Revelation to St. John
The Apocalypse, or Revelation to John, the last book of the Bible, is one of the most difficult to understand because it abounds in unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism, which at best appears unusual to the modern reader. Symbolic language, however, is one of the chief characteristics of apocalyptic literature, of which this book is an outstanding example. Such literature enjoyed wide popularity in both Jewish and Christian circles from ca. 200 B.C. to A.D. 200. This book contains an account of visions in symbolic and allegorical language borrowed extensively from the Old Testament, especially Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Daniel. Whether or not these visions were real experiences of the author or simply literary conventions employed by him is an open question.
The Book of Revelation cannot be adequately understood except against the historical background that occasioned its writing. Like Daniel and other apocalypses, it was composed as resistance literature to meet a crisis. The book itself suggests that the crisis was ruthless persecution of the early church by the Roman authorities; the harlot Babylon symbolizes pagan Rome, the city on seven hills (Rev 17:9). The book is, then, an exhortation and admonition to Christians of the first century to stand firm in the faith and to avoid compromise with paganism, despite the threat of adversity and martyrdom; they are to await patiently the fulfillment of God’s mighty promises. The triumph of God in the world of men and women remains a mystery, to be accepted in faith and longed for in hope. It is a triumph that unfolded in the history of Jesus of Nazareth and continues to unfold in the history of the individual Christian who follows the way of the cross, even, if necessary, to a martyr’s death.
The Book of Revelation had its origin in a time of crisis, but it remains valid and meaningful for Christians of all time. In the face of apparently insuperable evil, either from within or from without, all Christians are called to trust in Jesus’ promise, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). Those who remain steadfast in their faith and confidence in the risen Lord need have no fear. Suffering, persecution, even death by martyrdom, though remaining impenetrable mysteries of evil, do not comprise an absurd dead end. No matter what adversity or sacrifice Christians may endure, they will in the end triumph over Satan and his forces because of their fidelity to Christ the victor. This is the enduring message of the book; it is a message of hope and consolation and challenge for all who dare to believe.
The author of the book calls himself John (Rev 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8), who because of his Christian faith has been exiled to the rocky island of Patmos, a Roman penal colony. Although he never claims to be John the apostle, whose name is attached to the fourth gospel, he was so identified by several of the early church Fathers, including Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Hippolytus. This identification, however, was denied by other Fathers, including Denis of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, and John Chrysostom. Indeed, vocabulary, grammar, and style make it doubtful that the book could have been put into its present form by the same person(s) responsible for the fourth gospel. Nevertheless, there are definite linguistic and theological affinities between the two books. The tone of the letters to the seven churches (Rev 1:4–3:22) is indicative of the great authority the author enjoyed over the Christian communities in Asia. It is possible, therefore, that he was a disciple of John the apostle, who is traditionally associated with that part of the world. The date of the book in its present form is probably near the end of the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81–96), a fierce persecutor of the Christians.
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Revelation to St. John:
The First Vision.
- [1:4] Seven churches in Asia: Asia refers to the Roman province of that name in western Asia Minor (modern Turkey); these representative churches are mentioned by name in Rev 1:11, and each is the recipient of a message (Rev 2:1–3:22). Seven is the biblical number suggesting fullness and completeness; thus the seer is writing for the whole church.
- [1:8] The Alpha and the Omega: the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In Rev 22:13 the same words occur together with the expressions “the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End”; cf. Rev 1:17; 2:8; 21:6; Is 41:4; 44:6.
- [1:9] Island called Patmos: one of the Sporades islands in the Aegean Sea, some fifty miles south of Ephesus, used by the Romans as a penal colony. Because I proclaimed God’s word: literally, “on account of God’s word.”
- [1:10] The Lord’s day: Sunday. As loud as a trumpet: the imagery is derived from the theophany at Sinai (Ex 19:16, 19; cf. Heb 12:19 and the trumpet in other eschatological settings in Is 27:13; Jl 2:1; Mt 24:31; 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thes 4:16).
