REVELATION 6 to 18: AN OVERVIEW
We now come to Revelation 6 to 18 and here we are treading on ground that requires us not to be so dogmatic that we are not open to other forms of interpretation. What is important is that the fundamental meaning and theology is preserved in the interpretation of significant areas, whilst we can be more open in the minor issues i.e. issues which do not make a serious compromise to our faith and fidelity to God and the scriptures. This is particularly so as Revelation is apocalyptic in a major way and many symbols are in the writing. What is helpful is to note the many Old Testament allusions and the prophetic nature of this letter (epistle). God desires us to know the things which will take place and those who read and hear the words of this book are blessed.
We see the opening of the seven seals, the first interlude, the blowing of the seven trumpets, the second interlude, the revelation of the false trinity (Satan, the antichrist and the false prophet), the third interlude, the seven plagues with the pouring out of the bowls of wrath and a further interlude.
The scroll basically reveals Gods salvation plan, His judgment of, and wrath against all that is evil. Some have looked at the seven seals, the seven trumpets and the seven bowls of wrath as looking at similar events from different angles, culminating with final judgment in the seventh seal, seventh trumpet or seventh bowl. We need to note the increasing intensity of the judgment as we move from seal to trumpet to bowl. In Revelation 6:8, when the fourth seal was broken, authority was given to the ashen horse and its rider over a fourth of the earth to kill with the sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. In Revelation 9:18, after the sixth trumpet, a third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the sulfur which proceeded out of their mouths. At the end of Revelation 16, after the pouring of the seventh bowl, every island fled away and the mountains were not found. And huge hailstones about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe (Revelation 16:20-21). The judgment was complete and total.
Despite the judgment and wrath of God, mankind did not repent of the works of their hands and continued to blaspheme God.
The four horsemen, as a result of the opening of the first four seals, were summoned by each of the four creatures who stood before the throne. The judgment of war, civil disorder, famine, bloodshed and death originated from the throne of God. God allows the sin, corruption and evil of men to cause them to destroy one another. It reveals the desperately wicked hearts of men who refuse to repent before a holy and righteous God and this wickedness will ultimately destroy itself, without Gods intervention in mercy and grace. God is able to work through evil to bring about good. Even king Nebuchadnezzar was called the servant of God and king Cyrus was addressed as Gods anointed. The prophet Habakkuk could not understand why God could use the wicked Chaldeans to punish His people Israel. The sovereignty of God extends over wicked nations and even over evil to bring about good and no evil power can withstand the might and will of God.
In the blowing of the trumpets, notice that God was responding to the prayers of His people (Revelation 8:3-5) and the judgment was unleashed by God Himself in the forms of hail and fire, mixed with blood, a mountain with fire hurled into the sea, a great star falling on a third of the rivers and springs of water and the release of demonic forces to torture the wicked and rebellious. Let us be comforted that God does listen to the prayers of His people and He will act in His own wisdom and timing. God even uses evil forces to fulfill His own will and judgment. These evil forces are limited in their power and subject to the power and sovereignty of God.
The seven plagues and the bowls of wrath were effected on those who bore the mark of the beast, namely, those who were unrepentant and were stubbornly against God in rebellion and disobedience. They were the ones who worship the false trinity and submitted to the will of Satan, antichrist and the false prophet and they persistently rejected God and blasphemed Him. These chapters in Revelation manifest the battle between good and evil, and between the triune God and the false trinity. Contrast the people of God possessing the seals of God, and the followers of the beast possessing the mark of the beast. Take note of the allusion to the plagues in Egypt before the exodus and the hardening of the heart of Pharaoh.
Satan and his forces use persecution and violence against God’s people; he also employs deception and deceit to cause the people of the world to go astray. Notice the repeated calls for Gods people to endure and to persevere. Revelation 12:11 revealed:
And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.
Because of the blood of the Lamb, Satan can no longer accuse them because the Lord Jesus has died in their place and redeemed them. The Lord Jesus is their advocate and He intercedes for them from the right hand of God the Father.
The word of their testimony means the preaching and sharing of the gospel and the preaching of Gods word, accompanied by lives that are transformed and manifest the holiness and character of God. It emphasizes the importance of preaching the gospel and the truth in the Word of God to correct deception and to combat deceit; it also demonstrates the need for the messengers of the gospel to reflect the truth and reality of the message in their lives. It does not just mean the sharing of the gospel by our mouths but also the demonstration of the gospel by our lives.
Finally, their willingness to be loyal to God even to the point of death is a great testimony to the reality of the true and living God and His plan of salvation. Non-believers and even many so-called believers often feel that life on earth is the key to happiness. To them, death takes away the joy of life. The earth is the only realm of existence for them and death to them is the ultimate tragedy. For true believers, death is not the end but the beginning of eternal joy with God. Take note that the martyrs were seen underneath the altar and they were very much alive in the heavenly realm and they cried out to God for His justice and for the lives of the brethren who were still on earth. Indeed, death has lost its victory and its sting because death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:55-56). Hence we can understand what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote, For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Throughout the history of the church, in the midst of severe persecution and suffering, the church grows. Even non-believers exclaimed that Christians know how to die. The Romans were taken aback by Christians singing as they were brought into the lions den and onto burning stakes. The blood of martyrs lays the foundation of the church. Even in the great plague, when unbelievers abandoned their families and fled for their lives, Christians stayed back to nurse the sick and the dying. Many also died in the process but their testimony of love and courage turned many to Christ and the gospel. The Lord Jesus told the church in Smyrna to be courageous and faithful and not to be afraid but to hold fast to His name. This is also the calling to us today. God is interested in the salvation of the world. It will not be effected by physical warfare but by the preaching of the gospel in the word and life of His people and by the testimony of true disciples who will not deny the Master but remain loyal and true even to the point of death.
The Lord Jesus is our example and pattern: He effected the greatest victory over the evil one and death at the cross, followed by His resurrection and ascension. He desires His salvation plan for the world to be worked out through His people who follow in His path of denying the self, taking up a cross and following Him with the gospel of truth in word and in life. Gods warning, judgment and wrath may turn some back to Him in repentance but the majority will turn back because of the preaching of the gospel, the transformation of lives of believers and their impactful testimony to the world that Jesus is indeed the way, the truth and the life and there is no other God except the triune God revealed to us through the God-man, Jesus Christ. For there is one God and one mediator between God and man and that is none other than the true man and second Adam, Jesus Christ.
May the Lord minister to us as we meditate upon these truths.