The Emperor speaks to you from far across the sea, through his senators, proconsul, emissaries, and imperial priests, through statues and images and festivals, and you hear him. But the Father from heaven speaks a vision to the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, by the Spirit, to an angel, to John, a prophet who saw Christ remove the veil of life in the empire, the lie of Pax Romana.
You have become weary in doing well, weary in resisting a suffocating idolatry. You are cut off. Some have slid from faith. The powers of empire grow stronger every day, and Christ is absent. Where is His victory? But you will rejoice. You will marvel at Christ’s work. You will marvel at the power of your judgment prayers over the empire. Now we do not yet see all things put under Him, but they are. The time is at hand. You must overcome the principalities and powers; you must overcome the beasts of empire and exorcise them from the earth. Moses said, if you are faithful and turn from idols, “the LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face.” Be faithful and you will see these visions come to pass.
I write to seven churches of Asia Minor instead of Antioch or even Corinth because you live amid strong lust for the empire. You see the riches piling up around you more than anywhere. Your cities have begged to honor the emperor with temples, have begged to lift his name high, offering unceasing sacrifices.
Of the emperor, they say, he “is a god who wrought for us this peace,” and that without the emperor’s “favor and grace no part of the whole world can prosper.” But against such blasphemy I call you to true peace and genuine grace, from the only eternal Father, the Spirit, and from Jesus Christ, the Truth, the One who lives again, even as emperors decay. Our King sacrifices and serves for us, and He has washed us in His own blood, not as in the empty rituals of your cities, where they drip blood from some useless, dead bull onto priests.
Even more, Jesus Christ has lifted you all up and made you an “empire of priests,” better than ancient Israel, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people. They say the emperor is “the arbiter of life and death for the nations,” but it is Jesus Christ, alone, who has eternal dominion. The great prophet Daniel showed us this. In his vision, the Son of Man comes against the four earthly beasts, the four empires, especially the last, the beast with whom you now contend, the empire “dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong, devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling.” Yet the Son of Man overcomes it.
Your own proconsul once boasted that the emperor’s birth was “the beginning of life and existence, and the end of regrets about having been born.” But in truth, Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the ruler of the past, present, and future.
The First of Three Scrolls
I, John, your brother in the struggle and companion during these difficult times, was just off the coast from you, on Patmos, for the gospel. On a Lord’s Day, I was communing with the Spirit of God, and I was shaken by the sound of a sharp voice behind me. He said to write to those tempted by the glory of Rome. What you see, write in a scroll and send it to these seven churches in Asia Minor: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
Then I turned toward the voice, and I saw seven golden candlesticks, their candles lit with the tongues of Pentecost. There was a man in the midst of the seven candles, the empire-slayer Daniel saw, “a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold. His face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude.” This revelation Jesus Christ now unveils for His people.
In the vision I saw, Jesus held seven stars in His hand because He controls the stars, not they Him, unlike our coin on which seven stars circle the emperor. And unlike the Romans, always waving dull swords in their hands, Jesus’ sword is the Spirit, “sharper than any two-edged sword.” Of the emperor they say, “May this sun, which has shed its light upon a world that had plunged into the abyss and was sunk in darkness, ever shine.” But such blasphemy and arrogance would not stand against the Jesus I saw, who shone like the sun in its strength. I was overwhelmed by the vision; our emperor’s glory is unspeakable, and I fell as dead at His feet. He reached out and touched me and told me not to be afraid, a thing too difficult even in His presence. He identified Himself as the One who conquered hell and death, and so the thin sticks of empire are no match for Him. He told me to write about the pattern of the beast against His Church in the past, in our time and in future times.
To Christ’s proconsuls in Ephesus, the capital of Asia Minor, the port of wealth, the center of senatorial and imperial treasuries, a “Temple-Warden” of the imperial cult. The Temple of Artemis stands large in your city, as do temples for Caesar and the Egyptian god Sarapis. Your marketplace is huge, and the emperor even built you a gladiator stadium. You have rightly resisted these idols, and they have provoked you to loyalty. You have no patience for those who share in imperial idolatry, that school of “People Conquerors,” Nicolaitans, and you have even rightly rejected those who try to seduce you into it: “What harm is there in saying, Caesar is Lord, and offering incense?” You know their lies, and you have not fainted though it never seems to stop. But your fight has made you hard. Your fight against idols has distracted you from the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. If you understand all knowledge and have all faith, so that you could move empires, but have not love, you are nothing. Your first love is be My body, a new community wholly different from the empire. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? Remember how you were a body at the start. You shared all things; you had no one in need. Repent, then, or else I come quickly, and I will extinguish your candlelight. He that has an ear, let him hear. He who overcomes and exorcises the strongman will receive a new order. Pay special attention to the faithfulness of your poor brothers in Smyrna.
To the church in Smyrna, another rich city like Ephesus, another “Temple-Warden,” you have cut yourselves off from its wealth through your loyalty to Me. Your city houses famous temples to the goddess Roma and to the emperor Tiberius, yet you have refused to commune in the buying and selling that requires your fellowship with demons. Like Me, you have given up life, and though you now appear very poor, you are in fact truly rich in My empire. And I know the slander against you from those Jews of the synagogue of empire who say they have no king but Caesar; their source is the same as Caesar’s: Satan. Because of your strength, Satan will cast some of you into prison, but I will cast him farther. He who overcomes the principalities need not fear judgment. Be vigilant and teachable. Listen to the Spirit.