- [1:14] Hair,as white as white wool or as snow: Christ is eternal, clothed with the dignity that belonged to the “Ancient of Days”; cf. Rev 1:18; Dn 7:9. His eyes were like a fiery flame: Christ is portrayed as all-knowing; cf. Rev 2:23; Ps 7:10; Jer 17:10; and similar expressions in Rev 2:18; 19:12; cf. Dn 10:6.
- [1:16] Seven stars: in the pagan world, Mithras and the Caesars were represented with seven stars in their right hand, symbolizing their universal dominion. A sharp two-edged sword: this refers to the word of God (cf. Eph 6:17; Heb 4:12) that will destroy unrepentant sinners; cf. Rev 2:16; 19:15; Wis 18:15; Is 11:4; 49:2. His face,brightest: this symbolizes the divine majesty of Christ; cf. Rev 10:1; 21:23; Jgs 5:31; Is 60:19; Mt 17:2.
- [1:17] It was an Old Testament belief that for sinful human beings to see God was to die; cf. Ex 19:21; 33:20; Jgs 6:22–23; Is 6:5.
- [1:18] Netherworld: Greek Hades, Hebrew Sheol, the abode of the dead; cf. Rev 20:13–14; Nm 16:33.
- [1:20] Secret meaning: literally, “mystery.” Angels: these are the presiding spirits of the seven churches. Angels were thought to be in charge of the physical world (cf. Rev 7:1; 14:18; 16:5) and of nations (Dn 10:13; 12:1), communities (the seven churches), and individuals (Mt 18:10; Acts 12:15). Some have seen in the “angel” of each of the seven churches its pastor or a personification of the spirit of the congregation.
- [2:1] Ephesus: this great ancient city had a population of ca. 250,000; it was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and the commercial, cultural, and religious center of Asia. The other six churches were located in the same province, situated roughly in a circle; they were selected for geographical reasons rather than for the size of their Christian communities. Walks in the midst of the seven gold lampstands: this signifies that Christ is always present in the church; see note on Rev 1:4.
- [2:13] Satan’s throne: the reference is to emperor worship and other pagan practices that flourished in Pergamum, perhaps specifically to the white marble altar erected and dedicated to Zeus by Eumenes II (197–160 B.C.).
- [2:14–15] Like Balaam, the biblical prototype of the religious compromiser (cf. Nm 25:1–3; 31:16; 2 Pt 2:15; Jude 11), the Nicolaitans in Pergamum and Ephesus (Rev 2:6) accommodated their Christian faith to paganism. They abused the principle of liberty enunciated by Paul (1 Cor 9:19–23).
- [2:20] The scheming and treacherous Jezebel of old (cf. 1 Kgs 19:1–2; 21:1–14; 2 Kgs 9:22, 30–34) introduced pagan customs into the religion of Israel; this new Jezebel was doing the same to Christianity.
- [2:24] The so-called deep secrets of Satan: literally, “the deep things of Satan,” a scathing reference to the perverse teaching of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:15).
- [2:26–28] The Christian who perseveres in faith will share in Christ’s messianic authority (cf. Ps 2:8–9) and resurrection victory over death, symbolized by the morning star; cf. Rev 22:16.
- [3:1] Sardis: this city, located ca. thirty miles southeast of Thyatira, was once the capital of Lydia, known for its wealth at the time of Croesus (6th century B.C.). Its citadel, reputed to be unassailable, was captured by surprise, first by Cyrus and later by Antiochus. The church is therefore warned to be on guard.
- [3:14] Laodicea: ca. forty miles southeast of Philadelphia and ca. eighty miles east of Ephesus, a wealthy industrial and commercial center, with a renowned medical school. It exported fine woolen garments and was famous for its eye salves. It was so wealthy that it was proudly rebuilt without outside aid after the devastating earthquake of A.D. 60/61. The Amen: this is a divine title (cf. Hebrew text of Is 65:16) applied to Christ; cf. 2 Cor 1:20. Source of God’s creation: literally, “the beginning of God’s creation,” a concept found also in Jn 1:3; Col 1:16–17; Heb 1:2; cf. Prv 8:22–31; Wis 9:1–2.
