From Acts to the Epistles
Arlen L. Chitwood
The Book of Revelation
Blessing I will bless you and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.
In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice. (Genesis 22:17, 18).
Then the seventh angel sounded: and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ [lit., the kingdom of this world has become that (the kingdom) of our Lord and of his Christ], and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15).
The book of Revelation, through the first twenty chapters, provides a climax to all that has preceded; and this climax has to do with events occurring at the end of six days (at the end of 6,000 years) and during the seventh day (during the seventh 1,000-year period), bringing to a conclusion all things within a septenary structure of time established at the beginning of Scripture (Genesis 1:1-2:3).
Then, the last two chapters of the book move beyond the seven days, beyond the 7,000 years, into the eighth day (pointing to a new beginning). After all things throughout Man’s Day (lasting 6,000 years) and the Lord’s Day (lasting 1,000 years) have been completed, the book of Revelation, in the last two chapters, moves into the Day of God (which will continue throughout an unending succession of ages).
This is how Scripture closes. The Lord chose to close His revelation to man by providing a climax to all that He had revealed prior to that time, beginning with Moses (Revelation 1-20). And then He chose to go beyond this climax and, very briefly, reveal conditions and events during the following eternal ages (Revelation 21, 22).
The first twenty chapters of this book deal essentially with events at the end of and beyond Man’s Day, events during the future Day of the Lord (Revelation 1:10ff). This future Day of the Lord has to do with a time of judgment in which the Lord will exercise supremacy in all things. It encompasses the Lord’s judgment in all matters surrounding (1) His people (both the living and the dead), (2) the unsaved (both the living and the dead), and (3) Satan and his angels. And the Lord’s Day ends with the destruction of the present heavens and earth (after all other matters have been attended to), which is where the Day of God begins (an event occurring, chronologically, between chapters 20 and 21 [cf. 1Corinthians 15:24-28; 2 Peter 3:10-13]).
Judgment, according to Scripture, must begin “at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). God will judge all of His people first (the Church, Israel, Old Testament saints preceding Israel’s existence, Tribulation martyrs, and saved Gentiles coming out of the Tribulation). Only after he has judged all of His people will He deal with the unsaved in Judgment (e.g., Matthew 25:31-46). This is an established biblical principle that can never change.
The book of Revelation begins with judgment awaiting the Church at the end of the dispensation (chapters 1-4). It then continues with judgment awaiting Israel, a judgment that will bring the prior dispensation to a close (seven years yet remain [Daniel’s unfulfilled Seventieth Week]). During this time, judgment will befall the Gentile nations as well; but Israel, with respect to judgment, will, of necessity, occupy a position in the forefront among the nations.
Israel must come under judgment first (chapters 5-19a). Only then can God deal with the Gentile nations in this respect. Then, when Christ returns, He will conclude His dealings with His people in judgment first before dealing with the unsaved after this fashion (chapters 19b-20a; cf. Ezekiel 20:34-38; Matthew 25:31-46).
And, going on into the Messianic Era itself, this same principle must still hold true. This era will consist of 1,000 years of judging; and this judgment, of necessity, will have to do with the saved first. Actually, it will have to do centrally with the saved rather than with the unsaved.
The Messianic Era is a 1,000-year period during which Christ and His co-heirs will rule the earth with “a rod of iron,” with a view to bringing order out of disorder, for a purpose to be realized in the eternal ages beyond. The saved are the ones who will enter into the eternal ages beyond the millennium and occupy positions of power and authority of a universal nature in God’s kingdom, not the unsaved (Revelation 21:3, 4; 22:1-5). And it will be the saved to whom Christ will turn His attention at this time, with a view to preparations being made for the eternal ages (note that Israel and the nations will be present during the millennium in bodies of flesh, blood, and bones, still possessing the old sin nature).
