Part I of this series established the background and time period of Revelation as the first century A.D., the generation which Christ said would not pass until all was fulfilled. (Matt. 22:36, 24:34) Therefore, the events of Revelation “which must shortly come to pass” and which were “at hand” all occurred in that same century and generation in which the book was written.
(See also Parts I – X of It’s Not The End of The World series at the right margin for the overwhelming scriptural evidences of the time of His coming.)
Revelation 1:1 tells us that it was “signified.” The definition in Strong’s is indicated, or to give a sign; or to communicate, or to make known. Revelation is a book of prophesy of judgment with visions of glory and destruction, and we must expect to encounter the signs and visions of judgment language as was previously used by God in the Old Testament (OT).
When we recognize these words and phrases from the OT, we will find that the entire book is straight out of the OT, and parallels Ezekiel. The subject of Ezekiel was the judgment and destruction of Jerusalem. (See more details about the judgment language of God in the previous posts Parts II & III of “It’s Not The End of The World.”)
Rev. 1:1-3, ” The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: 2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” (KJV)
The first three verses identify the author / source of the book, the line of authority / chain of command from God to the angel / messenger and then to John. It establishes the time frame for the events, and that the apostle John, a servant of Christ was to send it the seven churches. So, John wrote it in signs and symbols, and either sent it to the seven churches, or took it himself as Rev.10:11 may imply.
If it was not John himself, then whichever messenger read it to the assemblies still would have had the gift of the Holy Spirit as had been poured out on the day of Pentecost, and was still in effect for that generation. They were able to show the churches / assemblies what the signs and visions meant.
The seven churches were located in and surrounded the capital city of Asia Minor, the “seat of Satan” in Pergamos (var. Pergamum) (Rev. 2:13.) The “seat of Satan” was a reference to the center of idolatry, as Pergamos practiced sun worship, which originated from Babylonian idolatry, and their priestsused the same vestments and title of “pontiff.”
Their people were called “The Temple-keepers of Asia.” They had several gods, the chief of which was Zeus. The last leader of Pergamum gifted his title of Pontifex Maximus to Rome in 133 BC. The rulers and emperors of Rome used the title until 382 AD, when Emperor Gratian refused it as being un-Christian. But, it is interesting to note that it is still used today by the Pope.
The seven churches of Asia had to be strong, and fight to resist temptation, to remain faithful to Christ, and not mix with pagan idolatry. That was one of the reasons for the constant encouragement in all of the letters of the apostles / disciples for the people to continue in their belief in the Lord and the gospel of Christ.
Today, most Christians are told that they do not have to study the OT; some say that as we are under the New Testament (NT) of Christ, then the OT is not necessary for us to know. This is sheer nonsense as the NT is from the OT. The NT is the OT revealed.
Because of this, many do not have the background knowledge of the OT, nor of the daily life of the people of the first century A.D. They try to read Revelation, and are at a disadvantage, and unable to correctly associate the visions and signs of the prophesy.
Revelation was coded in the sense that if the reader did not understand the Hebrew OT, then they would not be able to understand Revelation. So, we need to study the OT in order to define and decode some of the terms with which the first century Christians were very familiar. Let’s start with the natural or inanimate symbols first.
1. Earth – in Revelation it is the land of Judah, or the Jews who lived there. In the Old Testament, it was the land or people under judgment, which often was the land of Israel and Judah. God formed man from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7). The prophets spoke to Israel of old calling them “earth.” (Deu. 32:1; Jer. 6:19; Jer. 17:13; Jer. 22:29; Jer. 33:15)
Rev. 1:7 the “tribes of the land” refers to the tribes of Israel. Rev. 6:4, 6, and 8 again refers to the people of the land under judgment… those were the Jews. Rev. 13:11-12, the land beast is the Jewish persecutors, the people of the land were those of Judah, the Jews.
The earth and the land in the prophesy is not just any earth or land, nor is it representing the whole of the earth. It is specifically directed to those that were under judgment, which were those who were in Jerusalem and Judah.
See the previous post “Heaven and Earth Have Passed Away” for more scriptural evidence of the symbolic use of the words “heaven” and “earth.”
Rev. 17:18 refers to the woman and great city that reigns over the kings of the earth / land. This “earth” then is restricted to a particular reign and a specific region… that of the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem and Judah. The woman and the great city were the same – Jerusalem. See the previous post, “The Whore of Babylon.”
