Introducing The Keller Center
The Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics helps Christians show unbelievers the truth, goodness, and beauty of the gospel as the only hope that fulfills our deepest longings. Help train Christians to boldly share the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that clearly communicates to this secular age.
The opening phrase, “the Revelation of Jesus Christ,” serves as a summary and title for the final book of the biblical canon. John receives a vision of the risen Lord and writes an urgent and enduring message for the churches to hear and heed. Revelation summons believers to worship the one true God, to hold fast to God’s trustworthy words, to resist moral compromise, spiritual complacency, and false teaching, and to wait well for the imminent coming of King Jesus.
Genre: What Is Revelation?
The initial verses indicate that Revelation combines features of three genres: apocalypse, prophecy, and letter.
First, this book is an apocalypse or revelation. The opening word apokalypsis in Greek refers to divine revelation of mysteries previously hidden (cf. Rom 16:25–26; Dan 2:28–29). This word also links Revelation with Jewish and Christian writings that scholars call apocalypses, including portions of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and especially Daniel 7–12. These apocalypses aim to encourage and comfort readers during distress or following disaster and also to challenge them to adopt a new perspective and lifestyle in the present in light of heavenly realities and the coming judgment and salvation.
Second, Revelation is a book of Christian prophecy whose message is trustworthy and true and must not be distorted (1:3; cf. 22:6–7, 10, 18–19). Revelation, like OT prophecy, not only foretells future events but also tells forth God’s Word for God’s people now. John is a true prophet who receives revelation “in the Spirit” (1:10–11; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10; cf. Ezek 3:12; 11:24) and writes what he sees and hears (1:10–11, 19; cf. Jer 30:2; Hab 2:2).
Finally, Revelation is a circular letter written to seven churches in Asia Minor (1:4, 11). 1:4–6 includes features typical of NT letter openings: author (“John”), recipients (“to the seven churches”), and greeting (“grace and peace”; cf. 1Thess 1:1). The book closes with a “grace” benediction like those concluding many NT letters (22:21; cf. Eph 6:24; 2Thess 3:18; Titus 3:15; Heb 13:25). This epistolary form situates Revelation within a wider Christian tradition of authoritative letters that are read aloud in corporate worship and written to instruct and edify believers. Like Elijah and Jeremiah, John writes letters to communicate his prophetic message of judgment and comfort.
Thus, Revelation presents itself as an apocalyptic prophecy in the form of a circular letter.
Author: Who Wrote Revelation?
The author of Revelation refers to himself as “John” four times (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8). He introduces himself as God’s “servant” (1:1) and “your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus,” explaining that he is exiled on the island of Patmos because of his testimony (1:9). He receives divine visions “in the Spirit” and writes as a true prophet (1:10–11). “John” is not a pseudonym but the real name of a leader well known to the seven churches in Asia (1:4, 9; see map). Critical scholars commonly argue that this “John” is not the apostle John, and they typically reason that the same apostolic author could not be responsible for both the Gospel of John and Revelation because of perceived differences in their theological emphases and style (first noted by Dionysius in the third century). However, the consistent testimony of the early church from the second century onward is that “John” is “one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him” (citing Justin Martyr). The authority with which John writes and his intimate familiarity with the Old Testament support the traditional identification of the author as the apostle John, the beloved disciple.
Date: When Was Revelation Written?
Most interpreters argue that John wrote Revelation during the reigns of one of two notorious Roman emperors: Nero (AD 54–68) or Domitian (81–96). Those favoring an earlier date (68–69) advance several key arguments:
Scholars more commonly date Revelation to AD 90–96, following the testimony of Irenaeus that John received his vision “towards the end of Domitian’s reign.” John writes to believers who faced social pressure to engage in Roman religious and cultural practices, including emperor worship (see comments on 2:8–17 and on 13:15), which was practiced by the late first or early second centuries in all seven of the cities mentioned in Revelation 1:11. The Roman historian Suetonius recounts that Domitian insisted on the title “our lord and god,” which is consistent with the beast’s “blasphemous words” (13:5). The testimony of Irenaeus and other early Christians and the book’s internal evidence suggest that John probably wrote Revelation around AD 90–96.
Purpose: What Is Revelation’s Aim?
Revelation challenges readers to repent of and resist worldly compromise, spiritual complacency, and false teaching, while encouraging believers to maintain their testimony about Jesus in troubled times and to hope expectantly for Christ’s return and for the consummate fulfillment of God’s promises.
Interpretation: How Should We Read Revelation?
There are at least four basic approaches to interpreting Revelation: preterist, futurist, historicist, and idealist. Each of these approaches have multiple variations, and it is typical to adopt an eclectic or mixed approach that combines insights from multiple perspectives.
This commentary adopts a mixed interpretive approach, which may be called redemptive-historical idealism (following scholars such as G. K. Beale). With idealists, I affirm Revelation’s ongoing relevance to believers in each generation until the Lord’s return. With preterists, I recognize that the entire book—not only chapters 1–3—is informed by the circumstances and concerns of John and the seven churches. With futurists and historicists, I affirm that Revelation speaks clearly about Christ’s future coming to judge evil, rescue his people, and restore all things.
Revelation’s visions are charged with symbolic terms and images—lampstands, stars, the beast, the dragon, the Lamb, the great prostitute, the bride of the Lamb, etc. The OT is the principal source for the book’s symbolic language, and many symbols also occur in extrabiblical Jewish apocalypses like 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra. Revelation’s visions function like parables to encourage readers to “hear” God’s Word and see reality as it truly is.
Revelation 1:1 indicates that “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” comes to John through symbolic communication. This verse includes three significant parallels to Daniel 2:28–30, 45, where God discloses to Daniel the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:
The Greek word sēmainō in Revelation 1:1 and Daniel 2:30, 45 (LXX) is typically translated “made known” (ESV, NIV) or “communicated” (NASB), but it can also mean “signified” (KJV) or “communicated by symbols,” especially in the context of prophecy. This verb is related to the noun semeion, commonly rendered “sign” throughout the NT (e.g., John 2:11; Rev 1:1). Daniel 2 discloses God’s purposes in history by interpreting the symbolic pictures in the king’s dream: the head of gold, a stone cut without hands, etc. In Revelation 1:1, apokalypsis (“revelation”) and sēmainō (“signify”) offer interpretive cues that notify readers to expect symbolic divine communication through prophetic visions.
To interpret Revelation’s symbolic visions in their literary, historical, and canonical contexts, I recommend asking three key questions:
Scholars generally acknowledge that Revelation includes more OT references than any other NT book, though these scriptural appeals are not explicit, direct quotations but more subtle allusions to biblical language, events, figures, and themes. For example, the terrifying beast from the sea in Revelation 13:1 clearly alludes to Daniel 7:3–8.
Some of the book’s images also reflect the cultural-historical context of the first-century Roman world, where images of Roman power and pagan religion appeared on money, murals, and monuments. John’s visions sometimes recast and subvert these popular Roman images.
Revelation frequently introduces a symbol with OT background and offers its interpretation for readers:
Revelation’s powerful and sometimes shocking imagery moves believers beyond initial appearances to make right judgments (cf. John 7:24), holding fast to what is true and eternal and resisting what is false and fleeting. Consider two examples.
First, the book depicts churches as “lampstands” (1:12, 20), an image that recalls the lampstand in the tabernacle and the prophecy in Zechariah 4:2–6. A lampstand holds up a continually burning light, a picture of God’s ongoing presence and revelation to his people. By identifying churches as “lampstands,” Jesus reminds believers of our responsibility to let our light shine in a dark world (cf. Matt 5:16).
Second, in chapter 17, the woman adorned with jewelry and fine clothing recalls the dignified deity Roma, who represented Rome’s power and virtue. Yet Revelation recasts this woman (“Babylon”) as a seductive harlot drunk with the saints’ blood whose judgment is near. This shocking prophetic picture serves as a warning to those who feel too comfortable in the City of Man.
Structure: How Is Revelation Organized?
There are various proposals for the structure of Revelation. Some readers (especially futurists) take 1:19 as a summary of the book’s content and structure, moving from “the things that you have seen” (ch. 1) to “those that are” (chs. 2–3) then “those that are to take place after this” (chs. 4–22). Others observe patterns of recapitulation or progressive parallelism throughout the book and conclude that there are seven parallel sections that conclude with Christ’s return to bring climactic judgment and salvation: (1) chapters 1–3; (2) chapters 4–7; (3) chapters 8–11; (4) chapters 12–14; (5) chapters 15–16; (6) chapters 17–19; (7) chapters 20–22. Still others propose a chiastic arrangement for Revelation (A, B … B′, A′).
While scholars disagree about the book’s overall outline, there is an emerging agreement about several important structural features.
First, the introduction (1:1–8) and conclusion (22:6–21) include notable parallels:
The introduction also employs standard features of NT letter openings—author (John), to recipients (seven churches), extending “grace to you and peace”—while the conclusion features a standard “grace” benediction (22:21).
Second, Revelation includes at least four cycles of “sevens”:
Some interpreters discern additional cycles of sevens, such as seven visions of war (chs. 12–14), seven visions of victory (chs. 17–19), and seven visions of the consummation of history and the new creation (20:1–22:5).
Third, the major visionary sections deliberately overlap or interlock with each other. For example, John writes in Revelation 4:5, “From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder,” and he repeats and adapts this statement at the climax of the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls (8:5; 11:19; 16:18–21). Revelation 5:1 introduces the sealed scroll in the heavenly throne room vision, then the Lamb opens these seals in 6:1–8:1.
Fourth, the phrase “in the Spirit” is used four times at important transitions in Revelation and may mark major divisions between the book’s visionary units.
Application: What Should Revelation Do to Us?
Revelation’s apocalyptic visions present a divine perspective on what is true, good, and lasting. The book exposes the false and fleeting values of the world (“Babylon”) and reorients believers’ worldviews around the enduring kingdom of God and Christ. Its potent prophetic pictures are not riddles to be solved but reliable revelation to be heard and heeded. Revelation decodes our reality, stirs our hearts, and masters our lives with the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. We must “worship God” (22:9) and accept no rivals as we resist the evil one and confidently await our ultimate deliverance and enduring home in the new creation.
“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”
— Revelation 1:3 ESV
I. Introduction (1:1–8)
II. Christ among the Lampstands (1:9–3:22)
A. John’s Vision of Christ (1:9–20)
B. Christ’s Messages to the Churches (2:1–3:22)
III. The Throne Room of God and the Lamb (4:1–5:14)
A. The Heavenly Throne Room (4:1–11)
B. The Worthy Lamb (5:1–14)
IV. The Wrath of the Lamb: Seven Seals and Trumpets (6:1–11:19)
A. The Seven Seals (6:1–8:5)
B. The Seven Trumpets (8:6–11:19)
V. Christ, the Dragon, and the Beast in Conflict (12:1–14:20)
A. The Woman and the Dragon (12:1–17)
B. The Two Beasts (13:1–18)
C. The Lamb and His Followers (14:1–5)
D. Three Angels Proclaim Coming Judgment (14:6–13)
E. The Harvest of the Earth (14:14–20)
VI. The Wrath of the Lamb: Seven Bowls (15:1–16:21)
A. Praise and Preparation for the Final Plagues (15:1–8)
B. The Seven Bowls (16:1–21)
VII. The Destruction of Babylon and Christ’s Cosmic Victory (17:1–20:15)
A. Babylon and the Beast (17:1–18)
B. The Fall of Babylon (18:1–24)
C. Rejoicing in Heaven (19:1–10)
D. The King’s Victorious Return (19:11–21)
E. The Thousand Years and Final Judgment (20:1–15)
VIII. The New Jerusalem and the New Creation (21:1–22:5)
A. A New Heaven and a New Earth (21:1–8)
B. The New Jerusalem (21:9–27)
C. A Greater Eden (22:1–5)
IX. Conclusion: Invitation and Warning (22:6–21)
1:1–2 “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” serves as a summary or title for the last book of Holy Scripture. This phrase may stress that Jesus is either the one who reveals (revelation from Jesus Christ), the principal focus of its message (revelation about Jesus Christ, NIV), or both. “Revelation” translates the Greek word apokalypsis and here signals that Christ unveils divine mysteries that are previously unknown or unseen. This opening verse summarizes the chain of divine communication: (1) God gives this revelation to Christ, (2) Christ sends his angel to John, and (3) John writes to other believers. John does not stress his apostolic credentials but identifies himself humbly as Christ’s “servant” or slave (Greek doulos), who addresses his fellow “servants.” John is not the source of this revelation but a scribe following divine orders, an eyewitness compelled to testify to what he has seen (see also 1:11, 19; 22:8). The purpose of this divine revelation is to “show to his servants the things that must soon take place.” This alludes to Dan 2:28 LXX: “There is a Lord in heaven illumining mysteries who has disclosed . . . what must happen at the end of days.” Revelation does not present these eschatological realities as distant but imminent: the time is “soon” and “near” (1:1, 3; 22:6, 10).
1:3 “Blessed” (makarios) introduces the first of Revelation’s seven beatitudes:
The opening blessing statement promises divine favor for the one who reads and those who rightly respond to this prophecy. “For the time is near” explains why virtuous readers are blessed and establishes the book’s eschatological outlook—God is accomplishing his end-time plans of judgment and salvation (cf. 22:10).
1:4–6 John addresses his readers (“the seven churches that are in Asia”) and greets them (“Grace to you and peace”) following the form of other NT letters. John then explains that the triune God is the source of this grace and peace flowing to believers.
First, “from him who is and who was and who is to come” alludes to Exodus 3:14, where God declared to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” Revelation employs some variation of this divine title five times (1:4, 8; 4:8; 11:17; 16:5), highlighting God’s utter self-sufficiency, eternality, and certain coming to consummate his kingdom. The book makes clear that Jesus will bring to pass God’s future “coming” to rule when he “comes with the clouds” (1:7; cf. 22:12; Isa 40:10; Dan 7:13).
Second, grace and peace come “from the seven spirits who are before his throne.” Some interpret these seven spirits as angels, but they more likely refer to the seven-fold Spirit of God, with the number seven signifying completion or perfection. Since the other sources of grace and peace are the eternal God and the risen Christ, the seven spirits are likewise divine (1:4–5). Revelation’s distinctive phrase “the seven spirits” is likely inspired by two key OT texts. First, Isaiah 11:2 LXX lists seven qualities of the Spirit that shall rest on the Messiah. Second, the prophet Zechariah sees seven lamps—explained as “the eyes of the Lord”—and is told of the need for the Spirit’s power (Zech 4:2–10). Revelation similarly identifies the seven spirits with “torches of fire” (4:5) and the “eyes” of the Lamb (5:6).
Divine grace and peace also proceed “from Jesus Christ” (1:5), to whom John gives three titles drawn from Psalm 89:27, 37. As “the faithful witness,” Jesus declared the truth even unto death (John 18:37) and thus serves as a model for his suffering people (2:13; 6:9). Moreover, as the exalted Lord is himself “faithful and true” (3:14; 19:11), he also reveals “trustworthy and true” words to his servant (21:5; 22:6). Jesus is also “firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth” (1:5). His resurrection confirms that he is the “King of kings” (17:14), the promised Messiah who is exalted over all sovereigns (Ps 89:27; Col 1:18).
John’s theologically loaded greeting moves seamlessly into doxology as he extols Jesus for his consummate love and redemptive death for us (1:5). Christ frees us from our sins and for God’s service as “a kingdom” and “priests” (1:6). Exodus 19:6 describes Israel as “a kingdom of priests,” and Revelation applies this language typologically for the church’s identity and vocation (cf. 5:10; 1Pet 2:9).
1:7–8 The introduction dramatically concludes with an announcement of Christ’s imminent return and a declaration of the Lord’s absolute authority. “Behold, he is coming with the clouds” (1:7) alludes to the famous prophecy in Daniel 7:13 and refers to Jesus’s glorious coming—a seminal theme in Revelation (cf. 16:15; 22:7, 12, 20). The exalted Christ initially fulfills Daniel’s prophecy when he ascends to sit on God’s heavenly throne (3:21; 14:14), and he will consummately fulfill it by returning to judge his foes, save his people, and usher in his everlasting kingdom (11:15; 19:11–16). “Those who pierced him” alludes to Zechariah 12:10, a prophecy of eschatological restoration that similarly has an initial fulfillment at the cross (John 19:37) and a future fulfillment when “all the tribes of the earth” will mourn at his return (1:7; cf. Matt 24:30). People will either mourn over their sins unto repentance or mourn over their bitter judgment (cf. 18:9).
“I am the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8) employs the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and parallels the similar expressions “the Beginning and the End” (21:6) and “the first and the last (1:17; Isa 44:6). These titles express the Almighty’s uniqueness and supremacy over against all rival claims to sovereignty by the dragon and the beast; they are also applied to Christ, who shares fully in God’s essence and activity (22:13).
Christ among the Lampstands (1:9–3:22)
John’s opening vision of the glorious Son of Man in 1:10–20 expands upon 1:1–2 and introduces Christ’s messages to the seven churches in chapters 2–3.
John’s Vision of Christ (1:9–20)
The prophet describes his own situation in exile, his foundational vision of the risen Lord, and his divine commission to write to the seven churches.
1:9 John refers to himself for the third time (cf. 1:1, 4) and recounts that because of his testimony about Christ, he was exiled to “Patmos” (1:9)—a desolate, volcanic island located thirty-seven miles southwest of Miletus in the Aegean Sea (see map). He identifies with readers as “your brother” and “partner” (ESV) or “companion” (NIV). They share in three things: (1) “the tribulation” (ESV) or “suffering” (NIV); (2) “the kingdom,” and (3) “the patient endurance,” all of which have a common frame of reference “in Jesus.” The tribulation and kingdom are end-time realities (Dan 7:27; 12:1), which Jesus inaugurated through his suffering, resurrection, and heavenly enthronement. Christians share now in the end-time tribulation, presently reign in an inaugurated sense (cf. 1:6; 5:10), and must endure with faith (13:10) until Jesus returns to consummate his kingdom and end suffering.
1:10–11 John states that he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (i.e., Sunday), which means that he receives true revelation from God like the OT prophets (1:10; Mic 3:8; Ezek 11:24). “In the Spirit” occurs four times in Revelation (1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10) and signals a new major unit that runs through 3:22.
A trumpet-like voice commands John to “write what you see in a book” addressed to “the seven churches,” each receiving specific messages in chapters 2–3 (1:10–11; cf. 1:4, 20). These historical churches located in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) are the specific recipients of this prophetic book, yet they also represent the universal church, as suggested by the symbolic number seven and Revelation’s repeated reference to “the churches” (cf. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22; 22:16).
1:12–16 When the prophet turns to “see” the awesome speaker, he first sees “seven golden lampstands,” recalling the furnishings of Israel’s tabernacle and temple and Zechariah’s vision of a golden lampstand (Exod 25:31–40; 2Chr 4:7; Zech 4:2–6). In 1:20, Jesus explains that these lampstands represent “the seven churches.”
“One like a son of man” alludes again to Daniel 7:13 (see 1:7). John then describes the awe-inspiring features of the glorious son of man (1:13–16):
1:17–20 John responds to this awesome vision by falling at Jesus’s feet (1:17). This is an appropriate act of reverence for God and Christ (Gen 17:3; Ezek 1:28; Matt 17:6) but not for his angelic messengers (19:10; 22:8–9). Christ then comforts and commissions John. He touches John with his right hand that holds the stars (1:16), commands his terrified servant not to fear, and reveals who he is and what John must do. Christ is “the first and the last,” an exclusively divine title equivalent to “the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8; 22:13; cf. Isa 41:4; 44:6; 48:12). Jesus is also “the living one”—another description of God himself (4:9–10)—who has overcome death and now holds “the keys of Death and Hades,” signifying his total authority over these cosmic forces that he will one day banish to the lake of fire (20:13–14).
“Therefore” (1:19) establishes that the command “write,” first given in 1:11, is now based on the awesome self-revelation of the risen Lord. The content of John’s writing is threefold: (1) “the things that you have seen,” (2) “those that are,” and (3) “those that are to take place after this.” The phrase “after this” (meta tauta) repeats in 4:1, which leads many interpreters to read 1:19 as key to the book’s structure: the vision John has seen (ch. 1), the seven churches’ present situation (chs. 2–3), and events in the distant future (chs. 4–22). Alternatively, “those that are to take place after this” probably alludes again to Daniel 2:28–29 (as in 1:1), which shares similar wording and a similar revelatory context. As in 1:1, this allusion to Daniel suggests the imminent fulfillment of realities in the last days.
