The Book of Revelation

by Robert Thomas

This is another of a series of selections from the Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible recently published by AMG Publishers. Robert Thomas is professor of New Testament at The Master's Seminary, Sun Valley, California.

How do you strengthen people who are persecuted for being Christians? How do you motivate God-rejecting people to repent and turn to Him? God's answer to both questions is the same: by telling them what is to happen in the future, the very thing He does in the final book of the Bible.

That book, Revelation (sometimes called the Apocalypse), centers around prophetic predictions of the future (Rev. 1:3; 10:11; 18:20; 19:10; 22:6,7, 9,10, 18,19). Revelation plays a significant role in biblical prophecy as a whole. John, one of Jesus' twelve Apostles, wrote the book in about AD. 95 while in exile on a small Mediterranean island off the coast of Asia Minor (1:9). The resurrected Jesus appeared to him there and gave him information about the future for him to deliver to messengers from seven churches of the nearby Roman province located in the western portion of what is today the country of Turkey.

The announced subject of the book is "things that must happen soon" (Rev. 1:1), the highlight of which is stated in the book's theme verse, "Behold, He (Jesus) will come with the clouds" (1:7). Revelation deals with the return of Jesus Christ and all the events accompanying His return. In instructing John to write the book, Jesus appeared to the Apostle in a glorified state (1:12-16) and gave him an advance outline of the prophecy (1:19). It included the vision of Jesus he had just seen (1:12-16), a message to each of the seven churches (Rev. 2-3), and events that were to transpire on earth after the faithful in the churches are taken away to heaven at Jesus' promised coming (Rev. 4-22).

Two themes recur in Jesus' messages to the churches, one of threat and one of encouragement. He issued threats to those in the churches whose relationship to Himself was only superficial. He promised to come and judge these people because of their empty profession (2:5; 3:11, 16). For them an unparalleled hour of trial is imminent (3:10). His words of encouragement went to the faithful who had stood firm in the face of persecution caused by their faith in Him. For these He promised His imminent return to deliver them from adversity (2:25; 3:11, 20). Chapters 2 and 3 advise the churches about needed adjustments in their lives in view of the outpouring of God's wrath that is described in chapters 4 and following.

Jesus devoted the bulk of His revelation to John to describing judgments about to fall on an unrepentant world because of its rebellion against God. He first allowed John to visit in a vision the heavenly throne-room from which the judgments will proceed (Revelation 4-5). There the prophet encountered the Father, seated on His throne and the slain Lamb, Jesus, who was the only one worthy to open a seven-sealed scroll that the Father gave Him.

As it turns out, that seven-sealed scroll contained the remainder of Revelation except for some concluding remarks in chapter 22. John saw the breaking of the first six seals (Rev. 6) portrayed as a drama before his eyes. First came four different-colored horses with riders depicting peaceful conquest of the world (white horse), warfare and bloodshed (red horse), widespread famine (black horse), and death to one-quarter of earth's population (pale horse). Then he witnessed martyred saints in heaven praying for God to avenge their blood by punishing people responsible for their deaths. Next, the sixth seal divulged various cosmic and terrestrial disturbances that unmistakably signal to earth's inhabitants that the seal judgments have initiated the predicted wrath of God against rebellious humanity.

The breaking of the seventh seal (8:1) resulted in the sounding of seven trumpets (8:7-11:15), in themselves seven physical judgments additional to and more severe than those of the first six seals. The first six trumpets were prophetic of 1) the burning up of a third of earth's vegetation, 2) destruction of a third of sea life, 3) poisoning of a third of earth's fresh water, 4) darkening of a third of the heavenly bodies, 5) a pain-inflicting demonic locust plague, and 6) death to a third of earth's inhabitants through another demonic visitation.

The blowing of the seventh trumpet (11:15) ushered in another series of judgments predicting God's future visitations against rebellious mankind, the seven vials of God's wrath (15:7). The seven vials represented the seven last plagues that will complete God's wrath (15:1) against creatures who have rebelled against Him. The first six of those plagues will produce 1) the afflicting of false-christ worshipers with incurable sores (16:2), 2) death to all sea life (16:3), 3) transformation of all fresh water into blood (16:4-7), 4) scorching of all rebels because of superheat from the sun (16:8,9), 5) darkening of the false-christ's kingdom (16:10-11), and 6) battle preparation for the doom of earth's kings (16:12-16).

The prophetic message of the seventh vial of God's wrath carries forward into the eternal state (16:17-22:5). It will include eight main events: the second coming of Christ to conquer His enemies, a summons of birds to feast on conquered humans, the slaughter of Christ's human opponents, Satan's imprisonment, Satan's release and final defeat, the setting of the Great White Throne Judgment, sentencing of lost people to the lake of fire, and a sketch of the New Jerusalem and those excluded from it (19:11-21:8).

Along with his description of the seals, trumpets, and vials, John's visions (7:1-17: 10:1-14:20; 17:1-18:24; 21:9-22:5) also give readers details of the future judgments that will occupy seven years (the Tribulation), one thousand years (the Millennium), and eternity future, as this present creation of God runs its course and steps aside to be replaced by His new creation.

Revelation's picture of the future is more than sufficient to both strike terror in the thoughts of any person who has not made his/her peace with God through Jesus Christ but also to offer incentive to the faithful believer in Christ to persevere through present and future trials, awaiting His imminent coming and a future of unparalleled joy.