Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Patmos Revisited: Symbols

The book of Revelation purports to be a vision of future events depicted in a dense symbolic language. Unlike other Revelation commentaries this essay will not try to equate Revelation's symbols with contemporary events, before we can do that we must first have a loose idea of the character of specific symbols in the book. For example: is the symbol in question a religious or political entity? Does the symbol appear elsewhere in Revelation under a different guise? Does the symbol occur in the Old Testament also? Regardless of how familiar you are with Revelation I recommend you have a Bible to hand to check the scriptural references which I cite but do not quote.

This essay will offer basic outlines for interpretation of Revelation's symbols.

Stars, Angels, Fruit & Figs

The sun, moon, stars, heavens & angels in Revelation are often interpreted as being literal, but there is no good reason to suppose these events are exceptions to Revelation's consistent use of symbolism. Stars in Revelation are often said to represent spiritual beings because of the reference at Revelation 1:20:

The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Revelation 1:20 (NIV)

This explanation of the symbolic angels may be another symbol in & of itself. While the Greek aggelos is used in the New Testament to refer to spiritual beings the word aggelos means messenger therefore it is quite probable the use of the words star & angel throughout Revelation may simply refer to human messengers or representatives. Trees in the scriptures seem to denote religious persons with fruit & figs perhaps symbolizing teachings & works of such individuals:

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

Matthew 7:15-17 (NIV)

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."

Luke 3:7-9 (NIV)

Revelation 6:12-14 articulates a connection between stars & figs:

I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig-tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

Revelation 6:12-14 (NIV)

The book of Isaiah makes the same connection:

All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.

Isaiah 34:4 (NIV)

The book of Daniel mentions the stars & the heavens in connection with certain wise teachers:

Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

Daniel 12:3 (NIV)

It's also interesting to note that when Abraham was promised that by his offspring all nations on earth would be blessed, YHWH compared Abraham's descendants to the stars in the sky & the sand of the seashore (Genesis 22:15-18).

So stars falling to earth in Revelation may refer to individuals being judged adversely, and the references to sun, moon, & heaven in Revelation also seem to fit with this interpretation. One final point, Jeremiah 8:1-3 describes how the kings, priests & prophets of Judah & people of Jerusalem are to be judged because they have followed consulted & worshiped the sun, moon & stars. See also Ezekiel 32:1-16 & Deuteronomy 4:18-20.

The Rider on the White Horse

"I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.

Revelation 6:1 (NIV)

The above scripture describes the rider on the white horse in near identical language to that used to describe Jesus in Revelation 19:11-16 making it appear this particular rider & Jesus are the same person. Revelation 6:8 summarizes the preceding verses giving an alternative chronology for the horsemen & additional information as to the identity of horseman riding the white horse: "They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.", Daniel 7:16-17 explains that wild beasts symbolize political powers, clearly the rider on the white horse is not Jesus, but instead represents "wild beasts of the earth" or earthly political powers, a comparison of Revelation 6:1-8 with Jeremiah 15:1-3 yields more confirmation of this:

Then the LORD said to me: "Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go! And if they ask you, 'Where shall we go?' tell them, 'This is what the LORD says:" 'Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.' "I will send four kinds of destroyers against them," declares the LORD, "the sword to kill and the dogs to drag away and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy.

Jeremiah 15:1-3 (NIV)

Here we are presented with two descriptions of four destroyers; both descriptions closely mirror the descriptions of the four horsemen from Revelation 6 further confirming the rider on the white horse is not Jesus but instead represents political powers. Jeremiah 15:13 informs us that the conquests of the rider of the white horse mentioned in Revelation 6 pertain to the taking of captives, if this rider is Jesus then Jeremiah 15:13 would be the only reference to Jesus taking captives in the Bible, prophetically or otherwise.


The word earthquake in the New Testament is translated from the Greek noun seismos meaning; 1. A literal earthquake (such as Matthew 28:2), 2. A tempest (such as Matthew 8:24), or simply: 3. A shaking or commotion. A seismos that occurs in the book of Revelation may denote a shifting of political or religious powers.


