Previously: The saints reign – Revelation 20:4
Rev. 20:4b – They came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection. (HCSB)
The first resurrection
John writes, “They [the martyred saints] came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection” (vv. 4b-5). What does John mean by the “first resurrection?” Certainly, if there is a first resurrection, a second resurrection is implied.
Some interpreters take the first resurrection to be spiritual only, as in being “born again” (John 3:3). This allows for a second, physical resurrection of all people, resulting in final judgment. Others suggest that the first resurrection is influential in nature. In other words, the faithfulness of the martyrs encourages believers who come after them to be faithful. But these views stretch the way in which the term “resurrection” is used consistently throughout scripture.
It seems better to see both the first and second resurrections as bodily in nature. John Gill writes, “It does not mean that they lived spiritually, for so they did before, and whilst they bore their testimony to Christ and against Antichrist previous to their death; nor in their successors, for it would not be just and reasonable that they should be beheaded for their witness of Christ and his word, and others should live and reign with Christ in their room and stead. Nor is this to be understood of their living in their souls, for so they live in their separate state; the soul never dies; God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. But the sense is, that they lived again, as in verse 5; they live corporeally; their souls lived in their bodies, their bodies being raised again, and reunited to their souls; their whole persons lived, or the souls of them that were beheaded lived; that is, their bodies lived again, the soul being sometimes put for their body; and this is called the first resurrection in the next verse” (quoted in The Apocalypse, p. 460).
Rev. 15:2 – “I also saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had won the victory over the beast, his image, and the number of his name, were standing on the sea of glass with harps from God.” (HCSB)
A sea of glass mixed with fire
We have encountered a sea of glass before. In Rev. 4:6, John records, “Something like a sea of glass, similar to crystal, was also before the throne.”
As noted in the commentary on chapter 4, the sea may correspond to the brass vessel before the sanctuary, where the priests wash in preparation for service. The sea of glass also appears in prophetic visions of God’s throne room. For example, in Exodus 24, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and 70 of Israel’s elders see “something like a pavement made of sapphire stone, as clear as the sky itself” beneath God’s feet. And Ezekiel sees “[T]he shape of an expanse, with a gleam like awe-inspiring crystal” spread out over the heads of the living creatures (Ezek. 1:22).
The ESV Study Bible notes that the sea of glass “is the ‘floor’ of heaven and the ‘ceiling’ of the created universe, and its transparent tranquility shows heaven’s peace in contrast to earthly turmoil” (Rev. 4:6-8). Jurgen Roloff writes, “This glassy sea is the dome of the firmament, the heavenly ocean, which in ancient thought was considered to be transparent” (p. 182).
Matthew Henry adds this thought: “As in the temple there was a great vessel of brass filled with water, in which the priests were to wash when they went to minister before the Lord (and this was called a sea), so in the gospel church the sea or laver for purification is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, who cleanses from all sin, even from sanctuary-sins. In this all those must be washed that are admitted into the gracious presence of God on earth or his glorious presence in heaven” (Rev. 4:1-8).
But there is a significant difference between the sea in Rev. 4:6 and Rev. 15:2: The latter sea is “mixed with fire.” Why?
Rev. 14:19 – So the angel swung his sickle toward earth and gathered the grapes from earth’s vineyard, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. (HCSB)
The great winepress of God’s wrath
Verse 19 reads, “So the angel swung his sickle toward earth and gathered the grapes from earth’s vineyard, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.” A winepress, also known as a wine vat, is a rectangular cavity carved out of rock or built artificially. Ripe grapes are placed in the winepress and trampled underfoot, with the juice flowing down into a lower receptacle. Usually, a full winepress signifies prosperity, while an empty winepress signifies famine. In this metaphorical reference, however, the fullness of the winepress suggests rampant evil that is now being judged.
The word “winepress” appears 20 times in 20 verses in scripture (HCSB). When it is used metaphorically, it depicts either Israel or God’s judgment:
- Isa. 5:2 (Israel) – “He broke up the soil, cleared it of stones, and planted it with the finest vines. He built a tower in the middle of it and even dug out a winepress there. He expected it to yield good grapes, but it yielded worthless grapes.”
