This chapter is a transition between Mid-Tribulation (Rev12,13), and God's judgements in the final 1260 days (Rev15,16). We are in the time soon after the 7th Trumpet has sounded, with the Mid-Tribulational Interval having just closed. It is at the very start of the final 1260 days, the time of antichrist's dominion. God gives His response to the beast-kingdom that satan has just established, predicting its failure and destruction and the ultimate triumph of the righteous. He does this by giving seven warnings and encouragements concerning what He will do, and what will be the final outcome for believers and unbelievers. God is showing He is still in charge even though on earth, for a time, it looks like satan has completely taken over. This day the Mark of the Beast comes into operation, so this is the last chance for millions of people. These announcements show God’s grace in warning mankind before it is too late.
1. We see the 144,000 again, but this time they are seen in their resurrection bodies in Heaven (v1-5).
This revelation of Heaven is given at the close of the Mid-Tribulational Interval, showing that the 144,000 are now in heaven. This signifies that they have been raptured to Heaven in their resurrection bodies at Mid-Tribulation:
Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion (in Heaven rather than on earth, as the following description confirms, see Hebrews 12:22) and with Him 144,000(surely this is the same group that we saw in Revelation 7:1-8), having His Father’s name written on their foreheads (this is the seal they were given on their foreheads in Revelation 7:3 which helped keep them alive). And I heard a voice from Heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder (the voice of Jesus Christ, their Lord - Rev10:3). And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the Throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders(representing the Church); and no one could learn that song except the 144,000 who were redeemed from the earth (this speaks of the redemption of their bodies either by resurrection if they had died, or by rapture if they were still alive -see Luke 21:28, Romans 8:23, Ephesians 1:14, 4:30). These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins (they are all single celibate men). These are the ones who follow the Lamb (their Saviour) wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men (this implies that they were raptured while still alive, leaving others behind), being first fruits to God and to the Lamb (the first part of a greater harvest offered up to God in advance). And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the Throne of God (Rev 14:1-5). Both redemeed and firstfruits signify a physical rapture or resurrection has taken place. Just as the resurrected Christ was the firstfruits of the harvest of the righteous (1Cor15:23), being lifted up to God in a glorified body before the rest of the harvest, so the 144,000 are the first-fruits of the Tribulation harvest of the righteous, who have been taken to Heaven in their glorified bodies by virtue of a resurrection/rapture before the rest of the dead (martyred) saints are raised at Christ's Coming. Thus, having received their full redemption, they stand perfect before God. This is given as an encouragement to the believers still on earth to stay faithful to God, for the 144,000 (who were their spiritual fathers, and had recently disappeared) are now in heaven's glory as first-fruits. This is a guarantee, that they too (as the rest of the harvest) will soon be raised to the same place of glory (even if they are martyred).
The language is clear that they have been recently raptured, most likely at Mid-Tribulation along with the 2 witnesses. Thus it seems likely that their time of ministry is identical to the 2 witnesses. Their ministry starts at the 7th Seal, 1st Trumpet, having just been sealed before it blows. The 2 witnesses start on the day of the antichrist-covenant. This locates the antichrist-covenant at the first Trumpet. It is a common assumption that the Tribulation starts on the day the antichrist covenant, but this is not necessarily so - the covenant may be a few weeks or months into the Tribulation.
2. Warning for the world to worship the Creator-God, for judgement is soon (v6,7): Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, 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 judgement has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.
Now that God has withdrawn His main ambassadors (the 144,000 and the 2 witnesses) before the final showdown, the only way the Lord can get the Gospel out world-wide is through using angels! Men should turn to God because He created them. If they seek Him in humilty, He will reveal to them the Good-News of salvation through Christ.
3. Babylon (the antichrist kingdom) will fall (v8): Another angel followed, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
Men should turn to God because judgement is coming soon on their sinful way of life.
4. Warning not to take the Mark of the Beast or the result will be eternal hell-fire (v9-12): Then a 3rd angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name. Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.
Men should turn to God because otherwise they will suffer eternally in Hell-fire.
5. Comfort for believers who will be martyred (v13):
Then I heard a voice from Heaven saying to me, Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.
Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, and their works follow them.
