by Roger McCay
7 March 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 1:4-8
Link to Audio Version
Crime pays. You may have heard that before. It was one of the first lessons we were taught in Criminology, back when I was at Auburn. There were various reasons given for why crime pays, including a very low percentage rate of arrests leading to prison sentences, but particularly because the odds of getting caught were in the criminals’ favor.
Almost 30 years later, it seems that even with our amazing advances in security technology, such is still the case. John Gramlich, writing for the Pew Research Center, reported on crime rates in the U.S. in a Nov. 2020 article. There he observed that “Fewer than half of crimes in the U.S. are reported, and fewer than half of reported crimes are solved.” In the details, what we see is that, in 2019, law enforcement did not clear about 40% of reported murders, 67% of reported rapes, and 86% of reported burglaries and auto thefts. Feel free to research how many of those closed cases actually ended up in prison. A quick internet search brought up, for me, a 2016 report in The Washington Post, showing that less than 1% of rapists end up convicted of a felony.
I stopped digging into it there, as it seemed what I learned in Criminology was holding true. From the world’s perspective, statistically, crime pays. This can be pretty discouraging, unless you’re a criminal. For if crime pays, then it seems, statistically, evil is winning. And thus, the question for the ages. Will evil go unpunished?
Along those lines, have you ever wondered whether those responsible for Jesus’ murder just got away with it, at least in this life? And not only that, did they get away with the arrests, beatings, and murders of Christians that followed their murder of the Lord? Did it end well for them? Did they live out their days fat and happy, surrounded by loving family members at the end of their life on earth?
Well, some may have (depending on when they died), and some, it seems, likely became Christians (so were forgiven). Even so, history shows us that overall, it ended badly for them. In a near sense, within that generation (in AD 70), the Lord kept his promised coming in judgment upon them in the events involving the destruction Jerusalem, the Temple, Old Covenant Judaism, and the nation of Israel (Matt. 24:30; Mark 14:62). Death and slavery and the destruction of all they held dear came upon them about 40 years after they crucified the Lord. Then, in an ongoing and “far” sense, the Lord is punishing them in death even now, in the intermediate state, with their spirits imprisoned in misery, awaiting final judgment at Jesus’ Parousia at the end of history—Judgment Day (Luke 16:19-31; 2 Pet. 2:9). Their crimes only paid them hell. And, if you think about it, this answers the question as to what crime really pays.
In our series on Revelation, we’ve examined how John wrote the epistle circa. AD 65, around five years before Jesus returned in judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70. John wrote to the seven churches in Asia, concerning what was, from their perspective, to take place “soon,” as the time was “near” (vv. 1, 3). They were a persecuted church, suffering, undergoing and facing tribulation (v.9), and John was writing a message to encourage them and bolster their hope, a message which, by extension, is applicable to all Christians. Then we saw, in vv. 4-8, how the Lord’s name bookends the passage. This encapsulation of the passage, with the name of the Lord, serves as an Almighty Guarantee, similar to how the prophets of old would stamp the Lord’s seal upon their prophecies with a “Thus sayeth the Lord,” and “I am the Lord.”
Verses 4-8 also lay the groundwork for the major themes in the book, perhaps summed up as “The Exalted Christ’s Victorious Judgment and Blessing.” Christ Jesus is the focus, as John begins in v. 4 with blessings on the seven churches from the Trinity, blessings of grace and peace, with an emphasis on Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King. John glorifies the Lord Jesus, as the resurrected Christ exalted to the highest rule, reigning over all, who has redeemed for himself a people, making them a kingdom.
Then, in Rev. 1:7, John lays down a central element of the exalted Christ’s work, which would be expounded upon through the book: the contemporary judgment Jesus is bringing upon those who “pierced him.” Verse 7:
7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
This passage is so crucial that some see Rev. 1:7 as the theme of the entire book (at least the main theme). Rev. 1:7 certainly describes a major theme, focusing on a central element of Christ’s work as exalted king: justice brought in the form of judgment. Verse 7 is not the whole theme of the book, however. Sure, Revelation is about Christ’s judgment upon his and his people’s enemies. But Revelation balances Christ’s promised judgment with his promised blessing. Thus my thematic summary statement: “The Exalted Christ’s Victorious Judgment and Blessing.”