“Mystery” (1:20) refers to a divine secret once hidden but now revealed (cf. 10:7; Dan 2:22, 28–30, 47). Christ discloses the meaning of two symbols in John’s vision. The “stars” are “the angels of the seven churches,” which may be earthly messengers or ministers (see NIV note), but which more likely refer to heavenly beings. Second, the “lampstands” stand for “the seven churches,” probably signifying their light-bearing role as witnesses for Christ (cf. 2:5; 11:4; Matt 5:14–16).
Christ’s Messages to the Churches (2:1–3:22)
The awesome, exalted Christ whom John sees and hears (1:10–20) directly addresses the seven churches named in 1:11. These messages to the churches follow a common literary structure:
Christ relates details of his self-disclosure in chapter 1 to each church’s situation. He asserts his detailed knowledge of each church, commends the faithful, corrects those who compromise through sin and false teaching, and promises that glorious blessings await those who “conquer” through steadfast endurance. It is noteworthy that John writes to seven churches. The number seven is common in Revelation (seven churches, angels, Spirits, lampstands, seals, trumpets, bowls, etc.) and probably signifies perfection or completion. Thus, while Christ’s messages address the situations of seven first-century churches, they never circulated separately as individual letters, and they address all believers who read this book of prophecy and must hear what the Spirit says to all churches. (See Table: Christ’s Messages to the Churches)
To Ephesus (2:1–7)
Ephesus was the leading city of Asia and the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire, home to the famed temple of Artemis (Acts 19:27, 35). While Christ commends the Ephesian church for their good works and doctrinal fidelity, they have forsaken their first love and must repent (2:2–6).
2:1 Christ addresses Ephesus and the other churches through their representative “angel” (cf. 1:20), which reminds believers on earth of the unseen, spiritual realities of their situation and of their need for heavenly help. The Greek phrase Tade legei (“The words of him”) repeatedly introduces God’s words in the OT, signaling that Christ speaks with divine authority. Christ’s self-description in 2:1 recalls John’s foundational vision in 1:12–16 and highlights Christ’s awesome power (holding seven stars) and active presence among the churches (walking among the lampstands).
2:2–6 Christ commends the church for its hard work, perseverance, and discernment. These believers were not led astray by so-called apostles or the Nicolaitans (2:6), who promoted false doctrine, idolatry, and immorality like Balaam and Jezebel (2:14, 20); rather, the Ephesians tested their teaching and conduct and rightly discerned their error (cf. 2Cor 11:13–15). However, Christ rebukes the Ephesians for abandoning the love they had at first. This “love” may refer to their love for Jesus (Eph 6:24) and/or their love for one another (Eph 5:2). The two references to lampstands in this passage may also suggest that this church has forgotten their calling as Christ’s witnesses who must bear light in a dark world (cf. Matt 5:14–16).
Three commands follow from this correction: “remember . . . repent . . . do the works you did at first” (2:5). Jesus calls the church to reassess their situation and change their mind, heart, and deeds. Unless they repent of their lack of love, Christ will “remove” their lampstand, meaning they will lose their very identity as a church.
2:7 “He who has an ear, let him hear” recalls similar hearing formulas in the OT and the Gospels (Isa 6:9–10; Jer 5:21; Ezek 3:27; 12:2; Mark 4:9; cf. Rev 13:9). Ears in these passages symbolize people’s spiritual capacity to receive and respond to truth. Those with “an ear” rightly discern that God’s Spirit and the exalted Christ speak to the churches in this book, and they rightly respond to the prophetic word.
Each of Christ’s messages to the churches concludes with a promise “to the one who conquers.” The Greek verb nikaō is variously translated as “conquer,” “overcome,” or “have victory.” Believers do not conquer by military might like the beast (13:7). Jesus conquered as the slain Lamb (5:5), and his followers share in his victory (17:14), must faithfully speak Christ’s word (12:11, 17), and must maintain hope in their future inheritance (21:7).
Christ promises that conquerors will eat from “the tree of life” (2:7; cf. 22:2, 14, 19), which signifies eternal life in fellowship with God. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and were exiled from the tree of life in Eden (Gen 3:6, 22–24), but those redeemed by Christ await unbridled fellowship with God in the new creation. This promise also counters the popular expectation that Artemis, the patron deity of Ephesus, offered life and fertility to those who worshiped at her tree-shrine.
To Smyrna (2:8–11)
Smyrna (modern-day Izmir, Turkey) was a harbor city located about thirty-five miles north of Ephesus. It was well known as Homer’s birthplace and was one of Asia’s most beautiful cities. It also featured a temple to the goddess Roma and was an important center of emperor worship. Of the seven churches Jesus addresses in Revelation, only Smyrna and Philadelphia do not receive correction/rebuke. Here Jesus encourages the church at Smyrna not to fear suffering but to remain faithful and so inherit eternal life.
2:8–9 The exalted Christ presents himself as “the first and the last,” a divine title stressing his divine sovereignty over history (cf. 1:17). “Tribulation” recalls the partnership John and his readers share in the tribulation, kingdom, and endurance that are in Christ (1:9). The tribulation this church faces includes economic hardship (“poverty”) and verbal abuse (“slander”) from the local Jewish population that has aligned with Satan against God’s purposes and people and is thus called “a synagogue of Satan” (cf. 3:9). Smyrna is the opposite of Laodicea: materially poor yet spiritually rich (cf. 3:17).
2:10–11 Because Jesus himself “died and came to life” (1:18; 2:8), embattled believers do not need to fear suffering and death (2:10). Christ summons the saints in Smyrna to prepare for further suffering and Satanic opposition. “Ten days” recalls the period of testing for Daniel and his friends in Babylon (Dan 1:12–14); here it refers to an intense but brief time of testing through adversity. Rather than fearing the coming suffering, believers must follow Christ’s example of faithfulness unto death while trusting his promise to give them “the crown of life” (cf. 3:11). Crowns or wreaths were given to champion athletes, victors in battle, and honorable public servants. Jesus promises that believers who “conquer” through suffering and death will receive true honor and everlasting life and will be spared from “the second death,” the lake of fire (20:6, 14; 21:8).
To Pergamum (2:12–17)
Pergamum (modern-day Bergama, Turkey) was a magnificent city about seventy miles north of Smyrna. It had a renowned library and was Asia’s foremost city for emperor worship. Jesus commends this church for remaining faithful through persecution but calls them to repent of doctrinal and moral compromise.
2:12–13 Jesus addresses Pergamum as the one with “the sharp two-edged sword” coming from his mouth (2:12; cf. 1:16; 2:16; Isa 11:4; 49:2). Jesus, not Rome, possesses absolute authority to judge. This truth offers comfort to faithful believers threatened by Roman persecution (2:13) and challenges the unfaithful to repent of idolatrous compromise (2:16). “Satan’s throne” may refer to Pergamum’s altar of Zeus (king of gods), the shrine to Asclepius (god of medicine), the prominent practice of emperor worship, or to Antipas’s unjust execution by local authorities.
2:14–16 Christ rebukes Pergamum for tolerating false teaching. Balaam was the notorious Gentile prophet who blessed Israel when Balak hired him to curse them (Num 22–24; Deut 23:4; Neh 13:2). Balaam then encouraged Israel to engage in sexual immorality and idolatry (Num 25:1–2; 31:16; cf. Jude 11; 2Pet 2:15) and later died by the sword (Josh 13:22). Like Balaam, false teachers in Pergamum are motivated by financial gain and condone culturally acceptable practices of idolatry and sexual immorality. “Nicolaitans” means “victory people.” Revelation does not give details about their heresy, but their name suggests that they may have promoted victorious living apart from obedience to Christ. Ephesus opposes their false teaching and practices, but some in Pergamum do not (2:6, 15). Jesus commands the church to “repent” of this immorality and false teaching or else face swift judgment like Christ’s enemies (2:16; 19:15, 21).
2:17 To believers who overcome, Christ promises “hidden manna” and “a white stone” with a new name. Exodus 16:31–34 describes the white-colored manna God sent to feed his people and instructs Israel to preserve an omer of this bread for future generations. Jesus, the “living bread” (John 6:51), promises everlasting food to this church tempted by the food sacrificed to idols. White stones in the ancient world had various connotations, including acquittal in court and admission to special feasts. Here, the white stone has “a new name” on it, a name that will be written on believers as well (2:17; 3:12; 22:3–4). This new name refers to believers’ identification with Christ and their enduring status as his people.
To Thyatira (2:18–29)
Thyatira was a commercial town about forty miles southeast of Pergamum. It was the hometown of Lydia, “a dealer in purple cloth” (Acts 16:14), and was known for its many influential trade guilds, each with a patron deity. While Thyatira is the least significant of the seven cities to which John writes, surprisingly this church receives the longest, most challenging message. Christ commends Thyatiran believers for their love and faith but rebukes them for tolerating heresy and immorality.
2:18 Christ identifies himself first as “the Son of God,” a common NT title for Jesus, probably drawn from Psalm 2:7 (cf. Mark 1:1; John 1:34). Jesus, not Apollo (son of Zeus), is the true divine Son worthy of worship. Christ’s fiery eyes and bronze feet recall John’s opening vision (1:14–15; cf. Dan 10:6) and stress his divine glory and insight as the one who “searches hearts and minds” (2:23; cf. Jer 17:10).
2:19–23 Christ knows the church’s “works,” namely their love, faith, service, and patient endurance (cf. 1:9). This list suggests their virtue and faithful ministry. Unlike the Ephesians, the Pergamum church’s latter works suggest progress rather than decline. Following this commendation, Christ chides the Thyatiran church for tolerating “Jezebel,” a pseudonym that reveals the true character of this false prophet who deceptively leads the church to “practice sexual immorality” and “eat food sacrificed to idols” (2:20; cf. 2:14). The symbolic name “Jezebel” alludes to King Ahab’s wife, who promoted unparalleled Baal worship and evil in Israel (1Kgs 16:31–32; 21:25–26). Because “Jezebel” refuses to repent, Christ will judge her and her idolatrous followers with sickness and death (2:21–23). Christ does not judge by mere appearances but knows people’s hearts and minds and gives them what their deeds deserve as the divine Judge (cf. Jer 17:10).
2:24–25 Christ addresses the faithful believers in Thyatira who do not follow “Jezebel” and have not learned the so-called “deep things of Satan,” a reference to the false teaching that Christians with superior knowledge could continue to practice idolatry without being spiritually harmed. Christ does not lay on these believers “any other burden”—recalling the apostolic decree in Acts 15:28–29—and exhorts them to “hold fast what you have” until he comes (cf. 3:11).
2:26–29 Christ’s earlier self-description as “the Son of God” (2:18; cf. Ps 2:7) underscores his promise to share his regal authority with his people. According to 12:5 and 19:15, Christ will “rule . . . with a rod of iron,” fulfilling Psalm 2:9 LXX; in 2:27 he extends this promise to his victorious followers. Moreover, he promises to give overcomers “the morning star” (2:28), a messianic symbol (Num 24:17) that Jesus directly applies to himself (22:16).
To Sardis (3:1–6)
Located about thirty-five miles southeast of Thyatira, Sardis had a glorious past and a reputation as a secure military stronghold. An earthquake devastated the city in AD 17, and it was rebuilt with Roman aid and returned to prominence. Jesus rebukes this church for their spiritual lethargy and urges them to wake up and repent.
3:1 The exalted Christ reminds Sardis that he “has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” The former refers to the seven-fold Spirit, which is before God’s throne (1:4) and rests on the Lamb (5:6; cf. Isa 11:2). The latter recalls the seven stars in Christ’s right hand (1:16; cf. 2:1), signifying angels of the seven churches (1:20). This church desperately needs the life-giving power of the divine Spirit and the heavenly help that only Christ can offer.
Christ then diagnoses the church’s true spiritual state: their reputation (“being alive”) does not match their reality (“you are dead”). The Greek word onoma occurs four times in the message to Sardis (“reputation” [3:1]; “names” [3:4]; “name” [2x in 3:5]), signaling a key emphasis on the church’s reputation and identity. This once vibrant church is now cold, lifeless, and in danger of extinction (3:2). Jesus finds their “works” incomplete, like the city’s unfinished, useless temple to Artemis.
3:2–3 Christ gives five commands: “wake up . . . strengthen . . . remember . . . keep . . . repent.” He discloses the church’s perilous situation and calls for vigilance and radical change. Christ elsewhere likens his second coming to a thief visiting a house and calls his people to remain watchful and ready (cf. Matt 24:42–44; Luke 12:39–40; Rev 16:15). The warning in 3:3 may similarly refer to this coming at the end of history or may signal an imminent, unexpected coming within history to judge the church if it fails to repent (cf. 2:5, 16).
3:4 As in the message to Thyatira, Christ rebukes the church as a whole but then reassures a faithful remnant: there are “a few names in Sardis” who “are worthy.” Their unsoiled garments refer to their righteous deeds and pure life (cf. 14:4; 19:8), which give evidence that they belong to Christ and will share in his end-time victory (cf. 7:9; 19:14).
3:5 Christ’s promise to the conquerors returns to two motifs mentioned earlier in this message. First, “white garments” continues the thought of 3:4 and suggests cleansing from defilement through Christ’s blood and moral purity (7:14). Second, Christ will confess the believer’s “name” (onoma) and never remove it from the book of life. Thus, rather than finding security in an impressive “name” among people (3:1), they should desire above all to be known and named by Christ (3:5; cf. Luke 10:20; 12:8).
To Philadelphia (3:7–13)
Philadelphia (modern-day Alashehir, Turkey) was situated along key trade routes about thirty miles southeast of Sardis. After the Roman emperor helped the city rebuild following the earthquake of AD 17, Philadelphia (meaning “brotherly love”) took on the name Neocaesarea (meaning “Caesar’s new city”). Christ commends the faithful Philadelphian church and calls them to hold fast through trials.
3:7 Christ presents himself first as “the holy one, the true one,” a description elsewhere used for God (6:10), whom Isaiah repeatedly calls “the Holy One of Israel.” Moreover, Christ “has the key of David,” which alludes to Isaiah 22:22. Keys signify authority and control. Because the risen Christ is the true Messianic king who holds “the keys of Death and Hades” (1:18), he alone has sovereign authority to grant people access to the kingdom (cf. Matt 16:19).
3:8–10 Christ commends this church for not denying their Lord even though they have “little power”—meaning a lack of influence or strength in themselves. Christ reassures the church that he has set before them “an open door,” which refers either to an opportunity for gospel ministry (cf. 2Cor 2:12; Col 4:3) or access by faith into God’s kingdom, as in 3:7 (cf. Acts 14:27). “The synagogue of Satan” (3:9) signals that the Philadelphian church—like their brothers in Smyrna (2:9)—faced persecution from Jews in their area. These Christians may have been excluded from the Jewish synagogue (cf. John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2), but Christ will vindicate his followers. Isaiah prophesied that Gentile oppressors would bow down before Israel (Isa 49:23; 60:14); ironically, Jesus declares that the Jewish persecutors will humbly “come and bow down” before the church and recognize them as Christ’s beloved (cf. Isa 43:4). The commendation “you have kept [tēreō] my word” reiterates 3:8 and forms the basis for Christ’s promise, “I will keep you from [tēreō . . . ek] the hour of trial” (3:10). This “hour” refers to the period of end-time tribulation, what Daniel calls “the time of distress” (Dan 12:1). The purpose of this “hour” is “to test the inhabitants of earth” (NIV). Interpreters debate whether “keep from” means remove from the trial or preserve through the trial. The nearest parallel is John 17:15, where Christ asks God not to take his people out of (ek) the world but to keep them from (tēreō . . . ek) Satan. Thus, Christ promises to protect his people from spiritual harm, not remove them from suffering. This time of testing serves to prove believers’ faith and commitment to Christ (cf. 7:14; 1Pet 1:6–7), while further hardening unbelievers who follow the beast and oppose God’s people (13:8, 12).
3:11 “I am coming soon” highlights one of the signature emphases of Revelation: Christ will return in glory at the end of history (1:7; 22:7, 12, 20), but he will also come to his churches to judge and save in anticipation of the end (cf. 2:5, 16, 25). “Hold fast” reiterates the command to Thyatiran believers in 2:25, while “your crown” is equivalent to “the crown of life” in 2:10.
3:12–13 Christ then offers an expansive promise highlighting the end-time fellowship and identification with the Lord that faithful believers will enjoy in the new Jerusalem. The conquerors will be “a pillar” in God’s temple, emphasizing the enduring, glorious presence of God with his worshiping people (7:15; 21:2–3; cf. 2Cor 6:16). Moreover, the “name” of God, his city, and his Son will mark believers, signaling their new identity and eternal citizenship (22:3–4; Phil 3:20; Ezek 48:35).
To Laodicea (3:14–22)
Laodicea was a prosperous city known for banking, medicine, and textile production, located about forty-five miles southeast of Philadelphia and close to Colossae (cf. Col 4:13). Christ sternly rebukes this church for their spiritual blindness and proud self-reliance, then he invites them to repent and enjoy renewed relationship with him.
3:14 Christ is “the Amen, the faithful and true witness,” a title that identifies him with “the God of truth” (Isa 65:16) and recalls the salutation in 1:5. Jesus is faithful, while Laodicea has been unfaithful. He is also “the beginning” (ESV), or “ruler” (NIV), translating the Greek archē. Most likely, this title presents the risen Christ as the beginning of God’s new creation.
3:15–16 Christ sharply censures this complacent church. “Hot,” “cold,” and “lukewarm” do not refer to the church’s spiritual enthusiasm. These terms may relate to the local context of Laodicea, which had poor tasting, tepid water unlike the refreshing hot water in Hierapolis and cold water in Colossae. Alternatively, Christ may here employ dining imagery that anticipates his appeal in 3:20. Regardless, Laodicea’s works and true spiritual condition repulse Christ; they cannot offer life, healing, or refreshment to others and must repent.
3:17–18 “I am rich” recalls Israel’s boast in Hosea 12:8 and anticipates Jesus’s revelation of their spiritual poverty. The church desperately needs to forsake self-reliance, admit their own bankruptcy and blindness, and come to Jesus to find true spiritual resources (cf. Isa 55:1–3).
3:19–20 Christ summons the church to “repent,” reminding them that he disciplines them out of love (cf. Prov 3:11–12; Heb 12:5–6). He presents himself knocking at the door, which may suggest the return of a master (Luke 12:36) or a husband (Song 5:2). Christ then promises to enter and dine with them, offering renewed, intimate fellowship with those who respond to his invitation.
3:21–22 Jesus conquered and “sat down” on God’s throne as the messianic King and Judge (cf. Ps 110:1; Heb 1:3), and he promises that his followers who conquer will share his reign (2:26–27; 5:10; 20:4; 22:5). This declaration of Christ’s enthronement sets the stage for John’s vision of the heavenly throne room and the conquering Lamb in chapters 4–5.
The Throne Room of God and the Lamb (4:1–5:14)
John’s second vision “in the Spirit” (Rev 4:2; cf. 1:10) reveals the heavenly throne room (ch. 4), where the living creatures and elders praise God Almighty as uniquely “holy” and supremely “worthy.” This throne-room vision presents a foundational picture of God as the holy, omnipotent, sovereign Creator and Judge of all, who has no rivals and who alone is worthy of worship. Chapter 5 presents a cosmic crisis: no one is found worthy to open the secret scroll in God’s hand; as well as its resolution: the slain Lamb (Jesus) is worthy to open this scroll and share the Almighty’s praise.
The Heavenly Throne Room (4:1–11)
In Revelation 4, the prophet sees the sovereign God seated on heaven’s throne. John’s throne room vision alludes repeatedly to the OT Prophets (e.g., Isa 6:1–4; Ezek 1; Dan 7:9–10) and offers a foundational description of God Almighty’s holiness, sovereignty, and worthiness to receive worship as the Creator, Ruler, and Sustainer of all things.
4:1 The “door standing open in heaven” parallels other biblical visions where heaven is opened (cf. Ezek 1:1; Matt 3:16; Acts 10:11; Rev 19:11). John hears “the first voice”—that of the risen Lord (1:10)—summon him and promise to reveal “what must take place after this.” This reiterates Christ’s words in 1:19 and again alludes to Daniel 2:28–29.
