One Worthy to Break the Seals
Here are three questions generated from teaching on Revelation 5:1-10.
Question #1 Have any of the seals (of the scroll) been broken (already)?
One key question to answer when reading REVELATION (especially chapters 6-19) is this: Is this HISTORY, or is this PRESENT DAY, or is this PROPHESY? So let’s sort this out.
Some Bible interpreters what we read in Revelation 4-19 as HISTORY. That is, John is describing something that happened in the early years of the church, even within John’s own lifetime. This view understands Revelation’s judgment chapters as happening mostly during the early church age of the apostles, or for some, more broadly, during the early centuries of the church. Just a few respected commentators hold this view. Thus Revelation was given by the Holy Spirit as a “tract for the times,” to give hope to early Christians undergoing intense persecution.
Dr. Alan Johnson, an evangelical commentator, notes “This is the view held by a majority of contemporary scholars, not a few of whom are identified with the liberal interpretation of Christianity.”
Second, other Bible interpreters understand Revelation 4-19 happening in the PRESENT. That is, they suggest that Revelation is to be understood as a symbolic expression of ongoing spiritual warfare, something that happens in every generation of the church, no matter which century or time period. This approach refuses to identify any of the graphic descriptions or images withy any future event. Rather Revelation expresses the timeless struggle between God and his angelic armies at war with Satan and his demonic hosts. The great lesson of Revelation, in the midst of all the descriptions, is that God will prevail.
So…is this book HISTORY? Is this book describing a PRESENT heavenly battle (with its impact on the earth)? Or is this Scripture book largely a PROPHESY, about the FUTURE. Sometimes called the “futurist” approach, interpreters in this camp recognize that Revelation was revealed to John in the 1st century, and that in chapters 1-3, the Lord Jesus is addressing church that existed in Asia Minor before A.D. 100. Yet beginning in chapter 4, the section which reveals (Revelation 1:19) “the things that are to take place after this.” That is, after the time when the Lord Jesus shepherds, challenges, and corrects His church.
The FUTURE view sees Revelation 4-22 as “future,” describing the time that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24.
He said Matthew 24:21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
Of course, such a description from the lips of our Savior seems to fit very well with what is described in Revelation 4-19. And, this would mean that the Lion slain as a Lamb, taking the scroll from the hand on the One on the throne, is still a future event. John was given a majestic look at what is coming, and as the Lord Jesus Christ begins to break the seals (as it begins in Revelation 6), the beginning of this TIME OF TRIBULATION will begin then.
So…back to the original question. Have any of the seals been broken? If you are in the HISTORY camp of interpretation, all of the seals have been broken, all of the trumpets have been blown, all of the bowls of God’s wrath have been poured out. If you are in the PRESENT camp of interpretation, the descriptions of Revelation 4-19 are going on all the time. But if you are in the FUTURE camp of interpretation, what John saw is yet to come…and the first seal will be broken with the time of the great tribulation – unprecedented in all of human history – is still to come. And, as you might sense, I believe that the FUTURE approach to the interpretation of Revelation 6-19 is the one that best fits both the best approach to interpretation and what we have seen and are seeing in history.
Question #2 What does the part of the song (Revelation 5:9-10) mean that “they shall reign on the earth”?
The answer to this question, as you might figure, depends on what interpretation approach you take with Revelation. If you see Revelation as HISTORY, then this “reigning on the earth” happened in some way during the early years of the church.
If you see Revelation describing a PRESENT reality, there is some sense in which today as Christians we are “reigning” in victory and authority and as monarchs with Jesus right now. We “reign” in the sense that we are “seated in the heavenlies with Christ” over the whole of creation and reality.
But if you see Revelation as prophesy, as something with WILL happen in the FUTURE when the Lord Jesus personally returns, then there is coming an era when, after Jesus returns, His redeemed people “reign” over a future kingdom which the rest of Scripture promises will happen. And, it seems very clear that this is exactly Revelation 20 describes – a description which occurs AFTER Jesus returns in Chapter 19. Here’s what Revelation 20 says:
Revelation 20:4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
Again, it seems to me, having studied these passages for many years, that this REIGNING on the earth is yet to come. This view also makes sense with all of the yet-to-be-fulfilled promises and passages found in the Old Testament prophets.
Bottom line…some day, you and I will join these incredible saints as Jesus returns in “reigning” on the earth with our Savior and Lord.
Question #3 Someone expressed to me that it is easy to promise that justice will be served after death…but what does that matter with all the injustice around us now?
It is certainly true that one of the most difficult experiences we face in life is when we, or someone we know and care about, are unjustly treated and there is no resolution to that injustice for a long time, perhaps even never in this present life. It is frustrating – very frustrating – to have one’s rights abused, to be bullied or to suffer incredible loss at the hands of a person or group with evil motivations who did what they could because they were stronger, or they were in power, or they had the opportunity and no one stepped in to stop them.
Human history has countless examples – examples without number – of incidents where wrong prevailed over what was right, where injustice and abuse dominated the day instead of justice and righteousness.
Indeed, the account of Revelation describes such a situation. In Revelation 6 we read this:
Rev. 6:9 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.
Did you hear their cry? “How long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And God’s response is this. “Enjoy your glorification” (given a white robe). “Rest a little longer” (be patient with the unfolding of God’s plan, there are others who will die for their witness). And finally, as you read the account, God finally brings about justice, fit eternal punishment for those who have done evil…and the promise of joy and glory for those who suffered and paid a personal price unjustly.
As I suggested in my teaching from Revelation 5, all of creation will not be right until God in righteousness settles the score. And He will…and His righteousness will prevail and His justice will both satisfy His holy nature and us as well, who are patient with our Heavenly Father.