Question and answer from the Bible Answer Man broadcast.
Grace in Salt Lake City, UT on KUTR: Hi Hank. I sure appreciate you helping us muddle through these Scriptures. My question is about the Second Coming. Just as the Jews didn’t recognize Jesus as their messiah, I am questioning how we are going to know that Jesus Christ is our messiah. Does the antichrist come during the sixth trumpet and then Jesus Christ comes at the seventh trumpet? The way we might know it’s Him is if we’re still in our physical bodies it’s the antichrist, but if it’s Jesus Christ we will be changed to our spiritual bodies, changed in the twinkling. Am I totally off?
Hank: I don’t think you want to read the Book of Revelation in that fashion, first and foremost. Remember that when you look at what is going on when the seals are opened in Revelation, chapter six, this has to do with something that is going on in that epic of time.
So when John says “I watched as he opened the sixth seal there was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place,” this is apocalyptic language that we should be familiar with, because this apocalyptic language is used throughout the Scripture. Indeed, Jesus used this very language in the Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24. Joel uses this language, Isaiah uses this language.
The language in every case is used with respect to judgment of nations. So, for example, if you look at the context of Isaiah, the judgment is on Babylon. The Medes and Persians are going to turn out the light of the glories of the Babylonian empire. In Joel you see the language being used with respect to judgment on God’s people. The same thing is true when you read Revelation 6. Once again you see judgment on those who were called to be a light to the nations, but, instead, prostituted themselves with the nations.
So Jesus takes the language of the Old Testament prophets and applies it to what is going to happen when Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed. Remember Jesus said in the context of using this very language in the Olivet Discourse that all of it would happen within a generation. And so His prophecy was fulfilled precisely in that way. Within a generation the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in fulfillment of Messiah’s prophecy. So this takes place in a 1st century epic. By the way, John, in Revelation, has an expanded Olivet Discourse. And so he’s talking about something that’s happening in a 1st century epic.
Now, to extend this a little further, Revelation is not written to you – it’s not written to me. It is written for you and it is written for me. Which is to say that Revelation is written to seven churches in the epicenter of the Caesar cult, and Jesus, through John and through the vision, is encouraging His people, true Israel, to be faithful and fruitful. They’re going to suffer persecution for a short time. Everything is going to be upended, but in the end they will receive an eternal vindication, and so He is encouraging them. And as we read through Revelation we are, ourselves, are encouraged because we too have the same hope that John holds out for the faithful, and that is they’ll see a New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, prepared as a bride beautifully adorned for her husband. As Paul also points out in Galatians 4, it’s not the Jerusalem below, it’s the Jerusalem above that is free and she is our mother. If we’re attached to the Jerusalem that’s below, then Paul points out we are still in bondage, but we are not in bondage as true Israel because we’re looking forward to the New Jerusalem that shines with the glory of God, and its brilliance is like a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
So that’s really what’s going on here in the Book of Revelation. Furthermore, let me say one other thing in response to your call, and that is antichrist. Antichrist is never used in the Book of Revelation, but it is used in John’s Epistles, and it has to do with anyone who denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. So whether an individual or an institution, and it doesn’t matter whether you live in this century or the 1st century or the 20th century or even now in the 21st century, if you deny Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, then you are, by virtue of that, antichrist or against Christ. So it’s any individual, any institution that denies that Jesus Christ is Lord and that He has come in the flesh.
Grace: Okay, so when we hear about the wound and His mouth and all of that, I guess I’m confused. Is it an actual person?
Hank: Remember, what you have to understand when you read a book like Revelation is you will immediately be confused by what John is saying unless you are firmly tethered to the rest of Scripture. Let me back up a little bit.
Remember when the Bible was being translated into the English language, at that particular epic of time it was considered a road to what was called a floodgate to iniquity, which is to say if you put the Bible into the hands of laypeople it will lead to iniquity because they don’t know how to interpret the Scripture. This was the thought of the Catholic humanists at the time. But Reformers said no, we want to put the Bible into the hands of the laity and then teach them how to read Scripture in light of Scripture. And this is particularly what we have to do with respect to Revelation. Revelation is 404 verses. 278 of them are contextualized by other portions of Scripture – particularly the Old Testament. Beyond that, oftentimes John is using metaphors that we wouldn’t get unless he explained what they meant. So, he talks, for example, about the flaming torches of fire before the throne of God. And then he explains to us what they are – the seven spirits of God, and even that takes explaining. Otherwise you’ll think there’s nine in the Godhead.
But he also does the same thing with golden bowls full of incense, and he says these are the prayers of the saints. So apocalyptic language is not just apocalyptic in the sense of an unveiling, but in the sense of a linguistic matrix that comes directly from the rest of Scripture. So the short answer is, things will be confusing unless you are firmly tethered to Scripture and you read Scripture in light of Scripture.
And do remember, metaphors so often – people often say “Well, now you’re not interpreting the Bible literally” – Well, John himself is not asking us to interpret the Bible in a wooden, literalistic fashion, but in the sense in which it’s intended. We have to recognize that the metaphors of Scripture have sharp teeth. They’re not there to obscure knowledge, but rather they are there to illumine knowledge that we might otherwise miss. So when Jesus Christ is described as having a tongue that looks like a sword, this is not what Jesus Christ looks like. It is what Jesus is like. Or when the Holy City is described as being 12,000 stadia in length and as wide and high as it is long, we’re not to suppose that we’re going to inherit some great big cube in the sky, as some modern writers write in sensationalistic books about heaven, but rather we are to recognize that John is drawing from the imagery of the Old Testament. The cube-shaped holy of holies in which Jehovah dwelt is an analogy when the new heavens and the new earth in which we will experience God and see Him, as it were, face to face, where we will physically commune with the resurrected Christ.
So, again, all of Scripture has to be contextualized or read in light of Scripture, and when we fail to do that we mistake the meaning of Scripture. I’ve written about the antichrist and the beast in Revelation and, of course the Lamb. Jesus is described as a Lion and a Lamb, not to get us confused, but when He is, He’s described in that way because elsewhere in Scripture He is described as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. He’s also the Lamb slain before the foundations of the world. So when we read Scripture in light of Scripture we find out that the description of a lion and a lamb is to teach us something about Jesus Christ that we might ordinarily miss.
I’ve written about this in various places. The Apocalypse Code, The Complete Bible Answer Book, Collector’s Edition and much more.