Here we start off with the development of the setting from which the rest of the story in Revelation will unfold. All stories have a setting, and I think this is where the author John starts describing the setting for the story he is telling. We'll see some dramatic imagery in these passages, and it really gives you a lot to think about. Though the strange or bizarre symbols/images can sometimes be confusing, carefully analyzing things, taking notes, and thinking about it often helps me.
- Canon, Canonical, Exegesis, Seven (meaning or significance), eschaton, eschatology, hermeneutics.
- I didn't do the best jobs presenting it last time, but I'm going to try to divide up the book of Revelation as a progressive story talking about different things at different points.
- Chapters 1-3 were the introduction and the audience of the letter, and potentially a way of reading the rest of the book.
- Chapters 4-5 were talking about the “Nature of the Divine” in its Jewish portrayal of God and the strange way the Lion is contrasted with a Lamb.
- Chapters 6-8 as we'll cover today talk about the nature of a not-perfect world. There will be war, death, strife, and heart-ache in our world. Additionally, these can be seen as developing the “setting” for the rest of the story that will unfold with the rest of the book.
- We start with the lamb opening the first of the seven seals (6:1)
- The seals are as follows (I ignored the fractions that were given about who was affected):
- A white horseman with a bow who was given a crown, and was sent out as a victor to conquer. (6:2) Most people think this talks about Jesus. My youth leader's notes I'm following said it could be representative of a nearby country named Parthia. The Parthian signature color is white, and the bow is one of their characteristic weapons. They were nearby neighbors of the Roman Empire (the setting for this story), and there were known historical conflicts between Parthia and the Roman Empire.
- A fiery red horseman who was empowered to take peace from the earth, and to promote violence. A sword was given to him. (6:4) Self-explanatory. This one talks about strife in the world—a natural occurrence.
- A black horseman appears in this one, and he is given a balance scale (6:5). There is a reference to wheat, barley and a Denarius. A Denarius was a common Roman coin. I think it's fairly obvious that this horseman is representing economic strife or trouble. A Denarius was a normal day's wage, and could normally buy between 8 and 16 times the amount of food that was listed here, so it seems to be referring to economic inflation that follows after war.
- A pale green horseman appears this time. He is named “death” and “Hades” follows after him (6:8). Hades is Greek for “underworld” essentially (Hell is a very rough translation). This occurrence seems to be representing violence and death occurring in the world. Could this be a reference to our mortal nature?
- No longer do we have a horseman at this point, because there are only four. Now we see an “altar of the souls of those slaughtered [for God]” (6:9). These souls cry out for vengeance for those were unjustly slaughtered. They were rewarded with white robes, though, and told to be patient (6:11).
- The sixth seal results in a violent earthquake occurring (6:12). The sun turns black, and the moon becomes like blood, and the stars end up falling from the sky. As strange as this may seem, weird cosmic references like this have been used historically to talk about political or social occurrences, and one Biblical examples of this is Jeremiah 4:23-26. It seems to me that a statement about the political balance (or lack thereof) is being made. This view is further strengthened when we look at who is mentioned next. The kings of the earth, the nobles, the military commanders, the rich, and the powerful (6:15). All these people of political importance are begging for the rocks and mountains to fall on them because there is no political stability.
- Talk about the seventh seal, but then go back to the sealed of Israel. The seventh seal (8:2), when opened, ushers in the seven angels with seven trumpets (something loud and boisterous) as well as natural calamities . Before these angels appear, though, upon the opening of the seal, there is complete silence in heaven for a half-hour. Perhaps this silence is reverence for the perils that are to come, silence for dramatic effect, or maybe it's a reference to the Day of the Lord as found in Zephaniah 1:7. I prefer the previous thought since the seal ushers in the trumpets which are negative and harmful. It seems strange that the prayers of the incense are, in a way, used as a weapon against earth. Maybe this is a sign of what may seem like futility when we pray.
- What's the significance of these seven seals? I think it's important to view them as a way to look at not only the history of the world (death, economic struggle, strife, violence, etc.) but also as a way of viewing personal conflicts we will all face in our lives. I think the book of Revelation, in certain respects, should be read as a personal book to help you understand and face troubles or trials you might face. What needs to be known, as the story will progress as we dig deeper, is that there will always be a liberation no matter how dark things might seems for us at the time.