To the church in Pergamum, the city who begged Rome to build the largest temple for Caesar in the whole province, the city at the center of imperial rites, the city who celebrates Caesar’s birth monthly, the defender of Zeus’s altar. For all this, your city is the seat of Satan. Your city sings the blasphemy that Caesar “gave a new appearance to the whole world, which would gladly have accepted its own destruction had Caesar not been born for the common good fortune of all.” Your temptations are great, and you have resisted unto great bloodshed, at least the one martyr, Antipas. You have not denied My name, and this is good, but faithfulness calls you to more. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego also rightly refused to deny My name, but they did more. When their Babylon tempted them with delicacies contrary to my commands, “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies.” But instead of the loyalty of Daniel, you also have allowed into your midst those “People Conquerors,” that idolatry of Balaam whose counsel led My people of old to commit harlotry and bow down to Moabite gods. My anger was fierce against Israel, and I came to them with my two-edged sword in the hands of Phinehas. Follow the way of Daniel and do not think sharing in the empire’s meals is a light thing, or else I will come to you as Phinehas and run through those sharing Rome’s bed. Exorcise this unfaithfulness from your midst, and eat at My table, My bread, eat the manna Jeremiah hid when he hoped against his Babylon.
To the church at Thyatira, not far from Pergamum, a city full of artisans and businesses. I am the Son of Man with feet like brass, not mixed and fragile like Rome. Unlike others, you are dedicated to charity, service, faith, and patience, more and more. But your compassion has opened you to listen to the prophetess there who seduces you; she is like Jezebel of old with the priests of Baal, tempting you to trust in the gods of your oppressors. Open your eyes. Why can’t you remember Daniel and Elijah and Jeremiah? I will exorcise this Jezebel, and all the unrepentant who join in her spiritual adultery with Rome. Exorcise the hosts of wickedness and them which urge you to bow to other gods, and I will give you a true empire. You will bear My own authority; you will act as My star, My king. But you have to see through the beautiful temptations of empire.
To the church in Sardis, the city consumed with clothing, dedicated to producing cotton and dyes. But your beautiful clothes are soiled with the stains of idolatry. The things you glory in you fail at the most. You think you are alive but you are dead. Your city used to stand tall on the hill, and you thought yourself impregnable. But twice, enemy armies have sneaked up on you and despoiled you. I Myself will again come upon you in the night when you won’t expect it. Some of your members have not given into the seductions of the imperial gods, and they will walk with Me in white, having no stains. But you won’t get these garments from your manufacturing or from the promises of the empire. Only I can give these white garments, and I will present you before the Father, if you overcome the strong man by the Spirit.
To the church in Philadelphia, set in the weakest of these seven cities. You have been destroyed and rebuilt several times. You are not the center of business or the empire. Your brothers in Smyrna have little wealth, and you have little power. But I have the key of David that opens the kingdom. Your strength is in Me, for you have been faithful, even though Caesar has tried to attach his name to your city twice. You are weak, but you are strong because you have not denied My name. Like Smyrna, you too, resist those false Jews of the synagogue of empire, who, like the Herods, trust in Caesar. They think they are so strong to stand with the empire, but I will make them bow before you. Because you have lived like Daniel and Jeremiah against Babylon, I will protect you from the judgments I am sending upon the earth to test the world. And as you overcome the strongman, I will make your church a distinct pillar in My new Temple. Since you have resisted taking Caesar’s name and resisted his city, I will write God’s name on you, My name, and the name of our city, the New Jerusalem. Listen to the Spirit.
To the church at Laodicea, richest of these cities, one of the richest in all the empire, full of banks and financial institutions (even a medical school), sitting at the crossroads of trade, so self-sufficient that when the earthquake hit, you even declined all help. But you are not a source; I am the source of God’s creation. You are not a source, even your water has to be sent to you, and the hot-spring water from Hierapolis is tepid and weak when it reaches your city. This is your church too, lukewarm, terrible to drink. I spit you out. You say you are rich, loaded with goods, have no needs, all smiles, but I see you as wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. Since you like to buy so much, why not buy My pure gold, My white robes? Your city boasts of your famous eye medicine, but you need to buy my eye salve instead. I have nothing good to say to you, but even that is a sign of My love; I only rebuke those whom I love. But I am outside your church, outside the door. You haven’t created the community of love that I called you to. Listen for My voice, and if you can in any way exorcise and overcome the principalities of wealth and empire, you will enter into true fellowship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Second of Three Scrolls
There is little hope for the churches of the first scroll. You have fallen for another nation; you love Caesar’s wealth and peace. You do not resist the principalities and powers like Moses, Elijah, or Daniel. You want a king like other empires. You say you do not know how to overcome the strong empire and plunder its goods. The vision shows you how Jesus Christ overcomes the strong man.
I looked and behold, heaven opened, and that same voice I heard before called me up to eternal things, not things that are seen.
You marvel at the spectacle of Rome, its massive temples, its priests and festivals and incense and gold. All this pales against the wealth I saw. I saw one sitting on a throne of heaven, the throne Ezekiel saw when he wrestled his Babylon. The throne shone like crystal and jewels, outshining all the dull metals of Rome. And I saw how heaven overcomes.
