A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
The Great Tribulation is about to begin on Earth. The Temple will soon be made desolate. When that happens, the Jewish remnant will heed the Lord’s call from Matt. 24:15-16 and flee to a place of supernatural protection as we saw in Rev. 12. When they do, Satan’s target of opportunity will become the so-called Tribulation Saints, those who’ve come to faith in the Lord after the Rapture.
One of the anti-Christ’s first goals, after proclaiming himself to be God and setting up his counterfeit religion, will be to shut down this new movement of God’s. Since they’re scattered all over the place the best way to do that is to freeze them out of the economy, making it impossible for them to earn wages or buy life’s essentials.
While discussing Job, Satan had chided God, “He only worships you because you bless him and protect him. Take it all away and he’ll curse you.”(Job 1:9-11) Now he has his man, the anti-Christ, go after the Tribulation Saints the same way. Deprive them of enough and these new converts will either turn or die. Either way, he’ll soon be rid of them, or so he thinks.
And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. (Rev 13:1)
Having been cast out of Heaven, Satan stands by the sea, a euphemism for the gentile nations (Daniel 7:2) ready to do his worst on Planet Earth.
The Beast Out Of The Sea
And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast. Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?”(Rev. 13:2-4)
As the same beasts in Daniel 7:1-7 represented Babylon (lion) Persia (bear) and Greece (leopard) it makes sense to see them that way here. The order is reversed because Daniel was looking forward in time while John was looking back. When Daniel saw Rome, he couldn’t compare it to any animal he’d seen, so he called it a large and terrifying beast. John shows it to be a monster with multiple heads and horns.
But the personal pronouns in John’s description indicate a king rather than a kingdom. That means that the speed of Alexander (the leopard), the strength of Cyrus (the bear), and the boastful roar of Nebuchadnezzar (the lion) are all present in this king. And what’s more, he wields all the power and authority of Satan, even seating himself on Satan’s throne. This monster in the guise of a man is the anti-Christ, finally revealing his true nature. Having complete power (10 horns) supernatural wisdom (7 heads) and officially recognized authority over all (10 crowns) he’s set to make the world over in his own image, and those whose hearts are focused on the things of Earth are loving it. He’s apparently come to power through a botched assassination attempt that’s left his right eye blinded and his right arm withered (Zech. 11:17) The world thought he had died, but here he is alive. Rumors of his resurrection add to his aura and are encouraged.
By the way, notice he comes out of the sea, symbolic of the Gentile nations, and that he has the dominant characteristics of the three most powerful Gentile Kings. John may be telling us that the anti-Christ is a Gentile. And from Ezekiel 44:7-8 we learn he isn’t circumcised. Confirmation?
The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. (Rev. 13:5-8)
The saints being conquered here cannot be the Church, because Jesus promised that the gates of Hell would not overcome the Church (Matt. 16:18). In Biblical times the rulers or leaders of a city had their offices in the large structure that surrounded the main gates into the city. We can see evidence of this in the Books of Ruth (Ruth 4:1-2) and Esther (Esther 5:9). The gates came to symbolize the leaders. It’s the same today when we say, “You can’t fight City Hall.” We aren’t referring to the building but to the officials who work there. The phrase gates of Hell is a euphemism for Satan.
Having consolidated his power over Earth, and endearing himself to the Jews by helping them build a Temple, the anti-Christ now marches into the Holy City to stand in the Temple and declare that he’s God in the flesh (2 Thes. 2:4), slandering His Name, making His House desolate, and mounting a full-scale attack on remaining believers. Satan’s boast the he would make himself like the Most High (Isaiah 14:14) got him kicked out of Heaven for good and marked the beginning of the Great Tribulation in Heaven. But on Earth it’s different. People from every part of the Earth will worship Satan and the anti-Christ. Jesus warned the believing remnant of Israel to flee into the mountains when they see this happening (Matt. 24:15-16) saying it will signal the beginning of the Great Tribulation on Earth (Matt. 24:21)
A more literal translation of Rev. 13: 8 reads, ”and all who dwell on earth will worship it (the beast), everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.” It’s the version used by the New American Standard and the English Standard, two of the most literal translations of the Greek. It speaks clearly to the validity of the doctrine of Eternal Security.
If you’re saved, God knew about it before He created the Earth. Prior to giving Adam his first breath He looked down over the vast span of time and saw the moment when you would make your independent decision to serve Him. (He foreknew.) And that’s when He made a reservation for you in His Kingdom, swearing never to blot your name out of the book. (He predestined.) When the time was right he spoke to your heart, knowing you’d respond. (He called.) And when you did He cleansed you from all of your sins, regarding you from that time forward as if you’ve never sinned at all. (He justified.) And one day soon He will give you a new eternal body and a place near Him in His Kingdom. (He glorified.) (Romans 8: 29-30)
In the context of time, you made your own free choice to accept the pardon that Jesus purchased for you. But having seen the end from the beginning, He has always known that you would. All your life He’s watched over you, preparing you for your day of decision. And ever since then He’s protected you, for He promised He would never lose any of those He’s been given. (John 6:39-40) He knows that it’s the shepherd’s job to keep the sheep. And He’s the Good Shepherd.