- [3:16] Spit: literally, “vomit.” The image is that of a beverage that should be either hot or cold. Perhaps there is an allusion to the hot springs of Hierapolis across the Lycus river from Laodicea, which would have been lukewarm by the time they reached Laodicea.
- [3:18] Gold,fire: God’s grace. White garments: symbol of an upright life; the city was noted for its violet/purple cloth. Ointment,eyes: to remove spiritual blindness; one of the city’s exports was eye ointment (see note on Rev 3:14).
Vision of Heavenly Worship.
- [4:1–11] The seer now describes a vision of the heavenly court in worship of God enthroned. He reverently avoids naming or describing God but pictures twenty-four elders in priestly and regal attire (Rev 4:4) and God’s throne and its surroundings made of precious gems and other symbols that traditionally express the majesty of God (Rev 4:5–6). Universal creation is represented by the four living creatures (Rev 4:6–7). Along with the twenty-four elders, they praise God unceasingly in humble adoration (Rev 4:8–11).
- [4:1] The ancients viewed heaven as a solid vault, entered by way of actual doors.
- [4:2–8] Much of the imagery here is taken from Ez 1 and 10.
- [4:4] Twenty-four elders: these represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles; cf. Rev 21:12–14.
- [4:5] The seven spirits of God: the seven “angels of the presence” as in Rev 8:2 and Tb 12:15.
- [4:6] A sea of glass like crystal: an image adapted from Ez 1:22–26. Four living creatures: these are symbols taken from Ez 1:5–21; they are identified as cherubim in Ez 10:20. Covered with eyes: these suggest God’s knowledge and concern.
- [4:7] Lion,calf,human being,eagle: these symbolize, respectively, what is noblest, strongest, wisest, and swiftest in creation. Calf: traditionally translated “ox,” the Greek word refers to a heifer or young bull. Since the second century, these four creatures have been used as symbols of the evangelists Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John, respectively.
The Scroll and the Lamb.
- [5:1–14] The seer now describes a papyrus roll in God’s right hand (Rev 5:1) with seven seals indicating the importance of the message. A mighty angel asks who is worthy to open the scroll, i.e., who can accomplish God’s salvific plan (Rev 5:2). There is despair at first when no one in creation can do it (Rev 5:3–4). But the seer is comforted by an elder who tells him that Christ, called the lion of the tribe of Judah, has won the right to open it (Rev 5:5). Christ then appears as a Lamb, coming to receive the scroll from God (Rev 5:6–7), for which he is acclaimed as at a coronation (Rev 5:8–10). This is followed by a doxology of the angels (Rev 5:11–12) and then finally by the heavenly church united with all of creation (Rev 5:13–14).
- [5:1] A scroll: a papyrus roll possibly containing a list of afflictions for sinners (cf. Ez 2:9–10) or God’s plan for the world. Sealed with seven seals: it is totally hidden from all but God. Only the Lamb (Rev 5:7–9) has the right to carry out the divine plan.
- [5:5] The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David: these are the messianic titles applied to Christ to symbolize his victory; cf. Rev 22:16; Gn 49:9; Is 11:1, 10; Mt 1:1.
- [5:6] Christ is the Paschal Lamb without blemish, whose blood saved the new Israel from sin and death; cf. Ex 12; Is 53:7; Jn 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Pt 1:18–19. This is the main title for Christ in Revelation, used twenty-eight times. Seven horns and seven eyes: Christ has the fullness (see note on Rev 1:4) of power (horns) and knowledge (eyes); cf. Zec 4:7. [Seven] spirits: as in Rev 1:4; 3:1; 4:5.
- [5:11] Countless: literally, “100,000,000 plus 1,000,000,” used by the author to express infinity.
The First Six Seals.
