The marriage supper of the Lamb

At the conclusion of the seven plagues that punish the inhabitants of the world for their universal sin against God, John said, “I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: for true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand” (Revelation 19:1-2). This remarkable conclusion to the judgment of the world leads to the announcement of a marriage ceremony that is about to take place. John heard the voice of a great multitude saying, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints” (Revelation 19:7-8).

“The imagery of a wedding to express the intimate relationship between God and His people has its roots in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament…The fact that this marriage takes place in heaven implies that the church has been raptured previously” (note on Revelation 19:7). Immediately following the announcement of the Lamb’s wedding, the scene shifts and the bride and groom’s departure is depicted. John said, “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses” (Revelation 19:11-14, NKJV).

John’s reference to the armies in heaven following Christ as he goes into battle suggests that there might be a dual purpose to the Lamb’s marriage. It might represent both the unification of the body of Christ with Jesus, its head, and the restoration of fellowship between God and mankind. “Their robes of white indicate that the armies of heaven are the redeemed church — the bride of Christ — returning in triumph with her heavenly bridegroom” (note on Revelation 19:14). Apparently, the marriage supper takes place on Earth because John said, “And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great” (Revelation 19:17-18).

Jesus’ parable of the marriage dinner indicated that the guests that were invited to the wedding wouldn’t come (Matthew 22:2-3). Therefore, Jesus said, “when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests” (Matthew 22:7-10, NKJV). Afterward, the king discovered a man that wasn’t wearing a wedding garment and he asked him, “‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:12-14, NKJV).

Jesus’ parable of the marriage dinner seems to indicate that the marriage of the Lamb is related to the millennial reign of Christ. The wedding guests might be the people that are left on the Earth at the end of the Great Tribulation and the marriage ceremony what actually takes place during that thousand year time period. At the conclusion of the Great Tribulation, just before Christ’s millennial reign starts, John stated, “And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh” (Revelation 19:19-21, NKJV).

Last chance

Many of the Old Testament prophets talked about the LORD’s judgment of Israel and the surrounding nations that had caused her to brake her covenant with God. In particular, Isaiah portrayed “the day of the LORD” as a time period when the earth would be turned upside down and Jerusalem “ruined” because of her rebellion against the LORD (Isaiah 2-3). Isaiah’s prophecy included a parable of the vineyard that expressed God’s disappointment with the nation of Israel and indicated he would judge them along with the other nations of the world. He said, “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to, I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down, and I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned or digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” (Isaiah 5:4-6).

Jesus told a similar parable after his authority was challenged by the chief priests and elders of the people of Jerusalem (Matthew 21:33-44) and then he went on to talk about a marriage dinner for the king’s son (Matthew 22:2-14). Both of these parables seem to coincide with the events that take place in the final chapters of the book of Revelation. After the second beast forces everyone “to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name,” John recorded, “And I looked, and lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred and forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harps harping with their harps: and they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts and elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth” (Revelation 14:1-3).

The 144,000 people that were redeemed from the earth are identified in Revelation 7:5-8 as being 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel that were sealed as servants of God. These people are not Christians, but are described by John as virgins that are the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb (Revelation 14:4). Although these individuals are referred to as saints and they keep the faith of Jesus (Revelation 14:12), they are not born again, but have apparently obtained salvation through supernatural obedience to God’s word (Revelation 14:5). John said, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, and their works do follow them” (Revelation 14:13). The purpose of these saints seems to be to stand by the Lord as he confronts Satan’s unholy trinity. The saints do not preach the gospel or try to convert unbelievers. The world’s last chance to hear the gospel is by means of the heavenly proclamation of an angel. John said, “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of the waters” (Revelation 14:6-7).

The primary objective of God pouring out his wrath on the earth is to purge Israel from the sins that have been committed in and through her. The 144,000 Jews that are sealed by God at the start of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7:4) may represent the remnant that God promised to save (Isaiah 10:20-21). Isaiah prophesied, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing” (Isaiah 10:27). The Hebrew word translated anointing, shemem represents the type of olive oil that is used to anoint a memorial or a future office bearer (H8081). Jacob used shemem when he set up a pillar and poured oil on top of it at the location where he discovered the “house of God” (Genesis 28:17-18). After the first angel proclaims the everlasting gospel (Revelation 14:6), another angel follows, saying, “Babylon is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God” (Revelation 14:8-10).

