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Keys to Understanding Revelation

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Revelation puts many of the earlier prophecies of the Bible into an understandable context and reveals a much-needed framework for prophecies relating to the end of the age. It accomplishes this partly through the use of symbols and figurative language that relate directly to some of the Bible’s other prophetic writings.

For example, the prophetic book of Daniel uses similar language and symbols. Many of its visions and figures of speech are clearly explained. But God revealed to Daniel that the meanings of others were to remain mysteriously obscured until the time of the end. Then they, too, would be understood.

Revelation contains many fundamental keys to that understanding, and the book of Daniel contains keys that help us understand the book of Revelation.

Notice Daniel’s explanation of one of his visions: “Although I heard, I did not understand. Then I said, ‘My lord, what shall be the end of these things?’ And he said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end” (Daniel 12:8-9 Daniel 12:8-9 8 And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? 9 And he said, Go your way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.
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, emphasis added throughout unless otherwise noted).

Contrast this with God’s purpose for the book of Revelation. God the Father gave the prophecies contained in the book of Revelation to His Son, Jesus Christ. He passed it to Christ in the form of a scroll sealed with seven seals (Revelation 5:1 Revelation 5:1And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.
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). But as John—who wrote the book under God’s inspiration—tells us in his concluding chapter, an angel specifically commanded him, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book …” (Revelation 22:10 Revelation 22:10And he said to me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.
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).

John explains that God the Father gave most of the book of Revelation to Christ in the form of a scroll sealed with seven seals. Jesus then broke those seals and opened the scroll.

“And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne [God the Father] a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open 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 5:1-5 Revelation 5:1-5 1 And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? 3 And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. 4 And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. 5 And one of the elders said to me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
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).

Here is the key to understanding the book. Jesus alone can unlock the meaning of its symbols, visions and descriptions. The first verse of this book announces that it is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him” (Revelation 1:1 Revelation 1:1The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show to his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel to his servant John:
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). Christ reveals its meaning. He unlocks its seals. But how does He do it?

Two factors are crucial. First, the keys to unlocking the content of seven seals must be explained by Jesus Himself in His own words.

Second, the Bible tells us that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16 2 Timothy 3:16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
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). Therefore we can expect clarification of some symbols in the book of Revelation in other parts of God’s inspired Word.

By relying on the Bible’s own consistent interpretations of its symbols and figurative language, we can have confidence that our understanding is based on God’s inspired Word rather than on our own opinions (2 Peter 1:20 2 Peter 1:20Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
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). After all, revealed knowledge is what the book of Revelation is all about.

Remember, God told Daniel that some of the things revealed to him in visions were sealed, hidden until the time of the end. But then He added: “Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand” (Daniel 12:10 Daniel 12:10Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.
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). At the time of the end God intends that those He calls “the wise” will understand these prophecies.

Who are the wise in God’s sight?

Those who scorn the concept that the Bible is divinely inspired choose to see its symbols as contradictory and confusing. They perceive no value in them. Because they scoff at the idea of God’s inspiration, they are blind to prophetic understanding. They choose to be ignorant of what God reveals about the future (2 Peter 3:3-7 2 Peter 3:3-7 3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. 5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: 6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: 7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved to fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
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).

On the other hand, God tells us that those who respect Him and keep His commandments are the ones who are truly wise. As the Scriptures explain: “The fear [respectful awe] of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments” (Psalms 111:10 Psalms 111:10The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endures for ever.
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). Scripture also tells us that “the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalms 19:7 Psalms 19:7The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
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).

The book of Revelation gives us many of the keys that unlock prophetic understanding because it faithfully follows the principle that the Bible interprets itself. Therefore, only those who believe that the Bible is inspired by God and trust what it says will be able to understand the significance of what is revealed in the book of Revelation.

Some of the understanding began in the days of the apostles. One of the stated purposes for Revelation was to reveal to the servants of God “things which must shortly take place” (Revelation 1:1 Revelation 1:1The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show to his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel to his servant John:
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). So some aspects of Revelation applied directly to Christians in the final days of the apostle John’s ministry.

