Friday, May 18, 2012

Revelation Bible Study Lesson 21 - Revelation 6:9-17

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; they cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?" Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale; the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the generals and the rich and the strong, and every one, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?" (RSV)

Fifth Seal

What does opening the fifth seal reveal about the past and the future of believers?
   

Persecution

The fifth seal is a reminder that many people throughout the ages have suffered because of their stand for God. It isn’t just Christians who have been martyred, but it is also the Old Testament saints who died rather than compromise the Word of God. It is also a warning to all who seek to follow Jesus that many more Christians will be added to this select group of faithful saints during the last days before Jesus comes to rule in person.

Since persecution will increase, how should we go about spreading the Gospel?
  

Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. When you are arrested, don't worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. And all nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one town, flee to the next. I tell you the truth, the Son of Man will return before you have reached all the towns of Israel. (Matt 10:16-23 NLT)

These passages suggest something that some modern day American Christians seem to forget in our luxury. We need to be shrewd when we bring the Word to others. Some feel that we should simply stand up in the market place, start proclaiming the Gospel, and let the chips fall where they may. I doubt that anyone who believes this has actually tried to proclaim the Word in a Muslim country. Because we can do this in the U. S., some have the attitude that our brothers and sisters in other places should be bolder. Since we haven’t faced real persecution, we can philosophize easily. The truth is that we shouldn’t bring upon ourselves unnecessary trouble by flaunting what we know whether here or overseas.

I was once in a Bible study at work. People knew about it, but we couldn’t advertise it without losing the privilege of using a meeting room at lunch. We were “innocent” by finding out what company policy was, but we were “shrewd” by not demanding what some may have considered our “rights” to equal access to meeting rooms for non-business use.

There may also be times when we make mistakes and have to answer for our actions. I think there is a big difference between persecution and getting into trouble because we’ve done something stupid or even illegal. We can’t call it persecution unless we have had to make a choice between obedience to God and obedience to the establishment. There are too many Christians claiming persecution in the workplace when the truth is that they are not doing their job but using work time to “witness.” God doesn’t get glory when we patiently suffer for doing something wrong, only when we are doing something correctly (1 Peter 2:20).

When true persecution occurs, we don’t have to worry because the Holy Spirit will provide our defense. We must realize, however, that the defense will probably provoke people to anger rather than let us escape unharmed (Acts 7:54-60). We will not always be able to avoid persecution because we are commanded to carry the Gospel to all people.

Note also, that it isn’t just the establishment, but our families who are closest to us who are also likely to cause trouble. These are the people that we want to see come to the Lord most of all and at the same time pose the greatest risk to us because we trust them.

Instead of saying that we should not speak to persecutors, Jesus tells us that we should avoid becoming martyrs and flee the persecution. This accomplishes two things. It keeps us available to speak the message, and it spreads the message over greater areas than we would have normally gone. Martyrdom is something to expect, not to seek.

Vengeance

What is the proper attitude we should have when persecuted?
  

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. "But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:17-21NASB)

These verses outline the proper attitude to have as a Christian. We are to rest on the promise that the Lord knows what He is doing and that all we are to do is to leave the destruction of the unjust up to Him. In the meantime, we are to feed and give drink to our enemies. If we do not share the Gospel with them and they reject it, they will not be able to escape the destruction that will come upon them.

Why should we be careful when we cry out to God for vengeance?
   

In Ps 94, David calls out to the Lord to judge the earth. In verse three, he asks how long God will allow the wicked to enjoy their seeming dominance. Many claim that God doesn’t exist based on the evidence of the wicked and the appearance that they are getting away with it. But David has a different attitude, the same as those who have been martyred. He is asking the question “how long,” not requesting it to occur in our way or timing.

