The Church at John's time is undergoing persecution. The faithful are refusing to worship the Roman emperor or anyone or anything else except God (and Jesus) himself. As a result of their faithfulness, some are being exiled like John; others are being killed. They could be wondering, "Why does God allow these things to happen to us? After all, we have been faithful to God, so why the punishment? Does God have no power over Satan?"
God sees things differently. We saw in chapters 4 and 5 how perfect things are in heaven. There everyone and everything gives perfect praise to God and to the Lamb (=Jesus). But on earth the churches have problems with false gods. The people in the churches are allowing the bad practices of idol worship, sexual immorality, and backsliding faith to creep in. They are not giving God first place in their lives and therefore their worship is imperfect. They are in need of repentance and spiritual cleansing. God sends these difficult times to purify his Church by destroying its imperfections. Perhaps we and our churches need a similar purification.
Jesus is about to open the scroll closed with seven seals. (The seals are like a glue made of wax and are not the animals that like to swim in the ocean.)
READ Revelation 6:1-8.
John gets his imagery of the 4 horses of different color from Zechariah 1:8-10 and 6:1-8. In Zechariah the horses patrol over the earth to the north, east, south, and west; i.e., everywhere. They also have access to God's throne in heaven. The events of Revelation 6 take place in heaven. It is from heaven that the horses and riders are sent. Their plagues come from God, not from Satan! God is in control behind these troubles. The 4 living creatures in charge of the earth welcome the horses and riders with their words, "Come!" They see the troubles as good for the earth. Notice that the order of things is what Jesus already said in Matthew 24.
What does the rider of the white horse hold (verse 2)?
The bow was the favorite weapon of the Parthian cavalry and of the Biblical nation of Gog (Ezekiel 38 and 39, possibly towards Russia). The Parthians (now Kurds) had an empire just east of the Roman Empire and kept the Romans from extending very far eastward from the Mediterranean shores. They (the Parthians) were given authority (a crown) to create war (conquering) and to win, presumably at the Roman's expense. In general, the first horse might represent war.
What happens on earth when the red horse and rider come (verse 4)?
This might be simplified in the word revolutions.
a typical denarius
What does the rider of the black horse hold (verse 5)?
This is a set of scales used in the marketplace, in this case for food and money during a time of famine and scarcity. Look at the prices! A denarius (actual Greek word) is a Roman silver coin about the size of a dime. Its value was an entire day's wages back in Roman times. The food was rationed out carefully by the scales.
Would you like to have to spend your entire day's wages for only enough food to keep your family alive for one day?
This horse and rider can therefore be called famine. The world is beginning to suffer some increasingly severe famines, with the news brought to our homes by our modern communications. The rich, however, symbolized by their oil and wine, are not touched; they just keep getting richer.
What is the name of the rider of the pale horse (verse 8)?
This death is not by war, revolution, or famine because they are already covered. This is death by an epidemic of disease, like Bubonic plague, Black Death, AIDS, etc. Hades is the Greek word for the place of the dead, the grave, or hell. So we'll call this horse and rider epidemic.
God is sending war, revolution, famine, and epidemic to the earth. And a significant portion ("one fourth", verse 8) of the world will be affected. Both believers and pagans, rich and poor will suffer these disasters. And this has already been happening throughout history. God is not a weakling. He has the power to direct these horrible punishments upon sinful people. God is sending these problems to purify all people, even his own, so that they might repent and start worshipping God again.
READ Revelation 9:20-21. Looking ahead, did the survivors repent after all of this?
READ Revelation 6:9-11.
Who had been killed (slain) and for what (verse 9)?
What were they asking (verse 10)?
They are waiting for God to "get even" with those who had killed them. God purifies them (white robe) of their sins and tells them to wait.
So the killing of Christians has not ended.
READ Revelation 6:12-17.
The four horsemen brought problems to people only and affected the surface of the earth. At the opening of the sixth seal, everything above and below the earth's surface gets violent. The description would be appropriate for sudden world-wide earthquakes and volcanic activity, where the sky is darkened by smoke and its color and features changed, and hot objects from the eruptions fall back onto the earth, and all mountains start moving around. Such has not occurred on a large scale in recent history. John is saying that because of the sins of mankind, even the physical world will experience God's anger.