4:2–11 John’s experience “in the Spirit” (4:2) introduces a major visionary unit and reinforces that he is a true prophet who receives genuine revelation from God. The divine throne is the central feature of John’s vision; everything else is presented in relation to it. Before the throne are the seven Spirits (4:5; see comments on 1:4), the glassy sea (4:6), and the altar (8:3). Around the throne are a rainbow—the sign of God’s covenant promise (cf. Gen 9:13–17)—twenty-four thrones, the elders, and the living creatures (4:3–4, 6). From the throne come lightning, rumblings, and thunder (4:5). And most importantly, on the throne sits God Almighty (4:2–3, 9–10), the supreme sovereign who created, sustains, and rules over all things (4:11). His bejeweled appearance signifies his brilliant glory (cf. 21:11).
The twenty-four elders occupy thrones surrounding the Almighty’s throne and perpetually praise God and the Lamb (4:4, 10–11; cf. 5:8–10; 11:16; 19:4). Their white garments represent purity and holiness (cf. 3:5), while their golden crowns signify their high status and perhaps royalty. These elders may represent the full number of believers in heaven but most likely depict an order of exalted angels who continually worship and serve God around his throne. Twenty-four probably combines the twelve tribes of Israel with the twelve apostles (cf. 21:12; Matt 19:28), though it also parallels the number of priests serving in the temple (cf. 1Chr 24:4–19).
The lightning and thunder coming from the throne recalls God’s awesome presence at Mount Sinai (4:5; Exod 19:16; 20:18). Revelation repeatedly mentions the sights and sounds of Sinai, including at the close of the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgment cycles (8:5; 11:19; 16:18). The sevenfold Spirit of God (4:5; see comments on 1:4) is pictured as seven burning torches before God’s throne, alluding to the fiery theophanies in Ezekiel 1:13 and Exodus 19:18.
The sea of glass and four living creatures in 4:6 recall Ezekiel 1:5–14, 22, 26 (see Table: OT Background for Revelation 4). The living creatures are probably angelic beings nearest the heavenly throne who lead others in worship (4:8; 5:14) and initiate God’s judgment (6:1). They resemble the noblest wild beast (lion), strongest domestic animal (ox), swiftest bird (eagle), and wisest creature—a human being made in God’s image (4:7; cf. Ezek 1:10). Their six wings and song—“Holy, holy, holy” (4:8)—allude to the seraphim in Isaiah 6:2–3. These living creatures represent God’s intended design for all creatures to give him glory as the omnipotent, eternal God.
The elders respond to the living creatures’ unceasing worship by casting their crowns before God’s throne as an act of willing submission to God (4:10). They extol the Almighty as “worthy . . . to receive glory and honor and power” (4:11; cf. 7:12); this same praise is ascribed to the Lamb (5:12–13). “For” explains why the Almighty is worthy of worship: he created all things (cf. Ps 148:5).
The Worthy Lamb (5:1–14)
Chapter 4 sets the heavenly stage for the unfolding redemptive drama of chapter 5, as the slain Lamb is found worthy to take the sealed scroll from the sovereign God and share his praise.
5:1 John focuses attention on a mysterious “scroll” in the Almighty’s hand, containing writing “within and on the back” and “sealed with seven seals.” This scroll or “book” (NASB) recalls the double-sided scroll containing “words of lament and mourning and woe” in Ezekiel 2:9–10 and the sealed books in Isaiah 29:11 and Daniel 12:4. In the ancient world, important documents were sealed with wax to prove their authenticity and prevent tampering, and the number seven here and elsewhere in Revelation indicates fullness or completion. This scroll contains the Almighty’s secret plans for salvation and judgment, which could only be disclosed and executed by God’s “worthy” agent—the Lamb Jesus, who takes the scroll (5:7) and opens its seals (6:1–8:5).
5:2–5 The angel’s question underscores the importance of the scroll and its inaccessibility, which prompts a futile search for someone able to reveal the sealed scroll’s secrets. The lack of a worthy seal-breaker is a cosmic crisis that makes John weep like the OT prophets (e.g., Isa 22:4; Jer 9:1). Then one of the heavenly elders tells John to stop weeping because a noble champion has “conquered” and so can open the sealed scroll. The titles “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” and “the Root of David” recall OT prophecies of Judah’s kingship (Gen 49:9–10) and the ideal Davidic ruler who would bring true justice and hope for the nations (Isa 11:1–4, 10).
5:6–7 What John sees reinterprets what he hears in 5:5: the longed-for regal Messiah is surprisingly a slain Lamb, who has conquered by self-sacrifice, not military might. This is the first of twenty-eight references to the “Lamb” in Revelation, the book’s most frequent and distinctive Christological title. While other terms like “ruler” (1:5) and “Lion” (5:5) suggest a powerful warrior king who would slay the enemies of God’s people, a Lamb is an image of innocence, vulnerability, and sacrifice. This evocative title may combine multiple OT sources: the Passover lamb (Exod 12:3–6; cf. John 1:29), the suffering servant (Isa 53:7; cf. Acts 8:32), and the rejected prophet (Jer 11:19; cf. Luke 11:50). But this is no ordinary Lamb; he has “seven horns” and “seven eyes.” Horns in OT and early Jewish writings convey regal strength (see Dan 7:24; 8:21–22; Rev 17:12; 1Enoch 90.9); thus, the Lamb’s seven horns represent his perfect power. “Seven eyes,” an allusion to Zechariah 4:10, signifies Christ’s complete knowledge and insight as one endowed with “the seven spirits of God”—that is, the fullness of the Spirit that illuminates God’s throne room like “seven torches of fire” (Rev 1:4; 4:5; cf. Zech 4:2, 6) and endows the Messiah (Isa 11:2 LXX). Thus, Jesus the Lamb has both divine sight and divine ability. He approaches the awesome throne and takes the scroll from the Almighty’s hand (5:7), recalling Daniel 7:13–14 where one like a son of man approaches the Ancient of Days and receives an everlasting kingdom. Before the Lamb starts opening the sealed scroll in 6:1, the living creatures and heavenly elders (introduced in 4:4, 6) respond with reverent praise (5:8–10). The “golden bowls full of incense” in their hands represent the sweet-smelling “prayers” of God’s people (see Ps 141:2; Luke 1:10), which are brought before the worthy Lamb. The Lord dramatically answers these petitions in the rest of the book (see 8:3–5 and 15:7–8).
5:8–10 Elsewhere in Scripture a “new song” extols God for his saving works (cf. 14:3; Pss 96:1–2; 144:9–10); here the new song praises the Lamb who alone is “worthy” to open the scroll, decisively answering the angel’s question in 5:2. “For” (hoti) introduces the reason why the Lamb is the worthy seal-breaker: his sacrificial death purchased a multiethnic people for God (5:9). The Greek verb agorazō translated “ransomed” (ESV, NLT), “purchased” (NIV, CSB), or “redeemed” (KJV) is a commercial term often used for the emancipation of slaves (cf. 1Cor 6:20; 7:23; Rev 14:3). The description of the redeemed in 5:9–10 alludes to Exodus 19:5–6, which celebrates Israel’s election as God’s special people “from all the peoples” and their vocation as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” But Revelation extends this description of Israel to God’s universal people, who transcend ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and national boundaries; this “kingdom and priests” is saved by Christ and set apart for God’s service (cf. 1:6; 22:5; 1Pet 2:9).
5:11–14 The chorus of worshipers expands beyond the elders and living creatures to include an innumerable number of angels and “every creature” in every place. The heavenly host extols the Lamb as “worthy” (cf. 5:9) and offers him sevenfold praise, which is elsewhere reserved for God Almighty (cf. 7:12). The universal song in 5:13 praises God and the Lamb together, and the scene concludes fittingly with an “Amen!” from the living creatures who represent God’s creation and continued worship by the twenty-four elders.
The Wrath of the Lamb: Seven Seals and Trumpets (6:1–11:19)
The conquering Lamb takes the sealed scroll from the Almighty in 5:7; he then opens the seven seals in 6:1–8:1, unleashing the first of three cycles of judgment in the book. Following the seven seals, the angels blow seven trumpets in 8:2–11:19, bringing devastating judgments on the earth that are modeled on the exodus plagues (see Table: Trumpets, Bowls, and Plagues). Before the final seal is opened and the final trumpet sounds, interlude scenes vividly present the situation of God’s redeemed people (7:1–17), John’s prophetic commission (10:1–11), and the persecution and vindication of the “two witnesses” (11:1–14). The seven seals and trumpets make clear that the Lamb is worthy to execute God’s secret plans to judge his enemies and preserve and save his people.
The Seven Seals (6:1–8:5)
Throughout Revelation the number seven expresses fullness, so seven seals followed by the seven trumpets and bowls full of wrath together reveal God’s complete and comprehensive judgment on the earth. The Lamb opens the first six seals of the scroll in 6:1–17 and the final seal in 8:1 after an interlude in chapter 7.
Interpreters debate the nature and timing of these seals. For example, preterists relate the seals primarily to first-century events in the Roman world, such as wars and food shortages, while futurists understand the seals in relation to a coming tribulation at the end of history (see “Interpretation: How Should We Read Revelation?” for more on different interpretational approaches). Most likely, the seals relate to the period between Christ’s first and second comings. These verses include many allusions to the OT (e.g., Zech 6:1–8; Isa 13:9–13; Hos 10:8) and links to Jesus’s Olivet Discourse (Matt 24).
Six Seals Opened (6:1–17)
6:1–8 The four living creatures respond “come” when the Lamb opens the first four seals, summoning the riders of four colored horses (6:2, 4, 5, 8). Thus, while the four living creatures unceasingly praise the Almighty and the worthy Lamb (4:8–9; 5:8–10, 14), they also call forth God’s judgments on the earth and worship God for these mighty acts (see 15:7; 19:4).
The four horses in 6:1–8 allude to Zechariah’s prophecies of four colored horses and chariots led by red, black, white, and dapple-gray horses sent to patrol the earth (Zech 1:8–11; 6:1–8). Revelation’s first seal reveals the rider of a white horse with a bow and crown who comes “conquering and to conquer” (6:2). Interpreters are sharply divided about the meaning of this symbolism. Some identify this rider as Christ, since he comes on a white horse “to judge and make war” in 19:11. In this reading, the first seal offers a positive picture of Christ “conquering” through the gospel’s spread among the nations. More likely, this rider’s crown and white horse portray military might and anticipate the beast’s aggression towards Christ’s followers (11:7; 13:7), parodying the later picture of Christ’s victory (19:11).
The second seal reveals a rider of the red horse who takes peace from the earth (6:4). His “great sword” conveys violent bloodshed and anticipates the sober call for the saints’ endurance in 13:10. The third horseman, mounted on a black horse, holds a pair of scales signifying commerce (6:5). The significantly inflated prices for food staples (a quart of wheat and three quarts of barley) suggest scarcity or even famine conditions, perhaps due to war (6:6; cf. 2Kgs 6:24–33), though the protection of oil and wine sets limits on this destruction. The fourth rider sits atop a pale horse and is called “Death” (6:8). Death and Hades violently kill with the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts. This scene alludes to the “four dreadful judgments” that God threatened to send against unfaithful Israel (Ezek 14:21 NIV; cf. 14:12–20; Lev 26:22–26; Deut 32:23–27; Jer 24:10).
6:9–11 The fifth seal reveals the martyrs crying out for divine justice after they were “slain” like the Lamb (5:6, 9, 12), perhaps as a result of the violence and bloodshed of the first four seals (6:4, 8). John’s reference to their “souls” suggests that these martyrs await the resurrection (cf. 20:4), while their position “under the altar” expresses the sacrificial nature of their deaths and may recall the OT altar of incense or the altar of burnt offering (cf. Lev 4:7). They are slain because of “the word of God” and their faithful “witness,” echoing the reasons for John’s exile (Rev 1:9). The martyrs appeal to the Sovereign Lord to vindicate them and judge the inhabitants of the earth. This prayer is answered when Christ opens the sixth seal (6:12–17), and the multitude later worships God for judging his enemies and avenging the martyrs’ blood (16:5; 19:2). While awaiting final vindication, the martyrs are given assurance and called to patience. Each receives “a white robe,” attesting to their cleansing from sin and moral purity in God’s sight (cf. 3:4–5; 7:9, 14), even as they must “wait” (NIV), or “rest a little longer” (ESV), as God has ordained other Christians to suffer the same fate before the final judgment.
6:12–17 When the Lamb opens the penultimate seal, John sees cosmic upheaval associated with “the day of the Lord” (cf. 13:9–13; 34:4, 8; Joel 2:10–11, 31; Matt 24:29) and utter terror for the earth’s rulers and other groups of people who hide from the wrath of God and the Lamb (cf. Isa 2:19–21; Hos 10:8; Luke 23:30). The “great earthquake” recalls prophecies of divine judgment (Isa 29:6; Ezek 38:19; cf. Matt 24:7) and anticipates other scenes of God’s awesome presence and consummate judgment in this book (see Rev 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18). The removal of mountains and islands (6:14) parallels the scenes of cosmic destruction in 16:20 (the seventh bowl) and 20:11 (the white throne judgment). The sixth seal concludes with the desperate cry of unrepentant humanity: “who can stand” in the great day of divine wrath (6:17)? While this rhetorical question carries the force “No one can stand in that day,” it also anticipates John’s vision of the saints “standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (7:9, emphasis added).
The Sealed Servants of God (7:1–17)
Chapter 7 is an interlude between the sixth and seventh seals: John sees two related visions of believers kept safe from God’s wrath and standing in God’s presence. Scholars debate the identity of the 144,000 from Israel and the multiethnic multitude, as well as the precise relationship between these groups. For example, some interpret the 144,000 as Jewish people saved during the final tribulation, who evangelize the multitude. More likely, the 144,000 and the multitude are two complementary pictures of the same reality: God’s redeemed people throughout history. The first vision emphasizes that God protects and preserves the full number of his chosen people, while the second stresses that God saves a great crowd from every nation, ethnicity, and language group through the Lamb’s shed blood.
7:1–4 John sees four angels standing at the earth’s four corners holding back “four winds”; likely this refers to the four horsemen in 6:1–8 (cf. Zech 6:1–5). These angels are authorized to inflict damage, but another angel “with the seal of the living God” orders them to wait until God’s servants are “sealed.” John then hears their number: “144,00 sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” Sealing signifies that these people belong to God and receive his protection; 14:1 clarifies that the 144,000 bear the name of the Lamb and his Father on their foreheads. John’s vision alludes to Ezekiel 9:4–6, where the Lord’s agent marks the foreheads of the faithful, who are then spared when six executioners pass through the city to execute God’s wrath. So in Revelation’s fifth trumpet judgment, only those without God’s seal on their foreheads are harmed by the locusts (9:4). A mark on the forehead or hand designates those loyal to the beast (13:16; 14:9), while God’s people who refuse to worship the beast bear God’s name (14:1; 22:4) and are kept safe from divine wrath.
Interpreters debate whether the 144,000 refers to a precise or representative number of Jews at the end of history, or whether the number symbolically represents all God’s people throughout time. I hold the latter view. Numbers in this book frequently carry symbolic weight, and the number twelve (and its multiples) is associated with God’s people:
144,000 is twelve squared and multiplied by a thousand, which expresses the perfect, complete number of God’s people.
7:5–8 These verses unpack the number 144,000 by listing 12,000 from each tribe, which parallels in some ways the census of Israel’s fighting men in Numbers 1–2. However, this list doesn’t precisely match any OT records of the twelve tribes. Judah is named first as the tribe of the messianic king (Gen 49:9–10; Rev 5:5), ahead of Jacob’s firstborn, Reuben. Additionally, Manasseh (Joseph’s firstborn) replaces Dan, a tribe known for its idolatry (Judg 18:29–30; 1Kgs 12:29–30; Amos 8:14).
7:9–12 In 5:5–6, John hears about the conquering Lion of Judah and surprisingly sees a slain Lamb; likewise, what John sees in 7:9–10 (a great multitude) clarifies the meaning of what John hears in 7:4–8 (144,000). As Jesus is both the Lion of Judah and the slain Lamb, so also the numbered tribes and the innumerable throng portray the same entity from different yet complementary angles. This vision reinterprets nationalistic hopes and shows the fruition of God’s promise to multiply Abraham’s descendants and bless all nations (Gen 13:16; 15:5; 22:17–18; 26:4; 32:12).
John beholds the great multitude standing before the Almighty and the Lamb (7:9), a clear answer to the earlier question, “Who can stand?” (cf. 6:17). They do not hide in fear but stand in praise. These worshipers are from every grouping of humanity, representing all ethnicities, nationalities, languages, and tribes, as in 5:9. Their “white robes” recall the martyrs’ garments (6:11) and Christ’s promise to conquerors (3:4–5, 18). The heavenly elder explains that their robes have been “washed” and whitened by the Lamb’s blood (7:14; cf. 22:14). They hold “palm branches,” which are associated with the Feast of Booths that marked Israel’s exodus from Egypt (Lev 23:40–43; John 12:13) and anticipated a future redemption (Zech 14:16). The multitude declares, “Salvation belongs to our God . . . and to the Lamb” (cf. 12:10; 19:1), which recalls OT affirmations of God’s saving deeds (Exod 15:2; Ps 3:8; Jer 3:23; Jonah 2:9) while specifying the Lamb’s role in divine deliverance. The angels respond to this celebration of salvation with sevenfold praise to God (7:11–12), echoing the heavenly worship in 5:11–14.
7:13–14 One of the elders poses a question to John and then answers it, explaining that the white-robed multitude are those redeemed by Christ who come “out of the great tribulation.” Some understand this “great tribulation” as a precise reference to a final period of hostility before Christ’s return, but the phrase more likely describes a time of intense trouble for God’s people throughout the church age that ends in deliverance and resurrection (Dan 12:1). John introduces himself to the seven churches as their “partner in the tribulation” (1:9), and Christ knows his people’s “tribulation” and calls for faithful endurance even unto death (2:9–10).
7:15–17 “Therefore” (7:15) introduces the glorious consequences of cleansing from sin and enduring tribulation. These verses preview the saints’ priestly work and their experience of everlasting life with God in the new creation. The reference to serving in “his temple” is symbolic, not literal, as there is “no temple” in the New Jerusalem, which is filled with the radiant presence of God and the Lamb (21:22).
The redeemed shall not “hunger” or “thirst” but will instead experience eternal comfort and satisfaction (7:16–17), both fulfilling Isaiah 49:10 and anticipating Revelation 21:4, 6. The reason why the saints are protected and provided for comes in 7:17: “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd.” In the OT, the Lord shepherds his people (Ps 23:1) and appoints David as their shepherd-ruler (2Sam 5:2; 7:7). Strikingly, Revelation presents the slain Lamb as the messianic shepherd who embodies God’s own care for his flock and leads them to “living water” (cf. John 4:14; 10:11). This vision concludes with an allusion to the restoration prophecy in Isaiah 25:8: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (cf. Rev 21:4).
The Seventh Seal (8:1–5)
8:1–2 After the interlude in chapter 7, the Lamb breaks the seventh seal (8:1), which brings a brief period of heavenly silence as the mysterious scroll is fully opened. The OT prophets summon people to “be silent” in God’s holy presence as judgment day approaches (Zeph 1:7; Hab 2:20; Zech 2:13). Further, in the exodus Moses responds to the people’s fears by calling them to see God’s salvation and “be silent” (Exod 14:13–14). This expectant silence in 8:1 prepares for another round of judgments as seven angels receive trumpets in 8:2.
8:3–5 Before these angels prepare to sound their trumpets (8:6), a brief interlude vividly portrays how the sovereign Lord hears and answers his people’s petitions. John sees another angel with a golden censer (or “incense burner,” CSB) like a priest serving in the tabernacle (Lev 16:12); the angel offers incense and prayers on the golden altar before God’s throne (8:3). This is the same altar where the slain martyrs appeal for divine justice in 6:9–10, and the offering of the saints’ supplications recalls the throne room vision in 5:8, where golden bowls of incense signify believers’ prayers. The sweet aroma of mingled incense and prayers—including the martyrs’ cries—reaches God’s presence with angelic authorization (8:4). Verse 5 dramatically depicts the divine response to these prayers. The priestly angel at the heavenly altar fills his censer with fire and hurls it on the earth, accompanied by thunder, rumblings, lightning, and an earthquake. These are the sights and sounds of Mount Sinai (Exod 19:16; 20:18) that proceed from God’s heavenly throne (4:5). This storm theophany reveals God’s holy presence in judgment after the seventh seal is opened and anticipates the trumpet judgments, which prominently feature “fire” (8:7–8) and likewise conclude with the same thunderous display (11:19). The point is that these judgment cycles are not arbitrary or vindictive; they are the Almighty’s awesome answer to the effective prayers of his people and express God’s praiseworthy truthfulness and justice (16:7).
