Breaking Open the Word: Revelation Ch. 6

A famous woodcut of the Four Horsemen by Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

October 28st, 2018: Rev. Ch. 6

               In this chapter of Revelation, some of the more wild and terrifying imagery takes center stage. As the Lamb breaks each seal on the mysterious scroll, John receives a vision either of events on earth or in Heaven. The first four seals reveal the famous “Four Riders,” each seated on a different-colored horse, bringing various calamities to the unrepentant earth. If, as one Sister noted, we understand the scroll as representing God’s covenant with mankind, then these Riders could be seen as the “covenant curses.” These curses are punishments under which God’s people bound themselves; if they broke the covenant into which they had freely entered, then they would suffer the consequences.

               An interesting discussion arose as we were attempting to grasp the structure of this upcoming part of Revelation – how do all the various (and wildly different) elements fit together? Several Sisters helped with our understanding by explaining how in Semitic (Jewish) literature, the action is cyclical, rather than linear; thus, Revelation can be read like a series of concentric circles, rather than as a chronological procession. For example, the events in later chapters (the Beast, the Wedding of the Lamb, etc.) do not necessarily occur later in time.  In fact, the whole book can be seen as going back and forth between the eternal “now” of Heaven and the various times on earth.

“For our God is a consuming fire.” - Hebrews 12:29(NAB)

Gebhard Fugel [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

               After those mental gymnastics, we considered various points within the passage itself. A couple of Sisters were very struck by the phrase “the wrath of the Lamb” (6:16). How could such a gentle creature (especially if we understand it to be the “little lamb” from last week’s discussion) be so terrifying and powerful? It seems to be an illustration of the dual nature of Christ. In a divine paradox, He is both the loving Savior AND the just Judge Who will come at the end of time. However, as a Sister pointed out, God’s “anger” is not so much an emotional outburst as an inevitable result of His contact with evil. One could think of God as a blazing fire; it is His very nature to burn away what is not pure!  In His great mercy, He desires that all humanity be purified and join Him in Heaven – but it is our responsibility to respond to Him!

               Another Sister noted a recurring theme in the book of Revelation. The “dwellers of earth” are those who live sinful lives, as if this world is all that there is, whereas the “dwellers in Heaven” represent we who, as Christians, see eternal life as our final goal. In other words, while we may still be physically “dwelling” on earth, suffering trials and tribulations, we realize that this is an exile, and that our true homeland is with God in Heaven. As Our Lord Himself put it, “they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.” (John 17:14)

               Lastly, we considered the martyrs who are seen under the altar, calling out to God for justice. According to one commentary, these represent not Christian martyrs, but those of the Old Covenant who gave their lives for God. Though they did not have access to Baptism, God rewards their fidelity by granting them each “a long white robe” and counseling patience until their new Christian “brothers [are] slain, as they had been.” (6:11) We pray that those who lost their lives for their Jewish faith in Pittsburgh this past weekend may be numbered among these holy ones who will live in the presence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for all eternity!

               We’re glad to have you with us, and we hope you’ll join us next week for Revelation Chapter 7!