The Main Characters
The Book of Revelation has a very dramatic presentation, rather like a play, in which the different characters are introduced and described in particular ways, using distinctive words. The descriptions are contrasted to show the conflict between good and evil. Many of these titles and descriptions are familiar to us from the rest of the Bible. A table summarising these main characters is at the bottom of the page.
The spiritual powers
Two contrasting 'trinities' are introduced: the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
and the opposing evil trinity of the dragon and the two beasts. The Holy Trinity are mentioned together in the initial doxology (1:4-5): the one who is and was and is to come (the Father), the seven spirits before the throne (the Holy Spirit), and Jesus Christ. The trinity of evil are mentioned together when the three foul spirits come from the mouth of the dragon, beast and false prophet (16:13).
God the Father is first introduced in chapter 4, where he given the characteristic title of “the One seated on the throne” (4:2). In the vision of the heavenly throne room, there is no description of the physical appearance of God, but he is the One sitting on the throne in his heavenly courtroom, the king of the universe, in control of everything. Opposing God and everything he does is the Dragon, not introduced until chapter 12, and clearly identified as the Devil and Satan (12:9). In contrast to God sitting on the throne, the dragon has been thrown out of heaven and down to earth (12:9b,10,13), having lost his place of power and authority.
The risen Jesus is introduced in chapter 1 when John was on the Island of Patmos. However he is
not introduced by his most characteristic description, the Lamb, until chapter 5. This lamb has been slaughtered in a sacrificial death, and is therefore worthy to be worshipped as the redeemer of mankind. The Lamb is also on the throne, equal to the Father (22:3). The first beast, the one that rose out of the sea, is introduced in chapter 13. It is a pseudo-Christ, deceiving people by having a mortal wound that was healed (13:3). It is given power and authority by the dragon, and people worship it.
The Holy Spirit is referred to as the seven spirits before the throne of God (1:4, 4:5). Through the
NT, we see that one of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to witness to Jesus and to encourage people to worship him. By contrast the second beast, which rose out of the earth (also introduced in chapter 13) forces people to worship the first beast and the dragon (13:12). This beast is also referred to as the false prophet (19:20). So this second beast is a pseudo-Holy Spirit, not demanding worship itself, but forcing people to worship the first beast. Also, just as the Holy Spirit works miracles to promote worship of Christ, the false prophet also works wonders to promote worship of the first beast.
The people worshipping the spiritual powers
There are characteristic descriptions of the people who worship these two opposing trinities. These
descriptions are also given in stark contrast to show the distinction between light and darkness. Both groups of people are described as a woman and a city. The people of darkness are the whore Babylon (17:1,5). John is invited by the angel to see the great whore (harlot or prostitute), but is shown Babylon, a city. Babylon is always described as “The Great City” (16:19, 17:18). By contrast, the people of God are his bride Jerusalem (21:9-10). John is invited by the angel to see the bride, the wife of the Lamb, and is shown the holy city Jerusalem. Jerusalem is always described as “The Holy City” (21:2) or “The Beloved City” (20:9). Babylon is not introduced until chapter 17, before its destruction is lamented in chapter 18. The heavenly city Jerusalem is described in chapter 21 and 22. Both cities are introduced in almost identical wording in 17:1ff, and 21:9ff, which serves to emphasise the contrast between the two.
Through all of Scripture there is a contrast between the bride and the whore, and between Jerusalem
and Babylon. Hosea demonstrated in his own life how God’s bride had become a prostitute, through their
idolatry and unfaithfulness. Starting from the Tower of Babel, Babylon became a consistent symbol of anti-God power in the OT, contrasted with Jerusalem or Zion, the place in which God chose to dwell with his people.
The believers are described as “the servants (slaves) of God” (eg. 7:3, 19:2), or the “saints” (eg. 5:9, 13:10, 17:6) which are titles frequently used through the NT. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes (14:4) and worship him alone, refusing to worship the beast. Associated with the powers of darkness are “the kings of the earth” who worship the beast (6:15, 17:2, 19:20), who could be contrasted with the servants of God. The only real way to rule is to be a servant of the Lamb, as his servants will rule and reign with him (1:6, 20:6). Those who attempt to rule in the world gain their power through worshipping the beast, but will face eternal judgement.
The characteristic colour of the Lamb and of God’s people is white, the colour associated with
purity. The Lamb will appear on a white horse (19:11). The great multitude will be dressed in white (7:9), having washed their clothes in the blood of the Lamb (7:14). However the colours which identify with the beasts and Babylon are scarlet and purple (17:3-4), the colours associated with luxury and earthly power.
There is also a contrasting dwelling. The saints are those who dwell in heaven (13:6). Paul said that
our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20), and that we have been raised with Christ and seated with him in
heavenly places (Eph 2:6). By contrast, the unbelievers are described as those who dwell on the earth, or the inhabitants of the earth (6:10, 13:8). In his gospel, John describes them as “the world” (Jn 3:16).
The over-riding difference between the two groups is who they worship. God’s people, the saints,
his servants, worship the Lamb. The Book of Revelation is full of worship, with inspiring scenes of worship in heaven (ch 4-5), when the four living creatures and twenty-four elders fall down and worship God seated on the throne, and the Lamb who was slain. There are fourteen songs of worship recorded through the book, many of which are sung today. By contrast, the unbelievers worship the beast. The whole earth worships the dragon and the beast (13:4,8), and persecutes those who refuse to do so.
