Commentary on Revelation (covers all chapters from 1 thru 22, including Introduction)
Copyright © 2019 by Steve Sewell, Theology First. All Rights Reserved
All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Author: The Apostle John
Addressed to: The Seven Churches in Asia
Date of Writing: There are some who believe the date to be before AD 70, before the destruction of Jerusalem. However, most believe the date to be around AD 95.
There’s a lot written in support of both dates, but I believe the date to be after AD 70. Here are two of the deciding factors for me:
1. Church of Laodicea: Laodicea is addressed in Revelation as one of the seven churches. Here’s the thing: This city was completely destroyed in AD 60. It seems unreasonable that the people of this church could have recovered to the point of enjoying the “rich” life or time enough to drift into [“blind”] apostasy (Rev 3:17), let alone rebuilding the city to where it’s even livable by the time this book was written (supposedly) prior to AD 70. A later date of AD 95 would reasonably allow for a recovery of the type of wealthy lifestyle that Revelation suggests, and that history confirms. This date would also allow a more realistic time period to fall away spiritually.
2. Lack of historical evidence: It seems to me that if the book of Revelation is about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (as Preterism teaches), this would have certainly been well known and passed on by those who lived near that time. But I haven’t been able to find any evidence for that. It makes sense to me that if Revelation is, in fact, about the destruction of Jerusalem, this would have been something that the early church fathers would have written about extensively. I think the silence is most revealing.
However, it’s still possible that Revelation was written before AD 70. I say that because, as I point out in my commentary on the Olivet Discourse (“Olivet Discourse Made Clear”), Jesus warned His disciples not to mistake the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple with His coming (at the end of the Church age). If Jesus had not given them that warning, they very likely would have thought that that was the time of His return. In which case, the book of Revelation would have served as another warning. Nevertheless, I believe the two points I make for the later date of AD 95 is more persuasive.
While we cannot say with absolute certainty if Revelation was written before or after AD 70, I don’t think it matters — because the book of Revelation is a New Testament book. It’s a book written to Christians of the New Covenant. The whole NT is written specifically to and for followers of Christ, which is applicable for us throughout the Church era. Therefore, it makes better sense to understand the events of Revelation as occurring throughout that time period — except where it’s clear that the texts are dealing with the very end of the world, at the time of Christ’s return.
Therefore, it’s inconceivable that Revelation is only about AD 70 (Preterism), because if that were true, this book would have no extensive application for Christians after that time period — which has now been 2000 years!
It’s also inconceivable that Revelation is mainly about the last few years before Jesus returns, which Premillennialism views as the “great tribulation period.” Like the preterist point of view, this leaves out over 2000 years of extensive application for members of Christ’s Church.
We must conclude that neither Preterism nor Premillennialism are viable eschatological options.
There is one eschatological position that is viable, and that is Amillennialism, which sensibly views the book of Revelation as occurring throughout the whole Church/gospel era — in general.
Four Primary Positions
— Makes a clear distinction between Israel and the Church.
— There will be a 7 year tribulation period (first 3.5 years great tribulation), followed by the physical return of Christ, which will usher in a 1000 year kingdom on earth in which Christ reigns physically as King. Satan will be bound during this thousand year period.
— There will be either a pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib rapture of Christians. By far the most common position is pre-trib.
— At the end of the 1000 year reign of Christ, Satan will be let loose to gather the unbelievers against Christ, where Satan and his armies will be defeated.
— Great White Throne judgment of unbelievers.
— Creation of the New Heavens and New Earth.
— Extreme literal interpretation of Revelation.
Note: While not very prominent, there is also Historic or Classic Premillennialism. The primary difference between this and DP is that HP sees no real difference between Israel and the Church, and that it puts the “rapture” at the end of the “tribulation period” (which is why HP is also known as Post-Trib Premillennialism).
Amillennialism: (Position of this commentary)
—Israel has its fulfillment in Christ and His Church.
— Views the 1000 years of Revelation 20 as symbolic for a long period of time — which specifically refers to the Church age. The Kingdom of Christ is now (the Church) and is of a redemptive and spiritual nature — not worldly or political. Christ now sits upon His throne at the right hand of the Father where He reigns over His people (the Church), as His witnesses in the world.
— The book of Revelation is viewed as occurring throughout the Church (Kingdom) age.
— Satan is bound during the Church age — but only in the sense that he is not allowed to prevent the spread of the Gospel message, nor allowed to gather unbelievers for war against Christ and His people.
— Christ will return physically at the end of this present world (Church age). The resurrection (and rapture) of both believers and unbelievers occur at that time.
— At the time of the resurrection, both believers and unbelievers will stand before the Judgment Throne of Christ.
