SYNOPSIS – Revelation moves inexorably from the Death and Resurrection of Jesus to the Great Dénouement, the final day when God judges the wicked and vindicates the righteous.
At the conclusion of his ‘Olivet Discourse,’ Jesus presented the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. On the day when the “Son of Man arrives in his glory,” his angels will gather all the nations before him for judgment – They will be divided into two groups, just as the shepherd of a flock separates the “sheep” from the “goats.” The latter will “depart into everlasting destruction,” but the former “into everlasting life.”
All the men and women who served Jesus by emulating his life of self-sacrificial service will find themselves standing at his “right hand.” All the others will be sent to his “left” to hear his dreaded words – “Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire, which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels.” But to the “sheep” who followed him “wherever he went” he will declare – “Come ye blessed of my Father! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” – (Matthew 25:31-46).
The book of Revelation makes no direct use of this parable. However, its visions reflect the same outlook – With the Death, Resurrection and Exaltation of Jesus, the process of sifting humanity began and is now continuing until all mankind is divided into two groups – Those who follow the “Lamb,” “tabernacle in heaven,” and have his Father’s name “written on their foreheads,” or those who render homage to the “Dragon,” are the “inhabitants of the earth,” and are “branded” with the “mark of the Beast.” There is no third alternative – No neutral middle ground.
The redemptive process began with the execution of an (apparently) impotent messianic pretender by the mighty Roman empire, that is, the “slain Lamb,” the true “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” – (Revelation 5:6-12).
Likewise, the marginalized and impoverished Christian congregations scattered among the cities of Asia were no threat to the World-Power of their day.
But this tiny movement was only the beginning of the reign of the Lamb, a process that would continue throughout the present age and culminate in his dominion over the entire Cosmos and the total subjugation of all his enemies.
Despite this day of small beginnings, the “faithful witness” given by Jesus in his sacrificial death meant his resurrection from the dead, the “firstborn of the dead,” and his exaltation to reign on the Throne of God. Jesus is the promised messianic “son” appointed to rule the nations – Already, after his resurrection, he was declared the “Ruler of the kings of the earth.” Already, he is even “shepherding the nations” to achieve their redemption and residence in the “city of New Jerusalem” – (Psalm 2:1-9, Revelation 1:4-6, 12:5).
However small the churches of Asia may have been in John’s day, by the end of the age, the present reign of the Lamb will produce a vast “innumerable multitude” of men and women “purchased from every nation,” a redeemed company that will “stand” triumphant before the Lamb and the Throne in the New Creation – (Revelation 7:9-17).
In the book of Revelation, the redeemed company of “saints” is comprised of men and women from every nation, people, language, and tribe. Likewise, the “inhabitants of the earth” also include men and women from every nation and ethnic group. Membership in either group is NOT determined by ethnicity, nationality, wealth, or social status, but by whether one “follows the Lamb wherever he goes” or renders homage to the “Dragon” by taking the “mark” of its earthly vassal, the “Beast.”
An individual can move from one group to the other by changing his or her allegiance. For example, although the “kings of the earth” are predominately hostile to the Lamb throughout much of the book, at least some of them are found later enjoying the glories of “New Jerusalem.” The final settlement of accounts does not occur until the final “day” and “hour,” ultimately, when all humanity stands before the “Great White Throne of Judgement” – (Revelation 21:24).
Thus, for example, the Risen Jesus warned the Church at Sardis to repent and remain ever vigilant, otherwise, “I will come like a thief, and in nowise will you know in what hour I will come upon you”- (Revelation 3:1-3).
To the faithful saints in Philadelphia, Jesus promised to keep them from the “hour of trial” that was going to come upon the “whole habitable earth” – (Revelation 3:10).
The opening of the sixth seal by the “Lamb” revealed the final “day of wrath,” nothing less than the long-awaited (and dreaded) “Day of the Lord” when the “stars of heaven fell to the earth, and the heavens were withdrawn as a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island were shaken out of their place.” It will be the “great day of the wrath” of the Lamb and the One Who Sits on the Throne, “and who will be able to stand?” – (Revelation 6:12-17).
When the sixth trumpet sounded, the “second woe,” four angels were released who were “prepared for the hour and day and month and year” to unleash final forces that would kill a third of mankind – (Revelation 9:14-15). Similarly, when the sixth bowl of wrath was poured out the “kings of the earth” were gathered by demonic spirits to the battle of the “great day of God Almighty” – (Revelation 16:12-16).
In the same “hour” in which God resurrected the “Two Witnesses,” a great earthquake destroyed a tenth of “Babylon” in anticipation of the imminent judgment announced by the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the “set time for the dead to be vindicated, and to give their reward to your servants the prophets, and to the saints, and to them who revere thy name—the small and the great—and to despoil them who were despoiling the earth” – (Revelation 11:11-19).
In Chapter 14, an angel proclaimed: “The hour of his judgment has come.” The arrival of this last “hour” will mean the fall of end-time “Babylon” and the final destruction of all men and women who rendered homage to the “Beast.” And this “hour” will culminate in two “harvests” – (“For the harvest of the earth is ripe”) – The “reaping” of all the righteous who were prefigured in the “firstfruits” of the 144,000 undefiled priests standing on “Zion,” but also in the final “ingathering” of the fruit of the “vine of the earth” to be cast into the “winepress of the wrath of God” – (Revelation 14:1-20).
In the vision of the destruction of the “Great Whore, Babylon,” her judgment arrives “in one hour.” Likewise, she will be “laid waste in one hour” – (Revelation 18:10, 18:17-19).
Each of the three sevenfold series of seals, trumpets and “bowls of wrath” culminates in a scene of final judgment of the wicked. Thus, the sixth seal opening produces the “Day of the Lord,” the day of the “wrath” against the unrepentant and the disruption of the present created order in preparation for the arrival of “New Jerusalem from heaven.” The seven seal results in judgment being “cast onto the inhabitants of the earth,” followed by “claps of thundering, loud voices, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” – (Revelation 6:12-17, 8:1-6).
The sounding of the seventh trumpet means nothing less than the consummation of God’s kingdom, the day of the judgment for the wicked and vindication for the righteous, with all this followed by “flashes of lightning, loud voices, claps of thundering, an earthquake, and great hail” – (Revelation 11:15-19).
And the emptying of the last and seventh “bowl of wrath” causes a voice from before he Throne to declare, “It is finished!” The completion of the “seven bowls of wrath” causes the “cities of the nations” to fall and “Babylon the Great” to drink the cup filled with the “fury of the wrath of God.” The series of seven bowls ends with “flashes of lightning, loud voices, claps of thunder, and a great earthquake,” plus “great hail like talents descending out of heaven upon mankind.” Like the sixth seal opening, “every island fled, and the mountains were not found” – The old creation reaches its inevitable end – (Revelation 16:17-21).
The book of Revelation is about far more than just history’s final few years, the “Great Tribulation,” or the nation of Israel. Its vision provides a broad prophetic sweep that begins with the past Death and resurrection of Jesus, presents a graphic picture of his present reign on the messianic Throne, with all events moving forward like a rushing river to a single point at the end of the age – The day on which all God’s enemies are destroyed, the wicked are judged, the righteous are rewarded, the old Creation is replaced by the “new heavens and earth.”
All this is the outworking of God’s redemptive plan put into motion by the self-sacrificial death of the Lamb. Jesus is the “alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end,” the “firstborn of the dead” and the “beginning of the (new) creation.” Just as his first coming set all this in motion, so his future arrival will consummate all things. This is why the book concludes with the exclamation – “Yea! I come speedily. Amen! come, Lord Jesus!”