During the Messianic Era, Israel will go forth as God’s witness to the ends of the earth with the salvation message (Isaiah 53:1ff); and unsaved Gentiles, hearing and rejecting this message, will simply be cut off at the end of a probationary period (100 years [Isaiah 65:20]) and appear at the Great White Throne (following the Messianic Era) to be judged. The unsaved in that day (as today [Ephesians 2:1, 12]) will be completely outside the scope of the reason for man’s creation in the beginning (to rule and reign [Genesis 1:26-28]), they can have no part in the eternal ages lying beyond the millennium (in which man will occupy positions of power and authority extending out into the universe [Revelation 22:1-5]), and those having rejected the salvation message will simply be cut off at the end of a probationary period.
And insofar as a judgment of Satan and his angels is concerned, they will be cast out of heaven (onto the earth) in the middle of the Tribulation and will be cast into the abyss (a section of Hades [Isaiah 14:15]) at the end of the Tribulation, before the Messianic Era begins; and at the end of the Messianic Era, following their having been loosed for a short period, they will be cast into the lake of fire, where they will reside throughout the eternal ages (Revelation 12:7-12; 20:7-10; cf. Matthew 25:41).
(Thus, as can be seen, dealing with the book of Revelation is not only dealing with the whole of preceding Scripture but also with the eternal ages that lie beyond. And attempting to deal with the contents of this book to any depth would be an unending task.
But remaining within the subject matter at hand, this series can be concluded from the book of Revelation in a somewhat simple fashion. And this can be accomplished by briefly calling attention to how the book deals with judgment as it relates to the Church and to Israel, with a view to the Messianic Era.
This is really the crux of matters seen in the book throughout the first twenty chapters. And things revealed in the book relating to the Church and Israel, with a view to the Messianic Era, are things that must be understood before anything else in the book can be understood in its proper perspective. These things are fundamental and primary.)
Judgment Awaiting the Church
The book of Revelation opens, after several brief statements (1:1-8), with the Lord taking John and transporting him forward in time, forward into the future Day of the Lord (1:9, 10). And the first thing the Lord shows John is a scene depicting seven churches appearing before Christ in judgment (Christ is presented as Judge, with the churches in His presence), after the dispensation has run its course and the Church has been removed from the earth into heaven (1:11ff).
“Seven” is a complete number, showing the completion of that which is in view. In this instance, the Church is in view; and the seven churches (seven existing churches in Asia during the first century, during John’s day) would have to represent the complete Church. And from John’s vantage point in the future Day of the Lord, these seven churches would have to be viewed as representing the complete Church existing throughout the preceding dispensation, now present beyond the dispensation in the Day of the Lord.
Thus, after several brief statements, the book of Revelation opens at a time after the present dispensation has run its course and the Church has been removed from the earth into heaven. And, if the three-fold division of the book seen towards the end of the first chapter (v. 19) is viewed from this perspective — from the perspective of John being present in the future Day of the Lord — chapters two through four can be viewed correctly in relation to what John was shown in chapter one.
John was in the future Day of the Lord, beyond the present dispensation, when he was told, “Write the things that you have seen, and the things that are, and the things that shall be hereafter [‘after these things’]” (1:19). And this fact must be kept in mind; else one will miss the central teaching throughout the first four chapters.
1. First and Second Divisions of the Book
The first division of the book, “the things that you have seen,” is evident. These things have to do with the Church standing before Christ in judgment (1:11-18). And, with this in mind, the second division of the book, “the things that are,” should also be evident. “The things that are” would have to do with things occurring during a time that was present with respect to John in the future Day of the Lord, not things occurring during the time from which he had been removed.
Revelation 1:19 must be viewed from John’s perspective in the future Day of the Lord, not from a perspective in which he would have seen things prior to that time (which, to John in the Day of the Lord, would have been in the preceding dispensation).
With this in mind, “the things that are” must have to do with the same things John had just seen — the Church appearing before Christ in judgment. And that is exactly what can be seen as one continues on into chapters two and three.
That revealed in chapters two and three simply continues the thought from chapter one relative to a judgment of Christians in the Day of the Lord. John saw seven churches that had existed in Asia during the period in the dispensation from which he had been removed — from his vantage point in the future Day of the Lord. In chapter one he saw these churches standing before the Lord in judgment; and in chapters two and three he saw that which was stated about each church within the framework of that judgment. That would be to say, chapters two and three depict the judgment introduced in chapter one.