Let’s take a closer look at v. 7. We looked at Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse as an introduction to Revelation a few weeks ago. So, for those of you able to attend or listen in, it should ring a bell. And, if you like, you can find the sermons and their manuscripts archived on my website, for a review. Now, with the Discourse in mind, you’ll notice that v. 7 sounds a whole lot like Matt. 24:30:
“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
These two passages (Matt. 24:30 and Rev. 1:7) are the only passages in Scripture that combine Daniel 7:13 with Zech. 12:10-12. It’s been said that Revelation is John’s Olivet Discourse, and this is a key verse to demonstrate that comparison. What Jesus referred to in the Discourse is what John refers to here. Rev. 1:7, however, has a difference of perspective, with Jesus’ crucifixion and exaltation in hindsight, and the destruction of Jerusalem fast approaching. Thus the emphasis is not as much on the exaltation of Christ at his ascension (as it was, perhaps, in the Discourse in Matt. 24:30 and then, in 26:64, when Jesus told the Sanhedrin, “from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven”). The fulfilment of the Daniel 7 prophecy of Jesus’ ascension to the Father, to take power, is in view, of course, not to be diminished, but it is the necessary precursor for the judgment Christ is bringing, which is Revelation’s focus.
As we observed when we looked at Matt. 24:30, the prophetic imagery in Rev. 1:7, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds” is an important biblical signal as to the theme of divine judgment. Jesus used this terminology in Matt. 24:30 and 26:64, referring to heavenly realities that would be felt upon the earth in his vindication and vengeance upon Jerusalem (Isa. 61:2; Luke 21:22). The coming that Jesus prophesied (which John is now announcing was about to go down) was one that would be seen, as Sam Storms puts it, “in the sense that they will ‘understand’ or spiritually perceive that Jesus is the vindicated and enthroned king” over all creation.
Indeed, the “coming on a cloud” language hearkens to the reference of the Lord’s coming in judgment upon Egypt in Isa. 19:1, “Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt.” Such prophetic language (as Jesus uses in Matt. 24:30 and John uses in Rev. 1:7) fits well with the exalted Lord’s “judgment-coming,” in power and glory, upon Jerusalem.
John also assures the Lord’s people that this judgment would be a very public event. It would not be a hidden coming. This is what is meant by the symbolic statement, “every eye will see him.” And like Jesus told the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:62), they, those who pierced him, would see this coming. This would happen before the generation that killed Jesus would pass away (Matt. 24:34), and it was coming soon.
Now, you might think, “Well, actually, the Romans were the ones that pierced Jesus.” This is literally true. Manipulated by the Jews, the Romans did the deed (Acts 3:13-15). However, as Kenneth Gentry points out, “The unrelenting testimony of Scripture blames Israel for Christ’s death. She is covenantally responsible; she should’ve known better (Luke 19:41-44).” Repeatedly, the Scriptures lay the blame of Jesus’ crucifixion square on the Jews, not on the Romans. Though, perhaps, as John is a flexible thinker, the term’s lack of specificity may allow reference to both the Jews and Romans, as both were involved in Christ’s piercing.
The Romans, whom the Jews manipulated to crucify Jesus, were, ironically, Jesus’ means of bringing his judgment down upon Jerusalem and Judea during the Jewish War of AD 67-70, with the great tribulation, culminating in the destruction of the Temple and the city, the slaughter of millions, and the enslavement of tens-of-thousands. So the Romans had front-row seats to the Lord’s judgment coming down. The Romans too, would get their just deserts, as we’ll see during our journey through the Apocalypse. For details on the AD 67-70 events, read Josephus, Wars of the Jews (chs. 4-7), which is a firsthand account.
As it is, in Rev. 1:7, from a contextual and covenantal point of view, “those who pierced him” refers to the guilty Jews, as they utterly violated the covenant in the most horrendous way imaginable. The Lord lay the blame on them. Thus, Peter’s speech at Pentecost, addressing the “Men of Israel” in Acts 2:23:
“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
Stephen’s sermon in Acts 5:30:
“Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered.”
And Paul’s accusation in 1 Thess. 2:14-16:
“14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!”
Thus, like we saw in the Olivet Discourse, when the smoke would rise from the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, all the tribes of the earth would wail and mourn (Matt. 24:30; Acts 2:19; Rev. 19:3).
