The Book of Revelation

Program # 4 

by: Ronald L. Dart

God doesn't speak to men very often. So when He does, it pays to listen. This is one of those occasions.

John was a prisoner on the island of Patmos. He was in jail, I suppose, he was a political prisoner because of the faith of Jesus Christ for the witness and the testimony he'd given. He was transported in vision, and he heard in vision a great voice behind him and he turned around and saw someone who was so awesome in his appearance, that John fell on the ground like a dead man, as a result of seeing him, and this one that he saw, reached down and picked him up.

The Keys to Understanding The Book of Revelation

And he said to John in Verse 17 of Revelation 1, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, {18} I am He that lives and was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of hell and death."

Now if you know someone with a set of keys, the one who has the keys to hell, that is, the grave and death, is the one to know, because he can let you out.

He continued to say, {19} "Write the things which you have seen, and the things that are, and the things which shall be hereafter."

All this is in the mysterious book of Revelation, the first chapter, verses 17 through 19. In this last statement in verse 19 is one of the keys to understanding the book of Revelation.

He says there are three things to consider when you're interpreting the Bible, when you're interpreting prophecy, in particular, and this prophecy specifically.

One, the things which John had seen.

Two, the things which are.

Three, the things that would be thereafter.

Now, in fact, this is the pattern of Biblical prophecy, in general, and of Revelation, in particular.

First, the things seen, are the visual and auditory imagery of a prophet. He sees things in vision. He hears voices in vision. He sees beasts and creatures and he sees, well let's face it, what he's having is a royal nightmare. The problem is that all of the things that he sees and hears are symbolic and one of our tasks is to understand that symbolism.

Second, the things that are, are the circumstances on the ground at the time, the history of the prophecy. In other words, there are things going on. There are people in power. There are churches in place. There are people living their lives, and the way they are living those lives and the things that are happening, the political circumstances of the time, all go together to form a sort of status quo, a circumstance, that leads to the prophecy and the prophecy itself grows out of it. In fact, most prophecy grows out of a specific historical context, something is going on, a situation exists. Circumstances are there, a social structure is in place and has decayed or rotted to the place that a prophet comes on the scene and says, "God sees what you're doing, He doesn't like it and some very serious things are going to happen unless you repent!"

So prophecy sprouts right out of the ground of history, and so the one who spoke to John said, "Write the things which are!"

And for you and I, it's important that we understand that, if were going to go anywhere beyond that, in understanding what prophecy is all about.

Third, He said, "Write the things hereafter." These are both the short and long-term fulfillments of the prophecy, and of course, that's what you and I really want to know about. We want to know what's going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, or 3 1/2 years from now or whenever it's going to be coming down.

Here Is Where We Begin

So if you want to understand the book of Revelation, here is where we begin.

First, we look for the meaning behind the imagery. Now in some cases, Christ just simply tells us the meaning and right off the bat in this first chapter He says this, having told us that there were seven stars in Jesus' right hand and He was standing in the middle of seven golden candlesticks, Christ tells John, "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven candlesticks which you saw are the seven churches" (Revelation 1:20).

There, isn't that simple. We have that just nailed down real good. Okay, but it doesn't necessarily stay that simple, because He just lets us know by this, that this kind of symbolism lies ahead for us. So when you see candlesticks, when you see beasts, when you see angels, when you see all these things in vision, understand they may well represent something else.

Historical Model

Having looked at the imagery and tried to understand it and apply some meanings to them, we start looking for the historical model. Now, in this case, there were seven churches in Asia to whom these letters were written and they are specifically named, they were real churches with real people whose names are included and they faced real threats and real heresies and real people doing bad things in the church and to the church.

Now it's good for us then to understand that, and to look at the historical model, from the pages of the Bible itself , as far as we can. We can look at secular history, we can read what early church historians had to say about what was going on at the time and we can understand some of it.

Biblical History

The critical items, the things, that you and I are going to try to use as the basis for understanding is right there in the pages of biblical history, so you don't have to rely necessarily on somewhere else.

Having done this. We then look for the things that are still to come. We realize that these seven churches on the ground in Asia were a type, or a model, of something else that is singularly of interest to us.

Seven Church Eras

Now of what are they a model? There have been a lot of theories that commentators and others of advanced down through time. For one thing, there is a theory that says, that these seven churches are an image or a type of seven successive church eras that existed down through time, that these church eras may have overlapped each other a little bit, but by and large, when the Ephesian era was over, it was followed by the next one, and followed by the next one, and followed by another one down through time.

