The silence which ensues at the opening of the 7th seal may indicate that we have reached some sort of interlude. What we have seen has been intense. Perhaps John and his audience needed to pause and reflect before continuing with the next series of visions. The trumpet visions will take those events which we have seen and view them from another aspect that deepens the intensity of the judgments and the terror that they elicit. And then the silence may also reflect the feeling of awe that we all ought to experience when contemplating the astonishing wisdom and power of the Lord’s work of salvation and the terrible consequences of sin and disobedience. Then too the silence may allow the Lord to hear the prayers of the saints. It is pretty obvious that judgment results from those prayers. This indicates to us the amazing power of our prayers and the fact that they play an essential role in accomplishing God’s will.
The trumpet judgments, like the seals, are all drawn from the plagues related in Exodus 7-12. They suggest that the assurance of God’s actions in the future is based upon what He has done in the past. The trumpets also tell us that God’s judgments are cyclical meaning they occur throughout history even today for we have been in the last days since the day of Pentecost. The world labels the judgments John describes as natural disasters: earthquakes, drought, Tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods, hurricanes and cyclones all which bring their share of death and destruction throughout the world. Yet we see that all of them are allowed by God to accomplish His purposes. As much as we think it cruel or intolerant to admit, all these natural disasters are judgments used by God to punish sinners. Yet at the same time they are acts of mercy: He uses them to lead people to Him in repentance that they might be saved. This would also include wars and acts of terrorism. Though these events bring much sorrow and pain we must trust that the Lord God will accomplish God through them, even though we do not see what that may be. As difficult as it seems, we must trust Him to do the right thing.
John sees a vision that takes us back to events before the tribulation he has just witnessed. This reminds us that the visions John describes are not in chronological order but cyclical. The events depicted in the previous chapter will be repeated using different images, with different emphases and perspectives. What he is describing is not so much what will take place in our future but in the whole history of the church and its interactions with the world. I realize that this is a controversial thought that may cause some distress as it differs from what we evangelicals have been taught. Yet we cannot twist the scripture to make it say what we have been told it should say or what our preconceived notions or those of others demand. If we let scripture interpret scripture we can view these visions from the perspective of John and his original audience. And what John has written so far leads us to believe that Christians will go through the tribulation, indeed that we are in the middle of it and so has the church ever since the book was written.
John now records an important event that underscores this for us: the sealing of the 144,000. Almost all the numbers in this book are symbolic so we are to understand this number to be a symbol of perfection, being a multiple of 12 as in 12 apostles and 12 tribes. We note that one of the original tribes, Dan, is missing from the list and Levi has been included. Why this is so is not certain. But 144,000 simply means the full number of the redeemed, not a literal number as some sects have taught.
This is confirmed by the fact that what John sees next is a vast uncountable number of people from every tribe and nation, much more than 144,000. These apparently have all faithfully suffered and endured through the great tribulation and received their reward. This idea of sealing from judgment is drawn from Ezekiel 9 where the Lord sent an angel to mark those of His people He would spare from judgment and also from the events surrounding the Passover (Exodus 7-12). While the Israelites lived in the midst of the Egyptians the plagues only fell upon the latter because God marked those who were His so they would be saved from destruction. God will do the same with believers through the tribulation. Though they may suffer persecution and death for their faithfulness to the witness of the gospel, the judgments of God will not come near them.
As the Lamb opens the first 4 seals, angelic horsemen emerge. These are similar to those spoken of by the prophet Zechariah (chapter 6). There the riders patrolled the earth to report what they saw to the Lord. The horsemen John sees, however, bring God’s judgment upon unbelievers. The first angel brings war and conquest as kingdoms and nations assault one another. The other three angels follow with the obvious consequences which come with war: bloodshed and violence, famine and economic destabilization, and plague and pestilence which result from diseases brought on or exacerbated by lack of proper nourishment. Although it may seem that Satan or rulers, kings, armies and generals have the upper hand in producing all this chaos and devastation, they do not. The horsemen are all under the control of the Lord and do His bidding. The promise here is that all earthly powers, kings and kingdoms and celebrities will fall before the will of the Lord.
As the Lamb opens the fifth seal we are reminded that the Book of Revelation gives no justification for the rapture of the church. In the process of all of God’s judgments many believers will suffer and be martyred. They will not suffer because of the judgments because they are not under the wrath of God. They suffer because they witness for Jesus Christ in the midst of a hostile world. They will be vindicated when the Lord decides that the fullness of those saved has been reached.
The sixth seal seems to indicate that the promised judgment has come for the entire earth and the cosmos collapses. Suffering and chaos are designed to lead people to the Lord for strength, guidance and perseverance but in the end there will be many who even in the face of tremendous violence and upheaval reject His help. Here we may recall the fear, devastation and powerlessness we in America felt in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Many people turned to the Lord for strength. But here we are years later and America has grown increasingly more immoral and ungodly. Many scoff at the Lord. This is sad, for a time of greater travail is coming when many will run from God even in the face of His judgment when all He wants is for them to repent and surrender to His love.
John focuses his attention on the scroll that God holds. He knows it is very important because it has writing on both sides and is sealed with 7 seals. The scroll is God’s revelation of what will happen, perhaps containing the names of all those who will inherit the Kingdom of God. John weeps thinking that if no one can open it then God’s will may be delayed causing further suffering to come upon his fellow believers. But an angel tells him that the Lion of the tribe of Judah can open it for only He is worthy to do so. As John turns to see the Lion he sees instead a Lamb that looks like it has been slain, killed, sacrificed, yet is alive. The Lamb has 7 horns, symbolizing sovereignty over all things, and 7 eyes symbolizing wisdom and omniscience. John and his audience know that this Lamb is Jesus.