— New Heavens and New earth are created, and begins the Eternal Kingdom of Revelation 21 & 22. There is no earthly millennial kingdom between the return of Christ and the Eternal Kingdom. We go immediately into this kingdom upon the return of Christ.
— Israel has its fulfillment in Christ and His Church.
— The Kingdom of Christ is now during the Church Age. Views the 1000 years of Revelation as symbolic of a long period of time.
— Jesus reigns from Heaven over the earth.
— The world gets better and better during this time. Views the world becoming a utopia, a time of peace and prosperity (a Golden Age).
— Jesus returns at the end of this “Golden Age.” It’s at that time the resurrection and judgements occur, followed by the Eternal Kingdom.
— Has a lot in common with the Partial Preterist.
— Israel has its fulfillment in Christ and His Church.
— There is Full Preterism and Partial Preterism.
— The Full Preterist believes that all prophecy – including all the events of the book of Revelation – was fulfilled in AD 70.
— The Full Preterist believes that the resurrection has already occurred, and is spiritual, rather than physical.
— The Partial Preterist agrees with the Full Preterist regarding the book of Revelation, accept the Partial Preterist views Revelation 20-22 as still future.
— The Partial Preterist views the resurrection as still future, and as physical, rather than spiritual.
The primary factors that determine which position we hold, are as follows:
— What we believe the Bible teaches about the Kingdom of Christ.
— What we believe the Bible teaches about Israel and the Church.
— What we believe the Bible teaches about the resurrection and the rapture.
— What we believe the Bible teaches about the return of Christ.
— What we believe Matt 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 is about (Olivet Discourse).
— How we interpret key passages in the book of Daniel.
— Do we interpret the Old Testament according to our understanding of the New Testament, or the other way around?
— How literal should the book of Revelation be interpreted?
This commentary on the book of Revelation is Amillennial. Foundational to this position is the belief that Christ fulfills all the covenant promises and prophecies regarding Israel. It’s the belief that Christ is, therefore, True Israel in the age of grace, the gospel era. It’s also the belief that His Church is spiritual Israel in Him, that the Church is the New Israel of the New Covenant. Thus, in Christ, Israel continues as a spiritual nation (1 Peter 2:4-10), and that everyone in Him are spiritual Jews. I provide a solid biblical basis for this position in my series “Israel and the Church.”
Also foundation to the Amillennial position, is the belief that the Kingdom of Christ is now – in the form of His Church – and that He rules over and through His Church from His throne in Heaven, and that we as His followers reign with Him. I also provided a solid biblical basis for this position too, in my series “Kingdom of Christ Now.”
It’s bewildering to me that Christians should become so defensive about the idea that Christ and His Church fulfill the promises and prophecies of Israel. Why is that such an offensive idea? How can a Christocentric theology be so offensive, when the total focus is on Him and His true people (those who are in Him)? Bewildering, indeed.
Premillennialism is probably the most popular position on prophecy. As I already mentioned, there are two versions of this: Dispensational Premillennialism and Historic Premillennialism. The version most widely accepted and taught is Dispensational. Therefore, for the purpose of this commentary, all references to Premillennialism is primarily with Dispensational Premillennialism in mind.
Dispensational Premillennialism (DP) holds to the belief that God has a separate plan for Israel apart from the Church. It’s the teaching of DP that upon the return of Christ, there will be a 1000 year earthly kingdom where Christ will rule as the Supreme King, and where God fulfills all the promises to the nation of Israel. Furthermore, this kingdom will be Jewish in nature, but will include Gentile believers, as well. As a Jewish kingdom, it will include the rebuilding of the temple where animal sacrifices will be reinstituted as a memorial. According to this view, this kingdom will be prior to the Eternal Kingdom of Revelation 21 and 22. However, the idea of a Jewish kingdom, with an OT temple and OT animal sacrifices, is completely out of harmony with the teaching of the NT — especially with the book of Hebrews, which was written by a Jewish believer, who understood the OT Scriptures well. The writer of Hebrews focuses on the New Covenant, and the relationship between Israel and the Church. Nowhere in that book do we get any idea whatsoever that there is an earthly millennial kingdom between the return of Christ and the Eternal Kingdom of Revelation 21 & 22.
I believe that the events of Revelation are generally symbolic and applies to all points of history throughout the Church age (chapters 1-20), which of course, includes the last years leading up to the return of Christ.
In order to interpret the book of Revelation correctly, we must approach it with sound rules of interpretation.
We must begin with the New Testament. It’s a mistake to try to interpret the NT according to the OT. DP is guilty of this practice. The OT is the forerunner of the NT. The NT fulfills the OT. The OT is full of typology and figurative language, all pointing to Christ and His Church. Therefore, if we’re to properly understand the OT, we must first understand the NT. Proper understanding of Scripture begins and ends with the NT. It begins and ends with Christ Himself, who is revealed in the NT.
