Revelation Chapter 15


Mike: November 19, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 15

The following information should be of help to the reader while reading this post:

[1] Notes and material from Mike are in original black font.
[2] Notes from Steve Gregg are from the following source: “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary).”
[3] Notes from Sam Storms are from the following source: “A Study of Revelation 14-15, Part III.”
[4] Notes from David Guzik (a Futurist) are from: “David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible.”
[5] Notes from Adam are in red font.


Verse 1:   “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.

According to the Futurist view, the sign John saw signifies God’s final judgments on earth dwellers during a future 7-year Tribulation. The Preterist view generally sees these plagues as those which fell upon apostate Israel during the Roman-Jewish War as it led up to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD. Steve Gregg notes that we have seen this type of prelude before, saying, “This chapter gives a prelude to the judgment of the seven bowls [which take place in chapter 16]. There was a heavenly scene of victory in chapters 4-5, just prior to the breaking of the seven seals, and a similar prelude in 8:1-6 anticipated the seven trumpets” (p. 344).

Sam Storms comments, “This ‘sign’ John now sees in heaven is the third such portent, the first two being that of the pregnant woman in 12:1ff. and the great red dragon in 12:3ff.” Sam Storms views the bowl judgments which are to come, not last as regards the “sequence of history,” but “last in terms of John’s narrative.” He notes that some understand the reference to these plagues as “the last” to mean that the time for repentance is now past. In any case, the text ties the meaning of this phrase to the fact that with these seven plagues “the wrath of God is finished.” [Some translations render this phrase, “the wrath of God is complete.”]

Gregg (p. 344) quotes from David Chilton, who writes,

There is no reason to assume that these must be the “last” plagues in an ultimate, absolute, and universal sense; rather, in terms of the specifically limited purpose and scope of the Book of Revelation, they comprise the final outpouring of God’s wrath, His great cosmic Judgment against Jerusalem, abolishing the Old Covenant world-order once and for all.

Verse 2:And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and  also those who conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.”

Q: Who is seen standing beside the sea of glass mingled with fire?
A: Those who had conquered the beast, its image, and the number of its name (
See chapter 13).

Sam Storms proposes that since this chapter references the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt (as we will see), such an allusion can also be seen in this verse. He offers the following thoughts:

Given the ‘new exodus’ motif in this chapter, this ‘sea’ probably alludes to the Red Sea through which the Israelites were delivered. Others have seen it as identical with the ‘sea of glass like crystal’ (4:6) which stands before the throne in heaven.

Steve Gregg is one who opts for the latter, saying,

The sea of glass here is referring to the throne room of God based on what we read in Rev 4:6. There is the added detail that the sea of glass is mingled with fire, suggesting the judgment about to proceed from Gods throne. Evidently they are the same group as the 144,000 in the preceding chapter, except they are no longer on ‘Mount Zion’ but in heaven, with harps given them by God (v. 2), corresponding to the harps from heaven that played the ‘new song’ that only the 144,000 were able to learn (14:2-3).

Verses 3-4:And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.’”

The original song of Moses was the song of deliverance sung by the Israelites in Exodus 15. David Guzik remarks, “Only one song is sung, but this song goes by two titles (the song of Moses, and the song of the Lamb). The two titles refer to a single song. Here is a perfect union between law and love, between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.” Steve Gregg comments (pp. 344, 346),

It is, of course, the Lamb, and not Moses, who was instrumental in the deliverance of which they sing, but the reference to Moses calls to mind again the Exodus and reminds us that Jerusalem had become the new Egypt (Rev. 11:8). The original ‘song of Moses’ was the song of deliverance sung by the Israelites when they found themselves permanently free from their former oppressor (cf. Exodus 15). As Egypt had lost ‘horse and rider’ in the Red Sea, so Jerusalem’s horses had been bridle-deep in a virtual sea of blood (a truly red sea!—Rev. 14:20).

Sam Storms breaks down the lyrics to this song in a helpful way: “The lyrics that follow in vv. 3-4 do not appear to be drawn from the song of Moses in Exodus 15, but rather come from a variety of OT texts.” He lists these sources as follows:

“Great and marvelous are Thy works” comes from Ps. 111:2-4 (and Dt. 28:59-60 LXX).

