Chapter 4 begins the “hard” part of the revelation – the symbolic section of the vision John saw, that many readers find so challenging and difficult to understand. As noted previously, one of the reasons modern readers struggle to understand the revelation is because this style of literature is virtually unknown in modern western culture. Chapters 4-22 can be divided into a series of visions that share many common themes, even though the particulars of the visions themselves might seem completely unrelated to each other.
The first vision John reveals spans chapters 4-7, and tells of a “book” (scroll) sealed up with seven “seals” (like a wax seal on the flap of an envelope). It introduces the repeating theme of the visions, the ultimate victory of the Christ and His church over our enemy (Satan). In this vision, John sees himself taken to God’s throne in heaven, where he witnesses a scene of splendor (4:1-6). All creation – wild things and domesticated animals alike, along with people, are shown in continuous worship and praise of God for His creative power (4:7-11). Note that verse 1 says this is a vision of “things to come.” The “book” is introduced in chapter 5:1, and the seven seals suggest that it is “perfectly” sealed up – unopenable by ordinary human beings so that its contents totally hidden from John. Revelation 5:1-4 notes that no one was found “worthy” (deserving, fitting, having sufficient “value”) to open this book and unveil its contents, until the “Lion” (Jesus) appears in vs. 5. The balance of chapter 5 focuses on Jesus being worshipped and praised by all creation for being what no one else among men is – worthy, “deserving” to unseal the book and reveal its message (and that “message” is that the throne that rules the universe is in heaven – not “Rome”).
In chapter 6 John sees Jesus (pictured now as a Lamb) begin to open the seals, revealing the varied influences at work upon the earth which impact the lives and souls of mankind from “now” (John’s time) until judgement. Note that it is the earth and the things of the earth that are affected here. The first six seals reveal the presence and influences of;
- a victorious Conqueror (vs. 2),
- strife, warfare, and turmoil among men (vv. 3-4),
- hardship, want, and famine (vv. 5-6),
- the power of “death” and “Hades” (in the forms of sword, hunger, and “beasts,” vv. 7-8, which result in)…
- the souls of those martyred for the cause of Christ crying out for justice (vv. 9-11);
- this leads to John foreseeing the end of all things (vv. 12-17).
The images here show John that just as Christ’s influence works in the present world, so does Satan’s (through strife, hardship, and death), throughout the present (i.e., Christian) age! The opening of the sixth seal, with its terrifying images of calamity and disaster, heralds the arrival of day of the Lamb’s wrath, an image that suggests judgement.
Chapter seven now shows us a “pause” (vv. 1-9), during which time God has everything ready for final judgement but waits for a time so that more people have an opportunity to turn to Him and be saved before it is too late (vs. 3). The 144,000 people from the tribes of Israel (vv. 5-8) represent “all” of Israel who will be saved, just as the “great multitude” vs. 9 incorporates all others who will be saved. John “looks ahead” at vv. 10-11 to see all in God’s presence, worshipping Him; verse 14 explains that they are allowed to be there because they have “washed their (whitened) robes” in the Lamb’s blood (vs. 14). The vision concludes with John seeing these saved ones no longer suffering or sorrowing, but comforted and at peace in the Father’s presence forever (vv. 15-17). In the meantime, earth continues and God’s longsuffering patience waits while (some) people continue to obey the gospel!