Believers should be encouraged because many blessings and rewards are waiting for them in Heaven.
6. The Coming Harvest of the earth (v14-16): Behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle (this must be Jesus Christ Himself). And another angel came out of the Temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe. So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.
There will be a separation of wheat (believers) and chaff (unbelievers) after Jesus returns (Matthew25). The chaff will be blown away (killed) when Jesus returns. Ultimately the chaff is burned and the wheat goes into the barn (the Kingdom). This is the Judgment of the Nations. See Joel 3:12-14.
7. The Coming Treading of Grapes (v17-20). This is a prophecy of judgement that will fall upon all the armies of the world, that will come up at the campaign of Armageddon:Another angel came out of the Temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe (the grapes are the armies gathered at Armageddon ripe for judgement). So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth (the armies are gathered for judgement), and threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God (the land of Israel where they will be trampled). And the winepress was trampled outside the city(Jerusalem), and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for 1600 furlongs.
This warning is fulfilled in Revelation 19:15: Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. and He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. The grapes are people whose blood is shed when Jesus crushes them under His feet when He returns tojudge those destroying His people.
Revelation 15:1-8 - A Heavenly Interlude preparing for the Bowls.
Then I saw another sign in Heaven, great and marvelous:
7 angels having the 7 last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.
All the remaining judgements of the Tribulation are contained in the 7 Bowls.
Next we see the Tribulation Martyrs again:
And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God.
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, 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."
The 7 angels come forward to pour out the wrath of God
After these things I looked, and behold, the Temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened.
And out of the Temple came the 7 angels having the 7 plagues, clothed in pure bright linen, and having their chests girded with golden bands. Then one of the four living creatures gave to the 7 angels 7 golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever. The Temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the Temple till the 7 plagues of the 7 angels were completed.
Revelation 16: The 7 Bowls.
The Seven Bowls of Wrath are God’s final judgements on antichrist’s world empire - probably in the final year.
Then I heard a loud voice from the Temple saying to the 7 angels,
Go and pour out the Bowls of the wrath of God on the earth.
*BOWL 1 (16:2). Sores on antichrist worshippers: The first went, and poured out his Bowl upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image.
*BOWL 2 (16:3). All Sea life destroyed: The 2nd angel poured out his Bowl upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.
*BOWL 3 (16:4-7). Fresh waters destroyed: The 3rd angel poured out his Bowl upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood. I heard the angel of the waters say, You are righteous, O Lord, Who is, and was, and shall be, because You have judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink; for they are worthy. Judgment falls because of the persecution of God’s people.
*BOWL 4 (16:8,9). Scorching heat from the Sun: The 4th angel poured out his Bowl upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, Who has power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.
*BOWL 5 (16:10,11). Darkness: The 5th angel poured out his Bowl upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds (c.f Egypt- Exodus 10:21-23).
The 6th and 7th Bowls introduce the final judgements connected with the Campaign of Armageddon, which we shall study more in Part 4.
*BOWL 6 (16:12-16). The Campaign of Armageddon begins - the gathering of armies for judgement (the final showdown). Then the 6th angel poured out his Bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. (Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame). And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.
Things now move up another gear as the final judgements at the end of the Armageddon Campaign are released.
*BOWL 7 (16:17-21). Then the 7th angel poured out his Bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the Temple of Heaven, from the Throne, saying, It is done! And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth. Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath. Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great. This Bowl completes God's judgements on antichrist’s world-orderbringing the total destruction of Babylon (his whole infrastructure and network of cities) by great earthquakes, fire and hail (see Revelation 18). This is followed on the next day by the Return of Jesus Christ (Revelation 19, see also Matthew 24:27-31).
General Summary of the Structure of Revelation.
Rev 4-5: Heaven, just after the Rapture, initiating the start of the Tribulation.
Rev 6-9: The first half of the Tribulation (The Seals and Trumpets).
Rev 10: Heavenly interlude at Mid-Tribulation.
Rev 11: The ministry, death and resurrection of the two witnesses before the Great Tribulation begins.
Rev 11:15: The 7th Trumpet sounds, initiating from Heaven the Great Tribulation.
