In the book of Revelation there are two significant arenas of action – heaven and earth. One thing which seems particularly significant about this theme is the idea that what goes on in heaven is not visible to those who are on the earth, but in some way it is visible to the saints. The perspective of the saints is meant to be the heavenly view rather than the view from the earth.
In the beginning of the book we discover that Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5). This is a fact which is revealed to the people of God, but it is something which the kings of the earth have no knowledge of. Instead the kings of the earth ally themselves with the Beast and the False Prophet (13:1). They are idolatrous, committing adultery with the Great Prostitute, who is Babylon (17:2). The kings of the earth so believe that they are in control that they will gather together to fight against God (16:12-16). But, the voices from heaven proclaim that “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (11:15). The one who reads the books sees that this is so even though it is still invisible. What is now an invisible rule of Jesus will become a rule which is visible to all as is promised in Rev 1:7.
Revelation 19:11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. 17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.
The Lord Jesus, who is King of kings and Lord of lords, will overcome the kings of the earth. His rule over the nations will become visible to everyone. All who oppose him will be thrown into the lake of fire. Importantly, what is now invisible to the kings of the earth will become unmistakably visible.
The saints also will reign on the earth (5:10). Only the saints are aware of this promise that they will reign. What is visible on the earth is the complete opposite of this. The saints are persecuted by those who dwell on the earth (6:10). The people of the earth are happy when God’s prophets are killed by the Beast (11:10). Babylon sheds the blood of the saints and the prophets (18:24). In all this the view from the earth seems clear. The saints are not the ones who are ruling, but rather they are the ones who are downtrodden and mistreated. But the book of Revelation gives us the view from heaven so that we will not live as if the view from the earth is the only one. It shows us what is now invisible.
Revelation 12:10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
Revelation 14:13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
The voices from heaven proclaim what is currently invisible on the earth. As the people of God we are given a different viewpoint. We are enabled to see the invisible now. In the future all this will become visible to all. But in the mean time it is visible only to those who have faith.
What is happening on the earth is explained by what has happened in heaven. War happened in heaven between Michael (and his angels) and the dragon. The dragon, that is, Satan fell to earth with his angels and he is angry against Christ, so he makes war against the people of God who obey the Lamb (Ch 12). This fact, invisible to all, but revealed to the saints, explains the persecution of the saints throughout the book. But the ultimate judgement of the devil (20:10) is also made known to the saints. Without this revelation of what is invisibly true the people of God would always be wondering about why they are persecuted. They may even be fooled into thinking that human beings are the real enemy.
The judgement of the people on the earth takes place throughout the book of Revelation (3:10; 6:4, 8; 7:1; 8:5, 7, 13; 9:3, 4; 11:6; 14:15-19; 16:1, 18). The events themselves are quite visible to the people of the earth. However, only those who know invisible things through faith may know the things which are happening in heaven which bring the judgements about. The only one in heaven and earth and under the earth who is worthy to open the scrolls is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who is the Lamb (5:1-7). These scrolls are sealed and the seals are opened one at a time (6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12; 8:1). Opening of the seals results in all manner of plagues and judgements on the earth. To the people on the earth these things may seem like natural disasters, but the saints are made aware of what is happening.
The people of the earth who know that God is judging them do not repent and worship God, but try to hide from God.
Revelation 6:15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
But contrast their reaction with the reaction of the saints in heaven who worship the Lamb.
Revelation 5:11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
The saints in heaven are given a different perspective on the work of the Lamb. For them it is not wrath but salvation which comes from the Lamb. Those who have the perspective of heaven do not run from the Lamb. Those who have the perspective of the earth hide from him. It is possible for those on the earth to see with from the viewpoint of heaven, but this requires repentance and following the Lamb. Yet most of the people of the earth refused to repent (9:20-21; 16:9-11). To sing the song of heaven you must be redeemed from the earth (14:3).
Those who live on the earth are deceived by false signs because these are visible to the eyes. To see these signs and be persuaded by them there is no need for any supernatural vision.
Revelation 13:11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.
These people are deceived by the false signs because they are not people of the Lamb. Their names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life (13:8). The people of the Lamb do not only see with physical eyes, but they see with the eyes of faith and therefore they are aware that these signs are false. Instead of looking at the false signs which are clearly visible they look at the signs which come from heaven that are visible only to faith.
Revelation 12:1 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. 5 She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.
Revelation 15:1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.
Because the saints can see the signs which appear in heaven, the signs which the people of the earth cannot see, the saints are not deceived by the Beast and the False Prophet. They look at invisible things and not just the visible.
The way in which the saints come to see what is invisible to the inhabitants of the world is by being “in the Spirit”.
Revelation 1:9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” 12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
When John was in the Spirit he saw Jesus. He could not have seen Jesus without being in the Spirit. Jesus does not make himself visible to the inhabitants of the earth. He made himself visible to the one who he chose to make these things known to the church. Only the church, then, can see what is invisible and the church can only see what is invisible through the Spirit. This is because spiritual things are not discerned by those without the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14). Although the people of God are people with the Spirit of God dwelling within they do not always think like spiritual people. We must have our minds renewed constantly (Rom 12:2) in order to think like spiritual people. One of the reasons for the book of Revelation is that we, as the people of the Lamb, should consider what is invisible as if it were visible now. We must see with the eyes of the Spirit what cannot be seen by those who live on the earth. People who are “in the Spirit” know that we are citizens of heaven and not citizens of the earth (Phil 3:20).
In the final pages of the book the distance between earth and heaven is abolished. Heaven comes down to earth (21:2). All that was invisible to earth in the beginning of the book becomes plainly visible. And yet the only ones who see it are those who had faith. Those who lived on the earth and did not have the heavenly perspective are cast into the lake of fire (20:11-15) and will not see the glory of God visible on the earth. Therefore it is not simply a matter of waiting to see what is currently invisible. We must see the invisible in the present through faith. Our perspective as children of God must be the perspective of heaven and not the perspective of earth. The perspective of heaven enables the saints to persevere through persecution because they see Jesus as exalted Lord, who reigns over the authorities of the earth and who is fully in control of events now.