1 August 2012

Revelation 6:1-17

"When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given." (v. 9)


12-08-01Those who accuse Revelation of being impenetrable will find good support for their arguments in chapter 6. The chapter's enigmatic sayings defy easy interpretation. What is the reader to make of the following saying? "A quart of wheat for a day's pay, and three quarts of barley for a day's pay but do not damage the oils and the wine!" (verse 6)

This is a passage filled with metaphorical language and vivid imagery of horsemen and angels, falling stars and seals. I should probably make it clear that seals here is a reference to emblems of authority rather than to pinnipeds or fin-footed marine mammals. Just so you know.

In chapter 5 a heavenly vision of a scroll with seven seals is introduced. The only one worthy to open the seals is the Lion of Judah, the Lamb that was slain. In today's passage the first six seals are opened. The reader must wait until chapter 8 to discover what happens when the seventh seal is opened.

The opening of the first four seals reveal the so-called four horsemen of the apocalypse: Conquest; War; Famine; Death. Popular depictions of the four horsemen often substitute Pestilence for Conquest, but there is no support for this in the text of Revelation. The opening of the fifth seal reveals martyrs (verse 9) whilst the sixth reveals earthquake, eclipse, falling stars and all manner of apocalyptic scenes of divine judgement.

Revelation 6 falls so far outside of the operating window of what we might call normal that it is difficult to interpret. Nonetheless, as with many visions, the broad brush strokes matter more than the fine detail. These reveal with startling clarity that this chapter looks for divine intervention in human affairs.

Whether we think Revelation describes the writer's present or the reader's future, see it as an accurate prediction of the end of the age, or merely a literary depiction of hope in God's future, this text holds before us the ideal of divine intervention in a world gone badly awry.

To Ponder

  • Have you had any experience of what you would consider to be divine intervention? What happened?
  • I suspect that, like me, you may have a list, mental or otherwise, of situations and contexts in which you long for divine intervention. In what ways might the vision of Revelation 6 speak to you and to these situations?
  • What difference does it make to the way we read the passage if you imagine that the scenes described are not of divine judgement at the end of the age but rather of divine breaking into the world of human affairs?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Calvin T Samuel

The Revd Dr Calvin T Samuel is a Methodist minister, currently stationed as Director of Wesley Study Centre, Durham - a Methodist theological institution which is part of St John's College within the University of Durham. Prior to this he was New Testament Tutor at Spurgeon's College in London and Chaplain to Farringtons School in Kent