When I was a kid growing up in Wyoming we didn’t have a television at home. It was a personal conviction my parents had; television was not spiritually beneficial. Looking back on it now, I can definitely see their point as culture continues to spiral downward into chaos. With that backdrop, when I was probably 9 years old one of the local churches in Sheridan brought in a couple of movies to show to the community. They were called “A Thief in the Night” and “Distant Thunder”. Some of you may remember them. They were movies about the rapture and the impending doom of the Great Tribulation to come upon the earth after the rapture. Their intent was to scare people into becoming Christians before it was too late. For some reason my parents allowed me to go see these movies. You can imagine this naïve kid walking into the basement of that church with the lights turned out and watching what played out on the screen. I realize now it was a really poorly made flick about the end of times. I was mesmerized. The sights and sounds were too much for me to bear. I wanted to look away but couldn’t. I was terrified at the thought that maybe I would be one of those who would be left behind. I think I got saved a thousand times that night if it were possible.
Since that time, I have honestly wrestled with how to understand and interpret the book of Revelation. There are so many different theories about what its imagery means and how much of it is literal and what is figurative. People a lot smarter than me disagree with each other on these things. Is there a secret rapture or catching away of the church? Is there a 7 year tribulation period? If so, is the church removed pre-trib (before the tribulation), mid-trib (in the middle of the tribulation), or post-trib (at the end of the tribulation)? I have to confess that I am a pan-tribber. What is that you might ask? I believe that it will all pan out in the end. Obviously, I’m trying to be funny here. The point is that this is one of those things that is going to make complete sense afterward but until then we have to focus on the things we know to be true.
We must remember the book of Revelation is a revelation of a person, Jesus; it is not a plan. We must also understand that John is given a panoramic view of all time; past, present and future. He is commanded to write down the things he sees but not necessarily given an explanation of these things. With that backdrop let’s look at a portion of chapter 6 together. In chapters 4 or 5, we are granted a bird’s eye view of the worship of heaven. Who is the only one worthy of being the focus of continual praise and adoration? The Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world. He is given a scroll that is sealed with 7 seals that has been unable to be opened by anyone else. In chapter 6, he begins to open the seals one at a time. As the seals are opened, it becomes obvious they represent judgments unleashed upon the earth. We find it hard to understand in our culture a God that would judge the world. We have at times bought into the lie that we deserve God’s mercy instead of his judgment. The problem with that thinking is that the definition of mercy is undeserved favor. The gospel is good news because we who deserved God’s wrath have been granted mercy because of the sacrifice of Jesus.
The judgments include such things as war, famine, death, earthquakes, and pestilence. For an interesting perspective on all of this, please read Jesus’ Olivet discourse found in Matthew 24 where he is sharing with his disciples about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the age. The signs Jesus gives to them are synonymous with what we read here in Revelation 6. Jesus gives a fitting conclusion to all of this with a simple statement, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” What should be our disposition in the middle of trouble and calamity? How should we live when things get progressively worse in the world around us? We must continue to ask God for grace for endurance so that no matter what we face we can keep our eyes focused on Jesus the author and the finisher of our faith. In just a few short chapters we will see the conclusion of it all and we will realize because Jesus won, we who are found faithful to the end share in his victory!