And this would be perfectly in line with the manner in which each epistle in chapters two and three is structured. Each is structured the same way. Each has to do with the works of Christians, with a view to overcoming and occupying positions as co-heirs with Christ in the kingdom — things in perfect keeping with that which Scripture reveals concerning issues surrounding and following the future judgment of Christians (2:2, 7, 9, 11, 13, 17, 19, 26, 27; 3:1, 2, 5, 8, 11, 12, 15, 21).
In this respect, the first three chapters of the book of Revelation have to do, first and foremost, with the Church appearing before Christ in judgment at the end of the present dispensation, in the Day of the Lord. But there is another facet to the revelation that the Spirit of God built into chapters two and three. The seven churches listed were seven existing churches in Asia during the first century (1:4, 11), and these epistles are structured after a fashion that, as well, depict events occurring during the time that John had left, i.e., events occurring during the present dispensation, preceding the appearance of the Church at the judgment seat.
Thus, these epistles, along with depicting the complete Church before the judgment seat in heaven during the future Day of the Lord, also depict the complete Church on earth during the present dispensation as well.
With respect to the present dispensation, the complete Church shown by the number “seven” would have to encompass the Church throughout the entire dispensation (as the same number also depicts the complete Church, at the end of the dispensation, in the future Day of the Lord), else the Church could not be looked upon as complete in these chapters. And viewing the Church and the dispensation in this all-inclusive fashion, it would only be natural to look for these chapters to cover a history of the Church during the dispensation — beginning with Ephesus (which left her “first love” [2:4]) and ending with Laodicea (which was “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” [3:17]). And to see that a history of this nature is presented in these chapters, one need only compare the downward path of the Church (during the dispensation) seen in Revelation chapters two and three with the same downward path of the Church (during the dispensation) revealed elsewhere in Scripture (cf. Matthew 13:1-33; Luke 18:8 [ref. chapter 12, this book]).
Then, with respect to the future day of the Lord, the complete Church existing throughout the dispensation is seen appearing before Christ in judgment at the end of the dispensation. And this occurs at one time and place, leaving no room for any type teaching concerning a selective resurrection and/or rapture of Christians.
2. Third Division of the Book
Then the third division of the book, “the things that shall be hereafter [‘after these things’],” begins with chapter four. This chapter opens with the words, “After this [lit., ‘After these things’]…” And this verse closes with the words, “…come up here and I will show you things that must take place after this [lit., ‘things that must be after these things’].”
Revealing the third division of the book, God began at the same point that He had begun when revealing the first two divisions — by showing John being removed from the earth, into heaven, and finding himself in the future Day of the Lord (cf. 1:9, 10; 4:1, 2). However, beginning this third division of the book, John is shown something different pertaining to the Church in the future Day of the Lord, something that will occur after Christians have been judged (previously shown in chapters 1-3).
(Beginning at the same point to show additional truths, as at this point in the book, is something seen a number of times as one progresses through the book of Revelation [e.g., note things stated about the 144,000 in chapters 7, 14; note the repeated references to the same events in chapter 12, with additional truths following the references; note references to events at the time of Christ’s return at the end of chapters 14, 19; or note things stated about Babylon in chapters 17, 18].
Beginning again at the same point of reference and moving in a different direction from that point is simply one of the ways in which this book has been structured.)
The Spirit of God moving John to begin chapter four after this fashion brings out another truth often denied today. Calling attention once again to John being removed from the earth at this point in the book — and viewing chapters two and three from the perspective of the complete Church throughout the present dispensation (a textual and numerical necessity) — would show the complete Church being removed from the earth prior to God resuming His dealings with Israel (6:1ff). The Church will be removed “after these things,” i.e., after the present dispensation, prior to the Tribulation.
