52. Sudden silence – the intense instance of prayer.

We can pause for a moment and think of the sounds in heaven. They are very pronounced and accompany the vision in every instance. John describes the voice of God like the sound of many waters, the angels with trumpets, the new song, the worship of innumerable saints, the voices of the martyrs and nature in active participation. It is sounds that cannot be ignored. So often it is sound that catches our attention, causes us to look up and see something appearing on the scene. We build sound into our lives to alert us of things that need our awareness – people arriving at our door, robbers who trigger the alarm, telephones ringing to communicate.

Chapter 8 starts with silence and the breaking of the seventh seal. We have talked about the seventh seal in the previous chapter. It cannot be emphasized enough that the events as described and divided into chapters are not chronological and do not follow each other in strict succession. The opening of this chapter is meant to be further illustration of things already touched on in previous chapters.

The silence creates the theatrical introduction to a vital, significant continuing occurrence in heaven – the prayers of the saints. The sudden silence gives weight to the picture unfolding. More than sound, sudden silence is greatly effective in capturing attention, ceasing activity and draws the concentration to a  focal point.

Pebble pals, the image of the altar of incense with the prayers of the saints before the Throne of God has been a pillar in my prayer life that builds faith and drives out fear and worry.

All of heaven is silent as the prayers of the saints arrive in the golden altar before God.

unknown   An image of the altar in the desert Tabernacle.

One scholar is of the opinion that the needs of the saints are more to God than all the psalmody of heaven. All of heaven is completely silent so that even the faintest, whispered prayer of the humblest of saints is heard. I do not think it is necessary for God to have silence to hear our whispered sigh, but John describes it to us in human terms, to explain the importance of our prayers to our Father.

We need silence to concentrate. Just think what we do in a car while driving. It is fine for the music to play and the children to fool around at the back, but the moment things become difficult – a complicated traffic situation, road works, detours and gravel or ice, we want silence to concentrate. We order the kids to be quiet and turn the music softer. We need silence to hear the whisper of another.

This is our Father. He will silence the cosmos for us. Rejoice in this. Our prayers are in the golden altar within reach of His touch.

Andrew Murray writes this:

It is fellowship with the Unseen, most holy One. The powers of the eternal world have been placed at its [prayer’s] disposal. It is the very essence of true religion, the channel of all blessings, the secret of power and life. Not only for us, but also for others, for the church, for the world, it is to prayer that God has given the right to take hold of Him and His strength.

God hears all prayer. He is more ready to answer prayer than we are to pray it.

The angel is standing at the altar. The altar is mentioned often – (6:9,9:13,14:18). It is the altar of incense in the Holy Place before the entrance to the Holy of Holies, where the table with showbreads and the golden lampstand are. It is not the altar of burnt-offering as there is no sacrifice in heaven. The altar is described in Leviticus 16:12, Numbers 16:46, Luke 1:8-10. It depicts worship and prayer.

It was made of gold, eighteen inches square and three feet high. It was hollow with horns on the corners. Covered over with a gold plate it had a little railing, a miniature balustrade, to contain the burning coals.

Prayer is a sacrifice, wrapped in a beautiful fragrance pleasing to God. No other sacrifice is necessary, only prayer, which are helped by angelic hands. The image of live coals taken by the angel and thrown on the ground is the prelude to more revelation and happenings on earth. Prayer is the key to revelation and consequences in circumstances.

The live coal from the altar touched Isaiah’s lips to prophecy described in Isaiah 6:6. The cherubim scatters the coals of the altar over the city in Ezekiel 10:2.

The angel takes the live coals from the censor and hurls it to the earth (8:5). Prayer directly impacts earth.

Verse 2 belongs with the rest of the narrative on the trumpets.

A trumpet is a symbol of the intervention of God in history.

It is warning to wake up, or a call to battle or the announcement of royalty and celebrations. It was often used to announce the wrath of God: Zephaniah 1:14-16, Joshua 6:1-8.