He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke? He who teaches man knowledge— the Lord—knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath. (Ps 94:10-11 ESV)

We need to remember who God is, the One who made us, who knows our very thoughts, and also controls nations. We need to be very careful what we are asking and what our motives are. When we cry out for vengeance, He knows exactly why – whether it because we are feeling hurt or because we see the true injustice in the world. We know that He never forsakes us and there will be a time when He will exercise His judgment (Ps 94:14-15). Until that time comes we need to be careful about our attitude and action.

When should we get involved with making sure justice happens?
  

Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers? Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. (Ps 94:16-17 NIV).

If we cry for justice, there may be times the Lord uses us to help in His judgment such as becoming involved in wars. There is the very real possibility that we will die just as the wicked. However if we survive, it is only because of the Lord’s help. This verse doesn’t guarantee an escape from harm but the acknowledgement that survival is the Lord’s will and decision. In such a time, we can slip and anxiety can easily overcome us if we don’t lean upon the Lord (Ps 94:18-19). When we are the subjects of injustice, we need to learn that the Lord will repay; we must always wait upon Him and His direction. It is seldom, if ever that the Lord uses the same person as the victim, judge, jury, and executioner.

Read Deut 32:1-43. Pay careful attention to verses 21, and 36-37. What are some of the things you learned about God’s vengeance from this passage?
   

In Deut 32:34-43 it is very clear that the Lord will avenge. He has set a time; He has sealed it up, and He will release His anger and wrath upon the earth. The Lord allows injustice to occur and uses it to bring His people back to Himself. When we put our trust in things other than God, He will methodically remove each of those things from our lives until we have nothing left except Him.
In verse 36 He is speaking of a future when they don’t turn back and are all gone. He will then turn to those who have come against His servants and lift His hand against them. Does this mean that only when all the believers have been either martyred or raptured that the Lord will take His vengeance? That is an interesting thought. I’ll leave it to you to ponder that possibility.
In verse 37, God ask them where their god is, the rock in which they take refuge. In Rev 6:15 the people hide themselves in caves and ask the rocks to hide them. Don’t miss the irony in this.

They have made Me jealous with what is not God; They have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. (Deut 32:21 NASU)

This is God’s promise to the Gentiles. Way back there He provided for us and will use us to make Israel jealous with the hope of bringing them back to Himself. Maybe Israel will realize this after the rapture occurs and there are no believers left.

Summarize what you have learned about vengeance.
   

The principal is this. It is all right to call out to the Lord when we have been wronged and to ask for His vengeance. However, it can’t be for personal gain, but because the actions are unjust not only to ourselves but to others also. This is not speaking of asking for personal vengeance.
Also, things can happen to us that we deserve and there isn’t any room for us to ask for vengeance because of these things (1 Peter 4:15-16). We are also to praise God for any time we suffer because we are Christians. In the Revelation passage, it is clear that these people were killed simply because they held on to their faith in Christ. In heaven, their personal motives are removed and they can clearly call on the Lord for vengeance. We can’t call out for vengeance as long as we have anything other than the glory of God in mind. If self is in it, then we need to examine and wait. We need to remember that any persecutor who dies because of God’s wrath or vengeance without coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus will be eternally lost. That is why we should follow the Scripture in Rom 12:17-21 and wait.

However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. (1 Tim 1:16 NKJV)

We need to wait until the number has been completed. Who knows, maybe some of those who are the vilest persecutors will become Christians. If we ever doubt that someone could come to Christ, we only need to look at Paul and his testimony about himself. He was a murder and persecutor of the Church, but Jesus took him and turned him into one of the greatest evangelist of all time. Perhaps this ties back to Deut 32:36. When the Lord sees that there are none of His chosen left (either current believers or those He knows will come to Him), then He will feel free to take vengeance upon the world.

For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. (1 Thess 5:9 NLT)

He will not allow His people to face the wrath that He is about to place upon the earth. To get a better understanding of His wrath, consider that He will allow His people to be martyred, but He will not let them face His wrath. Since Christians suffer much throughout the world today, this can only mean that we really don’t have a good concept about how horrible His wrath is. Whether the passage in Revelation describes the past, present or future, it doesn’t matter. As long as there are Christians on the earth, there will be martyrs.

