People of God in Revelation – An Overview

SYNOPSIS:  From start to finish, the people of God are identified and defined by their relationship to Jesus, not ethnicity or membership in the nation of Israel.

Photo by Sigurdur Fjalar Jonsson on Unsplash
Sigurdur Fjalar Jonsson - Unsplash
The book of Revelation applies numerous labels to God’s people, including “saints,” “elect,” “churches,” “priests,” “witnesses,” “seed of the woman,” “called,” “faithful” and “my people.” This group is composed of men and women “purchased” by the blood of the Lamb from every national and ethnic group; ethnicity, geography, and social status have no bearing on their membership in the covenant community.

In its entirety, the book is addressed to the “seven churches of Asia.” The assemblies are identified as God’s “servants” who have been “loosed from sin” by Jesus’ blood. They comprise a “kingdom, priests unto God” and are identified “brethren” and fellow “participants in the tribulation, kingdom, and perseverance” in Jesus with John (Revelation 1:1-9).

In the first vision, while on the isle of Patmos, John sees the Risen Christ walking among “seven golden lampstands,” which represent the seven churches of Asia. They are front and center in the visions of this book. Jesus is portrayed as a high priestly figure ministering in a temple setting, as he walks among and tends to the seven lampstands.

Chapters 2 and 3 continue the first vision from Chapter 1 and add seven messages or letters from Jesus to the “angel” of each congregation. The purpose is to call them to “overcome” and repent, at least where needed. Each letter includes promises to “the one who overcomes,” and each concludes with an exhortation to “hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches,” plural. All seven letters are applicable to each of congregation.

The church at Ephesus has patiently suffered for “my name’s sake.” If it perseveres, it will “eat of the tree of life in the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:1-7).

Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash
Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash
The assembly in Smyrna has faithfully endured persecution and false accusations, the latter by “them who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan.” The church must remain “faithful unto death” to receive “the crown of life.” The one who “overcomes will not taste the second death” (Revelation 2:8-11).

Jesus praises saints at Pergamos for “holding fast my name and not denying my faith” despite the martyrdom of Antipas. The overcoming saint will receive “the hidden manna and a white stone on which is written a new name” (Revelation 2:12-17).

The church at Thyatira is known for its “works, love, faith and endurance.” Jesus will “give to each according to his works.” Members must “hold fast till I come.” To them Christ will give “authority over the nations”; they will participate in the reign of Jesus, the “ruler of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5-62:18-28).

The Risen Christ exhorts the church at Sardis to “be watchful and establish the things that remain.” Their deeds remain incomplete; if they fail to be watchful Jesus will arrive unexpectedly “as a thief” in the night. Some in Sardis are wearing un-defiled “garments” and therefore will “walk with me in white.” The one who overcomes is to be “arrayed in white; Jesus will not blot their names out of the book of life” (Revelation 3:1-6).

The church at Philadelphia has an opened door that “no man can shut.” This assembly has “kept my word and not denied my name”; Jesus will vindicate it. The “synagogue of Satan” will pay homage at the feet of the members of this church. Because they “kept the word of my endurance, I will keep them from the hour of trial about to come upon the whole habitable earth.” The one who “holds fast” will become “a pillar in the temple of God,” upon which is written, “the name of the city of my God, New Jerusalem” (Revelation 3:7-13).

Finally, Jesus chastises the Laodicean congregation because its members are neither cold nor hot. They claim to be rich but do not recognize they are miserable, poor, blind, and naked. They must, therefore, be “refined by fire”; Christ chastens those whom he loves. All who overcome will “sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father in his throne.” The churches are called to emulate Christ’s example, the “faithful witness and firstborn of the dead” (Revelation 3:14-22).

The seven “letters” are addressed to groups of Christians living in the province of Asia. From start to finish, this vision is focused like a laser beam on these seven churches. The only Jews mentioned are opponents of the Church; no interest is expressed in national Israel or in any geographical location outside of Asia, except for the “whole habitable earth” (oikoumené – Strong’s #G3625):

(Revelation 3:10) – “Because thou didst keep my word of endurance, I also will keep thee out of the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole habitable world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” - (Compare Revelation 12:9, 16:14).

