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– Two –
This book is a collection of twenty–two sermons on the book of Revelation, preached by Milo Hadwin in Wheeling, West Virginia in the United States from January through June of 1980. There is one sermon on each chapter of the book. The sermons are taped, transcribed, and with a minimum of editing are presented here as they were preached.
The book of Revelation provides an exciting and encouraging message for the people of God. It is hoped these sermons will convey that sense of excitement and provide a great encouragement for all who read them. The Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.
Milo Hadwin was one of the first missionaries from our brotherhood to the Caribbean Island of Jamaica in the 1960’s. I met him not long after he had returned to the United States. It was my privilege to spend some time with him in some meetings in Wheeling, West Virginia, in the early 1970’s.
In my close association with him, I have come to highly respect him as a dedicated Christian gentleman, a splendid preacher of the gospel, and a serious student of the word of God.
The book of Revelation from which Brother Hadwin preached these sermons has a central theme. To the beleaguered Christians near the end of the first century, John wrote the hopeful message of Christ. “... Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). He did not promise that they would be exempt from suffering and hardships. He did give them assurance that in their faithful struggle against all opposition, that one day they would be victorious and He would give them a crown of life. That is the story of this book, and it is as applicable to Christians of this century as it was to those in earlier times. You will enjoy and be profited by these lessons shared with us by this capable preacher of the word.
Guy V. Caskey
Author — God
Writer — John, the Apostle
Date — c. A.D. 95
Destination — The original recipients were the seven churches in Asia Minor (Revelation 1:40>. It was written for God’s servants (1:1) and was designed to bless everyone who will read, hear, and keep the things written in it (1:3; 22:7). It will bring a curse to anyone who adds to or takes away from the words written in it (22:18–19).
Even the parts addressed specifically to a church in one place (2:1) were intended for everyone in all of the churches of Christ in every place (2:7). It is a revelation to God’s servants (1:1) and there is no guarantee it will reveal anything to anyone else nor is there any assurance it will bless anyone except those who will keep its teaching (1:3).
Purpose — to reveal (Revelation 1:1) in such a way as to bless all of God’s servants who read it (1:3). It is the only book in the Bible that pronounces a blessing on those who read, hear, and obey it’s words.
It is not written just for historians, theologians, scholars, and intellectuals. Yet, the difficulty of the book is frequently stressed to the discouragement of the would–be reader.
For example, a recent commentator wrote: “Because of it’s symbolism, it’s saturation with Old Testament passages and themes, the various schemes of interpretation that have developed concerning this book through the ages, and the profundity and vastness of the subjects that are here unveiled, I believe that the Apocalypse, above ever book of the Bible, will yield it”s meaning only to those who give prolonged and careful study” (Wilbur Smith, The Wycliffece Bible Commentary, p. 1500).
Surely, the more one studies the more one is apt to learn, but even a beginner is bound to learn something and may even see
something the scholar has missed. A pertinent question here is “How much did God intend to reveal in His Revelation? Are we expecting it to have more meaning than God intended for it?”
To illustrate, the same writer quoted these words regarding Revelation from a man he said is generally acknowledged to have been the most gifted Bible expositor in the first quarter of our century. “There is no book in the Bible which I have read so often, no book to which I have tried to give more patient and persistent attention. ... There is no book in the Bible to which I turn more eagerly in hours of depression that to this, with all it's mystery, all the details of which I do not understand” (G. Campbell Morgan, Westminster Bible Record, Vol. 3 (1912), 105, 109).
Could it be this scholar was looking for meanings in the details which the details were never intended to convey? Might it not have been sufficient that through these details God was able to convey a message sufficiently powerful to overcome his depression? As another writer expressed it: “Whenever there is a world crisis, whenever the State exalts itself and demands an allegiance which Christians know they cannot pay without abandoning their very souls, whenever the church is threatened by destruction, and faith is dim and hearts are cold, the Revelation will admonish and exhort, uplift and encourage all who heed it’s message” (Martin Kiddle in Moffatt Commentary, p. Xlix). How can we know what Revelation means? How do we interpret the Bible? How do we interpret any literature?