- [6:1–17] This chapter provides a symbolic description of the contents of the sealed scroll. The breaking of the first four seals reveals four riders. The first rider (of a white horse) is a conquering power (Rev 6:1–2), the second (red horse) a symbol of bloody war (Rev 6:3–4), the third (black horse) a symbol of famine (Rev 6:5–6), the fourth (pale green horse) a symbol of Death himself, accompanied by Hades (the netherworld) as his page (Rev 6:7–8). Rev 6:8b summarizes the role of all four riders. The breaking of the fifth seal reveals Christian martyrs in an attitude of sacrifice as blood poured out at the foot of an altar begging God for vindication, which will come only when their quota is filled; but they are given a white robe symbolic of victory (Rev 6:9–11). The breaking of the sixth seal reveals typical apocalyptic signs in the sky and the sheer terror of all people at the imminent divine judgment (Rev 6:12–17).
- [6:2] White horse,bow: this may perhaps allude specifically to the Parthians on the eastern border of the Roman empire. Expert in the use of the bow, they constantly harassed the Romans and won a major victory in A.D. 62; see note on Rev 9:13–21. But the Old Testament imagery typifies the history of oppression of God’s people at all times.
- [6:4] Huge sword: this is a symbol of war and violence; cf. Ez 21:14–17.
- [6:5] Black horse: this is a symbol of famine, the usual accompaniment of war in antiquity; cf. Lv 26:26; Ez 4:12–13. The scale is a symbol of shortage of food with a corresponding rise in price.
- [6:6] A day’s pay: literally, “a denarius,” a Roman silver coin that constitutes a day’s wage in Mt 20:2. Because of the famine, food was rationed and sold at an exorbitant price. A liter of flour was considered a day’s ration in the Greek historians Herodotus and Diogenes Laertius. Barley: food of the poor (Jn 6:9, 13; cf. 2 Kgs 7:1, 16, 18); it was also used to feed animals; cf. 1 Kgs 5:8. Do not damage: the olive and the vine are to be used more sparingly in time of famine.
- [6:8] Pale green: symbol of death and decay; cf. Ez 14:21.
- [6:12–14] Symbolic rather than literal description of the cosmic upheavals attending the day of the Lord when the martyrs’ prayer for vindication (Rev 6:10) would be answered; cf. Am 8:8–9; Is 34:4; 50:3; Jl 2:10; 3:3–4; Mt 24:4–36; Mk 13:5–37; Lk 21:8–36.
- [6:12] Dark sackcloth: for mourning, sackcloth was made from the skin of a black goat.
- [6:15] Nobles: literally, “courtiers,” “grandees.” Military officers: literally, “commanders of 1,000 men,” used in Josephus and other Greek authors as the equivalent of the Roman tribunus militum. The listing of various ranks of society represents the universality of terror at the impending doom.
- The 144,000 Sealed.
Triumph of the Elect.
- [7:2] East: literally, “rising of the sun.” The east was considered the source of light and the place of paradise (Gn 2:8). Seal: whatever was marked by the impression of one’s signet ring belonged to that person and was under his protection.
- [7:4–9] One hundred and forty-four thousand: the square of twelve (the number of Israel’s tribes) multiplied by a thousand, symbolic of the new Israel (cf. Rev 14:1–5; Gal 6:16; Jas 1:1) that embraces people from every nation, race, people, and tongue (Rev 7:9).
- [7:5–8] Judah is placed first because of Christ; cf. “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev 5:5). Dan is omitted because of a later tradition that the antichrist would arise from it.
The Seven Trumpets.
The Gold Censer.
The First Four Trumpets.
- [8:3] Altar: there seems to be only one altar in the heavenly temple, corresponding to the altar of holocausts in Rev 6:9, and here to the altar of incense in Jerusalem; cf. also Rev 9:13; 11:1; 14:18; 16:7.
- [8:11] Wormwood: an extremely bitter and malignant plant symbolizing the punishment God inflicts on the ungodly; cf. Jer 9:12–14; 23:15.