“O Lord God, the Almighty” is found repeatedly in the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

“Righteous and true are Thy ways” echoes Dt. 32:4. It would seem that this phrase parallels the first, “showing that God’s sovereign acts are not demonstrations of raw power but moral expressions of his just character” (Beale, 795).

Compare these with 16:7 and 19:2 and it becomes clear that what John is declaring to be great, marvelous, righteous, and true are God’s judgments against the unbelieving world…

“Thou King of the nations” alludes to Jer. 10:7.

“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name?” This, too, echoes Jer. 10:7.

“For Thou alone art holy; for all the nations will come and worship before Thee, for Thy righteous acts have been revealed,” all comes from Ps. 86:8-10 and Ps. 98:2.

The wrath of God against apostate Israel is now finished (verse 1), and the end of the old covenant age has come (Matthew 24:3). So it’s fitting that John would hear the song of Moses at this time. The old covenant age was initiated with the giving of the law through Moses. That age was now coming to a dramatic end, and the new covenant age was shining forth. This was also a marvelous work of the Lord, and the nations were being gathered to worship Him.

Verses 5-6:After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests.”

Sam Storms remarks,

The OT background to the concept of ‘seven plagues’ is probably Lev. 26 where four times it is said that God will judge Israel ‘seven times’ if she is unfaithful (vv. 18,21,24,28). Here, too, in Revelation we have four sets of seven judgments (seals, trumpets, thunders, bowls).

This is a good observation by Sam Storms, and it’s interesting that, being a Historicist, he would say this. The Historicist view says that the book of Revelation has been, and is being, fulfilled throughout this present Church Age. Unfaithful Israel, which Storms spoke of, was judged and destroyed a generation after Christ’s death and resurrection, fulfilling and vindicating His own prophecies (e.g. Matthew 23:29-38, 24:2, 24:34; Luke 19:41-44, 23:28-31). This likely reference to Leviticus 26 is one more indication (among many that we’ve seen) that these judgments recorded by John were indeed intended to fall upon faithless Israel in his day.

In verse 6 we see that “the seven angels with the seven plagues” (the bowl judgments) are “clothed in pure, bright linen.” For me personally, this calls to mind a scene in Revelation 19, where we read the following (19:14), “…And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following Him [Jesus] on white horses…” First of all, this passage is popularly interpreted as referring to Christ’s future Second Coming. Is this the case? This is something we will consider later.

Secondly, I had always assumed that these armies must be the saints of God, especially in light of 19:8, which speaks of Christ’s Bride: “…’it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” In chapter 19 it may very well be that those armies are indeed the saints of God (i.e. people). This is something we will examine in more depth when we get to that point in our study. Yet it’s interesting that here in chapter 15 it is angels, and not people, who are “clothed in pure, bright linen.” This is something to keep in mind perhaps…

Verse 7:And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever…”

Sam Storms says, “The verbal similarity between ‘the seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God’ here in 15:7 and the ‘golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints’ in 5:8, together with 8:3-5, suggests that the saints’ prayers for vindication in 6:9-11 are now being fully answered.

Verse 8: “…and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.”

John sees the temple, or sanctuary in heaven, opened for the second time in his visions (compare to Revelation 11:19). Steve Gregg comments (pp. 350, 352):

Just prior to the outpouring of the bowls, the temple fills with smoke from the glory of God (v. 8). This harks back to the dedication of the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34-35) and Solomon’s temple (I Kings 8:10-11), in both of which cases, as here, no one could enter the sanctuary. In the present case, it is generally agreed that the emblem suggests a debarring of intercession, such as might ordinarily occur in the temple, for the city about to be judged.

Gregg then quotes David S. Clark and Jay Adams, who both concur that the “day of grace was past” for this city, so that intercession would no longer have any effect until God’s wrath had been completely poured out. Gregg adds,

The seven plagues to follow (16:1-21) will re-enact several of the Exodus plagues on Egypt, but because these are the last plagues (v. 1), the order of the Exodus events is reversed. John sees the glory of God in the tabernacle of the Testimony first, and after that the plagues, sent not to free God’s people from slavery (the redeemed are already free), but as a last effort to bring the earth’s inhabitants, like Pharaoh, to repentance.


