Theology of suffering and victory from the book of Revelation

This article was written by my friend Scott Tiede. Scott attended Purdue University where he studied mechanical engineering. He worked as an engineer for about 10 years while serving and growing at Bethel Bible Church in Winomac, Indiana. He was called into a staff position at Bethel Bible Church in 2005, and he attended seminary at Faith Bible Seminary in Lafeyette, Indiana, earning his Masters of Divinity in 2010. Pastor Scott joined the staff at Delaware Bible Church in the summer of 2012. Pastor Scott married his wife, Tracy, in 1995 and has four children: Caleb, Keziah, Jacobi, and Elizabeth.

When it comes to the book of Revelation, there are various themes woven throughout the letter.  Of the many themes, two that are very apparent are suffering and victory.  The thesis of suffering and victory is nowhere better represented than by Christ Himself, who suffered death on the cross and now is triumphant (5:5-6).  These themes of suffering and victory present themselves in various ways throughout the book.

Suffering is used to encourage sanctification

This idea is on full display in the letter to the churches in chapters 2 and 3.  Each of the seven churches were contending with some type of trial (2:4, 10, 14-15, 20; 3:1, 10, 15).  Jesus Himself reveals that He will pour out some brand of suffering on each of the churches with the goal of repentance and restoration.  God is not one who does not fulfill His promises, but is continuously active in bringing the necessary countermeasure to sin in the lives of the faithful that will produce righteousness.  In the case of the seven churches of Revelation 2-3, those countermeasures include suffering (2:5, 16, 21-25; 3:2-3, 11, 16-18).  Bennetch states it this way, “Varied as were the trials and experiences that the saints passed through, he[1] was always in their midst, proceeding to fulfill his aim of perfecting the good work begun in each soul.”[2]  Revelation 3:19 makes it clear that the Lord rebukes and disciplines those He loves.  Suffering is used in Revelation to produce sanctification.

God pours out suffering in such a way as to demonstrate His mercy

Clearly the Creator of the universe has the power to wipe His creation away instantaneously.  In the book of Revelation, however, this is not the case.  Instead, there are three sets of plagues rolled out (seal, trumpet, and bowl), and each set of plagues ratchets up the amount of the severity of the suffering while also shortening the time span between judgments.  What is the reason for this?  Could it be that God is a merciful God and that these judgments are rolled out in such a way as to bring the greatest possible number of souls to Himself?  Thielman states it this way, “Prior to the end of all things, the steadily increasing level of suffering does not lie outside God’s control – it is both a punishment on the wicked for their evil, particularly for their persecution of God’s people, and a merciful pedagogical effort designed to extend to them every possible opportunity to repent prior to the final outpouring of God’s wrath on them.”[3]  In fact, the Greek word for repent (μετανοέω) is used 12 times in the book of Revelation, which constitutes over one-third of the total uses in the entire New Testament (34).  Indeed some of the wicked will repent during this time of suffering and will give glory to God (11:13).  The way that God releases His judgment upon the earth puts His great mercy on display.

God pours out suffering in such a way as to demonstrate His justice

If God’s mercy is on one end of the spectrum, then on the other end of the spectrum is God’s Justice.  After mercifully pouring out judgment and suffering on the earth so that all who might come to Him would repent, God’s justice is on full display in the vision of the glorious Rider on the white horse of 19:11-18 who comes to stand against the Beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies (19:19).  This mysterious Rider is none other than Christ Himself (19:11, 13 [cf. John 1:1, 14], 16).  As He comes, the evil forces who gather to make war against Him (19:19) instead find themselves captured or killed before any fighting can begin (19:20-21).  The fact that Christ can defeat His enemies without lifting a finger in battle shows His great power.  God’s justice is powerfully revealed in the fall of Babylon (chapter 18), the destruction of those who refuse to repent (20:15), the destruction of the Beast and the False Prophet (19:20), the destruction of death and Hades (20:14), and in the final destruction of Satan himself (20:10).  Strauss writes regarding the appearance of the Rider on the white horse, “These verses (19:11-21) introduce that great event anticipated for centuries and about which the Old Testament prophets wrote.  It is the golden age on earth when all creation shall be subject to its Creator and Redeemer.  But before He reigns He must subdue every enemy and opposing force.”[4]  The suffering in the book of Revelation points to God’s justice.