As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: "Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!"

Revelation 8:13 (NIV)

Revelation 9 connects the 1st Woe with the events unleashed by the blowing of the 5th Trumpet:

The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women's hair, and their teeth were like lions' teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails and stings like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon. The first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come.

Revelation 9:7-12 (NIV)

Revelation 11 mentions that the 3rd Woe is coming soon after the 2nd Woe:

At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon.

Revelation 11:13-14 (NIV)

Revelation 12 seems to imply that the 3rd Woe is the fall of Satan:

Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short."

Revelation 12:12 (NIV)

Two of the Woes appear to be directed against Babylon The Great:

"When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: " 'Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!'

Revelation 18:9-10 (NIV)

Luke's gospel provides the clues to understanding each of the 3 Woes:

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

Luke 10:17-20 (NIV)

The snakes mentioned in Luke 10 appear at the blowing of the 6th Trumpet:

The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God. It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, "Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates." And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number.The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur. A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths. The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury.

Revelation 9:13-19 (NIV)

Luke 10:17-20 identifies each Woe in reverse order:

Scorpions/1st Woe
Snakes/2nd Woe
Satan falling from heaven/3rd Woe

The demonic activity of Luke 10:17-20 finds a parallel in Revelation 18:

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. With a mighty voice he shouted: "Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird.

Revelation 18:1-2 (NIV)

Therefore it seems each of the 3 Woes in Revelation are connected with harmful demonic activity (See also Amos 5:18-19, Job 20:4-16, Joel 1:2-15).

10 Crowns & 7 Crowns

And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.

Revelation 13:1-2 (NIV)


Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.

Revelation 12:3-4 (NIV)

The beast that comes out of the sea has 10 crowns on its 10 horns, whereas the red dragon has 7 crowns on its 7 heads.

"After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. "While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully.

Daniel 7:7-8 (NIV)

In Daniel's prophecy quoted above; the beast with 10 horns has three of it's horns uprooted by a little horn thus providing some explanation as to why the Beast out of the sea has 10 crowns & the red dragon only has 7.

The Number of the Beast 666

He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666.

Revelation 13:16-18 (NIV)

When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt YHWH brought ten plagues against the nation. The tenth & final plague was the death of all Egyptian first born males. Before this last plague God told Moses to order each Israelite family to eat a meal consisting of lamb & unleavened bread, the Israelites were to mark their doorposts with the lamb's blood so the messenger of death would pass over their home that night & thus their first born would be safe. In the book of Exodus YHWH compares the eating of the unleavened bread to a sign or mark on the hand & to a reminder on the forehead:

Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders. On that day tell your son, 'I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.' This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that the law of the LORD is to be on your lips. For the LORD brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year.

Exodus 13:7-10 (NIV)

Centuries later when the Israelites were exiled to the city of Babylon Daniel reports:

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it. Then the herald loudly proclaimed, "This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace." Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Daniel 3:1-7 (NIV)

The image of gold measures ninety feet by nine, or 60 cubits high & 6 cubits wide in the original Aramaic of Daniel chapter 3, also note that the same chapter describes 6 instruments that are to be played when the image is to be worshiped, giving us 666. The number 666 occurs elsewhere, noticeably in an account at 1 Kings:

When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relation to the name of the LORD, she came to test him with hard questions. Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind.

King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired and asked for, besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty. Then she left and returned with her retinue to her own country. Solomon's Splendor The weight of the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents, not including the revenues from merchants and traders and from all the Arabian kings and the governors of the land.

1 Kings 10:1-2, 13-15 (NIV)

The least we can say about the mark of the beast is that Daniel 3 & Revelation 13 affirm it is a pledge of worship or allegiance & that 1 Kings 10 & Revelation 13 depict an connection with the receipt of currency.

Babylon The Great

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries." Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. This title was written on her forehead: MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. Then the angel said to me: "Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come. "This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction. "The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers." Then the angel said to me, "The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God's words are fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth."

