Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Beginning of God’s Wrath

1 Now I (John) saw when the Lamb (Jesus) opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, “Come and see.” 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer (conquest war). 3 When He (Jesus the Lamb) opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see.” 4 Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill (slaughter) one another; and there was given to him a great sword. 5 When He (Jesus the Lamb) opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales (balance) in his hand. 6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius (a day’s wage), and three quarts of barley for a denarius (day’s wage); and do not harm the oil and the wine.” 7 When He (Jesus the Lamb) opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.” 8 So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.

9 When He (Jesus the Lamb) opened the fifth seal, I (John) saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain (martyred) for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held. 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren (God’s people), who would be killed as they were, was completed.

12 I (John) looked when He (Jesus the Lamb) opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. 13 And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. 14 Then the sky receded (rolled) as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.

15 And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men (wealthy), the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him (God) who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” Revelation 6:1-17 (NKJV)

The vision of the living and glorified Jesus Christ (Messiah) in Revelation chapter 1 led to the writing of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3). Similarly, the throne-room vision of heaven with God the Father and Jesus the Lamb in Revelation chapters 4 and 5 set the stage for the beginning of God’s wrath with the Messianic judgments in Revelation chapters 6 through 16. Jesus the Lamb received from God’s right hand a scroll sealed with seven seals that sets the stage for the Messianic judgments on the earth (Revelation 5).

Revelation 6 begins the first of three seven-part Messianic judgments on the earth. Many biblical scholars believe Revelation 6 marks the beginning of the “great tribulation.” The first set of Messianic judgments is the seven seals (Revelation 6:1-8:1), followed by seven trumpets (Revelation 8:3-11:19), and then seven bowls (Revelation 15:1-16:21). The opening of the seventh seal, in turn, introduces the seven trumpet judgments and the seventh trumpet leads to the seven bowl judgments. All three sets of Messianic judgments (seals, trumpets, and bowls) are parallel and repetitious, but each set of Messianic judgment increases in intensity with each progression. The seven trumpet judgments more or less repeat the seven seals and the seven bowl judgments more or less repeat the seven trumpet judgments. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament predicted these Messianic judgments on the earth before the Messiah coming (see e.g., Daniel 11:36-12:13; Matthew 24:1-22; Mark 13:1-20; Luke 21:5-24).

The seven-part seal judgments began with the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (Revelation 6:1-8). None of the four horsemen say a single word. Each horsemen rides forth in silence. The imagery of the horsemen are partly from the Old Testament book of Zechariah (see Zechariah 1:7-17; Zechariah 6:1-8). In Revelation, the four horsemen correspond to the character of the rider and symbolize conquest (white), bloodshed and warfare (red), famine (black), and death (pale). Biblical scholars have debated the identity of the four horsemen for centuries. However, no one can accurately identify the horsemen identity. Nonetheless, the first four seals bring four calamities on the earth that resulted from the sinfulness of humanity – war, bloodshed, famine, and death.

The vision of the four horsemen begins with the Lamb, who has already taken the scroll from God (Revelation 5:7), begins to open the seven seals. As John watched, Jesus the Lamb broke the first seal and began to unroll the scroll (Revelation 6:1). Then one of the four living creatures said to John with a voice that sounded like thunder, “Come and see!” (Revelation 6:1). John looked, and there in front of him was a white horse (Revelation 6:2). The white horse rider carried a bow, and a crown was placed upon his head, and he rode out to conquer in many battles and win the war (Revelation 6:2).

Then, Jesus the Lamb broke the second seal, and John heard the second living creature say to him, “Come and see!” (Revelation 6:3). This time John saw a red horse rode (Revelation 6:4). The red horse rider was given a long sword and the authority to take peace from the earth (Revelation 6:4). There was war, anarchy, and killing broke out everywhere (Revelation 6:4).

When Jesus the Lamb broke the third seal, John heard the third living creature say, “Come and see!” (Revelation 6:5). Then, John saw a black horse, with its rider holding a pair of balances in his hand (Revelation 6:5). John heard a voice from among the four living creature saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages (denarius), and three quarts of barley for a day's wages (denarius), and do not damage the oil and the wine!” (Revelation 6:6, NIV). This horse brought famine and scarcity on the earth. A natural result of warfare and conquest is famine, inflation, starvation, scarcity, and economic collapse.

When the fourth seal was broken, John heard the fourth living creature say to him, “Come and see!” (Revelation 6:7). Now, John saw a pale horse, and its rider’s name was Death and following after him a companion horse whose rider’s name was Hades (Revelation 6:8). God gave the pale horse and his companion control of one-fourth of the earth, to kill with war, famine, disease, and wild animals (Revelation 6:8). Another natural result of the conflict, war, and famine is death or wasteland (fourth horse).

After the four horsemen had ridden forth, Jesus the Lamb broke open the fifth seal. John saw an altar and underneath the altar were all the souls of the faithful martyrs who had undergone suffering and death for preaching the Word of God and for being faithful in their witnessing (Revelation 6:9). These martyrs are God’s people - Jews and Christians. God gives a special place under the altar for His people that have faithfully proclaimed His message. The martyrs called out loudly to the Lord God and asked the crucial question, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10, NIV). The martyrs’ call is not the cry of personal vengeance but God’s vindication or proof. Evil and unrighteous people killed these martyrs because of their refusal to acknowledge God with honor and obey His moral Word.

White robes were given to each of martyrs, and they were told to rest a little longer until their other fellow servants had been martyred on the earth and joined them (Revelation 6:11). Note that John knows nothing of a “rapture” of the church by which Christians are spared the tribulation. During the Messianic judgments, God's people equally share in the world suffering.

With the opening of the sixth seal, there were great cosmic disturbances (Revelation 6:12-14). There was a great earthquake, the sun became dark like black cloth, and the moon was blood red (Revelation 6:12). Then the stars of heaven appeared to be falling to earth —like green fruit from fig trees buffeted by mighty winds (Revelation 6:13). The starry heavens disappeared as though rolled-up like a scroll and taken away; and every mountain and island shook and shifted (Revelation 6:14).

For the enemies of righteousness, the coming day of God’s wrath will be a day of terror. Rebellious humanity - the kings of the earth, world leaders, wealthy people, high-ranking military officers, people great and small, slave and free – will seek cover from God and the Lamb in the caves and rocks of the mountains (Revelation 6:15). These people called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!” (Revelation 6:16, NIV). For the great day of God the Father and Jesus the Lamb’s wrath will come with panic and dread (Revelation 6:17). “Who can stand?” (Revelation 6:17).

Despite the devastation and suffering, God’s wrath in the first set of seal judgments is only limited to one-fourth of the earth (Revelation 6:8). Similar to the Old Testament Egyptian plagues, God’s purpose in the Messianic judgments is not to destroy the earth but to lead people to Him in repentance and redemption so they will not perish (2 Peter 3:8-9). God wants sinners to repent! (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15). However as God unleashed His wrath, many people refused to turn to Him as their God in repentance and redemption (see e.g. Revelation 2:21-22; Revelation 9:20-21; Revelation 16:9, 11). God does not approve of conquest, war, famine, and death, but these disasters are what must follow if people persist in sin, wickedness, and disobedience toward God and His moral laws. In essence, God is not vindictive, but He will honor humanities’ freewill that often leads to destruction and death (see e.g., Romans 1:18-32).

The Living Bible Paraphrase (Tyndale House, 1971).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Senior Professor of New Testament (Due West, SC: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2016).
Metzger, Bruce. Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1993).
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).

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