The last chance that God gives the world to avoid his wrath might be somewhat like giving a man that is about to jump off a bridge and kill himself a chance to turn over a new leaf; his mental state is too deranged to accept such an offer. Instead, there will be a great harvest of unbelief that will trigger God’s final judgment of the nations (Revelation 4:14-20). The prophet Joel described this scene by stating: “Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:12-14). After the final call to repentance was given, John recorded, “And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God…And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth” (Revelation 15:1, 16:1).

Just before the final vial is poured out on the earth, a gathering takes place in anticipation of the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:14, 16). In the midst of this gathering, Jesus interjects with an unusual comment. He says, “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” (Revelation 16:15, ESV). In his parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants, Jesus talked about the need to always be ready for his return because it would happen at a time that was unexpected. He said, “But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:43-44, ESV). Jesus’ comment in Revelation 16:15 “Behold, I am coming like a thief!” seems to suggest that his second coming to Earth takes place just prior to the battle of Armageddon. John’s declaration in Revelation 14:1 that “on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (ESV) may have been the visual depiction of what actually occurs in Revelation 16:15. Afterward, the seventh vial is poured out “and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne saying, It is done” (Revelation 16:17).

The beast

The temple of God was a physical structure that was originally built by King Solomon around 1000 B.C in the city of Jerusalem (1 Kings 7:51). When the southern kingdom of Judah was taken into captivity, King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple of God and left the city of Jerusalem lying in ruins for 70 years (2 Kings 25). After the Israelites captivity was over, a remnant of Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple. It was finished on March 12, 516 B.C. (Ezra 6:15). Eventually, the second temple was rebuilt by King Herod. Begun in 20 B.C., Herod’s new structure towered 15 stories high. The high sanctuary was built on the site of the former temples of Solomon and Zerubbabel (Herod’s Temple, KJSB, p. 1360). This final temple was operational during Jesus ministry on Earth, but was demolished by the Romans in 70 A.D. Since then, the Jews have not had a temple to worship in or been able to offer sacrifices to their God.

It says in Revelation 11:19, “And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.” It can only be assumed that the temple of God that is opened in heaven is a a physical structure because it says the ark of his testament, a physical container where the tablets with the Ten Commandments were to be kept (Exodus 25:16), is seen inside the temple. Jesus talked about his body being the temple of God and warned the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The Apostle Paul also referred to a believer’s body as the temple of the living God (2 Corinthians 6:16). It is possible that after the church is raptured, a new type of physical structure will be used for worshipping God in heaven. The Apostle Peter described Christ as the corner stone and believers as living stones and said that we “are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ “1 Peter 2:5).

After the temple of God is opened in heaven, it says in Revelation 12:1, “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: and she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.” The description of the woman about to give birth is a sign of the birth of Israel’s Messiah. John went on to say, “And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up to God, and to his throne” (Revelation 12:5). Although this appears to be a reference to Jesus’ ascension into heaven after he was resurrected from the dead, it may also be a reference to antichrist’s birth and his fake resurrection. John recorded, “And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast” (Revelation 13:1-3).

John identifies the dragon that gives Antichrist his power and authority as Satan (Revelation 12:9). After the woman brings forth a man child, John said he was caught up or in the Greek harpazo (har-pad’-zo) which means to seize or take by force (G726) unto God and to his throne (Revelation 12:5). Then, John said, “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the devil, and Satan which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:6-9).

The expulsion of Satan from heaven seems to be related to the world’s complete rebellion against God during the Great Tribulation. Although heaven rejoices over the defeat of Satan, John said, “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12, NKJV). Satan’s primary objective during the Great Tribulation is to replicate Jesus’ ministry on Earth, except that he will use force (a rod of iron) to gain the cooperation of his kingdom’s citizens. The beast, also known as Antichrist, will be given 42 months (3 1/2 years) to accomplish the task of getting everyone on Earth to worship Satan instead of God. John said, “And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given to him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 12:6-8).

