Big Idea: Revelation is about a Great War and a Time of Great Distress
Intro: Well morning friends, vistors and those online. My name is Matt Johnson and we are currently doing a study on Revelation. Now as I explained last week – Revelation is simply prophecy (and the best way to understand prophecy) is to let Scripture interpret Scripture. So lets pray and lets get inot God’s Word.
Well today, I want to begin with the story of ANTICHRIST 1.0. In 500BC the prophet Daniel prophesied about an antichrist. Daniel said that BABYLON would be conquered by Persia. PERSIA would be conquered by Greece. Then out of GREECE would come a boastful, arrogant little horn – who would 1) persecute the Jewish people and 2) commit a great abomination on a wing of the temple.
Now if you know your history between 550-150BC – you will know that is exactly what happened. In 175BC a king emerged from the Greek Seleucid empire named Antiochus Epiphanes IV. Get this – the word EPIPHANES – means God manifest. Truly, Antiochus (who for a time ruled the Greek Empire) called himself God and expected everyone to worship him. Naturally, (of all the people in the Greek empire) the Jews resisted the most. So around 168-167BC Antiochus sacked the Jewish high priest named JASON – and installed a puppet high priest called MENALEUS. At this point the true worship of God became impossible. What’s more, Antiochus 1) burnt all the copies of the Bible he could find, 2) forbid circumcision, 3) forbid synagogue worship and basically 4) tried to destroy the Jewish religion. For a couple of years it was almost impossible to be a faithful Jew.
So mid-160s BC Jason the true high priest gathered about 1000 faithful Jews and started the Maccabean war against Antiochus. So Antiochus responded by killing 80,000 Jews (men, women and children) in just three days, and then sacrificed a pig in God’s holy of holies. (That was pure spite) You know how the Jews feel about PIGS. They saw this as a great abomination.
Now incredibly Daniel 9, 10 & 11 predict all this before it happened. In fact, Daniel predicts these events so accurately – that liberal scholars say its too good to be prophecy. In the C20th they decided – no one can foretell the future this accurately. So Daniel must have been written after these events, and then backdated it, to make it look like a prophecy. You get what they’re saying? Its pretend prophecy. But in the 1950’s we found copies of Daniel in the Dead Sea scrolls that are clearly older than many of the events Daniel prophesies. This means prophesy, even down to little minute details, is really possible. Of course, before the events in Daniel’s prophecies were fulfilled, they were as hard to decipher as Revelation. But once they were fulfilled everyone could clearly see what Daniel was talking about – even liberal non-Christians…
So lets continue the story. After Antiochus Epiphanes IV destroyed the temple with pig’s blood – it made the Jews so angry – they went all out in battle, defeated Antiochus, reclaimed the temple and relit the Jewish Menorah Lamp (SLIDE 2). This is a picture of the Menorah Lamp on Titus’ Arch from 81AD. Now please notice how many branches are on a Menorah Lamp. (Modern versions of the Menorah sometimes have 9 branches, but the original had 7 branches).
Now the Jewish holiday of Hannakuh (which celebrates these events) says that the minute the Maccabees regained the temple – the priests immediately relit the Menorah Lamp. But they only had enough OLIVE OIL for one day. So they lit the lamp and kept fighting Antiochus for a further 8 days before they won the battle. But the miracle the Jews celebrate is that the lamp did not go out throughout the entire battle. The light kept shining.
Now this is the original Jewish defeat of Antichrist 1.0. And with that story ringing in our ears – John has a vision of Jesus standing with a Menorah Lamp.
Point 1: In the Great Tribulation*, God’s Menorah Light will Keep Shining
Show: Rev.1:9-13 (READ)
Explain: Now here’s a very brief intro. John is on the island of Patmos – as a kind of religious prisoner. In the early church “THE LORD’S DAY” usually referred to Sunday, because Sunday was the day Jesus rose from the dead. And we’re told – John is “IN THE SPIRIT”. This is a fairly unique phrase. In John’s gospel Jesus tell us we must worship God in Spirit and in truth (Jn.4:24). Also, twice in the New Testament Christians are told to pray “in the Spirit.” (Eph.6:18; Jud.1:20). So John is probably worshiping God or praying to God on a Sunday when he suddenly hears an audible voice speaking to him.
