We now come to the final climax of the age. With the seventh seal broken and the seventh trumpet sounded, the time has come for God to renew everything and give it to His bride. This very large task will begin with the abolition of evil through the pouring out of His wrath. Early in the book the saints cried out for vengeance beneath the altar, they were told to wait until their number would be complete. The grapes of God’s holy wrath have been harvested in the blood of His holy people, the time for Him to act has come. The scene begins with those who had been victorious, those who had been slain for Christ’s sake, singing the sing of Moses. The final Exodus has begun and, by the end of it, all creation will be renewed. The bowls are then given to seven angels and smoke fills the temple so that no one can enter it until the seven bowls are poured out. With the first bowl, sores break out on all who worshipped the beast and his image. With the second, all the sea turns to blood. With the third, all the streams and rivers are turned to blood. The fourth is poured on the sun and it burns up everybody on earth, yet they do not repent. The fifth is poured on the thrown of the beast and it gets so dark that people are said to “gnaw their tongues”. The sixth is poured out and three demons are released that gather the world for “the great war”. With the seventh, a shout is made that it is done, then there is a large earthquake and hail and it says the great whore is remembered before God. There is no intermission within these bowls for they are the finale of God’s wrath. One thing revelation really wants to portray to us is a slowness then haste. It may take a while but, once the ball starts rolling, that’s it. Now is the time to be faithful.
Every good story has a climax toward the end. That final surge of emotion before the resolving action. The story of this age isn’t any different. So far we’ve seen the world in its state of chaos. The great evils of mankind corporate and individually have broken the order in God’s good world. The 144,000 seen in this passage is the same as in the seal vision. They are those who “follow the Lamb wherever He goes”. The point in this passage is to encourage faithfulness. It says they have not defiled themselves with women, not because they are literal virgins, but because they have not bowed down to idols. They are the army of the lamb and they are now victorious. They achieved victory through patience and, even, death. We now see a procession, the eternal gospel being announced to the world, the fall of Babylon, and the curse upon all who receive the mark. Jesus said that the good news of the kingdom would reach the ends of the earth and then the end would come. The fall of Babylon is talked about in a later chapter, both being the same event with a slightly different perspective. The mark of the beast was talked about in the post before, but in this context it is primarily talking about the final battle and pointing to the passage directly after the fall of Babylon. So revelation is sort of laying a place marker. Now we come to the reaping of the harvest of the earth, shown with two images the harvest of wheat and the harvest of grapes. The grapes are martyred saints, there will be a severe persecution as has never been seen before, right before the second coming. The ones still left on earth are shown as wheat, they will be taken without seeing death. I hate to use the word “rapture” because of its connotations, but this is the rapture of the church. It happens right before the bowls of wrath because God will not pour His wrath on His people. This passage gives us assurance, whether we survive until His coming or die, we are okay. It also shows us that the martyr’s death is not in vain, for as we will see soon, they are the grapes of God’s holy wrath and He will vindicate His people.
Politics and the sword go hand in hand. Jewish history is marked with the blood from that sword. First, as slaves in Egypt with the Pharaoh’s infanticide. Then, the judge period with the Philistines. Again with the split between Judah and Israel. Then Israel going into captivity, Judah following them a few generations later. Babylon being captured by the Medo-Persians. All these events having their own blood baths. Some people of Judah were allowed to go back only to be held in captivity to the Greek and Roman empires. Oppression seems to be never ending. Daniel was told to write about these things before hand but, in a very apocalyptic(yet self-explanatory) way. He sees a vision of 4 succeeding beasts, then the ancient of days takes his place as king, then the beast is allowed to go a little longer until a court day, that is when the kingdom will be granted to the holy ones. John is, in this vision, explaining how all this will happen. He first sees a creature coming from the sea that represents a composite of all the beasts in Daniel. This is the spirit behind them, the spirit of empire. He has seven heads but one appears to be wounded. The fatal wound was healed and he made all worship him. This is deeply historical, no doubt pointing to Rome. Yet, also pointing to a much bigger reality than Rome. That is to say, Rome was a big part of the imagery. It had been wounded when Nero killed himself and other times before that. Yet it always seems to come back. This is the meaning, empire will seem to die and come back. In the process, killing saints and destroying the earth. He is said to be given authority to speak blasphemies for 42 months, this points back to the outer court being trampled 42 months. The idea is simple persecution without, peace within. All are made to worship him and any who don’t are murdered. It then tells us this requires the patience of the saints, meaning we will need to be ready to die. This ultimately is pointing to the outward persecution some churches would face. The next beast comes from the earth, that is from within. He looks like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon. This is the false religions, especially the Nicolaitans and Jezebel spoken of in the letters. Even though it looks like the true way, it’s not. It makes all receive the mark of the beast, which can be taken as spiritual or physical. During those days if you pledged your allegiance to Caesar you would get a small stone that would allow you to go to the market and such. The number is 666, no doubt referring to Nero, but John says let him who is wise discern what it means. Nero was the pawn behind the spiritual reality that still repeats today and will one day have a full-scale fulfillment. The ideal behind these two beasts though, is that the enemy will attack from within and without. He will do anything he can to steal kill and destroy the work of God. Thanks be to God he has already lost. In fact, his attacking us is a large part of his defeat.