- [8:13] Woe! Woe! Woe: each of the three woes pronounced by the angel represents a separate disaster; cf. Rev 9:12; 11:14. The final woe, released by the seventh trumpet blast, includes the plagues of Rev 16.
The Fifth Trumpet.
The Sixth Trumpet.
- [9:1] A star: late Judaism represented fallen powers as stars (Is 14:12–15; Lk 10:18; Jude 13), but a comparison with Rev 1:20 and Rev 20:1 suggests that here it means an angel. The passage to the abyss: referring to Sheol, the netherworld, where Satan and the fallen angels are kept for a thousand years, to be cast afterwards into the pool of fire; cf. Rev 20:7–10. The abyss was conceived of as a vast subterranean cavern full of fire. Its only link with the earth was a kind of passage or mine shaft, which was kept locked.
- [9:11] Abaddon: Hebrew (more precisely, Aramaic) for destruction or ruin. Apollyon: Greek for the “Destroyer.”
- [9:13] [Four]: many Greek manuscripts and versions omit the word. The horns were situated at the four corners of the altar (Ex 27:2; 30:2–3); see note on Rev 8:3.
- [9:14–15] The four angels: they are symbolic of the destructive activity that will be extended throughout the universe.
The Angel with the Small Scroll.
- [10:1–11:14] An interlude in two scenes (Rev 10:1–11 and Rev 11:1–14) precedes the sounding of the seventh trumpet; cf. Rev 7:1–17. The first vision describes an angel astride sea and land like a colossus, with a small scroll open, the contents of which indicate that the end is imminent (Rev 10). The second vision is of the measuring of the temple and of two witnesses, whose martyrdom means that the kingdom of God is about to be inaugurated.
The Two Witnesses.
The Seventh Trumpet.
- [11:1] The temple and altar symbolize the new Israel; see note on Rev 7:4–9. The worshipers represent Christians. The measuring of the temple (cf. Ez 40:3–42:20; 47:1–12; Zec 2:5–6) suggests that God will preserve the faithful remnant (cf. Is 4:2–3) who remain true to Christ (Rev 14:1–5).
- [11:2] The outer court: the Court of the Gentiles. Trample forty-two months: the duration of the vicious persecution of the Jews by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Dn 7:25; 12:7); this persecution of three and a half years (half of seven, counted as 1260 days in Rev 11:3; 12:6) became the prototype of periods of trial for God’s people; cf. Lk 4:25; Jas 5:17. The reference here is to the persecution by the Romans; cf. Introduction.
- [11:3] The two witnesses, wearing sackcloth symbolizing lamentation and repentance, cannot readily be identified. Do they represent Moses and Elijah, or the Law and the Prophets, or Peter and Paul? Most probably they refer to the universal church, especially the Christian martyrs, fulfilling the office of witness (two because of Dt 19:15; cf. Mk 6:7; Jn 8:17).
- [11:4] The two olive trees and the two lampstands: the martyrs who stand in the presence of the Lord; the imagery is taken from Zec 4:8–14, where the olive trees refer to Zerubbabel and Joshua.
- [11:5–6] These details are derived from stories of Moses, who turned water into blood (Ex 7:17–20), and of Elijah, who called down fire from heaven (1 Kgs 18:36–40; 2 Kgs 1:10) and closed up the sky for three years (1 Kgs 17:1; cf. 18:1).
- [11:7] The beast from the abyss: the Roman emperor Nero, who symbolizes the forces of evil, or the antichrist (Rev 13:1, 8; 17:8); cf. Dn 7:2–8, 11–12, 19–22 and Introduction.
- [11:8] The great city: this expression is used constantly in Revelation for Babylon, i.e., Rome; cf. Rev 14:8; 16:19; 17:18; 18:2, 10, 21. “Sodom” and “Egypt”: symbols of immorality (cf. Is 1:10) and oppression of God’s people (cf. Ex 1:11–14). Where indeed their Lord was crucified: not the geographical but the symbolic Jerusalem that rejects God and his witnesses, i.e., Rome, called Babylon in Rev 16–18; see note on Rev 17:9 and Introduction.