Now as John swings around – he sees a seven-fold golden lampstand. Of course, we Gentiles miss the cultural significance completely. But a Jewish person would immediately see a Menorah. And if we choose to read this without seeing a Menorah – I think we are being intentionally blind. Exodus 25 – told the Jews how to make the Menorah Lamp. The Bible says it is to be made from a talent of pure gold, which equals about 35kg. Jewish writings say it was about 1.6 – 1.7 meters tall. It actually had an olive oil reservoir built into it that fed seven pots and the oil in each pot would literally burn a flame. Now the Bible was clear that the Levitical priests MUST never let the light go out. The light of God had to shine brightly – always.
So, we begin Revelation with one of the biggest symbols of Judaism and we are told the seven branches of the Menorah represent the seven churches in Turkey. In Rev.1:20, we read (Rev.1:20 – Slide 7). Now I think the Menorah lampstand is a great picture of the Christian church. There is one true universal church made up of genuine believers who gather in separate places and congregations. But we are all part of one true church because we all share in a common pot of oil – (the Holy Spirit) – who keeps us alight. And when we all burn brightly together we become God’s light to the world.
Apply: But that gets us to the first point of APPLICATION. As priests of the New Covenant we’re not ,meant to let God’s light go out – even in the midst of persecution. Just as the Levitical priests were meant to make sure the light of the menorah never went out, so the Christian church is meant to make sure the light of the gospel shines brightly until the very end of time. Just as Menorah burnt brightly in the battle with Antichrist 1.0, so the light of the church must burn brightly in the battle with AntiChrist 2.0. In fact, next week we’ll hear Jesus tell the church in Ephesus that if they do not repent (and burn brightly again) they will lose their place on the Menorah Lampstand. So how do we keep the light shining brightly – in the midst of persecution and the great tribulation?
Well there is another famous prophecy in Zechariah 4 about a Menorah Lamp that is clearly linked to Revelation 11. Let me show you the whole chapter. (Slide 8-9). Now we know THIS PROPHECY is linked to Revelation 11, and the two witnesses who die and then come back to life. But this prophecy may already be in view in Revelation 1.
Now to explain Zechariah 4 we have to go back to the days of Daniel. Remember Daniel prophesied that the King of Persia would conquer Babylon and let the Jews go back to Jerusalem. And he did. King Cyrus gave the Jews the Menorah Lamp and all the articles used in the temple and he told them, go home and rebuild the temple (Ezr.1:1-8). But when they got back to Jerusalem – everything was a MESS. 1) The city had been burnt to the ground. 2) Gentiles had moved into the area and they opposed the Temple being rebuilt. So, the task before the Jews was so massive, it seemed almost impossible.
A bit like trying to get through the great tribulation or defeat antiChrist in your own strength. But then Zechariah saw the Menorah lampstand with TWO OLIVE TREES growing on either side. It was like – “imagine the Menorah Lamp was plugged straight into a couple of olive trees with a constant supply of oil that never ran out?”
So seeing this vision the angel says to Zechariah; “Do you get it?” And Zechariah is like “no, I’m as thick as two bricks – I don’t get it.” So, the angel says (VERSE 6) this is the word Zerubbabel (and Joshua and Ezra and Nehemiah all need to understand) verse 6; (READ). How is the temple going to be rebuilt? (READ). Similarly, how are we going to get through the great tribulation? (READ).
Standing firm through the great tribulation AND building a temple in the midst of great opposition – are both enormous tasks. But how do you build a temple? Its simple – one brick at a time. Don’t try to tackle the mountain. Focus on the small things. 1) Lay your foundation on Jesus’ death and resurrection. 2) Get out the plumb line and make sure your life lines up with God’s Word and before you know it 3) you’ll be putting the capstone in place. Zechariah is told – don’t despise the days of small things. We’re not called to build the temple or to defeat AntiChrist. That’s Jesus’ job. We’re just called to be faithful in the little things. Its not by might, nor by power, but by God’s Spirit that we will get through the great tribulation. If we’re faithful in the little things – God will supply the oil – to keep the light burning.
Point 2: In the Great Tribulation God’s Menorah Light is Protected by Jesus
Show: Rev.1:12-15 & 2:18 (READ)
Explain: Now standing amidst the Menorah lamp we see Jesus. Now in case there’s any doubt about this person’s identity Revelation 2 – tells us this is the Son of God. But this is not the first time we have seen Jesus look like this in the Bible. The prophet Daniel had the exact same vision of Jesus about 550BC.