As for who exactly these tribes were, the word “tribes,” as normally used in the NT, refers to the tribes of Israel, as it does here in v. 7. Also the Greek phrase (τῆς γῆς) used here, can mean either “of the land” or “of the earth.” “Of the land” may the better translation, as some suggest, which makes sense in the context of Matt. 24:30. However, within the context of Revelation (written on the Isle of Patmos for the churches in Asia), the translation “of the earth” works fine. Not only would the tribes of the land mourn, but the Jews of the diaspora would also mourn as the fallout spread. The synagogues of Satan (Rev. 2:9), who were a painful thorn to the seven churches, would be negatively impacted. Thus, the context of Rev. 1:7 broadens our understanding of Jesus’ words in Matt. 24:30.
Further, the reference to “those who pierced him” and “all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” hearkens to the mourning of “the land, each family,” which are the tribes of Israel, in Zech. 12:10-14, when they look on “him whom they pierced.” This is the response of the nation of Israel when they would see the Lord Jesus’ vindication, the horror of what they did to the Messiah. This is the Jews response to the righteous judgment of the Christ, enthroned in heaven—the wrath he would bring down upon them, destroying the heart of their culture and religion, ripping away their very identity as God’s people (except for a remnant, in Christ – Rom. 11:2-5). They would wail. As Jesus forewarned in his parable of the wedding feast, “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Matt. 22:7). The Jews screamed, when they called for the Lord’s crucifixion, “His blood be on us and our children.” Thus, so.
It is interesting and frustrating how this verse, v. 7, which has a very obvious historical reference … how v. 7 is very often considered a statement promising Jesus’ final coming, his Parousia, at the end of history. Such a teaching, by itself, seems an injustice to those who would hear the Lord’s Word. In a diminishing way, such teaching removes the verse from the historical realities in which the prophecy was grounded and their fulfilment, which has already taken place.
Yet, there is something to that interpretation. Rev. 1:7 is a statement of prophecy. Like many OT prophecies (e.g. Isaiah 7:14), and considering how the book of Revelation unfolds, there is a sense of the near and the far here. And from our historical perspective, it has the sense of the already but not yet. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus laid it out in Matt. 24, referring to his judgment on Jerusalem in v. 30. Then he jumped to the topic of his final Parousia in v. 36. So, the two, the near judgment and the far final judgment are intertwined in some way in prophecy, but are separate events. One is a foreshadowing of the other, a type, and even a guarantee of the other. Indeed, the events surrounding Jerusalem’s destruction inaugurated the church age, the inauguration of the new heavens and earth, which will culminate in Christ’s final coming when he returns at the consummation of his Kingdom.
The prophetic near-to-far is a view to time and also scope. In both Christ’s near-time coming in judgment on Jerusalem and Christ’s far-time coming in judgment on all mankind at the final Parousia, there a sense of cause, judgment, and grief. These themes are general aspects of the Holy God’s dealings with sinful men that occur in both the near and far comings.
Now, for those who argue strictly for a future fulfilment of the prophecy in 1:7, (a future fulfillment from our perspective), they’ll often speak of the “soon” and “near” time references in Rev. 1:1, 3 as implying imminence. So, from that perspective (and you’ll see this among “idealists,” too) … from the “imminence” perspective, applied to v. 7, it would mean all through the church age Jesus could return at any time. In fact, Jesus did speak of an imminence to his final coming, like a thief (Matt. 24:42-44). It is true. Jesus might return at any time (bringing the consummation of his Kingdom and Judgment Day), so we must be ready. But when Jesus spoke of that imminence, he wasn’t speaking in reference to Matt. 24:30, to which Rev. 1:7 hearkens in prophecy, and to which the “soon” and “near” are pointing. It was in Matt. 24:36 that Jesus was speaking to “that day,” his final coming. So, by itself, an understanding of the “soon” and “near” references in Rev. 1:1, 3 as meaning imminent, in a “future” sense from our perspective, is an untenable position—just plain wrong. Imminence, here in v. 7, only has any meaning grounded in reality when it is understood that the “soon” and “near” are grounded in historical realities.
