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Lowell Brueckner

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Revelation 6:9-17


The Last Set of Three Seals

9. When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.
10. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
11. Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
12. When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood,
13. and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale.
14. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
15. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains,
16. calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb,
17. for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

The Fifth Seal: End-time martyrdom

Now we come to the second division, which involves three seals, and we have no mention of the four living creatures. Instead, when the fifth seal is opened, the souls of martyrs in heaven speak. We are taking this literally, understanding that there are conscious souls in the throne room of God, under the altar. I suppose that they are those, who have been martyred from the time of the apostles and up until the end times (v.9).

They are under the altar and the imagery of Leviticus is extremely important for our understanding of the sacrifice of Christ and our salvation: “The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Lev.17:11). Paul saw that his martyrdom was relative to the drink offering in Leviticus: “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (2 T.4:6).

The souls call out loudly for justice and vengeance. In heaven, the cry for justice is a loud cry and so is the cry for vengeance (v.10)! Christians tend to develop concepts outside the biblical content, especially in our times, concerning God’s wrath, judgment, and vengeance. These concepts become extremely serious, when they include an inaccurate view of the nature of God. The Sovereign Lord of the universe is a righteous God; the martyrs use the terms holy and true. Because he is holy and true, He must judge and take vengeance. Judgment and vengeance are totally compatible with holiness and faithfulness.

It is not given to Christians to take vengeance into their own hands. Paul instructs: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Ro.12:19), Vengeance belongs to God and we will now see the prophet Nahum’s definition of Him: “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies” (Nah.1:2).

There are many similar statements in the Old Testament, but God is unchanging and the terms are equally severe in the New Testament: “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you… when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Th.1:6-9).

The souls do right in calling upon God for justice and revenge. It is inherent in human nature to expect justice. Society suffers when it is not served, and mercy cannot take place, at the expense of justice. This is why the cross is a vital part of Christianity. The blood of Christ was shed to satisfy the righteousness of God, so that He could have mercy upon those, who trust in His punishment to take the place of their own. Remember one thing, however, the souls are crying for vengeance in heaven, not on earth. In this world, the Christian testimony has always been one of love for their enemies.

Souls in heaven are visible and they are clothed. John watches, as they are given white robes. There is rest for the weary soul in heaven, which have been continually vexed upon the earth. Earth is a hostile environment for the recreated soul and only finds peace, when he arrives in his native country. Here is the testimony of Lot, who lived in Sodom: “He rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard)” (2 P.2:7, 8).

Martyrdom is a sign of the last days and, as we approach the evil times of Daniel’s 70th Week, we can expect growing persecution. Paul tells Timothy about it and he designates that time by using a Greek word that is defined as difficult, that is, dangerous, or (by implication) furious; the Greek dictionary gives two synonyms… fierce, perilous. The cause is a people, who are, among other things, “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive… heartless, unappeasable… brutal… treacherous” (2 T.3:2-4).

Many years ago, I read a book with 379 pages, called “By Their Blood” by James and Marti Hefley. The claims of the authors might surprise you. It was a book about martyrdom in the 20th Century and it claimed that more people had given their lives for Christ in that century than in any other period of history!

It told of the Boxer Rebellion in China, towards the beginning of the century. In one year alone, 1900, 189 Protestant missionaries and 500 native Protestant Christians were murdered. In Cambodia, 90% of the Christians were killed by the Khmer Rouge. Many died under Communism in various other countries. Mexican Christians were persecuted and killed, while we lived in the country from 1964 through 1979. I was able to talk to a Christian family in India, who hid in the jungle during the persecution in 2008 and they told of many Christians killed by mobs. The persecution continues today, especially in Muslim countries in Africa and Asia.

The fifth seal is all about martyrdom, which is happening now and souls in heaven are awaiting “the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been” (v.11). We go back to Matthew 24 again and find that Jesus talked of martyrdom and it is in the same order, as we have in Revelation: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Mt.24:9). 

The sixth seal: a great earthquake

The opening of the sixth seal brings on a cataclysmic event that seems to alter the entire state of this planet. It is caused by one of three major earthquakes, depicted in the book of Revelation (v.12, 11:13, 16:18-19). The writer of Hebrews informs: “He has promised, ‘Yet one more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens’” (He.12:26). Once before in Earth´s history, a physical change took place, of a magnitude similar to the one we are about to study.

I am referring to the time of Noah, when God caused it to rain for the first time and suffering on this planet took on new dimensions: “All the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights” (Ge.7:11, 12). Every high mountain was covered. The human population was reduced to eight persons and every species of animal, bird and insect to one pair, male and female, except for the clean animals and birds, of which there were seven each.