Our study of Revelation 16 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

Revelation Chapter 10


Mike: October 1, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 10

[Notes from Adam are in blue font.] Chapter 10 appears to be an interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets, much like the interlude in chapter 7 between the sixth and seventh seals.

A. The Mighty Angel with the Little Book (10:1-7)

Verse 1: A mighty angel comes down from heaven. Who is this mighty angel? Is it the same mighty angel referred to in Rev. 5:2? Do you think this could be Jesus? Why or why not? Some seem to think this angel is Michael because of the description of him in Daniel 12:1 and also 12:6-7.

What do we know about this mighty angel? He was wrapped in a cloud. In the OT clouds are often the vehicle or means by which God appears. He had a rainbow over his head. God is described in similar terms in Ezekiel 1:26-28. His face was like the sun. There is a similar description of Jesus in Rev. 1:16. His legs were like pillars of fire (see Rev. 1:15). He had the voice of a Lion when it roars.

Verse 2: He had in his hand a scroll that was open. Does this suggest that it’s Jesus, because only Jesus can open the scroll? Is the little scroll the same as the 7-sealed scroll referred to in chapter 5? Evidently the little scroll symbolizes God’s revelation that John was about to set forth. It is the revelation that the remainder of the Book of Revelation, or at least part of it, contains. Eating is a universal idiom for receiving knowledge (cf. Jer. 15:16; Ezek. 3:1-3). According to Dr. Thomas Constable, a Dispensationalist,

The little scroll in his hand may be different from the scroll Jesus Christ unrolled (5:1; 6:1). John used a different and rare Greek word to describe it (biblaridion, not biblion). The tense of the Greek verb translated “was open” (perfect passive) indicates that someone had opened it and it was then open in his hand. It probably represents a new revelation from God (cf. Ezek. 2:9—3:3; Jer. 15:15-17) [Dr. Thomas Constable, Notes on Revelation: 2008 Edition, p. 96].

Adam’s notes on verse 2:

In this verse we see the angel standing with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. As we have seen in our previous studies**, the phrase “on the land” (also translated at times “on the earth”) is a common reference in Revelation to the land of Israel, and the phrase “on the sea” is a common reference to Gentile nations (See, for example, the post on Revelation 1, where we examined the phrase “tribes of the earth” in verse 7, which is often thought to be worldwide in scope. When this prophecy is compared, though, to its counterpart in Zechariah 12:10-14, it’s clear that every one of those tribes belonged to the land of Israel). One truth indicated by this picture is likely that God is sovereign over the affairs of both Israel and the nations of the world. An even greater significance will be seen when we come to the subject of the mystery of God in verse 7. On the significance of this picture, Steve Gregg quotes from David Chilton in his book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” on page 202. Chilton had the same understanding:

…in the Bible, and especially in the Book of Revelation, “Sea and Land” seem to represent the Gentile nations contrasted with the Land of Israel (2 Sam. 22:4-5; Ps. 65:7-8; Isa. 5:30; 17:12-13; 57:20; Jer. 6:23; Luke 21:25; Rev. 13:1, 11).

Regarding the “little scroll” that the angel held in his hand, there are a couple of different opinions among Preterists (p. 204). David S. Clark believes it is what is left of the same book that we saw in the fifth chapter (it now appears as opened because the seven seals have been opened). At this point, notes Clark, we are also in the events of the sixth trumpet, so “little remains of the contents of that book.” David Chilton more or less agrees, saying that “the book is thus, essentially, the Book of Revelation itself.” Jay Adams, however, sees it as a separate prophecy, “contained in chapters 13-19,” concerning the future fall of Rome (future to John, but not to us in the 21st century).

**In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.

Verse 3: David Chilton sees the seven thunders uttering their voices as being parallel to “the Voice” in Psalm 29, “where some of its phenomenal effects are noted” (Steve Gregg, p. 204).

