…the lamb opened one of the seven seals… ~REVELATION 6:1
Let’s get cracking open these seals, shall we? Up to now we’ve had our prologue with the awesomeness of Jesus (ch.1), messages to the seven churches (ch.2-3), a fantastical throne room vision (ch.4-5), and now in chapters 6-16, we’ll have seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls unleashing all manner of havoc. Interspersed throughout the seal openings, trumpet blasts, and bowl pourings we’ll have 10 interludes, or interruptions or intermissions, if you will, and we’ll start talking about those next time.
Six seals are opened in this chapter, and the first four release those famous horses and riders of the apocalypse. We’ve got war, famine, pestilence, murder, death by wild animals, and one-fourth of the world’s population dying as a result.
But you know what I found most intriguing in this chapter? — and I found a lot — it was the Lamb who opened these seals to unleash all the fury and mayhem.
What is John telling us?
Jesus is ultimately in control of the universe.
As well as that these “plagues” of Revelation have the simultaneous effect of hardening some hearts and purifying others. They are indeed punishment for all those on earth who have persecuted God’s followers and who refuse to turn from their evil and cruel ways of injustice to the loving invitation and justice of YHWH. But they are purification for the followers of Jesus, further refining them into Christ likeness as they endure and stay faithful thru the trials to the end.
Like the two who were on crosses next to Jesus facing the same horrific dilemma, it hardened the heart of the one, but softened the other’s heart towards God.
When Jesus defeated death and rose from the dead, disarming the evil spirits, He turned suffering, and all the world can throw at us, into a mere mechanism for God to carry out His plans, further His kingdom, refine His saints, and rule the universe with Divine Love.
This requires faith. This requires belief in the face of even the most extreme hardships, as we see in this chapter and beyond.
Commentator Brian Blount says, “One of John’s primary theological tasks is assuring his readers that, no matter how chaotic and destructive world affairs appear to be, God as just judge is in control….The chaotic situation erupting in their world is therefore the working out of God’s justice.”
And G.K. Beale writes that “now we see that Christ’s exalted place of rule gives Him authority even over these evil forces, such that He uses their evil intentions to accomplish a greater good–the judgement of unbelievers and the purifying of the saints. [Revelation] 6:1-8 describes an effect of Christ’s death and resurrection. He transformed the suffering of the cross into a triumph. Christ’s sovereignty over the four horsemen shows this…”
We would probably do well to remind ourselves of this often.
With regard to unfavorable circumstances, my friend Sam cleverly came up with this poignant self-examining question: “Am I going to allow this to define me, or to refine me?” Thanks to the work of Christ, suffering can always refine us.
Everyday I preach to myself, and hopefully to others, God is real, Jesus is alive and in charge, the Holy Spirit is among us.