Christ instructed John to record (Revelation 1:19 Revelation 1:19Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;
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): (Revelation 1:1 Revelation 1:1The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show to his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel to his servant John:
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) “the things which you have seen”—his visions and their puzzling symbols; (Revelation 1:2 Revelation 1:2Who bore record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
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) “the things which are”—information relating to the Church at that time; and (Revelation 1:3 Revelation 1:3Blessed is he that reads, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
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) “the things which will take place after this”—prophecies extending far into the future.

Before we examine these keys to the future, we need to understand the circumstances under which this prophetic book was given to the apostle John.

Religious and political setting of Revelation

Within the confines of the ancient Roman Empire, Christianity began in an era of relative peace. The emperors of the time generally followed a policy of liberal religious toleration. This enabled early Christians to evangelize far and wide, both throughout and beyond the empire.

But the situation gradually changed. The Romans introduced and enforced emperor worship in the empire. Suddenly Christians found themselves in an intolerable situation. Jesus, not the emperor, was their ultimate master. They understood that the Scriptures prohibited the worship of anything or anyone besides the true God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Soon incredible pressures were brought to bear on them to participate in the holidays, games and ceremonies honoring the reigning emperor as a god.

Their refusal to participate in emperor worship put them into direct conflict with the authorities at all levels of the Roman hierarchy. By the time Revelation was written, some Christians had already been executed because of their beliefs. Christians everywhere, especially in Asia Minor, encountered wide-ranging ridicule and persecution.

Adding to Christians’ plight, Roman officials, after Jerusalem’s destruction in A.D. 70, ceased to view Christians as just another sect of the Jews. The religious tolerance Rome had extended to them disappeared.

Christians were now often regarded as a subversive and potentially dangerous religious group. Rome saw their teachings of a coming kingdom and a powerful new king as a threat to the stability of the empire. By this time Emperor Nero had already falsely branded Christians as the perpetrators of the great fire in Rome. Their future looked grim.

The apostle John, imprisoned on the island of Patmos near the coast of Asia Minor during a later wave of persecution near the end of the first century, explained that he also was suffering persecution, that he was their “companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9 Revelation 1:9I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
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). John fully understood the stress they endured. Yet he reminded them of their goal—the Kingdom of God. He emphasized the patience and faith they must exercise to endure opposition and abuse until the return of Jesus the Messiah to permanently deliver His servants from persecution and grant them salvation.

This is the context in which Jesus revealed to John when and how this satanic persecution, already responsible for the murder of loyal and faithful servants, would be permanently stopped. He pointed out that the roots of the problem go back to the beginning of humankind—to the birthplace of this age of man so filled with human sin and evil.

The archdeceiver

In the Garden of Eden man first encountered “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9 Revelation 12:9And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
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; Genesis 3:1 Genesis 3:1Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, Yes, has God said, You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
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). That evil being’s deception has been so successful that most people scoff at the idea that a devil even exists. But the writers of the Holy Scriptures regarded his existence and power as an unquestionable reality. They reveal him as the unseen driving influence behind evil and suffering. (For clear evidence of his existence, read our Bible study aid  Is There Really a Devil?  )

The book of Revelation sums up the impact the devil has, not just on Christians but on all mankind, from the time of John until the return of Christ. It reveals that the ancient conflict between the forces of good and evil will be resolved.

As noted earlier in this chapter, John told early Christians that the book of Revelation includes both “the things which are, and the things which will take place after this” (Revelation 1:19 Revelation 1:19Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;
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). Its prophetic fulfillments began in the days of the apostles and extend to our day and beyond.

The Day of the Lord in prophecy

Most of John’s visions focus on that time mentioned by God’s prophets throughout the Scriptures as “the day of the Lord,” also known as “the day of the Lord Jesus Christ,” “the day of Christ” and, here in Revelation, “the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10 Revelation 1:10I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
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; compare Isaiah 13:6 Isaiah 13:6Howl you; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.
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; Joel 2:31 Joel 2:31The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD come.
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; Zephaniah 1:14 Zephaniah 1:14The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hastens greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly.
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; Acts 2:20 Acts 2:20The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come:
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; 1 Corinthians 1:8 1 Corinthians 1:8Who shall also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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; 2 Thessalonians 2:2 2 Thessalonians 2:2That you be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
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).