Now it gets controversial. Connected with who people worship is a mark or a seal. If people worship
the Lamb, they are his servants and receive his seal on their foreheads, which is the name of the Father
(14:1). Paul wrote that one of the blessings we have in Christ is that we have been marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13). In other words, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers is God’s seal of ownership (Rom 8:9). By contrast, those who worship the beast receive his mark on their foreheads, which is the name of the beast (13:16-17). Every time the mark of the beast is mentioned in Revelation it is linked with worshipping the beast (eg. 19:20, 20:4). So the mark of the beast is the dragon’s mark of ownership on those who worship him. Christians often worry whether it is possible for a believer to receive the mark of the beast. If we use the rest of the NT to help us in the interpretation, we will see that the mark of the beast is not a physical mark, any more than the Holy Spirit is a physical seal.
According to Revelation, the names of believers are written in the Lamb’s book of life (21:27), and
this happened before the foundation of the world (13:8), giving great security to the believer. However the names of the inhabitants are not written in the Lamb’s book of life (17:8).
So to summarise, unbelievers are the inhabitants of the earth, they worship the beast and bear his
mark, which is the name of the beast. By contrast, the saints are those who dwell in heaven, worship God and the Lamb and bear his seal, which is the name of the Father, and their name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. We see a complete separation between light and darkness, between the saints and the world, with no grey areas between. This distinction also found clearly in John’s gospel.
Looking to the future, there are two contrasting meals: the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:9) and
the great supper of God (19:17-18). There is an invitation to both: as a guest to the marriage supper of the Lamb, or, rather gruesomely, as the food to be eaten at the great supper of God. One is a blessing, the other a graphic picture of judgement. Which dinner a person attends depends on who they worship, the Lamb or the beast. There is a choice of eternal destiny: the new heaven and new earth for the believers (21:1), or the lake of fire of eternal torment for everyone and everything else, which is the second death (20:14).
The spiritual battle
The Book of Revelation portrays a great battle between good and evil, as the forces of darkness
attack and persecute God’s people because they worship the Lamb - “They will make war on the Lamb”
(17:14). The whore was drunk with the blood of the saints (17:6). However the great message of the book
is that the Lamb has conquered through his sacrificial death and is victorious over his enemies. The saints will share this victory as long as they maintain a faithful testimony to Jesus (12:11), through patient endurance (13:10), even though this may mean martyrdom. The victory of Jesus means that death is not the end for the saints, as the martyrs will rule and reign with Christ, and enjoy his presence forever. Even though the saints will experience tribulation (suffering) (1:9), they will never experience the wrath of God. From the rest of the NT we know that this is because Jesus took the wrath of God instead of us, bearing the punishment for our sin on the cross.
Through the book there are many descriptions of judgement that will come on the inhabitants of the
earth who worship the beast, as well as on the beasts and the dragon. The wrath of God will come on them,
described through the trumpets (partial judgements), and the bowls (total judgement). A number of times the evil forces “gather for battle” against the saints (eg. 16:14, 19:19), but no battle is ever described. The result is foregone conclusion because of the victory achieved by Jesus on the cross.
Table showing the main characters and their paralleled and contrasting descriptions
|The spiritual powers
|HOLY TRINITY: (1:4-5)
||TRINITY OF EVIL: (16:13)
|God the Father
- The One seated on the throne (ch 4)
|The Dragon (ch 12)
- thrown down to earth (12:9-13)
- The Lamb that had been slain (ch 5)
|Beast out of the sea
- with a mortal wound (13:3)
| The Holy Spirit
- The seven spirits before the throne(1:4, 4:5)
|Beast out of the earth
- The false prophet (13:11, 19:20)
||The Bride (19:7-8, ch 21)
||The harlot (prostitute) (ch 17)
||New Jerusalem (ch 21) = 'The Holy City'
||Babylon (ch 18) = 'The Great City'
|Servants or kings:
||Servants of our God (7:3) = Saints
||The kings of the earth (6:15, 17:2)
||White (7:9,13-14, 19:14)
||Scarlet and purple (17:3-4)
||Those who dwell in heaven (13:6)
||Inhabitants of earth (6:10, 8:13, 13:8)
||Worship God and the Lamb
||Worship the beast
|Seal/mark = name:
||bear his Seal on foreheads
= Father's name (14:1, 22:4)
|bear his Mark on forehead
= Name of beast (13:17)
|Book of life:
||Names in Lamb's book of life (21:27)
||Names NOT in book of life (17:8)
|Destiny - suppers:
||Invited to marriage supper of lamb (19:9)
||Eaten at great supper of God (19:17)
||New Heaven and New Earth (21:1)
||Lake of fire = second death (20:14)
|The spiritual battle
||THE SAINTS WILL CONQUER
||Make war on the lamb and the saints (17:6, 14)
||by testimony to Jesus (12:11)
patient endurance (13:10, 14:12)
(even to martyrdom)
|Gather for battle (16:14, 19:19)
||Experience tribulation (suffering)
||Experience the wrath of God
- Trumpets (partial)
- Bowls (total)
||Never experience wrath of God