Verse 4: John heard the seven thunders sound, but then was forbidden to record in writing what he had heard them say. Sam Storms, a Historicist, speculates,

Perhaps the thunders are withheld because it has already been demonstrated that such plagues and judgments do not bring people to repentance. Therefore, final judgment will now come. There will be no further “delay” (10:6). One need not wait for the thunders to witness the end of history. John is not allowed to write down the seven peals of thunder because they will never occur (Sam Storms, A Strong Angel and the Seven Thunders: A Study in Revelation 10, November 7, 2006).

David S. Clark speculates that the details of what they said were too terrible to put into writing, that John’s readers were spared “the description of the carnage and massacre and madness…”, and that another reason was because their utterances “soon became a matter of history, and John did not need to write them in detail” (Steve Gregg, p. 206). David Chilton makes another possible application as a general principle: “God wanted the church to know that there are some things (many things, actually) that God has no intention of telling us beforehand.”

Verses 5-6: The fact that the angel took an oath and swore by God seems to confirm that he is not God (Constable, p. 97).

Adam’s notes on verses 6-7:

The oath taken by the angel was that there was to be “no more delay.” This calls to mind the instructions given to the martyrs in Rev. 6:9-11, whose souls were under the altar. They were crying out for the Lord to avenge their blood, and asking how long it would be until this took place. They were told to “rest a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.” Now all delay was to end, and just as importantly at the trumpet call of the seventh angel “the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as He announced to His servants the prophets.” The reference to “His servants the prophets” is commonly used in the Old Testament to refer to the prophets God sent to the nation of Israel (e.g. II Kings 9:7, Jeremiah 7:25, Zechariah 1:6, and especially Daniel 9:6).

The phrase “the mystery of God” should ring a bell for anyone familiar with the epistles written by Paul. He speaks of this mystery in Romans 16:25-26 (cf. Rom. 11:25), but he covers this topic most thoroughly in his epistles to the Ephesians (1:7-10, 2:11-3:11, 5:31-32, 6:18-20) and to the Colossians (1:24-27, 2:1-4, 4:3-4 [cf. 3:11]).

In his book to the Ephesians, Paul reminds the Gentile believers that they were formerly called “the uncircumcision” (2:11), they were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise” (2:12), and “far off” (2:13). Now they “have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:13) and “made one new man” with Jewish believers (2:15). They are “no longer strangers and aliens,” but are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (2:19), being “joined together…into a holy temple in the Lord” (2:21).

Paul told the Ephesians that by reading his description of the mystery made known to him by revelation (3:1-4), they could perceive his insight into “the mystery of Christ” which was not made known to previous generations as it had been revealed to the apostles and prophets in his day (3:4-5). Paul is then most explicit regarding what this mystery is in Ephesians 3:6, and this is most crucial to our understanding of Revelation 10:7:

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Therefore, David Chilton and Jay Adams are correct as they are quoted for the Preterist commentary on Revelation 10:7 in Steve Gregg’s book:

This ‘Mystery’ is a major aspect of the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians: the union of believing Jews and Gentiles in one church, without distinction (Chilton, as quoted in Steve Gregg, Revelation, p. 208).

The completion of the mystery of God (v. 7) refers to the fact that the “predominantly Jewish nature of the church was to be ended by the destruction of the temple, the distinctive feature in which it centered” (Adams). The mystery itself, of course, is that of which Paul frequently speaks, namely, as Adams writes, “that the Gentiles should come into the church on an equal footing with the Jews, not first having to become Jews themselves…” (Steve Gregg, ibid).

Sadly, I believe that each of the authors quoted for the Futurist commentary in Gregg’s book completely miss the meaning of Revelation 10:7. William Kelly, for example (p. 209), identifies the mystery of God in this way:

…the secret of His allowing Satan to have his own way, and man too (that is to say, the wonder of evil prospering and of good being trodden underfoot).

Arno C. Gaebelin, another Futurist, expresses it this way:

How great has been that mystery! Evil had apparently triumphed; the heavens for so long have been silent. Satan had been permitted to be the god of this age deceiving the nations… And now the time has come when the mystery of God will be completed.

