Do you ever get hooked on TV SERIES? Shows that continue from week to week. That build the suspense and tension by revealing a little piece of the story from week to week.
In the past I’ve been addicted to shows like 24. Or Alias. At the moment, I’m enjoying LOST.
And the shows all have exactly the same strategy. Every episode builds to a CLIMAX. And then stops just before there’s any resolution. So you’ll come back next week.
The hero’s stuck in a huge silo that’s being filled with grain. As the level rises, he starts to sink. Until only his NOSE can be seen above the grain. … THE MUSIC REACHES A CRESCENDO.
What will happen? How will he escape? Surely he can’t die! …
At which point the credits roll. And the deep-voiced announcer says, “Stay turned next week to find out whether John makes it out alive.”
And so you do!
Well, Revelation is doing the same thing. It’s building the tension. The suspense. Both for John, as he WATCHES the vision. And later, for his listeners, as they HEAR his description read aloud.
They want to find out what happens next.
Ch 5 has begun with God holding a scroll. His plans and purposes for the world. But it’s sealed up with seven seals. And the plan can’t begin until someone can break the seals and open the scroll.
John weeps and weeps because he thinks there’s no-one who can open the scroll.
But the chapter finishes with the Lamb holding the scroll. He’s the only one who’s up to the job of breaking the seals. The only one with the authority of God to put his plans into action.
And so we come to Ch 6. And the Lamb begins to open the scroll. And everyone’s bursting to find out what’s inside.
But he’s way too slow for my liking.
Like those annoying people who take AN ETERNITY to open presents. You know the sort? First they read the card. To themselves. And have a quiet little laugh at some private joke. Then they laboriously peal off each piece of stick-tape. Then slowly unwrap the present, folding the paper after so you can re-use it. And it takes AN ETERNITY.
I’m one of those “rip the paper off as quickly as you can” sort of guys.
But there’s none of that haste with the Lamb. The suspense builds. And builds. Until almost unbearable. Until we BURSTING to find out what’s inside the scroll.
Let me show you what I mean. Flick through chapters 6-11 quickly with me. Let’s take a big-picture, high-altitude flyover.
In Ch 6, the Lamb opens six seals. One at a time. And then we wait for the last one. And THEN we’ll know what’s inside.
But we never get to number 7! In Ch 7, we get A BREAK. It’s a picture of God’s people. (We’ll come back to WHY the break, and what it’s SAYING in a moment).
But at the start of Ch 8, the Lamb finally opens the seventh seal. And THEN we expect the action to start – that the scroll will finally be opened. And we’ll get to see what’s inside.
And I think that’s the point of the SILENCE when the seventh seal is opened. All creation waiting expectantly to see what will happen.
But the suspense continues. Because there’s MORE unwrapping to do. The scroll’s been OPENED, but the message hasn’t been REVEALED.
Now there’s seven TRUMPETS. Like the fanfare at the opening of the Olympic Games. They underline how important the coming event is. And so, through Ch 8 and 9, the trumpets sound. But, once again, only SIX trumpets.
And then into Ch 10, rather than the SEVENTH trumpet sounding … we get ANOTHER interlude. ANOTHER “stay tuned until next week for the next exciting episode”. (And we’ll look at THAT ONE in a bit more detail in a minute).
And THAT goes all the way to Ch 11 v 15, when we FINALLY hear the SEVENTH TRUMPET. And at the end of the seventh trumpet, at the end of Ch 11, we finally come to the end of the section. With an awesome picture of God. Rev 11:19
: 19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. NIV
God’s BEGUN the process – back in Ch 4 v5
Rev 4:5: 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. NIV
He’s seen the seven SEALS finish. Ch 8 v5
Rev 8:5: …there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning AND AN EARTHQUAKE. NIV
And he FINISHES it. With
flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake AND A GREAT HAILSTORM
At each stage, God’s declaration that the Lamb’s got his approval to do what he’s doing. His stamp of authority.
