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Monday, June 01, 2009

The Lamb and The Book (Revelation Revelation 6:1-8:5)

Stunned. That's the only word that can describe my reaction the first time I read through Revelation. As a junior-high school boy, the imagination was fertile and the curiosity insatiable. There may have been a book or two around the house that received a measure of consultation as my mind tried to absorb the imagery, action and statements of the Revelation, but that was not enough. Once I was so overwhelmed by the six and seventh chapters that I called my pastor, made an appointment and rode my bike the short few miles to the church so I could sit down with him to perhaps gain even a small measure of understanding. I've been dwelling on this ever since, and have by no means concluded my contemplations.

These two chapters of Revelation have been the object of much consideration and debate. Many of the problems solve themselves when we reconsider "how" the book is to be read--and our Western way of reading will not help. Everything described in these chapters point ahead to the great event of Chapter 19, and are not to be understood in a "linear" fashion as our way of reading leads us to believe; rather, we are to understand the unfolding of events, or "progress of revelation" as it is presented to the reader. We have already considered a painting motif in a previous post to help explain how the images are presented and how we are to understand the whole picture through a general survey, then a closer consideration of its parts.

Summative Overview (the book must be considered as a whole, not in parts):

Revelation 1: The Risen Christ commands John to write;
Revelation 2-3: Greetings to the Seven Churches;
Revelation 4: Vision of God in Heaven;
Revelation 5-6: The Lamb and The Book with Seven seals;
Revelation 7: Sealing of 144,000 and preview
Revelation 8-9: Trumpets 1-6
Revelation 10: The Angel, The Little Book, the Announcement of the 7th Trumpet
Revelation 11: Two Witnesses and the 7th Trumpet
Revelation 12: The Woman, Child and Dragon
Revelation 13: Beast and False Prophet
Revelation 14: 3 Harvests, 3 Angellic Announcements
Revelation 15-16: Bowls of God's Wrath
Revelation 17-18: Fall of Babylon
Revelation 19: The Second Coming of Christ
Revelation 20: Millennium, 1st Resurrection, Gog and Magog, Great White Throne
Revelation 21: New Heaven and Earth, Conclusion

First, the context Revelation 6-8 is Revelation 4 where we see the general and overall picture of heaven: God is seated on His stormy throne surrounded by elders and "living creatures." The setting to understanding The Book is Heaven, where God sits on the Throne. Chapter 5 focuses our view to see the Lion/Lamb who is worthy to break open the seals of The Book held in the right hand of Him who sits on the throne. The picture here is the a culminating event of Revelation 20. Just as the progress of redemption is unfolded throughout all of scripture and more fully understood in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (God giving pieces of information along the way and not the full explaination all at once), so we have the progress of glorification here--given to us in pieces. Once we understand one part, then we can move on to another and a greater understanding. Think: 3-D, or "layers" of information.

What is this Book that only the Lamb can open? The Book is one of those opened before The Throne from which men are judged (Revelation 20:11-15). All creation is standing before God and history is unfurled so that all may see. "Every living thing which is is heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them I heard saying . . ." (5:13). As heaven and earth are passing away, the wicked will be looking for places to hide in order to escape the wrath to come (6:15-17) when they learn that God is calling all men to account (20:11-15).

What is The Book About? We won't know until the Book is "opened;" that is, the all seals are broken. Also, the seals cannot be understood apart from The Book. Think of it this way: the seals are the Table of Contents that reveal what is written inside the Book: things about to happen; namely, conquest, war, famine, death and hell, martydom and the great day of God's Wrath. But none of the events take place until the Book is fully opened (7:1-3). Nothing hurts the earth, sea or trees during the breaking of the seals (7:3). None of the devestations described take place until the book is fully opened, all seals are broken and the first angel has sounded the first trumpet, which by the way, is one of seven described after the opening of the seventh seal.

Chapter 7 describes the final preparations before the rest of the Book is opened. Everything is on HOLD until: 144,000 redeemed Israelites are sealed (7:1-8); a preview of the Great Multitude, redeemed from all nations is given (7:9-17); an offering of prayers ascends before God for half and hour (8:1-5) and seven angels prepare to sound (8:2, 6). The earth is not to be hurt (7:3) until the first trumpet sounds (8:6-7).