John Walvoord takes the mystery of God to mean “truth concerning God Himself which has not been fully revealed” (i.e. as of 1966, when Walvoord wrote this). In other words, the truth concerning God as revealed by the Bible would prove to be insufficient, and a future generation living some 200o years or more after Christ would uncover the missing pieces of truth. What a dangerous notion, leaving much room for some group or movement to come along and claim that they have discovered this mystery. It’s a perfect recipe for cults. H.A. Ironside, writing in 1920, also saw the revealing of this mystery as yet future:

Everything will then be made plain. The mystery of retribution—the mystery of predestination—the mystery of the great struggle between light and darkness and good and evil—all will be explained then.

Paul, however, already explained this mystery in the first century AD, as the truth that Gentiles and Jews are fellow and equal partakers of the promise in Christ through the gospel. We might do well to remember that several years after Jesus had ascended the Jewish believers were astounded when salvation began to come to the Gentiles (Acts 10:45, 11:18, 13:46, 14:27, 15:9-10). In 70 AD the centerpieces of Old Covenant Judaism, the temple and the once holy city of Jerusalem, were taken out of the way. The kingdom was taken from national Israel and given to the Church, the people whom Jesus said would produce its fruits (See the ‘Parable of the Tenants’ in Matthew 21:33-45; cf. Hebrews 8:13).

Thus we can see the significance in verse 2 of the angel standing with one foot on the sea and one foot on the land. If the sea is interpreted as a reference to the Gentiles, and the land as a reference to Israel (the Jews), then the picture we have is of a bridging of the gap between the two. This is precisely what we see in Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2:11-22 that, in Christ, Jews and Gentiles are one. This teaching leads up to Paul’s statement in Eph. 3:6 explicitly identifying what the mystery of God is:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh…were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God… (Eph. 2:11-11; cf. Acts 2:39, I Peter 2:9-10).

The picture of the angel bridging the gap between land and sea is a beautiful symbol of God’s bringing Jews and Gentiles together in Himself on an equal basis, having torn down the dividing wall by His work on the cross. The placing of this picture in the context of events taking place in 70 AD is not to say that this reality was only made true at that time. Rather this reality was made all the more apparent and universal when the physical temple, the central symbol of Old Covenant Judaism and Israel’s national pride, was visibly brought down forever in 70 AD in favor of “a holy temple in the Lord…a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:21-22).

Not only does Revelation 10 bear similarities to Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, but it also has striking similarities to Daniel 12. In Daniel’s day we are told of Michael, “the great prince who has charge of” Daniel’s people, Israel (verse 1).  In Daniel 12:7, as in Rev. 10:5-6 we see an angel who “raised his right hand to heaven and swore by Him who lives forever.”

Having looked closely at Daniel 12:1 and 12;6-7, I lean toward this angel here in Revelation 10 being Michael, and not Jesus. The actions of the angel in Daniel 12 and the angel in Revelation 10 are very similar. Michael was assigned as the great prince in charge of Daniel’s people, Israel (Dan. 12:1). Daniel was told that when he would arise there would be a “time of trouble” for his people like never before (cf. Matt. 24:21, Jer. 30:7), but that everyone whose names were “written in the book” (believers in Christ; cf. Rev. 3:5, 20:12) would be delivered. This is precisely what happened during the Jewish-Roman War of 66-70 AD. As we wrote in our study of Rev. 7,

Just prior to the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the Jewish Christians in that city were warned by a prophetic oracle to flee from the city (echoing Jesus’ own warning in Luke 21:20ff). Historian Eusebius (c. 325) wrote: “The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella.”

In Daniel 12:7, as in Rev. 10:5-6 we see an angel who “raised his right hand to heaven and swore by Him who lives forever.” The exact same language is used in both passages. When the angel raised his hand to swear by God the first time, he swore that the things being told to Daniel would take place over a 3.5 year time period (“a time, times, and half a time”; verse 7). It would result in the “shattering of the power of the holy people.” Again, this is precisely what happened in 66-70 AD. From the time that Nero declared war on the land of Israel in late winter 67 AD until the temple was destroyed in August 70 AD, exactly 3.5 years transpired. No event in Israel’s history epitomizes the shattering of their power like what occurred in 70 AD. These parallel images in Revelation 10 and Daniel 12 are given in order to indicate that the same events are being spoken of. In Daniel’s case, he was told to “seal the book, until the time of the end” (Dan. 12:4, 9), for his vision referred “to many days from now” (8:26). In John’s day, however, he was told, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Rev. 22:10). These things did occur shortly after John committed them to writing, resulting in the full, universal, and manifest establishment of the New Covenant temple of God apart from Old Covenant temple-based Judaism.

