Tagged: end times

A fiery red horse (Rev. 6:3-4)

Previously: The second seal (Rev. 6:3-4)

The scripture

Rev. 6:3 – When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4Then another horse went out, a fiery red one, and its horseman was empowered to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another. And a large sword was given to him (HCSB).

This horse is red – some say the color of blood symbolizing the brutality of warfare. Some commentators, like Matthew Henry, who believe the rider on the white horse is Jesus and whose bow is the gospel, now say the rider on the red horse is an unknown soldier who carries out God’s wrath. As Henry puts it, “Those who will not submit to the bow of the gospel must expect to be cut in sunder by the sword of divine justice” (Re 6:3-8). Others associate this horse and rider with the fiery red dragon of Rev. 12:3 or the scarlet beast of Rev. 17:3. Still others say the rider is the Antichrist, who has exchanged his empty bow for a sword and a pseudo earthly peace for worldwide warfare.

In Revelation, the color red is associated with terror, death and judgment, but throughout scripture it has a variety of contexts. It is the color of the earth from which Adam is made (in Gen. 2:7 the letters for “Adam” in Hebrew may also mean “ruby” or “dust” and can also mean reddish in color). It is the color of Job’s face as he weeps in sorrow (Job 16:16). It is the name of the sea through which the Hebrews pass from Egyptian slavery into freedom – a symbol of the blood of Christ through which sinners are redeemed from the slave market of sin and made free. It is the color of linen hangings in the tabernacle, of wine as it gleams in the cup, and of the sky at night or early morning to signal the weather.

As we will see in our journey through the Book of Revelation, the color red most certainly indicates human warfare, as in this verse. But it also tells us of the warfare the Lamb of God wages against the world’s wicked. Most likely, this red horse is not Christ’s and the rider is not the Lamb. But we can be sure that whoever they are and whatever harm they intend is fully orchestrated by the One who holds the scroll in His hand.

Next: Empowered to take peace from the earth

The second seal (Rev. 6:3-4)

Previously: A bow and a crown (Rev. 6:1-2)

The scripture

Rev. 6:3 – When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4Then another horse went out, a fiery red one, and its horseman was empowered to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another. And a large sword was given to him (HCSB).

The opening of the second seal, like the first, is accompanied by one of the living creatures saying, “Come!” and a horse and rider bursting onto the scene. This is a horse of a different color, however – fiery red – and the horseman has been given the authority to plunge the world into warfare. While the first rider, on a white horse, is given a bow, the second rider is presented with a large sword. Let’s look more closely at these verses and see, first of all, if we may determine what this means to a first-century audience. Then we will explore the possibilities for today’s audience.

Jesus now breaks the second seal on the scroll. Remember that these seals likely are pieces of wax or clay that have been stamped with a ring or other metal object bearing the insignia of the owner. They identify the one who has authorized what’s been written, and the seal may be broken only by the designated authority, in this case the Lamb. Likely, as each seal is broken, it allows another portion of the scroll to be unraveled, until all seven seals are removed and the full message is revealed.

As the seal is opened, John hears the second living creature say, “Come!” As we learned in the last lesson, this call probably is not to John but to the horse and rider, who appear obediently.

Next: A fiery red horse (Rev. 6:3-4)

I was in the Spirit: Rev. 4:2

Previously: A unique voice (Rev. 4:1)

Rev. 4:2: Immediately I was in the Spirit, and there in heaven a throne was set …

Immediately after Jesus’ call to “[c]ome up here,” John records that he is “in the Spirit” (v. 2). These words are identical to Rev. 1:10, where he is “in the Spirit” on the Lord’s Day. Literally, the phrase may be translated “became in the Spirit” and likely means John is brought by the Holy Spirit into the realm of spiritual vision. J.F. Walvoord and R.B. Zuck explain, “[E]xperientially he was taken up to heaven though his body was actually still on the island of Patmos” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Re 4:2–3).