What more should we consider in interpreting Revelation specifically?
One of the most respected Bible scholars in the world today said very simply in the preface to his commentary on Revelation: “Some of the problems of this book are enormously difficult and I certainly have not the capacity to solve them” (Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John, p. 13). That does not mean we can understand nothing nor be certain about anything. It is to approach Revelation with the kind of attitude Peter had toward some of Paul's writings (II Peter 3:15–18).
This does not mean we enter a world of unreality. As J.B. Phillips, who produced a popular translation of the New Testament said, “He is carried, not into some never-never land of fancy, but into the Ever–ever land of God’s eternal Values and Judgments” (J.B. Phillips, The Book of Revelation, 1960, p. 9 as quoted by Morris, op. cit., p. 15).
Or as C.S. Lewis said in his book, Mere Christianity, “There is no need to be worried about facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps.’ The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown–ups, they should not talk about them.
“All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggest ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share this splendor and power. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs” (p. 121).
That, in Revelation, we are dealing with some symbolic language can be seen from a few sample passages (3:18; 6:13; 8:10; 12:3-4). The rich imagery of Revelation introduces us to
a whole menagerie of animals: horses, lions, leopards, bears, lambs, calves, locusts, scorpions, eagles, vultures, fish, and frogs. Revelation comes to us in living color with white symbolizing purity, black—distress, red—death (blood), purple—royalty and luxurious ease, and pale yellow—expiring life and the kingdom of the dead. Numbers are important symbols in Revelation. The number seven leads the way with 54 occurrences in Revelation. It symbolizes completeness, fullness, or perfection. Three and a half is a broken number that appears in various forms (42 months, 1260 days, “a time and times, and half a time”) symbolizing distress or tribulation.
Ten also is a symbol of completeness or perfection (ten commandments, the Holy of Holies was a cube, each side being 10 cubits—symbolic of heaven, according to Hebrews 9:3 and 24). Twelve is symbolic of God's people, the church, or the kingdom. So we have twelve tribes, twelve apostles, twice twelve being the number of elders representing the redeemed church (Revelation 4:4), the new Jerusalem has twelve gates and the walls of the city have twelve foundations—all of this associated with God's people. Multiples of these numbers are common as the cube of 10 which is 10 x 10 x 10 is 1000.
Certainly, one could turn Revelation into a bizarre mathematical nightmare with numerological games, but it is well to be aware of the possible symbolism that is often suggested and sometimes demanded by the context. We must not force into a symbol a meaning it does not naturally bear, or Revelation will become merely a playground for our own wild fantasies.
Revelation was not a work produced in sublime isolation, but it breathes the atmosphere of the whole Bible of which it is the climax. It has been concluded by the research of two Bible scholars, Westcott and Hort, that of the 404 verses in Revelation, 265 contain lines embracing approximately 550 references to Old Testament passages. A thorough knowledge of the Old and New Testaments will surely enrich one's study and understanding of Revelation. Similarities to the language and symbolism of Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 and other prophecies and portions of scripture are found in abundance.
While these comparisons can be helpful, they can also cause one to seriously distort the message and meaning of Revelation if the the rest of the Bible is used as a kind of dictionary for assigning meanings to symbols. This assumes Revelation is a kind of cryptogram or coded message to be deciphered by treasure hunting through the entire Bible for hints and meanings. It is natural that Revelation would express itself in the familiar phrases of the rest of scripture since it is the summing up of God's purpose in the history of His people.
However, it would be a mistake to assume that a symbol used in one part of the scripture will have the same meaning as the same symbol used in another place. Consider the serpents in Eden and the wilderness; also, the cross, once a symbol of shame, became the symbol of salvation. This mistake can be seen in some attempts to apply the symbolism of Revelation to the glorified kingdom in its perfected state, which is yet to come.