B. John Eats the Little Book (10:8-11)

Verse 9: John was told to eat the scroll, and it would be sweet like honey in his mouth but bitter in his stomach. On this, Sam Storms remarks,

The instructions given to John by the angel are patterned after Ezekiel’s experience where he, too, is commanded to eat the scroll (Ezek. 2-3; see also the experience of Jeremiah in 15:16 of his prophecy). The eating of the scroll symbolizes the spiritual “assimilation” of the message it contains and the prophet’s personal identification with and submission to its truth (“Son of man, take into your heart all My words which I shall speak to you and listen closely,” Ezek. 3:10).

Adam’s notes on verses 9-10:

Sam Storms is correct that John’s experience when eating the scroll parallels Ezekiel’s experience. Steve Gregg (p. 210) notes that Ezekiel’s nearly identical experience took place just before Jerusalem was destroyed during his day, and it is fitting that John experienced the same before Jerusalem’s second destruction in 70 AD:

The action of eating the little book (v. 10), and reference to how it affected the mouth and stomach, is an imitation of the identical actions of Ezekiel the prophet (see Ezek. 3:1-3, 14). Ezekiel’s prophecy was about the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 B.C. John’s similar action also is connected with his prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem, this time by the Romans in A.D. 70.

David S. Clark wrote that the scroll’s sweetness and bitterness reflected the fact that some of the things being revealed to the first-century Church through John would make God’s people glad, but others would sadden them:

It was a matter of gladness that God heard their prayers and answered their cries, vindicated their cause, and destroyed the persecutors. But it was sad that men did not turn from their sins, sad that such judgments must fall.

Verse 11: John is told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” This same type of list has already been seen in Rev. 5:9 and 7:9, and will also be seen in Rev. 11:9, 13:7, 14:6, and 17:15; a total of seven times in Revelation.

Steve Gregg notes that some Preterists (e.g. Moses Stuart, David S. Clark, and Jay Adams) view the second half of the book of Revelation to be a prophecy of Rome’s downfall in 476 AD, and so they take this verse to be an indication that the next half of Revelation does not concern Israel. Other Preterists (e.g. J. Stewart Russell, David Chilton, Milton S. Terry, and Philip Carrington) “consider the whole of Revelation to be concerned with the downfall of the Jewish state” and thus “believe that the book simply adds [here] an international dimension to the continuing predictions of God’s dealings with Israel, particularly stressing the impact of the fall of Jerusalem upon the global gospel mission.” Steve Gregg then quotes David Chilton, who says (pp. 212, 214),

the Angel-Prophet, who proclaims His message while straddling the inhabited earth, commissions St. John to prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings. St. John’s prophecy regarding the destruction of Israel and the establishing of the New Covenant will encompass the nations of the world.


Our study of Revelation 11 (Part 1) can be found here. All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

Revelation Chapter 2 (Ephesus and Smyrna)

REVELATION 2:1-11 (Ephesus and Smyrna)

Mike: July 9, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 2:1-11

Some of the following notes are taken from commentaries by John MacArthur and David Guzik, director of Calvary Chapel Bible College in Siegen, Germany. Both MacArthur and Guzik are Dispensational Futurists (None of us in this Bible study group hold to this position, however). The following is the source information for their materials:

[1] MacArthur, Dr. John. NASB MacArthur Study Bible. World Publishing, 2006, pp. 1963-1965.
[2] Guzik, David. David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible: Revelation 2.

[Notes from Adam are in blue font, and represent the preterist position.]

