All posts by Simon Twist

Genesis 3

Discussion question: Reflecting back on Genesis 2, what, if you were Adam or Eve, would you wish you had? Discuss why.

Context:

Genesis 1 and 2 describe the beginning of God’s activity in the world and the origin story of mankind. We are left with no doubt that God is the creator and has made man and woman with purpose: to govern and rule creation. Everything that is, is there because of God.

Creation is described as ‘very good’ at the end of Chapter 1 and Adam is given the perfect equal in Chapter 2. The world is filled with all kinds of animals and plants. There is a tree of life and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve are free to eat from anything they see and want. If they eat from the second tree, God warns them that they will die and his command was not to eat it.

They are both naked and they both see no problem with that.

Read Genesis 3

Observation:

Structure:

  • Fools speak
    • The serpent enters the garden (1-5)
    • Shame enters the garden (6-7)
    • The LORD enters the garden (8-9)
    • Fear, blame and deception are in the garden (10-13)
  • The LORD Speaks
    • The LORD speaks to the serpent (14-15)
    • The LORD speaks to the woman (16)
    • The LORD speaks to Adam (17-19)
  • Adam and Eve must leave the garden (20-24)

The serpent enters the garden (1-5)

Now” – a typical beginning to a change of scene. The sort of thing that marks a new section or idea in the bible (or any text).

“…the serpent…” Job 1:7 describes the habit of Satan to be roaming throughout the earth; Revelation 12:9 links the serpent to Satan and his vice of leading the world astray. While a study on the nature and motivation of Satan would be interesting, Genesis 3 simply tells us that the serpent was crafty – a signal of intelligence but sneaky and deceitful. The serpent stands out as different to the wild animals that God had made – not a citizen of God’s very good creation.

The bible gives no conclusive answer as to where and why this creature exists. We know that nothing is created outside of God and so he is a created thing (Colossians 1). Let’s move forward with the story and let that train of thought go.

Did God really say…?” The conversation that begins is about doubting the word of God. The fact is that God DID say you CAN eat from any tree in the garden (Gen 2:16). The restriction against ONE tree comes with a loving warning that when you eat from it you will die. Seems like a good tree to avoid at all costs.

“…you must not touch it…” Eve’s response to the question takes God’s words too far. His word has been questioned and then twisted by both people. They both speak about God’s word but neither are truly listening to Him. This reminds me that many who speak bible words are not necessarily listening to them.

“…you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Here is the trick. Satan would have Eve believe that God does not want the best for Eve – he is holding something back! What Satan says appears to be true when we read Gen 3:22. The plan of Satan is to deceive. He leads the world astray. He is described as crafty. His ways are cunning and sound awfully real.

We needn’t think of the fruit as a magical formulae that alters the quality of a person’s existance – that eating it makes them God. That is illogical since they ate it and did not become God. So how are they made ‘like’ God? The image of God is a description of rule (ie, made in God’s image to rule). The best relationship with God is one where we rule as an image-bearer and listen as obedient creatures (should the clay say to the potter: you work is not good!) Mankind, in this way, rules under God. When mankind takes what they were told not to, they become the rulers with their own authority. A process that Satan had already gone through and is sharing his freedom with mankind. But this ‘freedom’ becomes a bondage to sin. We become ‘like’ god in that we no longer regard him as authority over us but make ourselves like God and know, or decide what is good and evil.

Shame enters the garden (6-7)

“…and also desirable…” James 1:14-15 describes the progress toward sin. It doesn’t happen in a snap but in slow-motion.

“…her husband, who was with her…” Adam was with her but he said nothing. Adam was with her and he sinned with her.

“…they realised they were naked…” Titus 1:15 describes how something innocent can suddenly appear impure and shameful. They couldn’t look at each other freely like they had before.

The LORD enters the garden (8-9)

“…the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden…” The LORD was present and it seems like this was a familiar sound. It is curious to imagine a woman talking with a serpent and God walking in the garden. The mechanics of this are, perhaps, a mystery but the idea of God knowing Adam and Eve and them knowing Him in a very natural way is fantastic. One day friends, we will have this again.