- [11:9–12] Over the martyrdom (Rev 11:7) of the two witnesses, now called prophets, the ungodly rejoice for three and a half days, a symbolic period of time; see note on Rev 11:2. Afterwards they go in triumph to heaven, as did Elijah (2 Kgs 2:11).
- [11:13] Seven thousand people: a symbolic sum to represent all social classes (seven) and large numbers (thousands); cf. Introduction.
The Woman and the Dragon.
- [12:1–6] The woman adorned with the sun, the moon, and the stars (images taken from Gn 37:9–10) symbolizes God’s people in the Old and the New Testament. The Israel of old gave birth to the Messiah (Rev 12:5) and then became the new Israel, the church, which suffers persecution by the dragon (Rev 12:6, 13–17); cf. Is 50:1; 66:7; Jer 50:12. It also simultaneously describes Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, the one who will rule with an iron rod.
- [12:3] Huge red dragon: the Devil or Satan (cf. Rev 12:9; 20:2), symbol of the forces of evil, a mythical monster known also as Leviathan (Ps 74:13–14) or Rahab (Jb 26:12–13; Ps 89:11). Seven diadems: these are symbolic of the fullness of the dragon’s sovereignty over the kingdoms of this world; cf. Christ with many diadems (Rev 19:12).
- [12:5] Rule iron rod: fulfilled in Rev 19:15; cf. Ps 2:9. Was caught up to God: reference to Christ’s ascension.
- [12:7–12] Michael, mentioned only here in Revelation, wins a victory over the dragon. A hymn of praise follows.
- [12:7] Michael: the archangel, guardian and champion of Israel; cf. Dn 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9. In Hebrew, the name Michael means “Who can compare with God?”; cf. Rev 13:4.
- [12:9] The ancient serpent: who seduced Eve (Gn 3:1–6), mother of the human race; cf. Rev 20:2; Eph 6:11–12. Was thrown down: allusion to the expulsion of Satan from heaven; cf. Lk 10:18.
- [12:10] The accuser: the meaning of the Hebrew word “Satan,” found in Rev 12:9; Jb 1–2; Zec 3:1; 1 Chr 21:1; he continues to accuse Christ’s disciples.
- [12:14] Great eagle: symbol of the power and swiftness of divine help; cf. Ex 19:4; Dt 32:11; Is 40:31.
- [12:15] The serpent is depicted as the sea monster; cf. Rev 13:1; Is 27:1; Ez 32:2; Ps 74:13–14.
- [12:17] Although the church is protected by God’s special providence (Rev 12:16), the individual Christian is to expect persecution and suffering.
The First Beast.
The Second Beast.
- [13:1–10] This wild beast, combining features of the four beasts in Dn 7:2–28, symbolizes the Roman empire; the seven heads represent the emperors; see notes on Rev 17:10 and Rev 17:12–14. The blasphemous names are the divine titles assumed by the emperors.
- [13:2] Satan (Rev 12:9), the prince of this world (Jn 12:31), commissioned the beast to persecute the church (Rev 13:5–7).
- [13:3] This may be a reference to the popular legend that Nero would come back to life and rule again after his death (which occurred in A.D. 68 from a self-inflicted stab wound in the throat); cf. Rev 13:14; Rev 17:8. Domitian (A.D. 81–96) embodied all the cruelty and impiety of Nero. Cf. Introduction.
- [13:4] Worshiped the beast: allusion to emperor worship, which Domitian insisted upon and ruthlessly enforced. Who can compare with the beast: perhaps a deliberate parody of the name Michael; see note on Rev 12:7.
- [13:5–6] Domitian, like Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Dn 7:8, 11, 25), demanded that he be called by divine titles such as “our lord and god” and “Jupiter.” See note on Rev 11:2.
- [13:5] Forty-two months: this is the same duration as the profanation of the holy city (Rev 11:2), the prophetic mission of the two witnesses (Rev 11:3), and the retreat of the woman into the desert (Rev 12:6, 14).
