What Does Revelation Say About the End Times?

The theological term for the end times is eschatology, the study of last things. This includes not only the return of Christ and the kingdom, but also “personal eschatology,” what happens to individuals after death, what judgments await the believer and the unbeliever. I think that the study of the “end times” has mutated into “what is going to happen to those people left behind after the Rapture?” While I do believe in a Rapture / Tribulation / Second Coming scheme, I think it is more helpful to see the overall themes of Revelation rather that try to get ever detail of the Tribulation lined up on a chart.

I want to let Revelation speak for itself as much as possible, and to do that the book must be read in the context of the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Jewish expectations. John is remarkably consistent with the Judaism of his day, with the exception of identifying Jesus as the Messiah.

The most general teaching of Revelation concerning personal eschatology is that the righteous are to be rewarded and the unrighteous are to be condemned. This is consistent with the Hebrew Bible. When the messianic age begins, there is a judgment of the nations and of Israel. Not everyone participates in the messianic age, as a text like Isaiah 25:6-9 makes clear. While many will gather on Zion to participate in the inaugural banquet at the beginning of the age, Israel’s prototypical enemy Moab will be trampled in the mud (25:10-12). Jesus also described the beginning of the new age as a harvest, where the wheat will be gathered into the barn (where it belongs) and the weeds gathered and thrown on a fire (where they belong). This theme of eschatological separation is common in Jesus’ parables (Matt 13:24-30, for example).

Prior to the beginning of the eschatological age, the Hebrew Bible expects a time of persecution of the people of God. In a book like Daniel, this period of persecution will separate the true Israel from the false. The capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians initiated a long sequence of conflict with pagan rulers which reached a climax during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. The struggles of the Maccabean period become a paradigm for future persecutions.

In Revelation, there is a persecution of those who refuse to worship the beast or take his mark. Revelation 13:7 describes this as a “war on the saints” which will result in the death of many who are followers of Christ (13:10, 20:4). This persecution is a time when a choice must be made to worship the beast (taking his mark) or to worship the Lamb. There is no middle ground, the time of great persecution is a sifting of the true followers from the false.

In Revelation 20, there is a judgment at the beginning of the Kingdom of God, or the eschatological age. John’s vision turns to a scene of thrones, thrones for those who were martyred during the tribulation, and thrones for those that endured until the end. In this vision, it is the souls of those who were faithful during the tribulation that sit upon thrones. The souls that John is seeing in these verses are those that were under the altar in 6:9 crying out to God asking to be revenged for their death at the hands of the beast and his kingdom.

With respect to the future, then, Revelation promises that God will judge justly.  Those who persecute will be judged and separated from the Kingdom of God, while those who were persecuted will be vindicated and enter into that Kingdom.

12 thoughts on “What Does Revelation Say About the End Times?

  1. Agreement with the thing mentioning that it seems like everyone today is more concerned with trying to figure out and plan out what will happen in the future of Revelation, but what we really need to do is look at the book in its time. There are many things in this modern age that we don’t look at in the proper context and this book is not the only one. If we are going to try to figure out the big picture we need to look at the whole picture, not just the part that we want to see, and if we do that things will get a lot clearer than we think.

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  2. Like Curtis said that there are many things that we do look at in a different context. I think that mostly this year people talk about the end of the world times because its 2012. There are movies and shows that are previewing peoples opinions on the end of the world. If we focus really wants in the Bible then we could have a more clear understanding. If we just focus more on the present time.

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  3. There are, of course, lots of things in the book of Revelation hard to understand. It is therefore ironic that we spend most of our time discussing those and hardly any on one of the clearest and easiest-to-understand parts of the book: the parts when John says that what he was describing was going to happen soon. So adamant are his declarations on this point in the opening and closing chapters, we should be required to admit that if we don’t think his prophecies were fulfilled in the first century then we really don’t believe them at all.

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    • Good point, Mike. I think we discuss the “hard to understand parts” simply because that is what scholarship does, we major on the minor points, fretting over the obscure portions because we think people have exhausted the obvious parts by now. I am not sure that is a bad thing, but I think it was helpful for me to take the time to think about these major theological points everyone can agree on.

      I will say that the obscure part sell more books than the clear. Perhaps I am being cynical, but a book on the Christology will not sell nearly as well as a book claiming to name the antichrist and prove that the mark of the beast is fluoride in the water. Paranoid conspiracy junk is always a big seller.

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  4. There’s theologians that study the bible and what to make an epic discovery. I don’t remember this because I was far too young to remember (3 years old) but they whole idea that the world was coming to an end in the year 2000. There are many theories people thought the world was going to end. Those theories ended up being in movies and showing us how they thought the world was going to end. To many people focus on the future that they don’t enjoy the present time. Just like Proverbs 27:1 says that we don’t know what a day may bring us. When we look at the book of Revelations, we need to read it as what was present at the time and look at the whole picture.

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  5. My overall understanding of the book of Revelation is very little. It’s a book with a lot of questions about literal versus figurative. However, there is one thing that is certain, and it is described above. That is, there will persecution for those that follow Christ, i.e. those who won’t worship the beast. However, those are the very people that will be allowed to spend an eternity with Christ in heaven. Those that suffered through the persecution will be with God in the end. There will be a separation between those who belong to him and those who don’t. This is metaphorically described in the comparison of the wheat and the weeds. The book of Revelation is highly confusing, at least for me. However, I think that there can be comfort found in the fact that we know, regardless of persecution, those who put their faith in God, even during persecution, are the ones who will stand eternal in the end.

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  6. I have never really looked into Revelation; I feel that it is one of those books that people do not really talk about. I can not remember the last time I was in church and the pastor said ‘turn to Revelation’. I agree that when most people think about the book of Revelation they think about the return of Christ as well as what goes on with all of the nonbelievers left on earth. The beginning of the end times for the believer will be a hard and difficult time, full of persecution. But after the rapture, it will be a horrible time for the nonbeliever, full of pain and suffering, and then for eternity. I think that when looking into the end times the most important thing that we can get out of it is that just will be served to those who persecuted Christs’ believers. As well as, God has already won, we have nothing to fear any longer; no matter what may happen to us. If we believe and have faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we get to worship Him for all eternity.

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  7. You say that “The most general teaching of Revelation concerning personal eschatology is that the righteous are to be rewarded and the unrighteous are to be condemned.”

    Do you think it is also fair to summarize the book as, “Jesus wins”? Just curious of your thoughts. Maybe this is too simple from me.

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    • That is very simple, yes, but it is not wrong. I will admit to having used that phrase quite a few times over the years!

      As with any two-word summary of a biblical book, what “Jesus wins” means can balloon to a 300 page book.

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