“Where are you?” God knows all things. The question is deeper than a hide and seek question. Adam and Eve were hiding when they had never done that with God before. They could no longer look on him like they use to because shame has entered the garden.

Fear, blame and deception are in the garden (10-13)

“…and I was afraid because I was naked…” This is a new reaction for Adam. He heard God and was afraid – not because God was present, but because he was naked. It is not God who has changed but Adam. And now, rather than a casual chat in the cool of the day (Verse 8) he dreads the meeting. Exodus 19:16 describes a future moment when God turns up and the people trembled. There was no shame in Adam in 2:25 but his perception has changed. Sin and shame are closely connected.

“Who told you that you were naked?” This question is quickly followed by the question about eating from the tree they were told not to eat from. Notice the emphasis in this chapter about who speaks what to who. Forget who told them they were naked, remember who told you not to eat from the tree!? They have crossed the line of disobedience and now experiencing guilt and shame.

I think, perhaps, this verse is quite significant. The question of ‘who told you’ suggests that they should have trusted God alone. Later, God will say that mankind must not remain in this state of knowing good and evil forever – rather, we ought to trust God like little children, and not seek to know better than him.

“The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave me…’” The blame game has begun. It’s not so much that he speaks lies, cause he isn’t, but that he is quick to throw Eve under the bus. More than that, he reminds God that it was Him who put the woman there. Rather than a quick apology, Adam looks for loopholes and how he is justified in his actions. It’s not his fault! Sin decays everything about us, even our honesty.

“The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” The woman points the finger at the serpent but she admits that she was deceived and acted on the deception. Eve was fed a lie. She bought it and now stands before God. Such a simple act of taking a fruit and eating, but the deception, the lingering, the craving and so on that leads up to it – followed by the eternal mark of being a sinner – it’s just not worth it. But it is done and it cannot be undone.

The LORD speaks to the serpent (14-15)

“So the LORD God said to the serpent…” God addresses the serpent first. In one sense, he seems to agree that the blame needs to begin there – but it won’t end with him alone. God lists the curse due to the serpent.

“Cursed are you above all livestock…” honestly, I’ve not resolved what to do with this image. The serpent remains treated like a creature in the garden and we have what feels like a Dreamtime story explaining why the snake has no legs. There is a strong tie between this creature and Satan. As part of the real narrative, Adam and Eve perceive that the serpent is cursed – they visually see the results of the serpent crawling after this moment. And on top of this, Satan gets his proverb or prophecy in Verse 15.

“…he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Famously pointing to Christ who is descended from Eve and who will crush Satan’s head – but not before Satan takes a sting. The final crush will occur when Christ returns (Romans 16:20) but the first blow which has mortally wounded Satan occurred at the cross (Hebrews 2:14).

The serpent has been condemned.

The LORD speaks to the woman (16)

“…I will make your pains in childbearing very severe…” Producing new life will come with pain.

“Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” A fascinating verse. Does this mean that she will love him but be dominated in return? Not quite. The change here is in contrast to how men and women were created to co-exist: there was equality, a solution to being alone and she was the right helper for him. These two were made for one another. ‘Bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.’ But now, their existance will be a struggle. Inequality is not a problem of the creator but of our sin. I believe this speaks of losing trust with one another. She won’t simply be with Adam but will desire or crave something as if it is not quite there already, and he will not love her sacrificially but will rule. They won’t act as equals anymore. Now, look ahead to 4:7 and see how Cain’s struggle with sin is described. The language of the two verses are so close. Cain is going to have sin wanting to take over him but he must rule over it. That description of sin makes sense. Now apply that language to Adam and Eve: Eve will want to have Adam but Adam will rule over her.

The LORD speaks to Adam (17-19)

The work that Adam was created to do is not longer described as an opportunity but as a hard task. This world will not work for him easily – he must work hard to subdue it and it will bite back.