- The Sealed of Israel is an interesting little passage to look at. You start with four angels at the four corners of the earth (7:1). Right off the bat we should see something "wrong" there. As we now know, the earth is round, not flat, but that wasn't something the author John knew here. Though this may not be geologically correct, that isn't the main point of what John is trying to convey here. These angels are restraining the four winds of the earth (we now know there are quite a lot more than four, but this is also not what the author is trying to present).
- Then an angel from the east (7:2) rises up who had the “seal of the living God.” A seal here seems to be a sign of protection, since a seal or a signet was a common sign from a king or authority figure that a document was authentic. This angel is here to protect 144,000 people from the harms the other four angels want to bring about (7:3). 144,000 people are sealed—or protected—with 12,000 being from each tribe of Israel.
- I've looked into this as much as I can, and there doesn't seem to be anything special about these numbers that I can find other than twelve being the number of tribes. Most every source I had, including my study Bible, said these numbers were symbolic for the church as a whole throughout history (not modern history, but Jewish history), with the tribal names and numbers naturally referring to ethnic Israel.
- Next, you have a vast multitude of people (7:9) from all over the world that is so great it can't possibly be numbered. They're from different tribes, nations, and languages, and they're here to stand before God. They sing praises to God (7:10, 12)
- What seemed strange to me here when I first read it was the question of the elder that is posed to John. The elder asks John if he knows who the people are (6:13), and John strangely responds by dodging the question and saying that the elder knows. The elder then goes on to explain that these are the ones who have withstood the great trials, and they will no longer have to face the troubles, worries, and pains of life any more (7:16). I was a bit confused by this, and what I was best able to work out was that John was trying to tell us this story, not through his own eyes and words, but through the words of what appeared to him in his vision. He wanted to reach beyond his simply humanity.
- Now that we've essentially covered the seven seals, we move on to the seven trumpets. In the Old/First Testament, trumpets were a sign of war. Just before any of these seven trumpets blown though, we need to remember what happened right after the seventh seal was opened. There was silence, then an angel came with an incense burner and offered all the prayers of the saints to God on a golden altar (8:3). I think the significance of this is that incense is supposed to be pleasing, and to God, our prayers are pleasing.
- The first trumpet is described as hail, fire, and blood (8:7), and this rains down upon the earth. It seems like these trumpets are perhaps being portrayed as a type of punishment against those who are unrighteous in the eyes of God. 1/3 of all the grass and trees were burnt up.
- A blazing, great mountain is hurled into the sea (8:8). What exactly this is referring to isn't exactly known. From a modern perspective we might say a meteorite or something, but with their lack of astronomical knowledge then, I don't think this is the best way to view this. 1/3 of all the ships were destroyed. I think it should be viewed as mere outside destruction of the naval powers that existed at that time. Some have even said that this might be a reference to the Minoan civilization (a civilization destroyed by the effects of the sea), but I hold my reservations about this view.
- A great star named Wormwood (a very bitter herb) fell into the waters and poisoned them—or made them bitter—reducing the drink-ability of the waters (8:10, 11). 1/3 of all the people died from these water because of its bitterness. Water has always been a highly contested resource, and this just is a sign less will be available in times of crisis.
- The fourth angel results in the partial destruction of the sun, stars, and moon (8:12). All of these were sources of light, so I think what's trying to be said there is that the people will be stumbling around in the darkness, and won't know what they are doing exactly (symbolically, of course). I don't think a literal view that 1/3 of these will be destroyed makes any sense if you understand anything about cosmology.
- What follows all of this is the appearance of an eagle (a sign of majestic power) that is here to warm people that the remaining three trumpets are especially terrible (8:13).
So, in summary, I like to think that what we've covered is just the beginning of a great story that will unfold as the weeks go by and as we read more of these passages. I want to encourage everyone to look at these verses in a different way than you normally might. Don't try and put them in the context of the future (though you absolutely are free to do that, try and see it other ways as well as I think looking at things from other perspectives truly gives you a new appreciation for things), but try and see them as story being told to us by John about something that's slowly beginning to unfold, and there's gonna be some serious conflict with an amazing climax, and an unforgettable resolution. What I want most from everyone is to truly examine the text, study it, and formulate personal opinions about the text with evidence from it, as well as other sources, to support their beliefs.
Zechariah 6 (in which we see some dramatic imagery in the middle of the passage)
As with all/most of the Old Testament prophets, incredibly dramatic imagery is used to convey a meaning. I think that John was continuing this "tradition" or writing style, and using vivid descriptions to say something.