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6:1-8:5 THE SEVEN SEALS
Much of the next part of the book records three series of judgment visions that John saw - the seven seals (6:1-8:5), the seven trumpets (8:6-11:19) and the seven bowls of wrath (15:1-16:21). John also saw another series of visions, the seven thunders, but God did not allow him to record them (10:3-4). This is a reminder that God has not given us all the information about what he is doing, and will yet do, as he brings his purposes in the world to fulfilment.
In the symbolism of Revelation, the number seven is used repeatedly. It seems to represent one complete unit, and may signify such ideas as wholeness, fulness, completion or perfection. In each of the first two series of seven there is an interval before the seventh vision, suggesting that God waits as long as possible before acting in judgment. He does not want any to be destroyed, but wants all to turn from their sins and receive the salvation he offers (cf. Romans 2:2-6; 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:8-10; 2 Peter 3:8-10).
The judgments that Jesus reveals to John are similar to, but more detailed than, those that he described to his disciples on the Mount of Olives. There is a similar emphasis on war, famine, death, earthquakes and persecution, but because of God’s patience and forbearance, ‘the end is not yet’ (Matthew 24:3-14). Nevertheless, one day the end will come. There will be no more delay; the judgment must fall (Matthew 24:29-31).
In the book of Revelation, as in all prophetic and apocalyptic writings, there is a lack of exactness concerning the time that events will take place. This is because the writer sees everything from God’s viewpoint in eternity, where time is not measured by human standards, and may even seem irrelevant. Certain events will take place; ‘after this’, other events. The person who sees the vision (and the person who reads of it) cannot tell whether the latter events take place immediately after or thousands of years after the former events.
From the words of Jesus himself, Christians are reminded that they do not know when the end of the present age will come. Moreover, God does not intend them to know. He does not satisfy their curiosity about the future, but reminds them of their responsibility in the present, which is to spread the message of salvation (Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7-8). They are to be ready at all times for God’s final great intervention in human affairs, for Jesus Christ will return when they least expect (Matthew 24:44; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-8; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-8).
God gave his revelation to John not so that Christians might draw up a timetable of history in advance, but so that the persecuted might be encouraged. The certainty of God’s judgment is an incentive to all Christians to be more holy and more dedicated to God (1 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Peter 4:18-19; 1 Peter 4:18-19; 2 Peter 3:11-12; 2 Peter 3:11-12).
First six seals (6:1-17)
The scroll was sealed in such a way that it had to be unrolled section by section. When the first seal was broken, the scroll could be unrolled only enough to reveal the first part of the revelation. Then the second seal was broken and the scroll was unrolled a little further; and so on till all seven seals were broken and the scroll was completely unrolled. An unusual feature was that as each seal was broken, instead of someone reading the scroll, a vision appeared. John now describes these visions.
As each of the first four seals is broken a horse appears. The first represents nations going out to conquer other nations. The second indicates the war and bloodshed that follow (6:1-4). The third shows the beginning of famine, where a shortage of basic foods results in rationing and high prices. The common people suffer most, for the rich can afford more expensive foods that are not yet affected (5-6). The fourth vision shows that the situation worsens. Widespread death results from the combined effects of war, famine and disease (7-8).
When the fifth seal is broken the scene shifts to heaven, where a vision shows that although God’s judgments fall upon a sinful world, believers need not fear. Certainly, sinners will react against God by killing his people, but that is no reason to question God’s justice. Believers, not enemies, are the victors, a fact signified by the white robes given to them. Yet there will be more martyrs. The believers’ prayers, though heard in heaven, do not bring an instant end to the suffering (9-11).
The vision of the sixth seal assures believers and unbelievers alike that God is still in control. He is righteous and at the right time his judgment will fall, accompanied by violent disturbances in the heavens and on the earth (12-14; cf. Matthew 24:29-30). Sinners will not escape, no matter how powerful or rich they might be. He who carries out this judgment is the Lamb of God, the one who himself bore God’s wrath so that sinners might escape it (15-17).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Revelation 6". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30