Around this throne sat twenty-four rulers, crowned in gold, draped in white, the church redeemed and mature, from all nations and tribes, ruling earth from a heavenly worship. On earth as it is in heaven.
The throne was like Mt. Sinai, full of lightning and thunder, and around the throne I saw the fullest presence of the Holy Spirit, burning. Before the throne was a golden altar and a sea of glass, like that which Solomon’s temple imitated in bronze.
Somehow, in and around the throne were also four creatures, again, like those in Ezekiel’s vision: like a lion, a calf, a man, an eagle, but with wings, and alive, not marble, and they had unspeakable eyes to see almost anything. These dedicated themselves constantly to worshiping day and night, saying “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” And when these overcame by giving glory and honor and thanks to the Eternal One on the throne, then the twenty-four elders, the church mature, imitated them and overcame by falling down before Him on the throne, submitting to Him their crowns, saying the same for earth as in heaven: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power.” Here is how you overcome. The vision took Me deeper behind the workings of life, and I saw a scroll in the right hand of Him on the throne, a scroll sealed with seven seals, securing its contents from anyone but the rightful authority. Then an angel called for the legal recipient of the mission to come forward.
What mission? Who needs a mission with Rome in rule? Those of empire say, “the existing conditions are naturally satisfying and useful for both the poor and rich, and there is no other way of living. Thus a single harmony of state order has developed which embraces all.”
The angel and the church waited. But no one came forward. “Who is worthy to open this scroll?” But no one on earth. No Caesar. No one under the earth. No demon. No Roman generals came on white horses. And, I, John, began to weep because no one could obey the Father’s and the church’s call. I was hoping in the wrong direction, thinking like empire, so one of the church elders reminded me: “Why do you weep? Remember, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the descendant of King David, has overcome. He alone is worthy.”
Yes, a lion, the Lion. His teeth will tear the flesh of empire. And, then, I turned to praise the Lion, but there in His place, in the midst of the throne, stood just a Lamb, a wounded lamb.
But heaven doesn’t overcome like the empire. “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them. Yet it shall not be so among you.”
And the four creatures and the church worshiped the Lamb; they made music to the Lamb, and they set free the prayers of the saints calling out from earth. The church sang her new song, You are worthy to take the scroll, and to break its seals, because you were not a murderer, and you have redeemed us to the Father by your blood. You have given us these crowns and white robes. You have made us a royal priesthood, a kingdom of priests, not a kingdom of murderers. And so we reign on earth.
And just then, the voices of thousands of thousands of angels burst out, now imitating the voice of the church, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.” In heaven, as it is on earth.
Then it reversed, again, and every creature now declared, “Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sits upon the throne and unto the Lamb forever and ever.” And the church around the throne took the lead and said, “Amen.”
Then, in answer to this worship, the Lamb broke open the first seal on the scroll, and out of the broken seal came something like the sound of thunder, and I began to see the horses Zechariah saw, the “four spirits of heaven, who go out from their station before the Lord of all the earth.” These are the ones who once declared, “all the earth is resting quietly.” But then the Lord turned against the empires, declaring, “I am exceedingly angry with the nations at ease.”
The Lamb sends forth these four spirits to possess the empire and turn it against itself. Perhaps it will repent. “If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” This is the vision the Lamb promises, if the church leads. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss.”
The first horse I saw was white as a Roman general’s horse. And like empires, this horse and rider galloped off to conquer and overcome and join with the spirit of empire. This horse stretches the empire’s borders farther and farther, creating death and illusion.
Then the Lamb opened the second seal, and from it came a red horse. This one doesn’t conquer new peoples but old; it causes dissension within. The Lamb did not come to bring peace on earth but a sword, that he might set an empire against itself, rebellion and civil war.
Then the Lamb opened the third seal, and I saw a spirit, a black horse, and its rider held trade and money in its hand. And this spirit entered the business of empire to exacerbate it, and, the Lamb gave it power to lead Rome to disrupt the economy, creating higher prices for the goods of the poor, wheat and barley, but protecting prices for the goods of the rich, wine and oil.
Then the Lamb opened the fourth seal and another spirit rode out, a pale horse, whose rider is the angel of Death that the Lamb sends to kill great numbers of the unrepentant with crime and hunger and wild beasts.
But we do not see the empire dying like this. We don’t see Satan’s kingdom divided against itself. Sometimes civil war breaks out. Sometimes the empire’s economy falls into trouble. But it doesn’t last. It doesn’t destroy the empire. Some die of hunger and crime, but not a fourth of the empire. The empire keeps going. It has too much strength.
“You do not have because you do not ask.” This is how you overcome.
Then the Lamb opened the scroll’s fifth seal, and it showed me the saints who were martyred, for their refusal to fornicate with empire. I saw them before the throne of the Lamb, bowing beneath the golden altar, praying and directing the Lamb, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You not judge and avenge our deaths on the empire?” And they were given white robes, and the Lamb exhorted them to rest for a while longer. The number of martyrs is not yet full. The Lamb conquers by sacrifice, and He calls on His saints to sacrifice their own blood to bring down empire.
Then the Lamb opened the sixth seal, and it showed how the empire began to fall apart because of the prayers of the saints. When the principalities of old empire of Babylon fell, Isaiah saw the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places disturbed: “the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity.” And Ezekiel had eyes to see the Lord destroy Egypt’s principalities and powers this same way: “I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place, I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark.”