Adam and Eve must leave the garden (20-24)

“The LORD God made garments of skin…” Shame is a result of sin and yet God provides and loves his children. We see here a second moment of grace (the first hinted in 3:15). They do not die but are cared for. Notice, however, that they are clothed in skin – an animal died in order for their shame to be covered over. Remind you of anything (Jesus).

“And the LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.’” The knowing of good and evil is not something that God wants man to ‘enjoy’ forever (see 3:22). God makes arrangements for Adam and Eve never to eat from the tree of Life while they are in this state. They will leave the garden, not put to death, but death will come to them. And, in God’s wisdom, this is a mercy too. This life is full of curse and trouble – it is the next life that we long for, but we need to enter it with no shame over us. We need, as Revelation tells us, to have our names written in the Book of Life – then we’ll gain access again to the Tree of Life which stands in the heart of the city of God. We don’t want to be ‘like’ God. We want to ‘know’ God and relearn how to listen to Him because all his ways are good and just. Having this knowledge of good and evil is to live in a state of fear, blame, shame, guilt, double-mindedness and deceit. Never trusting fully.

Meaning

In one simple act of taking and eating, mankind turned their back on every good thing that had come from God – starting with what he had said! His command was clear and simply. They heard a twisted view of it but gave their ear to the deceiver. Sin brings conflict, fear and death but God brings grace and mercy. This is the account (known as The Fall) of why there is suffering in this world. This is the account of why we ought always to trust God and listen to Him.

Application

Application A: Consider all that we reckon to be normal and yet is only true because of The Fall. Eg, clothing, bad language, greed, climate issues, sickness. Now discuss how we can train ourselves to long for restoration in the kingdom of heaven.

Application B: Read James 1:13-18 with Genesis 3 ringing in your ear. Sin is a result of deception and turning good gifts into evil desires. Sin is not a sickness but a twisted nature. Sin is never an accident. Note the timeline of sin in Verses 14-15. How can we use Verses 16-18 to avoid sin?

Application C: Even at the origin of sin described in the bible (Genesis 3), grace is present. The promise of the serpent crusher in Verse 15, the provision of clothing to cover up their shame and finally, being cast out of the garden is to relieve Adam and Eve of eternal misery. God’s plan is to send Jesus to take away their sin and shame by becoming sin for us and so clothe us in righteousness and open up the way again to the Tree of Life. That is one way of describing the bible story. We are part of that story if we turn our ears away from the evil one and fix our eyes upon Jesus.

Revelation 19:19-20:15

Armageddon and the Thousand years

Discussion Question

What is your favourite book? (In this study we will see all the books opened that will be used to judge all of humanity and yet there is the Book of Life – this may become our favourite book!)

Or

Can you think of a story of anti-climax? Like the Y2K bug? All the hype that came to nothing!

Background (Context)

The book of Revelation has been filled with visions from God given to John to write down. We have heard some spectacular things. Chapter One gave us the flavour of the book with its vision of the throne of God. Chapters 2 and 3 contained seven letters to seven churches and we discovered that being faithful to God and holding fast to his promises would return a crown. Chapters 4 and 5 displayed the glorious throne room of our God, declaring that he is worthy and powerful. Chapters 6 to 19 have described the history of the world under the curse of sin while it awaits the return of the King who alone is worthy. Three types of characters appear in the book: those who oppose God (described as beasts and dragons and prostitutes and so forth, they are aligned with Babylon and are tricked by the beast), those who praise God (sometimes called the martyrs or those who survived the tribulation, whose names are written in the book of life) and lastly there is God and his heavenly agents.

Armageddon was mentioned back in Chapter 16 Verse 16  (see VV12-17ff) and as part of our context, we will begin by reading Revelation 19:19-21 to see that it matches the same event as Armageddon.