Suffering produces a division among people

The awful judgments poured out in the book of Revelation separate people into two different groups; those who align themselves with evil, and those who respond to God in faith.  This theme is present from the beginning when John writes, Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near (1:3).  Lenski states, “Revelation is a book of promise and of judgment.  The promise is intended for those who are sealed; the judgment is intended for Satan and for all who are allied with him.”[5]  The price of being on God’s side is not cheap.  Some of those allied with God had suffered death because they had maintained their testimonies (6:9).  On the other hand, those on the side of evil will experience enormous fear to the point of wishing that they could be hidden from the face of Christ (6:16).  The wicked will also experience great pain (9:4-5) to the point that they will seek death, but not find it (9:6).  Some of the wicked will die during the judgments (9:15).  Those on God’s side are to be sealed on their foreheads (7:3), while those who associate with evil receive the mark of the Beast (13:16-17).  Also, there is a contrast to the activity of each group.  While the godly are singing praises to Him (7:10, for example) and serving Him (7:15), the wicked refuse to stop worshiping idols (9:20), refuse to repent of their evil deeds (9:21), are gloating over the death of the witnesses of God (11:10), and are aligning themselves to make war against Him (19:19).  The wicked are burdened with sin, but the righteous have had their sins washed away by the blood of the Lamb (7:14).  Even in the intensity of the bowl judgments, the wicked curse the name of God and refuse to repent (16:9, 11, 21).  The end of the wicked is eternal torment (20:14), but the end of God’s people is an existence where there is no hunger, thirst, tears, scorching heat (7:16-17), or sin curse (22:3); instead there is eternal life (22:14).

Another key theological thread running through the book is that of victory.  In the end, God will be victorious over Satan and his minions.  This is apparent in at least three ways in the Revelation.

Victory is on display through Christ’s cross work

John speaks in Revelation about the fact that Jesus has achieved victory already through His death on the cross and resurrection.  John refers to Christ as the “firstborn from the dead” as well as “the One who has freed us from our sins by His blood” (1:5).  Revelation 1:18 refers to Christ as the one who has had victory over death forever.  When John is confronted by the fact that there is no one worthy to open the seals of the scroll (5:4), one of the elders tells him not to weep because Jesus is able to open the scroll (5:5).  Why is He able to do this?  The elder says that Christ can do this because he has overcome (5:5).  Before any of the judgments are manifested, Christ has already achieved the victory by His death on the cross and resurrection.  Revelation 7:14 makes it clear that people are being saved through Christ’s cross work when it says, “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  It is not the judgments being doled out in the end that will provide salvation for the faithful, but only the work Christ did on the cross.  Revelation 19:11-16 presents a scene wherein Christ makes a magnificent entrance into the world as a great and victorious Warrior King.  Standing in contrast to His entrance into Jerusalem on the back of a lowly donkey to eventually be crucified is the fact that Christ now sits upon a white steed dressed in splendor, and crowned with many crowns.[6]

Victory is on display in the Church

Endurance and perseverance are the keys to victory in the book of Revelations.  As Christ suffered horribly and died, but persevered, so believers are to remain strong in the face of suffering.  Beale states it this way, “The Lamb’s followers are to recapitulate the model of his ironic victory in their own lives; by means of enduring through the tribulation they reign in the invisible kingdom of the Messiah (see 1:6, 9).”[7]  In the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3, promises are made to each church if that church will overcome (Gk. νικάω).  These promises include being able to eat from the tree of life (2:7), authority over the nations (2:26), and the right to sit with Christ on His throne (3:21).  The key to these and the other promises mentioned in Revelation 2-3 is perseverance.  Flora states it this way, “Revelation says that one overcomes by endurance and by faithfulness — not just a quick fix saying, “Lord, I believe,” but the faith which walks that out in faithfulness every day of one’s life.”[8]  In the end, the faithful will, by the power of the Holy Spirit, overcome and will inhabit the New Jerusalem (21:24-27).