However, always remember that even God’s judgments have a positive purpose, which in the end, will turn into the fulfillment of His eternal blessings. Without the horror of the cross, there would be no resurrection or eternal life provided for whosoever will (Rev.22:17). When the Creator/Man surrendered His spirit, there was an earthquake, the sun was darkened and the rocks split.  After the flood, for the first time, a rainbow appeared in the sky with a promise that God would never again allow this kind of world-wide inundation.

When we study the Millennium, we learn of a peculiar state of meteorological conditions, such as a lessening of the light of the sun and the moon. I have already referred to this verse in an earlier chapter: “The moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the Lord of hosts reigns on Mount Sion and in Jerusalem…” (Is.24:23). Perhaps these horrendous earthquakes will bring about millennial conditions on the earth. As after the flood, human life span was reduced, perhaps the post-earthquake conditions will again increase the years of human life in the end.

 Joel prophesied: “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes(Joel 2:31). The Bible has no obligation to science, but speaks to the common man in language he can understand and observe. Stars can be any heavenly body, large or small, by biblical definition. As children, we spoke of “falling stars”, which we learned later were meteorites falling into earth’s atmosphere and burning. So verse 13 tells of a meteorite shower, such as the world has never seen. Perhaps, their size and the power of their impact are also responsible for the alteration of conditions. 

To understand the metaphor “as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale” we must go to the Middle East to get the meaning.  The metaphor is used to typify the reality of the “falling stars”. Apparently, in the Middle East, figs might form and hang on the tree through the winter months, but never ripen. When the spring winds come, they easily fall to the ground. Although some commentators try to spiritualize this fearful occurrence, John Wesley saw it literally: “A great earthquake, such as had not been seen upon the earth – It was therefore a literal, not figurative, earthquake.”

The sky, as we know it today, will be seen no more from an earthly standpoint. The various plates of the earth will shift under the force of the world-wide earthquake, mountains will fall and islands will move from their present positions of latitude and longitude (v.14). That is as far as I can comment, because the scene described, leaves me baffled. What I do know is that the mighty Creator, as I learn of him in Isaiah 40, can easily bring this to pass and yet leave enough physical order for men to continue to exist.

The last three verses tell us of the reaction of the populace, when the earth and sky are shaken. It especially emphasizes the high and mighty, political and military leaders, those who possess property and wealth, and all the influential of society. The purpose is to show that no one will escape the disaster or the fear that it will bring. The lowly slave is also mentioned, because he is dependent upon the status and security under his master (v.15).

They are all scurrying and looking for a hiding place. What is it that they are fleeing? They are not trying to escape death or further damage from catastrophes. In fact, they are inviting death to overtake them, pleading to the mountains and rock to fall on them. As the age in which we are living draws to a close, they are not running from something, but from Someone… Someone more fearsome than death!  Listen to their prayer: “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand? (v.16-17)

Some say that among the soldiers on the battlefield there are no atheists. This mighty demonstration exceeds the fierceness of any battlefront and the reality of God becomes so evident that no one remains, who is blind to it. Atheism has been wiped from the earth and the only remaining religion that men recognize is Christianity. They have awakened to the truth of a living God and that conviction absolutely dominates their souls.

Another conviction that overcomes them is His attribute of wrath and there is no escape for them. They see that they are the objects of divine anger and that His judgment is shaking heaven and earth. The concept of a soft, weak-willed, permissive, tolerant God no longer exists any place on the planet.  

We will let Warren Wiersbe explain to us the nature of the enthroned Ruler and the Lamb that was slain: “The phrase ‘wrath of the Lamb’ seems a paradox. ‘Wrath of the lion’ would be more consistent. We are so accustomed to emphasizing the meekness and gentleness of Christ (Mt. 11:28-30) that we forget His holiness and justice. The same Christ who welcomed children also drove the merchants from the temple. God’s wrath is not like a child’s temper tantrum or punishment meted out by an impatient parent. God’s wrath is the evidence of His holy love for all that is right and His holy hatred for all that is evil. Only a soft and sentimental person would want to worship a God who did not deal justly with evil in the world.” That is very true, Mr. Wiersbe, but the world is full of them and there are many, who stand behind pulpits in the church!

The seventh seal: silence

We will need to wait until chapter 8 to experience the opening of the seventh seal, but we will glance briefly at the verse and quote it: “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (8:1). I suppose we can conclude that behind the seventh seal is heavenly silence. This is no less amazing than all the activity, scenes and sounds of the throne room. Suddenly the thunder, tempests, voices, praise and worship cease, and there is an awful, supernatural silence!

I suppose it will be something like flying through the tremendous turbulence and winds of a hurricane, and then in another instance, the plane is in its eye. The calm does not last long and John approximates the time, as it passes in His vision. That means it does not represent some actual period, but only an expectant pause in heaven’s agenda. The sealed book is completely opened. What will follow? The audience is not distracted; all remain at attention. They all sense the judgments to come. We will come back to this scene soon, after we study chapter seven.


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