Paul plainly spoke of this prophesied time: “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction comes on them, as travail on a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
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).

Some people assume that when John said he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10 Revelation 1:10I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
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he was referring to worshipping on Sunday. But the context of Revelation clearly shows that John was not referring to worshipping on a day of the week but to experiencing a vision of the coming Day of the Lord mentioned directly or indirectly in more than 50 passages in the Old and New Testaments.

As The Bible Knowledge Commentary explains: “John’s revelation occurred on the Lord’s Day while he was in the Spirit. Some have indicated that ‘the Lord’s Day’ refers to the first day of the week. However, the word ‘Lord’s’ is an adjective and this expression is never used in the Bible to refer to the first day of the week. Probably John was referring to the day of the Lord, a familiar expression in both Testaments … He was projected forward in his inner self in a vision, not bodily, to that future day of the Lord when God will pour out His judgments on the earth” (John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, 1983, p. 930).

The mistaken assumption that John was referring to the first day of the week, Sunday, has no biblical support at all. The only day of the week, biblically speaking, that could possibly be called “the Lord’s day” is the Sabbath or Saturday, the seventh day of the week. Jesus specifically referred to Himself as “lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 Mark 2:28Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
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). And, through the prophet Isaiah, God also refers to the Sabbath as “the holy day of the LORD” (Isaiah 58:13 Isaiah 58:13If you turn away your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honorable; and shall honor him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words:
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). (To learn more, request or download our free booklet Sunset to Sunset: God’s Sabbath Rest . )

Again, though, John was not referring to any day of the week but to the prophetic time that is the  primary subject of the book of Revelation. John specifically tells us that what he wrote is prophecy (Revelation 1:3 Revelation 1:3Blessed is he that reads, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
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; Revelation 22:7-19 Revelation 22:7-19 7 Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keeps the sayings of the prophecy of this book. 8 And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things. 9 Then said he to me, See you do it not: for I am your fellow servant, and of your brothers the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God. 10 And he said to me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. 11 He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. 12 And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. 13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. 14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. 15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and fornicators, and murderers, and idolaters, and whoever loves and makes a lie. 16 I Jesus have sent my angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. 17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that hears say, Come. And let him that is thirsty come. And whoever will, let him take the water of life freely. 18 For I testify to every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add to these things, God shall add to him the plagues that are written in this book: 19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
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). Therefore, John is merely explaining that “in the Spirit”—in divinely inspired visions— he was mentally transported to the coming Day of the Lord.

The Day of the Lord is described throughout the Scriptures as a time of God’s direct intervention in human affairs. It is a time of His judgment on His adversaries—on those who defy His correction and refuse His commandments. Isaiah succinctly sums up the Day of the LORD: “Wail, for the day of the Lord is at hand! It will come as destruction from the Almighty” (Isaiah 13:6 Isaiah 13:6Howl you; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.
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).

Who is the object of the destruction? “Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it” (verse 9). As Jeremiah explained: “… This is the day of the LORD GOD of hosts, a day of vengeance, that He may avenge Himself on His adversaries” (Jeremiah 46:10 Jeremiah 46:10For this is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts, a day of vengeance, that he may avenge him of his adversaries: and the sword shall devour, and it shall be satiate and made drunk with their blood: for the Lord GOD of hosts has a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates.
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).

Notice the prophet Zephaniah’s description of the time of God’s intervention: “The great day of the LORD is near; it is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the LORD is bitter; there the mighty men shall cry out. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and alarm against the fortified cities and against the high towers.

“I will bring distress upon men, and they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like refuse” (Zephaniah 1:14-17 Zephaniah 1:14-17 14 The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hastens greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. 15 That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, 16 A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. 17 And I will bring distress on men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung.
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).