It is no secret that there is something wrong with this world. Within the Christian worldview we see the problem to be of the same root as the problems within the political realm. That is to say, the opposition of wills and the conflict that arises in that opposition, namely warfare. The whole of history is seen in the next few pages. We see a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her foot and a crown of 12 stars on her head who is pregnant with a man child who will “rule the nations” she is the universal people of God, the true Israel. This vision shows her participation in the restoration of all of creation. She also represents the cosmos and the whole physical realm. This is why the dragon opens his mouth to swallow the man-child, the man-child was moving into his realm. The opposition surrounding Jesus life, rather it be Herod killing every baby under 2 or the temptation in the wilderness or even the crucifixion, all point to the dragon opening his mouth to swallow Him. He is raised to heaven before the dragon can kill him. She then flees into the wilderness for 1,260 days, the same amount of time the witnesses prophecy. Her being in the wilderness indicates a protection from the dragon. This is also how you see the identity of the 2, for she is a more obvious representative of the people of God. War then breaks out in heaven and the dragon is thrown down. When he is thrown down, he starts to persecute the woman who gave birth to the child. This is a very important idea God is trying to portray to us, that the persecution that surrounds the church is not primarily a sign of defeat but, rather a sign of victory. Revelation is a book of paradoxes, meant to unveil what is truly happening within history, for it really is hidden. One would think looking at all the wars, disasters, persecution and pain that God had somehow forgotten this world. That would be a wrong assumption though, the disorder is meant to point us to the future when, God will fully restore everything. The dragon then spews water out of his mouth to try and drown the woman, but the earth swallows it. The dragon’s mouth is the source of lies and lies are his primary means of control. God protects His church though and the lies are never able to prevail. We then see the dragon go to attack her other offspring. These are actually the people of God too. You see the devil is thrown down and he wants to destroy the church. So he tries to deceive her with lies and heresy but, fails so he just leads the world to persecute Christians. What a paradox! Persecution does not show that God is somehow losing the war but, rather, that the enemy is already lost.
In the pages of Revelation we see a lot of parallel visions. We’ve seen how the seals and trumpets are parallel passages. We are now going to talking about the intermission between trumpets 6 and 7. That is to say, the measuring of the temple and the two witnesses. Before John is told to measure the temple he sees a vision of a mighty angel. The angel gives him a scroll that is sweet in his mouth and bitter in his stomach. Then he is told that he will prophecy about many peoples, nations, and tongues; just in case we think that all this is referring to one set of events or people. He is then given the measuring rod, but told not to measure the outer courts for it is to be trampled by the gentiles for “42 months” that is 3 and a half years, showing an incompleteness, but it is converted to months, which makes the number much bigger. This is all saying that the time of “trampling” or persecution will be cut short. This is when the “2 witnesses” come on the seen. They are 2 in number because 2 is the least amount of people necessary to prove something “on the account of 2 or 3 witnesses”, these 2 witnesses are the church of God, we can see this when we interpret the vision in light of its counterpart which we will talk about in my next post. They are said to be prophesying in sack cloth and ashes, that is great sorrow. When God captures your heart you cannot help but to feel sorrow for the world and the sorrow they live with in rejecting God. The length of their ministry is 1,260 days, which is 3 and a half years, incomplete yet broken down to an even bigger number, the time of their prophecy will be longer than their time of persecution. After the 1,260 days they are martyred and the whole world throws a party, this indicates that the world will try to and mostly succeed at wiping out the church of God. Nevertheless, the prophets rise again and the city, which is the world gives glory to God. The church, even when she is defeated will rise again and, in her resurrection, the world will come to repentance. This is a key point in the book within revelation, that the church is to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and overcome evil by allowing evil to overcome us. Let us learn to not repay evil for evil but, overcome evil with good.