The Seven Trumpets (8:6–11:19)
John sees seven angels with trumpets in 8:2, and they prepare to sound these trumpets in 8:6, initiating the book’s next cycle of judgments (following the seals). The first six angels blow their trumpets one after another (8:7–9:21), then there is an extended interlude (10:1–11:14) before the final trumpet sounds and heaven erupts in praise (11:15–18). The exodus plagues against Egypt provide a biblical-theological model for the trumpet and bowl judgments in Revelation (see Table: Trumpets, Bowls, and Plagues).
Scholars disagree about the relationship and timing of the seals, trumpets, and bowls of wrath. Do these judgments occur in the first century AD (preterists), at the end of history (many futurists), or throughout history until Christ’s return (idealists)? Should we understand these cycles to be chronologically sequential (seals, then trumpets, then bowls), or do they describe the same realities using parallelism or recapitulation?
The repetition of thunder, lightning, rumblings, and an earthquake following the seventh seal (8:5), the seventh trumpet (11:19), and the seventh bowl (16:18) strongly suggests a pattern of recapitulation. Additionally, there are striking similarities between the trumpets and bowls and their shared exodus background (see Table: Trumpets, Bowls, and Plagues), though the bowls seem to go further than the trumpets in presenting consummate divine judgment. For example, a third of the sea turns to blood and a third of sea creatures perish when the second trumpet sounds (8:8–9), but the entire sea turns to blood and every creature dies when the angel pours out the second bowl (16:3). This intensification from the trumpets to the bowls may suggest that the trumpets (like the seals) refer to judgments throughout history, while the bowls depict climactic judgments near the end of history. However, the sixth seal (6:12–17) with its apocalyptic day-of-the-Lord imagery most likely presents a vision of the final judgment rather than a preliminary judgment preparing for the trumpets and bowls (note the many parallels with the seventh bowl in 16:17–21). There is a similar finality to the seventh trumpet, as the heavenly elders declare, “The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants . . . and for destroying the destroyers of the earth” (11:18).
In my view, progressive parallelism or recapitulation best accounts for the many similarities between the seals, trumpets, and bowls, while allowing for an intensified, fuller expression of God’s judgment in the final judgment cycle.
Six Trumpets Sound (8:6–9:21)
8:6–7 When the first trumpet sounds, hail and fire, mixed with blood, are thrown upon the earth, burning up a third of the earth (or land) and its trees and all grass. This clearly alludes to the seventh plague, where the Lord sent thunder, hail, and fire to the earth in the land of Egypt (Exod 9:23; cf. Ps 105:32; “earth” and “land” render the same Greek word gē). The first trumpet fulfills God’s promise in Ezekiel 38:22–23 that he will again rain down hailstones, fire, and sulfur to reveal his greatness and holiness to many nations.
8:8–9 At the second trumpet judgment, a great fiery mountain is thrown into the sea, turning a third of its water to blood, killing a third of the sea creatures, and destroying a third of the ships. This trumpet is modeled on the first plague, where the Nile’s water turns to blood and its fish die (Exod 7:20–21). The partial judgment on the sea prepares for the consummate judgment of the second bowl, when the whole sea becomes like the blood of a corpse and every living thing dies (16:3). The “great mountain, burning with fire” recalls the prophecy that Babylon will be “a burned-out mountain” (Jer 51:25). Later in Revelation, Babylon is destroyed by fire and hurled into the sea (18:8, 21; cf. Jer 51:63–64). Similarly, the destruction of ships in 8:9 foreshadows the somber scene in 18:17–19, where sailors and sea captains mourn the demise of Babylon’s bustling sea trade.
8:10–11 The third trumpet blast reveals a great burning star (“Wormwood”) falling from heaven on a third of the rivers and water springs, making the water “wormwood”—bitter and deadly. “Wormwood” in the OT is a metaphor for the bitterness of suffering (Lam 3:15, 19), sin (Deut 29:19; Prov 5:4), and judgment (Jer 9:15; 23:15). The third trumpet, like the second, alludes to God’s judgment on Egypt’s rivers, canals, and ponds, which reeked of death and became non-potable (Exod 7:19–21; cf. Ps 78:44). Such bitter, deadly water contrasts with the springs of living water that satisfy God’s people forever (7:17).
8:12 The first three trumpets announce judgment upon the earth and the waters, and the fourth blast disrupts the heavenly lights: God strikes the sun, moon, and stars, darkening a third of their light during the day and the night. This act recalls the penultimate plague of the exodus when utter darkness enveloped the Egyptians for three days, while Israel had light (Exod 10:21–23). Within Revelation, the fourth trumpet recalls the sixth seal: the sun becomes as sackcloth, the moon reddens, and the stars fall (6:12–13). It also anticipates the fifth bowl: the beast’s kingdom is plunged into darkness (16:10). The disturbance of the heavenly lights is a typical feature of prophecies about the day of the Lord, which brings disasters on earth and topples mighty kingdoms (see Isa 13:10; 24:23; Ezek 32:7–8; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Matt 24:29). The fourth trumpet draws especially on Isaiah’s “oracle concerning Babylon,” which links the darkening of the heavenly lights with the humbling of the haughty in the day of the Lord (Isa 13:1, 9–11).
The trumpets bring judgment on parts of creation depicted in Genesis 1–2:
This de-creation is partial, not total (as in the great flood). God’s restrained judgment here reflects his promise in Genesis 8:21 while looking ahead to the final judgment.
8:13 Between the fourth and fifth trumpets, John hears an eagle cry, “Woe, woe, woe.” This ominous announcement prepares for the more intensified judgment that awaits “those who dwell on the earth” (cf. 9:12; 11:14). Revelation distinctively depicts unbelievers as “earth-dwellers” who adopt the values and perspective of earth, readily worship the beast, and disregard the true God and his people (cf. 3:10; 6:10; 11:10; 13:8, 14; 17:8).
9:1 The blast of the fifth trumpet initiates a lengthy description of judgment that opens with a star falling from heaven, as in 8:10. Stars signify angels in Revelation (see 1:20), so readers have identified the star in 9:1 as a fallen angel—perhaps Satan (cf. Luke 10:18)—or an angel executing God’s will. While “fallen” could suggest that this star is an evil agent, it seems unlikely that God would entrust control over the abyss to Satan or his minions since one of God’s angels comes down from heaven holding “the key to the bottomless pit” and seizes the dragon in 20:1. Thus, the star in 9:1 probably signifies an angel whom God entrusts with authority to allow agents from the abyss to bring destruction on the earth.
9:2–6 The exodus typology seen in the first four trumpets continues in these verses. Smoke darkens the sun and air, recalling the plague of darkness in Egypt (Exod 10:21–23; cf. Rev 8:12). Further, the diabolical locusts parallel the eighth plague in which locusts consume Egypt’s plants and fruit and leave nothing green remaining (Exod 10:12–15; cf. Ps 78:46). In the OT the Lord threatens to send locusts as a judgment on unfaithful Israel to devour her vegetation (Deut 28:38; Joel 1:4; Amos 4:9), but the locusts in 9:4 come not to destroy crops but to torment unbelievers without God’s “seal” that protects his people (see 7:2–3). The Lord establishes limits on this judgment, permitting the locusts to afflict, but not kill, for a period of five months (9:5, 10).
9:7–11 The figurative description of these destructive agents signals that they are no ordinary locusts. They are swift like war horses (cf. Joel 2:4), crowned like princes (cf. Nah 3:17), intelligent like humans (cf. Dan 7:8), vicious like lions (cf. Joel 1:6), and clad for battle with breastplates and chariots (cf. Joel 2:5). Moreover, three times these locusts are likened to scorpions (Rev 9:3, 5, 10), which the ancient historian Pliny describes as “a dangerous scourge” whose sting is more painful and lethal than a serpent’s venom. Leading these locusts is the angel of the abyss, “Apollyon,” meaning “Destroyer” (NIV). Interpreters identify this king from the pit as Satan, the antichrist, the angel of death, or personified Destruction (the meaning of the Hebrew “Abaddon”). The Greek name “Apollyon” may also suggest a link to Apollo, the god of pestilence sometimes represented by a locust.
9:12 This parenthetical comment recalls the three-fold “woe” announced in 8:13: the fifth trumpet is the first of these woes, and 11:14 suggests that the final two trumpets represent the second and third woes.
9:13–15 When the sixth angel sounds his trumpet, John hears a voice from the golden altar releasing four angels prepared to kill a third of humanity. This is the same altar where the martyrs cry out and the angel offers incense to God (6:9; 8:3), symbolically linking the sixth trumpet with the saints’ prayers for vindication. John earlier sees four angels holding back the four winds (7:1), but the four angels in 9:14 do not restrain judgment but are—like the winds and horsemen in the seal cycle—evil agents released for destruction. They come from the Euphrates, alluding to prophecies of enemies attacking from the north (see Jer 46:2, 10) and anticipating the sixth bowl of wrath poured out on the great river to prepare the way for kings to come together for battle (16:12–16). While the locusts of the fifth trumpet torture people for a limited duration, the angels in the sixth trumpet are released to kill at the specific time appointed by God.
9:16–19 John then hears and sees a terrifying, vast army with “fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow” breastplates (CSB) mounted on fire-breathing horses with lions’ heads and serpentine tails, evidently led by the four angels. This figurative description suggests a demonic rather than a human force. Their number—two myriads of myriads, equivalent to two hundred million—symbolizes an incalculable multitude (cf. Dan 7:10), a thousand times the size of Rome’s formidable army in the late first century.
The “three plagues”—deadly fire, smoke, and sulfur from the horses’ mouths—recall God’s paradigmatic destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24, 28; cf. Luke 17:29) and portend God’s ultimate judgment of his foes (Rev 14:10–11; 18:9; 20:10; 21:8; cf. Ezek 38:22).
9:20–21 The devastating judgment of the sixth trumpet does not move survivors to repent of their idolatry or immorality, nor do the bowls of wrath (see 16:9, 11). As Pharaoh hardened his heart in response to the ten plagues (Exod 4:21; 14:4), so unbelieving humanity continues to oppose God and his ways. These verses offer the longest of three vice lists in the book (see also Rev 21:8; 22:15), each of which includes idolatry, murder, magic arts or sorcery, and sexual immorality. The vice list here uniquely includes “thefts” and expansively describes the objects of their worship: “demons and idols . . . which cannot see or hear or walk.” This reflects the OT teaching about idols’ material and spiritual essence (Deut 4:28; 32:16–17; Ps 115:4–7). In Revelation, idolatrous earth-dwellers increasingly resemble the objects of their worship and refuse to hear God’s word or walk in his ways.
The Angel and the Scroll (10:1–11)
Between the final two trumpets, there is an extended interlude or parenthetical vision in 10:1–11:13 like the vision of the multiethnic multitude in chapter 7 that interrupts the sixth and seventh seals. In the context of calamitous judgment scenes, these interludes offer believers reassurance and perspective concerning their true situation, identity, and hope. Revelation 10 records a vision of a strong angel with a scroll, which John eats to signify his calling to prophesy. Then 11:1–13 depicts Jesus’s “two witnesses” who are killed by earth-dwellers, then vindicated by God.
10:1 John sees a stunning angelic figure descending from heaven. He is clothed in a cloud, attended by a rainbow, with a face like the sun, and fiery pillars for legs. This exalted language parallels descriptions of God, the Son of Man, and the heavenly throne room in Revelation (1:7, 15–16; 4:3, 5; 14:14) and elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., Exod 13:21; 19:16–18; Ps 78:14; Ezek 1:28). Some commentators conclude that this glorious being is Christ himself, though that is unlikely for several reasons. First, Revelation never elsewhere calls Jesus an angel and makes clear that only God and the Lamb are worthy of worship, not angels (19:10; 22:9). Second, “Another mighty angel” with “a loud voice” (10:1, 3) recalls the earlier vision of “the mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice” in 5:2 (see also 18:21). Finally, the angel swears an oath by God who lives forever and created all things (10:6), which suggests that he himself is a created being and not divine. Thus, this angel is not Christ but his resplendent representative.
10:2 This great angel puts one foot on sea, another on land, signifying that his message pertains to the whole world created by God (10:5–6)—the same jurisdiction where the devil briefly exercises authority (12:12–13). The angel holds “a little scroll,” which John takes and eats in 10:8–10. Some scholars argue that this is a different scroll than the one John sees in chapter 5, but there are good reasons to identify this “open” scroll in the angel’s hand as the same scroll that the Lamb has just unsealed. Revelation 5 and 10 draw on imagery from Ezekiel 2–3 to describe this mysterious double-sided scroll that is bitter and sweet. Now that Christ has unsealed God’s inscrutable scroll, the prophet must eat the scroll, internalizing its message, and declare it to many nations (10:8–11).
10:3–4 The angel’s lion-like voice prompts seven thunders to speak. As John prepares his prophetic pen, a heavenly voice commands him to “seal up” the thunders’ message and not write it down, concealing it from readers. The open scroll—not the seven thunders—contains the revelation that John must herald.
10:5–7 The mighty angel swears that God’s mystery will be fulfilled without delay. His oath with his right hand raised to heaven alludes to Daniel 12:7. In both texts, the angel invokes God’s authority as one who lives forever and swears that all of God’s plans will be finished. The repetition of heaven, earth, and sea (10:5–6) underscores the Creator’s complete sovereignty over all things. “No more delay” stresses that God will imminently fulfill his previously hidden purposes for judgment and salvation (“the mystery of God”) in accordance with the prophetic word (cf. Amos 3:7). 10:7 reflects Revelation’s position as the culmination of biblical prophecy and reminds readers that God will surely and necessarily keep his promises and carry out his revealed will.
10:8–10 John dramatizes his prophetic calling by eating the open scroll. The heavenly voice that addressed John earlier (10:4) commands him to take the scroll (10:8). The angel tells the prophet, “Take and eat it,” explaining that the scroll will be bitter in John’s stomach but sweet in his mouth (10:9). This scene is modeled after Ezekiel 2:8–3:3, where the prophet sees a double-sided scroll stretched out with “words of lamentation and mourning and woe” and then receives divine instruction to “eat this scroll” and speak God’s word to Israel. So Ezekiel eats this mysterious scroll, which tastes sweet like honey in his mouth. In both Revelation and Ezekiel, eating a heavenly scroll is a symbolic picture of the prophet fully internalizing God’s revealed message in order to speak it to others. When John ingests this scroll, it tastes sweet and sour (10:10)—sweet as God’s true words that bring life and joy (Jer 15:16; Pss 19:10; 119:103), yet also bitter, as John (like Ezekiel) must prophesy about coming divine judgment and woe. The bitterness in John’s belly recalls the third trumpet, in which the earth’s waters become bitter and deadly (8:11).
10:11 The exhortation “You must again prophesy” reiterates John’s calling to testify about all he sees and hears (cf. 1:2, 19) and explains why John consumes the heavenly scroll. Ezekiel is not sent to far-off peoples who would heed his warnings (Ezek 3:6), while John’s prophecy concerns many peoples, nations, languages, and rulers. Scholars debate whether verse 11 has a positive or negative sense: does John prophesy “about” many nations or “against” them? The debated phrase prophēteusai epi (“prophesy about/against”) in the Greek OT often introduces correction and judgment against Israel and the nations (e.g., Ezek 4:7; 21:2; 25:2; 29:2), yet it also presents words of consolation and coming restoration for God’s people (e.g., Ezek 36:6; 37:9). The book of Revelation presents contrasting visions of the nations devoted to the beast (13:12; 18:3) and delivered by the Lamb (5:9; 7:9–10), which suggests that John’s prophetic message about the nations includes both judgment and redemption. The summons to prophesy also prepares for the next scene in which Christ’s witnesses “will prophesy for 1,260 days” (11:3).
The Two Witnesses (11:1–13)
11:1–2 John receives a measuring rod with which to measure the temple, altar, and worshipers. However, the temple’s outer court and the holy city are not measured because they will be trampled by the nations. Measuring the temple is another parabolic action with OT background, like sealing God’s servants (7:2–8) and consuming the heavenly scroll (10:8–10). In Zechariah 2:1–2, a man prepares to measure Jerusalem for rebuilding, and in Ezekiel 40:3, the prophet sees a man with a cord and measuring reed to survey the area inside and outside the temple (Ezek 40–47). Similar to sealing, measuring signifies God’s ownership and safekeeping. The measuring of God’s temple in 11:1 anticipates 21:15–17, where an angel measures the glorious New Jerusalem.
Some preterists interpret 11:1–2 (and passages like Luke 21:20–24) with reference to Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, while some futurists (especially dispensationalists) understand these verses as an end-time prophecy about a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem and Jewish worshipers during a future great tribulation. However, “temple” (naos) elsewhere in Revelation consistently designates God’s glorious presence in heaven (11:19; 14:17) that will one day fill the new creation (21:22; cf. 7:15). Likewise, 21:2 identifies “the holy city” as New Jerusalem coming out of heaven like a bride on her wedding day (cf. 21:10), while 22:19 references the saints’ future share in the holy city. Thus, it is unlikely that 11:1–2 refers to a past or future literal temple structure in the earthly Jerusalem; rather, the symbolic act of measuring the temple, altar, and worshipers signifies God’s protection and preservation of his people, who are “the temple of the living God” (2Cor 6:16; cf. 1Cor 3:16; 6:19; Eph 2:21).
Some readers discern a distinction between two groups of people in 11:1–2: the measured (believing Jews or the faithful church) and the unmeasured (unbelieving Jews or the unfaithful church). More likely, the symbolism here suggests that God allows his people to suffer harm at the hands of the unbelieving nations, yet God ultimately keeps safe those who belong to him. 11:3–13 vividly illustrates this point as Jesus’s two witnesses (likely signifying the church) prophesy, suffer, and are finally vindicated.
Forty-two months (11:2; cf. 13:5) is equivalent to 1,260 days (11:3; 12:6) and “a time, and times, and half a time” (12:14). This interval is drawn from Daniel 7:25 and 12:7 and also parallels Elijah’s ministry (1Kgs 17:1; Luke 4:25; Jas 5:17). Some interpreters take this to be a literal period of three and one-half years preceding the temple’s historical destruction or Christ’s future return. However, the Danielic background and figurative use of numbers within Revelation suggest that forty-two months is a symbolic period of suffering and witness that extends from Christ’s ascension to his return. During this present evil age, the nations trample the holy city, the two witnesses prophesy, the dragon and beast fight against God’s people, and the saints experience God’s help (11:2–3; 12:6, 14; 13:5–7).
11:3 Two witnesses are introduced, who have authority to prophesy for 1,260 days. The emphasis on their prophetic identity (11:10) and the mention of peoples, languages, and nations (11:9) signal a close link with John’s commissioning to prophesy (10:11). Their sackcloth signifies mourning over sin and a message of repentance. The duration of their prophetic ministry is 1,260 days, or three and one-half years—the same time period that the holy city is trampled and the saints suffer (11:2; 12:6, 14; 13:5; cf. Dan 7:25; 12:7).
Ancient and contemporary readers have variously identified these two witnesses with specific OT figures such as Enoch and Elijah, who were taken directly to heaven (Gen 5:24; 2Kgs 2:11; Mal 4:5–6), or Elijah and Moses, since these witnesses shut the sky and turn water into blood (11:6; cf. 1Kgs 17:1; Exod 7:17). Most likely, the two witnesses signify the church, which testifies to Christ and experiences tribulation and ultimate triumph.
11:4 These witnesses are described as two olive trees and two lampstands, which alludes to the vision of a golden lampstand with an olive tree on either side of it in Zechariah 4:2–3. In Zechariah’s prophecy, this lampstand represents the temple being rebuilt (Zech 4:9), while the olive trees are explained as “the two anointed ones” (Zech 4:14), a reference either to Joshua the high priest (Zech 3:1) and Zerubbabel the governor (Zech 4:6–10), or to Zechariah and Haggai, whose prophetic ministry relates closely to the construction of the temple after exile (Zech 8:9; cf. Ezra 5:1–2; 6:14–15).