2. Sea – as used in much of Revelation represented the ruling powers outside of Jerusalem, and the nations of the world outside of Judah and Palestine. Rome, which governed Judah, was across the Mediterranean sea from Jerusalem. The sea symbolized the Gentile governing states and the ruling powers, as opposed to the “earth” which represented Judah and Jerusalem.
As the subject matter of Revelation was the destruction of Jerusalem, the ruling power associated with that time was the Roman empire and the king of the Romans, or Caesar. So, Rev. 13:1 has the beast rising up out of the sea which represents the power of the Roman empire coming across the Mediterranean against Judah.
And, in Rev. 21:1 after the war is over, and the new heavens and new earth covenant are in place, there is no more sea. This is possibly referring to the rule of Christ over all nations on earth, the fulfillment of both Is. 2:2 and Micah 4:1-2 where all nations now flow into the spiritual temple of God. So no more sea, no more gentile or foreign nations. All nations are called and are welcome to come to God. (See previous post, “Micah’s Prophesy – No More War?”)
In other verses, the sea is a sea of glass in Chapter 4 where the four living creatures stand before God before the seals are opened. In Chapt.5, v.13 “sea” is part of the creation under all of God’s rule. Again in Rev. 15: 2-3, the sea of glass is mingled with fire. Moses saw it as a clear, sapphire pavement. (Ex. 24:10) Ezekiel saw it as the firmament (Ez. 1:22) The throne scene of Rev. 4 mirrors Ezekiel 1:22-28. The crystal sea is reflecting God’s glorious light, and the light of His Son. A study of the “sapphire pavement” is most interesting.
In Rev. 20:13 the sea, or Gentile nations gave up the dead which were in them.
3. Heaven(s) – in judgment language it speaks of the governing dominion, palaces and abodes of the world rulers. In speaking of the judgment against Israel and Judah, Isaiah refers to the light of their heavens becoming dark. (Is. 5:30) Their heavens were their ruling authorities, and the land / kingdom over which they ruled.
Is. 13:1-5 told of God bringing a kingdom against Babylon “from a far country, from the end of heaven…to destroy the whole land.” Here, “the end of heaven” referred to the border ends of the kingdom of Babylon. Babylon’s rule and kingdom was a heaven that was going to be thrown down and destroyed.
Is. 13:10, “the stars of heaven” meant the princes and ruling authorities of Babylon. Is. 13:13 said that God was going to “shake the heavens” and remove the “earth” that is Babylon out of her place.
Is. 14:12 still speaking of the king of Babylon – possibly Nebuchadnezzar, but most probably his grandson, Belshazzar – “fallen from heaven” means he was removed from power and no longer ruled. The name “Lucifer, son of the morning” was referring to the king of Babylon.
Ez. 32:7, in speaking in judgment of the Pharaoh of Egypt:
“And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light.”
Egypt’s rule and kingdom would be hidden, overturned, and destroyed.
Jer. 4:28, telling the judgment to come upon Jerusalem:
” For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black; because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it.”
The earth was the land, and the people of the land; the heavens were the men who ruled, the Jewish hierarchy, the Sanhedrin Council and priests, their palaces and abodes.
The rulers of a nation lived in higher authority, power, and luxury over the people of the land. Their palaces and their kingdoms were referred to as heavenly places. This is the same reference meant in Eph. 3:10:
“ To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,”
The earthly kings and kingdoms were also called heavenly because it was God who raised them up, allowed them their power and rule. See Ex. 9:16; Judges 2:16, 18; 2 Sam. 23:1; Is. 41:2, 25; Is. 45:13; Jer. 51:11, and many others.
Rev. 12:1 use of “the great wonder in heaven” referred to the Jewish authority and rule of Judah. The woman clothed with the sun was the Israel of old who was pregnant with Christ and His church, born in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, with the “moon at her feet” (that is the old Mosaic assembly of Israel), and the twelve stars in her crown (the apostles of the newly born church of Christ)
But, we have to be careful to stay with the context of the scripture to know which heaven is referenced. We see in Rev. 12:7, “there was war in heaven” with Michael and his angels fighting the dragon and his angels… this depicts the war between Rome and Judah… and both rulers / authorities were occupying “heavens” in their sphere of power. (We will discuss Michael and the dragon more in a future part of this series.)
