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The Book of Revelation - Part 3 Revelation 8

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Issue #172January 2003

The Book of Revelation - Part 3 Revelation 8

The seventh chapter of Revelation is an interruption of the general flow of history. The chapter deals with the sealing of 12,000 of each of the 12 tribes of Israel. There are many different viewpoints about each detail. I get more questions about this chapter than from any other.

It is NOT the case that the 144,000 are all Jews who will be converted and witness to people during the great tribulation. The Jews are not Israel. At best, they would comprise only the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi. They certainly do not represent the ten tribes of Israel who were taken to Assyria and who never returned.

If we were to understand this to be the sealing of genealogical tribes of Israel, then we would have to look for the lost tribes as they migrated into Europe as the House of Omri (Beth-Khumri) or the House of Isaac (Beth-Sak, or Sakka). Such a study would not fit at all with the normal futurist view of prophecy.

Besides this, I do not believe that the Jews represent the tribe of Judah (from God’s viewpoint). A study of the two baskets of figs in Jer. 24 makes it clear that there are two types of Judahites, good figs and bad. If we trace this into the New Testament, we find that most of the people in Jesus’ day were just like the people of Judah in Jeremiah’s day. Most were evil figs, refusing to submit to the Babylonian captivity that God had decreed in judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem.

The majority of the people in Jesus’ day hated the Romans and were easily led to follow a host of false messiahs who promised to set them free from Rome. None of them succeeded, of course, and ultimately they brought disaster upon themselves.

The good figs followed Jesus’ example. The Prince of Peace never once even hinted that He wanted to overthrow the Romans. He knew that the fourth kingdom of Daniel was instituted by divine judgment, and it was not time for its overthrow. This He taught the disciples, and they taught others. For this, they were persecuted by the bad figs and eventually driven out of the land into the Roman Empire, even as Daniel and the other good figs earlier had been taken to Babylon.

The good figs followed Jesus and did what He did. In the conflict and split between the good figs and the bad figs, the question was really this: Which of the two groups constituted the tribe of Judah? Which had the divine right to the tribal name? Was it those who had rejected the King of Judah, or those who had joined with Him?

As a Christian, I believe that the good figs were the real Judahites (“Jews” for short). Paul tells us this in Rom. 2:28 and 29,

28 For he is NOT a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he IS a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise [Judah] is not from men, but from God.

Paul tells us clearly that the followers of Jesus were the real Jews, while those who claimed to be of the tribe of Judah by mere genealogy and outward circumcision were NOT Jews in the sight of God. In fact, they had forfeited their citizenship in the tribe and in God’s covenant by not applying the blood of Jesus Christ to their hearts. How?

The law says in Lev. 17:1-7 (the law of sacrifice) that if any man kills a sacrifice at the tabernacle or outside the camp, but does not bring its blood to the proper place to be sprinkled on the altar of the Lord, he was to be “cut off from among his people” (17:4). It was necessary that Jesus be crucified as the ultimate Sacrifice for sin, and this had to be done by Aaronic priests, as prophesied in the law. However, the real issue was what the people would do with His blood. Would they apply it to the altar of their heart, or would they just let it fall to the ground?

This is the real issue. The good figs were those who had ears to hear and eyes to see. They accepted Jesus as the Messiah—and as the Sacrifice for their sins. For these, Jesus was their High Priest, who went into the Holiest of All, bearing His blood to sprinkle upon the altar in heaven.

Those who did NOT accept Him, however, failed to fulfill the law of sacrifice. For this reason, they were “cut off” from their tribe. Of course, those who later accepted Him, were able to be grafted back into the Kingdom tree.

The people who rejected Jesus as Messiah continued to call themselves “Jews” to the present day. But this does not mean that God calls them Jews. Nor does Paul. Nor does John, for we read in Rev. 2:9 and 3:9 about people who call themselves Jews, but are not. John says that they are of the synagogue of Satan, not the synagogue of Jesus.

The point of this is to show that when Rev. 7 speaks of the 12 tribes of Israel, he is not referring to “those who SAY they are Jews and are not.” He is referring to those who are of the good figs, not the bad figs. He is referring to those who have the heart circumcision, not those whose circumcision is of the flesh.

John’s own definition of Jews must be used to interpret Revelation 7. The core of the Church was made up of the good figs of true Judah. To this “tree” were grafted many branches from other nations, each producing its own variety of fruit. Soon these other branches outnumbered the fig branches. But it is still a fig tree, because all are attached to Jesus Christ, who is the King of Judah.

In other words, what men today call “the church” is really the tribe of Judah. The word “church” comes from the Greek word ecclesia, which literally means “the called-out ones.” It is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew term, kahal, which is usually translated “congregation” (of Israel). In other words, the church is the PEOPLE, not the organization or the religion or the buildings where they might meet each week.