And so we finally come to the message of the open scroll – the unveiling of the purposes of God in Ch 12 v1…. Which you’ll have to stay tuned NEXT WEEK for.
I’m afraid today just BUILDS THE SUSPENSE.
What’s the Scroll Got to do with me?
But if we’re not actually looking at the vision which describes the CONTENTS OF THE SCROLL. What ARE we watching? If what I’m saying’s true, what’s the connection between THESE VISIONS/ and the scroll they’re INTRODUCING?
The series of visions ACCOMPANY the scroll. Yes, they’re part of God’s purposes and plan. But, at least here in Revelation, they’re not portrayed as PART OF THE SCROLL. The scroll is something BIGGER. Or EXTRA.
Perhaps the best way to view them/ is as showing HOW THE SCROLL WILL IMPACT ON THE CHRISTIAN HEARERS. They seem to answer the question “How will the momentous events of the scroll affect us day by day? WHAT DO THE CONTENTS OF THE SCROLL MEAN FOR MY EVERYDAY LIFE?” Where does the rubber hit the road for ME?
And the visions of the seals and the trumpets seem to answer these questions quite well.
So let’s spend a few moments looking at them.
Seal 1: white horse of conquest
First up, seal number 1. the Lamb opens it, then one of the four living creatures from around the throne says, Come!
And along came a rider on a WHITE HORSE. Which we’re told represents CONQUEST.
Whether it’s COUNTRIES INVADING COUNTRIES. Ethnic MAJORITIES wiping out MINORITIES. richer companies involved in buyouts or takeovers of WEAKER ones.
Or even just sporting teams wanting to beat OTHER sporting teams. Like the Aussie cricket team beating NZ AGAIN.
The world is all about CONQUEST. BEATING others. This is nothing more than a GENERAL OBSERVATION.
Seal 2: red horse of warfare
But that’s not all. More specifically. According to the SECOND seal – a RED horse. It’s conquest that’s about WARFARE. An absence of peace. Victory AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS. At the cost of LIVES.
Seal 3: black horse of injustice
But that’s not all. Seal 3. The third creature shouts COME. And out rides a BLACK HORSE. Not only is the world about conquest and war, but there’s INJUSTICE.
The STRONG taking advantage of THE WEAK. The LOUD overpowering the QUIET. The MANY overwhelming the FEW. The RICH getting RICHER, while the POOR get the picture.
The world WAS, and IS, and always WILL BE, a place where the HAVES land right-side-up. While the HAVE-NOTS cop the raw end of the deal. That’s the point of v6
Rev 6:6: “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and DO NOT DAMAGE the oil and the wine!” NIV
Life ISN’T fair!
Seal 4: pale horse of
But that’s not all. Not only is life UNFAIR conquest and battle. But it even involves . That’s the fourth seal. A PALE horse. V8.
Rev 6:8: Its rider was named , and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over A FOURTH of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth. NIV
As clever as mankind is. As advanced as medicine and technology and weapons and construction ARE. As WEALTHY as much of the world has become. Not much has changed since the time of John.
Death is STILL all around us. Sword, famine, plague, the forces of the earth, or nature itself. Still claim THOUSANDS OF lives.
Seal 5: How long until justice? More martyrs to come
But that’s not all. Seal 5 tells us that CHRISTIANS won’t miss out. The Christian life is no guarantee of protection from the pale rider of .
The camera zooms in on the souls of martyred Christians. Who’ve been killed for standing up for Jesus. Still bearing witness – even in heaven – to the suffering of their brothers and sisters. And they weep with them. And cry out,
Rev 6:10: “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our ?”: NIV
But God’s answer to them is not the good news they’re hoping for.
Rev 6:11: Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. NIV
“There’s MORE TO COME!”
The world is a place of ly conquest and warfare. From which Christians won’t escape. But there’s MORE.
Seal 6: Justice at last
The sixth seal adds that JUSTICE will come eventually. Judgment day. When Christ returns. The sixth seal is the answer to the question in the fifth seal, “How long until you judge?”