How do the people still living enjoy this scene (verses 15,16)?
Who do they realize is sending these problems (verse 16)?
Notice that nobody is spared from these experiences. The powerful, rich, slaves, and free people all want to die or at least hide from God. But there is no way to hide from God!
READ Revelation 7:1-17.
There is a pause. The angels are ready to continue God's destructive punishments, but they are told to wait.
What is the waiting period for (end of verse 3)?
So God is labeling those who belong to him. God knows who his faithful really are.
Do you think you would be "branded" with God's seal as belonging to him? ___yes, ___no, ___I hope so, ___I hope not.
Verses 4-8 contain code numbers again. As you may remember 12 is a spiritually complete number. 1000 is a huge, nearly infinite, number that no one can count. So 12 x 12 x 1000 = 144,000 represents all of the faithful and they cannot be counted; there are more than billions of them. This is confirmed immediately in verse 9. The tribal names are symbolic only. Where is the tribe of Dan? It was squeezed out by the mention of Manasseh, but not Ephraim, sons of Joseph. So the tribe of Joseph is split into two in this list. These numbers and names are therefore not to be taken literally but only symbolically, as a word painting.
Some religious cults believe that only 144,000 of the millions of Christians will ever get to heaven. They see the number as a limit, while John meant it as a code number for a much larger, unlimited number of people. Look back at 6:9 for people already in heaven, the martyrs. I have read somewhere that the number of Christian martyrs during the first three centuries of the Church totaled perhaps 800,000. Christians killed by the communists in this century number many tens of millions. That far exceeds 144,000 and leaves no room in heaven for those who claim it to be an upper limit. Fortunately, God does not place a "no vacancy" sign on heaven's gates. Jesus assures us that there are many rooms there that he is preparing for us (John 14:1-4). God wants everyone to be saved, even though most people choose to go to hell instead (Matthew 7:13-14).
From what parts of the world do the people in heaven come (verse 9)?
They stand before Jesus (the Lamb) and are purified of their sin (white robes). They give praise to Jesus like people did on Palm Sunday. In verse 10 all the people who are saved praise Jesus, saying that their salvation comes from him. All of the angels also worship God at the same time. This is the same song of praise sung to Jesus in 5:12, except for the minor difference that "wealth" has been replaced by "thanks". So God and Jesus receive essentially the same song of praise from the angels. This helps show that Jesus and God are the same.
What question is asked of John in verse 13?
What is the answer given to John in verse 14?
These are the Christian people who have lived on earth through all the troubles that God sends to purify them. They have trusted Jesus to forgive their sins (washed their robes). Jesus has already paid for our sins by dying on the cross and shedding his own blood (blood of the Lamb). For us heaven is therefore free! We get our "white robes" and live in heaven forever simply by really trusting that Jesus has done this for us; we then thank him for it all. God's discipline was successful for this crowd of people. Those who did not come clean (of sin) are not in heaven. Also notice that the Lion, who became the Lamb, is now the shepherd in verse 17.
How enjoyable are things in heaven (verses 15-17)?
READ Revelation 8:1-6.
What happens when the 7th seal is broken (verse 1)?
The 7th (last) seal introduces the series of 7 angels blowing trumpets (for announcing, not for music) and we get a similar chain of events, the second of three such series of 7. Some of the disasters can remind us of the plagues of Exodus. A censer (verse 3) is a scoop for shoveling up and holding burning coals.
According to Rev. 5:8, what is the incense?
So in chapter 8 the extra incense and the prayers of the saints are the same. More and more prayers are offered to God. Prayers are important in bringing about what God wants to carry out.
Again we have disasters on earth.
Whose altar do they come from(verse 5)? So who do you suppose is angry with the people on earth?
READ Revelation 8:7-13.
What part of the earth is hurt by the first trumpet (verse 7)?
What parts of the earth are hurt by the second (verses 8,9)?
What happened to the drinking water after the third (verses 10,11)?
What is affected by the fourth trumpet (verse 12)?
Can you think of any parts of our world not affected by these four trumpets?