While Zechariah describes one lampstand flanked by olive trees, the Apocalypse presents two lampstands that are also olive trees. In 1:20, Christ identifies the seven golden lampstands in John’s vision as churches, and this earlier explanation of lampstands as churches informs the symbolism in 11:4 as well. By calling the two witnesses olive trees and lampstands “that stand before the Lord of the earth,” Revelation further stresses the divine authority of their prophetic activity and God’s presence with them.
If these witnesses-olive trees-lampstands describe churches, rather than individuals, their number could refer to the two faithful churches in chapters 2–3 (Smyrna and Philadelphia) or the united Jewish and Gentile church. More likely, it reflects the biblical requirement for two or more witnesses in a legal case (Num 35:30; Deut 17:6; 19:15). Thus, the symbolism in 11:4 conveys that Christ’s church bears the light of God’s presence and bears witness against the earth-dwellers who do not repent.
11:5–6 Christ’s witnesses are prophetic twins. Consuming fire pours from their mouth (11:5), which recalls the OT description of God’s word in the prophet’s mouth (Jer 5:14). The witnesses prevent rain from falling, turn water to blood, and send plagues on the earth (11:6), recalling the mighty works of Elijah (1Kgs 17:1) and Moses (Exod 7:17; cf. 1Sam 4:8).
11:7 The beast from the abyss fights against and slays Christ’s two witnesses. This brief reference to the beast previews chapter 13, where the terrifying beast rises from the sea (13:1) and makes war against the saints (13:7), following the prophecy in Daniel 7:21.
11:8–10 The fallen witnesses are mocked and dishonored as onlookers rejoice and refuse them burial in the great city (cf. Ps 79:1–4). This continues for three and a half days—a short period that contrasts with their longer ministry for three and a half years (11:3) and may echo Christ’s three days in the tomb (Matt 12:40) or the cryptic half week in Daniel 9:27.
This great city is also called Sodom, Egypt, and the place where their Lord was crucified. The key term pneumatikōs—translated “symbolically” (ESV), “figuratively” (NIV), and “spiritually” (NKJV)—reflects the prophet’s Spirit-aided insight into this city’s essence. Sodom is the prototypical wicked city that warrants God’s fiery judgment (Gen 18:20–21; 19:24; cf. Isa 13:19; Jer 50:39–40), while Egypt is the place of oppressive slavery from which God rescues Israel (Exod 2:23; 20:2). The city’s final spiritual name recalls Jerusalem, which killed the prophets and crucified the Lord (Luke 13:33–34; 18:31–33), and Revelation later identifies this great city as Babylon the Great (14:8; 16:19; 18:21). Interpreters commonly argue that the great city refers to Rome or Jerusalem (past or future), and the book’s first readers likely connected the vast, prosperous, and brutal Roman empire with Babylon (cf. 1Pet 5:13). However, the significant biblical-theological associations of Babylon (see 14:8) and the combination of symbolic names in 11:8 suggest that Rome is not a one-for-one equivalent with Babylon. Revelation does not provide a precise geographic location for this great city but a spiritual assessment of idolatrous, immoral human society, what Augustine calls “the earthly city” that opposes the City of God.
11:11–12 The disgraced prophets are dramatically vindicated. God’s life-giving breath (or Spirit, pneuma) enters them, and they stand on their feet, language drawn from the famous prophecy of Israel’s revival after exile in Ezekiel 37:5, 10. If the two witnesses represent the church, as argued above (see comments on 11:3), then this scene depicts the resurrection of God’s people at the end of history (cf. 1Cor 15:20–23). Then the witnesses ascend in a cloud after a heavenly voice calls, “Come up here!” This event parallels Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:9) and the heavenly summons to the prophet in 4:1–2. Their enemies watch with fear as God vindicates his witnessing church—their response of dread reverses their earlier rejoicing.
11:13 A tremor destroys a tenth of the great city and 7,000 people, while the terrified survivors glorify God. “A great earthquake” parallels descriptions of final judgment in 6:12 (the sixth seal) and 16:18 (the seventh bowl) and recalls Ezekiel 38:19. The limited destruction in 11:13 anticipates the total devastation in 16:19, where Babylon is split in three parts. Some interpreters understand the people’s response of giving glory to God as an expression of reverent fear and repentance (14:7; 15:4); more likely, however, these shaken survivors recognize God’s power yet persist in unbelief (cf. 6:15–17; 16:21).
The Seventh Trumpet (11:14–19)
11:14 Following the extended interlude in 10:1–11:13, John returns to the earlier announcement of three woes (cf. 8:13). The first woe refers to the fifth trumpet (9:12), while “the second woe has passed” recalls the sixth trumpet (9:13–21), and the third woe anticipates the final trumpet blast in 11:15.
11:15 The sounding of the seventh trumpet prompts joyful heavenly worship, not a further scene of destructive judgment. The voices in heaven declare that the Lord and his Messiah now rule over the world’s kingdom and will reign forever (cf. Luke 1:33). The kingdom of God is inseparably tied to the messianic king, Jesus (cf. Ps 2:2, 6), who rules in heaven now (1:5; 3:21) and will return to consummate his kingdom (19:16). Elsewhere, Revelation calls the Almighty the one “who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4), but the abbreviated title “who is and who was” in 11:17 and 16:5 expresses that God’s future “coming” to save and to judge is no longer an expectation for the future but a present reality.
11:16–18 The twenty-four elders (introduced in 4:4) fall down and worship the Almighty because his rule is established, which means that the raging nations face his wrath, while his servants receive his reward. Their praise parallels Psalm 2: the nations rage against the Lord and his Anointed, but God in heaven addresses them “in his anger” and establishes his Son’s reign (Ps 2:6–9). The kings of earth must fear the Lord or else face his fury (Ps 2:10–12). Moreover, the song of the final trumpet recalls the Song of Moses, which concludes, “The Lord will reign forever and ever” (Exod 15:18). 11:18 looks ahead to the final judgment, when God will judge all the dead according to their deeds (Rev 20:12–13). Specifically, the Almighty will destroy those who destroy the earth (cf. Jer 51:25), reflecting the principle that the punishment fits the crime and expressing the hope of suffering believers that God will avenge their blood (6:10; 16:5–6; 19:2).
God judges his foes and rewards his faithful servants (or “slaves,” rendering the Greek word doulos). Interpreters debate whether the list of prophets, saints, and God-fearers in 11:18 refers to one, two, or three different groups of divine servants (similar expressions occur in 16:6; 18:24; 22:9). While Revelation presents the church as witnesses and prophets in this age (11:3, 7, 10; cf. Num 11:29; Joel 2:28), the book also calls OT prophets God’s “servants” (10:7) and emphasizes John’s unique authorization to write authoritative prophecy like his prophetic predecessors (1:1–3, 11, 19; 10:8–11). As 18:20 lists saints, apostles, and prophets as distinct groups, so 11:18 likely presents two groups of divine servants: prophets (like John) and the saints who fear God’s name. Regardless, all believers eagerly anticipate a reward (misthos) at Jesus’s return (22:12).
11:19 The trumpet cycle concludes with a storm theophany that reveals the awesome presence of the Almighty. The flashes of lightning, rumblings, thunder, and earthquake parallel the conclusion to the seven seals (8:5) and seven bowls of wrath (16:18). “Great hail” recalls the seventh plague against Egypt (Exod 9:18–25) and parallels the final bowl judgment (16:21) and the first trumpet (8:7); thus, hail opens and concludes the trumpet cycle. Further, the mention of the ark of the covenant in God’s heavenly temple (11:19) once again reminds readers of Sinai (Exod 25:10) and symbolizes God’s presence with his people.
Christ, the Dragon, and the Beast in Conflict (12:1–14:20)
After seven trumpets and before the seven bowls of wrath, John records a series of visions that portray the central conflict between the forces of God and Satan. The dragon, beast, and false prophet oppose Christ and persecute his people (12:4, 17; 13:7), but the saints must be wise, endure suffering, and hold fast to the testimony of Jesus (12:11, 17; 13:10, 18). While “earth-dwellers” follow the beast (13:8), true believers are purchased from the earth and preserved by God to sing of the Lamb’s salvation (14:1–5).
The Woman and the Dragon (12:1–17)
Revelation 12 is widely recognized as the book’s pivotal chapter, which unfolds in three parts. First, 12:1–6 presents two heavenly “signs”: the woman (representing God’s people) and her Messianic child, and the terrifying dragon who opposes them (representing Satan). Then 12:7–12 describes the war in heaven, in which the dragon is thrown down to earth. Finally, 12:13–17 depicts the dragon’s earthly assault on the woman and her children (the saints), who receive divine protection and help.
12:1–2 The “great sign” in heaven contrasts with “another sign” (12:3); together they introduce the basic conflict between the dragon and the woman that hearkens back to Eden. First, John sees “a woman clothed with the sun,” with the moon beneath her feet and twelve stars on her head. While some readers interpret this woman as an individual (Mary or Eve), most understand her as a corporate symbol of Israel, the church, or—most likely—the people of God throughout history. The sun, moon, and stars allude to Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9, suggesting that the “twelve stars” signify Israel’s tribes. The crown (stephanos) on the woman’s head recalls Christ’s offer to give “the crown of life” to the conquerors (2:10; cf. 3:11). Her labor and birth pains reflect OT imagery of the distress of God’s people longing for deliverance (Isa 26:17; 66:7–9; Mic 4:8–10; 5:3).
12:3 The next heavenly sign reveals “a great red dragon,” whose seven heads, ten horns, and seven diadems closely parallel “the beast” in 13:1 and 17:3. The OT depicts Pharaoh king of Egypt as “the great dragon” (Ezek 29:3; cf. 32:2), whom God pierced at the exodus (Isa 51:9) and will defeat at history’s end (Isa 27:1). The dragon in 12:2 is not simply an evil empire but Satan, the ultimate foe who empowers the beast (Rev 13:2, 4).
12:4 The dragon’s enmity towards the woman and her child recalls Genesis 3:15. 12:9 identifies the dragon as “that ancient serpent” and “the deceiver,” which are further allusions to Genesis 3. The dragon’s tail hurls down a third of the stars to earth, which may refer to rebellious angels (anticipating 12:9) or the persecution of God’s people (cf. Dan 8:10). Elsewhere in Revelation, stars fall from heaven in judgment scenes (6:13; 8:10–12; 9:1) and signify angels (1:16, 20), which favors the first interpretation. However, the twelve stars in 12:1 represent Israel (cf. Gen 37:9), and the close parallel in Daniel 8:10 depicts the evil ruler Antiochus trampling on Israel. This suggests that the falling stars represent the dragon’s past assaults on the covenant community, which culminate in his opposition to the messianic child.
12:5–6 The woman gives birth to “a male child,” who is to rule (or shepherd, poimainō) the nations with an iron rod. This recalls the foundational promise of Genesis 3:15 and the messianic hope of Psalm 2:9 (cf. Rev 2:27; 19:15). Verse 5 does not rehearse the events of Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection but moves directly from OT messianic hopes to Christ’s heavenly ascension to God’s throne (cf. 3:21). The woman then flees into the wilderness, where she experiences God’s protection and provision (12:6, 14). This episode recalls Israel’s flight from Egypt into the wilderness (Exod 16:32) and the promise of restoration after exile (Isa 40:3; Hos 2:14–15). Her 1,260 days in the wilderness (12:6) is equivalent to “a time, and times, and half a time” (12:14; see also 11:2–3; 13:5–7), referring to the symbolic period of tribulation for God’s people predicted in Daniel 7:25 and 12:7.
12:7–9 John recounts the heavenly war between Michael and the dragon, which corresponds to the dragon’s hostility towards the woman and the messianic child in 12:4–6. Michael is “the archangel” (Jude 9) and heavenly “prince,” who contends for God’s people (Dan 10:13, 21; 12:1). The dragon and his angels are overpowered and find no “place” in heaven. This alludes to Daniel 2:35, where the stone (representing God’s kingdom) smashes the kingdoms of iron, clay, bronze, silver, and gold, and “their place was not found” (NETS). Satan and his allies are “thrown down to earth,” which is interpreted in three primary ways: (1) Satan’s primordial fall (before Gen 3:1); (2) a future fall corresponding to events of a final tribulation; or (3) Satan’s decisive defeat through Jesus’s death and resurrection. The final view is most plausible: the devil is “cast out” as Christ is exalted in death and life (John 12:31–32; Col 2:15; cf. Luke 10:18) and “caught up to God” (Rev 12:5).
Verses 9–10 elaborate on the dragon’s identity and character as “that ancient serpent” who tempted Eve (Gen 3:1), “the devil and Satan,” who opposes and slanders God’s people (Eph 6:11; 1Pet 5:8), “the deceiver” (cf. 20:3, 8, 10), and “the accuser” (cf. Zech 3:1; Job 1:9). As the dragon hurled stars from heaven (Rev 12:4), so he himself is “thrown down” (eblēthē) from heaven to earth in anticipation of the ultimate judgment of all God’s foes in the lake of fire (19:20; 20:10, 14, 15).
12:10–12 A heavenly voice interprets the significance of John’s vision in 12:7–9. God’s “salvation,” “power,” and “kingdom” feature prominently in other heavenly worship scenes in Revelation (4:11; 5:12–13; 7:10; 11:15; 19:1); here, the devil’s fall prompts praise for God and “his Christ.” Moreover, accused believers have “conquered” Satan through their identification with Christ. Christ has conquered as the slain Lamb (5:5–6), and believers achieve victory through Christ’s redemptive sacrifice (1:5) and through their faithful testimony about Christ even in the face of suffering or martyrdom (1:9; 2:10). Because of this victory over Satan, the voice commands heaven and its occupants to “rejoice” but warns the earth and sea that the devil is furious because his end is sure and coming soon.
12:13–16 The dragon continues his hostile pursuit of the woman (God’s people; cf. 12:6), after he is “thrown down to the earth” (12:9). The woman receives the wings of an eagle, an image of God’s protection and salvation for his people at the exodus from Egypt (Exod 19:4; Deut 32:11–12) and the second exodus after exile (Isa 40:31). The woman flies away from the diabolical serpent and receives nourishment in the wilderness for the three and a half years that represent the period between Christ’s resurrection and return (Rev 12:14; cf. 12:6). The serpent then spews out water, attempting to sweep away the woman (12:15). “Poured” translates the same Greek word (ballō) used for the dragon casting out stars (12:3) and being thrown from heaven (12:9–10, 13). This flood from the dragon’s mouth signifies lying words meant to deceive and destroy God’s people (cf. Ps 144:7–8, 11). In 12:16, the earth protects the woman by swallowing the devil’s floodwaters, vividly recalling the judgments against Egypt (Exod 15:12) and Korah’s followers (Num 16:30–33; Deut 11:6; Ps 106:17).
12:17 John’s vision thus far has depicted the dragon’s hostility against the woman (God’s people) and her offspring (the Messiah). Now the dragon makes war “on the rest of her offspring,” referring to believers who keep God’s commands and hold fast to the testimony about Jesus. The woman and her children represent the same reality—God’s people—from different perspectives (cf. “the elect lady and her children” in 2Jn 1). The woman may depict the unified, ideal church from God’s perspective, while her offspring may portray the community of individual believers who experience adversity and bear witness on earth.
Chapter 12 concludes with the dragon standing on the sand of the sea (13:1 in the NIV). This transitional statement links the dragon’s attacks against the woman and her children with his authorization of the seven-headed beast. The dragon’s standing posture recalls 12:4, where he readies to devour the messianic child. His seaside location recalls the warning to earth and sea in 12:12 and immediately prepares for the terrible beast rising out of the sea (13:1). Yet the earlier vision of the great angel standing on the sea and land (10:5, 8) reminds readers that the Creator of all things will carry out his plans without delay (10:6), while the devil’s time is short (12:12).
The Two Beasts (13:1–18)
The earth and sea are put on notice following the dragon’s fall from heaven (12:12), which prepares for John’s visions of diabolical beasts rising out of the sea (13:1) and the earth (13:11). These beasts carry out the dragon’s work, deceiving the nations and bringing trouble for God’s people. The saints must be wise and endure adversity throughout the symbolic forty-two months of the beast’s authority (13:10, 18), that they may conquer Satan and the beast in the end (12:11; 15:2).
13:1–4 The dragon stands near the sea (12:18) to prepare for “a beast rising out of the sea.” Elsewhere, this beast ascends from “the bottomless pit,” where demons reside (11:7; 17:8; cf. 9:1–2; Luke 8:31). The beast’s grotesque features—seven heads, ten horns, and diadems (Rev 13:1)—and scarlet color (see 17:3) demonstrate its family resemblance to the red dragon (12:3). The dragon authorizes and empowers this beast’s rule, a direct challenge to the sovereign God on heaven’s throne (4:2). This beast deceptively parodies Christ, the slain Lamb, who sits on the Almighty’s throne (2:27; 3:21; 5:6), as it shares the dragon’s throne (13:2) and has a head “as slain unto death” (13:3, author’s translation). Further, the beast and dragon receive global praise rightly due to God and the Lamb (13:4; cf. 5:13), which in the first century took the form of idolatrous emperor worship (cf. 2:12–13). The refrain “Who is like the beast?” parodies biblical confessions such as Exodus 15:11 and Psalm 113:5, while the question “Who can fight against it?” is ironic, since in 12:7–8 Michael fights and defeats the dragon.
This ten-horned beast also resembles a leopard, bear, and lion, combining features of the four great beasts from the sea described in Daniel 7:3–8. In Daniel, the four beasts represent kings and kingdoms (7:17, 23), traditionally identified as (1) Babylon, (2) Medo-Persia, (3) Greece, and (4) Rome (cf. Dan 2:31–43; Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 10.272–76). John sees a singular sea monster that resembles the dragon and each of Daniel’s four beasts. Scholars often identify this beast with first-century Rome, though others see it as a future Antichrist, and still others take it to signify all beastly empires of the past, present, and future that oppose God and his people. This third interpretation is most likely. Rome certainly qualifies as the beast for the seven churches to whom John writes, but it is not the first nor the last example of coercive state power that oppresses the saints and demands total allegiance and worship. John repeatedly uses the passive verb edothē (“given”) to show the beast is not self-determining; rather, it is “allowed” to war against Christ’s followers and receives authority over all peoples and nations for a limited time set by the sovereign God—forty-two months, equivalent to the symbolic 1,260 days (13:5, 7; cf. 13:14–15; see comments on 11:2).
13:5–8 The beast is not only covered with blasphemous names (13:2) but also speaks blasphemies against God and his people dwelling in heaven. Like the dragon, the beast makes war against the saints and, for a time, even conquers them (cf. 12:17; Dan 7:21). It rules over every people and receives praise from all “earth-dwellers” (see Rev 8:13), recalling how all the nations worshiped Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image (Dan 3:7) and contrasting with the multiethnic worship in heaven (Rev 5:9; 7:9; cf. Dan 7:14). Revelation clarifies that only those whose names are not written in the “book of life” go after the beast (13:8; 17:8) and await eternal death (20:15). True believers await final deliverance because they have been chosen for life, saved by the slain Lamb, and preserved for the new Jerusalem (3:5; 21:27; Dan 12:1).
13:9–10 The saints must “hear” this prophecy and discern its sober implications (see 2:7). God’s people need to be ready to endure suffering and maintain faith when faced with beastly opposition, even “captivity” or “the sword,” reflecting OT prophecies of exile (e.g., Jer 15:2; 43:11).
13:11–13 John sees another beast (called the false prophet in 16:13), who aligns with the beast and the dragon in an unholy trinity. This second beast arises “from the earth” like the four kings in Daniel 7:17. Its lamb-like horns parody Jesus, the Lamb, while its speech resembles a dragon. The false prophet performs deceptive signs mimicking the miracles of Christ’s two witnesses as well as Moses and Elijah (11:5; Exod 4:17; 1Kgs 18:38). He also promotes the idolatrous worship of the first beast (Rev 13:13–14; cf. 16:14; 19:20; Deut 13:1–3; Matt 24:24).
13:14–17 Under the second beast’s direction, the “earth-dwellers” make an image of the first beast, which recalls the golden image Nebuchadnezzar set up in Daniel 3:1. The Roman Empire was filled with temples and shrines venerating the emperors in John’s time, including a huge statue of an emperor in Ephesus. As in Daniel 3:4–6, whoever refuses to worship the image is killed (Rev 13:15; cf. 13:10). The false prophet also marks everyone with the beast’s name or number, so that they may buy and sell (13:16–17). This mark signifies one’s complete loyalty to the beast and may reflect the ancient custom of branding slaves, soldiers, and adherents to some ancient religions. There is no middle ground: everyone has either the beast’s mark or the seal of God (7:3–4; 14:1).