Rev 12-13: The main characters of the Great Tribulation are introduced, giving their background and activities during the Great Tribulation. Thus the period of three and a half years is mentioned many times in connection with these characters.
Thus in the chronology of Revelation, chapters 10-13 are set at mid-Tribulation, although they describe in detail what life is like throughout the Great Tribulation.
Rev 14: A heavenly interlude where God announces the final destinies of different groups of people.
Rev 15: A heavenly interlude before the 7 Bowls of Wrath are poured out.
Rev 16: The Bowls of Wrath (near the end of the Great Tribulation) which lead to Armageddon.
Rev 17: An Interlude giving background describing Religious Babylon and its destruction at Mid-Tribulation.
Rev 18: The Destruction of Babylon the Great (the final day of antichrist's dominion).
Rev 19: The Second Coming of Christ
Rev 20: The Millennium and Great White Throne
Rev 21,22: The Eternal State.
Detailed summary of the Structure of Revelation.
*Through the bold type you can track the chronological sequence of events on earth.
Revelation 1:19 gives the overall structure of Revelation: Write (1) the things which you have seen (past),
and (2) the things which are (present), and (3) the things which will take place after this (future).
Rev 1. The things John saw: the Glorified Christ (this was fulfilled in the past in His resurrection).
Rev 2-3. The things that are now: the present Church Age
Rev 4-22. The things which will take place after this (after the Church-Age).
Rev 4-5. Heavenly Interlude-Events in Heaven at the start of the Tribulation.
Rev 4. The Rapture of the Church. The Throne of God in Heaven.
Rev 5. The Lamb and the Seven-Sealed Scroll.
Rev 6-9. The first half of the Tribulation (7 Seals and 6 Trumpets).
Rev 6. The first 6 Seal Judgements, opened early on in the Tribulation.
Rev 7. Interlude just before the 7th Seal: The 144,000 sealed and the resulting world-wide revival through their ministry.
Rev 8,9. The 7th Seal: The first 6 Trumpet Judgements leading up to Mid-Tribulation.
Rev 10-12:16. The Mid-Tribulational Interval.
Rev 10. Heavenly Interlude at the start of Mid-Tribulation. A mighty Angel (Christ) stands on earth with a book.
Rev 11:1-6 Interlude (giving background describing the ministry of the two witnesses leading up to their death).
Rev 11:7-14 The death and resurrection of the two witnesses just before the Great Tribulation begins.
Rev 11:15-19. The 7th Trumpet sounds, initiating from Heaven the Great Tribulation.
Rev 12:1-5. Interlude giving background on the Woman, the Man-Child and the Dragon.
Rev 12:6: The Woman begins her escape on the first day of the Great-Tribulation.
Rev 12:7-16. War in heaven. Satan cast down. Pursues the fleeing woman but fails.
We are now at the close of the Mid-Tribulational Interlude.
Rev 12:17-14:20. The Start of the final 1260 days.
Rev 12:17-1. The Woman reaches her place of safety where she abides 1260 days.
Satan begins a world-wide persecution of God's people through antichrist's new world-order.
Rev13:1-6. Interlude giving background on the antichrist (beast), especially his rise during Mid-Tribulation.
Rev13:7-8. His world-wide dictatorship and persecution of God's people begins (lasting 1260 days).
Rev 13:9-14. Interlude giving background on the false-prophet, especially his work during Mid-Tribulation.
Rev 13:15-18. The activation of the Image and the implementation of the Mark of the Beast at the start of the 1260 days, enforcing antichrist's dominion in every area of life.
Rev 14. A heavenly interlude where God announces final destinies of different groups of people. This includes world-wide preaching by angels in the first few days, giving final warnings before men take the Mark.
Rev 15-18. The Close of the final 1260 days.
Rev 15: A heavenly interlude before the 7 Bowls of Wrath are poured out.
Rev 16: The 7 Bowls of Wrath (near the end of the Great Tribulation) which lead to Armageddon.
Rev 17: An Interlude giving background describing Religious Babylon and its destruction at Mid-Tribulation.
Rev 18: The destuction of Babylon the Great, on the 1260th day.
Rev 19: The Second Coming of Christ -the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord.
Rev 20: The Millennium followed by the Great White Throne
Rev 21,22: The Eternal State.