The churches that stand in good stead with Jesus do so because of their obedience, endurance, and faithfulness in witness, “even unto death.” Their ethnicity has no bearing though, apparently, some Jews falsely accused members of the churches before local magistrates.

Chapters 4 and 5 describe a Throne from which God reigns over the Cosmos. It is not located in an otherworldly realm but at the center of the Universe. John sees a door that is opened in heaven and hears a voice vision summon him to “come up here.” He then sees a figure seated on a throne surrounded by a glorious entourage and accompanied by impressive sights and sounds.

In the right hand of the one on the throne is a scroll sealed shut with seven seals. No one in the universe can be found worthy to unseal and open the scroll. John weeps bitterly until he hears a voice command him not to do so, “for the Lion the Tribe of Judah has overcome to open the scroll and its seals.” 

clipart.christiansunite.com
When John looks, he sees “a Lamb standing as if slain,” not a royal or military figure. The Lamb is the Lion of Judah but fulfills this role by self-sacrificial death. What John sees interprets what he hears. This Lamb is then declared “worthy” to unseal the scroll because by his blood “he purchased men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.” This act constituted them a “kingdom of priests” to reign with the Lamb (Revelation 1:4-65:6-10).

In this vision, men and women purchased by the Lamb’s blood are drawn from EVERY national, ethnic, social, and cultural group. As in Revelation 1:5-6, they become “priests” who reign with Christ “on the earth.”

When the fifth seal is opened, John sees “underneath the altar the souls of them that have been slain for the word of God and the testimony they held.” “Testimony” translates marturia, a key term already applied to Jesus for his obedient death. At this point, the term is ambiguous; however, elsewhere, it consistently applies to saints who have the “testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:2-5, 9, 2:13, 3:14, 6:9-11, 11:3-7, 12:11, 17:6, 19:10, 20:4).

In Revelation 7:1-8John sees a company of men sealed by God and “hears their number,” 144,000 males from the twelve tribes of Israel. Only here does Revelation seem to refer to ethnic Israel. John hears their number but sees “a great innumerable multitude from every nation, tribe, people and tongue”; again, what he sees interprets what he hears.

The innumerable multitude is identical with the 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel. The multitude is composed of men from many nations who have “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-14). Imagery from the story of Israel communicates information about the redeemed.

John sees a “beast rising from the Abyss” to wage war against the two “witnesses.” The language is from the book of Daniel where a malevolent figure called a “little horn” waged war with the saints and to prevail against them (Daniel 7:21Revelation 11:4-7).
The two witnesses are identified as “two olive trees and two lamp-stands.” In John’s first vision, Jesus walked among seven “lampstands” identified as “churches.” If Revelation is consistent with its symbolism, the two “witnesses” represent churches.
After the Dragon is expelled from the Heavenly Court, a voice proclaims the “salvation, the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ, because the accuser of our brethren has been cast out” (Revelation 12:9-11).

The “Brethren” subjected to Satan’s prosecutorial zeal “overcome by the blood of the Lamb, by their word of testimony, and because they loved not their life even unto death,” terms and themes previously introduced and applied to the seven churches of Asia.

The Dragon fails to destroy the Woman and so now executes his war against the “rest of her seed.” The “seed” is comprised of all “who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus.” As in the vision of the Two Witnesses, language from Daniel’s vision of a “little horn” that makes “war” against the “saints” is employed; note the several parallels between Daniel 7:21 and the visions of John:

(Daniel 7:20-22) - “Also concerning the ten horns, which were in his head, and the other, which came up, and there fell—from among them that were before it—three,—and this horn which had eyes and A MOUTH SPEAKING GREAT THINGS, and his look was more proud than his fellows: I continued looking, when THIS HORN MADE WAR WITH THE HOLY ONES—AND PREVAILED AGAINST THEM: until that the Ancient of Days came, and justice was granted to the holy ones of the Highest—and the time arrived that the holy ones should possess the kingdom.” - (The Emphasized Bible).
(Revelation 11:7) - “And as soon as they have completed their witnessing, the wild-beast that is to come up out of the abyss WILL MAKE WAR WITH THEM, AND OVERCOME THEM, and slay them.” - (The Emphasized Bible).
(Revelation 12:17) - “And the dragon was angered against the woman, and went away TO MAKE WAR WITH THE REST OF HER SEED—with them who were keeping the commandments of God, and holding the witness of Jesus.” - (The Emphasized Bible).
(Revelation 13:5-7) - “And there was given unto him A MOUTH SPEAKING GREAT THINGS AND BLASPHEMIES; and it was given unto him to act forty and two months. And he opened his mouth for blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tent—them who in heaven were tabernacling. And IT WAS GIVEN UNTO HIM, TO MAKE WAR WITH THE SAINTS, AND TO OVERCOME THEM.” - (The Emphasized Bible).
(Revelation 17:13-14) – “These have one mind, and their power and authority unto the wild-beast they give. These WITH THE LAMB WILL MAKE WAR; AND THE LAMB WILL OVERCOME THEM, because he is Lord of lords, and King of kings—and they who are with him are called and chosen and faithful.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

Faithfulness determines the right relationship to the Lamb, not ethnicity or nationality. The Dragon prosecutes his war through his earthly agents, the Beast that rises from the sea, the beast from the earth, Babylon, and the “kings of the earth.” It is “given” to the Beast from the sea to “wage war with the saints and to overcome them.” The victims of this “war” are labeled variously as “saints,” “witnesses,” “lampstands,” the “two olive trees,” those who have the “testimony of Jesus,” and “they who are with the Lamb - called and chosen and faithful.” In short, it is a person's identity with the Lamb that makes him or her a target of the Dragon and his forces.

Elsewhere, the group identified as the “saints” is comprised of men and women “whose names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life.” The “saints” are those “who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” They endure persecution for the Lamb and the ones that “die in the Lord” are pronounced, “blessed” (Revelation 14:12-13).

The 144,000 males appear again on “Mount Zion” (Revelation 14:1-5). The “inhabitants of the earth” take the Beast’s mark but the followers of the Lamb receive the Lamb’s name upon their foreheads. This is what Jesus promised to all who overcome. The 144,000 “sing a new song”; they have been “redeemed from the earth.” Likewise, the twenty-four elders “sang a new song” to declare the Lamb “worthy.” He had “purchased men from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.” So also, John saw an innumerable multitude from “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation,” having “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 5:8-117:9-14).

clipart.christiansunite.com
Just before the unleashing of the “seven last plagues,” John sees the victorious saints who “overcame from the Beast, from his image and from the number of his name.” The same verb for “overcome” is used as in the letters to the churches. Each overcoming saint “sings the song of Moses and the Lamb,” just as the 144,000 redeemed males “sang a new song” before the Lamb. The parallels are deliberate; it is the same group. Saints “overcome,” not by escape but by refusing to give allegiance to the Beast (Revelation 15:1-4).

In Revelation 17:1-6, John sees Babylon, the “Mother of the Harlots drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” The “saints” consist of those who have the “testimony of Jesus” and persevere through persecution. “Witnesses” translates the Greek noun martus (Strong’s #G3144), the same word applied previously to the “faithful martyr,” Antipas, to Jesus, the “faithful witness,” and to the two witnesses slain by the Beast. It is the cognate of marturia or “testimony,” the term applied to the “souls under the altar,” to the “brethren” who overcame by the “word of their testimony,” and to the “seed of the Woman,” those who have the “testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 12:11-17). 