Notice how John describes the awesome events that follow the sixth seal of Revelation: “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:17 Revelation 6:17For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
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). Just before this, the martyred servants of God are represented as symbolically crying out from their graves: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10 Revelation 6:10And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, do you not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
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). Later in this book of prophecy an angel is sent with the message: “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come (Revelation 14:6-7 Revelation 14:6-7 6 And I saw another angel fly in the middle of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, 7 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 waters.
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).

Then, near the end of the book, John records more details of Christ’s second coming: “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” (Revelation 19:11 Revelation 19:11And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he does judge and make war.
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).

Hundreds of years before John put these prophecies of Revelation in writing, the prophet Zechariah graphically described Christ’s return: “Behold, the day of the LORD is coming … I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem … Half of the city shall go into captivity, but the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city.

“Then the LORD [Jesus, the prophesied Messiah] will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south” (Zechariah 14:1-4 Zechariah 14:1-4 1 Behold, the day of the LORD comes, and your spoil shall be divided in the middle of you. 2 For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3 Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. 4 And his feet shall stand in that day on the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall split in the middle thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.
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). At the end of this battle “the LORD shall be King over all the earth” (Zechariah 14:9 Zechariah 14:9And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one.
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).

From these scriptures the main thrust of Revelation becomes clear. It portrays in vivid symbols the judgment of God in the last days—at, and just before, the return of Christ. He will oversee the final destruction of the satanic system labeled in Revelation as Babylon the Great.

The real issue: Whom shall we worship?

At the heart of the end-time conflict is a crucial question: Who will mankind worship—Satan or God? Notice the religious orientation of most of humanity: “So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast , saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’” (Revelation 13:4 Revelation 13:4And they worshipped the dragon which gave power to the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like to the beast? who is able to make war with him?
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).

How extensive will this idolatrous worship be? “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life …” (Revelation 13:8 Revelation 13:8And all that dwell on 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.
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). Even now, almost everyone on earth is unwittingly “under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19 1 John 5:19And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in wickedness.
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)—”that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan who deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9 Revelation 12:9And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
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). Satan’s direct control over humanity will dramatically intensify at the time of the end.

Man is not left without a warning, however. John records his vision of an angel “having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people; saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth ‘” (Revelation 14:6-7 Revelation 14:6-7 6 And I saw another angel fly in the middle of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, 7 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 waters.
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).

God sends a clear message through the book of Revelation: The time draws near when He will no longer tolerate humanity’s rejection of Him or its worship of the devil. Satan’s system of idolatrous worship must be wiped from the face of the earth before Christ begins His rule as King of Kings.

Pleas of God’s people answered

The temple in Jerusalem was the center of ancient Israel’s worship of God. God’s presence was manifested there (2 Chronicles 5:13-14 2 Chronicles 5:13-14 13 It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endures for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; 14 So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.
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).

In the book of Revelation God is frequently portrayed as seated in a heavenly temple on His throne (anciently represented by the mercy seat above the Ark of the Covenant in the holiest part of the earthly temple). As he watches angels dispense some of the final punishments mentioned in this book, the apostle John notes that “a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’” (Revelation 16:17 Revelation 16:17And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.
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).

An angel had told John earlier, “Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there” (Revelation 11:1 Revelation 11:1And there was given me a reed like to a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.
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). Inside the temple God is pictured receiving the prayers of His servants. “Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne” (Revelation 8:3 Revelation 8:3And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints on the golden altar which was before the throne.
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).

What prayer does God hear from His true servants over and over again? “And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Revelation 6:10 Revelation 6:10And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, do you not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
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). Revelation reveals the circumstances under which those who are the true worshippers of God will finally have that prayer for justice answered in full.

John quotes Jesus promising His servants: “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God … I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12 Revelation 3:12Him that overcomes will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God: and I will write on him my new name.
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). The tables finally will turn. God’s faithful servants will be the real winners. God will greatly reward them for their patience and endurance while they waited for Him to fulfill His promises and answer their prayers.

