Revealing Revelations

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on October 2, 2003 under Ask the Pastor | Be the First to Comment

A good friend to our church family writes: “I would very much like to know the meaning behind one third in the book of Revelations in regards to the Trumpets and destruction. Please help me with this.

I would also like to ask a second question if you would not mind. I am having great difficulty in understanding chapters 6,7,8,9 of Revelations. Can you help me out?”

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Dear friend,

Thank you very much for visiting our website, and for sending in your questions. I’ll do my best.

Part of your question is concerned with how the details of the Book of Revelation fit in with its overall structure. The Book of Revelation is one of my favorites in the Bible. But admittedly, the structure of it is hard to grasp at first. There are lots of different opinions about how it should be understood; but I’ll share mine. Not everyone would agree with the understanding I have embraced of this wonderful book; but I hope my attempt will help you.

The key to understanding Revelation – including the passages you asked about – is found in the first chapter, in verse 19. In the first chapter, John is given a revelation of the glorified Lord Jesus Christ. He sees Jesus as He is in all His resurrection glory. And then Jesus tells him, “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this” (1:19). And there, you have the structure of the book in a nutshell.

Chapter one concerns the things “which you have seen” – that is, the vision of the glorified Jesus. The original readers of this book faced great persecution for their faith; and Jesus wanted them to see Him as He really is, because this would give them assurance as they faced their trials.

Chapters 2-3 concern “the things which are”; and in these two chapters, we see that Jesus writes seven letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. In these letters, He gives them valuable instructions regarding how to live in the midst of an unbelieving world.

Chapters 4-22 touch on “the things which will take place after this”; and this is the section that deals, primarily, with prophecies about the end times and the events that proceed Jesus’ return to the earth. I think that this last section, “the things which will take place”, is the section you’re having questions about.

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This last section – “the things which will take place” – can be divided further. It begins with 4:1; “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, ‘Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” John immediately finds himself in the spirit, beholding heavenly realities. Chapters 4-5 describe the commencement of the end time events from the perspective of heaven before the throne of God. It is before the throne of God that Jesus, “the Lamb”, is found worthy to open the scroll that was handed to Him and “loose its seals” (5:2, 9). This initial vision is very important; because it establishes the fact that, in all the dreadful things that will take place in the opening of the seals, God still rules supreme from His heavenly throne.

Chapters 6-11 describe the opening of those seven seals. The first six seals, the opening of which is detailed for us in chapter 6, all appear to me to unleash events that are the results of unrestrained human evil. The sinful heart of man is allowed to express itself in all its rebellious fury. These events, in my understanding of of Revelation, describe the events of the Great Tribulation. God, as it were, pulls His restraining hand away and allows human evil to get as bad as it can get.

But there is a pause between the opening of the sixth and the seventh seals; and this pause is described for us in chapter 7. During this pause, I believe the ministry of the 144,000 Jewish witnesses occurs; and their witness is concluded by the rapture of the saints. (Note 7:14-15. John asks who the great multitude is that stand before the throne of God; and he is told, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.”) Though not everyone would agree with my interpretation, I think the flow of Revelation makes the most sense when we see that the church will be present on earth during the time of the Tribulation. In chapter 7, they are shown as, (as the grammar of the original Greek suggests), in the process even then of coming out of the great tribulation.

But please understand: that doesn’t mean that I believe the church ever suffers the wrath of God for sin. I believe a very important distinction occurs before the opening of the seventh seal in chapter 8. At the close of the sixth seal, we read that 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 the 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?’” (6:15-17). Clearly something new is about to commence – and the sinful world stands in terror over the prospect. The period of “tribulation” has ended (7:14), and the great day of the wrath of the Lamb has begun.

Personally, I don’t believe the Bible teaches that believers will be exempt from tribulation; but I absolutely believe that no child of God will ever be subject to God’s wrath upon this sinful world. “For God did not appoint us to wrath”, Paul says, “but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9). It seems to me that the Bible makes a distinction between “the Great Tribulation” and “the Day of the wrath of the Lamb”. For those of us who have trusted in Him, Jesus – the Lamb of God – has taken all the wrath of God for our sins upon Himself. But for the one who refuses Him and rejects His sacrifice on the cross, “the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36), and the suffer the wrath of the Lamb.