What about all the different interpretations of prophecy ?
Assumptions of this End-Time Prophecy Course.
1. Prophecy, as with the whole Bible, should be interpreted LITERALLY - that is, in its plain meaning.
When obvious SYMBOLIC language is used then that is to be interpreted according to BIBLICAL SYMBOLISM (the Bible will usually give the symbolic meaning). Any other method of interpretation puts us in a position ‘over’ the Word where we can supply whatever meaning is convenient for us. We must be submitted to the Word. This eliminates the vast majority of interpretations of prophecy which are based on a ‘spiritual’ rather than a literal method, where prophecies about Israel are spiritualised and applied to the Church. In particular it means that Revelation 4-22 is properly interpreted in a FUTURIST way. It is much easier for us to read prophecy than it was for those a few hundred years ago because world conditions are converging on events described in end-time prophecy, most notably the existence of the state of Israel (a point of ridicule for those who took prophecy literally before this century).
2. All literal interpretations agree on the major events in order:
CHURCH-TRIBULATION-SECOND COMING - MILLENNIUM - ETERNITY and in the majority of details.
However, in your reading you will notice a number of variations. These variations are basically in:
(1) Identification of SYMBOLS - mostly it is clear-cut if something is symbolic and what the symbol means is plain. But some are harder to discern which leads to a variety of interpretations - for example ‘BABYLON’ in Revelation 17,18. Will the literal city of Babylon be rebuilt before the end and become antichrist’s capital or does it refer symbolically to antichrist’s world empire? When battles are described using horses and chariots is this literal, because radiation from nuclear devices or the sun make modern weapons unusable? Or is it symbolic language necessitated by the fact that the prophets had no words to describe modern weapons and transport and so had to use the equivalents in their language? Some of these issues will become clearer as time progresses.
(2) EXACT TIMING of events. What we have is a collection of prophecies in the Bible that have to be fitted together into the prophetic framework. We have established the basic framework above (from Daniel 9, Matthew 24 and Revelation) and it is usually clear from clues in a prophecy and from its context to which general period of time it belongs. However when it comes to the exact dating of events in and around the seven-year Tribulation there are variations.
For example: WARS -we have placed the Ezekiel 38 invasion from the North at Pre-Tribulation and the Daniel 11:40-45 war at mid-Tribulation. Others however put these as Armageddon at the end of the Tribulation. This is not to say that the Bible is ambiguous, but that it is more obvious where some pieces of the jigsaw fit than others which are therefore easier to get wrong. The test is -does it really fit,100%?
THE PROPHETIC FRAMEWORK GIVEN BY THE BOOK OF REVELATION
Revelation completes the Bible’s prophetic framework. For instance, it does not tell us much about the Millennium (just a few verses in chapter 20) because the Old Testament prophets tell us so much. It just fills in the missing information that satan will be bound, that the resurrected saints will rule and reign with Christ and that it will last for 1000 years. This last fact was not clearly revealed in the Old Testament so Revelation perfectly fills in the missing information. The main part of the Book (chapters 4-19) gives us the detailed framework for the Tribulation. Without it we could not know how all the prophecies concerning the Day of the Lord fit in.
Thus it is important to realise that the Book of Revelation is written in order to give us the CHRONOLOGICAL framework for end-time prophecy.
It gives us this overall order:
(1) CHURCH AGE (Revelation 2 and 3)
(2) TRIBULATION (chapters 4-18)
(3) SECOND COMING (chapter 19)
(4) MILLENNIUM (chapter 20)
(5) ETERNITY (chapters 21,22).
Moreover, through the SEALS, TRUMPETS and BOWLS (and other time references such as the 1260 days), it gives the detailed framework for the Tribulation. All of these are controlled by God, thus emphasising His Sovereignty over the whole time-period. We have worked to establish this framework into which we can fit all the other pieces (prophecies) correctly.
We have reached the last phase of the Tribulation - the CAMPAIGN OF ARMAGEDDON. Saying ‘the Battle of Armageddon’ is misleading because the word denotes a major military campaign. This final war is the climax of the spiritual battle between God’s Kingdom (and Israel) and satan’s kingdom (with antichrist and his forces) and it is a fight which Jesus Christ will.