REVELATION 6 to 11: A CLOSER LOOK
In Chapter 6, we see the opening of the seals and the events accompanying the opening of each seal. What was revealed was not the content of the scroll, which would be seen subsequently. It is important to note that the seven seals, the seven trumpets and seven bowls of wrath may not be strictly sequential but they overlap in some instances. The seventh seal, the seventh trumpet and the seventh bowl of wrath, however, each refers to the final judgment. What was manifested in the seven seals, the seven trumpets and the seven bowls may actually be taking place already to some degrees after the first advent of the Lord Jesus and His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.
With regard to the first 4 seals and their opening, the Lord Jesus Himself declared: You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains (Matthew 24:6-8).
In Matthew 24:9, the Lord pointed out,
Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.
This is reflected in Revelation chapter 7 where God showed to John the heavenly perspective – those who were martyred for Christ standing before the throne of God praising and worshipping God. Prior to that, we noted the sealing of the people of God on their foreheads, signifying Gods protection for His people in the midst of the tribulations. God’s protection does not mean freedom from pain and death but rather that God, in sealing His people with the Holy Spirit, would grant them grace and empowering through His Spirit to triumph in the midst of the difficult situations and to be kept safe until they enter into the presence of God.
The various interludes in Revelation often show us the heavenly perspective and what has taken place or is taking place in the heavenlies. It is a reminder that total reality includes the physical and spiritual realms and we must not mistake what is seen as the only reality that is unraveling.
As we focus on Revelation 8-11, we notice chapter 8 beginning with another heavenly perspective. The prayers of all the saints were regarded as incense with smoke and aroma before God and here we are reminded of the cries of the martyrs in Revelation 6:10:
They cried out in a loud voice, How long, sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?
In response to the prayers of the saints, Gods angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar and hurled it on the earth. The thunder, rumbling and flashes of lightning and an earthquake indicate that the response was from the throne of God Himself. Thus begins the sounding to the seven trumpets.
The blowing of the trumpets has several connotations in scriptures. It may indicate a call to war. For example, the conquest of Jericho was preceded by the blowing of trumpets (Joshua 6). It may be blown as a warning of impending disaster and judgment (Ezekiel 33:3). The apostle Paul pointed out the blowing of the trumpet in associa- tion with the second coming of the Lord Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The trumpet was also blown to call the people to repent (Isaiah 58:1).
In the context of Revelation 8 and 9, it is probable that the blowing of the trumpets may be a call to repentance for unbelievers and a warning of impending judgment and disaster. For Gods people, it is a call to spiritual warfare and a looking forward to the second advent of the Lord Jesus.
The blowing of the first 4 trumpets brought about fire burning up one third of the earth, the trees and the grass; the turning of one third of the sea into blood with one third of the sea creatures dying and one third of the ships destroyed. It also affected one third of drinking water, the sun, the moon, the stars and one third of the day was without light. The use of one third was to indicate that it was still a partial judgment and the warning was given to the people of the world to repent before it is too late to do so.
Notice the allusions to the Old Testament in comparing the judgments to those on Egypt and Pharaoh in Exodus. There was hail in Egypt, the river Nile was turned into blood and there was a period of darkness in the whole land. The exodus in Egypt began after the slaying of the firstborn among the Egyptians but Israel was spared when their homes were covered with the blood of the lamb. The Lamb of God has already been slain and the eschatological exodus for Gods people has begun with God leading them to the promised land, the new heaven and new earth. The hardening of Pharaohs heart showed how deserving the judgments and the plagues were, and in Revelation, God’s judgments are truly in order as the people hardened their hearts and refused to repent. The fifth and sixth trumpets being blown brought about demonic forces causing torture and plagues on the unbelievers and yet they refused to repent and acknowledge God. The blowing of the seventh trumpet brought about the final judgment. There no longer remains any room for repentance and the final judgment is irreversible.
Chapter 10 revealed John given a scroll by God through a mighty angel to eat. It will turn his stomach sour, but in his mouth, it will be sweet. The scroll is probably the same scroll seen in the beginning of Revelation and after the seals were opened, John was given the content of the scroll to eat and commissioned to prophesy to many peoples, nations, languages and kings. The prophecy and preaching is directed to the whole world. An allusion to a similar incident is noted in Ezekiel Chapter 3 when Ezekiel was also given a scroll to eat, causing a similar reaction and he was commissioned to preach to Israel. For Ezekiel, the warning and justice of God towards Israel was sweet but it was bitter or sour when Israel refused to repent and had to undergo the awful judgment of God. For John, the justice of God and His judgment of evil was sweet but the fact that Gods people had to undergo persecution and even martyrdom in order to rescue the world for Gods kingdom was bitter or sour.
God’s salvation plan for the rest of the world now becomes apparent. It will not be brought about by judgment alone but it will be effected by the church preaching the gospel and the word of God with power through the Holy Spirit to the world with an attitude of suffering and sacrificial love, even to the point of death.
In chapter 11 of Revelation, the two witnesses represent the universal church (note the reference to the lamp stands) and the olive trees (with allusion to the book of Zechariah) declared, “Not by might nor by power but by the Spirit of God”. God’s church will testify with power likened to the prophets Elijah and Moses, and the gospel and His word would go out effectively. Although the evil forces may seek to destroy the church and her testimony, she will rise again from her death each time to defy the intention of the enemy. Truly, the blood of the martyrs is the seed and foundation of the church. Even in the book of Acts, persecution only served to spread the gospel, turning the world upside down.
1260 days or three and a half years, to the Jews, clearly reminded them of the duration of guerrilla warfare carried out by Judas the Hammer or Judas Maccabeus against Antiochus IV Epiphanies from the Seleucid Syrian empire who intended to paganize Judah. Victory was finally secured after three and a half years of battle and the temple was rededicated. This period speaks to Israel of a period of intense suffering and resistance which ultimately will end with victory. This is also the confidence the universal church of God has. God promised ultimate victory in the midst of suffering and loving ministry to the world. Notice verse 13: at the end, one tenth of the citys inhabitants died but nine tenths of the people were terrified and they gave glory to the God of heaven, signifying repentance and positive response to God. Suffering and sacrificial love on the part of the Church with faithful and powerful effective preaching of Gods word and the gospel, accompanied by godliness, would win the day. The city represents the world and not just a city or nation.
God has a mission for His church: to carry on the work of the Lord Jesus, with the same spirit of denying the self, carrying the cross and reaching out to a lost world. It is God’s intention and desire to save the world through the sacrifice of the Son and through the witness of His people.