Revelation part 15
Opening the Seals
Chapters 6 & 8:1-2
It is no understatement to say we are now entering into deep and mysterious territory in our study of this amazing book.
So far, most of what we’ve looked at has been fairly easy to grasp.
Ch. 1 set the stage in telling us how the book came about – John’s commission to write it while he was in exile on the island of Patmos for the crime of preaching the Gospel. And we get an account of the glorious vision of Christ that he saw.
Chs. 2 & 3 contain the letters Jesus dictated to John to be sent to the 7 churches in Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.
Ch. 4 took us right into the very throne room of God to see Him in His glory and reassuring all that He is truly ruling and reigning and carrying out His divine plan for the ages – even if we can’t sense that here and now.
Ch. 5 introduced us to the scroll with 7 seals – A representation of the unfolding and enactment of God’s final judgment upon sin, and His justification and reward of Believers – all in the hands of the only one worthy to open the scroll and accomplish its contents – The Lamb of God, The Lion of Judah – Jesus the risen Christ. Let’s look at that briefly again.
Revelation 5:1–10 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
From this point on, the bulk of the book follows what one writer calls “three cycles of God’s judgment on his enemies—( 1) seven seals (Rev 6: 1– 8: 5); (2) seven trumpets (Rev 8: 6– 11: 19); and (3) seven plagues or bowls (Rev 15 and 16).1 1Emerson, Matthew Y.. Between the Cross and the Throne: The Book of Revelation (Kindle Locations 62-63). Lexham Press. Kindle Edition.
The question of how the 7 seals relate to the 7 trumpets and both of them to the 7 bowls is not an easy one to answer.
Are they simultaneous? Are they sequential? Some mixture? Opinions abound. What seems most useful to me, is to think of them in this way:
The opening of the seals is the first step in enacting the contents, and is a revealing of the PROGRAM of God’s judgments.
The Trumpets are then a PROCLAMATION of the judgments in more detail. Urgent and graphic warnings of what has begun. What is now in process and how it will end.
And the bowls are the actual POURING OUT of the Judgments.
I use this cycle type of format because each of these groups of 7 ends the same way – in final judgment. And when you think about it, there can only be one “final” judgment.
So you compare Revelation 6:15–17 Which records the end of the opening of the 6th seal. “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, 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, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
So these clearly understand that this is the wrath of the Lamb being inflicted on them.
With Revelation 9:20–21 This again is at the end of the 6th trumpet being blown. “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.”
The “rest of mankind”is mentioned here, and their unrepentance, even though as we saw in the 6th seal, they know this is the wrath of the Lamb!
And Revelation 18:9–10 This scene comes at the end of the last bowl being poured out. And no more judgments take place after these events until the war at the end of the millennium. “And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.”
Each section has a final judgment element. But there aren’t 3 final judgments, just one. So it would make sense that some kind of layering of one sort or another is going on.
Now whether or not that is THE actual scheme, won’t be as important to us as making sure we get the thrust of what is being revealed in each scenario. Fortunately, we can get to that without speculating on the way the interconnectedness might work.
So let’s take a broader look at what we can take away solidly from what we read in this portion.
1st SEAL: 6:1–2 Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.
Lots of speculation surrounds trying to identify who this rider on the white horse is.
The 2 most popular theories are that it is either Jesus, or the Antichrist.
In truth, if the identity of the rider were that important to what God is keen on us needing to know, I think it would have been spelled out.
Since he isn’t identified – what CAN we know?
That God’s ultimate PROGRAM is one of righteous conquering of all that which has been in rebellion against God.
This rebellion will be characterized later as a kingdom that stands in opposition to God’s kingdom.
White nearly always represents righteousness in this book, and in other apocalyptic literature. Whether the rider is Jesus, or the antichrist or someone else – God’s program for judging sin and rewarding His saints is a righteous one which involves conquering that which needs to be put down in opposition to Him.
2nd SEAL: 6:3–4 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.”
The Program Of conquering sin, evil and the kingdom of this world system will incorporate a great escalation in human warfare.
The phrase “slay one another” may be an allusion to civil war versus just war in general. Either way, an escalation in warfare is clearly indicated.
3rd SEAL: 6:5–6 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”
This judgment results directly from the wars which dreadfully reduce food and produces famine. Though it IS controlled. These too are part of the program. Part of dismantling human self-dependence.
4th SEAL: 6:7–8 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.
The judgment will be characterized by massive numbers of death finalizing the sentence for masses.
5th SEAL: 6:9–11 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
This judgment will include great persecution against the saints including martyrdom.
6th SEAL: 6:12–17 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 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, 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, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
The judgment will incorporate global, cataclysmic upheaval.