Therefore, it’s most important that we interpret OT prophecy according to our understanding of NT prophecy. If we get this backwards, we will not come to correct conclusions.
Furthermore, as I have emphasized, we must understand the connection between Israel and the Church. This is KEY. Why, you may ask? Because dispensationalists believe that God’s plan for Israel begins to be completed in the tribulation period, which they believe is after the Church is raptured. They further believe that God’s plan for Israel is completed in an earthly millennial kingdom.
We can’t interpret NT prophecies by starting with an OT understanding of Israel. In order to understand NT prophecy, we must begin with a NT understanding of Israel and the Church.
The same applies to our understanding regarding the Kingdom of Christ. We must begin with what the NT reveals about His kingdom, and then apply it to the OT. Not the other way around. We must get things in their proper order.
Revelation Is a New Testament Book! First, it’s not wisdom to interpret this book without a good understanding of what the rest of the NT teaches, because Revelation is a NT book!
Second, Revelation is a book that is characterized by symbolism. Therefore, it would be careless to start with Revelation and then try to interpret the rest of the NT according to their understanding of that book. One of the most important rules of interpretation is to interpret difficult verses and passages according to those which are more easily understood. In this case, we have an entire book that is difficult. Therefore, we must first have a proper understanding of the rest of the NT Scriptures.
Overview of Revelation
I believe the events of Revelation reveal the world situation throughout the Church age, except where the text is obviously referring to the latter years right before the return of Christ. Therefore this book has application for all Christians at all points in time. In the opening chapters, Revelation talks about seven different churches, which has application for all of us. It details the difficulties and persecutions that Christians will always encounter (generally), which involves opposition from false religion and anti-Christian people and anti-Christian governments. However, it also details the coming of the “King of kings and Lord of lords” in “great power and glory” (Matt 24:30; Rev 19:11-21) where He triumphs over His enemies. It details the Resurrection, the Judgment, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the New Heaven and New Earth, and the Eternal Kingdom.
The Seven Churches of Asia: Although the seven churches were real churches at the time of the writing of Revelation, and although Jesus praised the honorable things they were doing and addressed the issues they had, the seven churches symbolize the whole Church and the whole Church era — seven being the number of perfection and completion. What describes these churches, describes all the same types of things that occur throughout the Church age, and is thus, instructive for all believers of all time.
It also prepares all Christians for the events that are described in chapters 1 thru 20 (chapters 21 and 22 describe our eternal state in the Eternal Kingdom). Dispensationalism – which teaches that the Church will be raptured before the worldwide tribulation that this book describes – leaves Christians unprepared for that time.
It’s amazing to me that Pre-trib Premillennialists can make the argument that the Church will not go through the “great tribulation,” when Jesus Himself indicates the very opposite in His address to these seven churches. These churches are characterized by persecution and rewards for faithfulness, so how can one make the argument that God would not have the Church go through worldwide persecution and tribulation? Especially when you consider the severe persecution and torture and suffering and death of Christians around the world today.
Christian Persecution: As just talked about, the book of Revelation is also a tribute to every Christian who dies as a martyr for Christ throughout Church history. There’s no doubt that this book is meant to be an encouragement to all Christians who suffer and die for their faith in Christ — no matter what part of history we find ourselves in.
While Christian martyrs of the last days may be seen in Revelation, it doesn’t mean that their martyrdom is any more special than those who suffer and die for Christ at any other time in history. Thus while this book is applicable to all Christians – even those who don’t die for their faith – I believe this book has a special message to Christians who do. Revelation provides encouragement to those individuals by revealing in heavenly detail what awaits them for their faithfulness to Christ.
The Beast; Image of the Beast; Mark of the Beast; False Prophet: I believe the Beast of chapter 13 is the kingdom of darkness, and the image of the Beast is the kingdom of the world. In other words, the kingdom of darkness casts its image upon the world. Or rather, it conforms the world to its own image or likeness. The mark of the Beast is the symbolic mark of identification that identifies unbelievers with the Beast and its image. The False Prophet is the combined powers of Satan’s demonic army, who rule over the Kingdom of darkness.
The Eighth King; Ten-Nation Confederacy: I believe the “eighth king” of Rev 17:11 is the “man of sin” (“man of lawlessness” ) of 2 Thes 2:1-12. He will rise to world power just prior to the return of Christ. I believe the ten-nation confederacy of Rev 17:12-13 is a worldwide alliance of nations that give their support to the “man of sin,” the eighth king. Most proponents of DP identify the ten-nation confederacy as a revived Roman Empire, from which the Beast (Anti-Christ) rules. However, I believe that this is an erroneous and outdated viewpoint. I believe what we will see in the end of days is the dominance of Islam, which would involve the dominance of Muslim leaders and their religion. Of course, there’s no way of knowing for sure, and I don’t take a hard stance on this, but it does look like the world is moving in that direction. Time will tell.