Victory is already complete, but will be fully realized when Satan is defeated

As mentioned above, Christ has already achieved the victory through His death on the cross and resurrection.  However, the effects of sin and Satan on the world remain until Satan is ultimately defeated for good.  In effect, the world is still under the curse of sin.  However, John reveals that after Satan, death, and Hades are thrown into the Lake of Fire (20:10, 14) the sin curse will be lifted (22:3).  This will open the door for Christ to renew all things, and a new heaven and a new earth will be the result (21:1).  John describes this as a magnificent place that is constructed and decorated with what appears to be precious metals and stones (21:11, 18-21), a place where no outside illumination is necessary because light is sufficiently provided by the glory of God (21:23).  John reveals that this future estate will be the fully-realized victory of God over Satan and evil.

To conclude this section on suffering and victory, John Walvoord summarizes well the anticipation of man since the fall, and the joyous eternal state that is described in the end of Revelation:

With the close of the prophetic narrative, the Biblical revelation of Jesus Christ also comes to its conclusion. In the beginning of eternity, all that was anticipated in the first and second comings of Christ is fulfilled, and Christ is honored as King of kings and Lord of lords. The eternity which stretches beyond the horizon of Scriptural revelation is one of unspeakable bliss for the saints and unending joy in the presence of God. In the center of the service and worship of the saints will be Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” To this eternal destiny every believing heart turns in anticipation and joyous expectation.[9]

[1]He refers here to Christ.

[2]John H. Bennetch, “The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ for the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse,” Bibliotheca Sacra 96 (July 1939): 364.

[3]Frank Thielman, Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 626.

[4] Lehman Strauss, The Book of the Revelation (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1964), 322.

[5]R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), 21.

[6]David J. MacLeod, “The First “Last Things”: The Second Coming of Christ (Rev 19:11-16),” Bibliotheca Sacra 156 (April 1999): 209.

[7] G.K. Beale, “Revelation (Book)” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. by T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D.A. Carson, and Graeme Goldsworthy (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000), 356.

[8]Jerry Flora, “New Testament Perspectives on Evil,” Ashland Theological Journal 24 (1992): 20.

[9]John F. Walvoord, “The Future Work of Christ Part IV: The Millennial Kingdom and the Eternal State,” Bibliotheca Sacra 123 (October 1966):299-300.

Theology of the glory of God from the book of Revelation

Many have tried to establish a theme for the Book of Revelation, but the following summary by George G. Weeber captures its theme and focus,

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, as the unveiling of our exalted, glorified, and sovereign Lord over His church and the world as the Revealer and Executor of the secret decrees of God in order to consummate His victory over the world of evil at His Second Coming and establish the royal kingdom of God.[1]

The glory of God is a theme that permeates the Book of Revelation. From chapter 1 through 22 there is a golden vein that describes and ascribes glory to God. This portion of the paper will describe the theme of God’s glory in Revelation as it relates to his holiness and incomparability.

The Glory of God Within the Literary Structure

Worship scenes play an important role in unifying the book because they are not just interludes, but part of the context. The hymn sections of Revelation usually provide commentary within the narrative visions in which they are embedded. The primary reason that the author introduced throne scenes was to serve as literary contexts for commentary on the hymns. This makes them important for the structural analysis of Revelation.[2]

Revelation is a hymnal of worship describing God’s glory as seen in His holiness and incomparability. The setting of the book of Revelation is within the throne room of God and the hymns are sung in this setting. The worship in Revelation is characterized by thanksgiving (11:17), praise (19:5), prayer (5:8), and song. Worship for God is expressed in the context of desolation and divine judgment.