The critical distinction between the saints or 144,000 servants that have the seal of the living God in their foreheads (Revelation 7:2-3) and the rest of the world during the Great Tribulation is that the saints will be protected from Satan’s influence and will not worship the beast as required. John indicated that the beast will be allowed to make war with the saints and will overcome them, meaning he will be allowed to defeat and kill them in a battle that could be a type of holy war similar to the crusades of the middle ages. John notes that a second beast will arrive on the scene that “exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed” (Revelation 13:12, NKJV). Perhaps, in an effort to root out all the saints that are hiding from him, the second beast “causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:16-17, NKJV).

The mystery of God

A clear distinction between the time period before the Great Tribulation and that which occurs during the three and a half years when God’s wrath is poured out on the earth is that the gospel of Jesus Christ will not be preached after the church is raptured. Instead, there will be two witnesses that will be given power to prophesy “a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth” (Revelation 11:3). “Some feel they may symbolize testifying believers (the church), in the final period before Christ returns. However, they are probably two actual individuals who will be martyred for the proclamation of the truth” (note on Revelation 11:3). The hostile environment in which these two witnesses have to proclaim the truth could be described as the worst days on planet Earth. John indicated, “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and a half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves” (Revelation 11:7-9).

The ruthless treatment of God’s prophets may be attributed to the fact that no one that is alive during the Great Tribulation will want to get saved or what Jesus described as being born again (John 3:3). The specific purpose of this time period is to punish an unbelieving world for its hostility toward God (note on Revelation 6:10). It could be that the little book that John is commanded to eat in Revelation 10:9 is a copy of one or more of the gospels that is recorded in the New Testament of the Bible. Jesus told his disciples “You were given the secrets about the holy nation of heaven. The secrets were not given to the others” (Matthew 13:11, NLV). The Greek word translated secrets, musterion (moos-tay’-ree-on) means a secret or “mystery.” In the New Testament musterion denotes, “not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit” (G3466). It says in Revelation 10:7, “But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.” John’s declaration that the mystery of God should be finished means that it will come to an end that is it will be completed (G5055). In other words, there will be no more divine revelation, God’s Holy Spirit will be absent from the Earth during the Great Tribulation.

Even though divine revelation will be absent during the Great Tribulation, it appears that the mystery of God will be preserved and will be reactivated during the millennial reign of Christ. After he ate the little book, John was told, “You must tell what will happen again in front of many people and nations and families and kings” (Revelation 10:11, NLV). According to the note on Revelation 10:11, this statement is in reference to what takes place in Revelation 11:15. It states, “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” Whether or not the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord before or after the Great Tribulation is unclear. It could be that Jesus’ claim to the Earth is what triggers the destruction of unbelievers or that the purging of godless individuals is what makes it possible for Jesus to reign on Earth. Either way, there is clear evidence that shows Satan’s rule over the Earth is not what drives its destruction. It is God’s wrath being poured out on mankind that brings an end to the evil forces that have interfered with his plan of salvation for more than 2,000 years.

Silence in heaven

A dramatic pause in God’s judgment of the world occurs just after the seventh and final seal of the book that was given to the Lamb of God is opened. It says in Revelation 8:1, “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” The Greek word translated silence, sige (see-gay’) means to “to hiss, i.e. hist or hush” (G4602). The closest thing in our language would be shushing someone or telling him to be quiet. Although in the case of the silence in heaven, it appears that it’s a natural reaction to the seventh seal being opened. One way to think about what is happening might be to imagine something like an awards ceremony. As the envelope is being opened, everyone sits in silent anticipation, waiting for the judges’ final decision to be announced.

The length of the silence in heaven after the seventh seal is opened seems like an unusually long break in the activity that’s taking place. In a typical conversation, there is rarely more than a few seconds that passes without someone talking. Even when we are publicly acknowledging a significant event, it is customary to observe only a moment of silence, not several minutes or half an hour. The Greek word John used to designate the time period, hemiorion (hay-mee-o’-ree-on) is derived from two words that suggest John was referring to a half hour according to a heavenly timekeeping system. In other words, an eternal half hour. The Apostle Peter indicated God’s timekeeping system is different than our own. He said, “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

John’s statement that there was “silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” (Revelation 8:1) may have been meant to convey the idea that the length of the silence was unbearable and the suspense was killing him, so to speak. What happened afterward was an unusual display of worship in which the prayers of the saints were offered on the golden altar (Revelation 8:3-5) as if they were a sacrifice that God was expected to respond to. John said, “And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake” (Revelation 8:4-5).