Matthew Henry provides additional insight: For John, “all bodily actions and sensations were for a time suspended, and his spirit was possessed with the spirit of prophecy, and wholly under a divine influence. The more we abstract ourselves from all corporeal things the more fit we are for communion with God; the body is a veil, a cloud, and clog to the mind in its transactions with God. We should as it were forget it when we go in before the Lord in duty, and be willing to drop it, that we may go up to him in heaven” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Re 4:1–8).

While John’s experience is unique – few mortals in scripture are given a glimpse of heaven – the reality of being “in the Spirit” is common to all believers. Roughly 70 times the Bible uses the phrase “in,” “with,” or “by” the Spirit. Sometimes it is positional. Paul writes to Christians in Rom. 8:9, “You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” At other times it speaks of divine inspiration. Jesus, referring to Himself as fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, says, “How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls Him ‘Lord’” (Matt. 22:43). Still other times the phrase speaks of Christian service guided by the Spirit. Paul, for example, is “resolved in the Spirit to … go to Jerusalem” (Acts 19:21). Those exercising the spiritual gift of tongues/languages are speaking “mysteries in the Spirit” (1 Cor. 14:2). All believers are instructed to “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18). And Christians are “the ones who serve by the Spirit of God” (Phil. 3:3).

No doubt the same Holy Spirit who dwells in believers’ human spirits – sealing them, guiding them, and equipping them to serve – is the same Spirit who, at times, carries the Lord’s chosen servants into the heavenly realm.

Next: A throne is set … and One is seated (Rev. 4:2-3)

To the church at Thyatira

Read an introduction to the seven churches of Revelation 2-3

This is the fourth in a series of commentaries on Christ’s letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. Read about Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamum.

Revelation 22:18-29 (HCSB)

To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: “The Son of God, the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame, and whose feet are like fine bronze says:  I know your works—your love, faithfulness,  service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first.  But I have this against you: you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality  and to eat meat sacrificed to idols.  I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality.  Look! I will throw her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her  practices.  I will kill her children with the plague.   Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds  and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.  I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who haven’t known the deep things  of Satan—as they say—I do not put any other burden on you.  But hold on to what you have until I come.   The victor and the one who keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations — and He will shepherd  them with an iron scepter; He will shatter them like pottery  — just as I have received ⌊this⌋ from My Father.  I will also give him the morning star. Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The letter to the church at Thyatira

Lydia, a seller of purple goods, whose heart God opened to the message of Christ, is from this commercial center steeped in paganism (Acts 16:14). Having heard Paul’s proclamation of the gospel in Philippi, she may have taken the good news back to Thyatira and been among the first to evangelize her city. Thyatira was a military town that also boasted guilds dealing in metals and fabric. Guild members celebrated their patron deities in festivals that no doubt tempted Christians. Some even may have given in to the message of a “prophetess” who promoted illicit sex and food sacrificed to idols. The city is known for its temple to Apollo, the sun god. Thyatira is the smallest of the seven cities yet receives the longest letter, and one of the sternest rebukes, from Christ.

Christ’s self-description

Jesus identifies Himself as “The Son of God,” the only time in Revelation this name is used. The title “Son of God” is from Ps. 2:7 and expresses the unique relationship He has with the Father, just as Jesus’ favorite name for Himself, “Son of Man,” identifies Him as the Messiah and as deity (see Dan. 7:13; Matt. 26:64). Matthew Henry comments: “His general title is here, the Son of God, that is, the eternal and only-begotten Son of God, which denotes that he has the same nature with the Father, but with a distinct and subordinate manner of subsistence” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Re 2:18–29). Borrowing from John’s description in Rev. 1:14-15, Jesus calls Himself “the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame, and whose feet are like fine bronze” (v. 18). He sees all with his piercing, penetrating eyes and knows the hearts of men and women. Nothing escapes His attention. And though some may seek to hide themselves beneath rocks and in caves, they will be found and made to stand before Him one day without excuse. His feet of fine bronze move swiftly and surely to judge; He will not stumble, fall, or delay.

