Revelation chapters 6 to 19 are heavy and weighty. They contain things which will cause us to pause and reflect. There are things which are very somber and yet in their midst are things which will overjoy us, encourage us and edify us. These chapters encompass both God's judgement plan and God's redemption plan. These don't stand in conflict, they stand in harmony under the umbrella of the lamb who was slain. The goal of his judgements is to bring us into God's redemption.

Revelation 6 A big 'bad-boy' text.
God's word is like a glass of cold water on a hot day, and like a hammer to the forehead (wakeup call) - both are necessary. He is a good God who loves us, disciplines us, encourages our growth. All of it is full of grace and hope.

Recap

In Revelation 4 we entered Heaven and we saw the throne and him who is seated on the throne.
In Revelation 5 we saw the Lion of the tribe of Judah - a slain lamb.

We have to keep chapters 4 and 5 in mind otherwise we will lose our grip of reality and won't be able to make sense of what we are about to see. These chapters are foundational. There is a seat of power over this present darkness.

We also have to remember John's original audience. The whole book of Revelation is intended to encourage its readers (not just chapters 1 to 3).

Revelation 6

This is intense stuff.

Many people give up and stop reading Revelation when they get to this point (like those wh,o with good intentions, start reading the Bible in Genesis, but when they get to Leviticus...).

The message is very easy to grasp, but the application is anything but easy. This text will challenge our westernised way of viewing the Gospel, western Christian thought. What does it mean to follow Jesus, to follow the way of the lamb?

The Rapture

Where are we (i.e. the church) in all this?

Many think that at this point the church has gone - (see the rapture and left behind). Many I respect / honour take this view - at this point I question, "have they gone mad?". The "catching away" of the Church at the time of Jesus' return is clear (1 Corinthians 15:51-53, 1 John 3:2, 1 Thessalonians 4:17), but what about those 'left behind'?

Many trace the origin of 'rapture' teaching in the church to around the time of the early 19th century Scottish revival. This idea of a rapture took off when mentioned in the notes of the popular Scofield Reference Bible. It went viral and mainstream. Before that time the idea of a rapture cannot be found in any statement of faith. The word 'rapture' does occur in the Latin translation of the Bible and its use in English can be traced back to that - but no part of the Bible was written in Latin (See Biblical languages).

Where do we get the 'left behind' idea from? Click here for an awesome song based on this.
It is based on Jesus' most extensive teaching on the end times Matthew 24, 25 and Mark 13 and Luke 21.
In particular Matthew 24:37-39 are used to support the idea of "left behind".
Before the great worldwide flood (Genesis 6,7,8) people were just doing normal life and then they were taken away - unexpectedly.
Who are the ones Jesus says are taken in Matthew 24? Is that the church?
Taking Jesus' analogy of Noah's day - you want to be left behind, being taken is a sign of judgement.
So Matthew 24 cannot be used to support the idea of a rapture.

However, 1 Thessalonians 4 is also used to support the 'rapture' idea. This is not a secret snatching away of the church, there is a lot of noise going on - its quite a spectacle. Paul is speaking of Jesus' second coming when we receive our resurrection bodies.

The concept of the rapture does not occur in Revelation, but it is very important to consider it when studying Revelation. Your understanding or the rapture will determine how you approach the text and critically affect how you interpret it. There are different approaches to the idea of the rapture, but they will all affect how you interpret Revelation.

Another reason for looking at the rapture at this point is to answer those who ask "why bother" reading Revelation, "its all about the future". The book of Revelation is a book about today, and the future, and the past - it is a book meant to encourage us, strengthen us, help us especially when we look in despair at the world around us (what is going on, how do I make sense of this!). Is there any hope? Yes the book of Revelation is packed with it.

The Seven Seals

There are seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowels in the next few chapters.
Each seal is opened by the lamb - that is important.
Jesus is the centre. Everything depends on the worthiness of Jesus and the cross.

The first four seals are packaged together and come very quickly.
These are often referred to as the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Then there a seals five and sixth followed by a pause before the seventh (Chapter 8).
The same format 4+2+1 also occurs with the trumpets and the bowels.

When the lamb (Jesus) opens each of the first four seals one the four living creatures calls for the associated horse and its rider to come. These living creatures symbolise the whole of creation - ruled over by him on the throne. Each of these four seals deals with creation, what is taking place on planet earth. Seal 5 takes us back to heaven. Seal 6 takes us to the Cosmos.

In Revelation the call "come" is connected with Jesus. There is cry "Come Lord Jesus", "Behold he is coming". The coming of the four horsemen is connected with the coming of Jesus. The whole of creation is calling for Jesus to come (Romans 6), the groans of creation are being answered. Revelation does not tell us that Jesus will come, it is telling us that he is coming. There is a war going on and as Jesus approaches the resistance heats up.