13:18 John then appeals for “wisdom” to discern spiritual truths about this beast (cf. 17:9). Ancient and modern readers have offered numerous interpretations of the beast’s symbolic number, 666. Using the ancient practice of gematria, in which letters have numerical values, the reference could be to “Nero Caesar,” whose name in Hebrew characters adds up to 666. Other ancient calculations in Greek include “Latins” or “Titan” (see Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.30.3). Alternatively, as “the number of a man,” 666 may express the beast’s creaturely inferiority when compared to the Creator’s perfections, which is symbolized by sevens. The point of this appeal for wisdom is not simply to decode the beast’s number (666) but to anticipate the saints’ final victory over the beast and the dragon through the Lamb’s saving blood and their faithful testimony (12:11; 15:2).
The Lamb and His Followers (14:1–5)
Following the terrifying visions of the beasts from the sea and land, John sees the Lamb and the 144,000 standing on Mount Zion (14:1). This hopeful vision emphasizes the moral purity, spiritual protection, and joyful praise of those purchased by the Lamb (cf. 7:1–14). Verses 1–5 include several parallels with the interlude in chapter 7, which interrupts the seal judgments with a glorious picture of God’s people, who are kept safe from his wrath (cf. 6:16–17), saved by the Lamb’s blood, and stand before the heavenly throne to sing God’s praises. The 144,000 (14:1, 3) are the perfect number of those sealed from Israel’s tribes (7:4) and signify God’s redeemed multitude throughout history (7:9–17), who are separated from unbelievers in the final harvest (14:14–20).
14:1 The 144,000 accompany the Lamb on Mount Zion, a rich biblical designation for God’s people and God’s enduring city where they dwell securely (Heb 12:22; Ps 125:1–2; Isa 8:18). 14:1 presents a preview of coming attractions, when this city of God will descend from heaven and be filled with the glory of God (Rev 21:9–27). The full number of the saints bear the name of the Lamb and the Father on their foreheads (14:1), confirming their secure identity as God’s chosen people (3:12; 7:3; 22:4) and contrasting with the mark of the beast (13:16–17).
14:2–3 These verses focus on the new song of the redeemed, while verses 4–5 describe their exemplary character and conduct. John hears a heavenly voice sounding like roaring water and loud thunder (cf. 1:15; 19:6); this voice is the music of the redeemed, literally “harpists harping on their harps.” Heavenly elders and victorious believers play harps in joyous worship (5:8; 15:2; cf. Ps 150:3; Isa 23:16), while harps will soon be heard “no more” in Babylon (18:22). They sing “a new song” before God’s throne like the heavenly elders do in 5:9. 14:3 does not specify the song’s contents but stresses that only those redeemed by the Lamb can learn it. Such heavenly worship scenes should stir saints on earth to sing a new song in an old land, which Jonathan Edwards calls “the prelibations of heaven.”
14:4–5 The 144,000 are called undefiled virgins. The point is not their life-long sexual abstinence but their spiritual, ritual, and moral purity. They are like the holy, chaste warriors of Israel (1Sam 21:5; cf. Rev 19:14) and especially like a radiant bride betrothed to her husband, a key biblical image of Christ and the church (2Cor 11:2; Eph 5:27; Rev 19:7–8; 21:2). “They follow the Lamb” sums up their priorities and way of life and recalls Christ’s instructions to his disciples (Mark 8:34–36; John 10:3–4). They are “redeemed” (ESV), or “purchased” (NIV), as firstfruits (14:3–4), which looks ahead to the harvest scene in 14:14–20. In the OT, Israelites offer God their first crops anticipating the complete harvest (Exod 23:19; Lev 23:9–14), and the NT applies firstfruits (aparchē) metaphorically to Christ’s resurrection (1Cor 15:20, 23), the first converts to Christ in an area (Rom 16:5; 1Cor 16:15), and believers’ current experience of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:23). Since the 144,000 signify the fullness of God’s people throughout the ages, firstfruits in 14:4 may emphasize the quality of that harvest, the saints’ complete devotion to the Lord, or the foretaste of heaven that awaits consummation in Revelation 21–22. 14:5 stresses their blamelessness and truthfulness, alluding to Zechariah 3:13, which reflects the character of Christ, the faithful witness (1:5; cf. Isa 53:7).
Three Angels Proclaim Coming Judgment (14:6–13)
Three angels announce Babylon’s fall and judgment on all who worship the beast and refuse to fear and glorify God, which contrasts with the blessedness of the saints who experience rest and vindication.
14:6–7 John sees another angel flying “overhead” (ESV), or “in midair” (NIV), which recalls the eagle that announces woes in 8:13. This angel proclaims an eternal gospel to all earth-dwellers and every group of people, a message specified in verse 7. The commands “fear God and give him glory” are echoed in the saints’ questions in 15:4: “Who will not fear . . . and glorify your name?” The reason all must fear is that the hour of God’s judgment has arrived (cf. 18:10, 17, 19). The summons to worship the Creator God recalls the heavenly praise in 4:11 and prepares for the just judgment on those who worship the beast and its image (14:9–11).
14:8 A second angel proclaims Babylon’s fall, alluding to Isaiah 21:9 and anticipating Revelation 16:19 and the extensive treatment in chapter 18. This is the first of Revelation’s six references to “Babylon” or “Babylon the great” (see 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21), also called “the great city” in 11:8. Babylon has thick biblical associations. Babylon is equivalent to “Babel” (first mentioned in Gen 10:10), where humanity proudly united to build a tower and God confused their languages and scattered them (Gen 11:1–9). This ancient, enduring nation of mighty warriors (Jer 5:15–16) reached its peak under Nebuchadnezzar, who sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and sent Israel into exile (2Kgs 25:1–28; Dan 1:1–2). First-century Christians likely associated Babylon with Rome (cf. 1Pet 5:13), which destroyed the Jerusalem temple, persecuted the saints, and was characterized by idolatry and immorality like ancient Babylon (Rev 17:4–6). However, Babylon is not a one-for-one equivalent for Rome, nor is it a particular place on the map. Babylon represents the world’s idolatrous political economy, the archetypal godless civilization, which Rome embodied in the first century. Babylon’s “wine” is its deceptive influence over the nations (cf. 17:2; 18:3; Jer 51:7). Fittingly, Babylon will drink the wine of God’s wrath in the end (Rev 16:19; 18:6).
14:9–11 A third angel warns of the eternal conscious torment that awaits all who worship the beast and receive its mark (cf. 13:12–17). Unbelievers share the fate of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet (20:10). Drinking the cup of God’s anger parallels Babylon’s judgment (16:19) and fulfills OT prophecies (Ps 75:8; Jer 25:15). The smoke rising from the wicked recalls Sodom’s destruction (Gen 19:24; Luke 17:29) and parallels descriptions of Edom (Isa 34:10) and Babylon (Rev 19:3). While worshipers of the beast experience no rest (14:11), the saints enjoy blissful rest forever (14:13).
14:12 In light of the sure judgment on Babylon and all who worship the beast, John once again summons the saints to patient endurance (cf. 1:9; 13:10). Endurance (hupomonē) entails keeping God’s commandments (cf. 1:3; 12:17) and maintaining faith in Jesus even in adversity (cf. 2:13).
14:13 A heavenly voice again directs John to “write” (cf. 1:11, 19; 19:9; 21:5). “Blessed” introduces the second of seven beatitudes in Revelation (see 1:3), here promising divine favor and rest for deceased believers (cf. 20:6). This promise sharply contrasts with the fate of the wicked (14:9–11) and powerfully motivates the saints to endure (14:12). The Spirit who addresses the churches (cf. 2:7) and inspires prophecy (19:10) speaks directly in 14:13 to confirm this glorious promise.
The Harvest of the Earth (14:14–20)
John sees the exalted Son of Man and an angel from God’s temple holding sharp sickles for the end-time harvest (cf. Joel 3:11–13; Matt 13:36–43; Mark 4:29). Many scholars view the two harvest scenes in this passage as parallel depictions of the final punishment of the wicked. However, it is more likely that the first harvest presents Christ gathering the redeemed (14:14–16; cf. 14:4), while the second harvest brings divine judgment on unbelievers (14:17–20).
14:14–16 John sees “one like a son of man” seated on a cloud, a reference to the risen Christ using the language of Daniel 7:13 (cf. Rev 1:7, 13; Matt 24:30). His crown designates him as the heavenly king and judge, and he sits enthroned on a cloud as Yahweh does in Isaiah 19:1. Another angel brings the message from God’s throne that the time for reaping has come because the earth’s harvest is ready. The sickle (mentioned 8x in 14:14–19) is an agricultural tool with a curved blade and handle, and the son of man swings his sickle across the earth. There is no reference to divine wrath or a negative outcome for this initial harvest (unlike 14:17–20), so these verses likely portray the Lord’s final salvation of his people, when he separates the wheat from the weeds, the righteous from the wicked (Matt 13:30, 36–43).
14:17–20 Another angel comes from the heavenly temple holding a sickle, and an angel from the heavenly altar (cf. 8:5) delivers orders to gather grapes for the winepress of divine wrath. This scene reflects the ancient practice of trampling on grapes in troughs before collecting the juice for fermentation, a vivid picture of God crushing the wicked in furious “wrath” (cf. 19:15; Isa 63:1–6). The winepress is set up outside Jerusalem, the beloved eternal city of God’s people where the last battle occurs (20:9) and where nothing unclean may enter (21:27; 22:15). The river of blood flows high for 1,600 stadia (approximately 200 miles), roughly the length of the Holy Land measured from Tyre to Egypt’s border. This gory scene presents the totality and severity of God’s final judgment.
The Wrath of the Lamb: Seven Bowls (15:1–16:21)
After the extended interlude in Revelation 12–14, seven angels unleash the book’s third and final cycle of judgments, following the earlier seals (6:1–17; 8:1) and trumpets (8:6–9:21; 11:15–19). The “seven plagues” (15:1) are later identified as “bowls of God’s wrath” (16:1), which demonstrate the Almighty’s consummate justice in punishing unrepentant humanity, the beast, and Babylon the great (16:9–11, 21). The heavenly worshipers in 15:3–4 and 16:5–7 praise God for his true, just judgments that reveal his holiness and bring him glory.
Praise and Preparation for the Final Plagues (15:1–8)
15:1 John sees “another sign in heaven,” which recalls the earlier signs of the woman and the dragon in 12:1, 3. This great sign reveals the seven angels who pour out God’s wrath on the earth in chapter 16. These bowl judgments are “the seven last plagues” (NIV), recalling references to “plagues” in the trumpet cycle (9:18, 20), the ten plagues against Egypt (Exod 7–12), and the warning of seven plagues according to Israel’s sins (Lev 26:21).
15:2–4 The focus shifts from the destructive angels to heavenly worshipers standing by a sea of glass in God’s throne room (cf. 4:6). These worshipers “conquered” the beast, its image, and its number (see 13:15–18), as the saints overcome the dragon (12:11). These victors hold harps, identifying them as the 144,000 in 14:1–5, the perfect number of redeemed saints. “The song of Moses” recalls the song at the Red Sea celebrating Israel’s exodus from Egypt (Exod 15:1–18), while “the song of the Lamb” commemorates the new-exodus of God’s people through Christ’s sacrifice (Rev 5:9). These are not two unrelated songs but a single hymn of salvation that praises the Almighty as “king of the nations” (alluding to Jer 10:7) and anticipates all nations worshiping God (alluding to Ps 86:9). Global praise is due only to the Almighty, not the beast (contrast 13:8).
15:5–8 Following the intervening worship scene, John sees the aforementioned seven angels coming from the open heavenly sanctuary (15:1), God’s dwelling place (cf. 11:19). Their bright garments and golden sashes resemble Christ’s attire in the book’s opening vision (1:13), signaling that they act as his agents. One of the living creatures (introduced in 4:6) gives them seven golden bowls full of divine wrath, which resemble the golden bowls containing the saints’ prayers for vindication (see 5:8). The seven seals, trumpets, and bowls are the Almighty’s direct response to his people’s effective petitions (cf. 6:9–11; 8:3–4) and result in God’s praise (16:7). The smoke filling the sanctuary signifies God’s glorious presence (cf. Exod 40:34–35; 1Kgs 8:10–11; Isa 6:4). This extended description of God’s sanctuary and his angelic agents anticipates the climactic outpouring of judgment in 16:1–21.
The Seven Bowls (16:1–21)
Interpreters debate the timing and relationship of the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls in Revelation. Some readers view these judgments as sequential, while others argue for recapitulation. The seventh seal (8:5), seventh trumpet (11:19), and seventh bowl (16:18) feature lightning, rumblings, thunder, and an earthquake, which strongly suggests a parallel relationship of the cycles. Further, the trumpets and bowls include numerous correspondences and share a common exodus background (see Table: Trumpets, Bowls, and Plagues). Most likely, the seven bowls recapitulate the preliminary trumpet judgments and present God’s intensified, climactic judgment on the beast and its allies (16:2, 10).
The first four bowls affect the earth, sea, waters, and sun, showing the Creator’s sovereign authority over every sphere of creation (see 14:7). The final three bowls focus on the beast’s kingdom, the false trinity, and Babylon the great. While an angel earlier summoned earth-dwellers to fear and worship God in view of his judgments (14:6–7), unbelieving humanity repeatedly curses God and refuses to repent (16:9, 11, 21).
16:1–4 The seven angels introduced in 15:1 now receive orders to pour out the bowls of wrath, fulfilling OT expectations of divine judgment (Ps 79:6; Jer 10:25; Zeph 3:8). In 16:2, the first bowl affects the “earth” (ESV), or “land” (NIV), afflicting worshipers of the beast with painful sores. This judgment parallels the sixth plague on Egypt (Exod 9:9–10). The second and third bowls turn the waters of the sea, rivers, and springs to blood and kill all sea creatures. These judgments clearly allude to the first plague on Egypt (Exod 7:20–21) and amplify the second and third trumpets that ruined only a third of the waters, sea creatures, and ships (Rev 8:8–10).
16:5–7 Before recounting the next plague, John hears heavenly affirmations of God’s holiness and justice. The Almighty’s judgments are fitting and avenge the martyrs’ cries (6:10): unbelievers who shed the saints’ blood now drink blood (cf. 18:24; 19:2). The divine title “who is and who was” parallels 11:17 and signals that God’s future “coming” as the sovereign judge becomes a reality in these consummate judgments.
16:8–9 The fourth bowl targets the great heavenly light (cf. Gen 1:16). The sun goes black in the sixth seal (6:12) and is partially darkened in the fourth trumpet (8:12). But in 16:8–9, the sun scorches unbelievers with fire, a stark contrast to the experience of the saints sheltered in God’s presence (7:16).
16:10–11 The fifth bowl comes upon the beast’s throne, a direct assault on the beast’s claim to sovereignty, which it received from the dragon (13:2). The beast’s kingdom is plunged into darkness, reflecting the plague of darkness on Pharaoh’s land (Exod 10:21–23). Once again, unbelievers revile the heavenly Judge (cf. Rev 16:2, 21).
16:12–16 The sixth bowl targets the river Euphrates (cf. 9:14). The river’s water dries up, recalling how God parted the Red Sea (Exod 14:21–22) and promised to dry up the waters of Israel’s foes (Isa 11:15; 44:27; Jer 50:38; 51:36). But in 16:12, the kings from the east—not the saints—walk on dry ground. 16:13–14 explains that the dragon, beast, and false prophet deceive these kings with lying words and counterfeit signs (cf. 13:13–14; 19:20) in order to “assemble” them for Armageddon (16:16; cf. Zech 14:1–3). This gathering of the world’s rulers reflects Psalm 2:2 and anticipates the final war against Christ and his army (Rev 19:19; 20:18).
Christ interjects words of hope for his people in 16:15. He comes like a thief (cf. 3:3) and promises blessing for those who remain spiritually awake and ready.
16:17–19 The earlier judgment cycles in the book include long interludes between the final seals and bowls, but there is no such pause before the seventh bowl is poured out. “It is done!” (repeated in 21:6) announces that God has fulfilled his purposes (10:7), established his kingdom (11:15), and finished his wrath (15:1, 8). The bowl judgments conclude with a storm theophany (16:18), as in 8:5 and 11:19; here a catastrophic “earthquake” shakes and shatters the great city. Babylon’s punishment fits her crime, and she must now drink the wine of God’s rage (cf. 14:10; 18:3). 17:1–19:10 vividly expands on this brief description of Babylon’s destruction.
16:20–21 The bowl judgments end with a scene of cosmic upheaval—islands and mountains are displaced as in the sixth seal (6:14). Then hundred-pound hailstones fall from heaven, an ironic answer to the unbelievers’ frantic cry in 6:16. This devastating hail, together with the lightning and thunder in 16:18, recalls the seventh plague against Egypt (Exod 9:23) while presenting God’s thunderous presence in judgment.
The Destruction of Babylon and Christ’s Cosmic Victory (17:1–20:15)
John’s third vision “in the Spirit” (17:3; cf. 1:10; 4:2) focuses initially on the destruction of Babylon, elaborating on earlier announcements in 14:8 and 16:19. An angel reveals the “mystery” of Babylon (17:7)—the “great prostitute” (17:1) and “great city” (17:18)—and announces the Lamb’s ultimate victory over the beast and its allies (17:14). Those on earth mourn Babylon’s fall, while those in heaven rejoice (18:1–19:10). Revelation 19:11–20:15 resolves the conflict between Christ and his great enemies—the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet (cf. 12:1–13:18)—and prepares for the vision of a new creation and the new Jerusalem (21:1–8). There are close parallels between the opening verses of the third and fourth major visionary units, which contrast Babylon the prostitute and Jerusalem the Bride (see Table: Parallels between Revelation 17 and 21).
Babylon and the Beast (17:1–18)
17:1–2 These verses summarize the chapter’s focus on “the judgment of the great prostitute” seated on many waters. The speaker is one of the angels with the seven bowls (cf. 15:7; 21:9), which directly links this passage to the book’s final judgment cycle in chapter 16, particularly the destruction of Babylon (16:17–21; cf. 14:8).
17:3a After the angel’s invitation (“Come”), John goes “in the Spirit” (as in 1:10; 4:2; 21:10) into the wilderness. This location recalls 12:6, 14, where the woman escapes from the dragon and receives God’s care. The wilderness is a solitary and hostile place—a “terrible land” (Isa 21:1)— from which John beholds the great city’s excesses, evil, and end.
17:3b–6a John sees a woman riding a beast. This beast rises from the sea and wars against the saints in chapter 13; its seven heads and red color resemble the dragon (12:3). The woman’s expensive clothes and jewelry signify power and wealth (cf. 18:16), similar to images of the goddess Roma. But this woman is a seductive harlot who is drunk with the martyrs’ blood (cf. 16:6). The “name of mystery” reveals her true identity: “Babylon the great.” The angel interprets this mystery in 17:7–18.
17:6b–8 When John marvels at the vision, the angel asks, “Why do you marvel?”—a mild corrective—before explaining the woman and the beast with its heads and horns. This beast “was, and is not,” an ironic parallel to descriptions of God and the Lamb (1:4; 1:18). It rises from “the bottomless pit” (ESV), or “Abyss” (NIV), equivalent to the sea (cf. 11:7; 13:1). While unbelieving earth-dwellers will marvel at the beast, believers need revealed wisdom (17:9).
17:9–10 The beast’s seven heads represent “seven mountains” (ESV), or “hills” (NIV), and also “seven kings.” Many ancient writers called Rome the city on seven hills (e.g., Cicero, Atticus 6.5), and interpreters often identify the seven kings as Roman emperors (starting with Julius Caesar or Caesar Augustus). Alternatively, the number seven may symbolize the fullness of the beast’s power rather than a list of Roman rulers. The sixth king who “is” may designate a specific ruler such as Nero (AD 54–68) or may signify the present expression of beastly power. The angel stresses the brevity of the beast’s rule and its sure destruction (17:8, 11).
17:11–14 The beast’s horns symbolize ten future kings who will receive royal power, likely the same as the kings of earth in 16:14 and 17:18. “Ten horns” alludes to Daniel 7:24, and “one hour” is a very short time that prepares for Babylon’s sudden fall (Rev 18:10, 17, 19). These rulers unify in giving their authority to the beast, fulfilling God’s word and carrying out his purpose to destroy Babylon (17:16–17). The Lamb will conquer the beast and the allied kings in the final battle because he is the true Lord and King. This summary anticipates Christ’s victory in 19:11–21.