The trumpet sounded:

  •        when the law was given:                   Exodus 19:16, 10.
  •        to summon back the exiles:             Isaiah 27:13
  •        the day of the Lord:                            Joel 2:1, Zechariah 1:16,   9:14
  •        the gathering of the elect:                Matthew 24:31.

Paul speaks of the day the trumpet shall sound. (1 Corinthians 15:52-53 & 1 Thessalonians 4:16) It is a day of great joy for the church, a day of revelation and reckoning on behalf of the faithful.

The first four trumpets announce the unleashing of the elements on earth to destroy. Nature takes part in the judgment of the world. Only a part of the world is struck. It is only a prelude to the end and not the final judgment.

A third depicts a significant minority. The detail of the sequence is given in the next verses:

First the earth (8:7), then the sea (8:8-9), then the fresh water and springs (8:10-11) and then the heavenly bodies (8:12), in other words every part of creation.

Origins of these afflictions on earth can be found in the plagues of Egypt – hailstones, water turned to blood, the fishes die, darkness. [Exodus 7: 17-21,9:23-25 &10:21-23] Zephaniah 1:3 talks about the birds and fish that are struck in judgment.

All these calamities are repetitive though history with acceleration and intensification in the last days. It gives us insight into the natural disasters and pollution these days that is hard to understand. In the light of these judgments, we as a church know that the earth groans under the consequences of sin.

Wormwood depicts the bitterness of the judgment. [Greek = apsinthos – a plant from which a bitter oil is extracted that is highly toxic to the nervous system.] The name “wormwood” comes from the fact that the oil was used medicinally to kill intestinal worms.

Rain that looks like blood has been reported in Italy and southeast Europe 1901. It was explained as the sand from the Sahara desert that is red being blown over the Mediterranean into the rainfall over Europe. A flaming mass falling into the sea sounds like a volcano, which is a well-known occurrence all over the world. In 79 AD Vesuvius destroyed Bay of Naples and buried the city Pompeii under lava. Today it is a well-preserved tourist attraction to reveal life in ancient Rome.

The last verse mentions an eagle, not an angel, which utters three fearful woes, forewarning doom to come. An eagle in Jewish writing was very familiar as the king of the birds to carry prophecy and revelation.

During the first four trumpets, judgment fell on nature, but in the final three trumpet judgments (Revelation 9-11), unbelieving humanity will be directly punished through torment, death, and at last total destruction.

The world around us is a picture of this heartbreaking state of affairs. God’s judgment is the natural result of a sinful, evil-embracing world. His first gift to mankind was choice and He never revokes any gift ever (Romans 11:29). We, who are privileged to call ourselves children of God by repenting our sins and inviting Jesus into our hearts, are in a unique position to live in the embrace of redemption within the judgment.

51. More wind and storm… and angels.

The plot thickens in the seventh chapter. A superficial reading could be confusing and discouraging. Winds and angels, numbers and multitudes, marks and seals, loud voices and worship songs are all combined to describe cosmic history in a few words. Hang in there, go slowly and grasp the metaphors and symbols to understand and enjoy. Remember, we have anointed minds and blessed understanding. Instead of groping for a clear picture, relax and “hear” the still, small voice of your Father and His kind words of encouragement. He is very aware of your current position in His Word and He will enlighten to your mind and communicate to your heart.

It was a common belief amongst the Jews that angels control the earth. They believed the earth to be square and flat. The winds from north, south, east and west were good, but winds blowing diagonally across the earth were bad. They knew the angel of fire as mentioned in Revelation 14:18 and the angel of waters as in Revelation 16:5. They also believed that angels could hold back judgment, but only on a command from God.

The Sirocco was known as an especially dreadful wind. It was a whirlwind that withered vegetation and destroyed the harvest. (Zechariah 6:1-5, Nahum 1:3,4, Psalm 18:15, Isaiah 40:7,24, 66:15)

Psalm (83:13) declares that God will destroy his enemies as stubble before the wind. Other scriptures talk about the destruction of fertility by the wind. [Jeremiah 23:19, 30:23. Hosea 13:15]

We might know more about the weather patterns, but we should always appreciate that God is in control.