And this is what Ephesus, Pergamum, Laodicea, and all the churches throughout the world could then see if they lived faithfully: everyone fleeing from the wrath of the Lamb, even the Roman elites – the emperors and intermediaries and the rich and the military officers and the terrifying warriors. Who would be able to stand? But you have not because you ask not.
We waited for the Lamb to open the seventh seal, but it did not happen.
Instead I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back four winds, ready and tense to cause devastation. Then another angel, sealed with the name of God, rose from the east and instructed the angels holding the winds to wait until all the servants of God are sealed on their foreheads. Perhaps those few by the golden altar would be sealed. But then I heard a much bigger number: 144,000 sealed. Here was the new Israel of God, the church, like the armies of Israel, from the new tribes of Israel, ready for battle.
Then I turned and looked back at the throne, and there they were. Far more than a mere 144,000, a massive group of saints I could not number, the new Israel from all nations, peoples, and tongues, all in white robes, waving victory palms.
And now this innumerable multitude cried out in a loud voice. And all the angels and elders and four creatures also around the throne fell before the throne on their faces and worshiped, and agreed, saying, “Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might belong to our God forever. Amen.”
And where did they come from? I suspected they were all the saints. But he told me these have come through great suffering. They have been tried. Some have resisted unto the shedding of blood. But all have resisted the demons of empire. Smyrna and Philadelphia have given to this group, and many others. Faithfulness is not a special duty for the few. They are not a cowering remnant but innumerable.
Now they serve before the throne of God, day and night in the temple. And Father, Son, and Spirit dwell with them continually. They do not suffer here like they did on earth: abandoned in the heat, hungry and thirsty. But here the Lamb will do what others on earth failed to do. He shall feed them and give them drink. Here before the throne He shall wipe away their tears. But this was to have been the first love of Ephesus and Thyatira and Laodicea. Cowardice and blindness.
Now I expected something greater to happen. At the last call, the Lamb appeared and unleashed His angels to turn the empire against itself. Now we have innumerable saints, elders, and angels worshiping God. What greater thing can possibly come from this?
Then the Lamb turned back to the scroll and opened the seventh seal. When He opened it, the innumerable multitude and angels and creatures were silent for an hour. Then God gave seven trumpets to the seven lamps, the seven spirits, the fullness of the Holy Spirit indwelling the throne, and the Spirit sounded forth judgment and life as at Pentecost.
In the midst of the fullness of the Spirit, that Perfecter of the prayers of the saints, another messenger arrived carrying a golden censer. He was given incense for it, to mingle it with the prayers of the saints. The aroma rose before the throne of God.
And then I saw how “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” The prayers of the saints now bring judgment themselves. The angel filled the censer with fire from the golden altar and threw it down onto the earth, and mountains moved by their prayers. And the fullness of the Spirit prepared to sound His seven trumpets.
It was as if I had entered another time, another fight against empire, Moses against Egypt, for the Spirit sounded and there would fall hail and fire, mingled with blood, echoes of the plagues on Egypt. These plagues burnt up trees and grass.
Like in Pharaoh’s time, we wait for the repentance of empire. But the empire’s heart is hard.
Then the Spirit sounded a second trumpet, and the prayers of the saints moved a great mountain, a volcano, and cast it into the sea, as if it were Pharaoh’s army, and the sea became bloody, full of death, like Egypt’s water.
We waited for repentance, but it didn’t come.
The Spirit sounded a third trumpet and some giant star was cast out, exorcised from its place of authority in the heavenly realm by the prayers of the saints. The church directs not only the Lamb; the faithful now command even the enemies of the Lamb. The great star fell, cast out of heaven, and, like Egypt, poisoned the waters of earth.
We waited for the empire’s repentance.
Then the Spirit sounded the fourth trumpet, and the prayers of the saints destroyed powers just like the Lamb did. But just a third of the sun, moon, and stars were darkened. But this is not the end. An angel declares that the prayers of the saints would exert even greater control.
The Spirit took the worship of the saints and sounded the fifth trumpet, and they exorcised another ruler of darkness from heaven, casting him out to the earth. And the prayers of the saints gave him a key to open the smoking, bottomless pit, to let loose a demonic military, an army of locusts, a plague to make Egypt repent, to make the people of the empire repent. But unlike locusts, this army may not destroy the vegetation. The locusts are terrifying soldiers, and their king is the destroyer, Apollyon-Apollo, whom an emperor claims to incarnate.
Then a voice from the throne calls on the Spirit to sound the sixth trumpet and to loose the four angels bound in the Euphrates, and they prepared to slaughter a third of the powers. I heard a number of two-hundred thousand horsemen, and they came forth with horses, as if with lion heads and breathing fire.
But, still, like Pharaoh, this empire did not turn. Its people continued to worship demons and dumb idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood.
The time for repentance has passed. The time for judgment has arrived. The principalities of the empire are broken, cast out. And now the vision focuses on one key part of the empire, the fornication of Jerusalem with Rome.
I saw another mighty messenger come down from heaven in the clouds, a rainbow about his head, his face shining, his feet pillars of fire, a Michael, a Christ. And He set His right foot on the sea and His left foot on earth, and He roared like a lion about the sins of Jerusalem, and the Spirit spoke like thunder against the rebellion of Jerusalem. I was about to write, but a voice from heaven told me to stop. Then the Michael-Christ on the sea and earth raised His hand to heaven, and took an oath to the Father, that the judgment cannot wait any longer. The Spirit must now avenge Jerusalem’s blasphemy against the Son.