The vision of the lion who is the slain Lamb is one of the keys to understanding the book of Revelation and the Bible itself: Jesus achieved victory over sin and death by His own sacrificial death on the cross. Thus, as the Book of Revelation will show, our path to glory lies not through human means of political power, military might and violence but through weakness, suffering and martyrdom as we follow in the footsteps of the Lamb who redeemed us. This amazing paradox inspires the emotional praise and worship of the living creatures, the elders and the angels. This is why when they sing they state exactly what He has done which is so glorious. And as they do this they demonstrate that the Lamb is Almighty God Himself: Only God Himself is worthy of such praise and adoration for He alone possesses the sovereignty, wisdom and might which they ascribe to Jesus. Therefore they proclaim the divinity of Jesus. When we sing praise to God, we can imitate the example given in this chapter by enumerating His attributes as well as the specific things He has done.
Want to begin to think with a Biblical Worldview?
Need help with applying the scriptures in a world that is running amok?
Read Bible Mediations for Busy People: Blogging Through the Torah
I am not one to put myself forward, as I am not perfect and all the glory goes to the Lord. The book I have written Bible Mediations for Busy People: Blogging Through the Torah, is an extremely useful tool for studying the Bible in context. The book is designed for busy people, to be read when commuting to work or during daily pray time.
I expect it to be the first in a series of books that examine the Scriptures book by book and chapter by chapter.
As I wrote these mediations I prayed and asked the Lord for wisdom and guidance. I also researched some worthwhile Bible commentaries. The Lord granted me words to say and write down just as I do every day with my Blog. The Lord has granted me the blessing of writing a book that is composed of a series of short mediations that interpret the Scripture from an evangelical perspective.
But these meditations are designed to do something more. They are designed to help the reader to apply them to daily life and to think with about life and current events with a Biblical worldview.
And continue to read my daily Blog for insight into the Book of Revelation and other Scriptures.
The churches at Pergamum and Thyatira were both praised by the Lord for their strong stand on the word of God and their perseverance through trials. Yet they were in grave danger for both tolerated false prophets who urged that they compromise some of their beliefs in order to co-exist peacefully with their pagan neighbors. In both cities, as in most of the larger cities of the Roman Empire, merchants, artisans and tradesmen formed trade guilds. These were designed for fellowship, networking, and feasting. Their feasts were dedicated to their patron god or to the Emperor as god. The pagan rituals at these feasts often involved sexual immorality as well as eating foods dedicated to those pagan gods. If Christians did not join in these guilds, life would have been quite difficult for them. They would be ostracized by their fellow tradesmen, even their families, suffering the loss of social status as well as business.
False teachers or prophets arose in these churches teaching that believers could partake in these guild feasts despite the immorality and idolatry. Perhaps they maintained that pagan gods are really nothing, so there would be no harm in going to such feasts. Maybe they told believers that they could influence the pagans for the good an lead them to the Lord.
Here the Lord exposes the underlying motivation: financial and material gain as well as a deliberate desire to avoid persecution. This is a dangerous path they are on for sooner or later they will face a choice: to acknowledge Caesar or Jesus as the one they serve. Any compromise here would sinful and unacceptable. The warning to these churches is also for the church in America which has compromised the gospel for the sake of popularity and material gain. Many believers have entered the world of business or entertainment thinking they will influence them for the Lord, but what happens most often is the exact opposite. Christians fall into sin themselves and turn from the Lord. Embracing the world’s values or even tolerating them or appearing to ruins the godly witness of those who profess to serve Christ. Avoiding sin and compromise is not easy, but we must avoid even the appearance of evil so that our testimony will remain godly.
These letters to the 7 churches present messages that relate to the entire church throughout the centuries. Nevertheless none of the images or expressions is random; each has some specific relevance to the church or to the city. When Jesus specifically mentions that he hold the 7 stars He is making a statement about His universal control and supreme power to counteract the claim to divinity made by the Roman Emperor Domitian. Ephesus was one of Asian centers for worship of the Emperor. Such worship was rejected by these steadfast Christians who also rejected all sorts of false teachings. Though they stood firmly on the truth of God’s word they did so without love towards their brethren or their unsaved neighbors. The warning to them applies also to us. A church without love is in serious danger of losing its effectiveness. Although orthodox theology and practice are necessary and praiseworthy, they must always be applied in love and accompanied by deeds of compassion and charity with unity among the brethren.
The church at Smyrna, on the other hand, received only praise from the Lord because she remained faithful to Him despite intense persecution. Part of the suffering of the believers at Smyrna was brought on by Jews who were denouncing Christians as false Jews and betraying them to the Roman authorities. Apparently the early Christians identified themselves as true Jews because they adhered to the most genuine form of Judaism. They embraced the Jewish Messiah who fulfilled the Jewish Scriptures by His death and resurrection. Jesus commends these believers for their perseverance despite great loss and death. But because He has overcome death He will reward them. This should remind us that faithfulness to the Lord will entail suffering in the form of loss of material prosperity, comfort, friends, popularity and even life itself. Such suffering, though painful can be made bearable as we remember the eternal life guaranteed us by the Lord which will eclipse every temporal loss we suffer.