Seal 1 - White Horse
War, military conquest and formation of empires
Reminded of Matthew 24:6 where Jesus said this will happen, don't panic / don't be afraid, but the end is not yet.
The bow and crown given to the rider by the one who has the scroll - Jesus.
We see in this the sovereign rule of God. He holds the scroll, the scroll does not hold him.

Some suggest that this horseman is Jesus, but that does not fit in with the flow of what is going on here. The first four seals are presented as a package and in the fifth seal we are presented with the loud cry 'how long'. In Revelation 9 we see demonic spirits depicted as horses, in Revelation 12/13 we see Satan's forces conquering by deception - specifically by imitating what Christ looks like. Paul warning us of this in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15.

As Jesus approaches there will be an intensifying spiritual battle which seems to rage out of control. There are unseen forces out there which seek to wound, kill, destroy the followers of Jesus. False messiahs can show up in our lives in very normal ways (not spiritual), things being offered which take the place of Christ. We get distracted, we are offered other things for peace and security. 1 Timothy 4:1-2 In later times ... teaching of demons. Primary battle in our lives is to stay sensitive to God's spirit, stay soft to his voice. No one finds their way into the kingdom through apathy.

Seal 2 - Red Horse
Peace taken from earth, bloodshed.
The first seal brought war, the second seal took peace away (civil war, see Matthew 10:21).
Familar to original readers - Roman emperors being killed and the killer taking the throne (sounds familiar today).
Again notice sovereignty of God again, he was permitted to take peace and given the sword.

The battle is not limited to the spiritual realm, it will be manifest in the physical.
We are living in a time of intensifying bloodshed.

Seal 3 - Black Horse
Black symbolises scarcity.
Depicted here are extreme prices, famine and shortage.
Depicted here is the daily cost of living being four times the daily wage.
Enough for a man to feed himself, but not enough to feed his family.

This is the reality for most of the world.
Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 24:7.
In Acts 11:27-28 we see a prophecy in the early church concerning a severe famine.

Command not to harm the oil and wine could depict social inequity, rings true today where its never been more true.
Same command seen by others as a depiction of restraint by the sovereignty of God. In the next few chapters on Revelation things go from bad to worse to worst, see similar contraints (quarter, third), not total description. See birth pains in Matthew 24:8.

Seal 4 - Pale Horse
We see here a summary of all the seals, the logical outworking of what we have already seen. Only one result - death. We are living at a time when we can see all these things are intensifying. How are we supposed to reconcile all this evil with the power and sovereignty of God with Jesus himself unrolling the scroll and breaking the seals? Jesus is unrolling the scroll so that we can see our cries are already being answered, but the four horsemen are in opposition to him. This is not a battle of equals, we have a sovereign, one who is before all things. Why would God permit this - no idea, we are not meant to. You and I are supposed to trust God without seeing every angle. Jesus is unrolling the scroll to show that he is in perfect control, he is ruling and reigning throughout all history.

The seals do not happen in sequence, there is an overlap. We see this in the teaching of Jesus recorded in Matthew 24.

Seal 5 - Sobering Description of our Response
Those under the altar - place where blood from sacrifice pooled. They lay down their lives for the lamb, called to imitate him in laying down their lives.
See Mark 8:34-35 deny himself..., lose life...

Those who have been slain cry out "Sovereign Lord, just and true". They do not blame God, their only question is "how long". Does your gospel allow space for that?

They are told to rest a little longer. We are called to rest in the victory of the lamb. Redemption is on its way.

Seal 6 - Cosmic Upheaval

The ground under our feet is not solid. Creation is imploding, it was not meant to withstand this resistance to its creator.

What is the response?
Go into hiding (Revelation 6:15-16), refuse to repent (Revelation 9:20-21).
Reminds us of Hosea 6:8 where the response was the same.
The destruction of the places of wickedness should surely be a cause for rejoicing (see Psalm 14:1-3)!

This where we live. Our call is to follow the lamb and be salt and light in such a world.

What do we do with this - the application

Do we give up? - no prayer, no serving, no ... leave it to the sovereignty of God?

NO - We should seek peace, should seek justice, should celebrate goodness and beauty, should celebrate new birth, we should celebrate education, we should feast and celebrate, we should seek new solutions, we should give aid.

Chapter 6 helps us make sense of the world around us.
Jesus says when you hear of these things don't be afraid.

So what do we do - wrong question, we need to ask where do we look?
We need to look at God on the throne and the slain lamp who is worthy and has conquered.
God is in control, God is on the throne, Jesus is worthy - he holds the scroll.

The judgements of God are not to drive us from him, but to call us to him who provides redemption.
God is for us, the lamb shed his blood for us.

Romans 8:31-39 "What can we say ... if God is for us who is against us ... Jesus Christ interceding for us ... the love of God in Christ Jesus ...". There is nothing new Revelation, it is just packaged differently.

Further Reading

Zechariah 6:1-8; Mathhew 24:6-28
Luke 23:26-31
Malachi 3:2; Luke 21:36