I am now officially in deep waters. For that matter, so is everyone else who starts trying to comment on these passages. The number of interpretations for these passages are legion. All I can I say is that many of my interpretations are at best tentative.
In Revelation, you see three categories of judgment, the 7 seals, the 7 trumpets, and the 7 bowls. Some people think they are all concurrent judgments. Some think they are chronological. One thing is certain: things will go from bad to worse before our Lord comes.
My guess, is that these judgments are chronological with a possibility of overlap between them. These seal judgments in particular seem to be what Jesus refers to as not the end itself, but rather the “beginning of the birth pains.” (Matthew 24:8)
And I think there’s a good chance that a lot of what’s written here is happening even as I write this.
Jesus opens the first seal, and out comes a white horse with a rider who has a bow and a crown and who is bent on conquest. (2)
To me, this symbolizes what Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24:6-7. Wars. Rumors of wars. Nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. Sound familiar at all?
Jesus opens the second seal and a fiery red horse comes out, and its rider is given power to take peace from the earth and make men slay each other. (4)
In other words, not only will people will die because of war, but people will start murdering each other. Not to say that this had never happened before in history, but it will become almost epidemic. Again, does this sound familiar? Just read the news everyday with all the terrorism, murders and mass murders.
He opens a third seal and a black horse comes out with scales saying,
A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine. (6)
This seems to indicate famine, where a small amount of food costs an inordinate amount of money. This famine is not as bad as it could be, however, as the oil and wine are not touched. Again this seems to refer to Matthew 24:7 where Jesus tells us there will be famines as part of the birth pains.
Jesus opens the fourth seal, and a black horse comes out representing death. And this seems to to sum up the previous three seals with two additional things: plague and even the wild beasts of the earth turning against people.
I’ll come back to the fifth seal tomorrow, but for now will go to the sixth seal. Here we see a great earthquake, the sun turns black and the moon turns to blood with stars falling from the sky. The sky recedes like a scroll and every mountain and island is removed from its place.
Is all this literal? I don’t know. Perhaps the main point of all this is that there is a great earthquake; everything else is figurative of how things feel to the people of the earth after experiencing the earthquake. That is, because of the the earthquake’s awesomeness, the whole world seems to be falling apart.
Here in Japan, we have suffered two great earthquakes in 1995 and 2011, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of those who went through it would look at these passages and say, “Yes, that’s what it felt like.”
So what do we get from all this?
A theologian named D.A. Carson once said something like this: We can look at all the problems the earth has. War. Murder. Famine. Earthquakes. Plagues. And when asked about the cause, we can point to a lot of of sociological and natural explanations.
Or we can say God has allowed all these things.
Both are true, but what is more fundamental?
The truth is, because of sin in this world, judgment is coming. And all these things we see on earth now are a mere prelude to the final judgment. God has allowed them all. Why? Is it just to judge us?
No. It is also in part to drive people to him.
If there were never any trouble in this world, I guarantee you that a majority of people would never turn to Christ because they would never see their need for him. But because of the judgments of God, they see their sinfulness and their need for his salvation, and repent.
The question is, when you see these judgments, how will you respond? Will you merely cringe in fear? (15-16)
Will you scream in defiance? (Revelation 16:9)
Or will you repent?
Judgment is coming. Are you ready?