We need to recognize that it is not a book written to titillate or to gratify the curiosity of men who are anxious to tear aside the veil from the future (See Matthew 24:35, 42, 44). Revelation was never intended to be a celestial timetable of what is to come. It becomes tiring to listen to the frantic ravings of those who see in Bible prophecies forecasts of imminent disasters.
The two most prominent religious groups noted for such activity proved themselves false prophets once again in 1975 for those who did not already know it. One group’s magazine of October 9, 1966 specifically declared that the seventh millennium would begin in Autumn, 1975. It read: “All the many, many parts of the great sign of the ‘last days’ are here, together with verifying Bible chronology ...” (Awake, published by the Jehovah's Witnesses).
The leader of the other religious group, The Worldwide Church of God, published a book in 1957 called 1975 in Prophecy. Here is what it said: “While modern science and industry strive to prepare for us a push-button leisure-luxury-world by 1975, United States Assistant Weather chief, I.R. Tarrahill, warns us unofficially to really fear ‘the big drought of 1975.’ But the indications of prophecy are that this drought will be even more devasting that he foresees, and that it will strike sooner than 1975—probably between 1965
and 1972! Here is exactly how catastrophic it will be: One Third Of Our Entire Population will Die in the famine and disease epidemic” (p.12)!
It seems as if that writer's favorite adjectives were amazing, astounding, incredible, and fantastic! On page 14 of the same work, he declared that another one-third would be killed by hydrogen bombs, and the remaining one-third would be sold into slavery! Jeremiah had the best comment on that (Jeremiah 14:14).
Herbert W. Armstrong was the author of the aforesaid document. Refer also to Salem Kirban's I Predict.
While Revelation was not designed to tear back the curtain on some chronological count-down of Jesus’ return, it does “draw veils aside and opens up a vista of God’s actions and His ways; for it proclaims the kingdom of God, which is here and now, and yet is still to come in its fullness, bringing with it the overthrow of all that is against Him” (W.C. Unnik, The New Testament, 1964, p. 161 as quoted by Morris, p. 20).
The methods by which commentators have tried to interpret Revelation tend to fall into four categories:
According to this view, all or nearly all of the book had its fulfillment in the first century or, at most, the first 300 years of the history of the church. Supposedly, the book deals primarily with the persecution inflicted on Christians by the Roman government.
For example, J.W. Roberts maintained in his commentary that Revelation 6:1—16:21 predicts the history of the church from John’s time until the conversion of Constantine and the Edict of Toleration (A.D. 311).
The three and a half years of the rule of the beast and the harlot represent this “little season” of Roman dominance. The binding of Satan represents the downfall of the persecuting power in which the cause of the saints (6:9—11) is “resurrected” (the first resurrection) and the 1000 years is the longer period of the triumph of the Biblical faith.
This view says Revelation is a prophetic history of the church from the first century to the end of time. This view attempts to match up significant historical events with the various symbols in Revelation. The book is seen as one continuous series of historical events.
This interpretation says most of Revelation is yet to be fulfilled. It usually says chapter 4—22 have not yet been fulfilled. Chapter 14—19 are supposed to describe events in a three and a half year period immediately preceding the second coming of Christ. This is supposed to be followed by a literal thousand year reign of Christ on earth.
Philosophy of history is sometimes called Spiritual Symbolic, Idealistic, or Poetic. This view says the book is not dealing with historical events at all. It is simply a symbolic representation of principles, ideas, and spiritual truths.
Is the task of interpreting revelation hopeless? Not if it is a revelation. Surely the proper way to interpret Revelation is to read the book and, insofar as possible, allow it to explain itself. Interpret it in harmony with the rest of the Scripture. When this is done, what impressions are made on the mind?