The Lamb’s final victory is anticipated in Revelation 17:14, once more, by using language from Daniel 7:21 - “These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings.” The Lamb is not alone; included in his “war” and victory are the “called, elect and faithful.” The terms “called” and “elect” do not occur elsewhere in the book of Revelation, however, “faithful” does and is applied to saints who endure and bear faithful witness (pistos - Strong’s #G4103). In doing so, saints emulate the Lamb:

(Revelation 1:5) – “And from—Jesus Christ—The Faithful Witness, The Firstborn of the Dead, and The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth.” - (The Emphasized Bible).
(Revelation 2:10-13) – “Do not fear the things which thou art about to suffer. Lo! the adversary is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried and may have tribulation ten days. Become thou faithful until death, and I will give thee the crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying unto the assemblies. He that overcometh shall in nowise be injured by reason of the second death. And unto the messenger of the assembly in Pergamum, write:—These things saith he that hath the sharp two-edged sword: I know where thou dwellest, where the throne of Satan is; and thou art holding fast my name, and didst not deny my faith, even in the days of Antipas, my witness, my faithful one, who was killed near you, where Satan, dwelleth.” - (The Emphasized Bible).
(Revelation 3:14) – “And unto the messenger of the assembly in Laodicea, write:—These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.” - (The Emphasized Bible).

When Babylon’s downfall is proclaimed, the “people” of God are exhorted to come out of her, “lest they partake of her judgment.” “Saints,” “apostles,” and “prophets” rejoice over her demise, for, “in her was found the blood of prophets and saints.” Consistently, the term “saint” refers to followers of the Lamb (Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4, 11:18, 13:7-10, 14:12, 16:6, 17:6).

The bride of the Lamb has made herself ready - She is “arrayed in fine linen, bright and pure, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” Followers of Jesus, likewise, are “arrayed in white garments” (Revelation 3:5, 3:18, 7:9-13, 19:6-9). 

At the start of the “thousand years,” Satan is cast “into the Abyss” and judgment is given for “them who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus…such as gave not homage to the Beast.” The second death has no authority over them, just as promised to the congregation in Smyrna (Revelation 2:1120:1-4). These overcoming saints will be “priests of God and of Christ, and reign with him a thousand years.” This same promise was made to the multitude of men and women from every nation purchased by the death of the Lamb (Revelation 1:5-65:6-10).

After Satan is released from the Abyss, he gathers the “nations in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog” to a final battle. This horde “ascends over the breadth of the earth to surround the camp of the saints and the beloved city.” The original prophecy from the Book of Ezekiel about “Gog and Magog” is transformed into a global attack on the saints by all nations; Ezekiel’s language is universalized and applied to all the nations of the earth gathered to attack the “saints” (Ezekiel 38:1-3Revelation 20:7-10).

At the Great White Throne of Judgment, men and women are judged “according to their works” and their relationship to the Lamb, not on the basis of their ethnicity or nationality. Those not found in the Lamb’s “Book of Life” are cast into the Lake of Fire, the “Second Death” (Revelation 20:11-15, 21:8).

The New Heaven and Earth replace the “first heaven and the first earth.” The “holy city, New Jerusalem,” descends from heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. This description links the “city” to the saints, the company of the redeemed. New Jerusalem is designated “holy,” not the old city in Palestine, the one described earlier as “spiritually ‘Sodom’ and ‘Egypt,’ where also the Lord was crucified,” a city ritually polluted by the corpses of martyrs murdered by the “Beast from the Abyss” (Revelation 11:7-13).

In the New Jerusalem, God will “tabernacle with men and they shall be His people.” Death with all its impurities will be no more. Everyone who “overcomes will inherit these things.” There will be no temple in this city, for God is “its sanctuary and the Lamb.” In this city, the “nations shall walk through her light and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it.” No unclean person or thing is present; “only they who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:3-9).

The closing section of the book reiterates its key themes. God sent his angel to “show his servants the things that must soon come to pass.” The man or woman who “keeps the words of the prophecy of the scroll” is pronounced, “blessed.” Ethnicity and nationality are not relevant and play no part in determining who dwells in the New Creation.

The entire vision of the Book of Revelation unveiled to John is for the seven churches. From start to finish, the people of God in it are identified and defined by their relationship to Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb. Nowhere is membership in the company of the redeemed based on ethnicity or national origin.

Comments