Let me show you (ENTER). Now as you can see this is pretty SIMILAR. But I could make it a lot more similar and still be true to the Greek. You see, the word “ROBE” in Revelation usually means a fine linen robe. The word “SASH” can also be translated “belt.” The description of Jesus’ eyes as “BLAZING FIRE” could equally be translated “flaming torches.” The point is – this is clearly the same person.
So we have two appearances of Jesus (where he appears the same way) and in both he offers prophesies about an AntiChrist. So turn in your Bibles to Daniel 10 (and I’ll also put it on the data projector). Remember Scripture interprets Scripture.
SHOW: Daniel 10 (READ)
Now I’m showing you this for a HOST of reasons, but especially an ANGELIC HOST of reasons. Using just the slightest bit of spiritual discernment WHO or WHAT is the prince of Persia and the Prince of Greece that the archangel Michael is fighting against? OR – who is the prince of this world? (Jn.12:31; 14:30).
When you start assuming everything in Revelation is symbolic – you get CHRISTIAN SCHOLARS saying some really dumb things. Jesus clearly tells us in Revelation 1 that the SEVEN STARS he holds in his hands are the seven angels. But open any biblical commentary and (ignoring Daniel completely) you’ll read the word “ANGEL” can simply mean messenger and the seven angels are probably just the human pastors who oversee the seven churches.
But if you allow Scripture to interpret Scripture – Daniel 10 tells us “Jesus means angels.” Jesus tells us – he is the Lord of Hosts and with the help of the archangel Michael he is duking it out with a couple of fallen angels who are manipulating the Kingdoms of Persia and Greece for their own purpose. What’s more, to help us to grasp THE SCALE of this spiritual battle – we read that the fallen angel behind Persia somehow detained Jesus for 21 days. So A) there are spiritual powers at work controlling whole empires on the world stage and B) they are sufficiently powerful to detain even Jesus and the archangel Michael for a period of time. But nonetheless Jesus is the LORD OF HOSTS standing in the midst of the churches and he is directing angels to protect us.
Now straight after this Jesus goes in Daniel 11 to speak about all the events leading up to AntiChrist 1.0. Jesus tells Daniel about kings going to the north and then to the south and then entering in marriage alliances and setting up covenants etc etc – and each part of the story in Daniel 11 – correlates to real-world events between 400-100BC. Of course, reading these verses in advance and trying to decipher what Jesus was telling Daniel was completely impossible. But when it actually happened – it was blatantly obvious to everyone.
Now I’ve actually emailed you all (about now) a Word Document that explains how each and every verse in Daniel 11 – corresponds to real historical events that took place in the lead up to the Jewish temple being desecrated in 164BC. Now I hope you will have a look at it.
Apply: You see, if it’s the same Jesus revealing the future to Daniel in 500BC and revealing the future to John in 68AD, then its likely that both prophecies are going to be fulfilled in much the same way – in real world events. Even the little details in Daniel 11 were fulfilled literally.
We also start to see a futurist interpretation of Revelation is probably most in line with Daniel. Daniel’s apocalyptic vision is not really preterist, idealist, or historicist. Daniel’s vision is primarily futurist – foretelling the period of time directly preceding AntiChrist 1.0. In Daniel, Jesus only touches briefly on events around Babylon and Persia and Greece – and then telescopes past them (INTO THE FUTURE) to focus on perhaps a 70 year period – between 240-170BC. Please note, an idealist, a preterist or historicist interpretation of Daniel 11 would have completely missed the point. So if Daniel and Revelation are linked the most plausible interpretation of Revelation is FUTURIST, just like Daniel is FUTURIST. Perhaps, you could be an A-millennial futurist or Pre-Millennial futurist, but Daniel definitely has a futurist orientation.
So let’s now look at the rest of Jesus’ words in Daniel 12. You see, after Jesus prophesies AntiChrist 1.0 in Daniel 11 – the book has a kind of EPILOGUE paving the way for the book of Revelation.