And the sixth seal says that God answers. He listens. He acts. A dreadful day. When THIS world will be wrapped up and thrown out/ like yesterday’s newspaper.
And when those who DESERVE judgment and punishment will finally RECEIVE it. V15
15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” NIV
A breath-taking picture of powerful, white-hot wrath and holiness.
What could possibly come after THAT! It’s only the SIXTH seal. What could TOP THAT?
But God’s going to build the suspense a bit more. Because the SEVENTH seal isn’t opened yet. It’s time for a BREATHER. A BREAK. A chance for us hearers to be REASSURED, and comforted. WHICH IS THE WHOLE POINT OF THE SEALS AND THE TRUMPETS.
And if the SIXTH seal answered the FIFTH SEAL – How long ‘til justice? Then this interlude answers the question of the SIXTH SEAL – WHO CAN STAND?
And the answer is… GOD’S PEOPLE will stand. Protected by God himself.
Four angels standing at each corner of the earth, holding back the winds so they won’t destroy those who belong to God. None of the previous six seals can harm those on whom God has set his SEAL of OWNERSHIP. His Holy Spirit.
They may perish PHYSICALLY. But their ETERNITY is safe with God.
Then John hears an angel CALLING THE ROLL. 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. Perfect in number. Complete. No-one left behind.
Do you ever have the nightmare about being left behind. By a bus, or a plane. Or left home alone at Christmas. – Oh no! that’s a movie!
I remember when I was teaching, we went on an excursion to Canberra. And we visited Parliament House. And when it came time to leave. I was on ONE bus. And counted heads. Check!
The OTHER teacher on the other bus. Asked kids to check that the person they were sitting next to was still there. And somehow two kids got left behind at Parliament House.
It wasn’t TOO bad. It only took us a of hours to realise. And they were a boyfriend and friend. So they probably didn’t really mind the space to be on their own!
But with those who are God’s – No-one gets left behind.
But there’s more. While ISRAEL is what John HEARS, it’s not what he SEES. Look at v9.
9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: : “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, : and to the Lamb.” NIV
These two images – the 144, 000 and the great multitude – are describing THE SAME GROUP OF PEOPLE. God’s people. Those for whom Christ has died. Whom God has sealed with his Holy Spirit.
Remember, in Ch 5, John HEARD the Lion of Judah, but SAW the slain lamb. Both images described THE SAME REALITY FROM DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES.
Same with the 144,000 and the great multitude. John HEARD one, and SAW the other. Two perspectives on the same reality.
One – an earthly army. Uniform, regular. All accounted for. No-one left behind. Perfect in size.
The OTHER – a heavenly worshipping community. From all over the world. BEYOND counting. United in their wonder and love and praise for the one on the throne, and for the Lamb.
When it all comes down to it – no matter how bad the events of the scroll will be – this is the ultimate destination of God’s people. Paradise. Look over to v16.
Rev 7:16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. : And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” : NIV
Seal 7: Get ready, take a breath!
And so, we finally get to seal 7. Ch 8 v1. With God’s people COMFORTED and REASSURED.
But rather than any more AMAZING PICTURES, there’s nothing more to be said. The seal is broken, the scroll is open. And the suspense builds. Everyone WAITING to see the contents of the scroll. Silence.
Like the quiet of the audience as the lights dim, and the curtains open. The play’s about to begin. And everyone WAITS.
But there’s still MORE suspense. Because the trumpet players step up to play a fanfare. And each trumpet fills in some detail of the picture we got from the seals. There’s MORE OF EVERYTHING here. More colour, more description. More and gore. Greater scale. Better stunts. Bigger budget.
But even at the end of six trumpets. 1/3 of mankind killed. The wicked STILL refuse to submit to God. Look at the end of Ch 9. v20.