He who has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints. (Rev. 13:9–10)
Again we’re told that the Great Tribulation will not be cut short, but will run the full 3 ½ years ordained for it from ancient times. Nor will anyone from this point on be miraculously preserved. The judgments will come and will run their course.
“Be faithful unto death,” He told the Church at Smyrna, “And I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10) Like it was at the beginning of Christianity, so it will be at the end. The penalty for loving Jesus is death. Let me hasten to remind you that the Christian Era doesn’t end with the Church. There will be Christians on Earth long after the Church is gone.
The Beast Out Of The Earth
Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men.
Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. (Rev. 13:11-17)
We call this second beast the False Prophet. The fact that he comes out of the Earth means that he’s an ordinary man. Saying he has two horns like a lamb but speaks like a dragon means he’s the religious authority for those who worship Satan. It’s a counterfeit version of the relationship Jesus (the Lamb) had with His father (God). In John 8:28 Jesus said, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” So it will be with the false prophet. He will speak only what Satan has taught him.
He heads up the one world religion, and makes certain that it’s united in its worship of the anti-Christ. Building a great image of him, he uses supernatural power from Satan to give it a semblance of life and makes everyone worship it on pain of death. Because no one can tell if another person is really worshiping or just going through the motions, he devises a test. Those who are loyal to the anti-Christ and truly worship him, must agree to take a mark to prove it. It will not only demonstrate their sincerity, but allow them to participate fully in mainstream life without fear. Refusing the mark means they’ve given their heart to Jesus. If they’re caught, the penalty is death. And even if they’re not, they will face a nearly impossible challenge in just staying alive.
This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666. (Rev. 13:18)
This verse has been subject to much speculation and incorrect interpretation because it tells us so little. It says only that the anti-Christ’s number is the number of a man, and that his number is literally 600 and 60 and 6, which may be different from 666. We don’t know.
What we do know is that both Biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek) gave numerical values to the letters of their alphabets to compensate for their lack of a direct numbering system. The Romans used Roman Numerals, assigning numerical values to a few letters, and today much of the world uses Hindu-Arabic Numerals, value specific symbols originally developed in the 2nd century BC but not widely used until several hundred years later. If (and it’s a big if) the numbers six hundred, sixty, and six, are supposed to signify a name, then the numerical value of the anti-Christ’s name would probably have to equal that amount in its Greek form, Greek being the language of the Revelation.
I don’t think it makes sense to devise a numerical equivalent for the letters of the English alphabet to figure this out because, outside of certain pagan religious practices, there’s no accepted valuing system for doing so. We’ve always used Arabic numerals and so haven’t assigned numerical equivalents to the letters in our alphabet like the Hebrews, Greeks and, to a lesser extent, the Romans did.
Some think that the number might apply to something other than his name, his birthday for instance, or a title of some sort. It could also be a registration number, like the American Social Security number, or any one of the other numbers by which we’re known in various aspects of our lives.
The big qualifier for the verse is the phrase “let him who has understanding.” To me, that disqualifies most of us from even guessing. It seems that a person would have to have an understanding of the practice of gematria, the calculation of the numerical equivalence of letters, words, or phrases in Biblical Greek to come up with the answer.
Daniel 12:4 tells us that in the latter days knowledge will increase. That means that pretty soon someone will crack this code. Personally, I think it’s unlikely that this will happen before the church disappears.
The Lamb And The 144,000
Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. (Rev 14:1-5)
In Rev. 7 we saw that it makes sense to view the 144,000 there just as they’re described … Messianic Jews from the 12 tribes of Israel, witnessing to the world after the church is gone. They are the end times fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 43:10, being witnesses for the Lord to the nations of Earth during Daniel’s 70th week.
Then Who Are These Guys?
Here, the same sized group, 144,000, is shown standing on Mt. Zion and they have the names of both the Father and the Son written on their foreheads. They are described as having been redeemed from the earth and are before the Throne of God singing a new song, a song only they can sing.
Hebrews 12:22-24 provides a beautiful description of this group. “But you have come to Mt. Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the Living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the Church of the Firstborn whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of a new covenant and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” It was written to the Church.
The similarity is unmistakable. By their location (heaven) their spiritual state (righteous men made perfect) and their dedication to both God and Jesus they are reminiscent of a group first seen in Rev. 5 and described as Kings and Priests. They sing a new song just like that group, they follow the Lamb wherever He goes, signifying that they’re His disciples, and they were purchased from among men (1 Cor 6:19-20) and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.