4. Sun – a king or most powerful ruler of a world government. Again, we must use the context / subject matter of the scripture to determine which king is meant.
The shining sun is used to describe Christ in Rev. 1:16; 10:1; 12:1; 19:17. The sun going down, darkened or failing to shine is loss of power and / or removal of an earthly king: Rev. 6:12; 7:16; 8:12; 9:2, Matt. 24:29, etc. Refer again to Is. 13:10; Ez. 32:7; Joel 3:15; Mark 13:24;
5. Moon – a lesser ruling power, a queen, prince or governor. Shining showed a position of power; darkened or not giving its light was a symbol of removal from power and government. 24:29; Rev. 6:12; 8:12.
The moon was made on the fourth day of creation (Gen. 1:17-18) as the lesser light to rule the night, for signs and for seasons. The Israelites counted days and months by the moon, which the priests determined from the new moon. The feasts of the Lord were seasonal, and determined from the new moon. The moon at the feet of the woman in Rev. 8:12 also denotes the waning of old Israel, the old Mosaic system, and the old heaven and earth covenant.
We recall again Joseph’s dream where the moon represented his mother, Rachel (Gen 37:9-11). Israel was often represented in the OT as a woman / wife, therefore of the moon’s lesser light. (Is. 54:1-6; Jer. 3:20; Ez. 16:8-14; Hos. 2:19-20).
6. Falling Stars – of Rev. 6:13; 8:12, 12:4 represented the Israelites/ Jews.
Many believe the stars always refer to angels, and they might well do in the couplet of Job 38:7. But, they were more often used as a metaphor for the lesser ruling powers under a king or queen, such as princes.
They were used more definitely as Joseph’s brothers in his dream of Gen. 37:9, who were all the sons of Israel. In his dream, the stars were the children of the sun (his father) and the moon (his mother). So, in prophesy the stars many times stood for the sons of, the tribes of Israel.
We can see this in Is. 14:13 where the king of Babylon was trying to reach unto heaven, that is trying to be king of the world, and God’s equal, he aspired to rise above the favored children of Israel calling them the “stars of God.”
Stars may also at times refer to lesser states or provinces of a worldly kingdom as in Ez. 32:7 where Ezekiel prophesied the fall of Egypt (from YLT):
“And in quenching thee I have covered the heavens,” – the fall of the empire
“And have made black their stars,” – removed the power of her independent states
The sun with a cloud I do cover,” – the sun was the king, removed from power / rule
“And the moon causeth not its light to shine.” – the queen or a prince no longer rules
In Dan. 8:9-10 the “little horn” was attacking the “pleasant land,” Judah, and caused the fall of the “host of heaven” which was the Jewish hierarchy, and trampled the “stars” by which was meant the lesser powers of the priests and Levites.
This directly relates to Jesus’ warning in Matt. 24:29 where told His disciples:
“`And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from the heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken;” (YLT)
Again the sun, moon, and stars represented the entire Jewish hierarchy, the Chief Priest, and the Sanhedrin, and all the people of Israel / Judah. Shaking the heavens meant the overturn of their national existence, and destruction of their power.
Daniel 12:7, “…`After a time, times, and a half, and at the completion of the scattering of the power of the holy people, finished are all these.’ (YLT)
Daniel was told that the end of the “wonders”, the end of the prophesy was when the power of the holy people – the Jews – had been scattered. Their power was scattered at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Therefore, in Rev. 6:13, 8:12, and 12:4 the stars that fell to earth were the Jews, and it meant the removal of their position as God’s chosen people, and destruction of their entire nation / government.
7. Trees – the chiefs of the nation of Judah, or their nobles.
Dan. 4:10-11 the tree that grows in the midst of the earth was King Nebuchadnezzar and represented the power he had over the land of his kingdom. In that instance, the “earth” represented the land over which Nebuchadnezzar ruled.
Trees were used in the OT to represent mighty men, men of power, or those established in His law. (Ez. 17:22-24; Ez. 31:3; Jer. 17:7-8; Psa. 1:3, etc)
Hewing down a tree was cutting off the king, or a downfall of a nation. Jesus told the Jews in Matt. 3:10 that the axe was already laid to the root of the tree, specifically meaning the fall and destruction of Jerusalem.