According to the Mosaic Law, one of the responsibilities of the kinsman redeemer was to execute the murderer of his relative (H1350). In Revelation 6:9-10, John refers to this responsibility and states, “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” The phrase “them that dwell on the earth” is a regular designation in Revelation for mankind in its hostility to God. “These are those that oppose God, receive the mark of the beast, and on whom the tribulation is focused” (note on Revelation 6:10). The persecuted saints that were crying out for vengeance were told they must wait until their fellow servants and their brethren should be killed as they were (Revelation 6:11). This appears to have already taken place in Revelation 7:14, therefore it seems like the silence in heaven and seven trumpet judgments that follow in Revelation 8-9 could be attributed to the Lord’s vengeance of his church’s martyred saints.

The first four trumpet judgments appear to take place in rapid succession, similar to the unleashing of the four horsemen, but then there is a shift in attention to an announcement that is made to the entire world. John said, “And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound” (Revelation 8:13). Jesus often used the Greek term translated woe as an exclamation of grief to the numerous unrepentant sinners that he came in contact with during his ministry on Earth. In particular, the scribes and Pharisees were singled out and told, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:33-36, ESV).

The severity of the first two woes that John recorded in Revelation 9 were significant because they seemed to be designed to bring such a devastating blow on mankind that repentance would be inevitable and yet, John said, “And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts” (Revelation 9:20-21). At this particular point in time, it appears that there will be no believers left on the earth, everyone that is alive is in blatant opposition to God and his commandments. The only clue we have about the size of the population that will be left is that the population of Earth will first be reduced by one-quarter when the pale horse of Death is released (Revelation 6:8) and then, by another third when the four angels are loosed (Revelation 9:15). If these events were to take place today, 3.9 billion or roughly half of the 7.8 billion people on plant Earth would be eliminated. This seems to coincide with Jesus’ prediction, “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left” (Matthew 24:40).

Setting the stage

At the onset of the Great Tribulation, certain things will happen that will make it clear that this last period of time has started. After the Lamb of God takes possession of the book with the seven seals and the heavenly host worship him, “Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12); then, the Lamb of God will begin to open the seals and set the stage for his defeat of Satan and his demonic forces. Jesus described this event in his Olivet discourse shortly before he was crucified. It says in Matthew 24:3, “Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?'” (NKJV). In response to their questions, Jesus identified several things that will apparently happen before the rapture of his church (Matthew 24:4-14).

According to Jesus, a key feature of the end of the church age is the “gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations” (Matthew 24:14). In other words, the Great Commission will have already been completed (Matthew 28:18-19). Then, judgment of the world will begin. In what seems to be quick succession, the first four seals of the book written within and on the backside (Revelation 5:1) are removed and four horsemen enter the scene. The imagery of the four horsemen comes from Zechariah 1:8-17 and 6:1-8 where divine judgment brings peace to the earth. Zechariah was told that the four horsemen were “the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth” (Zechariah 6:5). The sequence of the four horsemen’s entrance indicate there will first be a military conquest, then bloodshed, followed by a famine, and finally the death of one fourth of the world’s population (Revelation 6:2-8).

The opening of the first six seals of the book that was given to the Lamb of God seem to precede the sealing of the 144,000 servants of God from the tribes of the children of Israel, but it could be that all these things happen very quickly, perhaps in rapid succession within a single day after the sealing of the servants because the four horsemen are told, “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads” (Revelation 7:3). Immediately following the sealing of the servants, John says in Revelation 7:9, “After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”

The appearance of the great multitude before the throne might be a result of the rapture of the church taking place even though it isn’t mentioned specifically. Jesus’ explanation of the signs of the end of the age included an event that appears to be the rapture. He said, “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. ‘Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!'” (Matthew 24:30-33, NKJV). Since Jesus included this event in the signs of the end of the age, it seems reasonable to assume that it takes place before the four horsemen are sent out.