The church, then, is the congregation of the people of Judah—including everyone who has joined the tribe by conversion, all who follow Jesus, the King of Judah. This includes those converts who were of the lost tribes of Israel. Regardless of their genealogy, they must come into the New Covenant in the same way that anyone else does. When they accept Jesus Christ, the King of Judah, they join with the tribe of Judah.

Likewise, anyone who accepts Jesus Christ in His second appearance, where He comes as Joseph, the King of Israel, becomes a true Israelite. In the second coming of Christ, He comes with His garment dipped in blood (Rev. 19:13). Joseph’s garment was dipped in blood (Gen. 37:31) in order to fool his father into thinking he was dead.

Joseph was the inheritor of the birthright, and Judah was given the promise that he would bring forth the kings that would lead to the Messiah (1 Chron. 5:1, 2). When Joseph was lost and presumed to be dead, it seemed that Judah would also receive Joseph’s birthright.

In later years, the tribes of Joseph (Israel) were lost and presumed to be dead for many years. Judah produced the Messiah, the King, as promised, but men have also assumed that Judah would receive Joseph’s birthright. Yet even as this view was proven wrong when Joseph was found, so also will this view be proven wrong when the lost tribes of Israel are found at the end of the age.

The discovery of lost Israel is more than just a study of history and of genealogy. While such a study is useful, it is more important that we understand the legal implications of this. One must first legally join with the tribe of Judah by accepting Jesus Christ as the Messiah and King of Judah. This is what makes people true Christians. These are the ones who are justified by faith in the blood of the Lamb.

Secondly, if one aspires to Sonship, one must learn how to become a true Israelite—that is, of the tribe of Joseph, King of Israel. This involves becoming an overcomer. No one can be an overcomer without first believing in Jesus Christ and accepting Him as He came the first time. But the second time He comes in a different way. This time he will not come to die, but to reign. He will not come to cover sin, but to remove it. He will not come to establish His throne rights as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, but He will come to establish His birthright as the Heir of Joseph.

Since we covered this subject more fully in two chapters of The Laws of the Second Coming, we will not pursue this further.

The main thing I want to point out in regard to Rev. 7 is that the 12 tribes of Israel is more than genealogy. One may be able to trace one’s genealogy back to one of the tribes of Israel, but the law makes it clear that it is quite possible to lose one’s tribal citizenship. It depends upon what a person does with the blood of the true Sacrifice for sin. It depends upon one’s relationship with Jesus Christ, regardless of genealogy. God does not justify or seal any man on the grounds of his genealogy.

This is all we will say about Revelation 7 at this time, because the FFI’s are too short to include every detail in any study. I do plan to put these studies into book form eventually, and if I do, then that will be the time and place to include a thorough study of Revelation 7. Meanwhile, we will now continue the historical flow, beginning with Revelation 8.

The Seventh Seal

We showed in our last bulletin that the sixth seal ended with the permanent division of the Roman Empire into East and West in 395 A.D. These are the two legs of iron that Nebuchadnezzar saw on the image in Dan. 2:33. That prophecy foresaw the great division in the Roman Empire nearly a thousand years earlier (c. 600 B.C. to 395 A.D.)

God then began a series of judgments upon the Western half of the Roman Empire, including the city of Rome. The West fell first, but the Eastern half of the Roman Empire survived another thousand years until 1453 A.D. In Rev. 8 we see the angels sounding seven trumpets, which were judgments that fell upon the Western Empire until it was destroyed in 476 A.D., just 81 years after the Empire was divided.

The first of these judgment trumpets was blown in 410 A.D., when Alaric the Goth invaded and sacked the city of Rome. Gibbon writes on page 430 of his book, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,

“During a period of six hundred and nineteen years the seat of empire had never been violated by the presence of a foreign enemy.”

But the hour of judgment finally arrived. It was not a judgment upon pagan Rome, for that judgment had already occurred a century earlier when Constantine conquered Rome. No, this was a judgment upon Christian Imperial Rome for its corruption, idolatry, avarice. Christianity had been turned from a way of life into a religion of empire. The virtues advocated by Jesus Christ held little value.

The religion demanded faithfulness to the Church organization and hierarchy, rather than faithfulness to Jesus’ teachings. The religion demanded more power and wealth, rather than the maturity of their character. The people began to worship relics and saints, and superstition soon replaced the true worship of God. Gibbon writes on page 423,

“In the long period of twelve hundred years, which elapsed between the reign of Constantine and the reformation of Luther, the worship of saints and relics corrupted the pure and perfect simplicity of the Christian model.”

It is amazing how ambitious men can so easily trick Christians into accepting their corrupt leadership. It is amazing how quickly men forget Jesus’ example—he who was most tolerant of pagans in their genuine ignorance, and who was most intolerant of priestly corruption and oppression of the common man.