Read Revelation 19:19-21

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The beast and the armies of the world rise up! (19)
  • But they were all captured and destroyed (20-21)

The beast and the armies of the world rise up! (19)

“…gathered together to wage war…” Compare this phrase in Verse 19 with 16:14 and 20:8. There is one event in mind here and it is a picture of all the worlds strength in attack against God and God dismantling all their efforts in a heartbeat. This is not new to Revelation. Ezekiel 38-39 is alluded to in these verses as is Zechariah 12-14 and Zephaniah 3. A final war of history is described but surely, like the rest of Revelation, they are a picture of how final and effortless the Judgment of God will be on that Day. The emphasis is not on how scary and brutal are the enemies of God but on how swift and final is the Word of God.

Another surprising OT reference is Psalm 2! “The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the LORD and against his anointed…The One enthroned in heaven laughs…You will break them with a rod of iron…” Psalms 1 and 2 set the agenda for the whole of the Psalms and give a theme of the entire scriptures. Psalm 2 declares that there is no king besides Jesus (or David in its immediate context) and we need to get right with Jesus before it is too late!

But they were captured and destroyed (20-21)

“But the beast was captured, and with it…” As was mentioned last week, the beast who has lured humanity away from God is defeated – just like that.

“…who had performed the signs on its behalf…mark of the beast…” Rev 13:12 refers to the activity of the beast and the signs that deluded many. The mark of the beast sounds like a branding. We will not get drawn into equating this image with barcodes or something else. This is not how we have been reading Revelation and we won’t start now. The picture language is about being enticed to side with the rebels instead of with God and humanity are tricked in all manner of ways. We are not going to accidentally be marked by the beast by using a certain credit card or something like that. But one can find themselves so distracted by the things of this world that they cannot say they are marked out by Jesus. We ought to take our eyes off avoiding the beast and rather set our eyes on the One who can put our names in the book of life.

“…thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphuric.” We will return to this in Chapter 20.

“…killed with the sword coming out of the mouth…birds gorged…” The judgment comes from the word of God coming from the mouth of Jesus who rides on the horse. The sword is not a metal blade but a word of judgment. The birds remind me of something Jesus said in the gospels, when he was speaking about the end times (Luke 17:37). They are an image of the aftermath of war where the slain are left for the birds to eat – there is no one to bury them.

Read Revelation 20

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • I saw the dragon bound (1-3)
  • I saw the saints at the first resurrection (4-6)
  • Armageddon? (7-10)
  • The books are open (11-15)

I saw the dragon bound (1-3)

“…having a key…and holding in his hand a great chain.” The theme of holding someone against their will is introduced.

“…the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan…” Four identities given to Satan and linking us right back to Genesis 3. We did not know that the serpent was Satan in the garden but this is clear now. I love to remind people that the bible is one complete book. Themes introduced in Genesis have grown across the pages to give us a complete image – just as much as the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 could not have been known to be Jesus until the whole of scripture was revealed.

“…bound him for a thousand years.” It will be interesting to hear each group discuss what the thousand years represents. These thousand years have created a debate about which Millennial view the bible holds: a Premillennial view refers to a Thousand years which begins after Jesus’ return; a Post-Millenial view refers to a Thousand years which ends when Jesus returns and then there is the A-Millenial view which maintains that there is no actual Thousand years but are, again, an image supplied by Revelation to teach us who is in power. Notice how Satan is bound by chains and by time. He is not at all in charge of this cosmos.

There is a timeframe in which Satan is held back from deceiving the nations.

I saw the saints at the first resurrection (4-6)

“…they came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” We further our investigation of the Millennial views as this thousand years is not in addition to the previous but superimposed. The question remains, is it an actual thousand years or a metaphor. If it is a metaphor then what does it tell us? The sequence of events seems to follow the sequence in Ezekiel 37-48 (resurrection of God’s people; messianic kingdom; final battle against Gog and Magog and final vision of the new temple and new Jerusalem). The thousand year reference can simply point to a time that has far extended any kingdom that has ever been before. David’s reign was limited by death. Adam’s life fell short of a thousand years. This new era is stronger than any other.

“This is the first resurrection.” The first resurrection refers to the resurrection of Christ. Note that the rest of the dead, those who have not put their faith in Christ, do not participate in this first resurrection. With the power of the gospel, Satan is bound for the same period. He cannot steal or take away what has been claimed by the blood of the Lamb.