Christ’s evaluation of the church’s condition

Jesus commends the church, saying, “I know your works – your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first” (v. 19). In contrast to the church at Ephesus, which has abandoned the love it had at first, the believers in Thyatira are growing stronger in heartfelt Christian service. They are not merely busy in religious activity; they are motivated by a love for the Lord and for one another.

Nevertheless, Jesus rebukes the church for tolerating a false prophetess named Jezebel, who leads many into the same sins practiced in Pergamum – sexual immorality and eating meat sacrificed to idols. While it’s possible that a woman, Lydia, helped evangelize the city, it is now clear that a different woman, Jezebel, is leading many into grievous sins. The name Jezebel may or may not be the woman’s real name, but it suggests that she has the same influence on the church that King Ahab’s wife Jezebel had on the Israelites in Old Testament times. Jezebel’s evil is so pervasive that the Bible says her husband Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God than all the kings of Israel before him (1 Kings 16:33). Just as Ahab is responsible for the actions of those under his authority, including his wife, the leaders of the church at Thyatira are responsible for allowing the New Testament Jezebel to corrupt their congregants.

The apostle Paul makes is clear that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols (“We are not inferior if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat” – 1 Cor. 8:8), but mature believers are to abstain from such practices if they are a stumbling block to weaker brothers and sisters; no doubt, the dietary and religious aspects of eating these meats could not be separated at Thyatira. Rather that abstain, the people indulged and the church leaders did little or  nothing to stop it. Apparently this has been going on for quite some time because Jesus says He gave Jezebel time to repent. She refused. Therefore, judgment is imminent.

“Look! I will throw her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices,” Jesus declares (v. 22). Note that the time of God’s grace has ended for Jezebel but not for the church. It’s not too late for those deceived into sexual immorality and spiritual adultery. They still have an opportunity to repent. It is not God’s judgment but His kindness that leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4).

Christ goes on with a dramatic statement: “I will kill her children with the plague” (v. 23). This most likely is a reference to Jezebel’s followers, not to any innocent children she may have. Disciples, whether of Christ or of those who oppose Him, often are depicted as children and may suffer the same fate as their masters. Jesus warns His followers they will be hated, persecuted, and even killed because of their devotion to Him (Matt. 24:9; John 15:18-25), and we know from church tradition that most of the apostles suffer martyr’s deaths. At the same time, those who ally themselves with Satan and his stewards should expect to suffer the wrath of a holy and righteous God (2 Cor. 11:15b). We don’t know what the “sickbed” is in verse 22 – perhaps a pestilence of some kind, a public humiliation that exposes her wickedness, or an abandonment of her false teachings. As for the death of her “children,” this could be a reference to the second death, the lake of fire. In any case, while the church tolerated Jezebel and her evil, the Lord would not.

Finally, notice the distinction between Jesus’ reference to “My slaves” (v.20) and “her children” ( v. 23). Even though believers may be deceived and led into grievous sins, they are secure in their relationship with Christ; He loses none of those given to Him. Who suffers death in “the plague?” The children of Jezebel, who are by extension children of Satan. The result of Christ’s judgment is dramatic: “Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works” (v. 23).

Christ’s comfort and/or commands

Jesus has a word for those who have remained faithful: “I do not put any other burden on you. But hold on to what you have until I come” (vv. 24-25). The burden of the faithful in resisting Jezebel’s tempting doctrines and protesting the church’s weak defense against them is sufficient in the eyes of the Lord. He asks them simply to “hold on” to their steadfast faith in Him and their confidence that one day soon He will make things right.

Note the commendation in other passages of Scripture to those who hold on:

  • In the parable of the sower: “But the seed in the good ground – these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit” (Luke 8:15).
  • In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “But test all things. Hold on to what is good” (5:21).
  • In Paul’s second letter to Timothy: “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1:13).
  • In the letter to the Hebrews: “But Christ was faithful as a Son over His household, whose household we are if we hold on to the courage and the confidence of our hope” (3:6) … “Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (10:23) … “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe” (12:28-29).

