus will return to put an end to this and open the new heavens and earth for the faithful.
In this sense, it is a prophecy to us. Our encouragement is that if the former prophecy about Rome was eventually fulfilled, we should prepare ourselves for the prophecy of the second coming to be fulfilled as well.
Vision III – Christ in Conquest – 12:1-21:8
The bulk of this vision is the actual description of the struggle between Satan and his earthly embodiment, Rome, and the Lord Jesus and His earthly embodiment, the church. John will describe the war between these two, jumping from images of Satan and Rome to images of Jesus and the church. He will also describe the tactics each will use to destroy the other.
1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.
– Revelation 12:1-2
Here we have the introduction of the woman, she is the ideal of God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments. She gives birth to a child who is Christ, the product of God’s people in the Old and New Testaments brought about by a long and painful history.
Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.
– Revelation 12:3
The red dragon is Satan.
- 7 heads – world domination
- 10 horns – complete destructive power
- 7 crowns – not victory but symbolizes rule
4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 6 The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
– Revelation 12:4-6
Sweeping stars are the killing of God’s people, including the attempt to destroy the Christ child. This child is prepared to rule with all power. The wilderness is the earth (not heaven) and the 1260 days we know represents a short time.
In verses 7 to 17, John describes the scene in which we see Satan’s four-step attack to destroy Jesus and the church.
1. He tries to attack the child.
These are attempts to keep Him from being born or surviving once He is born. This goes back to the temptation in the garden and the murder of Abel.
2. He tries to attack the throne in heaven.
He begins a spiritual war in an effort to keep Christ from bringing His blood to the throne so he can continue to accuse man of sin. However, the lamb does come to the throne. The gospel is being spread thus taking away his power and having him thrown down.
3. He attacks the woman.
The woman is given wings, a symbol of protection. Satan sends rivers of wickedness, but the earth drinks it up. Lies, wickedness, false religion are sent to target the church but she resists these, she remains faithful; but the world, non-believers, they drink in these things to their own destruction.
The woman, symbolically, gives birth to Christians and is afforded protection. The woman is spiritual Israel, God’s people throughout history. An attack against God’s people to stop them from multiplying (through Roman persecution) fails and the wickedness sent falls upon the wicked.
4. He attacks individuals within the church.
In this, he is successful because individuals have free choice. Some are destroyed. Some Christians fall away, lose faith, etc.
The description of the struggle continues as agents are brought in to help defeat the seed or the offspring of the woman. Here John’s vision gets more specific as to the description of the embodiment of Satan, namely the Roman Empire. In chapter 13, he begins, symbolically, to describe the enemy: Rome (embodiment of Satan).
In verses 1 – 10, he describes the first beast, an ally of Satan in the war against the church. The first beast is red, has 10 horns, 7 heads, and 10 crowns. This looks something like Satan described in the previous chapter, but here it is the embodiment of Satan.
This beast represents Rome:
- Red is evil and violent.
- 10 horns are absolute temporal power.
- 10 crowns are absolute temporal rulership.
- 7 heads could be the 7 mountains around Rome.
- 7 heads also refer to 7 kings or 7 emperors of Rome.
- One head wounded and come back to life – “Nero’s resurrection.”
There were actually eight emperors from Augustus in 14 AD to Domitian in 96 AD when this book was probably written. However, one is like a resurrection of a previous one: There was a rumor in Rome that Nero would resurrect and come back. When future persecutions began after Nero’s death it was said that it was Nero’s spirit dwelling and guiding the present emperor in it.
Thus seven real emperors, one in the spirit of a past one.
Now the dragon gives rulership over to this first beast who has existing power at the writing of the book. This beast resembles a composite of the four beasts in Daniel and John shows it to be a terrible beast, like Daniel’s fourth beast. This beast will blaspheme God and receive worship as God (emperor worship was promoted by law).
This beast will do damage for a while (3½ years). It has the authority to do so (God will permit). The point is that there is no use resisting or losing hope, it will do its damage, but only for a short while.
In verses 11 – 18, a second character or agent of Satan is now called forth, the false prophet. The purpose of the false prophet is to influence the people to give worship to the first beast.
- Horns like a lamb, speaks like a dragon (lamb/religion, dragon/evil=false religion).
- Tries to influence worship of the beast.
- Uses three methods:
- Magic and sorcery
- Economic sanctions. Mark of the beast. Those who worshipped received I.D. that allowed them to trade, etc.
- Threats of violence. Those who refused were put to death.
- The false prophet was recognized by his number 666. The number 6 represented incompleteness to the Jews. 666 was total imperfection, incompleteness.
- Also, the Jews had a way of equating numbers to the alphabet and the number 666 is the numerical equivalent to the word Nero Caesar. John used this riddle for his Jewish and Greek Christian audience.
The false prophet also corresponds historically to the ASIARCHS, who were priests of the cult of emperor worship and who promoted this practice throughout the provinces using occult and magic.
So far in his vision, John has described:
- Christ’s power in defeating the enemy.
- The battle itself and the enemy.
- The child is born, attacked by Satan, and taken to heaven.
- The blood of Christ is operational and the persecution of the church begins. It Will last 3½ years (a short time).
- Satan is cast out of heaven and begins to use two beasts to persecute the seed (offspring or Christians).
- There will be a period of intense persecution.
In the next chapter, John will describe the defeat and judgment of the beasts and Satan.
Chapter 14 is the announcement of the final judgment. It is divided into 3 sections: the 144,000, the three angels and the two sickles.
We have seen the action of Satan’s attack and his forces. Now the judgment on him and these will be pronounced; in other words, God’s counter-attack.
1 Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. 3 And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb. 5 No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.
– Revelation 14:1-5
We have already discussed the 144,000 and their significance. This is the perfect number of those with whom God deals. The ones he has sealed, protected, counted, and measured are shown to have survived the persecution and attacks of Satan. This is true for the 1st century as well as every subsequent attack and persecution including death itself. Those who are God’s in Christ will be saved. The saved are 144,000.
In verses 6 to 13, the three angels appear:
- The first angel brings the gospel and signifies judgment is at hand.
- The second angel announces the fall of Babylon which is a code word for Rome. Babylon was the center for wickedness and idolatry as a world power which Rome now exemplifies.
- The third angel announces the destruction of those who partake of the beast: Rome and its followers. Drinking the wine of wrath is judgment, the outcome of the following evil. The contrast between those who receive the mark of the beast (who accept and embrace Rome), these are tormented and have no rest; and the 144,000 who are with God.
In verses 14 to 20, the image of the two sickles. This is the image of judgment after the destruction of the beast and its followers.
- Jesus judges first and His judgment is to reap the harvest of His followers who will be with Him (the 144,000).
- Then the angel of judgment comes and gathers those who are unbelievers and sinners and their judgment will be suffering.
So the beast is destroyed, the followers are punished, the earth is judged with good rewarded and evil rejected and punished.
John describes the battle between Satan, his forces, and Jesus and His church.
In chapter 14 the final destruction and judgment are described. In the following chapters, John will digress and give more details concerning the destruction of Rome and the final dealing that God will have with Satan himself. He will also describe the things that the 144,000 can look forward to.