“The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God…” This is you and I who have come to Christ. We have full assurance against the judgment to come – do you have full assurance? You should and you can! In this “thousand year reign” that commenced with the resurrection of Christ, we are priests who bring people to God. Jesus said to Peter: I give you the keys to the kingdom! The gospel unleashes security to those who know it and live it!

Armageddon? (7-10)

“When the thousand years are over…” So, despite there not being a literal thousand years (the amillennial view which I hold), there is a storyline of what happens after the resurrection of Christ and after the period that we live in now is over.

“… Satan will be released…go out to deceive the nations…Gog and Magog – and to gather them for battle.” Verse 7 and 8, as mentioned earlier, allude to Ezekiel 38-39 where Gog and Magog are both mentioned. They appear here to represent cities who have bought the lie of the beast and sided with him rather than with the Lamb. The phrase, “gather them for battle”, occurs at 16:16 and again in 19:19 and helps us to see that this is the same event retold again and again. The beast gathers the nations by deceiving them that they can do better than God. God takes them down with his breath. The whole thing ends, not with a bang but with a whimper. This is Armageddon. (I’m-a-gettin’ out ‘o here!)

“In number they are like the sand on the seashore.” The enemy ramps up in power like they intend to smash down God with their might! The description of the enemy is big. Get ready for a BIG battle!

“…but fire came down from heaven and devoured them.” If it weren’t talking about the Day of the Lord it would be funny! God received no scars from this battle. He didn’t even leave his throne room. This took no effort. It is ridiculous to think that we can oppose God. 

“They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” The ‘they’ refers to the devil and the beast and the false prophets. The description is of eternal conscious punishment. Revelation contains imagery that we have learned to not take literally (like the beast and the dragon and the four living creatures etc) but the message of Revelation is real. There will be a Judgment to determine the future of all. And here, for the devil and co, there is what we would perhaps call hell. So what about everyone else? Are they, who have not been washed clean by Jesus, ‘devoured’ like in Verse 9? Let’s read on.

The books are open (11-15)

“The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.” This is one of my favourite verses in the bible because it is so mysterious and subtle. The heavens is not ‘heaven’ but the space above the earth. Just as easily as the enemies of God were struck down effortlessly, the earth and all that we know of this reality will simply be gone – without a trace. This is well worth our time meditating on regularly.

“…and books were opened.” Revelation 20:11-15 gives a classic and concise account of what every living human needs to look forward to. There is no mistaking the bible to say that we will all give an account of what we have done. Romans 14:12.

“Another book was opened…” The book to take notice of, however, is the one titled: Book of Life. It’s not the “This is your life” book but the “Jesus has saved your life” book. As Revelation says, if your name is in that book, then you don’t need to be concerned about what is in your personal book. I recall Aslan speaking to Lucy after dealing with Edmond’s unfaithfulness. Lucy was told that there is no need to speak of it any more.

“…and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them…” the point is that no person is exempt from Judgment day. The sea, death and Hades are simply three names for the region of the dead.

“Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.” Death no longer has any sting. The very concept of death has an end – it is also subject to God.

“The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” Noting firstly that if your name is not in the book of life, the conclusion is that your own life story will not get you saved. We all need saving! The big question is: do Verse 15 and Verse 10 refer to the same punishment? I don’t see how they cannot!

The human race is faced with a decision: turn to Christ and rely on His pure record to avoid the lake of fire or cross your fingers that you have a clean record written in the book of your life. According to Revelation (and therefore the word of God) you cannot pass the test because you have already failed it. There won’t be a party in hell for all who couldn’t care less about Jesus. ‘Tormented day and night for ever and ever” is the description in Verse 10.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

There is no stopping the kingdom of God as it is the most powerful kingdom in all history and beyond. There is no avoiding hell on our own merit. As Psalm 2 says: Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction…blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Premillennialism has no future. The only text in the bible that refers to a thousand year reign is this one in Revelation and it stands against much of what the New Testament has to say about judgment day. That is, that it will be swift and come like a thief in the night (see actually Revelation 16 where this is quoted in the context of Armageddon). If there is a thousand years that happen after Jesus’ second coming, then it will also include death and the curse of sin. To take the thousand years as literal is to begin to take the whole book of Revelation literally too, with swords coming out of mouths and feet blazing with fire. What we have reflected on in these notes is that the Resurrection inaugurated a new reality which constrains Satan who cannot destroy those who are alive in Christ.