17:15–18 The angel finishes interpreting the mystery of the woman and the beast. The waters upon which the woman sits (17:1) signify peoples, nations, and languages, unbelieving humanity that follows the beast and Babylon (cf. 13:7–8; 18:3; Dan 3:4–5). 17:3 depicts the close alliance between Babylon and the beast: the state’s idolatrous cultural and commercial system rests upon its beastly, coercive power. But evil will turn against evil to fulfill God’s secret plan (cf. 10:7): the beast and its allied kings will hate, shamefully expose, and burn Babylon (cf. 18:8, 17, 19). These verses recall prophecies of judgment on unfaithful Israel (Ezek 16:35–42; 23:28–30) and apply the same language to the fitting, final destruction of the prostitute Babylon (see Jer 50–51). The angel concludes by identifying the woman in John’s vision as “the great city” (Rev 17:18; cf. 11:8; 16:19). Babylon is Revelation’s profound biblical-theological designation for the city of this world—immoral, godless human society that prizes prosperity and luxury and opposes God and his people, which Rome embodied in NT times.
The Fall of Babylon (18:1–24)
This chapter dramatically expands on earlier announcements of Babylon’s “fall” (14:8; 16:19; 17:16), drawing deeply on OT prophecies against Tyre (Ezek 26–27) and Babylon (particularly Isa 13; 21; Jer 50–51). God Almighty remembers Babylon’s sins and shows his power and justice in giving the great prostitute what she deserves (Rev 18:5–8). Babylon’s demise brings sorrow for earth’s kings and merchants (18:9–19) but joy for heaven’s inhabitants (18:20); it serves as a warning for the church to “come out” of Babylon (18:4).
18:1–3 Another glorious angel from heaven announces that Babylon has fallen, echoing 14:8 and Isaiah 21:9. This “great” metropolis has become a ghost town, inhabited only by unclean spirits, birds, and beasts, just as the prophets foretold (Isa 13:19–22; Jer 51:37). Babylon’s deceptive, inebriating, immoral influence among the earth’s peoples is the basis for her complete destruction (“for” in 18:3). Drunkenness and sexual immorality here graphically symbolize the folly, passion, and flagrant sinfulness of the great harlot and the peoples who participate in and prosper from her wicked ways (cf. 17:2; Isa 23:17).
18:4–8 Another heavenly voice addresses God’s people, then calls for God to repay Babylon according to her deeds. The call to “come out” of the great city recalls prophetic instructions to flee Babylon on the day of salvation (Isa 48:20; Jer 51:45). The point is not that believers should withdraw from the world or move to another place but that we must remain spiritually vigilant, resisting the allure of Babylon so we may avoid her fate. God “remembered” Babylon’s sins (cf. 16:19), which reach up to heaven like the idolatrous tower of Babel (Gen 11:4; cf. Jer 51:9). 18:6–8 stresses the fittingness and swiftness of God’s fiery judgment (cf. Jer 51:24). Babylon’s punishment precisely fits her crimes and expresses the Lord’s might and wisdom.
18:9–20 At fallen Babylon’s funeral service, unbelieving rulers, merchants, and sea captains mourn over the great city’s judgment, which portends their own sure ruin. Babylon’s destruction comes “in a single hour” (18:10, 17, 19), recalling the short-lived alliance in 17:12 and revealing the futility of Babylon’s boasts (18:7–8; cf. Isa 47:8–9). The extended laments over Babylon closely parallel the prophecy against Tyre in Ezekiel 26–27 (see Table: Laments over Babylon and Tyre). “Rejoice over her” (18:20) sharply contrasts with “alas, alas” (18:19), revealing the proper heavenly perspective on Babylon’s judgment and the vindication of God’s people.
18:21–24 The book concludes its focus on Babylon’s demise by stressing that all sounds of life and joy in that great city will be “no more,” because she killed the prophets and the saints (cf. 17:6; 18:20). In fulfillment of Jeremiah 51:63–64, a powerful angel hurls a millstone into the sea as an acted parable signifying Babylon’s irreversible and final judgment. The lights, music, and wedding celebrations all cease in Babylon (18:22–23), signifying the preparation for the joyous heavenly worship and the wedding supper of the Lamb (19:1–10).
Rejoicing in Heaven (19:1–10)
The call for heavenly rejoicing in 18:20 is answered by the fourfold “Hallelujah!” in 19:1–10. John hears loud, exuberant praise because God establishes his reign by judging Babylon and vindicating his people. Verses 1–5 focus on the prostitute’s judgment, while verses 6–10 introduce the church as the Bride of the Lamb.
19:1–5 Following Babylon’s funeral in chapter 18, John hears “a great multitude” (19:1, 6), which recalls the multitude of believers from all nations in 7:9. “Hallelujah” translates the Hebrew expression “Praise Yahweh,” which is common in the OT (e.g., Pss 104:35; 113:1) but occurs only four times in the NT, all in Revelation 19:1–6. Babylon’s destruction demonstrates that God’s judgments are true and right (19:2), answers the martyrs’ cries for vindication (6:10), and leads to praise: “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God” (19:1, echoing 7:10–12). The great city’s smoke prompts heavenly rejoicing (19:3), a sharp contrast to the earthly weeping in 18:9, 18. The twenty-four elders and living creatures also worship God (19:4), recalling 4:9–10 and 5:14. “Praise our God” (19:5) is equivalent to “Hallelujah” (19:1, 3, 4, 6) and includes all God’s servants who rightly fear him (cf. 11:18).
19:6–8 The heavenly throng again worships the Almighty because he “reigns” as the true sovereign (19:6; cf. 11:15–17). Now that Babylon the prostitute has been judged (19:2), the multitude rejoices over the chaste Bride and the Lamb’s wedding (19:7). The new Jerusalem—the Bride—is revealed in 21:2–3 and described in 21:18–21. The nuptial scene in 19:7–8 alludes to Isaiah 61:10–62:5. The Bride’s white garments represent the church’s moral purity (cf. Isa 61:10; Eph 5:27), in contrast to the prostitute’s clothes and jewelry that signify Babylon’s fleeting wealth (17:4; 18:12, 16). The divine passive verb edothē (ESV, “was granted”; NIV, “was given”) reflects God’s sovereign and gracious gift. The saints’ righteous deeds—represented by the Bride’s fine clothing—contrast with Babylon’s unrighteousness (18:5) and serve as a fitting, necessary response to and evidence of God’s “righteous acts” (15:4).
19:9 The command to “write” is again followed by a beatitude (as in 14:13; 21:5). Those invited to the Lamb’s feast are believers, individual members of the corporate Bride. “These are the true words of God” stresses the veracity of 19:6–9 and prepares for the description of Christ as “Faithful and True” and “The Word of God” (19:11, 13).
19:10 John responds by falling down to worship the revealing angel but receives a rebuke (cf. 22:8–9). Only God and the Lamb are worthy of worship (5:8–14); such veneration is improper for God’s angelic and human servants. “For” explains “the testimony of Jesus” that angels and believers hold in common. Elsewhere in the book, “the testimony of Jesus” is the content of John’s prophetic witness (1:2) and the basis for his exile (1:9), and true believers embrace it (12:17). 19:10 identifies Christ’s testimony as “the Spirit of prophecy” (NIV) to stress that John receives genuine prophecy from the divine Spirit, in contrast to false prophecies that lead people astray (2:14, 20).
The King’s Victorious Return (19:11–21)
This section presents Jesus’s triumphant return as messianic king. In fulfillment of OT expectation, Christ judges and wars against his enemies, who are fed to the birds and thrown into the lake of fire.
19:11 “I saw heaven opened” introduces a new prophetic vision (cf. Ezek 1:1). In 4:1–2, an open heaven reveals a throne and its omnipotent occupant; here John sees a white horse and its royal rider. Some scholars identify this king on the white horse with the conquering rider in 6:2; more likely, the earlier vision parodies the messianic ruler in 19:11.
John identifies this glorious rider using three titles. First, “Faithful and True” (19:11) recalls Christ’s self-description as “the Amen, the faithful and true witness” (3:14). His message is “faithful and true” (21:5; 22:6), just as God’s character and revelation are true (Deut 7:9; Isa 65:16; Ps 19:7, 9). Second, “the Word of God” (19:13) recalls John 1:1–14, where Jesus the eternal Logos personally and gloriously reveals the unseen God. Jesus not only reveals true words but also embodies God’s authoritative Word in judgment and salvation. The third title, “King of kings and Lord of lords” (19:16), recalls 17:14: Christ conquers the conspiring kings of earth because he is the true sovereign. While earthly rulers sometimes claim to be “king of kings” (Ezra 7:12; Ezek 26:7; Dan 2:37), God alone is the blessed sovereign (1Tim 6:15), and the Lord Jesus shares his divine title.
19:11 summarizes the main point of this passage: “in righteousness he judges and makes war.” This fulfills the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 11:3–4 and answers the challenge posed by 13:4: King Jesus will fight against and conquer the beast (19:19–20).
19:12–16 The prophet further describes the rider’s appearance and allies. His fiery eyes and sword (19:12, 15) recall John’s opening vision of the son of man (1:14, 16). The sword proceeds from Christ’s mouth (Isa 49:2) to signify the power of his spoken judgment, which strikes down the unbelieving nations and allies of the beast (Rev 19:16, 21; cf. Isa 11:4). Christ’s many diadems surpass the dragon’s seven crowns and the beast’s ten crowns (12:3; 13:1), reflecting his status as “King of kings” (19:16). The name that only Christ knows (19:12) signals that some facets of his divine identity are hidden from created beings; it also recalls the “new name” God promises Israel (Isa 62:2) and believers (Rev 2:17), on whom Christ will write his “new name” (3:12). Christ’s robe is red with the blood of his enemies (19:13), as 19:15 clarifies: he treads the winepress of God’s wrath, alluding to the image of Yahweh the divine warrior in Isaiah 63:1–6. Accompanying the messianic rider are the armies of heaven (19:14), his faithful followers (17:14); they ride white horses like Christ’s and wear white garments to reflect their moral purity (cf. 3:5; 19:8).
19:17–21 Christ’s enemies are totally defeated in the last battle (cf. 17:14; 20:7–10). An angel summons the birds to feast on “flesh” (repeated 6x in 19:18, 21). The strange supper scene alludes to the sacrificial feast that follows the defeat of Gog in Ezekiel 39:17–20 (see Table: Gog and Magog in Ezekiel and Revelation). The beast and kings of earth gather for war against the royal rider (19:19), which recalls 16:16 and reflects the futile alliance against the Lord and his Christ in Psalm 2:2. In 19:20–21, the beast and false prophet are seized and hurled into the fiery lake—the second death (21:8)—while Christ slays their allies with his sword and the birds devour their flesh. The Lord Jesus is revealed as the true king over all the earth (Zech 14:9).
The Thousand Years and Final Judgment (20:1–15)
Revelation 20 has puzzled readers for nearly two millennia, and present-day interpreters continue to express their eschatological views relative to the millennium (premillennial, postmillennial, amillennial). Interpretive disagreements relate especially to these six areas:
Premillennialists argue that Christ will return before (pre-) the thousand years to war against the beast and its allies (19:11–21). The order in which John recounts his visions in Revelation 19–20 matches the order in which these events will transpire. After Christ’s return, Satan will be “bound” and incapacitated for a thousand years (20:2), variously understood as a precise or symbolic time period. During the millennium some believers (martyrs and perhaps others) will receive resurrection bodies and rule with Christ on earth over the descendants of those surviving the battle of Armageddon (20:4; cf. 16:16). After the millennium, Satan is released to deceive the nations and assemble an army for battle. He will then be finally defeated and judged (20:7–10).
Most historicist and preterist interpreters affirm postmillennialism and hold that Christ will return after (post-) a literal or symbolic millennium. Like amillennialists, some postmillennialists understand a symbolic thousand-year period to be coextensive with the church age, while others hold that the church’s successful mission among the nations will usher in a millennial golden age on earth. Then Satan will be temporarily released for a final attack on the church (20:7–9), after which Jesus will return to defeat his foes (20:10; cf. 19:11–21).
Amillennialists interpret the thousand years as a symbolic time period between Christ’s ascension and return, during which deceased saints reign in heaven. Amillennialism is sometimes called “inaugurated” or “realized millennialism” to clarify the nature and timing of the thousand years. According to this view, Satan was bound through Jesus’s death and resurrection and is prevented from deceiving the nations and thwarting the spread of the gospel (20:2–3; cf. Matt 12:28–29; John 12:31–32). At the end of the church age, Satan will be released for a final onslaught against the church (20:7–8). Then Christ will return to judge his enemies, save his people, and usher in the new creation.
Chapter 20 divides into four subunits, three of which begin with the phrase “and I saw” (20:1, 4, 11): (1) Satan’s binding (20:1–3); (2) believers’ reign (20:4–6); (3) Satan’s release and defeat (20:7–10); (4) the last judgment (20:11–15).
20:1–3 This unit focuses on the thousand-year binding of Satan. 20:1 begins with the Greek word kai, translated “and” (NIV) or “then” (ESV). “And I saw” frequently introduces a new vision in the book (see 19:11, 17, 19; 20:4, 12). Here John beholds an angel holding a great chain and a key to the abyss, or bottomless pit (cf. 9:1). This key represents authority over the realm of the dead, which belongs to the risen Lord Jesus (1:18; 3:7) and is delegated to his angelic representative. This angel seizes and binds the dragon, who is once again named as the ancient serpent, recalling Genesis 3:1 (20:2; cf. 12:9). Readers interpret the timing and nature of Satan’s thousand-year binding in different ways. For premillennialists, Satan’s binding follows Christ’s return and represents a complete cessation of activity. Amillennialists link this binding with Christ’s first coming (Matt 12:28–29) and argue that Satan remains active during the church age but is prevented from deceiving the nations as the gospel advances.
20:4–6 The next unit depicts the believers’ thousand-year reign with Christ. John sees thrones (20:4), which elsewhere designate places of heavenly authority under God’s supreme rule (4:4; 11:16). Amillennialists hold that 20:4–6 offers heavenly perspective on the events in 20:1–3. Alternatively, premillennialists argue that the angel’s descent from heaven (20:1) and the reference to nations (20:3) indicate that these thrones are located on earth. The scene likely alludes to Daniel 7:9, 22, where Daniel sees thrones set up around God Almighty, who judges in favor of his people and gives them the kingdom. Interpreters debate whether those seated on these thrones are the heavenly elders, vindicated martyrs, or all believers. Most likely, the occupants of the thrones are specified later in 20:4 as those who are beheaded and had refused to worship the beast. This description recalls the martyrs in 6:9, who conquer like Christ and represent faithful believers (cf. 12:11). The Greek phrase krima edothē autois (“judgment was given to them,” NASB) likely means that God pronounces judgements in their favor, as in Daniel 7:22.
Deceased believers come to life and reign with Christ for a thousand years, explained as “the first resurrection” (20:5). For premillennialists, this refers to a physical, earthly resurrection of some believers that anticipates the general resurrection. Some amillennialists equate the first resurrection with conversion (John 5:24). More likely, the first resurrection is the intermediate state of believers who die and reign in heaven with Christ prior to the final resurrection (cf. 2Cor 5:1–8; Phil 1:23).
The book’s fifth beatitude in 20:6 ascribes divine favor to the one who shares in the first resurrection (cf. “came to life” in 20:4) and thus escapes the second death. First resurrection implies a second and signals that this millennial state when deceased believers live and reign with Christ is glorious yet provisional, awaiting the consummate state in the new heavens and new earth. The opposite of ultimate resurrection life is the second death, which is the lake of fire (cf. 20:14; 21:8). Believers experience the first death but not the second; this truth motivates faithful endurance of suffering and hope in a glorious future with Christ (see 2:10–11). Believers’ priestly reign in the millennium recalls earlier references to the church’s vocation (1:6; 5:10; cf. Exod 19:6) and anticipates their role in the new creation (22:3–5).
20:7–10 These verses focus on Satan’s final rebellion and defeat. “When the thousand years are ended” indicates that these events will follow those described in 20:1–6. The Greek phrase hotan telesthē (“And when they have finished their testimony”) in 20:7 also occurs in 11:7, which may support identifying the millennium with the time of the church’s suffering and witness. After his release, Satan goes forth to deceive the nations (20:8), the very thing he cannot do during the thousand years (20:3). The nations that follow Satan are variously understood as (1) people who did not fight in the battle in 19:19–21, (2) ghosts and demons from the underworld, or (3) unrepentant nations raised after their slaughter in 19:21. More likely, these nations are unbelieving earth-dwellers who live during the church age and align with Satan, and “the four corners of the earth” (20:8; cf. 7:1) signifies the whole earth (cf. Isa 11:12), not the portal to the underworld.
“Gog and Magog” alludes to Ezekiel 38–39, a prophecy of northern enemies conspiring with other nations against restored Israel. In Ezekiel and Revelation, innumerable armies gather and march against God’s people before being destroyed by fire. Interpreters debate the relationship of the battle scenes in 19:17–21 and 20:8–9 (cf. 16:13–16; Zech 17:14). Both passages draw on Ezekiel’s prophecy against Gog (see Table: Gog and Magog in Ezekiel and Revelation), which suggests that they depict the same battle with distinct emphases. While chapter 19 stresses Christ’s total victory as the messianic King, chapter 20 reveals Satan’s deceptive ambitions and decisive judgment.
Satan’s allied forces surround “the beloved city,” namely, Jerusalem (20:9; cf. Ps 78:68). While it is possible to read this as a reference to the restored city of Jerusalem, more likely the beloved city is equivalent to the camp of the saints and signifies the oppressed, pilgrim community of believers who are heirs of the new Jerusalem (Rev 3:12). But fire from heaven consumes the rebellious armies (Ezek 38:22; 39:6)—decisive divine judgment as in 2 Kings 1:10–14. The devil is hurled into the lake of fire and tormented forever, as are the beast and false prophet (20:10; cf. 19:20). As the hymn declares, “His rage we can endure, / For lo! his doom is sure.”
20:11–15 The chapter’s final section presents the last judgment of the dead. The divine throne takes center stage, as in chapter 4. The earth and heavens flee from the Almighty’s presence (20:11), which recalls earlier scenes of cosmic dissolution (6:14; 16:20) and prepares for a new heaven and earth (21:1). All the dead, whether great or small, appear before the divine throne to be judged (20:12; cf. 11:18; 2Cor 5:10). God justly rewards or punishes everyone according to their works (cf. Rev 22:12; Ps 62:12; Matt 16:27; Rom 2:6–11). 20:12 refers to the opening of “books” and “another book . . . the book of life,” alluding to Daniel 7:10 and 12:1–2. While the books represent the just judgment of the wicked according to the record of their deeds, the book of life signifies God’s choice of believers for salvation (3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27; Phil 4:3). 20:13–14 vividly depicts the sea, Death, and Hades giving up their dead for judgment before the Almighty throws these realms of evil and disorder into the lake of fire, the second death. Satan, the beast and false prophet, and the wicked—those whose names are not in the book of life—are sentenced to eternal, conscious torment (20:15).
The New Jerusalem and the New Creation (21:1–22:5)
After the final judgment scene in 20:11–15, John beholds a glorious new creation and the new Jerusalem coming from heaven to earth. Christ first judges and removes all his opponents—Babylon the great, the beast, the false prophet, the dragon, unredeemed humanity, and even Death itself (18:2; 19:20; 20:10, 14–15)—then restores and renews all things (21:1–22:5). The “first” heaven and earth and “former things” like sorrow and death are no more, and the saints will worship and serve God and the Lamb in the glorious temple-city in unending joy and total security.
A New Heaven and a New Earth (21:1–8)
21:1–8 is a transition passage that follows the scenes of divine judgment and salvation in 19:11–20:15 and introduces the book’s final visions “in the Spirit,” which are focused on the new creation (21:9–22:5). John sees a new heaven and earth (21:1–2), then heavenly voices confirm the significance of this vision (21:3–6) and stress the ultimate contrast between the conquerors and the cowardly (21:7–8).
21:1 John sees a new heaven and earth, which contrasts with the first heaven and earth that have passed away, dramatically described in 20:11. This verse alludes to Isaiah 65:17: the Lord promises to create “new heavens” and “a new earth” and will not remember the “former things” (cf. Isa 66:22; 2Pet 3:10). There is also no more sea in the new creation. The sea is associated with the evil activity and authority of the dragon, beast, and Babylon (12:12, 17; 13:1; 18:17, 19). In the OT, the sea is the place of paradigmatic salvation and judgment at the exodus (Exod 14:22, 27). The sea’s absence in the renewed creation signals the removal of every threat and adversary for God’s redeemed people.