 The control of the angels holds the winds and blocks harm until salvation is sealed over the godly. The winds are symbolic of evil forces. The east was always regarded as the source of blessing; the rising of the sun. The sun symbolizes the giving of light and life. God promises life and light within strife and adversity.

We serve the living God, in contrast to idols made by human hands, more than enough against the overwhelming evil forces. [Isaiah 44:9-17, 2 Kings 18: 17-37]

We are privileged to carry the seal or mark of the living God, so that we are protected from evil. We read about the man clothed in linen, with a scribe’s writing case at his side who marks the foreheads of the faithful in Ezekiel 9: 1-7.

In ancient times the king’s seal was very significant. The king wore a signet ring to authenticate documents and property. It was an undisputed authoritative representation of the King’s command and trust. [Genesis 41:42 – Joseph, Esther 3:10,8:2]

The lion’s den was sealed (Daniel 6:17) as was Jesus’ tomb. (Matthew 27:66). It indicated a source of possession for merchants and vineyards.

To the early church the seal was baptism. In the early church people were always baptized wearing white clothes. [Zechariah 3:4]

Our baptism is sealed with the Holy Spirit. It is the full package of salvation and protection from evil in this world.

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, (Ephesians 1:13, NIV)

We are sealed from God’s wrath, not from tribulation and death. We are not exempt from distress on earth, but safely brought through. We are the testimony to the world. The church is the warning, the assurance and the promise – all at the same time. We live and walk side by side with the unbeliever, but plugged into the Source of life, to live as an example of a life of excellence within the brokenness and strife.

The 144 000 is a symbol of completeness. The military division of the camp of Israel was 1000, thus 10x10x10, which is a perfect cube. The number 144 is 12×12, which includes the elders – the tribes and the apostles. It is the symbol of the faithful remnant of the Old and the New Testaments. It is the complete spiritual Israel. [Galatians 6:16, Revelation 14:1-5]

The number is inclusive and not limited. It depicts multiplication.

Not all Jews belong to Israel, according to Romans 9:6-8:

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.

We are Abraham’s offspring in Christ. [Galatians 3:29, 6:16]

The tribes mentioned in Revelation 7 are in no particular order. Judah is first as the source of Jesus. Dan is omitted because of idolatry and judgment (Genesis 49:17) and regarded as the enemy (Jeremiah 8:16). Manasseh (Joseph’s son) is in this list.

Verses 9 -17 talk about the blessed state of the redeemed in heaven. It is the church triumphant, with the great cloud of witnesses.

(Hebrews 12:1) The number of the martyrs is too great to count. Israel blesses every nation on earth. [Genesis 15:5, 32:12] It is a great multitude from many nations and many tongues.

They will have palms and white robes, illustrating their victory and jubilation, filled with praise and worship for the Source of Salvation. A sevenfold ascription of adoration flows in praise:

Blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour, power, might and everlasting.

Power can be described by 4 words in Greek:

  • koach – capacity, ability
  • exousia – authority, right to act
  • dunamis – might, great force
  • kratos – effective power shown in reigning

All the words used are in the present participle tense, expressing continuous and repeated action. Worship is not a once-for-all. Tribulation is taking place throughout the church age and still the church is triumphant.

The great tribulation is an acceleration and intensification of troublesome times climaxing in the second coming of Jesus.

Only through the Blood can we be made righteous and therefore white meaning cleansed from sin. The blood covers the sacrifice for the past (forgiveness of sins), the present (peace and salvation through faith) and the future (guaranteed glory with Christ). Ancient mysticism involved the blood of sacrificial animals to wash over a person.

