The core of the Apocalypse presents the spiritual crisis faced by those who bear the testimony of Jesus Christ. At the time of writing, some had already died because they remained faithful to the testimony; others faced an uncertain future. Perhaps two leading questions entered the minds of the recipients of the work. First, Of what benefit is faith in Christ if it costs us hardship? Second, What will God do to avenge the blood of those who give their lives for Christ? At least one other question was answered, though not asked. That question pertained to the meaning of "faithfulness. This question was effectively answered in chapters 2 and 3.
Through dramatization, the book answers the burning questions in the minds of the saints. The drama shows that God will indeed act! His action shall bring both salvation to the persecuted and retribution to the evil forces that inflict persecution. But there is a larger issue lying behind the idea of affliction and revenge. This issue touches the nature of God himself and the nature of life on earth. The two are inseparably linked, as is the destiny of mankind.
What is clear within The Apocalypse is that a spiritual battle rages throughout the universe. Can and will God act to terminate evil forces, which at the moment appear to be triumphant? The answer is, Yes! Since God is sovereign and righteous, he will bring the evil powers to a conclusion, and he will do it in his own time. In fact, the triumph for believers has already taken place through the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt as to outcome--just the timing.
As for the timing, the activity of God lies under his control. We know only what he reveals. But a word of caution is needed here. Remember, we are dealing with cosmic forces in apocalyptic writing. The idea that the revelation pertains to "what must soon take place and "the time is near, does not necessarily carry with it the idea that one can point to specific events and identify these with the dramatic presentation being made. God does not operate according to a human timetable. Nor does he accommodate man's curiosity and give him a blueprint of historical events. God deals more with the abstract.
The text is woven together with the opening of the seventh seal that leads to the blowing of seven trumpets. The sounding of the seventh trumpets leads to seven bowls of wrath and the climax of the composition. The sequence of events suggests both one-time actions and repetitive action. Perhaps the detail should not be pressed in the general message of the drama. This is one of the places where scholars spin their theories of interpretation”over whether what is symbolized is continuous history or repetitive actions for emphasis sake.
When working with this section of text, one should realize that a natural break does appear between chapters 11 and 12. The break is more literary than substantive. Chapters 12-14 focus on a drama that involves the people of God in the midst of the forces inspired by Satan to destroy them. God's people are in his embrace. But, as chapters 13 and following demonstrate, the efforts of Satan will be defeated.
The same general message of The Apocalypse remains true today. We need not treat the book as a commentary on history or a road map to future historical events. Though based in historical circumstances and no doubt pointing to specific moments in history, its themes are spiritualized. The promise of ultimate victory of righteousness over evil is assured by the actions in Christ. What we need to do is to believe the message, receive strength from it, and engage the spiritual forces with awareness and confidence.
The drama about to be presented opens with a heavenly scene. God is depicted as sitting on his throne. While no physical description is given of God, the visual image surely describes him as sovereign. And he holds in his hand a scroll, which contains the desired revelation of future events. However, no one on earth, below the earth, or in the heavens is worthy to take the scroll and open it. It is sealed. Ultimately, one steps forward who is worthy and authorized to take the scroll and open it. That one is the Lamb, Christ. Like God, Christ is worthy of praise and adoration.
Reading Assignment. Read Revelation 4-5 at least three times. Pay special attention to the position of the occupant of the throne and the one who is worthy to take the seal from his hand and open it.
Chapter 4 is a necessary beginning, for it depicts the sovereign personality who both constituted the universe and controls its destiny.
The opening verse introduces the scene. John sees an open door and hears a loud voice (cf. Rev. 1:10) that invites him to enter into the heavenly realm for the purpose of leaning future events (4:1). The phrase "After this I looked or "After this I saw is a formula used to introduce new visions (7:1, 9, 15:5; 18:1).
John informs us he was "in the Spirit (cf. 1:10) and was privy to see God on his throne. Note that God is not described in physical terms, but physical elements are used to represent what John saw (Rev. 4:2-3). What elements are employed?