But the central teaching surrounding that which is revealed to John at this time, after calling attention once again to his being removed from the earth into the future Day of the Lord, has to do with a continuation of the central thought seen in the preceding three chapters. The things that John now sees have to do with events following the issues and determinations surrounding the judgment seat — events that will occur after the events seen in the preceding chapters, events that will occur “after these things [after the things in chapters 1-3].”
Opening this third section of the book, God first reveals His concluding dealings with the Church (chapter 4), which precede the marriage festivities (chapter 19) and the Messianic Era (chapter 20) — dealings based on issues and determinations surrounding the previous judgment (chapters 1-3). And these concluding dealings, following events at the judgment seat, have to do with crowned rulers, both past and future.
3. Crowns before the Throne
If a person doesn’t view chapters one through three from the perspective of John being removed into the future Day of the Lord — doesn’t view these chapters as having to do with Christians appearing before Christ in judgment — he will very likely miss understanding the significance of that which John was subsequently shown in chapter four. And the reasoning for this is simple enough. Events in chapter four are intimately connected with events in the preceding three chapters. Events in chapter four are contingent upon and climactic to events surrounding the judgment of Christians seen in chapters one through three.
Chapter four describes a scene surrounding God’s throne in heaven; and attention is focused on twenty-four crowned elders seated on thrones and who take their crowns and cast them before God’s throne. And, unless this is understood within context, a person will be left to the same guesswork that so many of the expositors have relegated themselves to at this point in the book.
First, go back into the first three chapters and note that which the future judgment of Christians will center on. It will center on showing (by works, which emanated out of faithfulness; or the lack of faithfulness, resulting in no works) whether an individual overcame or was, instead, overcome, with the Messianic Era in view.
From the positive side of matters, the judgment seat of Christ will center on a setting forth of the overcomers, those who will rule as co-heirs with Christ during the coming age. It will center on revealing the identity of the crowned rulers who will ascend the throne with Christ in that day (cf. Matthew 25:19-30; Luke 19:15-24).
Now, with that in mind, note another facet of the matter. Christ and His co-heirs will rule the same kingdom, from the same heavenly sphere, which Satan and his angels presently rule. Satan is the present messiah (the “anointed” one [Ezekiel 28:14; Luke 4:6]) in relation to the government of this earth. He is the one whom God appointed ruler over this earth in the beginning, and he has a great host of appointed angels ruling with him.
However, Satan and his angels have disqualified themselves, and God is about to bring in a new order of rulers to occupy the positions that they presently occupy and to rule the domain that they presently rule. Christ will rule in Satan’s stead and Christians will rule in the stead of the angels presently ruling with Satan. Thus, the coming kingdom will be ruled by Christ and His co-heirs rather than by Satan and his angels (cf. Isaiah 14:12-15; Romans 8:18-23; Hebrews 2:5-10).
And, in this respect, note two things: (1) Two-thirds of the angels originally ruling with Satan refused to participate with him in his rebellious act and have not ruled with him for millennia (cf. Isaiah 14:12-15; Revelation 12:3, 4), and (2) a principle of biblical government necessitates that an incumbent ruler wear his crown until his replacement is on the scene and ready to ascend the throne (cf. 1 Samuel 15:1-16:13; 31:1-6; 2 Samuel 1:7-10; 2:4; 5:3-5).
Thus, even though most of the angels originally ruling with Satan have not ruled with him for millennia, they must retain their crowns until their replacements are on the scene and ready to ascend the throne. And that is the setting for what is revealed in Revelation chapter four.
The Christians who are to ascend the throne with Christ have, at this point in the book, been brought forth and shown worthy (through preceding decisions and determinations made at the judgment seat [chapters 1-3]). They, at this point in the book, have been identified, they are present, and they are ready to ascend the throne; and for the first time in the entire history of the earth, those crowned angels, originally ruling with Satan but refusing to participate in his rebellious act, can relinquish their crowns. And this is exactly what they are seen doing in Revelation 4:10.