Topic B: The reality of hell. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31). There is an urgency in the bible to get right with God. Jesus said it would be better to not be born than to betray the Son of Man (referring to Judas). He also said that it is better to enter life a cripple than to have two feet and be thrown into hell (Mark 9:45). There is a view in Christianity that final judgment may result in eternal unconscious punishment, otherwise known as annialation. This is a big area of discussion and no theologian is excited by the doctrine of hell – but we can get excited about the doctrine of salvation by grace alone! How easy is it to avoid!

Topic C: The book of Life. There must be no greater book that this one. I know, it’s a metaphor, but it points to the reality that when you are with Christ, there is no more condemnation! The book of Revelation has talked about the saints being robed in white, given a stone with a secret name on it, being crowned. There is no such language as ‘hoping for the best.’ I pray that all who are involved in Growth Group ministry can fathom the wonder of full assurance. The thing that matters most is not, which millennial view you hold (although it does matter), nor which view of hell you hold (although that also matters) but whether you have run to the Son who saves.

Revelation 6:1-8:5

The Seven Seals

Discussion Question

What is the BIGGEST thing you have ever seen? Have you seen the Grand Canyon? Niagara Falls? The night sky? Ayers Rock? What is the biggest thing that you can imagine?

Background (Context)

John is being shown a great vision of what is to come (4:1) and is shown a great heavenly throne room with lights and sounds and angels and elders all looking and surrounding a throne in the centre. In Chapter 4, God is declared worthy to receive honour and power because He is the Creator of all things (4:11). In Chapter 5 there is a scroll with seven seals around it and the question asked: who is worthy to break the seals (5:2). The answer is given: The Lion of Judah is worthy (5:5), but when John looked he saw The Lamb who was slain (5:6-7).

In Revelation 5:9 they sang, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

In Chapters 6-8, the seals are open one by one. These are not a prescription of specific events but a description of the view of all ages from God’s vantage point.

The 7 Seals section of revelation follows a similar pattern to the 7 trumpets (8:6-11:19); the 7 plagues (15:1-8) and the 7 bowls (16:1-21). Reading them all will give the overview of their united theme while reading them individually highlights their nuances. Paul Barnett describes them as non-linear events. The seven items are non-linear and can be thought of as layers of information rather than sequential events. And the four sequences of seven (seals, trumpets, plagues and bowls) are also non-linear. They point to four different themes: tyranny, chaos, persecution and destruction.

Read Revelation 6:1-8:5

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Opening seals 1 to 6
    • The first seal – conquering (6:1-2)
    • The second seal – bloodshed (6:3-4)
    • The third seal – famine (6:5-6)
    • The fourth seal – death (6:7-8)
    • The fifth seal – the cry of the redeemed (6:9-11)
    • The sixth seal – Judgement Day (6:12-17)
  • The 144,000 – The saved are sealed (7:1-8)
  • The uncountable – God’s grace is huge! (7:9-17)
  • The seventh seal – It is finished (8:1-5)

Opening seals 1 to 6

The first seal – conquering (6:1-2)

“I watched as the Lamb opened…” I must remind us that this was the Lamb and His credentials were laid out in Chapter 5.

“…one of the four living creatures…” See 4:6,7. The first creature was like a lion.

“…white horse…its rider…was given a crown, and he rode out…on conquest.” Both a great king or an evil king could be described by these words. Psalm 45 (especially Verse 4) give an OT imagery of the anointed King of Israel who is righteous in God’s eyes who goes out to defend truth and such. But John gives us words like ‘conqueror’ and ‘conquest’ to depict a ruler that takes by force.

