If you have been reading along faithfully, you will quickly notice the challenges in understanding the book of Revelation. For the reading on Revelation 1, we noted four common interpretative approaches to the book’s message: historicist, preterist, idealist, and futurist. The book’s complicated structure, varied symbolism, and extensive use of the Old Testament make any reader wonder how one can possibly make sense of what we find here, much less see any practical application to daily life. End-time movies or books like the Left Behind series or messages from pop preachers are able to see every symbol in the book being fulfilled in current events.
Typically, these approaches end up missing the mark and only adding to the confusion. As an example, the Anti-Christ has been variously identified with the pope, Napoleon, or Hitler. Back in the 80’s, I remember when people thought the Anti-Christ was Mikhail Gorbachev because he had a prominent birthmark on his forehead. Or now, if you look on YouTube, you might see someone claiming the title goes to our current U.S. President. Grant Osborne, in his commentary on Revelation, notes that “… the inherent speculation involved in the parallels with world history, the fact that it must be reworked with each new period in world history, [and] the total absence of any relevance for John or his original readers …” is all too common. So when reading, we can make some mistakes – we might ignore reading Revelation altogether (but cf. 1:3), seek to find an explanation for everything in it, or simply reduce this prophecy to a time chart. What I find helpful is to get a bird’s eye view before straining to see the details. Since today’s reading is focused on the section for Revelation 8, allow me to catch us up.
A portion of John’s vision (chapters 2-3) has been focused on an earthly setting — hearing Christ’s word to seven real churches in Asia (and by application to every church in every age). After this, John’s vision is from the vantage point of heaven (4.1). There, he sees a throne room where worship is given to the One seated on the throne. The worship here is preparation for the wrath described in chapters 6-19. That wrath is symbolized first via the image of a scroll to be opened that is sealed with seven seals (6.1-8.1). The seals describe a preliminary judgment and lead us to the key focus of the book, which is the opening of the scroll. That scroll contains “the divine plan for ending the present world order that is under the power of sin.” Following the breaking of the seventh seal, another series of “sevens” is introduced via the trumpets, with the blowing of the seventh trumpet introducing seven bowl judgments. These are each introduced to the reader in succeeding series of “sevens” (seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls) and with increasing intensity.
It may seems strange to us to read that worship would be the preparation for God’s wrath, but we should understand that God’s wrath is an aspect of his holiness. That wrath comes as a result of mankind’s refusal to give God His rightful place.
Chapter 7 includes an encouragement to the church in John’s day, but also for our day to persevere in spite of pressures, trials or persecutions we might face as followers of Christ. When we go through difficult times, we should keep in mind the words of vs. 15-17 where ‘the Lamb’ promises to shelter us with His presence, be our shepherd, and wipe away every tear.
So, in Chapter 8 we find the scroll now opened and those events that signal the beginning of the end are described. 8.1 notes that “…when the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” A number of interpretations speak to what this dramatic pause might mean, but two stand out: (1) there is a hushed expectancy just before God’s judgment begins and (2) there is silence due to the prayers of the saints. God’s judgment will lead to ultimate victory, but we should remember that Jesus does not merely win in the end — He has already won at the cross, and this is the fulfillment of it.
The trumpet judgments are described in 8.2-11.19 and are aimed at the idolatry that was occurring in John’s day. The first four trumpets reflect the judgment by God that occurred during the Exodus (Exodus 7-10). In the same way that the plagues of the Exodus were intended to show Pharaoh that he could not win, the judgments in Chapter 8 signify that Satan cannot win. There is no middle ground. If you are not following God, you play on a losing team. Chapter 9 includes the fifth and sixth trumpet judgments and intends to focus the reader on the fact of a stubborn, hard-hearted humanity that refuses to repent (cf. v.20). Note also the seven-fold list of things for which they refused to repent, essentially rejecting God’s offer of grace.
Just this past weekend, you may have seen on the news the devastating effects of the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere. The death toll from Cyclone Winston killed at least 20 people when it hit Yacata Island, Fiji this past Saturday. We might sense that Fiji is so far away that we are not personally affected. We should certainly pray for them. But how do we feel when disaster hits us or people we know and love? I have noticed that when anyone experiences disaster in life, it brings them face-to-face with eternal issues. We don’t choose it, but God can use it. We should pray God will use every difficulty to bring others to himself or to a deeper dependence upon Him. I am reminded of the words in 2 Peter: “…but by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3.7-9).