A Half Hour of Silence

Before these trumpets began to be blown, there was an interlude—silence for “half an hour.” Rev. 8:1 says,

1 And when He broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

In biblical prophecy, a day can mean:

  1. one literal day of 12 or 24 hours

  2. one year (or 360 days in a prophetic year)

  3. a 360-year period (a “time”)

  4. a thousand years

Whichever is applicable, an “hour” is 1/24 of a night and day. Or it is 1/12 of just the day itself. In the case of Rev. 8:1, the day is 360 years. Thus, 1/12 of 360 would be 30 years. A half hour would be 15 years.

The time of silence, then, is a 15-year period from 395-410 A.D. During this time a new threat to Rome began to emerge. From 395-398 Alaric the Goth invaded Greece, but was repulsed. Shortly afterward, he made an incursion into Italy but was again repulsed.

If the people of Rome, including the Christians, had had eyes to see and ears to hear, they would have recognized that God was about to unleash judgment against this “Christian Empire,” for by this time much of the Christian clergy had become as corrupt as the pagan clergy of earlier times. The Christian leaders had resorted to the same persecution of the pagans that the pagans had done to the Christians. This included confiscating (stealing) temples and converting them into Christian churches. Gibbon writes on page 428,

“Honorius excluded all persons who were adverse to the catholic church from holding any office in the state; obstinately rejected the service of all those who dissented from his religion; and rashly disqualified many of his bravest and most skilful officers who adhered to the Pagan worship or who had imbibed the opinions of Arianism.”

On page 249 he says,

“By the imprudent conduct of the ministers of Honorius the republic lost the assistance, and deserved the enmity, of thirty thousand of her bravest soldiers; and the weight of that formidable army, which alone might have determined the event of the war, was transferred from the scale of the Romans into that of the Goths.”

And so, the Church did not recognize God’s hand of judgment when it finally arrived. They did not repent of their avarice or murder or idolatry. They did not see any need to manifest the character of Jesus in their relationship with non-believers. They saw only a need to defend the Christian Empire from Satan’s hordes, and they were as willing as any unbeliever to use ungodly methods to prevent God’s judgment.

The First Trumpet (410 A.D.)

Rev. 8: says,

2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God; and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer, and much incense was given to him, that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense with the prayers of the saints went up before God out of the angel’s hand. 5 And the angel took the censer, and he filled it with the fire of the altar and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

The historical events of judgment are depicted in symbolic language. The scene is taken from the old temple in Jerusalem, where the altar of incense stood near the veil into the Most Holy Place. Each day the priest had come into the temple to offer incense upon the altar—depicting symbolically the prayers of the saints that rose up to God like the sweet-smelling smoke.

The prayer and worship of the genuine believers was always that the Holy Spirit would come upon them in power that would convert the unbelievers, not by force of the arm of flesh, but by the demonstration of the Spirit. Throughout the age of Pentecost, whenever God saw fit to answer their prayers, “revival” would break forth as the “fire” of the Holy Spirit would baptize the people to purify them as only God can do.

But there was another side to this. There are nine fruits of the Spirit listed in Gal. 5:22, 23. There are also nine gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Cor. 12:8-10. Thus, the number nine deals with the activity of the Holy Spirit.

But there is a negative side to this number nine. The same Holy Spirit also brings judgment. Hence, nine is also the number of the finality of judgment. See Bullinger’s Number in Scripture. And so it is no surprise to see in Rev. 8 a fire coming from the altar of incense that brings judgment upon the Roman “earth.”

Rev. 8:6, 7 says,

And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them. And the first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.

The earth is the Roman Empire. The trumpets are the warning of war (Num. 10:9). Hail is one of God’s weapons of war (Job 38:22, 23). Trees are men (Deut. 20:19; Mark 8:24). Grass also depicts fleshly people (Isaiah 40:6). This is how the Bible interprets its own symbolism.

In 410 A.D. Alaric the Goth took the city of Rome and sacked it for six days. His army removed all the gold, silver, and gems that they could find and even tortured those they suspected of hiding their treasures. Within a week, the great and wealthy city of Rome was reduced to abject poverty. Gibbon writes of this on page 456, saying,

“The awful catastrophe of Rome filled the astonished empire with grief and terror.”

This directly affected about a third of the Western Roman Empire. Rome was not the only city that Alaric sacked. He sacked most of Italy. All the “grass” was burned, in that this literally affected everyone. There was much starvation as a result of the godly “hail” upon the land. The hail was not literal, of course, but took the form of the Goths themselves, who ate what they could and destroyed the rest of the food. Then he attempted to take Sicily as a stepping stone to Africa. Gibbon writes of this on page 459,

“Yet as soon as the first division of the Goths had embarked, a sudden tempest arose, which sunk or scattered many of the transports; their courage was daunted by the terrors of a new element; and the whole design was defeated by the premature death of Alaric, which fixed, after a short illness, the fatal term of his conquests.”

In His mercy, God unleashed only the first round of judgments upon the Roman Empire and then stopped it abruptly. The Church did not repent, so more followed.