Revelation series, post #8

Recap

Let’s start with a quick recap of the four main steps in the Inductive Method of Bible study:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says – do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

Bear these steps in mind as we get into the text.

Activity

Try getting into the method a little for yourself:

  1. Pray. Open up to Revelation in your Bible and ask God to give you discernment in understanding its message to the original readers, and the application for your life today.
  2. Observe. Revelation is a visual book. It is told as an unfolding drama. It has been referred to as the message of the rest of Scripture, in 3D. As such, it is REALLY helpful to picture each scene. It is thus helpful to sketch each Act before studying it. This also helps you to connect with what the text ACTUALLY says, not what you have heard people say about Revelation. Take time now to draw Revelation 4 and then Revelation 5 – the setting of Act 1. Don’t worry if you aren’t an artist – this is for your understanding of the chapter!

Division 1 = man’s view

The book of Revelation can be divided into two main sections. The first section looks at man’s view of the judgement of God and the people of God, and the second division looks at events from God’s perspective. We’re in division one at the moment.

Act I The 7 Seals; 4:1-8:1

Remember, too, that I said we would be studying Revelation from now on like an unfolding drama. Today’s blog will look at the first “Act” of the play, with each act containing a “setting” and “7 scenes”; a couple of the acts also have “intermissions”.

Setting; 4:1-5:14

Setting, Act 1 – My sketch of the setting as per your activity. You can see that it isn’t the prettiest, but it really helps me “see” the setting!

Where does this vision take place (4:2)? The setting of this act is the very throne room of heaven.

Let’s look at some of the characters in the throne room and what they might represent, starting with the four living creatures, full of eyes. Firstly, the number four is representative of the created world. There was a Rabbi teaching at this time that said: “the mightiest among birds = eagle, mightiest amongst domesticated animals = ox, mightiest amongst beasts = lion, mightiest of all = man”. Thus we see in the four living creatures that the mightiest of everything is worshiping Him. The most accepted interpretation = all creation worships the Lord (because this would makes sense to the original readers). This is supported by Rev 5:13 (still the same setting) that says every creature in heaven and earth and in the sea worships Him.

The throne room also contains 24 elders. So who are they? 12 is the number for the church and God’s people (12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles). 2 is the number for companionship, strength and power. So some say that the 24 elders represent the 12 apostles and 12 patriarchs, whilst others say they are symbolic of the whole people of God (Old Testament and New Testament people of God; Jews and Gentiles). I tend towards the second interpretation and will be following through with this interpretation for the rest of Revelation. Notice that they are wearing crowns of victory and robes of purity; they are encouraging the original readers to hold fast to their faith and overcome their temporary trials.

In chapter 5 the setting continues to evolve with an angel asking the question in vs2: “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” Take note of the emotions in the book of Revelation; it is an emotive book. John weeps, because no one in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth was able to open the scroll.

But then who is found worthy in Revelation 5:5?

The Lion who conquered. As you go through Revelation, keep the big picture in mind. Keep asking: “Who wins?” Here, the lion wins. Jesus, the Lion of Judah is found worthy.

Once again the Trinity has now been depicted in this scene: the Father on the throne; the 7 torches equal the 7 spirits which are symbolic of the Holy Spirit; and now the Lion, Jesus, appears on the scene.

Now consider: what did John see Revelation 5:6?

The Lamb who was slain. Consider the significance of this image. The lion and the lamb are both symbolic of Jesus, but it is in His sacrifice that He appears worthy to take the scroll. Imagine what this would mean to the original readers; their steadfastness amidst persecution finds them worthy!

The image of the lamb may seem a bit intimidating, so let’s consider the symbolism. Why the 7 horns of the lamb? 7 is the number of divine perfection and completion and horns are symbolic of power. The lamb has complete power. Revelation tells us that the 7 eyes of the lamb are the 7 spirits of God, which represent the Holy Spirit.

So who wins? The Lamb who was slain.

Revelation tells us that the golden bowls of incense are the prayers of the saints, encouraging the original readers by showing that their prayers are right there in this scene of the Lamb’s triumph and the Father’s glory. Their prayers (and ours) go up before God as part of His worship. Revelation 5:9-14 continues the theme of worshiping the Lamb, who reigns over all the earth. He is worthy of all praise, honour, and glory and might – forever! The original readers needed to see that, if their God died for them, then He is also worthy of their deaths; God is worthy of their worship, despite earthly circumstances.

This book should make us want to worship God. We need to consider: Do our fears outweigh God’s worthiness and what He has called us to do? Do we put our fears for family, food, marriage, comfort etc before God’s calling in our life? Do you keep listening to excuses to run away from where God is leading you? Are your fears holding you back?

Worship Christ!

That said, living for God doesn’t always = suffering. Many are willing to hold firm to Christ in a split second to die the death of a martyr. But even harder is laying down all our life and rights to LIVE daily for Christ. We are called to lay down our dreams, hopes, comforts, rights, and security for Him.

So ask: Is He worthy of your life?

7 Scenes

Now we move into the 7 scenes of the Act – we’re getting into the action of the play!

Christ opens the 7 seals, one by one. These seals represent mans judgement upon man.

The first 4 seals = horseman

I’m sure we’ve all heard of the 4 horseman of the apocalypse! There are different views on who these horsemen are. Some people think they are literal horsemen who will come in judgement; whilst others feel they are representative of things happening in the world; seals representing different things that are happening during the church age (this is part of the amilleniumist belief). Regardless of your belief, stay big picture with what they do.