Jesus indicated life would seem normal just before the rapture takes place. He said, “Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:41-42, NKJV). Once the four horsemen are sent out, things will change dramatically on Earth. The opening of the sixth seal of the Lamb’s book indicates cosmic disturbances will take place that leave no doubt God’s judgment of the world is taking place. John said, “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’” (Revelation 6:12-17, NKJV).

Lamb of God

John’s visit to the throne room of heaven took place at a time when an important event was commencing. As he viewed the worship of one who sat on a throne by twenty four elders who proclaimed, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created,” ( Revelation 4:11, NKJV) John “saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals” (Revelation 5:1). The mysterious book is believed by some to be a copy of the New Covenant that God enacted when Israel was about to be expelled from the the promised land in actualization of the most severe covenant curse (Major Covenants of the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16). John said about this book, “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon” (Revelation 5:2-3).

The fact that no one was able to open the book or to look at its contents suggests that it was a legal document of some sort that might have contained private information, perhaps a will that could only be read by the heir to the estate. John said, “So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals'” (Revelation 5:4-5, NKJV). The Greek word translated prevailed, nikao means to conquer or get the victory (G3528). This is the same word that was used in each of the messages John was given for the seven churches regarding their reward for overcoming (Revelation 2-3). Jesus said in his message to Laodicea, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21, italics mine).

The specific victory that Jesus won took place when he died on the cross at Calvary. John said, “And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne” (Revelation 5:6-7). The transfer of the book from the right hand of him that sat on the throne to the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29) likely signified the completion of God’s plan of salvation. At that point in time, it’s possible that the Lamb’s work will be finished in that everyone that wants to accept his substitutionary death on the cross as payment for their sins have already done so. John said, “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8).

The scene that took place as John looked on could have been a type of coronation in which the Lamb of God was ascending to the throne. The elders worship of the Lamb signified their acceptance of his authority over them. What seems to be clear about what was happening was that a transfer of power was taking place and the Lamb was claiming his inheritance which was documented in the book with seven seals. One of the roles that Jesus fulfilled was the kinsman redeemer of Israel. The kinsman redeemer was a blood relative that qualified to buy back property that had been sold for debt. “The book of Ruth is a beautiful account of the kinsman-redeemer. His responsibility is summed up in Ruth 4:5: ‘What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance.’ Thus the kinsman-redeemer was responsible for preserving the integrity, life, property, and family name of his close relative or for executing justice upon his murderer” (H1350). It says in Ruth 4:13 that after Boaz claimed Elimelech’s property, Ruth became his wife.

One aspect of what was taking place in the throne room in heaven was the settlement of Israel’s debt of sin against God. After the elders fell down before the Lamb, John said, “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou was slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10). The Greek word translated redeemed, agorazo (ag-or-ad’-zo) is properly translated as “to go to market, i.e. (by implication) to purchase” (G59). Jesus purchased or bought back the souls of believers from Satan with his own blood which was shed on the cross. The prophet Hosea portrayed this transaction when God instructed him to purchase his wife out slavery. “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go again and love your wife, even when she is loved by another and is not faithful. Love her as the Lord loves the people of Israel, even when they turn to other gods and love cakes of dried grapes.’ So I bought her for fifteen pieces of silver money and ten baskets of barley. Then I said to her, ‘You must stay with me for many days, and be faithful to me. Do not have another man, and I will also be faithful to you’” (Hosea 3:1-3, NLV).

One of the parables Jesus told the religious leaders that wanted to kill him was about a marriage dinner. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come….But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’” (Matthew 22:2-9, NKJV). The marriage supper of the Lamb that is recorded in Revelation 19 indicates that the great whore must be judged and the blood of God’s servants avenged before the wedding can take place, chapters 16 – 18 record that process. Revelation 5:13 appears to take place at the end of that process. It says, “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’” (NKJV).

Throne room of heaven

After he was given messages for the seven churches in Asia, John received an invitation from Jesus to join him in the throne room of heaven. John said, “After this, I looked and saw a door standing open in heaven. The first voice I heard was like the loud sound of a horn. It said, ‘Come up here. I will show you what must happen after these things.'” (Revelation 4:1, NLV). “Some interpreters find the rapture of the church in this verse” (note on Revelation 4:1), but John made it clear that he did not physically go to heaven. He went to be with Jesus in some spiritual form. He said, “And immediately I was in the spirit: and behold a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne” (Revelation 4:2).