The Book of Revelation has, like many letters, a prologue (1:1-8), body (1:9-22:5), and epilogue (22:6-21).[3] Within all three elements there is an overwhelmingly large emphasis given to the praise and glory of God. The author of Revelation teaches his readers a lot about how to worship God now in light of how we will worship Him in the future. Among the 22 chapters of Revelation there are 11 distinct worship episodes, which make up a sizable chuck of the book’s text.[4] The verb proskymeo (to worship) is used 24 times in Revelation compared to 59 times in all of Scripture.[5] One could say worship is what ties Revelation together.

The Glory of God is pictured within His divine characteristics

The Revelation of Jesus Christ is full of imagery and expresses John’s reverence for God. Within Revelation God is presented in all His majesty and glory. It is His glory that lights the heavens (21:23). We see God as holy, omnipotent, omniscient and eternal. There is an emphasis on His righteousness and judgment upon sin, but little about His love and mercy.[6] The character of God within Revelation is fitting to the role He plays as the Judge of mankind.

God is holy.  Those that are in the presence of God near His throne never cease to worship God day and night. They cry out to God, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” (Ἅγιος ἅγιος ἅγιος, κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ: 4:8; cf.4:9, 11; 19:2) There is no one that is like or will ever be like our God. He is incomparable. He alone is worthy of worship because He is holy.

God is Sovereign over all things, including the judgment of man and His dealing with evil.[7] God protects His people and punishes rebellion. The picture in Revelation is of God ruling history and the fact that He will bring about history’s consummation in Christ.[8] The overwhelming picture of God is of a mighty potentate seated on His throne (4:3), a picture that is determined by the visionary nature of the book and by the need to stress the sovereignty of God over the forces of evil.[9]

God sits on His throne (τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπὶ τῷ θρόνῳ: 4:9; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:15; 21:5).[10] He rules and reigns over His people and their dominion with His supreme plan. He reigns on His throne as Judge and King.[11] It is God, not the evil one, who sits on the throne, and it is God who judges His enemies and blesses those who faithfully follow the Lamb of God.[12] The Book of Revelation is a letter written to encourage followers of Christ to focus their faith on the triumph of a sovereign God’s reign, which has now been disclosed through the exaltation and reign of Christ.

God is sovereign over all creation. The twenty-four elders proclaim God as the Creator of all things (4:11). He creates and He sustains (cf. 10:6; 14:7). The culmination of absolute sovereignty is seen in God’s creation of the new heavens and earth (21:1-22:5). At that time, He destroys the old earth tainted by sin and combines earth and heaven “making all things new” (21:5). The Book of Revelation conveys a sense of sovereignty that no other New Testament book approaches.[13]

God is Eternal as related to His Sovereignty. God is described as One who will be forever and ever. He is “the One who is and who was and who is to come” (ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος: 1:4, 8; 4:8-10; 11:17; 16:5). God is in control of the present in the same way He was in control of the past and will be in control of the future.[14] With this promise of His eternal control is the promise of His coming and judgment. God does not have a beginning or end, for He is described as “the First and Last” (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος: 1:17; 22:13). He not only controls the past and the future, but everything in between, for He is “the Alpha and Omega” (Ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ Ἄλφα καὶ τὸ Ὦ: 1:8, 17;21:6, 13).

God is Omnipotent as related to His Sovereignty. God is a mighty God.[15] He is the divine warrior and has all the power to do His will. Whatever evil is done in His sight by the evil powers of this world, God has more power still. God is stronger than the kings of earth. He will overcome and be the victor over evil. He will judge in His power and glory (18:8). God is “Almighty” (ὁ παντοκράτωρ: 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7; 19:6; 21:22), and all heaven ascribes power and might to Him (7:12; 12:10).

The Glory of God Seen Within His Son Jesus Christ

From the beginning of the text John greet his readers “from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (1:5) The first vision of John in Revelation is Jesus in all His glory (1:12-20).