These Seven Churches Are A Model of the Entire Church

Then there are those who believe that these seven churches are a model of the entire church at any given point in time. In other words, a thousand years ago or 1500 years ago or 500 years ago, if you had been able to look at the church, the whole church, and nothing but the church, you would've found that it broke out into these kind of groups that existed across the scale at any point in time.

Then there are those who believe that these seven churches, and I pause to say that the number seven, in the Bible is a number for 'all.' Basically when you see it, it means everything, all, total, complete, and so the reason for the choice of seven churches is undoubtedly because they do represent the whole of the church. All of them. All Christians who are in Christ.

So this says that these seven churches are a model of the whole church at the end time. These are the different ways in which people look at, analyze, and study these churches for this, in order to find the things that are to come, relative to the church.

But when you look at the book of Revelation in its whole, when you look at the introduction, when you look at the purpose of the book, it becomes very clear, frankly, that what this is all about was, that at the end time, there would be churches that would follow in a way the model of these seven churches that existed in the first century.

He That Has An Ear

Now you also have to realize that we have in these, a repeated warning to all of the churches. Not just to any one of them, but this is said to all of them.

He says, "He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

Now if you are listening to me right now, I would say the odds are, you've got an ear, chances are you have one on both sides of your head, and therefore I don't think either you or I are exempt from this, so "He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

To Him That Overcomes

Then there is the promise that is repeated with a variation again, and again, to each of these churches.

"To him that overcomes, I will give."

These promises are not to the losers. These promises are to the winners, because in fact, those who are the ones who overcome, are overcoming something, they are running into adversity, into an adversary, they are working their way through a struggle in this world and they don't give in. They don't give up. They don't lose, they win, they overcome.

So we have to understand then, that there is laid before each of us, an expectation, that there is a struggle and an expectation that we will win. God does not expect us to lose. He expects us to win. Otherwise, why would He tell us that we need to overcome. Why would you say, "To him that over cometh, will I give," if He did not expect us to win.

The Church at Smyrna

So with all this in mind, we come to the second letter of these letters, from Christ, to the seven churches of Asia.

The letter to the church at Smyrna. Now Smyrna was not that far down the road from Ephesus, and Ephesus was the first of the letters. In fact, there is every reason to believe that someone was sent off with this book, when John and finish writing it, and he went from Ephesus, to Smyrna and read this letter in both of these churches.

In verse eight of Revelation 2, it says this, "Unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write, "These things saith the first and the last, which was dead and is alive.""

Now who is writing this letter? Well, the one who is the first and the last, the one who was dead, and the one who is now alive. There can be only one, for only one has gone through that death and resurrection, only one is the first and the last. This is the living Christ.

"I know your works," He said in verse 9, "and tribulation, and poverty, but you are rich."

Now, this is odd in a way, because Smyrna was a wealthy town. It was a university city in fact, with plenty of money. The economy was strong and yet here is a whole congregation of people, who do not seem to represent the entire spectrum of economics in Smyrna, because if it did, by and large, there would probably be some poor people there, but the whole group of them, as an average, would be better off than average.

So here is Smyrna, a wealthy city, and the church in Smyrna as a whole, is said to be in poverty. Oh, it's a physical poverty, because when He says, "but you are rich," He means in a spiritual sense, obviously.

Why you do you suppose these people were in such poverty in the middle of such wealth? What it suggests is, that there was in that time, a serious economic disadvantage, in being a Christian. In fact, in parts of the empire that was really quite true, that if you were not a Roman citizen or if you were a member of one of these sects, if you were not willing, for example, to burn incense to the Emperor and confess him as a 'god', you couldn't function economically in some of these cities. You were at a terrible disadvantage and there is a slight overtone here, or a hint of what is to come, in the 'mark of the beast,' in the sense that those who will not participate in the official religion, the state religion as it were, will find themselves at a terrible economic disadvantage.

Well isn't that what the 'mark of the beast' is all about? That those who do not have the 'mark of the beast,' either in their forehead or in their right hand will not be able to buy or sell. Well, there was a hint of this in Smyrna.

The Synagogue of Satan

"I know," Jesus continues in Revelation 2 verse 9, "the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not but are the synagogue of Satan."

There is a real tragic overtone to this, because many people have taken this particular verse and have concocted a theory having to do with the history of the Jewish people. What they say is, that some tribe in Asia somewhere, took upon themselves a Jewish identity and they have propagated themselves down through time and that, well, to make a long story short, that the people whom you see today who claim to be Jews are not. They are some other people somewhere, and they connect this to the idea of the synagogue of Satan and begin to demonize those particular people. It had been used as an excuse for anti-Semitism of the very worst kind. They brand all synagogues as satanic and then it justifies crimes against them, because if they are of the devil, and whatever we do to those people must be all right.

