January 26, 2016.
Reading: Revelation 6-12.
Background: Revelation 1-5.
Concepts and Connections.
The seven seals: After we are called into heaven to see the awesome worship and praise of the Lamb who is worthy to open the seven seals, here we follow the opening of the seals. Before we go too much further, we must remember that John writes the book of Revelation in themes and theology, not necessarily in chronological order. We will see three cycles of woe and punishment/destruction, but each of these are not necessarily separate accounts, but perhaps different perspectives of the judgment and wrath of God. Also, as we travel further, pay close attention to the focus on worship throughout the book of Revelation, as this book speaks more about worship than any other book in the New Testament. Here we see six of the seven seals opened. The first four seals come with four horsemen who are given power to in one way or another punish the inhabitants of the earth. This is one way for the judgment of God to be poured out on the people who will not obey His voice, as He may send captivity, sword or famine (note the echo here to many Old Testament prophets who prophesied famine, pestilence and sword). These are not ultimate judgements, as only part of mankind is affected by the riders. With the opening of the fifth seal, we see martyred souls under the altar who cry out “how long?” asking when the Lord would take vengeance for their blood. Note here that each was given a white robe and told to wait a little longer until the number of their brothers would be completed. Remember that the book of Revelation was written to early Christians who were going through, or about to go through great persecution and affliction. John’s letter does not tell them that things are going to get easier, but rather reveals the spiritual world behind the physical occurrences and makes it clear that in the end the Lamb wins. As long as this world is allowed to continue, there will be trials and persecution. But there is coming a day when the Lamb will win. It is up to us to choose the winning side. When the sixth seal is opened, calamity strikes the earth, and there are great catastrophes involving the creation, so much so that the small and great alike of the earth try to hide from the wrath that is poured out. Note the important question that is raised at the end of this chapter. Who can stand when the day of the wrath of the Lord will come? Though it seem rhetorical, this question will be answered in the next chapter.
The sealing of the people of God: In this chapter we take a break from the opening of the seven seals to see the people that are sealed from the judgment and wrath of the Lord that is coming on the earth. Wrath is withheld from the earth until those who were to be sealed were sealed on their foreheads, which is symbolic of ownership. 144,000 are sealed from the tribes of Israel, representing the complete people of God under the Old Covenant (12 is a complete number for the people of God, multiplied by 1,000 which is another number of completion). After the sons of Israel are sealed, then John sees a great multitude with people from the tribes and peoples of every nation on earth, praising the Lamb. Note that these people are standing before the throne and the Lamb- an answer to the question at the end of the previous chapter. Who can stand on the day of wrath? Those who have had their robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb. They cry out “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” They serve God day and night and are protected by His presence. They no longer hunger or thirst, but are completely satisfied and protected by the Lamb, who guides them to springs of living water (see John 4:14), and every tear is wiped from their eyes (see Revelation 21:4, Isaiah 25:8).
1. The seventh seal: At the beginning of this chapter, the opening of the seals is completed in the seventh seal. Note that when it is opened, an angel with a censer containing the prayers of the saints who were before the throne. These prayers rise up to God, and fire is filled in the censer and thrown down on earth. What was the prayer of the souls before the altar? “How long until You seek vengeance for our blood.” With the seventh seal, their prayer is apparently answered as God’s judgment is poured out on the earth.
2. The seven trumpets: The latter portion of this chapter begins the judgment of the seven trumpets. Remember that the book of Revelation is written in cycles, from different perspectives. This seems to be the perspective of God’s punishment and wrath (though not yet the ultimate judgment) from the lense of the creation. The blows of the trumpets bring with them wrath and destruction from nature. THere is hail and fire, uprooting of mountains, waters turning into blood, etc.. Only the first four trumpets are blown in this chapter, but an eagle cries out a dreadful woe to those who are on the earth for the blowing of three trumpets to come. There is irony in this picture, as the Eagle was a known symbol of Rome, who would incur the wrath and judgment of the Lord.
The fifth and sixth trumpets: In this chapter, the fifth and the sixth trumpets are blown, and the first two woes are sent across the earth. It is important to note who this wrath was directed against- only those who did not have the seal of God that we saw in the seventh chapter. The fifth trumpet opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and out of it came horrifying locusts that were given power to torment those on the earth who would not follow the Lamb. Note the vivid imagery that John uses in describing these beasts, as it seems he is stretching human vocabulary to try to describe as best he can what he sees. The sixth trumpet came with the release of the four angels who had with them a great, complete army of two hundred million mounted troops, each breathing fire, smoke and sulfur. A third of mankind is killed by their plagues. This punishment was for those who would not follow God; and yet, even in the wake of this punishment, they would not repent, but continued to serve their idols and false gods who were nothing.
John eats the scroll: Taking another break from the sounding of the seven trumpets, John sees a vision of a mighty angel coming down from heaven with a little scroll in his hand. The angel had a loud voice, as a roaring lion, and when the thunders sounded, John went to write what they said. However, he was told not to write what the seven thunders had sounded, but to seal it up. The angel then assured that the seventh trumpet sound would soon come, marking the ultimate justment and wrath of the Lord that was to be poured out on those who would not follow Him, just as the seventh seal had done (cycles) and as had been prophesied by the prophets of old. Then John is told to take the little scroll and eat it, and it would be sweet in his mouth but bitter in his stomach. This could be representative of the sweet taste of the good news, but the bitterness that comes when people reject the prophecy and witness of our Lord, calling down the wrath that would soon ensue.
1. The two witnesses: As a continuation of the second woe, or the sixth trumpet blast, here we see two witnesses arise in great power to give testimony to the Lamb. They are given authority over the creation, and fire goes forth from their mouth to consume their adversaries. Remember that these woes are against those who would not follow the Lamb, and the power of the witnesses is against them. It can be inferred that these witnesses are added in conjunction to the punishment that has been laid out by God, as it takes more than punishment to reach people- it also takes witness. However, during the witness’ testimony of 1,260 days (3 1/2 years with a 360 day calendar, which is a reference to Daniel, see Daniel 7:12, 12:7), those who would not follow the Lamb remained stubborn in their ways, only being terrified by the witnesses, but not convicted by them. After the days of their prophesying, they are killed by the beast who rose out of the bottomless pit, and their bodies were left to be looked upon in the streets for 3 1/2 days (which is sometimes symbolic of years). During this time, the inhabitants of the earth, those who would not follow the Lamb, rejoice and made merry, thinking that their doom was ended by the beast. But after 3 1/2 days, the breath of God entered the witnesses, and they stood on their feet, ushering in the seventh trumpet blast and the ultimate destruction of God. There is a great earthquake and a tenth of the city fell. The rest of the people stood terrified and gave glory to God. It would be too late, however, as the seventh trumpet was about to blow.
2. The seventh trumpet: Just as the seventh seal had come with the ultimate judgment of God, so does the seventh trumpet. With the trumpet blast comes loud voices saying that the kingdom of the world had become the kingdom of God and His Christ, who will reign forever. The 24 elders, which we saw in chapter 4, fall down and worship God, ascribing all glory and power to Him. He had come and destroyed the destroyers of the earth, and His ultimate judgement had been poured out on the earth. He would reign forever more. Hallelujah to the King.
Next Reading: Deuteronomy 32-34.
Come Lord Jesus.