Reading for Monday, Nov 19: Revelation 6
Chapter 6 details the events surrounding the opening of six of the seven seals we were introduced to in the previous chapter. Horrifying images accompany the opening of these seals, representing the present day reality of life on earth. The four horsemen are similar to the vision of Zechariah 6:1-8. The white horseman, armed with bow and crown, represents international military conflict; the red, bent on taking peace, represents civil war and violence; the black horseman’s pair of scales indicates economic exploitation of the poor; and the pale green horse is Death, accompanied by Hades, representative of the human desire to usurp the authority and power of God.
Rather than describing some sort of future event, it seems to me that John is using these horsemen to encapsulate the entirety of human history in all its violence, corruption, greed, and death. To struggling, suffering churches in the first century, these images are intended to contextualize present adversity within the grand scope of God’s redemptive activity in human history.
As the fifth seal is opened, the scene shifts back to heaven and the souls that have congregated under the altar. They cry out, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (v10). This martyr’s cry represents the desire for God to act justly, to make right all wrongs. From Abel to the present, this number of martyrs continues to grow and their cry continues to swell in heaven. But the answer they are given is comforting: they are each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer (v11). God is in control and He will bring recompense in due time.
As the sixth seal is opened, John sees the collapse of the cosmos: an earthquake (not considered a “natural phenomenon” in the ancient world, but rather a sign of God’s judgment), the sun becomes black, the moon as blood. Mountains quake and all creation takes cover. The cryptic words that close this chapter seem to capture well the fearful emotions such a vision evokes: “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (v16-17)