The four riders are best compared to the four horses depicted in Zechariah 6:1-8. Both sets are commissioned to cause destruction. The horses in Zechariah were commissioned by God to punish nations who have oppressed the people of God. The four horses in Revelation (often called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) must be seen as unleashed by God but not ridden by Him and, as we’ve already said, do not depict a moment in time, but a description of the suffering in this world which points us to the judgment of God. As we’ll see in the 5th seal, we long for these days to be ended and the final judgement of God to come.

The second seal – bloodshed (6:3-4)

“…the second living creature…” He was like an ox.

“…fiery red…take peace…make people kill each other…” The theme of tyranny is clear here. Notice how the rider does not initiate his quest and that he is given power and given the sword. This is also true of the first rider and we’ll see this as we continue.

The third seal – famine (6:5-6)

“…the third living creature…” This had the face like a man.

“…holding a pair of scales…two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages…” The imagery here is of a famine. See Lev 26:26; 2 Kings 7:1; Ezek 4:10,16 for what is on view. It is perhaps a famine brought on by a siege – the food supply is cut off and the only way to survive is to measure out the food and not let anything be wasted.

The fourth seal – death (6:7-8)

“…the fourth living creature…” was the flying eagle.

“…the rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him.” We continue to see these images all portraying life outside the garden where death has come.

“…kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” A broad representative of violent forms of death.

The fifth seal (6:9-11)

“…under the altar…” The golden altar of incense described in Exodus 30 and Leviticus 4:7.

“…How long, Sovereign Lord…” The persecuted people of God cry out for vengeance. God has promised that he will take vengeance for His name’s sake. This cry is a familiar one in the Old Testament but this reference is particularly close to Zechariah 1:12ff which is responded to with four horses going out in Chapter 6 to inflict judgement.

The sixth seal (6:12-17)

I cannot expand on the imagery in Verses 12-14 one by one. Each image is a picture of all things coming to an end. Many of them are repeated again in the book (Rev 16:18, 20; 20:11). The sun, the moon and the stars are a common triplet in the Bible as we are reminded that God is above them and not the other way around (Deut 17:2-3; Psalm 148:3; Isaiah 13:10; Jer 31:35; Luke 21:25). Great celestial objects that seem solid and strong in our sky are shaken like figs on a tree and fall. The Sun goes black! The heavens recede and every mountain is removed. Like everything in Revelation, it is picture language but what is described is the undoing of things that appear immovable. The heavens above and the foundations beneath us are gone. Our God is so big.

“For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” See that it is incomaptible for the mountains to be removed from their place and yet kings and generals are now described as hiding in them. A reminder to take each image as a statement and not to build a comprehensive picture in this book. 

Verses 12-14 were the undoing of creation and Verses 15-17 is the terror facing humanity. No power or authority is excluded from God’s wrath. “…their wrath…” is perhaps the wrath of God and the Lamb. Some manuscripts have his wrath but it is more likely the text should be their. See Rev 22:3.

The 144,000 – The saved are sealed (7:1-8)

“…four…four…four…” Depicting the entire globe in view – the four corners of the globe – Nth, Sth, Est, Wst etc.

“…holding back the four winds…” An image of complete still is depicted. After the scene of the four horsemen, we now have utter still across the globe – not a leaf is disturbed.

“…having the seal of the living God…” We have not opened the seventh seal yet and there is this long interlude and build up toward it. Look out for these interruptions as the book continues.

“…until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” The mercy of God is to hold back his wrath on the entire inhabitants of earth until His people have been marked out. I notice an irony that in the seven seals there is a seal placed on heads – not sure if there is anything to make of that.

“…I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.” The name Israel became synonymous with God’s people in the story of the bible. It was a literal line of descendants from Jacob but the bible teaches us to think about a true Israel who are not Israel by blood but by promise. The number given and the list that follows is giving us the impression of completeness. It is not simply a role call and a maximum seating capacity of heaven. What follows demonstrates that it is one thing to hear the number called, it is quite another to see.