The seals presents four riders, souls under the altar, sweeping physical changes to the heavens and the earth as well as the introduction of 144,000 bond-servants of God, concluding with silence and the distribution of seven trumpets and a angel with a censer. The first four visionary seals present four visionary horse riders commonly called, "Horsemen of the Apocalypse." These may be the same spirits of heaven who patrol and report to the Lord of all the earth, only now they are bringing a report of unappeased wrath (Zech 6:1-8). The key to understanding the imagery here is to remember that 1) this is an eschatological vision; 2) this is all tied to the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Nothing here occurs apart from this.

The riders of the seals are not identified (identity is not the point of the vision) as only one of the four is clearly named. These are personifications, ("incarnations" as it were) of events. In other words, in a spiritual fashion, this is the report of the riders concerning the depravity of men on the earth. The first rider is on a white horse and is carrying a bow. A crown is given to him and his went out conquering and to conquer. Historically, the rider has been indentified as the returning Christ and it is not until more recent time that the antichrist has been the suggested figure. Identity is not the point of the vision, but to report what is happening on earth: men are ruled. The second rider is a on red horse and is granted with global peace-taking and a sword is given to him--men murder one another. The third rider, on a black horse, has a pair of scales in his hand. A voice from among the four creatures gives his job description--men defraud one another. The fourth rider, on an ashen horse, is named "Death" and he is followed by hell. Authority is given to both Death and Hell to kill with sword and famine and pestilence; in other words, to use the accoutriments found with riders 2 and 3. Men die and enter eternity.

The fifth seal shows those who have been slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they maintained. These people have turned from sin through repentance by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and have lived their lives to the death in obedience to God's Word. Their testimonies are unlike those of mankind who unleash wickedness on the earth and are deserving of God's judgment. While these are kept under the altar, for safe-keeping, the wicked and unrepentant will find no place to hide--even under the rocks of the mountains being removed. These are the events of the sixth seal, as the very fabric of space and earth is becoming unraveled.

Remember the events described in 6:1-8, and how the last rider (Death followed by Hell) are given the authority over 1/4 of the earth to kill with sword, famine, pestilence and wild beasts. After John sees the souls under the altar looking for vengeance and souls under the rocks looking for deliverance, he sees four angels standing at the four corners of the earth holding back the four winds of the earth. Another angel ascends in the east and tells the four angels who have the ability to harm the earth and sea (6:8) to hold off until the 144,000 servants of God are sealed (14:1-4).

After these things, an uncountable multitude from every nation, tribe, people and tongue stand before the Lamb in white robes (6:9-11; 7:13) and cry out praises to God and to the Lamb. These who were under the altar are also under the tabernacle of God (7:15). The elders and living creatures are doing what they do: fall down and give worship on their faces. Judgment is over and beleivers are reconciled to God at last.

Now, when the seventh seal is broken there is a measurable period of silence in heaven. During this time, seven angels are given seven trumpets, which announce the plagues of the seven bowls (11:15-19; 15:1ff).

What does any of this have to do with the our Lord Jesus Christ? First, this is the introduction to His return in Chapter 19. Second, the imagery of the visions show the wickedness of men in the face of righteousness. There is no accident in the way men walk out sinfulness at this point. Wisdom literature is loaded with instruction for those who receive it, showing that righteousness delivers from death. Third, those who repent and are cleansed in the blood of the Lamb are preserved by Him and have all boldness to stand before the throne. Fourth, the Word of God proves unalterable. All history has pointed to this moment and nothing is going to change what is to come--the wicked will not stand with the righteous in judgment (Psalm 1). God is in control of all things and Jesus will receive the praise that is all His to the glory of God the Father who sits on the throne.

What can we do?

1) Repent. Turn from your sins and place your faith and trust in the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be of those under the altar (as it were) and not of those under the rocks.

2) See the fate of those who will not turn from their wickedness and let that drive you to go into all the world and preach the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. What is animosity of unbelievers toward you compared with those who make a literal life and death decision when they follow Christ? Jesus is the object of hatred, or love.

3) Obey and Worship like you never have before.

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