Six Seals So Far
Much had happened already in the throne room of God. After being lifted up into the sky, then transported through a portal between the physical and spiritual realms, John had entered into that sacred space of visions, watching one scene after another, some so mystifying he needed help in grasping what he was seeing.
Now, in this series of seals, John had first been watching macabre horsemen bound forth from the words of the scroll, responding to the mighty command, “Go you!” The Lamb would break a seal, releasing a little more of the scroll’s leaf each time, and it seems this very act would cause a horseman to materialize. Four horsemen emerged, each by the breaking of a seal―
- The conquering white steed strode forth, its rider’s crown gleaming.
- The horse of war reared red and terrible, with its rider’s fearsome sword upraised.
- Famine came clad in black, its formidable scales swaying hunger and thirst
- And finally, the sickly pale of pestilence and plague pressed damply in, the grave its shadowy companion.
At the breaking of the fifth seal John noticed the altar of heaven and martyrs beneath it, a stream of sacrificial deaths, as it were, proceeding along the runnels where the blood of lambs would flow. Even as the martyrs cried out for God’s righteous judgment angels appeared with glowing white robes and a message of peace and rest. The time of God’s judgment would come in due course, but not before many more martyrs had joined their brothers and sisters beneath the holy chantry of God.
And there was more.
Day of God’s Wrath
Then, as John watched, the Lamb broke open the sixth seal and the earth trembled, the sun darkened, the moon turned to blood and the stars were shaken from the sky. Before John’s horrified eyes the sky itself was furled, every island, every mountain was hurled from its place, and the earth’s inhabitants ran in terror to every crevice and crack in the earth’s crust, seeking protection. Even falling rocks would do, just to be hidden from the penetrating gaze of Almighty God.
The Day of God’s Wrath would indeed come, and when it did, all things would come to an end.
The Seal of God’s Protection
Then it seemed these scenes receded, their deafening tumult muted as John observed four mighty angels holding back the winds of earth. John was given to understand that the full number of God’s own, all the faithful from distant times past to the final believer made, would be marked with a protective seal even as the chaos and havoc of the scroll’s seals were broken.
After These Things
After these things I saw, and behold a vast multitude which no one was able to number, out of every nation and tribes and peoples and languages, who were standing before the throne and before the Lamb, having been arrayed with white robes and palm branches in their hands.
And they are crying out in a great voice saying, “Salvation (is) to our God sitting upon the throne and to the Lamb.”
Then all the angels (who) had been standing around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell before the throne upon their faces and gave homage to God
saying, “Amen—the blessing and the glory and the wisdom and the thanksgiving and the honor and the power and the might (be) to our God into the ages of the ages, amen.”
Then one out of the elders began to speak, saying to me, “These ones having been arrayed in white robes, who are they and where have they come from?”
Then I have said to him, “My lord, you have perceived and know,” then he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the Great Tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
“Because of this they are before the throne of God, and they are serving Him day and night in His temple, and the One sitting upon the throne will dwell over them,
“They will no longer hunger, nor will they thirst any longer, nor may the sun fall upon them, nor any burning heat.
“For the Lamb up on the center of the throne will shepherd them and will guide them towards living fountains of water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”Revelation 7:9-17
Penultimate, or Ultimate Scene?
It is the final act of the sixth seal, just as the sixth day of Creation had a final, climactic act of bringing forth humankind, and blessing all that lived across the face of the earth. Imagine the two scenes side-by-side:
On the one hand all creation in perfect communion with God and in perfect harmony with each other, every ecosystem beautifully balanced, every creature and plant experiencing the blessing of existence, and all the heavenly host crying glory to the Magnificent Creator who had brought all that is, seen and unseen, into being.
On the other hand is this splendid celebration scene, the elders, the four living creatures, the vast throng of mighty angels, the unnumbered multitude of every kind of human being, perhaps the martyrs among them, all robed in brilliant white. They have come through the Great Tribulation, the time of unspeakable affliction, the seals have all been spent, God’s wrath has cleansed the cosmos, and now comes the singing and the blessing.
It must have felt so right to John to see this crescendo of worship involving all those who love the Lord and belong to God.
What Is the Symbolism?
It is interesting that one of the elders came over to John to ask him if he understood who all these arrayed in white were, and where they had come from. John was unwilling to hazard a guess, and wisely intuited that the elder had already perceived the answer. John was of course right, and through the elder you and I receive the answer—these are all believers who have gone through intense suffering. At some point in their lives they had washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb which had the marvelous effect of transforming their garments into a pure and dazzling white.
For this reason—not their suffering, but their transformation by the Lamb’s blood—they were now assembled before God Whom they loved, and were serving the Lord without ceasing. It was their joy to do so.
- But what of the palm branches? Are we to remember Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the crowd waving palm branches and signing hosanna? Or are we to go further back into the Hebrew festivals, perhaps Sukkoth, the Feast of Booths? What do these leafy fronds signify?
- What is this Great Tribulation they have endured? Is it the seals of the horsemen, and the seal of God’s wrath? Or does it represent the persecution of the faithful in every age?
- What prompts the fresh unreserved passion of the elders, angels, and living creatures to throw themselves prostrate before the Lord?
- We might understand the very great blessing of never again experiencing hunger or thirst, but why would the elder particularly mention their security in never having to face being crushed by the sun, or scorched by a severe heat? Does that not seem strange?
- The allusion to the Good Shepherd, and to Psalm 23 seem clear enough, but is there a significance in God wiping away every tear?
And there is yet one more seal to be broken, the seventh seal …