Monday, March 6, 2017

Resisting Trump with Revelation (14)



the seven seals 3 (6:-8:1)


 What is going on in the world around us? It doesn’t look as though God is in control, that he has won the victory over evil and death in Jesus Christ. Conquerors bringing rapacious greed, violence, and unrest kill and terrorize the earth. Have those who dies for Jesus’ sake died in vain? Will anyone be held accountable for this mess?

These are the questions that dog God’s people as they try to live faithfully in the world. We all wonder about these things at times. We agonize over them. Sometimes we doubt. But we are never free of their niggling at our minds and hearts.

Jesus opens the first six seals in response to these questions. None of these things are taking place outside of God’s loving purpose for the world or the sovereignty of his slaughtered Lamb. The logic of suffering love will prevail. For those who have given their life for the Lamb and even those who have opposed his will, his way, his people. Justice and love will embrace in the strange alchemy of the work of this slaughtered Lamb.

The 144,000

Before the seventh seal is opened, however, Jesus stops to remind his readers of who they are and what God has done for them. Four angels stand at earth’s four corners ready to unleash destructive winds. Another image of God’s judgment. Before they can release their furies on the earth though, another angel stays their hands. “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads” (v.3).

Who are these people to be sealed? John hears their number – 144,000 (v.4). And that they come from the twelve tribes of Israel.

Then he turns to look, and like the lion he about who turned was a slaughtered lamb when he turned to see it, this group of 144,000 Jews turns out to be an innumerable multiethnic mass (v.9). Standing before throne and the lamb, wearing white robes (6:11), they sing, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” To which the angels around the throne respond with a robust blessing of God.

Asked by one of the 24 elders whether he knows about these people, John confesses his ignorance. The elder replies, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

What is this “great ordeal” (or “tribulation” as we tend to call it)? According to the elder it is the time in which these folks have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The active verbs here depicting these people as the ones who “wash” and “make” their robes white in the blood of the Lamb suggests not atonement (passive verbs would have been used) but rather sharing in his ongoing work of selfless, sacrificial servanthood. As Grimsrud notes, “’Blood,’ throughout Revelation, works as a master metaphor that signifies Jesus’ path of persevering love taken all the way, even in the face of harsh opposition from the Powers. The robes are ‘made white’ by ethical faithfulness.”[1] The “great ordeal, then, following the risky path of faithfulness in cruciform service and in some cases to the cross itself.

144,000 Jews picks up the notion of election, an innumerable multiethnic horde, God’s creational dream, and those out of “the great ordeal (or tribulation, as we tend to call it), those who follow the Lamb – three different descriptions of the same people. The imagery is very fluid here.

The elder continues:

15 “For this reason they are before the throne of God,    and worship him day and night within his temple,
   and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
   the sun will not strike them,
   nor any scorching heat;
17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
   and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
   and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

These folk, the 144,000 cum innumerable multiethnic multitude cum faithful followers of Jesus, which includes the faithful of all times and place though the emphasis here is on present witnesses, live “before the throne of God.” This is their reality even as they struggle amid chaos and debris left by the Four Horseman. The Lamb “at the center of the throne” will shepherd them to shelter and provision, to the “water of life,” and God will redeem their lives.

The Seventh Seal (8:1)

After this pause, the breaking of the seals concludes with the seventh and last seal. “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”

What an odd thing! The hymn-filled heavenly throne room goes silent for a time. What might this mean? I suggest it is a dramatic device to clear the way for the introduction of the seven trumpets. Some suggest the quiet allows the prayers of God’s people to be heard but there is no indication in the text for that.

At any rate, it is to the series of seven trumpet we turn next.







[1] Grimsrud, https://peacetheology.net/2015/07/03/revelation-notes-chapter-7/.

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