The scene shifts from the One who sits on the throne to those who surround the throne. These numbered twenty-four. They are called "elders, and they too are seated on thrones. Their attire suggests victory. But the real center of attention is the throne of God, complete with blazing lamps and the "seven spirits of God. Around the throne are four living creatures that represent all created life. It is not their look that dominates the scene, but their words: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come (4:4-8). Furthermore, the elders join in praise to God (4:9-11). The scene is reminiscent of what is found in Isa. 6:2-3 and Ezek. 1:3-28.
The "seven spirits can also be translated the "sevenfold Spirit. We should not look for seven distinct Holy Spirits, but to the completeness of God as expressed through his Spirit who forms an essential part of divinity.
While we do not know for certain what the "twenty-four elders represent, many think it is a figure that is inclusive for the twelve tribes of Israel plus the twelve apostles. Hence, if so, the whole of God's covenant people are represented by these elders.
The praise of verse 11 is written in verse and resembles Hebrew poetry in structure. The first line acknowledges God is worthy of praise. The second line goes with the first and explains he is worthy "to receive glory and honor and power. The next three lines complement the first two. They explain why God is worthy to receive praise. First, he created all things. Second, all things were created by his will. Third, all things have their being in him. All three lines affirm the same truth but put a slight twist on each assertion.
Now, review the entire chapter. Who is the focus of attention? What leads you to conclude that God is the focus of attention? Note how different the God of Scripture appears than the gods of the Gentile world. We are looking at absolute monotheism. What follows in the next chapter will in no way detract from God's oneness. It will only reinforce his oneness. It will enlighten the reader as to the nature of God's person and the nature of the reality that revolves around God's person.
Chapter 5 presents Christ as the one who, because of his redeeming work, is worthy of the same praise as God. He, therefore, is able to take the scroll from God's hand and reveal its contents.
The chapter begins with notice of the scroll in God's hand and no one seemingly has the authority to open the seals that conceal its meaning. We continue to find the use of the number seven”seven spirits, seven stars, seven churches, seven seals, seven thunders. The number will continue to be employed in reference to trumpets and bowls of wrath. The number seven is symbolic of completeness.
Attention is immediately focused on Jesus, who is described simultaneously as "the lion of the tribe of Judah and "the Root of David. These are clear identifications with Old Testament ideology and link Jesus with the promises of God through the ancient Hebrews. By birth, Jesus was descended from Abraham through his great grandson Judah. This was the tribe of David, from whom the legitimate king of the Jews came. Then Jesus is acknowledged as "a Lamb. This terminology identifies him with the work of redemption. It should not be surprising that Jesus is called a "lamb. Students of scripture would know the background of the term from Isaiah 53:7-8, a passage which is interpreted in Acts 8:32-35 as having its fulfillment in Jesus.
Theophany, the manifestation of God, was familiar to his audience from the Scriptures (Isa. 6:1-5; Ezekiel 1). They would recognize that the source of the message they were receiving was from God himself. What is unique about this theophany is the appearance of Jesus. Christians, of course, would have no difficulty identifying Jesus with God, but the idea of Jesus as the only one who was qualified to take the scroll from God's hand reinforces his position.
To those familiar with Ezekiel, the idea of a scroll in God's hand would be familiar. In that instance, the writing contained "words of lament and mourning and woe (Ezek. 2:9). These words were given to the prophet, and they presented a bleak picture to the citizens of Judah on the eve of the destruction of Jerusalem. A major difference between the Ezekiel reference and this one is that the one authorized to break the seals and reveal the contents is Jesus Christ.
The scene depicted in chapter 5 is rather simple, as far as interpretation is concerned. While no one in all of creation was authorized to unseal the document held in God's hand, Jesus Christ was able to open it because he had brought redemption to the human family through the cross. As a result of his sacrifice, the redeemed had become a kingdom and priests to serve God. In this role, they "reign on the earth. Those whose temporal rule is authorized by Satan may persecute them, but they are the ones who belong to God and are his true representatives on earth. But the attention is not on the saints; it is on Christ, who is worthy of praise. Christ accomplished God's purposes and is worthy of the same honor as given to God himself. Consequently, he is worthy to open the seals and declare what the Father wishes to reveal to his servants.