But this is not right. This is not all synagogues, only the one in Smyrna in the first century is categorized this way.

Note that there is such a synagogue, and only two of the seven cities of this prophecy, saying that they are not Jews is simply to say that this particular synagogue had rejected God in their hearts.

Remember that the apostle Paul made the statement, in Romans 2 verse 29, he said "He is a Jew who is one inwardly," and what he is saying is that "circumcision is of the heart and not of the flesh," and that person whose heart is right with God was a (quote) "Jew" (end quote) in God's eyes, and you can't claim to a special relationship with God simply because your genes and chromosomes say you are Jewish. That's what Paul is saying.

So what we're talking about here is not genetics, its spirit and its spiritual. In fact that this was called a ‘synagogue of Satan’ makes it clear, this is not a case of mistaken identity, that we think these people are genetically Jewish and they aren't. This is a spiritual matter. They were not Israel because they had turned their backs on God. This particular group of people, at this place and this time, and there is no justification for anti-Semitism here.

Church at Smyrna Suffered Tribulation

The poor church at Smyrna was a church that suffered great tribulation. Yet they were hard-working bunch of people, hard-working and poor.

Jesus said to them, in Revelation 2 verse 10, "Fear none of those things which you will suffer. Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried, and you shall have tribulation 10 days. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life."

I don't know about you, but if I had been in Smyrna and had read those words , I would've certainly have been a bag of mixed emotions. There is hope in this, there is great hope for the crown of life that He holds out for Smyrna, but in the short term, in the near-term, next week, next month, next year, for the sake of my children, my grandchildren, my nieces, my nephews, what do we face? Prison, tribulation, and when He says to me, "You be faithful unto death!" He is not telling me that you be faithful and I'll keep you from dying. You be faithful, be true to my word and I will not let them kill you, NO, He says "You be faithful unto death!"

This Tribulation is not Endless

There is another upside to it, the one thing that is of encouragement is, this tribulation is not endless. It isn't a tribulation that is open-ended and it just goes on and on and on. He says, "You shall have tribulation 10 days." Now I don't think you need to take that 10 days as literal, but the point of it is, it has a beginning and has an end. It is not going to go on forever, so be faithful, stay in there, do your best and I will give you a crown of life. One of the most important things I think a person could ever learn about God is, that there is no sacrifice that is made for Him, that is ever in vain. There is no pain that is ever suffered that is meaningless.

You can go all the way through, agony, pain, suffering, death and you cannot come to the end of it and say, "Well it was all purposeless. There was no meaning behind it. It didn't accomplish anything. Nothing ever grew out of it, but you have to understand, from this prophecy, that whatever it is that's going to grow out of it, must be something beyond this life for the reward. The crown of life comes after death.

Life After Death

Now you know, some of the ideas that you and I carry around with us about what that life after death is like, well, it's sort of like celestial retirement. We go. We dine on milk and honey, we sit and look up into the Masters’ face. We listen to angels sing. We play music, and it's all wonderful. But I have to ask, when I think about it, "Why can’t I go there now?" What's the point in my suffering now? What's the point in this tribulation I'm going through now? Why am I putting up with this thing that I'm going through? If the objective of it is, to do nothing, worship God, admire Him, look up into the Masters face, as though I were, what shall we say a celestial puppy. One would have to think then, that there must be more in store, than a celestial retirement, there must be something out there, to which the character that we build in suffering, will be put to use. Surely we are going to do something with it, because, when you overcome, when you win, when you struggle, when you go through these things, something takes place inside of you. You're a different kind of person on the other end of it and that must be the kind of person that God is looking for. He must be making us into something that we are not right now, or else, none of this evil, this tribulation, the suffering, the pain means anything.

(For more information on this topic Request our Free Article by Ron Dart titled: ‘Life After Death.’)

He that Overcomes Will Not Be Hurt By The Second Death

Jesus finally said in verse 11, "He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The winner will not be hurt of the second death."

The first death is going to be there (Hebrews 9:27), but to those who overcome, to those who endure to the end (Mark 13:13), to those who win the struggle, the second death has no power over them, but I have to conclude from the wording of this, that there is some level of struggle required of us, there is some endurance. There is some overcoming. This isn't just something that we simply make a profession of faith and do nothing else, and we receive the reward. Otherwise, what is this thing, "He that overcomes shall not be hurt of the second death."

Church at Pergamos

Jesus continues in Revelation 2 and verse 12, "To the angel of the church at Pergamos write: These things saith He that has the sharp sword with two edges."

What in the world does that mean? Well, that's not too hard to figure, this can only mean, the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

The writer of Hebrews says in chapter 2 verse 4, quote, "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."

