This week we will be reading through Revelation 6-7. This begins the section on God’s judgment which will take us through Revelation 20 and which contains all of those great symbols that popular culture thinks of when we mention the word “apocalypse” – four horsemen, 666, angelic warriors battling dragons, beasts and harlots, and the lake of fire. This email is available online and on Facebook.
As we begin this section on God’s judgment and the cosmic battle between good and evil, we have to ground our reading in the vision of Revelation 4-5 that we studied last week. The power of good that overcomes evil arises from the Lamb that was slaughtered, the blood that flows from him, and the testimony concerning the source of this power. The power of the Lamb is not based on this world’s understanding of power, but on the divine understanding that power comes from humility, obedience, and self-sacrifice. If we lose sight of the Lamb described in chapter 5, we will completely miss the purpose of John’s vision. The Lion of Judah rules only as the Lamb.
Purpose of God’s Judgment:
As we read through these chapters we see that God’s judgment is directed against the evil forces of this world – the unholy trinity of Satan, Death, and Hell – who are arrayed against the creation of God which is good. This judgment in chapters 6-20, however, is not the end, but only the means to the end. The ultimate teleological end is the creation of a new heaven and new earth where all of creation is reconciled and restored and obtains its perfect end in the presence of God and the Lamb. We all love the great imagery of the judgment, but in reading through Revelation we cannot lose sight of the end either. The vision begins with the worship of the saints before the throne of God and the Lamb and ends with the entirety of creation being brought into this same worship where nothing stands in the way. The cancer of evil must be excised and destroyed.
Substance of God’s Judgment:
The final point as we begin our descent into a battle with evil, is the nature of God’s judgment. God and the Lamb do not intentionally inflict harm on anyone. That is not the nature of the Divine as disclosed in the sacrificial Lamb who forgives all from the Cross. Rather, judgment, harm, and destruction are simply the natural consequential result of turning away from God and the Lamb. When we reject the Lamb and the source of its power, we experience disorder, death, and destruction. Think about Wylie Coyote running over a cliff – he is punished with falling simply because he left solid ground. When we leave the source of Life, then we too experience Death.
First Four Seals – The Horsemen:
Revelation 6 begins with the Lamb opening the first six of the seven seals that sealed the scroll described in Revelation 5:1. The first four seals unleash the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Conqueror, War, Famine, Death/Hell – over one-quarter of the earth. These four horsemen represent the ways of the powers of this world from the Roman Emperors to Vlad Putin, and therefore they must be judged by the Lamb. It all begins with a Conqueror armed with a military weapon and a crown. As he rides forth in power, he brings about War which takes peace from the earth. War is given a sword by which men kill each other. War brings about Famine. Food is so scarce that it is sold by weight and not volume, and a day’s wage only buys one-tenth of what it used to. Famine in turn brings about Death with Hades in tow. They bring about the scourages prophesized in Ezekiel 14:21.
The first four seals show how the world views power and the result of the use of this power. The worship of the Emperor (or of the nation-state) opens these seals. Today, we see these same seals being opened in Ukraine, Tigray, Yemen, South Sudan, and elsewhere in the world. The earthly thirst for power and conquest necessarily results in famine and death.
The Fifth Seal:
The fifth seal opens and the souls of the martyrs cry out for vengeance. These faithful witnesses have been sacrificed and therefore are found under the altar. Their cry is the same as the Psalmist: “How long?” How long must evil triumph? How long must the innocent suffer? How long before God sets everything right? The answer is “Not yet. Be patient. The judgment of the ways of the world must play out a little longer.” This is God’s message to us – be patient.
The Sixth Seal:
The sixth seal unleashes the great omens of earthquakes, solar and lunar eclipses, and falling stars. These are the more traditional signs of God’s judgment on the world. Joel 2:31, Amos 5:18-20, 8:9, Mark 13:24. Most ancient civilizations, including Rome, saw eclipses as omens of death and destruction, particularly of the death of political and military leaders. With the opening of the sixth seal, we now see the judgment of God and the Lamb coming upon the ways of the world beginning with the kings, the great men, the generals, the rich, and the strong. The time that the martyrs hoped for is now coming. The battle is being joined.
Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is shepherd’s pie. Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here.
He has shown strength with his arm,Luke 2:51-53
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.