Posted: 14 Dec 2010 11:00 PM PST
CHAPTERS 4 AND 5 OF REVELATION, on which we have not reflected, constitute a major vision that prepares us for much of the rest of the book—including Revelation 6. Chapter 4 is to chapter 5 what a setting is to a drama. Revelation 4 depicts, in apocalyptic symbols, the throne room of Almighty God. The emphasis is on God's awesomeness, his holiness, his transcendent and spectacular glory. Even the highest orders of angels veil their faces as they bow in worship and extol God for his holiness. In Revelation 5, the drama begins. In the right hand of God rests a scroll, which turns out to contain all his purposes for redemption and judgment. The scroll is sealed with seven seals. In the symbolism of this book, opening the seals means bringing about all of God's purposes for redemption and judgment. If the book remains unopened, God's purposes will remain unfulfilled. A powerful angel launches a challenge to the entire universe: Is anyone worthy to approach this awesome and frankly terrifying God, take the scroll, and open the seals—in other words, to serve as God's agent to bring his purposes to pass? No one is found who is worthy, and in despair, John weeps. Then one of the elders tells him to stop crying. The Lion of the tribe of Judah has prevailed. John looks up through his tears, and sees—a Lamb. This is not an animal additional to the Lion. True to the mixed nature of apocalyptic metaphors, the Lion is the Lamb—and he emerges from the center of the throne. From then on in the book of Revelation, praise is offered to him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.
Revelation 6 finds the Lamb opening the seals. In due course, the seventh seal introduces seven trumpets (Rev. 8), which in turn are followed by the seven bowls of God's wrath (Rev. 16). Thus the entire drama of the book of Revelation is introduced by the vision of Revelation 4–5.
So far as Revelation 6 is concerned, I shall focus on only two points. (1) The martyrs who are "under the altar" cry out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" (Rev. 6:9–10). It is a great comfort to know that justice will be done, and will be seen to be done; it is an even greater comfort to know that God is more forbearing than Christians. (2) But when that judgment does come, there is no escaping it, no reprieve. All who have rebelled against their Maker and never been reconciled to him, whether they are slaves or among the powerful and the mighty, cry out to the mountains and the rocks to hide them "from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb" (Rev. 6:16). But who can hide from the throne of God?
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