SHOW: Revelation 12
Apply: Now please notice Jesus talks about a period of time (right at the end of time) of unparalleled distress. The great tribulation. We know its now the end of time because it just precedes the general resurrection. But later in Daniel 12 Jesus focuses on the period of time between the abolishing of the daily sacrifice and the abomination that brings desolation saying it will be 1290 days. That’s about 3.5 years. In Daniel 9 we were told the antichrist ruler would force people to enter into some sort of covenant with him for 7 years. Then half way through the 7 years Daniel was told “this ruler” would put an end to the daily sacrifice. In some sense true worship will be forbidden or outlawed at the half-way point. Now given that all the time frames in Daniel – including the 70 years in Babylon prove to be literal – I have no good reason to conclude this is symbolic. I mean, it might be symbolic. But why should a symbolic reading be my first choice. MAYBE IT’S LITERAL. The great tribulation may actually be 7 years, with true Christian worship of Jesus being outlawed at the half-way mark.
You see, a literal 3.5 years is pretty close to the period of time between Antiochus Epiphanes A) outlawing Judaism in 168-167BC and then finally B) desecrating the temple in 164BC. But we know that in Revelation 12 – Jesus isn’t talking about Antiochus Epiphanes IV anymore. Antiochus Epiphanes may be antichrist 1.0. But Jesus is now talking about events that directly precede the general resurrection. And in Matthew 24 (which we looked at last week) Jesus spoke about this abomination that brings desolation (spoken of in Daniel) as a future event – that is linked to the great tribulation and Jesus’ return on the clouds. AND JESUS SAYS WHEN YOU SEE (THIS ANTIOCHUS TYPE EVENT) LET THE READER UNDERSTAND.
This leads me to believe we will probably see a replay of events that are remarkably similar to the days of Antiochus Epiphanes IV, but probably on a universal scale. And somehow, by some miracle of God, a bit like Hannukah – the light of the gospel will continue to shine until Armageddon is finished. Are you ready?
Point 3: in the Great Tribulation God’s Menorah Church must not be Afraid
Show: Rev.1:17-18 (READ)
Explain: Please notice Jesus tells us “Do not be afraid”. Jesus also told Daniel “Do not be afraid”. But we have a huge advantage over Daniel because we know the Lord of Hosts loves us so much he died for us. Jesus says “I was dead, but now I’m alive forever.”
The one who is the King of Kings and Lord of Hosts – loved us so much that he came into this world to die on the cross for us. Yes, we had a debt of sin. Like Satan we have rebelled against God. And on occassions we’ve done things that Satan wants us to do, not what Jesus wants us to do. So with Satan we deserve to be punished by God. But when Jesus died on the cross, he took the punishment for everything you’ve done wrong. The Bible says if you believe Jesus died for you and you surrender your life to him, you are forgiven. Then Jesus promises he will NEVER LEAVE YOU, NOR FORSAKE YOU and that includes the great tribulation.
If the one who is “LORD OF HOSTS”, loves you enough to die for you – you can be sure he is with you and he is going to fight for you. So your job in the great tribulation is really simple – “Don’t be afraid. Don’t give into fear.” That’s your job. SAY NO TO FEAR.
The closer we get to the last days the more Satan is going to control our world with lies and fear. So what you need is truth (BIBLE) and faith. FEAR is how Satan steers the world. FEAR of consequences; FEAR of ridicule; FEAR of losing our job or going to prison – is how Satan gets us to compromise and go soft on biblical truth.
(But then the Menorah lamp doesn’t shine). FEAR is how Satan is changing Jesus’ great commission from A) go and make disciples of all nations to B) go and get all nations to join the U.N. A) One is going to save the world through the preaching of the gospel and B) the other is endeavoring to save the world through climate action. And everyone who signs up to the United Nations now enters A COVENANT (it’s even called a covenant) to implement a charter of human rights, that is very different to the Bible.
Now I’m not saying the UN is the antichrist. But I am saying it has a different mission; a different covenant; a different moral standard and a different UTOPIA it is trying to usher in. And I’m not going to be surprised if the UN (or some organiszation like them) eventually demands that all beneficiaries (including churches) agree with its charter of rights or face penalties. This is already happening to Poland and Hungary. Of course, our job is not too be AFRAID. It is not by might nor by power that we will recognize these things or confront these things. Its only by Gods Spirit and walking closely with God’s Spirit in Word and prayer that we will be sustained. And “if we do not despise the day of small things” but faithfully live by Gods Word, continuing to shine the light – before we know it, we will see Jesus, the Lord of Hosts come back riding on the clouds. Are you ready? Jesus says; “Yes, I am coming soon.” Are you ready? Are you still shining brightly?