Prophecy has always followed certain trends, especially the more visual and symbolic ones. Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s 2 dreams to be describing the same event and the dual nature to shown how quickly it would happen. In Daniel, he receives multiple visions that are equivalent but each show a different aspect of the same events. So, the seals and the trumpets are parallels with similar structures, notice the intermission between 6&7 and the earthquake at the beginning of 7 in each. The visions are parallel to the same period of time, with different aspects of the same events. It may be said that what was revealed to be horsemen riding in the seals is now portrayed as more earthly results of the same. That is to say the horsemen are the spiritual side, the trumpets the physical. The number seven once again is not to be taken as some exact number, but as a complete number. That is to say they are counted before God and their will be an end to the chaos. The paradox is that trumpets were used in war as a warning sign to the city that was to be invaded and a call to keep the army invading together. All the chaos in our world is a reminder that God is going to destroy evil. In the first trumpet hail mixed with fire and blood is tossed to the earth. John here is talking about war in a way that is veiled to us. The Romans would mix wood with heavy white stones in a catapult and light it on fire when invading a city. Notice how a third of the grass is burned up, where in the fourth seal only a quarter is said to have been effected. This will happen all through the trumpets, it’s important to note the intensification for that is what God is revealing to us. It’s no wonder the world seems to be getting darker and people more evil. With the sound of the second trumpet something like a mountain on fire is tossed in the ocean and a third of the water turns to blood killing all the living creatures. This is pointing to human evil messing up the ocean and polluting the water. Whether it be through war, oil spills, or general pollution, it is a marker to show this world is not what it is supposed to be yet. a star called “wormwood” or poison falls to a third of the earth’s rivers. This is, no doubt, referring to the destruction of our water supply rather it be from our own doing or as a consequence of war. With the fourth trumpet a third of the day is turned to darkness. The Romans would often burn cities down after destroying them if they would not submit. Amidst this burning the sky would turn black because of the thickness of the smoke. An eagle shouts a woe to the earth because of the next 3 trumpets. With the 5 trumpet the abyss is opened and demons allowed to come out. This is the influx of evil and demonic influence that tends to consume cultures when they forsake God. Our culture is headed that way now, the increase in mental illness is only a symptom. The sixth trumpet is the violence that begins to erupt when God is forgotten and sin is embraced. It also shows a progression of the evil, first they are allowed to torment and not kill, then permission is granted to kill. Germany and Russia in the 20th century are perfect examples. The rise of Hitler and Stalin stemmed primarily from the greater economic stress and sorrow surrounding the people. This will be an ultimate paradigm throughout time, but will grow in intensity. There is an intermission, but I will talk about that in the next post. With the seventh trumpet is a great earthquake and it is announced that God has taken His full Kingship. How beautiful that day will be. The seals and trumpets both serve to tell us that the atrocities caused by sin are numbered and God will one day defeat evil. We should not look at the evils in the world as the world does, but rather through the lens that Jesus is already King, His Kingship will not be thwarted. One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess “Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father”
Up to this point the interpretation has been somewhat unanimous, with the exception of the occasional “fringe” group. However, from this point on, the schools of thought differ widely. I have no time to address the problems I see in the other school’s interpretations of these visions. So I will give my school’s interpretation of these visions and explain why they seem to make more sense to me. My main goal, however, is to edify the church of God. I pray you will catch the hopeful vision of this beautiful book and see its relevance for today. If nothing else, I hope to inspire thought. Before we go through every seal I must tie in the preceding vision. The lamb is given a scroll that contains God’s decree to recreate this world and obliterate all pain and sorrow. On this scroll are seven seals that must be broken for the new creation to be established. Seven should be understood just as it is with the churches, not with a quantitative exact, but rather a complete number. That is to say, much more than seven but, nevertheless counted before God. The first seal is broken and a white horse comes with a bow and crown, he is said to be going out “conquering and to conquer”. He represents politics and the spirit of Empire, that beastial desire of powerful nations to control the weaker ones. The second that follows suit is a rider on a red horse that represents war and, somewhat less obviously Rome, he goes out to “take peace from the earth”. When empire does not get what it wants it goes forth with a sword to destroy all who oppose it. Jesus said His Kingdom would not be that way, but that the greatest would serve all. With the next seal comes a black horse who brings famine, an unfortunate consequence of war. The Romans would burn the crops of their enemies to destroy their morale. The fourth horse is pale-green, no doubt representing sickness and plague, which is followed by death and hades. Another unfortunate consequence of war, blood and guts and flies tend to attract disease. The fifth seal is an important interpretive key, for it hints at a very specific and subtle point that revelation is making, that all the chaos will seem to go on for an extended period of time. The martyred saints are depicted as crying out underneath the altar “Lord, how long, faithful and true, will you hold back judgement”. They are then given a white robe and told to wait just a little longer. The sixth marks the beginning of the final judgement, but also gives an intermission to reassure the saints they will be safe. The saints are depicted as 144,000 sealed from among Israel, it is the same group depicted as an innumerable multitude from every nation. The listing of the tribes seems to make that clear in its own, very Old Testament informed way. Ruben, who would be first, is second to Judah because our Lord descended from Judah. The sons of the concubines in the middle to represent the incorporation of the gentiles. They are said to be “coming out of the great tribulation” that, no doubt, is the same tribulation John himself says he is a partner in. It is a picture of the church triumphant from all ages, safe from the wrath that is to come, that will end injustice and sin. The ultimate takeout of this is that we will be safe from the judgement of God, even though we suffer in this current age. With the seventh seal the vision moves to the trumpet, which I will be talking about in my next post.