Jesus is referred to by John with many distinct divine names: the “I AM” (1:8, 17; 2:23; 21:6; 22:13, 16), Son of God (2:18), ruler of God’s creation (3:14), Word of God (19:13; cf. John 1:1-14 & 1 John 1:1-4), and the Lamb of God (13:11; cf. John 1:29, 36; 21:15) . These characteristics and more are vivid throughout the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

The Lamb of God (ἀρνίον) is a constant symbol for Christ in Revelation as the victor over the forces of evil and the Church as the body of Christ, which shares this victory with Him (17:14).[16] He has opened up the way for His people to have a glorious destiny. He is the Lamb worshiped by all heaven (5:6) and worthy to open the seven seals (6:1, 3ff). The greatness and glory of the Lamb is indicated in the way He is joined with God (cf. 7:9; 14:4; 22:1-3).[17] He is equated with God. Jesus is the supreme One and His glory makes His saving work possible.

There is a hint to the humanity of Christ as He is referenced to being from the tribe of Judah and the house of David. Greater emphasis, however, is placed on His deity. Revelation leaves us no doubt that Jesus Christ is the God of all. He is triumphant over death and regarded as the eternal One of infinite power and majesty who is worthy of all honor and adoration.[18] He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, slays the wicked, delivers the righteous, and reigns over the earth. John cannot help but fall before Him and worship. At the conclusion of two visions, he falls at the feet of the angel to worship, and the angel responds, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” (19:10; 22:9)[19]

The Book of Revelation is a cataclysmic reminder that through Christ life is stronger than death and eventually the kingdom of this world will be the kingdom of our Lord and His Messiah (1:6; 5:10).[20] He will reign forever and ever (11:15). There is no one like Jesus Christ. Jesus is supreme.

In conclusion, the Book of Revelation has a heavy emphasis on the glory of God. God’s glory is seen in the literary structure of the book, within His characteristics, and in the person and work of Jesus Christ. If one wants to grow in his or her understanding of God’s glory, the Revelation of Jesus Christ is a great place to start. God is enthroned in heaven and is working out His purposes on earth. Revelation calls us to respond with awe, godly fear, praise, faith, and obedience.[21] One day we will ourselves cry to the Lord, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

[1]George G. Weeber, The Consummation of History: A Study of the Book of Revelation, (s.l: s.n., 1978,) 27.

[2] David E. Aune, Word Biblical Commentary: Volume 22. (Word Books: Dallas, TX. 1997), xcviii.

[3]Dennis A. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary of Revelation, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing Co., 2001), 26-28.

[4]1:12-20; 4:1-5:14; 7:9-17; 8:3-5; 11:16-19; 12:10-12; 14:1-7; 15:2-8; 16:5-7; 19:1-10; 20:4-6; 21:1-22:5

[5]Leon Morris, New Testament Theology, (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1986), 296.

[6]John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), 10.

[7]Note there is a great conflict between good and evil (Ch.12-19; and reiterated in 20:1-10).

[8]Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Co, 2000), 40.

[9] I. Howard Marshall, New Testament Theology, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2004), 573.

[10] There are also variations of this phrase cf. 4:2, 3; 7:10; 19:4; 20:11.

[11] His sovereignty is seen in His judgment through the 7 Seals, 7 Trumpets and 7 Bowls.

[12] Robert W. Wall, Revelation: New International Biblical Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 39.

[13]D.A. Carson & Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 721.

[14] Grant Osborne. Baker Evangelical Commentary of The New Testament: Revelation, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 32.

[15] The sovereign might of God is seen in the incredible use of εδοθη, a divine passive that points to Gods control of the events (6:2, 4, 8, 11; 7:2; 8:2, 3; 9:1; 3, 5; 11:1, 2; 12:14; 13:5, 7, 14; 13:5, 7, 14, 15; 16:8). Osborne, 32.

[16]Weeber, 27.

[17]Morris, 293.

[18]Walvoord, 27.

[19] J. Ramsey Michaels in His commentary suggests that the parallels in the two visions are intended to form a contrasting pair, each centering on a city personified as a woman—Babylon and Jerusalem, prostitute and bride. Interpreting the Book of Revelation: Guides to New Testament Exegesis, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992), 65-66.

[20]Stephen F. Smalley, The Revelation to John (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2005), 19.

[21]Poythress, 40.