Christ’s urge to listen

Jesus says in verse 29, “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” The church today is, in many respects, as corrupt as the one in Thyatira. While there are faithful believers who “hold on” to sound doctrine, there are many that tolerate false prophets and embrace their teachings, while some church leaders do little or nothing about it. Just as a little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough (Gal. 5:9), a little tolerance of false teachings in the interest of political correctness or for the sake of expediency will result in a church that can barely be distinguished from the world.

Christ’s promises to the victor

Jesus says, “The victor and the one who keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations … just as I have received [this] from My Father” (v. 26-27). In the middle of these words Jesus inserts a Messianic Old Testament passage, Ps. 2:9: “[A]nd He will shepherd them with an iron scepter; He will shatter them like pottery …” Jesus not only reaffirms His Messianic claims; He confirms the authority the Father gave Him to rule the nations and promises His followers a place in His coming administration. “Though Psalm 2:9 refers to Christ’s rule, John’s quotation of it here relates the ruling (shepherding) to the believer who overcomes. Believers will have authority just as Christ does (1 Cor. 6:2-3; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:21; 20:4, 6)” (J.F. Walvoord, R.B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures).

In addition, Jesus tells the faithful He will give them “the morning star.” While the Scriptures do not elaborate on this term, Jesus uses it to identify Himself in Rev. 22:6: “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright Morning Star.” As the morning star appears just before dawn, Jesus one day will step into the clouds of heaven and return in power and great glory (Matt. 24:30). Every eye will see Him, for His coming will be like lightning (Matt. 24:27). Believers have an added promise: “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).


To the church at Pergamum

Read an introduction to the seven churches of Revelation 2-3

This is the third in a series of commentaries on Christ’s letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. Read about Ephesus and Smyrna.

Revelation 2:12-17 (HCSB)

To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: “The One who has the sharp, two-edged sword  says:  I know  where you live—where Satan’s throne is! And you are holding on to My name and did not deny your faith in Me,  even in the days of Antipas, My faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan lives.  But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block  in front of the sons of Israel: to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality.  In the same way, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.   Therefore repent! Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name  is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

The city of Pergamum

Also known as Pergamos, this city lies 20 miles inland from Smyrna. It is known for its wealth, like Ephesus and Smyrna, but stands alone for its wickedness. Adherents to the city’s pagan cults worship Athena (goddess of war, civilization, wisdom, strength, strategy, crafts, justice and skill); Asclepius (the god of medicine and healing); Dionysus (god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy); and Zeus (the supreme ruler of Mount Olympus and of the pantheon of gods who reside there). The worship of the Roman emperor as a god permeates Asia and is evident in Pergamum. All of this evidently prompts Jesus to refer to the city as the place of Satan’s throne. Pergamum also is famous for its university with a library of 200,000 volumes, and for manufacturing parchment resulting in a paper called pergamena.

Christ’s self-description

Jesus refers to Himself as “The One who has the sharp, two-edged sword” (v. 12), confirming John’s vision, in which he states that “from His [Jesus’] mouth came a sharp two-edged sword” (1:16). In Isa. 49:2, the Servant, which many commentators take to be the Messiah, declares that “He (God the Father) made my words like a sharp sword.” In Heb. 4:12 we are told that “the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart.” And in Rev. 19:15, John sees the returning Christ and observes, “From His mouth came a sharp sword, so that with it He might strike the nations.” No doubt the sharp, two-edge sword describes the very words of Jesus. Just as He spoke the universe into existence, He brings judgment and deliverance with His voice.