Sixth Seal

What do you think is the cause of these end-times disasters that are described in the sixth seal?
   

This description of what will occur is a point of conjecture among all of the end-times experts. Many of the people who have recently written on the end-times look at the terrible capability for destruction of our nuclear age and believe that this describes exactly what will happen as a result of global nuclear war. The earth will shake, the fallout will obscure the sun, and the moon and the stars will not be seen. The picture of a mushroom cloud rapidly expanding could be the description of the sky receding like a scroll. The stars falling could be the many warheads of missiles re-entering the atmosphere. One thing that this cause doesn’t account for is that the mountains and islands will be removed. Another thing that this doesn’t account for is the fact that people will recognize that this is the wrath of the Lamp being poured out and that they will want to hide from Him. The Lord may well use our own devices to bring about His will. Certainly that is His pattern in the past.

This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him …  I will go before you and will level the mountains … so that you may know that I am the Lord … who summons you by name. For the sake of Jacob my servant … though you do not acknowledge me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God … so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me … I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things. (Isa 45:1-7 NIV)

This is a fascinating passage that reveals much insight into our Lord and also the symbolism that may be in Revelation. God says that He will level the mountains before Cyrus. To my knowledge, there wasn’t any mountain-leveling going on when Cyrus conquered Israel. I don’t think the mountains and islands being moved in Revelation are only symbolic as used in Isaiah. In Revelation, they are accompanied by many other physical disasters, which leads me to believe that there is a catastrophic change occurring.

What did you learn from Isaiah 45:1-7 about God that sheds light on the sixth seal in Revelation?
  

 It is clear that God used Cyrus to punish Israel; God summoned Cyrus, even though he didn’t acknowledge God. As the Antichrist works his evil in the world, as these wars depicted by the black horse become a reality, they are all summoned by God. It isn’t because God has lost control or is unable to stop the disasters. On the contrary, our Lord owns up to the fact that the disasters are from Him. In the case of Cyrus, He used the prophet Isaiah to make it clear to Israel and to Cyrus that this was what was happening. It is likely that in the end-times, whether it is by nuclear war or by natural disasters, the knowledge of the end will be so well known that when it comes, even the rebellious will recognize it for what it is.
After Mt. Saint Helens blew up, I think many people may have revised their idea of what the end-times scenario may be. Never in modern time has the eruption of a mountain been so well reported. The affect of that eruption could just as easily explain what John saw. Perhaps several dormant volcanoes around the world will erupt as a result of the great earthquake. The fact that the Bible says a great earthquake occurred leads credibility to the idea that this is entirely the Lord’s work and He doesn’t need to use our destructive forces. The sovereignty of God is forgotten when people think that all of the destruction must be accounted for in mankind’s destructive abilities.

Read Isaiah 13:1-13. What is another possible cause for the destruction on the earth?
  

In this passage, the holy ones, the saints, and angels gather together to carry out the war of the Lord (Isa 13:3). He gathers them from all countries and from the ends of heaven. He calls them the weapons of His wrath (Isa 13:5). The reaction of the unsaved is terror; they simply do not know what to do (Isa 13:7-8). In many passages like this one, shaking of the earth and heavens is mentioned. The book of Revelation is not the origin of this idea, it is simply agreeing with the rest of the Bible when it reports how the end will occur.

For the Lord's indignation is against all the nations, And His wrath against all their armies; He has utterly destroyed them, He has given them over to slaughter. So their slain will be thrown out, And their corpses will give off their stench, And the mountains will be drenched with their blood. And all the host of heaven will wear away, And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; All their hosts will also wither away As a leaf withers from the vine, Or as one withers from the fig tree. (Isa 34:2-4 NASB)

What are three things found in these verses that parallel Revelation?
  