With that said, when we think of Christ’s coming in judgment on Jerusalem, as this verse prophesies, the way it is phrased has a sense that prompts us to look beyond that localized, historic event to the ultimate. In other words, as this was, then, in a like way, this will be. This type of prophetic device occurs in various ways through Revelation, so we need to grasp it now.
Even in the name of the Lord (which follows in v. 8), I think we can see how this prophecy is localized, but goes beyond localized: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Not only is this an Almighty guarantee, a seal as to the certain truth of his Word, there is an eternal nature to his name, not only speaking to the Lord as the primary cause and definitive end (of the Old Covenant, in one sense; and all of history, in another), but also speaking to eternal realities of past, present, and future. God’s very nature is that he is immutable (Num. 23:19; Ezek. 24:14). His judgments and blessings are consistent and sure, and his dealings in history have ramifications throughout all eternity.
So, briefly, here’s a rough sketch of what the “already but not yet” means for Rev. 1:7:
First, there is the historical near-cause for judgment with a narrow scope, which is the Jews’ sin, including the rejection and murder of the Messiah. This then points to the far-cause for judgment with a wide scope, which is mankind’s sin, including rejection of the Savior.
Second, there is the historical near-judgment executed with a narrow scope, which is judgment on the Jews, fulfilled in AD 70. This then points to far-judgment execution with a wide scope, which is the fulfilment of the final judgment upon all people, foreshadowed and guaranteed by the AD 70 judgment, including various judgments all through history.
Third, there is the historical near-grief experienced in a narrow scope, which is the Jews wailing in AD 70 (and as long as their mourning lasted) due to the Lord’s wrath upon them. This points to the far-grief experienced on a wide scope, which is all who reject Christ, refusing to believe in him, who grieve in his temporal judgments; grieve in the intermediate state; and grieve in the eternal punishment of hell, after the final judgment.
So, my friends, with that said, be encouraged! Evil will never win. Divine justice is sure. The Lord’s wrath upon evil has come, and his wrath upon evil is coming. In this, we have the Lord God Almighty’s guarantee.
What is more, like Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).
However, if you are one of Christ’s, God’s wrath is not for you. Jesus took our deserved punishment upon himself on the cross. God’s wrath for our sin was satisfied, spent upon Jesus. So it is “by grace we are saved through faith,” redeemed by his blood, set free from the kingdom of evil, which will feel his wrath. From him and in him we have grace and peace. He is our Lord and King, our life, our greatest friend, and our love. Since the Lord is the Almighty, the Church should be encouraged.
 John Gramlich, “What the data says (and doesn’t say) about crime in the United States,” Pew Research Center, pub. 20 Nov. 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/11/20/facts-about-crime-in-the-u-s/.
 Andrew Van Dam, “Less than 1% of rapes lead to felony convictions. At least 89% of victims face emotional and physical consequences,” The Washington Post, pub. 6 Oct. 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/10/06/less-than-percent-rapes-lead-felony-convictions-least-percent-victims-face-emotional-physical-consequences/.
 The Westminster Confession, XXXII.2, states it such: “And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day (Luke 16:23–24, Acts 1:25, Jude 6–7, 1 Pet. 3:19).”
 Keith A. Mathison, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 1999), 143-144, hones the theme of the book down to “the exaltation of Christ,” as “stated in 1:4-8.” However, Christ was already exalted.
 Cf. Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation: An Exegetical and Historical Argument for a Pre-A.D. 70 Composition (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), 121ff.
 Sam Storms, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Fearn, Scotland: Mentor, 2013), 270–271.
 Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Olivet Discourse Made Easy (Draper, VA: ApologeticsGroup Media, 2010), 118.
 Cf. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Book of Revelation Made Easy (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2019), 44.
 Gentry, The Book of Revelation Made Easy, 39.
 Gentry, The Book of Revelation Made Easy, 38-39, also lists Matt. 27:25; John 19:15; Acts 3:13-15; Acts 7:52; and Acts 10:39.
 The ESV translates κόψονται in Matt. 24:30 as “mourn” and then in Rev. 1:7 as “wail”– same word and form.
 Cf. Mathison, 261 fn.10.