- Isa. 63:2-3 (judgment) – The Lord is asked, “Why are your clothes red, and your garments like the one who tread a winepress?” The Lord replies, “I trample the winepress alone, and no one from the nations was with Me. I trampled them in my anger and ground them underfoot in My fury; their blood spattered my garments, and all my clothes were stained.” This passage describes God as a warrior going to battle to defeat the forces of evil.
- Lam. 1:15 (judgment) – “The Lord has rejected all the mighty men within me. He has summoned an army against me to crush my young warriors. The Lord has trampled Virgin Daughter Judah [like grapes] in a winepress.”
- Joel 3:13 (judgment) – “Swing the sickle because the harvest is ripe. Come and trample the grapes because the winepress is full; the wine vats overflow because the wickedness of the nations is great.” This verse describes the Day of the Lord, in which Yahweh will utterly defeat His enemies.
- Matt. 21:33 / Mark 12:1 (Israel) – Jesus says, “Listen to another parable: There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. He leased it to tenant farmers and went away.”
- Rev. 14:19 (judgment) – “So the angel swung his sickle toward earth and gathered the grapes from earth’s vineyard, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.”
- Rev. 19:15 (judgment) – “A sharp sword came from His mouth, so that He might strike the nations with it. He will shepherd them with an iron scepter. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty.”
Here, in Rev. 14:19, in the trampling of the winepress “lies the true climax of the image of the wine harvest: the liquid that flows from the (red) grapes symbolizes the blood of the enemies whom God has destroyed in his anger” (Roloff, p. 178).
Warren Wiersbe shares the following insight: “Scripture portrays three different ‘vines.’ Israel was God’s vine, planted in the land to bear fruit for God’s glory; but the nation failed God and had to be cut down (Ps. 80:8–16; Isa. 5:1–7; see also Matt. 21:33–46). Today, Christ is the Vine and believers are branches in Him (John 15). But the world system is also a vine, ‘the vine of the earth’ in contrast to Christ, the heavenly Vine; and it is ripening for judgment. The wicked system – Babylon – that intoxicates people and controls them, will one day be cut down and destroyed in ‘the winepress of the wrath of God’ (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 14:6).
Next: Blood flowed … for about 180 miles – Revelation 14:20
Few passages of scripture cause more controversy among evangelical Christians than Rev. 20:1-10, in which John mentions a 1,000-year period six times. The main point of debate is whether the “millennium” should be understood literally or figuratively.
Generally, those who believe the 1,000 years are literal and in the future are called premillennialists. They look for Christ to return and establish a “millennial kingdom,” or a reign of 1,000 years, after which He puts down Satan’s final revolt, resurrects and judges unbelievers (Christians are judged before the millennium), and creates new heavens and a new earth.
Those who believe Christ is returning after the millennium are called postmillennialists. The 1,000 years are not necessarily a literal time frame, but they represent a period during which much of the world turns to faith in Jesus.
Those who see all references to the 1,000 years as figurative and without merit as a reference point concerning the timing of the Lord’s return are called amilllennialists.
There is diversity within each of these camps as to the order of events surrounding the second coming.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it’s important to follow a biblical principle for exploring tough passages: Start with the simple and straightforward teachings of scripture, and seek to understand the difficult passages in the light of the simpler ones.
With that in mind, let’s rally around 10 simple truths regarding the return of Jesus.
Rev. 12:6 – The woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, to be fed there for 1,260 days. (HCSB)
The woman fled
Finally in this section we are told, “The woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, to be fed there for 1,260 days” (v. 6). Keep in mind that the woman in this vision is Israel. So, we might ask: When does Israel flee? Where is the wilderness? What is the special place God prepares for her? And what is the meaning of 1,260 days?
As we noted earlier, some commentators see the woman as the Virgin Mary and conclude that this flight into the wilderness is her departure with Joseph and Jesus into Egypt after Herod’s decree to kill all infant males in and around Bethlehem. Others say the woman is the church on its pilgrim journey through the present age, nourished by God while living among a vast multitude of heathens. While these interpretations have some merit, they do not seem to fit the context as well as the understanding that the woman is Israel.