20 The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood-idols that cannot see or hear or walk. NIV
A rather depressing way to finish six seals. Time for a bit of encouragement. Time for the second interlude. Which we’ll skim through.
And once again, it’s to do with GOD’S PEOPLE. Describing how they fit in to the events of the scroll.
But it actually begins with John himself. Ch 10 v1. An angel comes down from heaven, holding an open scroll.
The seals have been broken. The scroll’s been opened. And the Lamb’s given it to his angel to give to John. Remember that’s the order of how things are revealed. Back in Ch 1 v 1.
Rev 1:1-2: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, NIV
And look at what this angel says to John. V7. Enough suspense.
Rev 10:6-7: “There will be no more delay! 7 But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” NIV
All is about to be revealed. But rather than coming from Jesus himself, or even from his angel. The message will come from John. He’ll deliver the message. So he needs to get the scroll. V9.
9 So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.” 10 I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. 11 Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.” NIV
Just like Ezekiel, John must EAT the scroll. It’s about RECEIVING the message. And it tastes SWEET because it’s about God’s WISDOM and JUSTICE. But it’s also SOUR, because it’s a message of JUDGMENT.
And John has to DELIVER the message. Which he begins in Ch 12. After the seventh trumpet has sounded.
But there’s ONE MORE part to the interlude. Ch 11. Still describing God’s people.
At first they’re represented by THE TEMPLE. Which is MEASURED – a sign of God’s protection. But it’s not COMPLETE protection – the outer court will be trampled by the nations.
And yet, within the trials, there’s also compassion and mercy. Because the trampling will last for 42 months, or 1,260 days, which is also 3 ½ years.
That’s HALF of a full measure of 7 years. It’s suffering that’s LESS than it COULD be. Because of God’s mercy.
And, v3, during that time, God’s people will continue to WITNESS for him. This time they’re represented by Two lampstands. Or TWO WITNESSES. Court testimony was only TRUE if TWO WITNESSES agreed.
The church will also witness WITH POWER. Miracles like that God performed through Moses and Elijah (v6)
And yet, it’s not enough to protect them COMPLETELY, v7, Satan and his forces, will continually ATTACK, OVERPOWER, and even KILL God’s people.
They’ll think they’ve won. Ground the church into extinction. They’ll MOCK and SCOFF and GLOAT.
But once again, there’s MERCY. This time when the church looks like it’s , won’t be for LONG. Only 3 ½ days. HALF as long as a complete time of 7 days.
And after this time. Because they follow Christ who’s defeated . SO TOO, the Church will survive. Individual Christians might die PHYSICALLY – sleep – but resurrection is theirs.
And because of this powerful testimony in the face of persecution. Look at what happens. V13.: A wonderful outcome.
13 At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. : NIV
You might think a severe earthquake with a tenth of the city destroyed, and 7000 is a TRAGEDY. But it’s actually GOOD NEWS. A story of rescue and triumph and survival.
But in Is 6:13, and Amos 5:3, God’s judgment involves 9/10 of a city being destroyed. With only 1/10th SURVIVING. This is the opposite.
And in 1 Ki 19:18 only 7,000 faithful followers are SPARED – MANY MORE die. This is the opposite.
In the midst of terrible persecution and ridicule – even – The witness of God’s people achieves what God’s acts of judgment on the world COULDN’T do – people who turn to God, repented, and gave glory to him.
That’s the message of these chapters. The answer to the question, “What’s the scroll got to do with us?”
THE world rolls on. Things will CONTINUE to be terrible. Stick at it! You are God’s. Witness faithfully. Even to . Your witness DOES make a difference. God will use it to bring people to himself. To save them from judgment. And to give him glory.
And with that thought, the cycle finishes. The SEVENTH trumpet. ANOTHER picture of the end. Judgment day. Triumph day. Victory day.
And I can’t think of a better way to finish than to just read out that picture. V15
15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying:
“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
and have begun to reign.
18 The nations were angry;
and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the ,
and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your saints and those who reverence your name,
both small and great-
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.