Is. 61:3, “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”
Rev. 22:2, the tree of life possibly alludes to Gen. 2:9. Also, Christ, the gospel of Christ, and the twelve apostles. Wisdom and understanding is the “tree of life” in Prov. 3:18. See also Prov. 11:30; 13:12; 15:4; .
8. Grass – the common folk, the ordinary people. 1 Pet. 1:24, “ because all flesh [is] as grass, and all glory of man as flower of grass; wither did the grass, and the flower of it fell away,” (YLT) Also Psa. 37:1-2; Psa. 103:15; 129:6.
9. Earthquakes – a shaking of the earthly powers and nations. Mountains and hills being moved out of their place was a change in the nation rule and government. When God shakes the earth He is causing a change in, and overturning the world governments. Rev. 8:5; 11:13; 11:19; 16:18; Is. 2:19; 29:6; Job 38:13; Psa 18:7; Is. 13:13, etc.
10. Thunder, and Lightning – the voice of God; pronouncements from God, or the voices of the angels pronouncing His appearance and judgments.
Psa. 29:3-5, “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters. 4 The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. 5 The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.” (KJV)
The throne scene of Rev. 4:5 recalls the image of the people trembling in fear at the base of Mt. Sinai in Ex. 19:16, 20:18-19 while witnessing the sound effects of God’s appearance upon the mount.
Ex.19:16, “ And it cometh to pass, on the third day, while it is morning, that there are voices, and lightnings, and a heavy cloud, on the mount, and the sound of a trumpet very strong; and all the people who [are] in the camp do tremble.” (YLT)
Where Young’s has voices, the KJV has thunder. The thundering voices on Mt. Sinai could have been the angelic voices announcing God’s coming and appearance, much as a bailiff announces a judge entering a courtroom. See also the seven thunders in Rev. 10:3-4.
1 Sam. 2:10, “The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them:…” (KJV)
2 Sam. 22:14, “The Lord thundered from heaven, and the most High uttered his voice.”
See also Job 37:4-5; 40:9; Psa. 18:13; 77:18; 104:7; Is. 29:6; Rev. 14:2; 16:18; 19:6.
11. Air – the sphere of life and influence of worldly rulers and powers. Eph. 2:1-2; 3:10; 6:12. See more complete discussion in the previous post “The God of This World, and The Prince of The Power of The Air.”.
Rev. 9:2 speaks of the air being darkened by the smoke of the bottomless pit, while 16:17 shows the seventh angel pouring his vial out into the air. The meaning is the coming of evil from the sphere of the worldly powers who were working with Satan against Christ and his saints. .
12. Rivers, Fountains of Waters – life giving; the lifeline of the commercial activity of the kingdoms of Rome, and their connection to Judah / Jerusalem. Where the third angel of Rev. 8:10, and 16:4 are despoiling the rivers and waters, he is cutting off the life of the people and their commerce. Also an allusion to the plague of Egypt in Ex. 7:19.
Rev. 7:17, The Lamb, Christ provides the living fountains of waters. He is the source.
John 7:38, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”
No living thing can exist without water. Christ and His gospel provides our living water. That Jerusalem and Judea was cut off from the waters meant they had rejected the gospel of Christ, they had rejected the Messiah and were facing the judgment of death and destruction. See Is. 50:2; Ez. 29:10; 30:12; Joel 1:20; 3:18; Nah. 1:4, etc.
There are many more signs and symbols of the visions in Revelation, and much more is inferred and connected to Old Testament prophesy than I have shown here. But, I hope to have shown enough to identify with some certainty their origin from the Old Testament and their intended meaning within the scriptures.
Part III will discuss some of the symbols of the colors and numbers.
Recommend reading, if you have not already done so, the previous posts for “The Whore of Babylon”, “The Beast of Revelation”, “The Thousand Year Reign of Rev. 20…”, “The Seventy Weeks of Dan. Chap. 9” and others at the right margin.
Also The Book of Revelation by Foy E. Wallace, Jr. – here.
Adam Clarke’s Commentary on both Daniel and Revelation – here.
The Symbolism in the Book of Revelation by Mike Blume – here.
The Background of Pergamos – here
Sources: The KJV and Young’s Literal Translation (YLT). All bold emphasis is mine.