Again this shows that the descriptions of what will occur have been given to us long before John saw it. In Revelation we will see the armies of the nations gather together to do battle against God but He will triumph. The phenomena in the skies is very similar to the descriptions in Revelation. The reference to the figs is in both.

How might the reference to shriveled figs or falling figs be symbolic?
  

The fig tree has sometimes been used to symbolize Israel. In Mark 11:12-14, Jesus approached a fig tree without any fruit on it and cursed it. When He returned it had dried up from its roots (Mark 11:20). Many explain the cursing and withering of the fig tree as a sign from Jesus because He came to the nation of Israel and found no fruit. The curse is that there will not be a harvest of souls that He desired from the nation. It is possible that the falling shriveled figs in Isaiah and in Revelation refer to those who in the end do not accept the Lord. If so, then they will be as numerous as the stars.

What choices will unbelievers make in the end-times regarding salvation?
  

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished. (Isa 51:6 KJV)

Think about material things that we count on being in place day after day vanishing. I could look out my window at work and see the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier. On the way home I could see the Cascade Mountains and Mount Baker. Yet these mountains that seem so stable are going to wear out. Why do we put such importance on our material things that wear out even before our life does? This verse ends on the truly enduring things, God and His salvation and righteousness. The longer we wait for these things to come, the more people are tested until only unbelievers will be left, those who have placed all their trust in temporal things. They will then try to find permanence in the rocks as they are falling. They will have made their decision. It is the wrong decision but it is the one they have made and it will be eternal.

Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust from before the terror of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty. The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the pride of men shall be humbled; and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. (Isa 2:10-11 RSV)
And men shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. (Isa 2:19 RSV)

What we see in the book of Revelation is what the Lord promised to do exactly as described long ago. Unbelievers will be brought to the place where they will have to hide to escape the splendor of the Lord. Hiding from God is nothing new. Adam and Eve started it all trying to hide from God as soon as there was sin in the world (Gen 3:8). They wanted to escape from the Lord because their sin was exposed by His presence. It is the desire of the natural man, the sinful part of us, to flee from Him who exposes our true nature.

Is it possible without going further in the book of Revelation to determine if the rapture has take place after the sixth seal is opened? Explain why or why not.
  

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matt 24:29-31 KJV)

Jesus described the same events for the end as we find in Rev 6:12-13. He also gives us some more clues as to the timing of these events. He says that this occurs immediately after the tribulation in those days. He says that all the nations and people will see Him coming and will mourn. Since believers will rejoice, it is the unsaved who will mourn. He will gather His elect (believers) from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. This is a subtle clue; He isn’t saying that He will take them from the earth. It is very possible that they have already died or been raptured. If my theory is correct, His wrath won’t be revealed while there are any believers on the earth.

My theory may not be correct because other Scripture indicates that all unbelievers will be killed in God’s wrath leaving living believers to repopulate the earth in the Millennium. However there is also the possibility that He doesn’t kill all unbelievers and leaves some to enter the Millennium. I’ll probably revise this theory two or three times before the end of the Book of Revelation as we study the last seal.

Summary

Summarize what you have learned from Revelation 6.
  

This chapter looks more and more like a preview of coming attractions. At this point it appears that the overall view is a time of peace, but under a dictator. Following the peace will be a time of war, followed by economic disaster and then famine and disease. At this time, Christians will be persecuted more than any other time in history. The last scene is when the Lord brings His wrath upon the world and unbelievers. From here on out we will be getting more details of the events but may have to come back and revise this summary.

The one overwhelming fact of this chapter remains God’s sovereignty and control of all events. It doesn’t matter what kind of trials or troubles we are facing, we have to acknowledge that our Lord is in control. Are you facing illness, economic or natural disaster, enemies, war, demons or anything else in creation? Does it seem like there is no way out? Remember that Jesus is our God and He is in control. We may join the martyrs in heaven sooner than we thought or even want to, but His timing is perfect. This is to bring us peace regardless of our situation!

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