And so, I believe that the seventh seal describes the dreadful outpouring of God’s wrath on the Christ-rejecting world for sin. It’s described in chapters 8-11 in the blowing of seven trumpets; in other words, the series of seven trumpet judgments is the the seventh seal, and the breaking of that seal releases those seven trumpet judgments upon the world. If you look carefully at these seven trumpet judgments, you’ll see that they are different in nature from the first six seals. Whereas the six seals appear to be expressions of human evil unrestrained, the seven trumpet judgments appear to be acts of judgment that are beyond human origin – divine expressions of wrath for sin very much like the plagues of God on Egypt in the time of Moses. The seventh trumpet is blown; and it marks the conclusion of God’s dreadful wrath, and the commencement of Christ’s glorious reign over the kingdoms of this earth (11:15).

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Now you didn’t ask me about the later chapters; but I have to tell you how I believe they fit in. It has made the most sense to me to see the story of the Great Tribulation and the subsequent outpouring of God’s wrath upon earth being repeated in chapters 12-19. The same events are being described in these chapters as was described in chapters 6-11; except, whereas in the first telling of the story was generally from the viewpoint of heaven, the second telling is generally from the viewpoint of earth.

Chapters 12-13 tell the story of the wrath of the dragon (Satan) over the birth of the male Child (Jesus); and of his subsequent wrath toward those who believe on Jesus. Chapter 13 tells, particularly, of the rise of the Beast (the Antichrist) and of his false prophet. These events parallel the events described in the opening of the first six seals in chapter 6. Chapter 14 tells the story of the 144,000 witnesses (which parallels the first half of chapter 7); and of the reaping of the earth (which parallels the second half of chapter 7). Chapter 14 concludes with the ominous threat of wrath (vv. 17-20); and so, chapters 15-17 describe the outpouring of God’s wrath in the seven bowl judgments. (I see remarkable similarity – though not an absolutely identical parallel – between the events described in chapter 16 and the events described chapters 8-9. They are similar enough to seem to be describing the same series of events in the outpouring of God’s wrath.)

Chapters 17-18 describe a “pageant” in which is portrayed the dreadful nature of the “world religion” of the Antichrist; giving emphasis to the righteousness of the terrible judgment of God upon all who rebel against His Son and embrace this false religion. Chapter 19 describes the wonderful event that follows the wrath of God – that is, the glorious return of Jesus Christ, with all His saints, to rule upon this earth. It mentions only briefly the 1,000 year reign on Christ upon the earth; and then concludes with the final resurrection and the GreathWhite Throne judgment. Chapters 21-22 describe, in glorious detail, the New Jerusalem – our eternal home, in which we’ll dwell with Jesus forever.

That’s a pretty quick review; but I hope that it gives you a basic frame-work by which to understand the events in the book of Revelation. Again, I have to emphasize that this is my view of the book. Not everyone will agree with it; but it’s the one that has made the most sense out of the book for me.

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Now about your questions regarding the significance of “thirds” in the “judgment” passages. We’re told that, when the first trumpet sounds (8:7), “hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.” Then, we’re told that, when the second trumpet sounds (8:8-9), “something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.” We’re told that, after the third trumpet sounds (8:10-11), “a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star was Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter.” Finally, when the fourth trumpet is sounded (8:12), “a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them did not shine, and likewise the night.” Four realms of the natural world are affected by these judgments: trees and plant life (v. 7), the seas, marine life, and the ships (vv. 8-9), a third of the rivers and streams – destroying much human life (vv. 10-11), and a third of the heavenly bodies (v. 12).

With the repeated reference to thirds, it’s tempting to think that there might be a symbolic significance to “one third”. Personally, however, I think its significance is more practical than symbolic. The destruction of a third of any of these realms is a significant devastation in itself; but it’s not a complete devastation, nor is it a devastation of even most of these realms. It’s less than half. This is important to remember because, as I have suggested, this portion is speaking of judgments upon the earth that are divine in nature. In permitting only a third of these things to be destroyed, God is demonstrating (1) His sovereignty in that the devastation does not exceed His appointed limit, and (2) His mercy in that the devastation is not a complete loss to future humanity. Even in judgment, God is showing Himself merciful.

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May I add one more thought? There is, sadly I think, a lot of controversy and divisiveness over this wonderful book. I find that unfortunate; because I believe that the book was not intended to emphasize divisive views of prophecy, but rather to emphasize the glorious hope we have in Christ. Jesus – not the details of prophecy – is to be the central focus of the book. The angel in Revelation gives us the right emphasis to have when he spoke these words to John: “Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (19:10). I believe we gain the greatest blessing from the Book of Revelation when we keep the spotlight on Jesus.

God bless you as we await His soon return together.

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Greg

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