To the question “What is going on in the world around us?” Jesus breaks open the seven seals protecting the scroll he took from the right hand on the One on the throne. The first four seals bring forth the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (6:1-8). The Conqueror, the War and Violence, Poverty and Wealth Inequality, and Death and Hades are loosed though limited to ¼ of the earth.
The fifth seal takes us to the altar in throne room under which are those martyred for their faithfulness to Jesus. They are in the place where the blood of the sacrifices in the Temple gathered. The deaths of the martyrs are priestly sacrifices to God. “How long,” they cry, “till we are avenged?” They are given white robes and told to rest and wait till the full number of martyrs is reached which will be soon (6:9-11).
Remembering the vision of chs.4-5 we must interpret as part of God’s loving outreach to the world. These martyrs have walked the way of Jesus’ strange alchemy of suffering, redemptive, love (white robes). Their cry to be “avenged” must likewise be understood not as a cry for revenge but rather for justice.
The word of assurance that there is a coming end to this martyrdom testifies that God is in control and their deaths serve his purposes and coming kingdom.
The sixth seal (6:12-17) unveils the end of this process for those who continue to stand against the Lamb and his people. That there is this continued rebellion accounts for the continuing martyrdom. Followers of the Lamb stand with him in the midst of a world wracked by the Four Horsemen and sometimes pay the ultimate price. But their time is coming. Their world will fall apart. That’s what the language of earthquakes, the sun turning black, the moon falling, and the sky vanishing points to (6:12-14). All from the greatest to the least seek refuge among the rocks and mountains and even cry to be buried alive to avoid standing before the wrath of the one on the throne and of the Lamb (6:17).
Wrath is a difficult idea for us to wrap our heads and hearts around. But wrath is an integral part of the biblical witness and can’t be eliminated from it without distortion. Again, ch. 5, the revelation of the Lion as the slaughtered Lamb is crucial to keep in mind. God’s ultimate purposes are healing and restorative. Even perhaps for the those opposed to the Lamb who martyr his followers. In ch.21:24-26 we find the nations and kings of the earth (those supposedly destroyed in the great battle scene in ch.19) entering the New Jerusalem and bringing the glories of their people with them. And the gates of city are never shut to keep them out. Further, in ch.22 the tree of life runs through the middle of the New Jerusalem and produces fruit for the healing for the nations. Whatever role wrath plays, then, it does sin the interest of these healing and restorative purposes of God.
What does wrath tell us then? How does it contribute to fulfilling God’s purposes? It tells us that:
-God cares and is invested in his relationship to us, -God is unwilling for us to be less than he created us to be, -God is unwilling for his creatures to damage each other and his creation, -God will not acquiesce in his creatures breaking relationship with him, -God will make things right.
Probably the best analogy to God’s wrath is the “tough love” many parents have to exercise toward their unruly and rebellious adolescents. It feels like wrath, and I guess it is, but it is wrath is service of love, an intransigent unwillingness for one’s child to harm or destroy themselves. Theologically, God’s wrath is his “tough love” toward his rebellious children and unwillingness that they harm or destroy themselves. The Bible frequently expresses this divine tough love by God allowing us to experience the results of our bad choices and behaviors. In Romans 1 Paul uses the phrase “God gave them up” several times to express God letting humanity experience the process and results of their idolatrous rebellion against him.
Grimsrud takes us a bit further in our consideration of wrath’s role in serving God’s love. Let’s hear him at length on this.
 Darrell W. Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge: An Expository Journey through the Book of Revelation (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2004, 174.
 Grimsrud, https://peacetheology.net/2015/07/03/revelation-notes-chapter-6/.