So again the 7 trumpets are grouped into an initial 4 and the other 3 come later. 4 deals with earthly things. In 6:8 only a fourth of the people were affected. Now we are up to a third. Later it will be total. One third involves the code number 3, referring to heavenly things. So the amount of destruction on earth (4) is determined by God in heaven (3). "Woe" means trouble!
How comforting to people still living is the cry of the eagle in verse 13?
READ Revelation 9:1-12.
The star that had fallen from the sky to the earth is either Satan or one of his fellow fallen angels.
What does he open with the key given to him (presumably by Jesus, see 1:18), in verses 1,2?
The bottomless pit (Abyss) is probably an entry way to hell.
What comes out of the Abyss (verses 2,3)?
Scorpions have a poisonous sting that is worse than any bee or insect sting. Locusts normally eat every green thing in sight; in just a few hours they can eat a crop to the ground.
What are the locusts allowed to harm?
Who are the people with the seal of God? (Look back at the comments on Rev. 7:3.)
Would these special "locusts" be able to harm you if what they mean were to come today?
How pleasant is the torture of the locusts (verses 5,6)?
Hell will be worse and verse 6 will apply there as well!
The description of the locusts sounds like some barbaric army, but John's intended meaning for his readers has been lost.
Who rules over these locusts (verse 11)?
What does his name Apollyon mean? (Check for any footnotes.)
So God allows the "Destroyer" to torture those who are not following Jesus. Satan tortures those people that he gets in the end, but he is not allowed to harm the Christians with these tortures. It is therefore important to establish whose side you are on. Satan's torture destroys. God's harsh discipline builds one up and makes him better.
READ Revelation 9:13-19.
Who does the 6th angel release (verse 14)?
What are these angels to do (verse 15)?
How many are in the army?
The two hundred million is made up of code numbers, suggesting nearly infinite. It is similar to that in 5:11, but there it refers to the number of angels worshipping God. No mention is made of where this army came from. The further symbolism suggests that it may not be an army of people, though it is now possible to imagine one that large. The original meanings of the colors on the breastplates have been forgotten. The lion's heads on the horses symbolize their power and fierceness. What comes from their mouths has the same symbolic colors. Words normally come from mouths, so maybe this means killing by degree or indoctrination. They can also wound with their "tails". The size of the army is like the number of angels; the smoke, sulfur, and serpents suggest Satan and his fallen angels. So maybe this army is Satan's army, whose job is to both wound and kill unbelievers on earth. Even so, they are sent by God. God is using them.
READ Revelation 9:20-21.
Not even all this trouble convinces people to repent and turn to God and be saved.
What are the things that the survivors keep doing?
The Christians have been suffering persecutions at the hands of unbelievers. God has sent these persecutions at the time they are needed to purify the people he loves. But God also sends another set of troubles to the earth (war, famine, disease, natural disasters) which come to everyone, both believers and pagans, because they do not recognize that God is in control and that God is allowing his people to suffer so that they can be made stronger. Then God sends some special torments to those who have rejected God and his ways. Yet the unbelievers do not repent. They can't! Their hearts have been hardened by there persistence in sin. It is now too late and impossible for them to turn to God in the proper way. They curse God instead.
In these and the next chapters John describes what is going to happen on earth in the future. When John writes it, he has in mind the persecutions that his friends living then are going to go through. In his coded language he describes conditions of extreme suffering. John is describing future conditions for the people living in about 90 A.D. If the code is taken at face value it sounds like the end of the world, but that obviously was not what occurred then. If the code is taken at its symbolic value, then John did describe the conditions correctly. Some things happened then or since; some are still in our future.
As you read these chapters, try to get the big picture of what is happening and of who is in control. The details are not always of high importance excepts as flecks of paint making up the larger picture. The words may also be describing events of the 20th or 21st century and of Jesus' second coming as well, but their primary purpose was to comfort and advise the Christians in John's time. As you read, consider: If God purified those he loved then by such harsh conditions, what will he do to us? The Christian Church today is also in need of cleansing and strengthening. Such a "refining fire" from God may already be occurring and spreading over the earth today.
Will you survive God's cleansing or will the persecutions reveal that there is nothing to your faith?
Background, Introduction, Lesson 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11