John’s reference to the door of heaven standing open might indicate there was an open invitation and that anyone that wanted to could enter the throne room. If so, it seems likely that the timing of John’s visit was sometime before the rapture of the church because Jesus indicated in his parable of the ten virgins that when “the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage,” the door was shut (Matthew 25:10). Jesus went on to say, “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Matthew 25:11-13, NKJV). Based Jesus’ parable, it appears that at least while the marriage of the lamb is taking place (Revelation 19:7), access to heaven will be restricted.

The scene depicted in John’s visit to the throne room of heaven is similar to the prophetic visions of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 10:1-14) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-3) with the exception of the “twenty four elders, sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold” (Revelation 4:4). It is possible that these twenty four elders are “representative of either the whole company of believers in heaven or an exalted angelic order worshipping and serving God there” (note on Revelation 4:4), but more than likely, John was looking at a future state of the throne room because Jesus told John he was going to show him things that would happen later (Revelation 4:1).

The important thing to note about John’s visit to the throne room of heaven was the activity that was going on there. Four winged creatures never ceased to praise Jesus. They “speak of His shining-greatness and give honor and thanks to Him Who sits on His throne as King” (Revelation 4:9, NLV). In the midst of this continuous worship service, it says in Revelation 4:10, “the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created’” (Revelation 4:10-11, NKJV).

One of the things that John’s visit to the throne room of heaven might represent is the gathering and preparation that takes place in the bridegroom’s chamber or dressing room while he and his groomsmen wait for the wedding ceremony to begin. Jesus’ return to Earth is depicted as a bridegroom coming to meet his bride. It says in Matthew 25:5-6, “But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’” The Greek word translated was delayed, chronizo (khron-id’-zo) is derived from the word chronos (khron’-os) which means “a space of time” (G5550). Paul used the word chronos to refer to the time apportioned by God for his plan of salvation to be worked out (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, NKJV).

The Apostle John, like most Christians for the past 2000 years, was probably wondering why Jesus hadn’t returned to Earth as he promised he would. Jesus may have brought John to his throne room to show him he wasn’t just sitting idly by while the world went on without him. The casting of the elders crowns before Jesus’ throne might have been a signal that indicated it was time for the wedding ceremony to begin. The elders refrain, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11), somewhat like a drum roll, announced to everyone that the climatic moment they had all been waiting for had finally arrived.

Seven churches

The book of Revelation is believed to have been written by the Apostle John near the end of his life while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. John began his book by explaining his situation. He stated, “I, John, am your Christian brother. I have shared with you in suffering because of Jesus Christ. I have also shared with you His holy nation and we have not given up. I was put on the island called Patmos because I preached the Word of God and told about Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9, NLV). John went on to say that he had received a visit from the resurrected Jesus Christ who told him, “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicia” (Revelation 1:11).

The seven churches identified in the book of Revelation were actual churches that existed at the end of the first century, They were all located about 50 miles apart, forming a circle in the Roman province of Asia which lies in modern western Turkey (note on Revelation 1:4). It is not known why these particular churches were singled out, but they apparently had some significance in the establishment of Jesus’ worldwide ministry of spreading the gospel. The seven churches were represented by seven candlesticks in John’s vision of the resurrected Christ. John stated:

And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. (Revelation 1:12-16)

The representation of the churches by candlesticks may have had something to do with the illustration Jesus used of Christians being salt and light. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his followers, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15).

The seven churches identified in the book of Revelation were both commended and rebuked by Jesus for the work they were doing to establish God’s kingdom on Earth. John was given specific instructions to write to each of these churches and to let them know what Jesus had told him about their ministries. The seven distinct messages are recorded in Revelation chapters two and three. Each of the messages began with unique identifier of the resurrected Lord and ended with a promised reward for those that overcame a specific type of opposition to their ministry. The message to the Ephesians stated:

“These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: ‘I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary…To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.'” (Revelation 2:1-7, NKJV)

The Greek word translated overcomes, nikao (nik-ah’-o) is derived from the word nike (nee’-kay) which figuratively refers to a means of success (G3529). Jesus’ instruction to the Ephesians was to “do the first works” (Revelation 2:5). What he most likely meant by that was to get back to the basics of preaching the gospel. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul addressed the topic of spiritual warfare. Paul encouraged the believers in Ephesus to, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11-12, NKJV).

