Anticipation and Crescendo of the Seals (Part I) – Revelation 6:9-11

by Roger McCay
23 January 2022
Sermon Passage: Revelation 6:9-11
Link to Audio Version

It had been a particularly difficult time for our unit, in Iraq, with numerous engagements and casualties. As the battalion chaplain, having much on my mind, I was walking down a hall in the battalion headquarters going about my business, when one of the officers (a brother in Christ) passed me coming the other way. He looked me in the eye, his face and posture weary, and said, “Come Lord Jesus, come.” Returning his look, I replied, “Amen, brother.” And we both meant it with all our heart. I imagine he, like me, pondered and hoped and repeated, as a prayer, “Come Lord Jesus, come,” as we both continued on our way.

This cry, from Rev. 22:20, has been on the hearts and lips of Christians in turmoil and tribulation throughout the history of the church. We utter the plea hoping for relief from the struggle, the pain. We utter the plea hoping for justice to come down, for wrongs to be righted, evil to be judged. We utter the plea because we want to see his face. And we know at his coming, in his presence, all things will be made right.

Yet we wait. And we wonder, “How long?” in our world of trouble. How long until he comes? And perhaps, as time goes on, as it has for close upon two millennia, and the relief of his coming delays, the question for some, maybe you (although you may be unwilling to even admit it to yourself) becomes more of a “Will he come?”

John’s Apocalypse remains an encouragement and a comfort when our hearts and minds wonder such things. Our hope is bolstered, knowing that Jesus fulfilled his promise and prophecies, like those in his Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:1-35) … he fulfilled his Word to come in judgment upon his (and thus his people’s) enemies, in the destruction of Jerusalem, in AD 70. His historical first coming in judgment and vindication acts as a signpost and evidence of the truth of his prophesied coming in the future (also given at Olivet, Matt. 24:36ff.), a coming which, no matter how long we wait, remains imminent.

In Rev. 6, with the breaking of the first six of seven seals on the scroll (which, as we’ve seen, is a document consisting of the divorce decree and judgment against the Lord’s unfaithful wife of the Old Covenant) … with each crack of each seal we find necessary preparatory events (what Jesus called “the beginning of birth pangs,” in Matt. 24:8). With each crack of each seal, the pangs of birth take place, leading up to the reading of the scroll and the carrying out of the judgments contained within.

As we studied last week, when each of the first four seals were broken, a horseman of the Lamb was called: “Conquest,” symbolizing Vespasian with his son Titus and the armies of Rome deployed by Nero to Israel in order to conquer the Jews, in AD 67. “War,” symbolizing the revolt of the Jews and the civil-war in Palestine, which began in AD 66 and to which Vespasian’s deployment was a response. Further, “War,” may also have included the empire-wide unrest of the Roman civil war that would break out with the events leading up to and after Nero’s suicide, in AD 68 (which, ultimately, drew Vespasian from Palestine, in AD 69, to secure his crown as emperor, leaving Titus to command the conquering armies in the destruction of Jerusalem). In such a way, Jesus’ Olivet prophecies of “wars and rumors of wars,” in Matt. 24:6-7, would find fulfillment, which includes the last two horsemen of Famine and Death, who were called with the breaking of the third and fourth seal, symbolizing the horrors to come upon the Jewish nation as it was torn apart by the wars, reminiscent of Ezek. 14:21.

With the first four seals broken, we now come to our passage today, where the fifth seal is snapped and the martyred saints cry out for the Lord’s holy and just vengeance in anticipation. As we considered last week, the phenomena of the seven seals are multilayered and progressive, yet they do not necessarily represent a strict chronological happening of things (i.e. first this will occur, then this, and so forth). There is an overlapping at times. And there are micro and macro realities—in dimension, time, and space. This becomes evident here in the fifth seal and its phenomena, as it represents a heavenly reality of the martyrs’ cries with roots going back through earth’s history to long before the time of John’s vision, and the actions which would, from his perspective, take place in the near future (Rev. 1:1, 3). So, let us examine the phenomena revealed with the breaking of the fifth seal and how it applies to the church and us today.