Here are some impression that are helpful in seeing how the book is structured. Four groups of “sevens” cover more than half the book, suggesting a tentative and incomplete outline as a starting point:
Chapters 1—3 Seven Lampstands
4—7 Seven Seals
8—11 Seven Trumpets
15—16 Seven Bowls
A comparison of the seven trumpets and the seven bowls suggest that, in a sense, they are dealing with the same things.
|1st||trumpet 8:7 and bowl 16:2 affect the earth|
|2nd||trumpet 8:8 and bowl 16:3 affect the sea|
|3rd||trumpet 8:10 and bowl 16:4 affect the rivers|
|4th||trumpet 8:12 and bowl 16:8 affect the sun|
|5th||trumpet 9:1–11 and bowl 16:1–11 affect the pit of the abyss where the throne of the beast is (see 13:11)|
|6th||trumpet 9:14 and bowl 16:12 pertain to the Euphrates River|
|7th||trumpet 11:15, 19 and bowl 16:17-21 produce lightning, voices, thunders, earthquakes, and great hail|
A kind of repetition as seen in the case of the trumpets and bowls is characteristic of the whole book. The end of time, especially the coming of Christ to final judgment, seems to be described at various intervals throughout the book (6:12–17 with 7:9–17; 11:15–18; 14:14–20; 16:13–21; 19:11–21 and 20:11–15). Four of these passages occur at the ends of the four central divisions of the tentative outline suggested above. This begins to indicate the Revelation does not present a continuous sequence of events, but may contain sections which each cover somewhat the same material.
This is emphasized by the fact that in the last three passages mentioned, each include the identical expression in the Greek text, “the battle” (16:14; 19:19; 20:8). This is surely not referring to three different battles, but the same battle is described in three different places.
“The battle” in 19:19 suggests that one section closes with the end of chapter 19 just as previous sections had closed with God’s final judgment. This enables us to see a completed outline of the book of Revelation while further analysis will confirm the way in which the book naturally divides itself.
Chapters 1—3: Seven Lampstands (The church in the world)
4—7: Seven Seals (Church suffering trials)
8—11: Seven Trumpets (Church protected and avenged)
12—14: Christ opposed by Dragon and helpers
15—16: Seven Bowls (Final Wrath on Impenitent)
17—19: Fall of Babylon and the Beasts
20—22: Dragon's Doom and Christ's Victory
The structure of the book, as indicated by this outline and the content of each section in comparison with the other sections, suggests that each section is a look at the entire church age from the first to the second coming of Christ—each with a different emphasis. Each section seems to be calling attention to the way God is dealing with the church and the world during this age.
The major symbols, such as the seals, trumpets, and bowls do not have reference to some single identifiable historical event at one certain fixed time and place. Rather, the things described are “bigger–than–life,” colossal events that affect a third, a fourth, the whole earth. They affect mankind (Revelations 9:20) in all generations (Revelation 16:6). Thus, we are seeing what is continually happening, and therefore we are able to see the way in which Satan conducts his affairs and the way in which God is overruling in the affairs of men. Here we see the ever–operative principles affecting our world. For example, the symbolism of Revelation 13:1–10 is noted in Daniel 7:2–8. The same animals are mentioned (lion, bear, leopard, and one unspecified) which, in Daniel, represent four successive kingdoms, not kings (Daniel 7:23). In Revelation the four animals are combined into one. What better way could one represent government in general throughout the entire age? Instead, many interpreters begin dissecting the beast with no scriptural support for their procedure.
The sections of Revelation appear to be somewhat parallel but with the emphasis progressing from section to section toward the events that bring this age to a climax. For example, chapters 1—3 discuss Christ in the midst of the lampstands which represent the church. While chapters 2 and 3 are letters addressed to seven specific churches in Asia Minor, they are also designed to be speaking to the churches in general and are generally representative of the problems and glories of the church in every period of time.
While a letter is addressed to one church (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), the instruction in each case is to “hear what the spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The picture of Christ in the midst of the church reminds one of His statement in Matthew 28:20: "... and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
While the first three chapters are considering the church in general throughout the whole age, it is focused particularly on the churches of that time.