They seem to represent: war, peace being removed, oppression and judgment. Let’s consider them one by one:

White horseman (6:1-2). Some think it is Jesus because it is white, but this doesn’t seem to flow with the rest of the Act. Also, Jesus is opening the seals as these horseman appear. The white horseman is a picture of destruction and conquering; men conquering men. Many will seem him as symbolic of the wars of man happening throughout the church age (the time between Christ’s first and second coming).

Red horse (6:3-4). He takes the peace away, yet he doesn’t slay people – the people slay one another. This seems to be representative of continued violence occurring in the world. Some say this could be referring to persecution of the church, but this does not seem to fit in with Christ opening scrolls of judgement.

Black horse (6:5-6). We need to explain some terms and measures that might not be immediately understood today. A denarius was equivalent to one day’s wage, and a quart of wheat was the minimum amount of wheat to feed one person for one day. Essentially, it is estimated to be about 16 x more expensive then should be = economic oppression or famine going on. The economic persecution is due to the oil and wine not being removed; the luxuries are not taken, thus the rich people seem to still be eating well.

Scales represent justice, so this rider is bringing a lack of justice; unfaithful scales, weighing unevenly between rich and poor. Men practising injustice against other men. The original readers of Smyrna were experiencing such persecution, and in many nations today believers continue to face economic persecution.

Pale (yellowish/ green like a corpse) horse (6:7-8). The rider’s name is Death and brings death in all its forms -> diseases, pestilence, sword, wild beasts etc. A quarter is a partial measurement, so many are being killed, but not the majority. This is not final judgement.

In the 5th seal the slain souls told to rest awhile until their full number comes in (6:9). So what has happened to the friends of the original readers who died in Christ?

REST whilst waiting for them! Again, Jesus gives no promise of protection from martyrdom, but He does give the promise of rest after their temporal trials. This book focus on eternity.

In the 6th seal we see the wrath of the Lamb (6:16). Verse 17 calls it “the Great Day of their Wrath”. In the Old Testament this is always a reference to Final Judgement. Evidence of this is furthered by the sky vanishing and every mountain being removed. But isn’t this Act about man judging man? We see that God is in control; He will bring the final judgement.

So who wins? GOD – Him on the throne (Father) and the Lamb

7:1-17 Interlude

Next we would expect a vision of heaven for the 7th scene in the cycle, but instead we have an interlude. “Interlude” means a break, or a pause, in the main event or story. In this interlude, we have the first mark of Revelation.

When you hear of a mark related to Revelation, what comes to mind?

Usually “666” is what people know: the number of the beast.

Read Revelation 7:3 and ask: Who is marked first in the book?

GOD’s SERVANTS!

Let’s unpack this further. What does John hear in Revelation 7:4?

John HEARS the number of the sealed 144 000.

Then what does John SEE in Revelation 7:9?

He SEES a great multitude that NONE COULD NUMBER.

All ages; all nations; all races

All ages; all nations; all racesSo who are the 144,000? Some say this is a literal number (for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses think they will make it up). Others look at the symbolism of the number. So what would 144,000 relate to as a symbolic number?  1000 is the number of perfection. 12 (the number of God’s people) squared (12×12) equals 144. Thus 144,000 is God’s perfect number of people; the saints; the saved of Christ; the Bride of Christ.

In the case of the one worthy to open the seal, John first HEARS that it is the Lion, and then SEES the Lamb -> with both a reference to Jesus. So here, John hears the number 144,000, but sees a great multitude = many. It is not a literal 144 000, but rather refers to all believers throughout all time.

One other view: Some say the 144,000 is a reference to Jewish Christians, and the Gentile Christians are the great multitude.

Again, this interlude seems to supports the “Acts” of Revelation being cyclical, not chronological. We’ve just read of angels given power to harm, but then God calls them not to do harm until God’s people are sealed and safe. This gives our original readers further encouragement – they are sealed, they are safe from God’s judgement of the unrighteous.

Big picture of Act 1 until now

God has just shown the judgement that is coming on man. But then He shows the image of all the believers sealed and worshipping God. The original readers were surrounded by evil, they’d lost loved ones to martyrdom, but God shows them that His judgement is coming against those who persecute them, and that they are perfectly safe from His wrath and judgement.

They are to persevere in the faith. They are to continue to worship. They were to rest assured that they were sealed servants of the King. The application is the same for us today. We can spend our lives unafraid and in worship of the King of kings, the Lamb who was slain.

7th Seal

Finally we open the 7th seal and . . . there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. The seventh seal, to the original readers, would depict their entering into the very presence of God.

Up until now the seals have shown chaos and destruction. Now the original readers get to step out of their current situation of turmoil to reflect on the complete peace that they will come into. They are confronted with the glory of God and the silence it brings.

This ½ hour also implies a short period of time. It is almost like God is giving them a chance to catch their breath before bringing in the 7 trumpets in Act 2.

Application

So how should we respond to this first Act? Persecution of believers is a reality in the present time, not just the early church. We can expect to be hated by the world, but we have comfort that God won’t allow it to continue forever.

We can have comfort:

  • Knowing that our prayers rise before Him
  • knowing that God has sealed us
  • knowing that He sees what is happening
  • knowing that the time will come when we will all come before His throne and behold His glory

 

Next post we will get into the Second “Act” of Revelation as the drama continues to unfold.

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