So when it speaks of that one who, out of whose mouth comes a sharp two-edged sword, that's this person, the one who is speaking is the one with the sharp sword with two edges. In all practical purposes, for you and I right now, that's the Bible, that is the word of God. That's the sword of the spirit that cuts right down to the heart of things. The one who has that, is the one who speaks to Pergamos.

"I know your works. {13} I know where you live, you live where Satan's seat is and you hold fast my name, you have not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwells."

Now that's something to think about, that at that time, the very seat of Satan's authority, as it related to the physical earth, seem to be somewhere in or around or, I guess, at the city of Pergamos. Exactly what Christ who spoke to John meant by this, where Satan's seat is, is not entirely clear, but nevertheless, these people are right in the middle of severe persecution, where the adversary is and where they can expect, perhaps the greatest adversity or opposition from that evil spirit, that any Christian could ever have.

Also Jesus mentioned someone here by name, "even in those days when Antipas my faithful martyr, was slain among you, where Satan lives." Now bear in mind, we're looking at a historical situation on the ground, right? John was supposed to write the things he saw, and the things which are, and the things that are to come. This was a real person. He was the historical model.

They were right in the middle of evil and so it is, as we come down toward the end time, there will be a place where Satan's seat is, there will be a place of the central opposition to the Church of God, a central opposition to those who are in Christ.

Doctrine of Balaam

Jesus continues to say,{14} "But I have a few things against you, because you have there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication. {15} You also have there, them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate."

Now the word Balaam means literally "conqueror of the people." Nicolaitanes means roughly the same thing, so we can assume that the doctrines and the deeds of these two categories of people were roughly related.

The story of the events surrounding Balaam and the doctrine of Balaam are really quite interesting (Numbers 22 and 23).

The Israelites were coming up out of Egypt and the great horde, and the kings along the route were terrified by them. They could see them coming through like locusts eating up the whole land, and so one of them, a man named Balak sought out a man named Balaam who was a prophet of sorts. He was a prophet that God talked to, because God gives him messages and he inquires of God in this whole thing.

Anyway Balak comes up there with a reward in his hand. He's got money and he offers Balaam money, if he will come and curse Israel. If he curses them, maybe they'll go back where they came from and they won't eat up the land. Balaam says, "No, I can not do that. I can't. I can't curse anything except what God curses." Balak says, "Well, come anyway." Balaam says, "No, I will have to check to see whether I can go."

Well, to make a long story short, the money was awfully appealing to Balaam and he becomes, through this, the archetype of the preacher who sells his ministry for money. He actually sells out the truth, in order to get the reward, because when Balaam actually says, "No, I will not go," eventually, Balak raises the ante and Balaam finds reasons why he thinks maybe he ought to go, and so consequently when you look to find the doctrine of Balaam, I think you can probably find a church that is all wrapped up in money and power.

Jesus continues in verse 14 of Revelation 2, about these people that they hold also the doctrines of eating things sacrificed to idols and to committing fornication. It is not easy to imagine an end time church involving itself in fornication as a doctrine, but maybe what he's talking about is spiritual fornication, idolatry, false doctrine and this type of thing.

Jesus Told the Whole Church to REPENT!

One thing that's really sobering about this is the statement made to the church in Pergamos in verse 16, to repent. This statement is made to the whole church, Jesus said, "Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth."

That call was to the whole church, not just to some of them, and that suggests that everyone is responsible for the presence of corruption in a church. That is something to take seriously because it's easy when you're sitting there and you're looking around and you say, "Well, I don't like the way they're doing things here, but it is not my business. I'll sit on the sidelines. I'll let it go."

Now, I am not here to tell you what you ought to do about your circumstances in your church, but I think you should listen to this, because it says, "He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." He says, "Repent, and if you don't, I'm going to come to you quickly and there's going to be a big fight."

The bad news is that there is no one in a given church that can say he's immune, who can somehow pretend he's not responsible, for when Christ comes, He's going to hold everyone responsible.

It might be good to hear what the Spirit says to the churches, "To him that overcomes I will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and I'll give him a white stone, and a new name written, which no man knows, save him" (Revelation 2:17).

This reward is not an offer to the losers. It only goes to the winners. Until next time, remember you were Born to Win.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

This article was transcribed with

minor editing from a Born to Win Radio Program by: Ronald L. Dart

Titled: The Book of Revelation -Program #4

Transcribed by: bb 6-5-23


Ronald L. Dart was an evangelist and is heard daily and weekly on his Born to Win radio program. 
The program can be heard on over one hundred radio stations across the nation.

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