21:2 John also sees the holy city, new Jerusalem, which is extensively described in 21:9–27. This vision alludes to Isaiah 52:1 (“O Jerusalem, the holy city”) and follows Isaiah’s progression from new creation to a renewed Jerusalem (Isa 65:17, 19). The new Jerusalem is likened to an adorned bride, “the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:2, 9; cf. 19:7). It signifies God’s people—the redeemed saints—and the glorious place where God dwells forever. This bride-city from heaven contrasts sharply with the harlot-city of earth (see Table: The Two Cities in Revelation).
21:3–4 John hears a voice from the throne, which explains what he sees in 21:1–2. God’s “dwelling place” (ESV), or “tabernacle” (NASB), is finally and fully with humanity, the ultimate realization of God’s promises to be with his covenant people in restored, intimate relationship (see Lev 26:11–12; Ezek 37:27; 2Cor 6:16). Strikingly, the best Greek manuscripts of 21:3 refer to “his peoples,” using the plural laoi rather than the singular laos, reflecting the biblical hope that God’s people—the saints—will be a multiethnic multitude redeemed from all peoples of the earth (5:9; 7:9; cf. Isa 25:6–8). In the new creation, all the “former things” that trouble God’s people will be “no more”: tears, death, mourning, crying, or pain (Rev 21:4). This reiterates the earlier vision in 7:17 and fulfills Isaiah 25:8 and 65:19. In contrast, fallen Babylon will enjoy the sights and sounds of life and gladness “no more” (18:22–23; cf. Isa 24:8; Ezek 26:13).
21:5–6 God Almighty now speaks from his throne. “I am making all things new” recalls God’s promise in Isaiah 43:19 and expresses the comprehensive scope of God’s work in 21:1–2, which uses the word “new” three times. For the twelfth time in the book, John is told to “write” what he sees and hears (cf. 1:11, 19; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14; 14:13; 19:9). This time, the command comes directly from God with the assurance that the revelation is “trustworthy and true,” terms used elsewhere for the character and works of God and of Christ, “The Word of God” (3:14; 6:10; 15:3; 19:11, 13). “It is done” (21:6) reiterates the exclamation in 16:17 and stresses the certain fulfillment of God’s purposes. As “the Alpha and the Omega,” the sovereign God created and sustains everything in the beginning and brings history to its appointed end (see 1:8). God promises to fully and freely satisfy his thirsty people in the new creation (7:16; Isa 49:10; 55:1).
21:7–8 The Almighty contrasts the glorious inheritance for victorious saints with the eternal punishment of unbelievers. “The one who conquers” recalls the earlier promises to the seven churches (see Table: Promises for Victorious Believers in Revelation 2–3). The earlier covenantal formula (“their God . . . his peoples,” 21:3) is now expressed as a father-son relationship that recalls 2 Samuel 7:14 (21:7; cf. 2Cor 6:18). Believers are “in Jesus” (1:9) and thus share in the messianic inheritance of “the Son of God” (2:18, 26–27; cf. Ps 2:7–9). Alternatively, the “portion” for unbelievers is the lake of fire, “the second death” (21:8; cf. 20:14). This is the longest of the book’s vice lists, each of which mentions idolatry, murder, magic arts, and sexual immorality (cf. 9:20–21; 22:15). The distinctive opening reference to “the cowardly” and “faithless” in 21:8 highlights the urgent need for courage and commitment to Christ.
The New Jerusalem (21:9–27)
The holy city, new Jerusalem, is introduced in 21:2 and described in detail in 21:9–27. This is the eternal city of God, which contrasts sharply with Babylon the great (see Table: The Two Cities in Revelation). The new Jerusalem represents God’s people—the Bride of the Lamb—and the place where God dwells—the everlasting temple-city. It fulfills OT prophecies about the glory of redeemed Zion (Isa 60) and the end-time temple of God (Ezek 40–48).
21:9–11 These verses formally introduce the book’s last major visionary unit that focuses on the new Jerusalem. As in 17:1–3, one of the angels that executes the bowl judgments tells John, “Come, I will show you,” and he is carried away in the Spirit (see Table: Parallels between Revelation 17 and 21). As in Ezekiel 40:2, the prophet comes to a high mountain and beholds a city-like structure. The “holy city Jerusalem” descends from God’s heavenly presence as in 21:2, and John likens its glory to a very precious jewel (21:11; cf. 4:3). Jerusalem’s enduring splendor contrasts with the fleeting beauty of Babylon (18:16).
21:12–14 John describes the city’s twelve walls and twelve gates, inscribed with the names of Israel’s tribes as in Ezekiel 48:31. The wall’s foundations also bear the names of the twelve apostles, signaling the unity and continuity of God’s people through the old and new covenants.
21:15–17 The revealing angel measures the city and its walls. In 11:1, the prophet measures the temple and worshipers; here the angel measures the temple-city to signify that the new Jerusalem belongs to God (cf. Ezek 41:13; 42:16–20; see Table: The New Jerusalem and Ezekiel’s Temple). The city is 12,000 stadia long, wide, and high. One stade was the length of a stadium (600 Roman feet), so 12,000 stadia is roughly 13,800–15,000 miles, which represents a massive expansion of Ezekiel’s temple vision (Ezek 45:1–3). The perfect symmetry of the new Jerusalem recalls the only other golden cube in Scripture, the Most Holy Place in the temple (twenty cubits long, wide, and high; 1Kgs 6:20). This suggests that the city of God is a giant Holy of Holies filled with the glory of God.
21:18–21 These verses build on the earlier description of the walls, foundations, and gates. The city and its streets are “pure gold,” like the Most Holy Place and the furnishings of the tabernacle and temple (Exod 25:11–39; 2Chr 3:4, 8). It is like clear glass to perfectly reflect God’s glory (cf. Rev 21:23). Twelve stones adorn the foundations of the city walls, which recalls the precious stones on the high priest’s breastplate, which represented Israel’s twelve tribes (Exod 28:17–21). Ezekiel 28:13–14 describes Eden in similar terms, and Isaiah 54:11–12 LXX presents redeemed Jerusalem decorated with sapphires, jasper, crystal, and chosen stones.
21:22–27 John here elaborates on the initial new creation vision in 21:1–8. Ezekiel 40–48 describes a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, but John sees “no temple in the city” because the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (21:22). While the new Jerusalem does not have a temple building, God is gloriously and forever present with his people (21:3). This is the very essence of Ezekiel’s temple vision, which concludes by naming the restored city “The Lord Is There” (Ezek 48:35).
21:23–26 These verses describe the light, glory, and security of the city of God, drawing repeatedly on Isaiah 60. First, the greater and lesser lights of the original creation (the sun and moon) are obsolete because God’s glory and the Lamb light up the new Jerusalem (cf. 22:5; Isa 60:19–20). Second, nations walk according to this divine light, fulfilling Isaiah 60:3 (cf. Isa 2:2–5). Moreover, while the earth’s rulers formerly fought against the Lamb (Rev 19:19), John depicts kings bringing their glory and honor into the city of God (21:24, 26), alluding to Isaiah 60:3, 5, 11. While closed gates offer protection from enemies, the new Jerusalem’s gates are always open to express the complete security and welcome of the redeemed nations, fulfilling Isaiah 60:11. The city is holy and pure, so nothing unclean, detestable, or false may enter (cf. Isa 52:1)—only those chosen for life and redeemed by Christ’s blood may reside in God’s presence forever (Rev 21:27; 22:14–15).
A Greater Eden (22:1–5)
Revelation 22:1–5 further describes the glorious new creation in which God dwells with his people and brings complete healing, salvation, and restoration (cf. 21:3–5). This passage includes many parallels to Genesis 2–3 (see Table: A New, Better Paradise) and fulfills OT prophecies such as Ezekiel 47 and Zechariah 14. The new creation paradise not only parallels Eden but also surpasses it. The tree of life and river of life provide food and drink for God’s multi-ethnic people, who worship and reign as priest-kings forever.
22:1–2 The Almighty’s throne is the focal point of John’s heavenly vision in chapter 4, but 22:1–2 presents this throne as the center of the new creation. Jesus conquered and sat down on his Father’s throne (3:21), so the book’s concluding vision identifies God and the Lamb as joint occupants of the divine throne (22:1, 3). The throne is the source of the water of life, recalling the river flowing from Eden (Gen 2:9) and prophecies in Ezekiel 47:1–8 and Zechariah 14:8. This river may signify the life-giving Spirit of God (cf. John 7:38–39; Isa 44:3), which satisfies God’s thirsty people forever (Rev 7:16–17; 21:6).
The tree of life features prominently in the original creation (Gen 2:9) and the new creation (Rev 22:2), framing the entire biblical story. God restricted access to the tree of life after the fall (Gen 3:22, 24), but Christ promises that his victorious people will eat its fruits (Rev 2:7; 22:14). The tree is located “on either side of the river,” reflecting Ezekiel 47:1, 7, 12. The tree of life yields twelve kinds of fruit, the number that signifies God’s people in the OT and NT (cf. 7:4–8; 12:1; 21:12, 14, 21). Its leaves also bring healing to the nations (alluding to Ezek 47:12).
22:3–5 Having expelled all enemies and eradicated the earth of sin, curse, and death, God and the Lamb reign over their renewed creation for their people’s everlasting enjoyment. There is no longer any curse, recalling earlier statements about the “former things” that are “no more” in 21:1, 4. The rare term katathema, translated “curse” (NIV) or “accursed thing” (ESV), occurs only here in Scripture and likely refers to the curse due to Adam and Eve’s rebellion (Gen 3:17–18; 5:29). This fulfills the prophecy that Jerusalem “will never again be accursed” but will dwell securely (Zech 14:11). The absence of night in the new creation (Rev 22:5) reiterates 21:23–25: every threat is removed, and the radiant light of God’s glory makes even the sun obsolete.
The redeemed servants of God worship and reign forever, fulfilling the creation mandate in Genesis 1:26–28 and their vocation as priest-kings (1:6; 5:10; 20:6; cf. Exod 19:6). Strikingly, the saints will behold God’s face (22:4), enjoying a new level of knowledge and access to God previously unavailable. Moses was permitted to see only God’s back, not his face (Exod 33:18–23). John’s Gospel declares that while no one has ever seen God, Christ made him known, and his followers saw his divine glory (John 1:14, 18). In the new creation, believers behold God’s face and are transformed (cf. Matt 5:8; 1Jn 3:2). The saints also bear God’s name on their foreheads, expressing their identity as priests. Israel’s high priest wore a plate with the words “Holy to Yahweh” on his forehead (Exod 28:36–38), and Revelation 14:1 portrays the 144,000 having the name of the Lamb and the Father written on their foreheads. In contrast to unbelievers, who receive the beast’s mark (Rev 13:16; 14:9), believers bear the Lord’s name on their foreheads, signifying their supreme loyalty to God and their calling as his priests in the glorious temple-city (3:12).
Conclusion: Invitation and Warning (22:6–21)
The book’s final section urges readers to worship God and heed this prophecy in order to receive blessing rather than judgment. This conclusion includes many parallels with the introduction (1:1–8), reinforcing the book’s key emphases on divine revelation, John’s faithful testimony, Christ’s return, and blessing for those who take its prophetic message to heart (see Table: Parallels between Revelation’s Introduction and Conclusion). Commentators propose various ways to outline 22:6–21. These verses include at least five speakers: the angel (22:6, 9–11), Christ (22:7, 12–16, 18–20), the Spirit and Bride (22:17), and John (22:8, 20–21). There are stern warnings about misplaced worship and adding to or taking from the prophecy (22:9, 18–19), two final beatitudes (22:7, 14), three promises that Christ is coming soon (22:7, 12, 21), and eight commands to John or hearers (22:9, 10, 11, 17). These factors suggest that there are two major units for the book’s epilogue—(1) 22:6–11 and (2) 22:12–20—with a closing prayer (22:21).
22:6–7 The first section of the epilogue (22:6–11) features the angel and John as primary speakers and calls readers to worship God alone and obey this prophecy because of Christ’s imminent return. 22:6 once again stresses the complete truthfulness of God’s revelation (cf. 19:9; 21:5; Dan 2:45), which concerns “what must soon take place” (cf. 1:1; Dan 2:28). Christ’s direct speech in 22:7 clarifies that his imminent coming is among the things that shall happen “soon.” Similar promises in 22:12, 20 frame the final section of the epilogue. The book’s sixth beatitude closely parallels the opening blessing in 1:3, urging readers to keep the book’s message.
22:8–9 The exchange between John and the angel closely parallels 19:10. The prophet falls down at the angel’s feet and is rebuked. The command to “Worship God” sums up the appropriate response to this book of prophecy. Glorious angels from heaven are only servants of God, like Christian prophets and other believers. Throughout Revelation, scenes of worship around the divine throne in heaven (see 4:8–11; 5:9–14; 7:9–12; 11:16–18; 19:1–5) and in the new creation (22:3–5) contrast with the false worship of the beast (13:4, 8, 9, 12; 14:9) and emphasize that the sovereign God alone is worthy of praise.
22:10–11 The angel gives five commands. First, John must not “seal up” this book of prophecy because “the time is near” (22:10; cf. 1:3). While Daniel is instructed to “shut up” and “seal” his book until the end of days (Dan 12:4), the situation is different in Revelation. Christ reveals mysteries and brings OT prophecies to their ultimate fulfillment. Now that the Lamb has opened the Almighty’s sealed scroll and sat down on God’s throne, there are no more sealed scrolls (Rev 3:21; 5:5, 9; 8:1). The four commands in 22:11—do evil, be filthy, do right, be holy—summarize the ethical choices facing the book’s readers, since Christ’s return and the consummation of all things is “near” (22:10, 12). Daniel 12:9–10 predicts that the wicked will not understand and will act wickedly, while the wise will understand and purify themselves in the end. Because the time is “near,” Revelation recasts these predictions as exhortations to unbelievers and believers alike. Good and evil continue until the end of the age (cf. Matt 13:30), and readers must “hear” the Spirit’s message to the churches (see Rev 2:7) and respond rightly, even if others do not listen.
22:12–13 The second unit of the epilogue opens and closes with Christ’s promise “I am coming soon.” Christ is the primary speaker in this section. “My reward is with me” in 22:12 (NIV) alludes to God’s promise to come as Savior and King in Isaiah 40:10; 62:11. Christ uses three divine titles in 22:13—Alpha and Omega, first and last, beginning and end—to stress that he is the sovereign Lord who brings God’s purposes to their appointed end (cf. 1:8, 17).
22:14–15 “Blessed are those who wash their robes” is the book’s seventh and final beatitude. The redeemed have access to the tree of life (cf. 2:7; 22:2) and enter the new Jerusalem (cf. 21:27), while all others are excluded from the city of God (22:15; cf. 21:8), including “the dogs” (referring either to false teachers or cult prostitutes; cf. Phil 3:2; Deut 23:17–18) and all who love and practice lies.
22:16 “I, Jesus” makes explicit who is speaking. Christ has sent his angel to testify (cf. 1:1–2). “You” is plural and likely refers to the book’s recipients, “the churches” (cf. 1:4). Christ further identifies himself as “the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star,” recalling and explaining messianic titles used earlier in the book (see 2:28; 5:5).
22:17 The threefold “come” is likely modeled on Isaiah 55:1, summoning the thirsty to receive and delight in the “free gift” of eternal life (NIV). The Spirit speaks directly, as in 14:13, as does the Bride, the wife of the Lamb (cf. 21:9). Here, the Bride signifies the corporate people of God in their future purity and joy. Thus, the divine Spirit and the glorified church together beckon present readers to “come” that they may receive Christ’s promises and share in the Bride’s inheritance.
22:18–19 Jesus is probably the speaker here, as suggested by the immediate context (22:16, 20). “I warn” (ESV) could also be translated “I testify” (CSB); the same verb occurs in 22:20 (“testifies”) and here carries the force of legal testimony or a solemn oath. Christ warns against adding to or taking away from the words of this book. Scholars have interpreted these verses in three primary ways: (1) a prohibition against corrupting the text of this book; (2) a restriction on all further prophetic activity; and (3) a warning not to falsify this book’s message through errant teaching or actions. The third view is most likely. Christ’s warning alludes to Deuteronomy 4:1–2 and 12:32, and Moses’s instructions in both passages relate directly to warnings about false prophets that seek to lead Israel after other gods (Deut 4:3; 13:1–5), as happened when Israel listened to Balaam at Baal-peor (Num 25:1–3; 31:16). Revelation’s first readers faced similar threats of false teaching and idolatry (cf. 2:14–15, 20), and Christ warns that those who add to or take away from this book will receive curses rather than a share in the new creation. The stakes could not be higher for rightly responding to the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
22:20 “Surely I am coming soon” reiterates Christ’s promise in 22:7, 12. The return of Christ is the church’s “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13) and is a central theme of Revelation. The expectation of Christ’s coming as “King of kings” to judge his foes, save his people, and restore all things should move believers to echo John’s prayer “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
22:21 The book closes with a “grace” benediction similar to those in many NT letters (e.g., 2Thess 3:18; see “Genre: What Is Revelation?”). Through this book of prophecy, the triune God communicates grace and peace to his people (1:4; 22:21) and promises blessing to all who hear and heed his trustworthy words because the time is near (1:3; 22:7).
Tables in this commentary are adapted from Brian J. Tabb, All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019).
Christ’s Messages to the Churches
Promises for Victorious Believers in Revelation 2–3
OT Background for Revelation 4
Trumpets, Bowls, and Plagues
Plague 7 (9:22–25): thunder, hail, lightning
Parallels between Revelation 17 and 21
Laments over Babylon and Tyre
Gog and Magog in Ezekiel and Revelation
The Two Cities in Revelation
The New Jerusalem and Ezekiel’s Temple
A New, Better Paradise
Parallels between Revelation’s Introduction and Conclusion
Bauckham, Richard. The Theology of the Book of Revelation. NTT. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.
Beale, G. K. and David H. Campbell. The Book of Revelation: A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015.
Edwards, Jonathan. “They Sang a New Song (Rev 14:3a).” In Sermons and Discourses, 1739–1742, ed. Harry S. Stout, WJE Online 22 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 241.
Johnson, Dennis E. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001.
Koester, Craig R. Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. AB 38A. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014.
–––. Revelation and the End of All Things. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018.
Mathewson, David L. A Companion to the Book of Revelation. Cascade Companions. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2020.
Osborne, Grant R. Revelation. BECNT. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.
Poythress, Vern S. The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2000.
Schreiner, Thomas R. The Joy of Hearing: A Theology of the Book of Revelation. New Testament Theology. Wheaton, IL Crossway, 2021.
Smith, Robert S. “Songs of the Seer: The Purpose of Revelation’s Hymns.” Themelios 43 (2018): 193–204.
Tabb, Brian J. All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone. New Studies in Biblical Theology 48. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019.
–––. “Revelation.” Pages 2273–2314 in NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible. Edited by D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018.
–––. “We Have Something of Heaven: A Theology of Joy in Revelation.” Desiring God, March 5, 2019.
–––. “Wisdom and Hope in Difficult Days: Reading Revelation in 2022.” Themelios 47 (2022): 1–14.
Webster, Douglas D. Follow the Lamb: A Pastoral Approach to The Revelation. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014.
The Bible Project, “Revelation 1–11.”
The Bible Project, “Revelation 12–22.”
The text of Revlation, excluding all Bible quotations, is © 2023 by The Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition (TGC) gives you permission to reproduce this work in its entirety, without any changes, in English for noncommercial distribution throughout the world. Crossway, the holder of the copyright to the ESV Bible text, grants permission to include the ESV quotations within this work, in English.
In addition, TGC gives you permission to faithfully translate the work into any other language, but you may not translate the English ESV Bible into another language. If you wish to include Bible quotations with the translated work, you will need to obtain permission from a publisher of a Bible translation in the same language.
All scripture quotations are taken from the ESV® Bible (the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV Text Edition: 2016. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated into any other language. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, is adapted from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants1 the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
Greeting to the Seven Churches
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail2 on account of him. Even so. Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Vision of the Son of Man
9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
for the contextual rendering of the Greek word doulos, see Preface; likewise for servant later in this verse