Introduction: According to David Guzik, the letters to the 7 churches share a similar structure, and these two are no exception:

[1] An address to a particular congregation
[2] An introduction of Jesus
[3] A statement and a verdict from Jesus regarding the condition of the church
[4] A command from Jesus to the church
[5] A general exhortation to all Christians
[6] A promise of reward

A. Letter to the Church in Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7)

In the second half of the first century, Ephesus had a population of about 250,000. It was the largest and most important city in the Roman province of Asia. It was also devoted to the cult of Artemis (Diana), and its temple to the goddess Diana was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (Steve Gregg, Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary, p. 64). David Guzik writes,

Ephesus was a famous city in the ancient world, with an equally famous church. Ephesus was the city where Paul ministered for three years (Acts 19:1, Acts 10, Acts 20:31). It was the city where Aquilla and Priscilla, with Apollos ministered (Acts 18:24-28). It was the city where Paul’s close associate Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3) ministered. And according to strong and consistent church historical traditions, the Apostle John himself ministered there.

Verse 1: David Guzik suggests that “this angel may be the pastor of the church at Ephesus, or an angelic being ‘looking in’ on the workings of the church at Ephesus.” In any case, says Guzik, “the letter isn’t written just to the representative, but to the whole church.”

According to John MacArthur, the 7 stars are the messengers who represent the 7 churches. Christ holds them in his hand, which means that He controls the church and its leaders. The seven lampstands, says MacArthur, were portable, gold, and “held small oil lamps. Each lampstand represented a church from which the light of life shone. Throughout scripture 7 is the number of completeness, so these 7 lampstands are representative of all the churches.”

Verses 2-3: The text says, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance…” Jesus lets them know He knows what’s going on in their church, and it’s not a mystery to him. “There may be sin or corruption hidden in a congregation, but it’s not hidden to Jesus.” He also knows what the church is doing right. They work hard for the Lord and have patient endurance.

Jesus commended the believers in Ephesus for testing and exposing false apostles. Unfortunately, those who test in this way today are often accused of “touching the Lord’s anointed” (as if some are anointed, and others are not), having a critical/religious spirit, being negative, etc. Guzik adds, “The Ephesian church also pursued doctrinal purity.” In Acts chapter 20:29-31 Paul warned them about those who would try to draw them away from the faith. The Ephesians took this warning seriously. Guzik quotes from Charles Spurgeon:

This was grand of them: it showed a backbone of truth. I wish some of the churches of this age had a little of this holy decision about them ; for nowadays, if a man be clever, he may preach the vilest lie that was ever vomited from the mouth of hell, and it may go down with some.

Verse 4: David Guzik remarks, “Despite all the good in the Ephesian church, there is something seriously wrong. They have left- not lost– their first love. They once had a love that they don’t have anymore.” Again Guzik quotes from Spurgeon, who says,

The distinction between leaving and losing is important. Something can be lost quite by accident, but leaving is a deliberate act, though it may not happen suddenly. As well, when we lose something we don’t know where to find it, but when we leave something, we know where to find it.

Verse 5: Jesus’ command to the believers in Ephesus is three-fold: [1] Remember [2] Repent [2] Do (“the works you did at first”). David Guzik remarks, “When the Prodigal Son was in the pigpen, the first step in restoration was remembering what life was like back in his father’s home (Luke 16:17-19). This is always the first step in getting back to where we should be with the Lord.” Jesus then tells them in no uncertain terms what will take place if they fail to respond: “If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” Steve Gregg remarks (p. 65),

The warning that Christ will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place (v. 5) can hardly refer to His Second Coming and almost certainly speaks of the total extinction of the church in that location. Indeed, today there is no city or church in the Turkish location that was once Ephesus. Islam has been established in this region which Paul had once thoroughly evangelized (Acts 19:10). How different might the history of that region have been had the church continued to practice its first love (Eph. 1:15)?

Steve Gregg notes that at least their faithfulness to doctrinal truth continued for some time: “In the second century, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, commended this church for its loyalty to the truth that had effectively prevented any false sect from gaining a hearing among its members” (p. 64). David Guzik notes how the removal of a congregation’s lampstand can apply today: “When their lampstand is removed, they may continue as an organization, but no longer as a true church of Jesus Christ. It will be the church of Ichabod, where the glory has departed (1 Samuel 4:21).”