The uncountable – God’s grace is huge! (7:9-17)

“…I looked, and … a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language…” The gospel is for the whole world and every nation. Those who are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and given mercy from God’s wrath are many – a great, uncountable multitude. I hope that our vision of heaven is big!

“…These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from?” They are washed by the blood of the Lamb. Who washes in blood!! But we know this metaphore don’t we? WE are not cleaned by our works or by looking neat and turning up on time! We are redeemed by the death of the One who would take away our sin! He has done that for us! They came through the tribulation because, despite the mocking, the slandering and even the threat or action of death, they stood by the cross for their protection. They feared God more than they feared men. And they have been washed and clothed in white.

“…they are before the throne of God….wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Compare the grandeur of God with his gentle hand that touches the face of redeemed sinners to wipe away their tear. Psalm 23 is surely alluded to here. And we are saved from the disaster that will befall all who have not come to the Lamb to be robed and cleaned.

The seventh seal – It is finished (8:1-5)

“…there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” The seventh seal appears empty. It seems to follow the stillness of the sixth seal and a quiet before the storm. But the silence is to be associated with divine judgment (see 1 Sam 2:9-10; Ps 31:17; 115:17; Isa 47:5; Lam 2:10-11). What follows is the beginning of the seven trumpets and some have suggested that the seventh seal unleashes the seven trumpets. That suggests a kind of linear event but we’ll leave this thought until we look at the content of the seven trumpets.

“…went up before God…” The pleasing aroma of worship and dependant thankfulness is the flavour of God and his people. Those who repel at this idea are likely to repel at anything to do with the true and eternal God.

“…took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth…” The wrath of God is unleashed.

“…thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and earthquake.” This was first depicted in Chapter 4 Verse 5 and seen again in Rev 11:9 and 16:18 and depicts the final judgement. You may see that what is depicted in Chapter 4 is retold again and again to show the glory of God, the mercy of God, the judge not of God and the eternal peace. This emphasises again that the book is not one unfolding story but a statement on judgement and salvation depicted in many images.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The world is not a random and chaotic event but is overseen by the Glory of God. The slain Lamb is worthy to open the seals which unleash conflict and judgement in this world. The Lamb is able to set apart a great multitude who will be protected from Judgement. And the Lamb will bring the suffering of this life to an end and wipe away our tears. We live with this hope and we have two ways to respond: to lose hope in suffering, or to cry out to God for Him to come again soon. Will you be among the multitude in heaven because of the blood of the Lamb?

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Recognise the destruction that is native to this life. The horses remind us of the harshness of this life. Eternity with God will not have any of this! They are a response from God against sin and they ought to bring us to dependence on God in prayer. Wars, bloodshed, famine and death are native to this world only. They are only ‘normal’ in the sense that we have not experienced life without them. Sure, we live in a ‘good’ age where these extremes are out of our sight, but they still exist and we can certainly pray, with the saints, “How long Sovereign Master, holy and true?”

Topic B: Recognise the eternal and highest power that is God’s alone. The calamity depicted in this passage is from the hand of evil men, unleashed by the Sovereign God. I’m reminded of 2 Thessalonians where the evil one is depicted as dangerous only as far as God allows him to be. But all the realities of this world: power, bullying, pain, mountains and stars, are all fleeting. We need to grow our vision and faith in God. He is bigger than all of our fears combined.

Topic C: Praise our God who is both definitive in judgement, mighty to save and gentle in eternity . Judgment day will come and evil will be removed decidedly. Those who have not been clothed by Jesus will not be included in the final count. Now is the time to be sealed by the Lamb for our future. We must not wait to see what happens – Revelation is a great warning to us all. His salvation is as sure as His justice. If you are with Jesus, you will be saved! And our Almighty God is also tender to lead us like sheep and to wipe away our tears. He is as gentle as He is powerful. Our God is worthy of our praise and honour and glory and power and strength forever and ever. Amen!