They are sheltered by the presence of God. He will spread His tabernacle over them. The promise of His presence is open to all; also women and the gentiles. The shechinah was His visible presence like a tent. The Temple in the time of Jesus separated the places for the gentiles and the women. It explains Jesus’ anger and His highly controversial cleansing. (Matthew 21:12)

The Lamb is the shepherd – a well-known image in the ancient world. [Psalm 23, Isaiah 25:8 Ezekiel 34:24] He will care for His sheep with fountains of the water of life – no lack, no thirst. [Isaiah 55]

These verses are full of encouragement and hope fulfilled into the best possible scenario – victory in spite of tribulation. Their weeping is comforted. They will shout of triumph as in the days of Jericho.

Deliverance is not escape, but conquest.

God brings them triumphantly through trouble. Life is not easy, but life is great. This is the true Christian hope: not to be saved from trouble and distress, but to endure and to be guaranteed the glory of reward – Jude 24.

Their hunger and thirst for righteousness, will be filled. [Matthew 5]

Jesus is the Bread of Life. In Him there is no hunger or thirst. [John 6:35]

…but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

 

They will neither hunger nor thirst,

    nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.

He who has compassion on them will guide them

    and lead them beside springs of water. (Isaiah 49:10)

 

 The divine shepherd.

This is a precious picture in any age; but it was more meaningful in Palestine than it can ever be to those who live in cities. Judaea was like a narrow plateau with dangerous country on either side. It was only a very few miles across, with on one side the grim cliffs and ravines leading down to the Dead Sea and on the other the drop to the wild country of the Shephelah. There were no fences or walls and the shepherd had to be ever on the watch for straying sheep. George Adam Smith describes the eastern shepherd. “With us sheep are often left to themselves; I do not remember to have seen in the East a flock without a shepherd. In such a landscape as Judaea, where a day’s pasture is thinly scattered over an unfenced track, covered with delusive paths, still frequented by wild beasts, and rolling into the desert, the man and his character are indispensable. On some high moor, across which at night hyenas howl, when you met him sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed, leaning on his staff, and looking out over his scattered sheep, every one on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why they gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of Providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.”

Here we have the two great functions of the Divine Shepherd. He leads to fountains of living waters. As the psalmist had it: “He leads me beside still waters” (Psalms 23:2). “With thee is the fountain of life” (Psalms 36:9). Without water the flock would perish; and in Palestine the wells were few and far between. That the Divine Shepherd leads to wells of water is the symbol that he gives us the things without which life cannot survive.

He wipes the tear from every eye. As he nourishes our bodies so he also comforts our hearts; without the presence and the comfort of God the sorrows of life would be unbearable, and without the strength of God there are times in life when we could never go on.

The Divine Shepherd gives us nourishment for our bodies and comfort for our hearts. With Jesus Christ as Shepherd nothing can happen to us, which we cannot bear.

 

[Quoted from William Barclay – Daily Study Bible – Revelation – http://www.studylight.org]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

50. The earth groans, the people moan…

The dramatic course of history is about to commence. The worthy One is breaking the seals and all the consequences of sin overwhelm the earth and its inhabitants. A thunderous voice calls the four horses to disperse their destiny over the earth. The horse in this chapter is a metaphor for an unstoppable flow of events, divided roughly into four categories of disaster.

The horses of the Apocalypse as they are often called, have been the dramatic theme in many movies and scary stories. A horse is a magnificent creature in God’s creation and the words of Job echoes through so many centuries as horses were the faithful companions for everything man had to do. Hear what God says about a horse:

Have you given the horse strength?

Have you clothed his neck with thunder?

Can you frighten him like a locust?

 

His majestic snorting strikes terror. 

He paws in the valley, and rejoices in his strength;

He gallops into the clash of arms.

 

He mocks at fear, and is not frightened;

Nor does he turn back from the sword.

The quiver rattles against him,

The glittering spear and javelin.

 

He devours the distance with fierceness and rage;

Nor does he come to a halt because the trumpet has sounded.