Verse 6: Jesus commended the Ephesian believers for hating the works of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus also hated. David Guzik adds these details:

But who are the Nicolaitans and what were their deeds? The doctrine of the Nicolaitans is also condemned in Revelation 2:15, and in that passage is related to immorality and idolatry. Irenaeus (writing in the late second century) described what he knew of the Nicolaitans: “The Nicolaitans are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles [Acts 6:5]. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrifice to idols.” (Against Heresies, book 1, chapter 26. From the Ante Nicean Fathers Volume 1, page 352)

Steve Gregg (pp. 64-65) adds that “some modern commentators (e.g. F.F. Bruce) suggest that Nicolas was a disciple of the Gnostic heretic Cerinthus,” and that “their teaching is compared, in verse 15, with that of Balaam, who advocated sinful license in idolatrous practices and sexual immorality.” Guzik also points out that meaning can be derived from the root words which make up the word “Nicolaitans”:

Nikao-laos means literally “to conquer the people.” Based on this, some point to presumptuous claims of apostolic authority and to the heart that sets up hierarchies and separates the “clergy” from the “laity.” Perhaps the Nicolaitans fulfilled all these aspects, being both an idolatrous immorality and a presumptuous, hierarchical, “hidden mysteries” system typical of Gnosticism. The Nicolaitans, like all deceivers which come from the body of Christ, claimed “not that they were destroying Christianity, but that they were presenting an improved and modernized version of it” (Barclay).

B. Letter to the Church in Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11)

David Guzik notes, “The name Smyrna comes from the word myrrh, a sweet smelling perfume used in embalming dead bodies.” He adds that Smyrna was a large, beautiful city. It was a center of learning and culture, and claimed to be the “glory of Asia.” It was a rich city and a great trade city. “We also know from history that it was a city deeply committed to idolatry and the worship of the Roman Emperor,” adds Guzik.

Smyrna was the second largest city in Provincial Asia during the second half of the first century. According to Steve Gregg (p. 66), it’s the only city among the seven cities John wrote to which still exists today. It’s known today as Izmir. In the second century, Polycarp was the bishop of this church.

Verse 8: Jesus calls Himself “the first and the last, who died and came to life.” Guzik comments,

Jesus chose this title from His initial appearance to John (Revelation 1:11, 1:17) to speak of His eternal character. The First and the Last are titles that belong only to the LORD, Yahweh, according to Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12… Jesus chose this title from His initial appearance to John (Revelation 1:18) to remind the Christians in Smyrna that they serve the risen Lord, victorious over death. Death could not hold Jesus, and it cannot hold His people.

Verse 9: Jesus assures the believers in Smyrna that He knows their tribulation and poverty. Guzik says,

According to history, Smyrna was a prosperous city. Yet the Christians there were poor. “The word used for ‘poverty’ is the word for abject poverty. They were not just poor” (Walvoord). The Christians of Smyrna knew poverty because they were robbed and fired from jobs in persecution for the gospel. Early Christians joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] goods, knowing that [they] have an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven (Hebrews 10:34).

Jesus says something very interesting to the believers in Smyrna: “I know…the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” This seems to be further evidence that Revelation was written prior to 70 AD, when Jerusalem was destroyed and Jewish persecution of Christians was effectively stunted. Steve Gregg remarks (p. 67):

As in the case of the Philadelphian church (3:9), the troublers of the church in Smyrna were those who say they are Jews and are not (v. 9)—in other words, unbelieving Jews, whom Jesus here considers to be a synagogue of Satan (c.f. John 8:44). Smyrna had the largest Jewish population of any Asian city. If this was written prior to A.D. 70, then it was a period in which the main adversaries of Christianity were the Jews. The church there was understandably harassed more than most.

Verse 10: Does the slander of the Jews in verse 9 provide the context for the “ten days” of testing, suffering, and tribulation the believers there were about to suffer? Steve Gregg believes so (p. 67):

Since the persecution is said to be instigated by the devil, and since the Jews of Smyrna were a synagogue of Satan (v. 9), it is probable that the persecution here, as elsewhere, was brought about by the local Jewish community (cf. Matt. 23:34; Acts 13:45; 14:19; 17:5, 13; I Thess. 2:14-16).


Our study of Revelation 2 continues at this next post.

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