Friday, May 6

Friday, May 6

Reader: “As I watched,”

Response: “The Lamb broke the first of the seven seals on the scroll.”

Scripture: Revelation 6:1-7:4

As I watched, the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals on the scroll. Then I heard one of the four living beings say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked up and saw a white horse standing there. Its rider carried a bow, and a crown was placed on his head. He rode out to win many battles and gain the victory.

When the Lamb broke the second seal, I heard the second living being say, “Come!” Then another horse appeared, a red one. Its rider was given a mighty sword and the authority to take peace from the earth. And there was war and slaughter everywhere.

When the Lamb broke the third seal, I heard the third living being say, “Come!” I looked up and saw a black horse, and its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice from among the four living beings say, “A loaf of wheat bread or three loaves of barley will cost a day’s pay. And don’t waste the olive oil and wine.”

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the fourth living being say, “Come!” I looked up and saw a horse whose color was pale green. Its rider was named Death, and his companion was the Grave. These two were given authority over one-fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword and famine and disease and wild animals.

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them.

I watched as the Lamb broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became as dark as black cloth, and the moon became as red as blood. Then the stars of the sky fell to the earth like green figs falling from a tree shaken by a strong wind. The sky was rolled up like a scroll, and all of the mountains and islands were moved from their places.

Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?”

Then I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds so they did not blow on the earth or the sea, or even on any tree. And I saw another angel coming up from the east, carrying the seal of the living God. And he shouted to those four angels, who had been given power to harm land and sea, “Wait! Don’t harm the land or the sea or the trees until we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of his servants.”

And I heard how many were marked with the seal of God—144,000 were sealed from all the tribes of Israel:

Some thoughts:

In apocalyptic literature it is important to realize that numbers, images, and creatures are symbolic of the greater picture of God’s perspective and unfolding plan for the world and its inhabitants. To try to identify specific people, nations, and movements with specific passages is speculative at best and probably not wise. But that does not water down the profound meaning of the writing.

Yesterday we read in Chapter 5 of Revelation where the Lamb that was slain was worthy to open the seven seals of the scroll. Today we read of his opening six of the seals. The first four horses (four seals) summarize the power structures of the world. In the breaking of the first seal we read of a rider on a white horse carrying a bow, a Greco-Roman symbol of war. The theme? Continuous battles to win wars.

The breaking of the second seal revealed a red horse (symbolic of blood), a sword, and more wars and slaughter, massive blood shed both civil and international. The breaking of the third seal unveiled a black horse and rider with a pair of scales disclosing massive inflation of the basic staples in life (symbolized by the cost of bread), famine, and general economic disaster. Yet, prices of luxuries (oil and wine) would remain unchanged indicating social imbalance and divide between poor and wealthy. With the fourth seal came a pale green horse and rider whose name was Death. The pale green was the color for depicting a corpse in the ancient world. Not even death would spare a sinner from judgment. In these four seals we have summarized the power structures of man governing the world leading to war, violence, economic imbalance, plague, famine, and death. (cf. Ezekiel 14:21) Notice all the troubles have to do with the sinfulness of man’s greed and lust for power over others. In this godless scenario, death is the end awaiting final judgment.

The Lamb then opened the fifth seal to disclose the martyred souls residing under the altar, the location of blood in the First Testament sacrificial system. We’re familiar with these words, “for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord.” (Leviticus 17:11) In the breaking of this seal, the martyrs themselves are in place of the blood, having given themselves totally as a burnt sacrifice to the Lord. 

Their cry of “how long O Lord” is not so much for vengeance as longing for the final judgment and end of the world. In the meantime, they were to rest. The white robes are symbolic of the martyrs’ victory. The white robes were a Jewish symbol of the resurrection and also symbolic of purity and eternal life.  

We come at last to the sixth seal in today’s reading giving us a glimpse of the cataclysmic ending of the whole created order. The great day of God’s wrath has come. What is described is beyond our imagination as God unleashes the final judgment on the unredeemed. All of these descriptions appear in various prophecies in the Old Testament. What is very clear is that God protects his faithful followers, his own as he tells the angels of destruction to wait until “we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of his servants.” Again, rather than speculate as to exactly what that will look like, the main point is that God cares for and protects his own from ultimate harm. They need not fear judgment. Then we get to the famous 144,000, symbolically meaning a “fixed and full completion.” (12 tribes x 12 apostles (Church) x 1000) It is generally understood that this symbolic number refers to the Church at large in the end time since the distresses are worldwide. It would seem odd if God’s protection were only of the Jews and not his Church. 

So what do we glean from this pericope? God is certainly going to judge the world and bring human history on earth to a close separating the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers. Jesus is central in every action and the only  one who makes redemption possible. God has complete charge of everything including caring for his own. All the faithful, his Church, rejoice in his presence for all eternity and all of this because of his great love for his children. 

Music: “Rex Tremendae”  from Mozart Requiem    Wiener Philharmoniker, Karajan.       Glorious!

Rex treméndae majestátis,

King of terrifying majesty,

Qui salvándos sálvas gratis,

Who freely saves the saved:

Sálva me fons pietátis.

Save me, fount of pity.

Prayer:Who can tell what a day may bring forth? Cause me therefore, gracious God, to live every day as if it were to be my last, for I know not but that it may be such. Cause me to live now as I shall wish I had done when I come to die. O grant that I may not die with any guilt on my conscience, or any known sin unrepented of, but that I may be found in Christ, who is my only Savior and Redeemer.  ―Thomas à Kempis 1380-1471, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.38