Revelation 17:1-18 (NIV)

In Old Testament times Mount Zion was seen by the Israelites as the centre of the worship of YHWH while the Samaritans viewed Mount Gerizim as the centre of YHWH's true worship. Ezekiel 23 compares both Jerusalem & Samaria to prostitutes as does Ezekiel 16 & Jeremiah 2:20-21 (See also Galatians 4:1-31). Considering that the Old Testament compares institutes of worship to prostitutes & Revelation depicts Babylon The Great as controlling the Wild Beast, it cannot be said that Babylon The Great is a strictly political entity, but rather, Babylon The Great appears to be a religious entity who carries great political influence.

Babylon The Great is also referred to as the great city at Revelation 16:19 & [the] city of power at Revelation 18:9-10. Nineveh is also referred to as the great city in the book of Jonah (Jonah 1:2, Jonah 4:11).

In Bible times Millstones were used to make flour for bread, and in the Gospel accounts Jesus uses bread, flour & yeast as metaphors for spiritual teachings (Matthew 16:5-12, Luke 12:41-43 & Luke 13:20-21). Revelation 18:21-23 equates the large millstone with the great city of Babylon, therefore Babylon The Great is a large millstone dispensing spiritual truths:

Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: "With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. The music of harpists and musicians, flute players and trumpeters, will never be heard in you again. No workman of any trade will ever be found in you again. The sound of a millstone will never be heard in you again. The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The voice of bridegroom and bride will never be heard in you again. Your merchants were the world's great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.

Revelation 18:21-23 (NIV)

The Gospel of Mark describes how those who cause others to sin will be thrown into the sea with a millstone around their necks:

"And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

Mark 9:42 (NIV)

The verb translated sin here is skandaliz┼Ź meaning to put a stumbling block in the way upon which another may trip & fall while the scriptures use the expression to convey the idea of being lead astray. Here Mark uses skandaliz┼Ź to inform us that those who have lead others away from the truth are to be thrown into "the sea" along with Babylon The Great.

As previously noted; throughout the scriptures mountains are often used as synonyms for places of worship (Isaiah 2:2-3, Jeremiah 3:23, Ezekiel 6:13).

The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

Revelation 8:8-9 (NIV)

In the above scripture "...something like a huge mountain" is thrown into the sea, is this something the large millstone of Revelation 18:21-23? It seems very likely. So who is Babylon the Great? Many have speculated that the harlot is Rome or the Roman Catholic Church, one reason for this belief is that Rome was known as the city on seven hills, Revelation 17:9 states the seven heads of the beast that the woman sits on "...are seven hills...". However the word translated as hills at Revelation 17:9 is oros which means mountain, there is a Greek word for hill; bounos which is used at Luke 3:5 & Luke 23:30 but not at Revelation 17:9. 24. Babylon the Great also appears to precede Rome; for Revelation 18:24 states that "In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth". (See also Luke 11:47-51).

The 2 Witnesses

I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, "Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth." These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.

Revelation 11:1-6 (NIV)

One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

Deuteronomy 19:15 (NIV)

The law of Moses required that two or three witnesses are needed to establish the truth of a matter. So what is the matter that the two witnesses of Revelation must testify to?

And he said to them, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power." The Transfiguration After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

Mark 9:1-8 (NIV)

See also Exodus 7:19, 1 Kings 17:1 & 2 Kings 2:9-10.


The interpretations presented in this essay whilst being deliberately vague, offer a scriptural framework for understanding some of Revelation's more infamous symbols. The Internet has provided the truth seeker with the tools to investigate the truths, mysteries & even intrigues of the Bible. Bible search engines, on-line concordances & encyclopaedias finally make deep & comprehensive study of the scriptures accessible to the everyday person, thus a truth seeker no longer has any excuse to seek recourse to religion in order to understand its contents.

"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Luke 11:9-13 (NIV)

"At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge."

Daniel 12:1-4 (NIV)

No comments: