Yesterday we were introduced to the scroll of destiny. Today the lamb begins to open the seals one by one. As each seal is broken some monumental event takes place. The first four seals launch a horseman — yes, the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Off they go on white, red, black and pale horses bringing death in various ways as they go. Whether battle, disease, famine, or even wild animals, when the time comes for the seals to be broken Death personified will ride into the lives of those who have oppressed God’s people. If we look at the history of the Roman Empire in the three hundred years after John’s vision, that is exactly what we see happen. And so often since then, we have seen Death have his way with the godless regimes of human history.
But why is this happening? We might wonder. Some may bristle at passages like this one. There is no escaping that in this passage God is orchestrating the death of at least the fourth of the world’s population (6:8), if we are to take that number literally. Some might object that this sort of action is beneath God.
But this is not just violence for violence sake. God doesn’t go on a tear for no reason at all. Here we get a stark look at the justice of God. We must remember that justice is on the other side of the coin from the forgiveness and mercy we like to focus on. When people are seeking forgiveness, the good news is that it is available. But when there are powers afoot that desire only their own will and have no regard for God or moral living, good news for those oppressed can only be the punishment of the tyrants of this world.
The fifth seal reveals the cause of the first four. The “witnesses” who have died because of their faith are now revealed shouting at the top of their voices:
How much longer are you going to put off giving judgment, and avenging our blood on the earth-dwellers? (6:10)
As the sixth seal is broken and the world as we know begins to melt (highly poetic language borrowing all the standard apocalyptic symbols for cataclysmic change), the oppressors of the righteous know they will be made to pay for their transgressions and hope that hiding will save them:
Hide us from the face of the One who sits on the throne, and from the anger of the lamb! The great day of their anger has come, and who can stand upright? (6:16-17)
Some who read Revelation are turned off because of its violence. This is a picture of God they deem unbecoming. However, as anyone who has ever been persecuted for their faith can tell us, there are some situations in life where justice is the only way to rectify a situation. To not bring evil to an end would, in fact, be unjust and erode the very fabric of life. Revelation is dark in many places, but always in vindication of the faithful who have suffered even unto death.
The times, they are a-changin’. The balance is shifting.