Today’s reading is Revelation 6.
Yesterday we read in Revelation 5 that God was holding a scroll that was closed by seven seals. Jesus was the only one qualified to open the seals on the scroll and, in today’s reading, he began doing that. In this chapter he opened six of the seven seals on the scroll. Each time he opened a seal, something bad happened on earth. At the end of the this chapter, we learned that the bad things that happened were not random, natural events. Instead they were “…the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (vv. 16b-17).
There are a number of questions which have to be answered to interpret this chapter and figure out its meaning. Getting into all the interpretive questions and viewpoints is not appropriate for a devotional like this one. The major lesson is that God’s anger at the sins of humanity will eventually be expressed on earth and it will be destructive (vv. 2, 8), deadly (v. 4), and terrifying to every type of person on earth (v. 15).
It is interesting that, despite all the devastation described in this chapter, the martyrs who spoke out when the fifth seal was opened did not view the tribulations described in this chapter as expressions of God’s justice. In fact, they cried out to the Lord for justice, wondering aloud when God would “judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (v. 10). This indicates that the expressions of wrath we read about in this chapter are not so much about God’s justice but about subjecting the earth to his authority. That’s why the white horse, revealed when the first seal was opened “rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest” (v. 2). This tribulation period, then, is a period of war. It is the almighty God, king of the universe, squashing the rebellion of humanity against his rule and bringing the rogue province of earth back under his full control.
The people on earth interpreted the cataclysms described in this passage as acts of God’s wrath (vv. 16-17). They were correct about that; however, they believed that death could cause them to escape God’s judgment (v. 16a) while the martyrs of verse 10 were wondering when God’s judgment would begin. The martyrs understood (and the ones hiding did not, apparently) that God’s judgment would be handed down later when each person who ever lived would stand in his courtroom. As bad as the tribulations in this chapter were–and they were horrible–they were not the final judgments of God but acts of war by which God would subject everything to himself and establish his kingdom permanently.
When I have witnessed about Christ to others during my life, I have occasionally met someone who said, “I believe we’re in hell right now.” They don’t have a clue what they’re saying. This life can certainly be painful and destructive and, when the events of this chapter happen, things will get far worse. But the very worst devastation and suffering that anyone experiences on this earth is minor compared to the death sentence that God will hand down in the future when the day of his judgment actually comes. In addition to inviting people to receive the forgiveness of sins in Christ, we need to warn them that there is a day of judgment coming. It is unavoidable and the sentence that God passes down on that day will eclipse even the worst suffering that has ever happened in this life.
Have you turned to Jesus for refuge from that day of judgment? Are you warning the people around you about the fact that they will answer to God for the way they have lived on this earth? Are you inviting them to the only hope of avoiding God’s judgment which is the atonement of Christ that we read about yesterday in Revelation 5:9-10?