 This is consistent with a normal use of “tribe” in the new Testament referring to the OT tribes of Israel. Storms, 270, comments, “The word translated “tribes” (phyle), when used in the New Testament, typically refers to the Old Testament tribes of Israel (see Matt. 19:28; Luke 2:36; Acts 13:21; Rom. 11:1; Heb. 7:13–14; the only exception is Rev. 5:9; 7:9; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6 where the word is found in a stock phrase).” Cf. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Olivet Discourse Made Easy, 115-116.
 G. K. Beale and Sean M. McDonough, “Revelation,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 1090, suggest “The word gē (“earth, land”) cannot be a limited reference to the land of Israel; rather, it is a universal denotation, since this is the only meaning that the phrase pasai hai phylai tēs gēs (“all the tribes of the earth”) has in the OT (LXX: Gen. 12:3; 28:14; Ps. 71:17; Zech. 14:17). I suggest that context provides the specific meaning of “φυλῶν τῆς γῆς” in both Matt. 24:30 and Rev. 1:7, as it does for the OT passages referenced. Context determines the meaning in a case-by-case basis. Meaning in one context may be different than in another, so φυλῶν τῆς γῆς is not a term automatically denoting universality. In the first two LXX cases given, the context was God’s covenant blessing, not judgment, and the term “φυλῶν τῆς γῆς” is often translated “all the families of the earth” (ESV, NASB, KJV). The third case is not in the Masoretic text (thus not in our Bibles) and may be a reference to “the tribes of the land” (i.e. the tribes of Israel in the Promised Land), as it is followed by “all nations shall call him blessed”—thus the verse being a description of the expansion of the blessing from Israel unto the nations. Then, in the case of Zech. 14:17, in its immediate context (with the nations that came up against Jerusalem mentioned in Zech. 14:16 possibly being a reference to those nations represented in the Seleucid Army, thus nations throughout the Seleucid Empire—e.g. 2 Macc. 8:9) the reference (φυλῶν τῆς γῆς) may be a specific reference to the Jews of the dispersion (“tribes of the earth”) throughout the Seleucid Empire, after the Maccabean wars (which makes for an interesting parallel to Rev. 1:7).
 Cf., for example, Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 41. As a historical-premillennial futurist, Mounce suggests, “The most satisfying solution is to take the expression “must soon take place” in a straightforward sense, remembering that in the prophetic outlook the end is always imminent.” A strength of the futurist, in such a case, is to see the “not yet,” but a weakness is to miss the “already.”
 Cf., for example, Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 70. Osborne (historical premillennial, perhaps “modified-futurist) states, “These are obviously the nonbelievers in the book who oppose God and his people. These would include both Jews and Gentiles responsible for placing Christ on the cross (“pierced him”) but should be expanded also to embrace all of fallen humanity (who in a spiritual sense put Christ on the cross).” Osborne sees the context as ambiguous. Holding to a late date with a futurist viewpoint, he is forced into that position, with no specific event in history to tie to the text or his conclusions. This plays out in a spiritualized interpretation, e.g. “When John relates that ‘every eye will see’ the one they ‘pierced,’ there is probably a double meaning: ‘see’ at the moment of conviction of sin and also ‘see’ at the parousia, when the time for repentance is over.” There seems to be a general truth to the spiritualizing, but it is detached from the historical events to which the text is referring. Also, cf. Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John, 2d. ed., Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1906), 9. Swete, who holds to a late date (ca. AD 95), says “those who pierced him” is “pointing not so much to the original crucifiers as to those who in every age share the indifference or hostility which lay behind the act.” Swete’s generalization is due to holding to a late date. He is thus handicapped with an inability to ground the event in the actual historical events of their fulfilment, so he spiritualizes it.
 Mathison, 143-144, observes, concerning the judgment language of 1:7, “The language for coming judgment is used elsewhere in the Old Testament (Pss. 18:7-15; 104:3; Isa. 19:1; Nah. 1:2-8) and in the New Testament (Matt. 24:4-34; Mark 13:5-30; Luke 21:8-36) to refer to contemporary judgments, and as we will see, it refers to a contemporary judgment here.” An example of “various judgments” would be in Acts 12:23. The Lord reserves the right to judge at any time, and the Scriptures are filled with examples. As for the Lord’s final coming, in judgment, cf. John 12:48; Matt. 12:46; Acts 1:9-11; 17:31; 1 Thess. 5:1-3.