The book of Revelation abounds in numerics. “Twelve” is the number of governmental perfection, and those who cast their crowns before God’s throne are identified through the use of two sets of twelve, representing two-thirds of the angels who refused to follow Satan. Those who followed Satan, continuing to rule with him, would be represented by a third set of twelve, to form a triad (“three” is the number of divine perfection) within the way God originally established the government of the earth under Satan. In this respect, the structure of Satan’s government was originally established perfect by God (shown in the symbolism of three sets of twelve rulers), though it has not existed this way since his rebellion against God’s supreme power and authority.
Two-thirds of Satan’s original rulers will relinquish their crowns willingly, but Satan’s crown and the crowns worn by the angels continuing to rule with him will have to be taken by force. The “many crowns” that Christ will wear at the time of His return (Revelation 19:12) can only be the crowns cast before the throne in Revelation 4:10. Christ will give these crowns to His co-heirs (previously having been shown qualified at the judgment seat) immediately preceding their ascending the throne together, plus the crowns which He will take by force from the angels presently ruling with Satan. And also, prior to ascending the throne, Christ will have taken the crown that Satan presently wears, for He is to wear this crown during the coming age (ref. chapter 8, this book).
(There are two Greek words used for “crown” in the New Testament. One is stephanos [used referring to a crown worn by one not actually reigning], and the other is diadema [used referring to a crown worn by one ready to ascend the throne, or to one actually reigning]. In this respect, crowns being offered to Christians today are referred to through the use of the word stephanos, for it is not yet time for Christians to ascend the throne.
Crowns presently worn by Satan and the angels continuing to rule with him would be referred to through the use of the word diadema [Revelation 12:3], but crowns presently worn by those angels who refused to participate in his rebellion could only be referred to through the use of the word stephanos [Revelation 4:10]. These angels, at one time, wore diadems; but once they vacated their ruling positions with Satan, their crowns could no longer be referred to as diadems, though they had to continue retaining these crowns until their successors appeared on the scene. Thus, stephanos is the word used in Revelation 4:10 to describe these crowns.
However, in Revelation 19:12, these crowns are referred to through the use of the word diadema, not stephanos. At this point in the book, the Son will have received the kingdom from His Father [Daniel 7:13, 14], and He and His co-heirs will be ready to ascend the throne. Thus, these crowns that would have originally been referred to through the use of the word diadema, but could only have been referred to for millennia through the use of the word stephanos, can, in that coming day, be referred to once again through the use of the word diadema.)
Judgment Awaiting Israel
After the twenty-four elders have cast their crowns before the throne, with their announcement concerning the Lord being worthy “to receive glory and honor and power,” the third section of the book moves away from God’s dealings with the Church. At this point in the book, the only other revealed activities involving the Church preceding Christ’s return to the earth at the end of the Tribulation are those surrounding the “marriage of the Lamb.” And these activities will occur in heaven at the end of the Tribulation, immediately preceding Christ’s return in all His “glory and honor and power” (Revelation 19:7-9).
Thus, after events in chapter four, attention in the book can be directed toward Israel, anticipating the completion of Daniel’s Seventy-Week prophecy. Seven years of this prophecy yet remain to be fulfilled, and these seven years must come to pass before Israel can be raised up to live in God’s sight (cf. Daniel 9:24-27; Hosea 5:15-6:2).
These last seven years of Daniel’s prophecy form a time during which Israel will pass through the most intense period of suffering in the nation’s history. This period is referred to as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7). And the trouble that Israel, along with the Gentile nations, will undergo in that day will become so intense that the Lord will have to shorten those days, else “there should no flesh be saved” (Matthew 24:15-22; cf. Joel 1:15; 2:1, 2, 10, 11, 31-3:17).
The book of Revelation provides the most lengthy, detailed, single account in Scripture of events as they will transpire during that time. From the beginning of chapter six to the end of chapter eighteen the book reveals numerous sequences of events, exactly as they were shown to and recorded by John.
Viewing the numerical structure of the book once again, all of God’s judgments in the book are seen within the scope of seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven vials (6:1-16:21). The seven trumpets emanate from the seventh seal, and the seven vials emanate from the seventh trumpet (8:1, 2; 11:15-19; 15:1ff).