Though it’s tempting to see them as the original 144,000, martyred and in heaven, only one group fits that description perfectly … the Church. This 144,000 is a sampling of the redeemed, brought to heaven in the rapture of Rev. 4, and presented as the first fruits of the harvest of souls, just as the wave offering was the first fruits of the harvest of grain (Lev. 23:9-14). All the grain was harvested, but only a sample was presented. So it is with the Church. The 144,000 is not meant to be the full number of raptured believers, just a sample.
As far as the phrase “defiled themselves with women” is concerned, it’s used to symbolize the worship of idols. Since pagan worship was sexual in nature, the Lord sometimes described idol worship in sexual terms. (Read Ezekiel 16 & 23 if you dare.) These 144,000 had not done that. In fact, they were found to be totally blameless, further evidence that they’re the redeemed in Heaven. No human on Earth is blameless, and there’s no Biblical evidence that men who remain celibate will receive special rewards.
The Three Angels
Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language, and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Rev 14:5-7)
Notice the tremendous contrast between the preceding view of things in Heaven and this warning of what’s about to befall the Earth. It’s the last warning before the dreaded Bowl Judgments that will soon come to complete, not begin, God’s wrath.
In Matt. 24:14 Jesus promised that the Gospel would be preached in all the nations before the end of the age. People have speculated on whether this angel is really satellite TV or something of that nature, but it doesn’t matter. Between the first 144,000, the Tribulation believers, and this angel, His promise has been kept.
A second angel followed and said, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.” (Rev. 14:8)
This verse speaks of the coming collapse of the one world church. As we’ll see in Rev 17, the anti-Christ has used this “church” as a means to an end. But now it’s time for all the world to worship him and him alone.
A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.” This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (Rev. 14:9-13)
A clear warning of the dire consequences for worshiping the anti-Christ and taking his mark, this passage also gives us a hint that Tribulation believers will have a different relationship with the Lord from the one enjoyed by the Church. Like Old Testament believers they’ll be required to keep God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus to keep their salvation. It appears that they won’t be given eternal security but will be responsible for demonstrating their faithfulness by their actions. The only time their work will be done will be after their death. No “sabbath rest” for the Tribulation saints.
What an absolutely untenable spot to be in. Worship God and die now. Worship the anti-Christ and die forever. The voice from heaven agrees by pronouncing the 2nd of seven blessings in the Revelation. The first was for those who read, hear and take to heart what is written in this book. (Rev 1:3) This one is for those who are martyred for their faith during the Great Tribulation.
The Harvest of the Earth
I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one “like a son of man” with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. (Rev 14:14-16)
Some want to see this angel as Jesus, because of the phrase “son of man.” To me, the biggest argument against this is the fact that he’s wearing a stephanos, or victor’s crown like the Church wears. Jesus wears a diadem or crown of royalty. But whether he is or isn’t the Lord doesn’t affect our understanding of the passage. He’s being told to begin the final phase of Earth’s judgment.
Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia. (Rev 14:17-20)
This passage, like the one before it, is an overview, a description of things to come. Those being harvested are the non-believers of Earth. We know this because reference is made to the Earth’s vine, not the true vine. Also, the winepress of God’s wrath which is located outside the city symbolizes the coming bowl judgments, culminating in the Battle of Armageddon.
This period of time is also in view in the Kingdom Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, where before the Wheat (sons of the Kingdom) are brought into the Millennium, the sons of the Evil one are harvested and thrown into the fiery furnace. (Matt 13:36-45) Sons of the Kingdom refers to believers alive on Earth during the Great Tribulation.
This shows the extent to which Satan will sacrifice mankind to maintain his hold on Planet Earth. Isaiah 63:1-6 gives us a prophetic view of this time from the Old Testament. It’s a conversation between Isaiah and the Lord.
Isaiah: Who is this coming from Edom,from Bozrah,with his garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of his strength?
The Lord: “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.”
Isaiah: Why are your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress?
The Lord: “I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath;their blood spattered my garments, and I stained all my clothing. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redemption has come. I looked, but there was no one to help, I was appalled that no one gave support, so my own arm worked salvation for me, and my own wrath sustained me. I trampled the nations in my anger;in my wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground.”
Things are happening pretty fast now, so John has to keep skipping back and forth between things in heaven and things on earth, first presenting overviews and then coming back to fill in the details, to make sure we get it all. The main thought here is to convey the extent of the carnage. The average horse’s bridle is 4.5 feet off the ground, and 1600 stadia equal about 175 miles. Imagine a river of blood 4.5 feet deep and 175 miles long and you get the idea. If you could drive along its length at 30 miles per hour, it would take nearly 6 hours. Next time we’ll get the detail of the Bowl Judgments.