Thursday, June 05, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Face of Wrath

For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series on the book of Revelation, click here.

If you have not followed this series from the beginning, I recommend that you visit this post about the structure of Revelation. The thesis of that post is that the structure of the book of Revelation, after the vision of the throne, consists of seven profiles of the future. Each profile tells the establishment of God's kingdom on earth, but each has its own time line and purpose.

The breaking of the seven seals tells the story of God's coming judgment and kingdom from a naturalistic point of view. There are wars, famines, violence, and awesome physical phenomenon leading up to the wrath of God and the Lamb. Here is what this profile looks like:

  • Seal 1 -- A white horse and a conqueror. The complexities of studying Revelation are illustrated by the fact that some commentators see the rider on this horse as Jesus and others see him to be the anti-Christ. Those who see him as Jesus connect the white horse here with the white horse in chapter 19. However, there are three facts that argue against the rider being Jesus. First, the white horse is the first seal and it is more reasonable to assume Jesus' return in general and the events of chapter 19 specifically suggest His return to be closer to the end. Second, the other three horses represent effects that often follow conquest, and we would not want to attribute these to Jesus. Third, the fifth seal introduces a multitude of martyrs and it seems strange that they would appear after Jesus' return. Minimally speaking, the white horse represents war associated with the end. Beyond that is conjecture (some would say even the words "associated with the end are conjecture.")
  • Seal 2 -- A red horse. Peace is taken from the earth and violence grows.
  • Seal 3 -- A black horse with words of famine and luxury. The angel says, “A quart of wheat will cost a day’s pay and three quarts of barley will cost a day’s pay. But do not damage the olive oil and the wine!” Since I grind my own wheat to make bread, I know that a quart of wheat berries will make a good size load of bread. The black horse speaks of a time when a man would have to labor for a day to earn a loaf of wheat bread. The "oil and wine" speak of others who will continue to live in luxury. Even in the worst of times, there are a class of people who will profit from the misery of others. From fiction, I can think of Thenadier in Les Miserables. In contemporary politics, I can think of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and Sadam Hussein. Dozens more could be listed.
  • Seal 4 -- A pale-green horse that brings on sword, famine, and disease. These always go together as the sword creates chaos and destroys society's infrastructure, which brings about shortages and promotes disease.
  • Seal 5 -- The martyrs. This is the first indication that we have that there is a spiritual backdrop to these events. Perhaps, as Psalm 2 would suggest, the nations are raging against God and directing that rage against His people. The sovereignty of God, which completely under girds the message in Revelation, is expressed by verse 11, "Each of them was given a long white robe and they were told to rest for a little longer, until the full number was reached of both their fellow servants and their brothers who were going to be killed just as they had been." God seems to have an exact advanced count of those who will be killed.
  • Seal 6 -- The wrath of the lamb. I hate to say that I had been a student of the Scripture for over 30 years before the complete irony of the phrase "wrath of the Lamb" hit me. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah was worthy to open the seals. He is the one who is worthy to bring God's wrath upon the earth. But the Lion motif recedes and the Lamb becomes prominent. And so, I want you to look at this picture and marvel that mankind would cry out for death rather than face its wrath. To be sure, I searched for an especially docile image. But how much more ferocious can a lamb be? Why does Revelation portray the Lamb's wrath and not the Lion's? The answer, I believe, is that God will continue to extend His mercy and the offer of salvation to the very end. God's wrath always has the face of mercy, because He desires that people will repent.
  • There is an interlude that introduces the 144,000 sealed from the twelve tribes of Israel. I will forego a discussion of who these are and whether the number is exact or symbolic. My purpose in this series is to be practical with this book, and there are many books that will speculate. Rather I will state that the purpose of this interlude and similar interludes is to give a picture of the believers in the context of the unfolding events. Besides the 144,000 are a great multitude of believers who have come out of the great tribulation. Who have kept the faith and who are now dressed in white and give glory to the Lamb.
  • Seal 7 -- Silence in heaven. The seven trumpets are introduced.

The seals have a human face: war, famine, disease, terror, and martyrdom. Except for the wrath of the Lamb, there is nothing here, except maybe by degree, that mankind has not endured over and over again. Having a futuristic view of Revelation, I imagine that this represents a coming time when these things have a heightened severity. The seals represent that aspect of coming judgment that is the result of natural consequences. As Isaiah wrote:

Terror, pit, and snare are ready to overtake you inhabitants of the earth! The one who runs away from the sound of the terror will fall into the pit; the one who climbs out of the pit, will be trapped by the snare. For the floodgates of the heavens are opened up and the foundations of the earth shake. The earth is broken in pieces, the earth is ripped to shreds, the earth shakes violently. The earth will stagger around like a drunk; it will sway back and forth like a hut in a windstorm. Its sin will weigh it down, and it will fall and never get up again. At that time the Lord will punish the heavenly forces in the heavens and the earthly kings on the earth. They will be imprisoned in a pit, locked up in a prison, and after staying there for a long time, they will be punished. The full moon will be covered up, the bright sun will be darkened; for the Lord who leads armies will rule on Mount Zion in Jerusalem in the presence of his assembly in majestic splendor. (Isaiah 24:17-23)

Monday: The Seven Trumpets

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