Thus, in this respect, all of the judgments are originally seen within the scope of the seven seals. And this is the reason that the seven-sealed scroll alone is in view in chapter five when a search is made for someone worthy to break the seals.
But God, revealing His works, has an affinity for numbers; and He has chosen to use a triad of sevens, removing two sets of sevens from the first set (similar to the separation of two sets of twelve, leaving one remaining, as seen in chapter four). Again, the number “seven” shows the completeness of that which is in view, which, in this case, would be judgment; and “three sets of seven [seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven vials]” would show divine perfection within that judgment.
Remaining within the sequence of Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, the sixty-ninth week ended with Israel crucifying her Messiah (Daniel 9:25, 26a), and, at that point, the clock, marking off time in this prophecy, stopped. When time resumes by the breaking of the first seal, Israel, in relation to time in this prophecy, will be placed in the position of having just crucified her Messiah.
And because of this, the Jewish people will enter into a time of trouble without parallel in history. God will allow the Israelites to be misled by a false messiah (Daniel 9:27; John 5:43), who will seek, by every means possible, to bring about the nation’s destruction. Then, when all appears lost, during the nation’s darkest hour, the One whom the nation crucified seven years earlier (in relation to Daniel’s prophecy) will return to save the very nation that had slain Him.
In that day the Jewish people will look upon the One “whom they have pierced.” Then, while gazing upon Him, they will notice His hands; and someone will ask — possibly almost afraid to ask — “What are those wounds in your hands?” And Christ will respond, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends” (Zechariah 12:10; 13:6).
In that day the Jewish people will realize the truth about and the significance of that which occurred seven years before in one respect, two millennia before in another; and the nation will mourn after a fashion yet to be seen in Israel (Zechariah 12:11-14).
Then, Israel will realize her national Passover. The Jewish people will appropriate the blood of the Paschal Lamb, and a nation will be “born at once” (Isaiah 66:8).
The Messianic Era
During the Messianic Era there will be a dual aspect to the kingdom — heavenly and earthly spheres. Both spheres were dealt with in the beginning by Moses (e.g., Genesis 14:19, 22; 22:17, 18), though Moses dealt more extensively with the earthly sphere than with the heavenly (e.g., Genesis 12:1-3; 15:18-21; 26:3, 4; 28:3, 4, 12-14; Exodus 3:6-8).
Essentially, both spheres of the kingdom are introduced at the beginning of Scripture. Then, the Old Testament deals mainly with the earthly, and the New Testament (through the gospels, Acts, and the epistles) deals mainly with the heavenly. And then, both spheres are brought together in full reality toward the end of Scripture through events outlined in the book of Revelation.
During the Messianic Era, Christ and His co-heirs will occupy positions of power and authority from a heavenly sphere — the same sphere presently occupied by Satan and his angels. Christ will be seated on His Own throne, and His co-heirs will exercise power over the nations of the earth with Him from this throne (Revelation 2:26, 27; 3:21).
Israel, in that day, will dwell in the land covenanted to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, within a theocracy. Israel will be positioned at the head of the nations, and the nations will be ruled by and blessed through Israel (cf. Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 4:22, 23; 19:5, 6).
Christ, in the dual scope of His reign, along with sitting on His own throne in the heavens with His co-heirs, will also sit on David’s throne on the earth, in the midst of His people, Israel (Joel 2:27; Luke 1:31-33); and the Jewish people, in the antitype of Joseph’s brethren after Joseph had revealed himself to them, will realize their calling as God’s witness to the ends of the earth. In that day, Christ’s brethren, the Jewish people, will go throughout the earth with the message that Jesus is alive, and He is governor over the entire earth (cf. Genesis 45:26; Isaiah 53:1ff).
And this carries one into the fulfillment of the first part of Revelation chapter twenty (vv. 1-6), into the seventh day, into the seventh millennium, set forth in the original framework of events in Genesis 2:1-3. This carries one into that period that will fulfill that to which the whole of preceding Scripture points, anticipating concluding events at the end of the millennium and continuing events in the eternal ages that follow (Revelation 20:7-22:5).