So the voice from heaven spoke to me again and allowed me to take Daniel’s scroll from the hand of Michael-Christ. He said to eat the scroll: it will taste sweet, but it will make your stomach sick. And I ate it, and this was true. “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” “All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen.”
Then he said to me, “Go and prophesy about the coming judgment on Jerusalem.” And like Ezekiel, He gave me a measuring stick and told me to measure the Temple, the altar, and the people therein. But He told me not to measure the outer court, for it is given to Babylon to trample again.
Everything is confirmed by two or three witnesses, and I have in Jerusalem My churches, My two candlesticks, full of the Spirit, testifying against the adultery of Jerusalem with the empire. My churches, my New Jerusalem, My New Moses and Elijah shall prophesy against that city, and anyone who hurts them shall be struck down.
As we saw in heaven, the innumerable saints, the New Jerusalem have the power to shut heaven, like Elijah, and have the power to smite the earth with plagues, like Moses.
When they have prophesied, the demon military from the bottomless pit shall seem to overcome them with death. But they are sealed, and death has no hold on them. They shall lie dead in Jerusalem, that Sodom, that Egypt, in bed with Babylon. And the people shall mock them and rejoice, as they did at the death of the Son. But like the Son’s body, the church has renewed life. The Spirit will raise them from the dead, and their murderers shall fear. The Father will call them up to heaven, to join the others around His throne.
And soon, the prayers of the saints moved the mountain of Jerusalem, and the empire turned against its old friend, and the city fell.
Then with the principalities and powers of Rome broken and vanquished, and the city of Jerusalem trampled, the Spirit sounded the seventh trumpet.
And heaven cheered. The demons have been cleared out. “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever.” You have cast out demons by the finger of God, and the empire of God has come upon us. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.”
And the church bowed before God and worshiped, saying, “We give you thanks, O Lord God Almighty, because You have acted against the idolatrous persecutors of Your people, those who destroy the earth, and judged them.”
The Third of Three Scrolls
The vision has shown us what was, what is, and what could be if the churches are faithful. Yet the churches who are friends with the world, admirers of this empire, do not see the justice in turning a kingdom against itself. They do not see the need for the judgments and punishments against a glorious empire, Rome that has “measured out the whole earth, spanned rivers with bridges of different kinds, pierced through mountains to lay roads and everywhere introduced a cultivated and ordered way of life.” This is how you speak of Rome in Laodicea, Pergamum, and Thyatira —as “a cultivated and ordered way of life.” Like Herod, you have been seduced by empire. You do not see the justice Christ can bring through your worship because you cannot see the origin and nature of empire; you do not understand the wicked depths of empire. So the vision goes deeper in this final scroll and unveils the source of empire.
On earth as it is in heaven. The temple of God in heaven opened, and the ark of the covenant unveiled.
To show deeper truth, a marvel appeared in the heavens, a great, noble authority appeared in the sky—a mother, clothed with sun, the moon as her footstool, her hair arrayed in stars. She labored with child, in great pain, yearning to be delivered.
Then opposite her in heaven appeared another wonder—a great red dragon with seven heads, seven crowns, and ten horns. His tail dragged a third of the stars, a great number of principalities and powers and dumped them onto the earth. Then the great red dragon stood in front of the mother about to deliver, like Herod, and he was ready to devour her child. This Eve, this Mary, this people of God labored and gave birth to a son, a king to rule all the nations, but the great red dragon could not bring an end to the son, for he was soon caught up to the throne of God. And the mother fled into safety in the wilderness for a long while.
Since the great red dragon lost the child to heaven, the battle shifted there, and war broke out in heaven, with Michael-Christ and His angels fighting against the great red dragon. But the great red dragon and his angels failed to overcome, and heaven exorcised the great red dragon, this ancient devil, this Satan who is the king of lies and deception. They exorcised him and his demons out of heaven.
Finally, the slanderer of all the faithful would no longer present himself before the throne of heaven. Heaven sang and rejoiced, but the great red dragon now threatened the earth. Woe to the earth and its inhabitants. Satan is full of wrath and has little time. When this great red dragon realized how he had been exorcised to the earth, he went after the mother who had given birth to the son and persecuted her. The great red dragon vomited his army of demons like a flood, filling the world with demons in order to carry away the people of God, but the kingdom cast out those demons, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the legions of evil spirits. This overcoming made the great red dragon even angrier, and so he hunted down the faithful people of God to seduce and make war on them.
Then a different demonic beast appeared—a beast out of the waters, but it looked like a leopard, with the mouth of a lion and the feet of a bear. It had seven heads and ten crowned horns. Each of its heads spewed out the blasphemy of empire.
The great red dragon who had been exorcised from heaven was there with the new beast, too, and it turned the scene into a pathetic imitation of the divine throne and Lamb of God, when the Lamb was worthy to take on authority. In this scene, the great red dragon came forward and transferred its spirit and principality to the blasphemous leopard beast, the Roman empire. Exorcised from heaven, the great red dragon now indwelt the empire and gave it power and great authority. Trying to imitate the Lamb, the seven-headed leopard beast created myths of resurrection, too. Caesar was killed, and yet the empire survived; Marc Antony stabbed himself and yet lived; some said Nero would return. Whatever the case, the lies and myths of empire persist, but they work to increase the empire’s stature. Their own speak of Caesar as “a god who wrought this peace.” They call him the “father and guardian of the human race.” They say he is “god on earth.” Blasphemies all.