Jesus’ promises to the believers that were able to overcome obstacles to their ministries (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21) indicated there was a spiritual battle going on, even in the early church, that could potentially keep his gospel from being spread around the world. It is likely that John’s messages to the seven churches were meant to shore up their efforts and encourage these early warriors to do as Paul had done, fight the good fight and finish their course (2 Timothy 4:7).

Jesus’ final promise to the church of Laodiceans seemed to be one that applied to all Christians and suggested that the rewards Jesus promised for overcoming applied to his millennial reign on Earth. He said, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21). At the end of the Great Tribulation, John indicated all believers would reign with Christ for a thousand years. He said, “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4).

Unshakable faith

Paul’s appeal for endurance in his letter to the Hebrews pointed to the ultimate goal of God’s plan of salvation, that believers inherit the kingdom of heaven. Comparing the Israelite’s interaction with God on Mount Sinai with the believer’s entrance into heaven, Paul stated:

But instead, you have come to the mountain of Jerusalem. It is the city of the living God. It is the Jerusalem of heaven with its thousands of angels. You have gathered there with God’s children who were born long ago. They are citizens of heaven. God is there. He will judge all men. The spirits of all those right with God are there. They have been made perfect. Jesus is there. He has made a way for man to go to God. He gave His blood that men might worship God the New Way. The blood of Jesus tells of better things than that which Abel used…On Mount Sinai, God’s voice shook the earth. But now He has promised, saying, “Once more I will shake the earth and the heavens.” (Hebrews 12:22-24, 26 NLV)

The Greek word translated shake in Hebrews 12:26, seio (si’-o) means to rock or vibrate sideways moving to and fro like an earthquake. Seio is used figuratively “to throw into a tremor (of fear or concern)” (G4579). Paul’s mention of God’s promise to shake the earth and the heavens probably had to do with the universal battle that will take place at the end of the great tribulation that results in Satan being cast into the bottomless pit and shut up for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-3).

Paul went on to say that God’s promise to shake the earth and the heavens signified the establishment of his kingdom on earth. He explained, “When God says, ‘Once more,’ He means He will take away everything of this world that can be shaken so the things that cannot be shaken will be left” (Hebrews 12:27, NLV). The Greek word translated shaken, saleuo (sal-yoo’-o) means to waver or to be insecure about what we believe in (G4531). Paul’s reference to things that cannot be shaken related back to the acts of faith that he mentioned in Hebrews chapter eleven. What Paul was getting at had to do with his definition of faith. Paul said, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebrews 11:1-3).

Paul’s understanding of faith was that it causes God’s kingdom to be made visible on earth. Jesus eluded to this in his parable of the sower. In his explanation of the parable, Jesus told his disciples:

And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. (Luke 8:10-15, NKJV)

Jesus indicated that God’s word becomes fruitful in our lives when we keep it or translate it into action (G2722). In other words, we have to do what God’s word tells us to in order to reap the benefits of it.

Paul described the results of Abraham’s faith in terms of dwelling in the Promised Land. He said, “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10, NKJV). In Hebrews 13:14, Paul linked all believers to Abraham’s inheritance by stating, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”

The city Paul was referring to was depicted by the Apostle John in the book of Revelation. John stated, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God'” (Revelation 21:1-3, NKJV).

The interesting thing about John’s description of the New Jerusalem was that he likened it to a bride adorned for her husband and John said, “the tabernacle of God is with men” (Revelation 21:3). Revelation 19 portrays the union of believers with Jesus as a marriage ceremony and it states specifically in Revelation 19:7-8 that, “‘ the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (NKJV), the phrase “the righteous acts of the saints” means an equitable deed or a demonstration of faith (G1345). According to John, the visible manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth will involve the body (bride i.e. church) of Christ being transformed into a unified physical structure that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:27), coming down from heaven and becoming the eternal dwelling place of God (Revelation 21:3).