At the blast of the trumpet he says, ‘Aha!’

He smells the battle from afar, the thunder of captains and shouting. (Job 39:19-25)

Since the earliest times horses roamed the earth and were harnessed into service and battle. Scholars agree that the inhabitants of the Eurasian Steppes were the first to tame horses over 6000 years ago. Until quite recently, wild horses in swift gallops were a familiar scene in most unexploited natural environments. These days wild horses are protected to retain their distinct characteristics of speed and strength.

Any horse handler has a colourful story of taming a horse. Wild horses are not easily tameable. Taming a horse is a process that requires patience and perseverance. The course of action is often painful – for the horse and the man. They often talk of breaking a horse. All his old habits of running free and wild, living on his birth instincts without bridle and fence, have to be broken and forgotten, to guide him into full and unconditional obedience to his master.

The image of horses running across the world, was a way to portray the fierce and vicious brutality of sin. Wild horses trample their enemy, rearing up with a sound that brings man to his knees in fright, running away with no hope of catching up. Wild horses are quietly tricked into confined spaces with the goal of catching only one. We often have to deal with our habitual sin the same way. In prayer and determined self-control, we tackle our bondage piece by piece and break the chains of our sinful nature. It is a slow, single-minded process to bridle and saddle our wild horse into full submission and obedience to our spirit-man, with the wonder-working power of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Here we are in Revelation 6 where John sees the image of the first four seals. The One on the throne is in control of everything and sin would be ultimately used to accomplish His purpose as the Redeemer of mankind. Ezekiel (14:21-23) mentions the four severe judgments against Jerusalem. Zechariah (6:1-8) describes the four horses in the exact colours of Revelation as symbols and types of destruction. Here is the Amplified translation:

Now again I looked up, and four chariots [four angelic spirits appointed by God to dispense His judgment] were coming out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of [firm, immovable] bronze (divine judgment).  The first chariot had red horses (war, bloodshed), the second chariot had black horses (famine, death), the third chariot had white horses (victory), and the fourth chariot had strong dappled horses (death through judgment).

White horse. The bow is a symbol of war and conquest. Christ is never depicted with bow, always with a sword. The blood is spilled to gain victory in political strife of which history is the record. The crown (stephanos) is the reward for success in war.

Psalm 18:34: He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. Christ’s crown is diadema, which is a royal crown. Roman victories celebrated with a parade in which the victorious general rides a white horse. Military conquest is always bloody and tragic.

The red horse represents war and strife. Peace is taken away with the sword. Human relationships are broken down and the world is a “seething cauldron of embittered hate.” [Barclay] Peace is the greatest blessing that could only come from God. Satan can never give it. Peace can never be faked or obtained by fraudulent means. It is a direct and powerful consequence of a godly life.

Christ gives peace with the sword of the Word. His promises calm the brokenness and pain even within strife. (Hebrews 4:12)

The black horse depicts scarcity of commodities. Scales were used to determine quantity and symbolize the lack of abundance. There were three main crops in Israel: corn, wine and oil.

(Deuteronomy 7:13, 11:14, 28:51 and Hosea 2:8,22.)

To measure bread by weight indicates scarcity – Leviticus 26:26, Ezekiel 4:16.

It is not only about the rule of economics in history, but also the scarcity of true, divine knowledge. (Isaiah 55) More often than not there is a general scarcity of spiritual food. With spiritual insight we know that the people of this world hunger for the bread of life, which would fill the gap in their souls.

It is possible to have wine and oil and no corn. The vines for grapes and the olive trees were deeply rooted and could yield their crop even in drought. A denarius was a labourer’s working wage for a day. The price of the corn would cost all he has for himself – nothing more. It implies that he cannot provide for his family. It is a tragic state of affairs and prevalent all over the world.

During the reign of the Caesar Domitian there was a shortage of corn and an over supply of wine. It sets famine alongside luxury.

It is a vivid picture of the world throughout history, especially today.