The whole world wondered at this beast of empire. They said they’ve never seen anything like it. They called Augustus a “son of God” and think that the emperor always decided “truth, justice, and law.” Such people are Satanists; they worship the great red beast that gives power to the empire. And they believe the empire to be eternal and all powerful. They think the empire so strong that no one can war against it. They say that to resist Rome one wars “not only against the Romans but also against God.” The empire says of itself, “our enemies are afraid and crave permission to obey commands, with the bloodshed of victory and on battlefields piled high with the bodies of the dead in accordance with the majesty of a sovereign power.” Such lies. Such illusions.
But then, another beast arose, different from the seven-headed leopard. This new beast came up out of the earth, and it had horns like a lamb, another pathetic attempt to imitate Christ. Like those around the heavenly throne, this false church of empire also directs everyone to worship. But instead of the True Lamb, these imperial temples and priests cause the people to worship the seven-headed leopard beast, the Caesars and their empire. This false lamb deceives the whole world with its propaganda and lies about the divinity of the Caesars and the glory of empire. They do wonders, and like prophets they think they speak fire from heaven. The imperial priests make great images of Caesar and build great temples to him. They have become the mouthpiece for Caesar throughout the empire, and they seduce people to worship the emperor through the marketplace, through joyful festivals and sacrifices. The imperial priests permeate life in the cities, and to resist is to be cut off from buying and selling. Moses called for God’s law on the people’s hands and foreheads. And Rome now demands such dominion, too. The beast causes everyone to share in its life and embrace its commands and goals. You can’t eat or work without sharing in the idols, festivals, and images of the beast. This is why Smyrna and Philadelphia are poor. They have kept themselves pure like Daniel. But to be a friend of Caesar, to embrace his image, that of a mere man, is blasphemy. “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” Throw off your fornication with empire; reject the mark of the beast.
When you do that, then you will see the empire fall and Christ triumph. In the vision, I then saw the Lamb standing on mount Zion with His faithful, the innumerable fullness of true Israel. They do not bear the name of Caesar on their foreheads; they bear the name of God. And I heard music and singing from the faithful. They sang a new song, a song only the redeemed can sing.
Then an angel flew above, calling all those nations and tongues and people captive to the empire to fear God and turn from idols for the empire will be judged. Then another angel followed declaring that Babylon has fallen, that destroyer of Jerusalem, that great city Rome has been judged because she seduced the nations like empires of old. “But now we do not yet see all things put under him.” We do not see Rome fallen. This is to be the work of the churches. So a third angel flew, calling the churches to faithfulness, calling on them to overcome the strong beast.
And so an angel called out to the Son of Man on the clouds and directed him to Joel’s task: “Prepare for war! Wake up the mighty men, Let all the men of war draw near, Let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears; for I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; for the winepress is full, the vats overflow—for their wickedness is great.”
But Christ does not do this alone. He works through His body the church. He overcomes the beast and Babylon through you, His new Moses. Faithful Moses called down the plagues on Egypt, and that beast fell very quickly.
And I saw seven angels ready in the heavenly temple, waiting to hear the voice of Moses, waiting for the call of the faithful. Below them, the faithful stood, on the sea of glass in front of the throne of God. They pray the song of Moses, that song that Moses sang after God cast that beast into the sea and killed it. But now the saints sing it before the judgment, for they send the angels to work.
Because of this worship, the temple in heaven opened, and the seven angels flew out and were given vessels full of the wrath of God. The angels obeyed the church, and they poured out plagues on the unfaithful, fornicating with the monstrous beasts of empire. The first poured sores upon the unfaithful, as in Moses’ day, and the second poured his vessel on the sea, turning it to blood; the third did the same on fountains and rivers. The fourth vessel fell upon the sun, enflaming it to scorch those who blaspheme the Lamb and refuse to repent. The fifth poured out darkness on the seat of the beast, but like Pharaoh they still did not repent.
The sixth angel dried up the Euphrates to open the way for eastern armies.
And all these plagues began to disturb the demons dwelling on the earth, and I saw unclean spirits as frogs crawling out of the mouths of the great red dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and the false prophet, legions and legions of unclean spirits. And they fled the empire to go possess other nations for war.
Then the seventh angel poured out his vessel, and a voice from the temple declared, “It is done.” A great earthquake followed, and Rome, that latest Babylon, split into three parts, and other cities of the nations fell apart, and, with great hail, the angels stoned the cities to silence.
But why must Rome fall? Why must we call for the destruction of Rome in all her imperial splendor? You who love Rome want to see her shine more. She is the queen of cities, the city that shines “round about on all sides with silver and gold.” She is the “common trading place for all people and the common market for the produce of the earth.” She is refined; she is wealthy; she is alluring; she is beautiful.
One of the seven angels came and unveiled the truth -- the great city, Rome, is a prostitute, a whore, like Ninevah: “Because of the multitude of harlotries of the seductive harlot, the mistress of sorceries, who sells nations through her harlotries.” Rome is like Tyre, about whom the Lord promised they would sing “the song of the harlot: Take a harp, go about the city, you forgotten harlot. She will return to her hire, and commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth.” God’s people are supposed to be far from these harlots. No covenant with them. No shared sacrifices. No communion with darkness. And yet the unfaithful always long for a king like the other nations. We are called to a different city.