The second section calls our attention to the crucified Christ with the picture of the slain Lamb (Revelation 5:5–6) before the seals are opened, but the scenes revealed by the opened seals carry us forward to the persecuted church, even to the final judgment (Revelation 11:15–18).
The third section is more concerned with the end of the age. However, there is a major dividing line in the middle of the book, at which point in chapter 12, we are carried back to the beginning again with the birth, death, ascension, and coronation of Christ. And then we are carried ahead to see the behind-the-scenes working of Satan trying to destroy God's people.
There is even an intensification of the action as we progress through the next sections. While we see the nature of the conflict between God and Satan throughout the age of the church, we move forward in emphasis to the wrath of God on the impenitent in the fifth section. This section describes the destruction of Babylon and the beasts. Then, in the sixth section, we see the destruction of Satan, death, and Hades. And, in the last section, we have an extended look at the world which is to come.
This interpretation of Revelation seems to be the one the Bible itself is suggesting and which harmonizes most readily with the rest of scripture. It has been called “progressive parallelism” by William Hendriksen who, in his book on Revelation called More Than Conquerors, elaborates extensively on what we have only briefly sketched here.
In chapters 1—4, we see the church as the light of the world—a light shinning brightly in some places at some times and some times barely flickering, but nevertheless, a light. But, light and darkness cannot co–exist, and so the church will inevitably face persecution. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12). But, let us see things in their proper perspective.
First, then, we must see Jesus. And see Him, we do, in chapters 4 and 5. He is the head of the church; the King on the throne who controls the destiny of history. Knowing who is ultimately controlling our world, the Lamb who was slain to show His love and draw us to Him, we are ready to face the persecution which comes with chapter 6.
Here, we find that those who die in the Lord go to be in His presence. This reassurance provides us with courage to view the awesome judgment finally to be inflicted on the world.
Even then, Church Triumphant is seen rejoicing before the throne of God. But, will the persecuted be avenged? Yes! The seals of persecution give rise to the trumpets of judgment. In Revelation 8:1–5, God is seen constantly sending His judgment in response to the prayers of His people. Here we are introduced to the warning judgment of God designed to cause men to repent and persecutors to relent. But, for the most part, it does not work (Revelation 9:21).
Consequently, we see in chapters 10 and 11, the gospel proclaiming the cross-bearing church being afflicted by emerging victorious. But, the book does not end here. Two questions cry out for answers. Why is the church being so vigorously persecuted? And what will be the ultimate fate of the impenitent? So far, we have seen the surface and the conflict on the earth. Now, let us see what is behind it all. Behind the struggle on earth between the church and the world is the cosmic struggle between Christ and Satan!
In chapter 12, we see the dragon, Satan, trying to destroy the Man-Child, Christ. Failing in this, he directs his persecution against Christ's people, the church.
In chapters 13—14, we see Satan employing the beast out of the sea (representing anti-Christian persecution concentrated in government) and the beast out of the earth (representing anti-Christian religion) and the great harlot, Babylon, (representing anti-Christian seduction of the world) trying to destroy the church.
But, Satan fails and, in chapter 14, we see the Lamb standing victoriously on Mount Zion initiating the harvest of God's final
judgment. And what is the fate of those who, being warned by the trumpets of judgment, remain impenitent? (These, incidentally, are those who have the mark of the beast—see Revelation 16:2 and 16:9–11.)
In chapters 15 and 16, we see the bowls of God’s wrath poured out on them. But, what of the great harlot, Babylon, and the two beasts? In chapters 17 and 18, we see Babylon described and destroyed. In chapter 19, we see the beasts cast into the lake of fire and brimstone. In chapter 20, the devil, death, and Hades are all cast into the lake of fire.
In chapters 21 and 22, the great Revelation closes with the vision of the new heaven and earth where the saints are seen reigning with God and the Lamb forever and ever!