Monday, November 21, 2022
With chapter six the Lamb begins to open the seven seals of God’s book. John has not been told what that book contains, but he understands it is important. It becomes clear that the breaking of each seal moves history forward toward the kingdom of God. Some people may think of the book of Revelation as a set of descriptions of disasters – it is not, really, but for those who think of it that way the start of their evidence is here. Great violence will precede the arrival of the reign of peace we all anticipate.
People have tried to understand what the seven seals of the book are like by questioning how they are set up. Must they all be broken before anything can be done with the book? Or does the breaking of each seal allow a new section of the book to be read out, until the next seal is reached? Might it be that the portion being read describes what John is seeing? Or are the contents of the book about matters beyond all of this? Either way, there is more to God’s plan than what is relayed to us at this time.
The first four seals (v. 2-8) tell us about the famous “four horsemen of the apocalypse” (“apocalypse” just comes from the Greek word for “revelation” or “uncovering” found in Revelation 1:1). We could describe them in different ways, but it looks like a pattern of conquest leading to war and crop failure and then widespread death (including from famine and wild animals). Here we get one of Revelation’s really big numbers – one fourth of the world is given over to the power of the fourth horseman. We don’t know if that means one fourth of the world’s population dies, or if that large a region of the world was affected by the warfare, but this implies massive displacement of people along with the deaths.
The fifth seal reminds us not to get too particular in our interpretation, however, as it shows us the souls of those who had died for the word of God complaining about the delay in judgment. Not the most literal image, certainly. Its presence here lets us understand the urgency and value God places on the restoration of those who have served Him, even though they are not literally suffering anxiety over the delay. It is similar to when God told Cain that Abel’s blood cried out to Him from the ground (Genesis 4:10). God is motivated to action even when the victim of evil is no longer alive to cry out. And even if by our standards God seems slow to act, God will act (2 Peter 3:9). The fifth seal reminds us why all of this destruction happens – God loves His children and will not leave guilt unanswered. The fifth seal also provides one reason why it is not happening faster – because there were still more to be killed who chose to serve God, and so of course there had been more to be saved in choosing God (v. 11).
The events described in verses 12 and 13 align this chapter with Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24 (where Jesus quotes Joel 2:31). Notably, Revelation has sometimes been described as having perhaps 500 references to the Old Testament, possibly without a single direct quotation used in it. This can make it a challenge to keep up with the allusions to other texts.
The splitting of the sky like a scroll in verse 14 picks up an image from Isaiah 34:4; if we read from that chapter we will get more language of the day of God’s vengeance. All the mountains and islands of the world moving seems to be more than the great earthquake in Revelation 6:12 could accomplish, so we may need to suppose many related earthquakes and aftershocks. A fourth of the world had been disrupted, but now all of it is. The world’s kings and all who had served them try to hide in what is left of the caves and rocks of the mountains. “Fall on us and hide us,” they plead, because the day of wrath of God and the Lamb has come “and who is able to stand?”
It seems like this is a parallel with the souls under the altar. Instead of being told to wait, and comforted, these people are trying to hide and finding no comfort. Something has happened that lets them know why the world is disrupted, but they have not chosen to repent. The text has not taken any effort to describe what kind of people they are, but the language is being picked up from passages about the wicked who spurned God (Isaiah 2:19; Hosea 10:8). I still find it hard not to grieve for them, even just reading about them in advance of their struggles. But I recognize that if we are ever to do anything for them we need to try to do that in advance, to prevent them from reaching this moment in time, and such a point of corruption. I’m not sure if I am meant to feel sympathy for people in the day of God’s wrath or not, but I know this – no one is living in that day yet, so I can still serve.
Lord, please help me to care deeply about the lives of the people around me. There are so many lost sheep in need of a shepherd, and even dogs who need the opportunity to eat crumbs from beneath the table. One day it will be the last day, and no one will be able to stand. But right now there are things that can be done to strengthen those with weak ankles, to lift up those with faltering hearts, to encourage and to love. Please let me be forgiving, bold, honest, compassionate, so that Christ can be seen in His body and your name can be exalted. Thank you, Amen.
- What feelings do you have as you read through Revelation 6? What images are most powerful to you? How does it make you view the One who sits on the throne and the Lamb who has the power to open the seals?
- How can you prepare today – and every day between now and then – for the coming wrath of the Lord and His Lamb?
- Continue to pray the prayer at the end of the devotion. Who is God revealing to you and what would God have you do for them? How? When? Why? With what attitude?