The kings of the earth, the Herods of the world, have been seduced to do her bidding. They have sold their souls for her selfish promises. They have enslaved their people for her love. They have given away their wealth for her smile. They give all their military strength for her dark deeds. She would be nothing without the Herods of the world. They have become drunk with her imperial lies.
Have you so easily forgotten her blasphemies? Do you just set them aside because of the wealth she promises? Even I could hardly believe this revelation. Rome overflows with beauty, and so the angel had to rebuke even me. He woke me from my admiration to show me what was written plainly on her forehead: Mother of Whores and Abomination, the Great Babylon, that beast that returns time and again and destroys Jerusalem. Yet her emperors and kings are destined to fail. They are a kingdom divided. The ten horns on which she sits will turn against the beast. These will hate Rome, strip her and burn her as Nero burned her. For the Holy Spirit will possess them to fulfill His will, if you are faithful.
So it is just and right that another angel came from heaven and repeated in a loud voice: “Babylon the great is fallen. It has become the habitation of demons, the house for every foul spirit.” She must be exorcised off the face of the earth.
I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people. Do not take part in her sins so you will not receive her plagues.” Remember how Jeremiah prophesied against old Babylon: “Move from the midst of Babylon, go out of the land of the Chaldeans;
and be like the rams before the flocks. Everyone who goes by Babylon shall be horrified, and hiss at all her plagues.”
But this, too, depended on the faithfulness of God’s people.
Rome has said, I am a queen and shall see no sadness. She glorified herself and lived deliciously. All her plagues can come in one day. They won’t be able to believe that she could fall so quickly. Can she fall as quickly as Pharaoh? You have not because you ask not.
Of course, all the business people and traders on the sea will weep and mourn over the whore, too. They adored the whore on the beast. Now they’ll lose out on so many sales. They will lose out on all their “necessities” of life: gold, silver, gems, pearls, fine linens, purple, silk, scarlet, ivory, brass, marble, perfumes, wine, oil, flour, wheat, beasts, sheep, horses, chariots, slaves, and the souls of men. How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
All her abominations stand out so clearly, and yet the business people can only say, “What city was ever like this great city?” And they will throw dust on their heads and weep over the destruction of Satan’s work. You cannot serve God and Mammon.
She lived by the sword and will die by the sword. By her murderous reincarnation, we have lost saints and prophets of old, even John the Baptist, but also so many dead outside the covenant.
But the faithful won’t wail and weep at her destruction. They have ears to hear and eyes to see. They are building a different kingdom. They seek a different woman. I heard their voice from heaven, saying, “Alleluia, salvation and glory and honor to the Lord our God. He has destroyed the whore who corrupted the whole earth. The Lord God is far more powerful than empire. Let us be glad and rejoice. Let us look to building the new kingdom, for the marriage of the Lamb is here.”
Unlike the city of empire, the wife of the Lamb dresses in fine linen, clean and white. And the angel with me said, “Those called to this wedding supper are truly blessed.” I was so overwhelmed I forgot myself again and fell at his feet and worshiped. He rebuked me because that was the way of empire.
But there was still work to do. The great city had fallen, but the beasts still need to be exorcised from earth.
So heaven opened once more, and I saw a Roman general’s white horse, again, but, this time, the rider on this one was named Faithful and True; His clothing was dipped in blood and His eyes aflame—the Word of God. The armies that followed Him rode upon horses like His and wore His white robes.
This emperor did not fight like Rome. His sword was not metal, but sharper, more effective. On Him, He had the name written, Emperor of emperors, Lord of lords. He has come to slay the arrogance of nations with the gospel.
An angel, standing in the sun, called out to the birds. He spoke as Ezekiel spoke to the birds and beasts, “Assemble yourselves and come; Gather together from all sides to My sacrificial meal, which I am sacrificing for you. You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, Drink the blood of the princes of the earth.”
I saw all those demons dominating the earth—the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies ready to fight against Christ. And Christ took hold of the seven-headed leopard beast and with it, the beast of the earth—the empire and the imperial cult, and he exorcised them from the earth. Like Pharaoh’s armies and the legion at Gadarene cast into the sea, He overcame these strong beasts, this time casting them into a lake of fire.
The rest He slew by the preaching and judgment of the Word of God.
Then following the lead of Christ and His church, I saw an angel carrying a key and chain come down from heaven, and he, too, exorcised the source of the empire’s power, the great red dragon, Satan, and he overcame Satan, binding the strong man and exorcising him into the pit so that he could not possess the nations as he had before. But Satan is not dead or bound forever. He is a tool of Christ that can be used over and over. As the church overcomes Satan and the beasts of empire through faithfulness, then Christ binds him for a long time to give rest to his people until they require more refining. Then Christ will loose Satan, again, to possess new kings and empires so that the church learns faithfulness, learns how to overcome the temptations of principalities and powers through the ages.
In this time of rest, I saw Christ’s faithful exercise great authority—Daniel’s “thrones were put in place”—and Christ delegated the rule of the earth to those who have been tried, tempted, and remained faithful, to all those who have not worshiped empire or served Mammon, to those who have resisted unto bloodshed. These are the resurrection, the living who extend Christ’s reign by the word of His power. But each time, Christ will bring judgment to His faithful before the final end. We will know Christ’s great white throne of judgment as Daniel saw it, not at the end, but in history. But the court shall be seated, and they shall take away the beast’s dominion, to consume and destroy it forever.