- [13:11–18] The second beast is described in terms of the false prophets (cf. Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10) who accompany the false messiahs (the first beast); cf. Mt 24:24; Mk 13:22; 2 Thes 2:9; cf. also Dt 13:2–4. Christians had either to worship the emperor and his image or to suffer martyrdom.
- [13:18] Each of the letters of the alphabet in Hebrew as well as in Greek has a numerical value. Many possible combinations of letters will add up to 666, and many candidates have been nominated for this infamous number. The most likely is the emperor Caesar Nero (see note on Rev 13:3), the Greek form of whose name in Hebrew letters gives the required sum. (The Latin form of this name equals 616, which is the reading of a few manuscripts.) Nero personifies the emperors who viciously persecuted the church. It has also been observed that “6” represents imperfection, falling short of the perfect number “7,” and is represented here in a triple or superlative form.
The Lamb’s Companions.
The Three Angels.
The Harvest of the Earth.
* [14:1] Mount Zion: in Jerusalem, the traditional place where the true remnant, the Israel of faith, is to be gathered in the messianic reign; cf. 2 Kgs 19:30–31; Jl 3:5; Ob 17; Mi 4:6–8; Zep 3:12–20. A hundred and forty-four thousand: see note on Rev 7:4–9. His Father’s name,foreheads: in contrast to the pagans who were marked with the name or number of the beast (Rev 13:16–17).
* [14:10–11] The wine of God’s fury: image taken from Is 51:17; Jer 25:15–16; 49:12; 51:7; Ez 23:31–34. Eternal punishment in the fiery pool of burning sulfur (or “fire and brimstone”; cf. Gn 19:24) is also reserved for the Devil, the beast, and the false prophet (Rev 19:20; 20:10; 21:8).
* [14:12] In addition to faith in Jesus, the seer insists upon the necessity and value of works, as in Rev 2:23; 20:12–13; 22:12; cf. Mt 16:27; Rom 2:6.
The Seven Last Plagues.
- [15:1–4] A vision of the victorious martyrs precedes the vision of woe in Rev 15:5–16:21; cf. Rev 7:9–12.
- [15:2] Mingled with fire: fire symbolizes the sanctity involved in facing God, reflected in the trials that have prepared the victorious Christians or in God’s wrath.
- [15:3] The song of Moses: the song that Moses and the Israelites sang after their escape from the oppression of Egypt (Ex 15:1–18). The martyrs have escaped from the oppression of the Devil. Nations: many other Greek manuscripts and versions read “ages.”
The Seven Bowls.
- [16:10] The throne of the beast: symbol of the forces of evil. Darkness: like the ninth Egyptian plague (Ex 10:21–23); cf. Rev 9:2.
- [16:12] The kings of the East: Parthians; see notes on Rev 6:2 and Rev 17:12–13. East: literally, “rising of the sun,” as in Rev 7:2.
- [16:16] Armageddon: in Hebrew, this means “Mountain of Megiddo.” Since Megiddo was the scene of many decisive battles in antiquity (Jgs 5:19–20; 2 Kgs 9:27; 2 Chr 35:20–24), the town became the symbol of the final disastrous rout of the forces of evil.
- [16:19] The great city: Rome and the empire.
Babylon the Great.
- [17:1–6] Babylon, the symbolic name (Rev 17:5) of Rome, is graphically described as “the great harlot.”
- [17:3] Scarlet beast: see note on Rev 13:1–10. Blasphemous names: divine titles assumed by the Roman emperors; see note on Rev 13:5–6.[17:6] Reference to the great wealth and idolatrous cults of Rome.
- [17:8] Allusion to the belief that the dead Nero would return to power (Rev 17:11); see note on Rev 13:3.
- [17:10] There is little agreement as to the identity of the Roman emperors alluded to here. The number seven (Rev 17:9) suggests that all the emperors are meant; see note on Rev 1:4.
