Resisting Trump with Revelation (15)

The three judgment series of sevens

Now that we’ve looked at the first series of judgment cycles in Revelation, the seven seals (6:1-8:1), we can step back and look at the three cycles, seals, trumpets, and bowls, as a whole and in their interrelationships. The chart below gives us a bird’s eye view of the cycles.
Military Conquests
Hail & fire, mixed with blood, burn 1/3 of earth
Burning mountain, sea turned to blood, 1/3 of creatures & ships destroyed
Sea becomes blood, everything in it dies
Falling star strikes fresh water and makes it bitter
Rivers & springs turn to blood
Death & Hades: sword, famine, and pestilence and animals kill ¼ of earth’s population
Darkness: all celestial lights are darkened by 1/3
Sun’s intense heat scorches people on earth
Persecution: martyrs cry out for vengeance & told to wait
Locust-Scorpions from bottomless pit torture earth’s people for 5 months
Beast’s kingdom plunged into darkness
Cosmic earthquake
Dragon-Lions with serpent tails invade from across Euphrates
Demonic forces gather the kings of the world for battle of Armageddon

Some observations:
1.       Seas Trumpets Bowls –  Trumpets emerge from Seals and Bowls from Trumpets. They are organically related. Spilsbury says, “. . . the bowls are incorporated within the seventh trumpet and the trumpet within the seventh seal. This means that each of the three sequences ends at the same time: the end of the seventh seal opening happens at the end of the seventh trumpet blast, which in turn happens at the end of the seventh bowl judgment.”[1] Not chronological sequence but overlapping scenes, each one adding to the one before, is the rationale here. We will expect then that the Trumpets cycle will go over the same ground as the Seals from a different perspective.

2.       This period of time covered by the Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls is that between the resurrection and return of Christ with focal attention on the clash with Rome.

3.       Each of the cycles ends similarly with a storm-earthquake which suggests they are dealing with the same subject matter.

4.       Each also reflects an intensification: Seals have the judgment covering ¼ of areas affected; Trumpets have effect over 1/3 of areas affected; Bowls affect everything. What does this mean? It’s not completely clear. Perhaps it reflects the inescapabilty and ubiquity of judgment. Grimsrud suggests this intensification of judgment is rhetorical not chronological.[2] 

5.       Each cycle also reflects God’s involvement with the judgment but also his distance from it. We do know from the decisive vision of ch.5 where the slaughtered Lamb is the one who unseals the scroll of God’s continuing fulfillment of his good purposes for creation that God’s way is the way of suffering love. Whatever else is going on here (and there is more to learn as Jesus’ sermon unfolds) we must assume that God’s activity is oriented toward his love reaching and healing his creatures.

6.      These cycles are symbolic and do not reflect historical events. God is not literally ravaging his creation in judgment, burning it up, bashing it to pieces. He is judging the people on earth during this whole period. Judgment cannot be relegated to some few years before the end. I think a familiar passage from the Gospel of John (to which Revelation is likely related even if not written by the same people). John’s symbolic language is a dramatic and rhetorically powerful way of energizing “normal” language for a particular purpose. This passage from John 3:16-21 may well be the “normal” way of saying what John symbolizes in these three judgment cycles:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who                      believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not                       send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world                   might be saved through him.  Those who believe in him are not condemned; but                   those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed                   in the name of the only Son of God.  And this is the judgment, that the light has                    come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their                    deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so                 that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the                 light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Reflect on that for a few moments. Is it unreasonable to think that John’s version of Jesus’ saying in the gospel is the meaning John was trying to communicate with his striking and lurid imagery? I think not. What do you think.

John’s intention (as we have seen) is to catalyze and energize the faith and daily obedience of his churches as they struggle with what faithfulness to Jesus asks of them and may well cost them. He takes fundamental Christian truths and puts them to dramatic use for this purpose. This, I take it, is what he is doing here. These judgment cycles are meant to show that those who have not believed in Jesus already experience judgment while those who do believe show their deeds are generated by God.

7.       The prevalence of Exodus imagery makes this last point clear. Use of this imagery lets us know that the point of these judgment cycles is that there is a way out. Plagues precede Exodus and provide protection and a way out of the judgment. We’ll look at the specifics of this imagery in the next post in this series.
8.       The phrase “the inhabitants of the earth” (6:10; 8:13) is a technical phrase in Revelation denoting those who experience God’s judgment. According to George B. Caird it refers to those who “are at home in the present world order (of power and violence), people of earthbound vision, trusting in earthly security, unable to look beyond the things that are seen and temporal.”[3] “The inhabitants of the earth” are equivalent to the Egyptians in the Exodus narrative. God’s goal in that event toward them was that they repent, i.e. no longer stand in the way of his people, and know that he is Lord (Ex.7:5).

   The Seals cycle unveiled what is really going on beyond the surface of life: the judgments of the Four Horsemen, the cry of the martyrs, the desire to escape judgment, and the unveiling of further levels of judgment in the Seven Trumpets. To that Trumpet cycle we now turn.

[1] Spilsbury, The Throne, 115.
[2] Grimsrud,
[3] George B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John (Hendrickson Publishers; Reprint edition, 1993), 88.


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