Gog and Magog: Proponents of DP typically reject the idea of Islamic dominance in the end of days because of their interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39. They correctly identify Islamic countries to be among the nations named in those chapters, but that it describes their destruction before the rise of the Beast (Anti-Christ). Thus with the Islamic power out of the way, it would allow the European countries to rise again in the form of a revived Roman empire.
However, I believe a more plausible interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39 is what’s described in Rev 20:7-10. The Apostle John specifically mentions “Gog and Magog” in Rev 20:8, as if to give us a very clear clue that he was referring to the war that’s described in Ezekiel 38 and 39. I think it’s inconceivable that John would mention Gog and Magog in Revelation if he wasn’t talking about the Gog and Magog of those chapters in Ezekiel. Surely he knew that it would cause unnecessary confusion if he wasn’t talking about the same event. We must allow Scripture to interpret Scripture.
Seals/Trumpets/Bowl Judgments: I’m not going to go into any detail about these here. But it’s important going in to understand the time period and how they relate to each other. It’s a disastrous mistake to interpret these seals and trumpets and bowl judgments as being in consecutive order (and don’t overlap), or in a mere seven year period after the Church age, as DP teaches. With that kind of approach, what you get is a confused mess.
Actual Time Period:
Seals 1-5: Throughout Church age.
Seals 6 & 7: End of the Church age.
Trumpets 1-4: Throughout Church age.
Trumpet 5-7: End of the Church age.
Bowl Judgments (plagues): All of them at the end of the Church age. This is the judgment on the world (unbelievers only).
Contrary to Premillennialism, these are not followed by a 1000 year earthly kingdom. In truth, we go directly to the Judgment of Rev 20:11-15, and then into the Eternal Kingdom of Rev 21 and 22.
1000 Years of Revelation 20: The 1000 years of Rev 20:1-10, refer to the Church age — which extends from the first Advent of Christ to His second. I make a strong case for this in this commentary, but let me say this for now:
It seems to me that if this 1000 year period refers to an earthly kingdom where Christ reigns upon His throne, where glorified Saints are dwelling with mortal Saints (along with unbelievers too), there would be some sort of description of it, like what we have regarding the Eternal Kingdom of chapters 21 and 22. But there isn’t anything said about it in the whole NT other than what we have in this passage, in a book that is characterized by symbolism and figurative language. One would think that if there was going to be such a glorious kingdom as this coming to this world, there would be some sort of description of it in the NT.
The fact that there is virtually nothing said about this so-called millennial earthly kingdom in the NT, strongly indicates that there is not such a kingdom to talk about. I think the silence is very telling.
There’s a verse in Revelation that I believe reveals convincingly that there is no earthly millennial kingdom:
Rev 15:1 – And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having seven plagues, which are the last, for in them is finished the wrath of God.
Here we see that God’s wrath is finalized with the outpouring of these plagues upon the world (of unbelievers), which includes the war of Armageddon. This finishes God’s wrath. Yet, Premillennialism teaches that there’s yet another war, one that takes place after the 1000 year kingdom (Rev 20:7-10). Premillennialists teach that this is where Satan gathers all the unbelievers of this earthly kingdom against Christ and His people for one final battle. But how can this be when the Apostle John makes a very clear statement that God’s wrath is finished with the outpouring of the seven bowl judgments, which includes Armageddon (at the return of Christ)? How is it that God’s wrath is displayed against His enemies at Armageddon, but not against His enemies (which includes Satan, His greatest enemy) in Rev 20:7-10?
Either these two wars are the same, or God’s wrath isn’t actually finished at Armageddon (at the return of Christ) like the Apostle John says it is. This is one of the many inconsistencies of Premillennialism.
One must draw the reasonable conclusion that the wars described in Rev 16:12-21, Rev 19:11-21, Rev 20:7-10 all refer to the same battle, and that from there we go directly into the Eternal Kingdom of Rev 21 and 22. As I point out over and over in my series, “Kingdom of Christ Now,” the NT doesn’t allow any room for the type of kingdom that Premillennialism teaches. That idea must be forced into the pages of the NT.
Olivet Discourse: The Olivet Discourse, the prophecy Jesus gave in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 (along with Lu 17:20-37), describes not only the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but events (signs) that occur throughout the Church age. Those chapters serve as a miniature of the book of Revelation, and must be interpreted as occurring throughout the Church age (gospel era, Christian era).
Note: I’ve written a full commentary on the Olivet Discourse, and can be found on this website. I encourage you to read that first, as it provides a solid foundation for interpreting the book of Revelation