- [17:11] The beast: Nero; see note on Rev 17:8.
- [17:12–13] Ten kings who have not yet been crowned: perhaps Parthian satraps who are to accompany the revived Nero (the beast) in his march on Rome to regain power; see note on Rev 13:3. In Rev 19:11–21, the Lamb and his companions will conquer them.
- [17:16–18] The ten horns: the ten pagan kings (Rev 17:12) who unwittingly fulfill God’s will against harlot Rome, the great city; cf. Ez 16:37.
The Fall of Babylon.
and all who have been slain on the earth.”
- [18:1–19:4] A stirring dirge over the fall of Babylon-Rome. The perspective is prophetic, as if the fall of Rome had already taken place. The imagery here, as elsewhere in this book, is not to be taken literally. The vindictiveness of some of the language, borrowed from the scathing Old Testament prophecies against Babylon, Tyre, and Nineveh (Is 23; 24; 27; Jer 50–51; Ez 26–27), is meant to portray symbolically the inexorable demands of God’s holiness and justice; cf. Introduction. The section concludes with a joyous canticle on the future glory of heaven.
- [18:2] Many Greek manuscripts and versions omit a cage for every unclean,beast.
- [18:3–24] Rome is condemned for her immorality, symbol of idolatry (see note on Rev 14:4), and for persecuting the church; cf. Rev 19:2.
- [18:4] Depart from her: not evacuation of the city but separation from sinners, as always in apocalyptic literature.
- [18:11] Ironically, the merchants weep not so much for Babylon-Rome, but for their lost markets; cf. Ez 27:36.
- [18:13] Spice: an unidentified spice plant called in Greek amōmon.
The Victory Song.
The King of Kings.
- [19:1, 3, 4, 6] Alleluia: found only here in the New Testament, this frequent exclamation of praise in the Hebrew psalms was important in Jewish liturgy.
- [19:7] The wedding day of the Lamb: symbol of God’s reign about to begin (Rev 21:1–22:5); see note on Rev 10:7. His bride: the church; cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:22–27. Marriage is one of the biblical metaphors used to describe the covenant relationship between God and his people; cf. Hos 2:16–22; Is 54:5–6; 62:5; Ez 16:6–14. Hence, idolatry and apostasy are viewed as adultery and harlotry (Hos 2:4–15; Ez 16:15–63); see note on Rev 14:4.
- [19:12] A name: in Semitic thought, the name conveyed the reality of the person; cf. Mt 11:27; Lk 10:22.
- [19:20] Beast,false prophet: see notes on Rev 13. The fiery pool,sulfur: symbol of God’s punishment (Rev 14:10; 20:10, 14–15), different from the abyss; see note on Rev 9:1.
The Thousand-year Reign.
The Large White Throne.
- [20:8] Gog and Magog: symbols of all pagan nations; the names are taken from Ez 38:1–39:20.
- [20:9] The breadth of the earth: Palestine. The beloved city: Jerusalem
- [20:11–15] A description of the final judgment. After the intermediate reign of Christ, all the dead are raised and judged, thus inaugurating the new age.
- [20:13] Hades: the netherworld; see note on Rev 1:18.
The New Heaven and the New Earth.
The New Jerusalem.
- [21:1–22:5] A description of God’s eternal kingdom in heaven under the symbols of a new heaven and a new earth; cf. Is 65:17–25; 66:22; Mt 19:28.
- [21:1] Sea,no more: because as home of the dragon it was doomed to disappear; cf. Jb 7:12.
- [21:2] New Jerusalem,bride: symbol of the church (Gal 4:26); see note on Rev 19:7.
- [22:16] The root,of David: see note on Rev 5:5. Morning star: see note on Rev 2:26–28.
- [22:20] Come, Lord Jesus: a liturgical refrain, similar to the Aramaic expression Marana tha—“Our Lord, come!”—in 1 Cor 16:22; cf. note there. It was a prayer for the coming of Christ in glory at the parousia; see note on Rev 1:3