Christ’s evaluation of the church’s condition

Jesus says, “I know where you live – where Satan’s throne is!” (v. 12). Asclepius is worshipped in Pergamum under the sign of the serpent, and Satan, that ancient serpent (Rev. 20:2), raises up opposition against God and His people through rampant paganism, even persecuting Christ’s “faithful witness,” Antipas, to the point of death. (Little is known of this person; some commentators say his name is symbolic, meaning one standing “against all” for the sake of Christ.) Satan always seeks to deny God His rightful worship on His throne (see Rev. 4:2) and therefore erects opposing thrones on mountain peaks in pagan lands and in human hearts everywhere. Despite tribulation, believers in Pergamum are commended for “holding on” to Christ’s name and not denying their faith.

Even so, Jesus says, “I have a few things against you” (v. 14). Some in Pergamum are holding to “the teaching of Balaam,” an Israelite prophet who advised Moab’s king to seduce the Jews into intermarrying with heathens and worshiping idols (Num. 22-25; 31:15-16). In a similar fashion, the Nicolaitans, though rebuffed in Ephesus, are leading some in Pergamum to engage in sexual and spiritual infidelity. Intermarriage between Christians and pagans is a problem in Pergamum, where any social contact with the world necessarily involves idol worship. The practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols is a contentious one in the early church, and Paul deals with it deftly in 1 Cor. 8:1-13 and 10:25-33.

Christ’s comfort and/or commands

Jesus commands the wayward in Pergamum to repent. “Otherwise,” He warns, “I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of My mouth” (v. 16). His threat to come quickly is a reference to temporal judgment of His church, as in 1 Cor. 11. 30-32, not the second coming. The “them” in this verse like refers to the Nicolaitans but also could be extended to the entire church for failing to more strongly oppose these false teachers. There is interesting imagery in Christ’s words “the sword of My mouth.” While they clearly point to the spoken words of Jesus the Messiah, they also remind Jewish readers of the Angel of the Lord (the preincarnate Meessiah) who opposes Balaam with a drawn sword (Num. 22:31).

Christ’s urge to listen

Jesus says in verse 17, “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” The false teachings opposed at Ephesus and embraced at Pergamum are the same “doctrines of demons” that have set back the church for nearly 2,000 years (1 Tim. 4:1). When human leaders usurp the authority of Christ, teach Christian freedom as license to sin, and make matters of conscience – like eating meat offered to idols or deciding which day of the week to worship – central points of doctrine, the church should hear, and heed, Christ’s call to repent.

Christ’s promises to the victor

Jesus says, “I will give the victor some of the hidden manna” (v. 17). As God supplied manna to the Israelites in the desert, Christ sustains His followers with Himself – His promises and His presence. “I am the bread of life,” He tells His disciples. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry” (John 6:35). When Jesus’ disciples urged Him to eat after He revealed Himself to the Samaritan woman, He told them, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about” (John 4:32). As the Creator of all, Christ also sustains all things “by the power of His word” (Heb. 1:3). R. Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, and D. Brown add this insight: “As the manna hidden in the sanctuary was by divine power preserved from corruption, so Christ in His incorruptible body has passed into the heavens, and is hidden there until the time of His appearing” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.).

Jesus goes on to say, “I will also give him [the victor] a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it” (v. 17). The ESV Study Bible provides these observations: “Historically, a white stone was given to victors at games for entrance to banquets (cf. the messianic banquet); such a stone was also used by jurors at trials to vote for acquittal. The new name, given to the one who holds fast to Jesus’ name (2:13), may refer to the Holy Spirit’s work of conforming believers to the holiness of Christ (Rom. 8:29). The manna and the white stone suggest differing types of eternal blessings and rewards, as appropriate in each situation.” The white stone also may correspond to the Urim, or diamond worn by the high priest on the breastplate. No one but he knew the name inscribed on the stone – probably the unspeakable name of God: Yahweh. And only the high priest had access to the manna, which resided in the ark in the Holy of Holies. Perhaps the message here is that believers, as priests unto God, will in heaven enjoy rewards that were reserved on earth for only a few.

Next: Christ’s letter to the church at Thyatira