7th SEAL: 8:1-5
The program WILL have an absolute final judgment upon all sin. God’s judgment will give way to the fulfillment of all His promises to His people.
But first will come vivid, graphic, repeated warnings to all in the time of the 7 trumpets.
As a sort of preview – I will tell you now that Chapter 7 is a pageant of how God will preserve His own throughout all the trials and tribulations which come upon the earth as a result of sin – and even through the Great Tribulation. God will not lose His own, no matter how bad it gets. We’ll see that next time.
Then Ch. 8 will see the 7th seal opened and the 7 trumpets begin to sound the last warnings in urgent, and graphic pictures to the Church and to the World. No one need be caught unaware if the Church is doing her job in preaching and teaching. For this IS what is coming. And our evangelistic zeal needs to be fueled by a clear and overwhelming sense of how God is not playing around, that He will not remain patient forever, and that His wrath is far more terrible than anyone imagines.
But what about this portion before us today? What is it we need to take away from this for our lives here and now?
- God isn’t winging it, and human history isn’t flying blind or undirected. Wars, rumors of wars, false prophets, false Christs, persecutions of the saints, global geo-political upheavals, natural and ecological disasters, and the like: Jesus Himself told us in Matt. 24 and elsewhere these are part of the Program and are not “the end” in and of themselves.
Christian – be heartened.
This would have been the immediate application to those the book was initially written to as they were undergoing their trials under Roman rule.
And it is meant to inform and comfort Christians in EVERY era when facing all of the things listed in their own context.
As we will see later in the book, every society, every people group, every “kingdom” has 4 common elements:
- A RELIGIOUS perspective.
- A POLITICAL structure.
- An ECONOMIC system.
- A MORAL framework.
And in this book we will see that every society which does not have a religious foundation of the Biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ; a political structure where Christ is the absolute monarch; an economic system which trades on spiritual values not materially based ones; and a moral framework established in Biblical holiness – will not only fall – it MUST fall when crushed by the coming of Christ to establish His Kingdom.
This includes fascist, communistic, democratic, autocratic, theocratic, anarchic and yes – even western representative republics like our own.
Western culture and society WILL perish. If not by virtue of its own inner corruption before Jesus comes, then by His judgment of it when He comes, if, it still exists at all.
Put no trust in man’s invented religious notions, political and governmental systems, financial prosperity or humanly defined morality. It all must give way.
It IS giving way.
Their dissolution is all in God’s program. Christ has ascended, and as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:25 “he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”
Christian – take heart.
- Note that it is Christ our Savior who is the executor of God’s will in all of this.
He opens the seals. He sets the timing, directs the events and guides them to completion.
For those who belong to Him – this is supreme comfort in all trials and difficulties.
For those who are His enemies – who simply live life unto themselves and not under His rule – this is terrifying.
And so it is again a call to be reconciled to God through Jesus – through faith in His atoning work on Calvary.
- Look at the patience and grace of God even in this.
Jesus comes and preaches the Gospel and dies for our sins.
The Disciples begin to preach the Gospel.
The Gospel spreads all over the world – transforming men and nations.
The Bible is written, preserved, published and distributed everywhere for generations.
The Church is established in worshiping communities all over the globe.
Missionaries travel to the remotest of unreached regions and people groups.
The Gospel is preached in pulpits, print, the radio, television, the internet and person to person.
The promise of Jesus’ return and the final judgment upon sin and wickedness is proclaimed generation after generation by every means possible.
Mankind is given millennia to hear, repent, turn to Christ in saving faith and be delivered from the wrath to come.
Every war, every earthquake, every famine, tornado, tsunami , and ecological disaster screams out God’s warning message that final judgment is on the way and demonstrates it in miniature.
And even as the seals of God’s program are broken open and enacted by Christ – still time is given to the 7 trumpets to herald Jesus’ return and the coming judgment. Once again people are called to forsake their sin and flee to Christ for forgiveness, eternal life and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And so it is the trumpets are already sounding in our ears even today aren’t they? And still some of you refuse to hear, refuse to repent of your sin, refuse to bend the knee to Christ to be reconciled to God by faith in His substitutionary atonement. Refuse to serve Him as Lord.
Your eyes are still on human governments and western culture.
You believe a gospel of your own invention while refusing His.
You trust in your wages, 401K, and seek safety and well-being in investments and bank accounts. Seeking financial prosperity over seeking the face of God.
And what is right or wrong, moral or immoral changes at your own personal whim, or the current of popular culture.
Beloved – now is the time to call upon the Lord – before all of this gives way to pouring out of the 7 final bowls of His wrath, and it truly is – too late.
Today is still a day of grace. He calls out to you one more time to come to Him for mercy and forgiveness and transformation.
I do not know about tomorrow, only now. Won’t you come?