As God intervenes in world affairs and makes His great power visible to the nations, His true worshippers are represented in Revelation as joyfully singing: “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested” (Revelation 15:3-4 Revelation 15:3-4 3 And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are your ways, you King of saints. 4 Who shall not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name? for you only are holy: for all nations shall come and worship before you; for your judgments are made manifest.
American King James Version×
).

Revelation’s patterns of sevens

Another noticeable feature of the book of Revelation is its organization according to patterns of sevens. The first chapter alone mentions seven churches, seven golden lampstands, seven spirits, seven stars and seven angels.

The major events of the book are organized under seven seals, seven trumpets, seven thunders and seven bowls containing the seven last plagues. We also encounter seven lamps of fire and a Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes.

Then there is a dragon dominating a beast having seven heads and 10 horns. Seven mountains and seven kings are associated with the heads of that beast. What do the messages conveyed by the repeated use of seven have in common?

In the Bible the number seven reflects the idea of completeness. For example, seven days make up a complete week. God introduced this concept immediately after He finished creating our first human parents: “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:2-3 Genesis 2:2-3 2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
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).

Revelation explains how God will bring His master plan to completion. It outlines a framework on which the prophetic part of that plan is carried out, especially in the last days.

The representation of completeness is also important in understanding the messages to the seven churches in chapters 1-3. When we compare these symbolic expressions in Revelation to imagery in other parts of the Bible, a much more meaningful picture emerges.

In Revelation God is revealing to His servants a comprehensive overview of the most significant factors that will affect their lives—including their hardships and rewards—until His plan for humankind is completed. The concluding chapters (21-22) even give the righteous a brief glimpse into the nature of their relationships with God and each other for eternity. God emphasizes the thoroughness and completeness of this revealed prophetic summary by presenting its most significant aspects in patterns of sevens.

Although biblical patterns of sevens are symbolic in that they represent completeness, they also usually have some real, literal fulfillment. For example, God gave the Pharaoh of ancient Egypt a dream in which seven lean cows ate seven fat cows. Then God arranged for Joseph to explain to Pharaoh that the dream signified that seven years of agricultural plenty would be followed by seven years of devastating famine.

By revealing this information to Pharaoh in a dream, God inspired him to promote Joseph to a powerful role in Egypt. Joseph was then in a position to shelter and feed his father’s family—a small clan destined to become the nation of Israel—during the terrible years of famine. God was in control of the dream and its outcome.

In the same way God can foretell the result of any aspect of history (Isaiah 46:9-10 Isaiah 46:9-10 9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
American King James Version×
). He can intervene to bring events to pass as He desires (verse 10). He can reveal details about the future with unwavering accuracy and precision. So we should not carelessly assume, as some do, that the patterns of sevens in Revelation have only symbolic value. They generally foretell real events and should be taken seriously.

The role of the saints

When John wrote Revelation, Christians were being persecuted, at times martyred, with the approval of the Roman emperors. Revelation frequently contrasts the injustice of the age by emphasizing the future governing role of both the Messiah and the saints.

This is another important aspect of Revelation. The identity of who will have future control of the world is one of the central features of its prophecies.

At the return of Christ we learn: “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6 Revelation 20:6Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
American King James Version×
). In the final chapter we read that God’s faithful servants, given eternal life in the resurrection, “shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5 Revelation 22:5And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God gives them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.
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).

Also significant is where they will initially assist Jesus in their governing role. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10 Revelation 5:10And have made us to our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
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, New International Version).

Even at the very beginning of Revelation John speaks of “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5 Revelation 1:5And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
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). Then John tells Christians that Jesus “has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 1:6 Revelation 1:6And has made us kings and priests to God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
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).

Will servants of God who endure trials and persecutions—past and future—be given real authority in the Kingdom of God under Christ? Indeed they will. As the apostle Paul reminded Christians in Corinth: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (1 Corinthians 6:2 1 Corinthians 6:2Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
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).

Notice Christ’s revelation to John: “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4 Revelation 20:4And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to 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 on their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
American King James Version×
).

This is part of the incredible future Jesus Christ has planned for His faithful followers—to live and reign with Him forever! Now let’s learn what was prophesied to happen to those true followers of Christ down through the centuries until His return.

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