In contrast with the scarcity on earth the four living creatures around the Throne are symbolic of the full provision of nature. Nature itself provides enough, but the reign of man causes shortages so that its provision is thwarted and cannot reach everybody.

The pale horse represents pestilence and death. (6:8)

So I looked, and behold, an ashen (pale greenish grey  horse [like a corpse, representing death and pestilence]; and its rider’s name was Death; and Hades (the realm of the dead) was following with him.

He has authority over a fourth part of the earth. It means the disaster is huge, but limited. His colour is described with the word chloros, which means ashen or pale as a person in fright or terror. The death horse kills with the sword, famine, pestilence and wild beasts. (Ezekiel14:21)

Ezekiel describes how the wild beasts will steal children, the sword will avenge the breaking of the Covenant, pestilence will break out in the cities and break the staff of bread so that they eat but are not satisfied. (Leviticus 26:21-26) Again we see the consequence of sin. Where terror reigns there can be no happiness and joy. Psalm 128 paints the contrasting picture of fruit on your labour and blessings for your children. All six verses spell out the wonders of God’s blessing.

For you shall eat the fruit of your hands. You will be happy and blessed and it will be well with you. (Psalm 128:2)

I am sure we agree that the “wild beasts” of our day still steal our children? Greed, sexual sin, power, immorality, worship of money, addictions, to name a few, are beasts stealing and killing the children.

Hades was the dwelling of death. It is possible to be dead before actual death. The living dead, the walking dead who dwell in death while in this life are amongst us, living in hell with no awareness of the wonders of the Presence of our Father.

The fifth seal is called the cry of the martyrs. The original meaning of the word martyr was witness. So many of Christ’s witnesses were persecuted and killed, especially at the time of the early church, that the word was used exclusively for people losing their life for what they believe in.

There is an altar in heaven. It is heaven’s pattern that established the Tabernacle and Temple on earth. Under the altar was the place of the blood. The souls of the martyrs will cry for God’s vindication, not vengeance. They will cry because of God’s seemingly inactivity, but with confidence of ultimate action and victory.

The martyrs will be given a white robe of purity and victory. To wait a little while longer indicates a time delay to extend the time of repentance. There is always more grace in TIME. In the case of the persecuted church Smyrna, the persecution time was limited to 10 days, which also speaks of grace.

The example of Methuselah in the time before the Flood speaks of grace and extended time for repentance. (Genesis 5, Jude 14,15) Enoch hid the prophecy in his son’s name. Methuselah means to be sent plus death. He knew the judgment shall come when Methuselah dies. He is known for the man who lived the longest in all of history. Grace is extended to the maximum.

The sixth seal speaks of cosmic upheaval, indescribable to the human mind.

The seven structures of creation and the seven classes of men are affected. (Hebrews 12:27, Luke 23:27-30, Isaiah 2:2,17, Hosea 10:8)

The day of the Lord as spoken by Obadiah in verse 15 of his prophetic utterance, is to be feared. It is a day of judgment and intervention. It determines the rise and fall of empires and civilizations.

The unsaved “pray” to nature to save them. Who is able to stand? There is clearly no escape. The revelation of God that they denied to be true, is now proved and it is too much to bear.

The unbeliever does not fear death itself, he fears the revelation of God.

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31)

All the events of natural disaster are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.

  • Earthquake – Amos 8:8, Ezekiel 38:19.
  • Darkening of the sun and moon – Amos 8:9, Isaiah 50:3, Joel 2:31.
  • Falling of the stars was a Jewish superstition for the worst that could happen. Matthew 24:29.
  • Heavens rolled up – Isaiah 34:4.
  • Moving of mountains and hills – Jeremiah 4:24, Nahum 1:5 – contrast Isaiah 55:12.
  • Every terrifying thing imaginable is happening – picture of utter destruction.

 

Salvation is always available in the midst of it all.

 

 

 

Next time: The seventh seal in Chapter 7.