But finally, even these judgments of the dead will come to an end. When the church is refined and faithful, the faithful city will easily call down judgment from heaven to convert and devour the nations. And the church, the body of Christ, will finally exorcise Satan once and for all time, casting him and all empires and kings, “all rule and all authority and power” into the lake of fire.
Then, in the end, Christ Himself will call all the dead before His throne, and all the books will be opened. He will judge everyone according to his loyalty. Then the last enemy that will be cast into the lake of fire will be death and hell.
But what kind of church can do all this? What kind of people can rule with Christ and exorcise empires? Certainly not the compromised churches of Asia Minor. Only a church pure of idolatry can see through the temptations of empire, only a mature church can pull down principalities and powers.
And the vision showed me a faithful church. I saw the new world that Christ had made at His first coming. In this new heaven and new earth, I saw Christ’s church healthy and pure, the holy city on a hill, the New Jerusalem, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. She stands forth in such contrast to the whores of empire.
She is the temple of God, and God dwells within. The church is His people, and He is their God. Death has lost its sting. Tears are no longer the pattern of life. Former things have passed away. But this is not a picture of some perfect end in heaven. I saw outside her gates were still sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. This is not the end. But she is what churches should be.
And the seven angels showed me more of this city on a hill, the Lamb’s wife. She rules from heaven, though living on earth, like the twenty-four elders and the innumerable 144,000. Her light was like the glory of God’s throne, precious gems and clear as crystal, wealth far beyond Rome’s.
This church has high walls, no mixing with demons. She protects and disciplines her own, and her walls are founded on twenty-four elders—the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes of God’s people.
And this city is larger than any city on earth. Its measurements go beyond the earth. For it is the church through the ages, full of those called from every nation and tongue and people.
Its walls and streets were purified gold; they seemed like clear glass. She has been through much testing. And the foundations of her walls are full of all kinds of precious stones, a reminder of Eden, a wealth unimaginable. The gates were all made of pearl, and they are always open, welcoming every nation, fearless. It is the wealth of virtue and faithfulness. It is not the wealth of fraud, but the wealth of gifts. Empire steals its wealth, but to the New Jerusalem, the nations bring more and more of their wealth as a gift cheerfully given.
And they showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. The city was full of trees, full of fruit, and heaven had given the church that ancient Tree of Life so that the church might heal the nations. The curse no longer dominates the church; she has no condemnation in Christ, and her servants shall serve Christ and shall bear her mark.
You know that old Jerusalem has no temple now. It has been trampled, Rome against Rome. But we do not look for a new temple in Jerusalem. The church has no need for a special temple or its hierarchy of compromised rulers. You are the temple, and Christ is the temple. He provides all the light and order. And this church needs none of the old kinds of kings and powers, none of those heavenly principalities, the sun and moon. Christ is our king, and we have no need of others. We no longer long for a king or empire like pagan nations. We have no king but Christ.
And the cowardly, the unbelieving, collaborators-with-empire, the abominable, the adulterers, idolaters, and all liars shall be cast into the lake of fire with their leaders.
The Lord confirms His words as true, and He gave this vision to show the churches how to overcome the beasts and dragons of empire. Jesus comes quickly, though. And He will bless those who obey how the vision shows us to live. Make this vision become the truth. Bring down the empire by your worship and prayer. Bring down Babylon in an hour, or she will be a testimony against you.
This is a hard calling. After hearing this, I again bowed before the angel, and he rebuked me. We have much to learn before we are a city on a hill. This vision is to be open and understood. Its lesson is simple and ancient. It is the lesson of Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel. Come out from the idolatry of empire. Do not lust to have a king like other nations. This vision lies at the heart of the kingdom. Seek it first. On earth as it is in heaven.
The bride says, “Come.” The Holy Spirit says, “Come and drink.” The Lord Jesus Christ comes to test you. Be faithful. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ overwhelm all your churches. Amen.
Brief Comment on this Reading:
The above reading doesn’t aim to do original work. Instead, it tries to pull together in a relatively simple and popular form the fascinating and growing consensus on the book of Revelation as found in the books listed below, among others. Certainly, these authors will disagree among themselves on some issues, but their agreements are rather impressive, even if you disagree with the consensus take as a whole. I’ve emphasized the theme of exorcism and Moses more than most of these writers, but several of the authors prompted me down this path.
Barr, David, Tales of the End: A Narrative Commentary on the Book of Revelation.
Bauckham, Richard, The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse and Empire.
Bauckham, Richard, The Climax of Prophecy.
Collins, Adela Yarbro, Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse.
Friesen, Steven, Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John.
Horsley, Richard, Jesus and Empire.
Howard-Brook, Wes, Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now.
Koester, Craig, Revelation and the End of All Things.
Maier, Harry, Apocalypse Recalled: The Book of Revelation After Christendom.
Peterson, Eugene, Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination.
Richard, Pablo, Apocalypse: A People’s Commentary on the Book of Revelation.
Schussler Fiorenza, Elisabeth, Revelation: Vision of a Just World.
Thompson, Leonard, Revelation.
Thompson, Leonard, The Theology of the Book of Revelation.
Wengst, Klaus, Pax Romana and the Peace of Jesus.