Beginning in chapter four, the perspective of Revelation shifts from earth to heaven. John makes this clear with the transition, “After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven!” This turns our attention from the correction of real-world churches to a different set of concerns. A voice from heaven tells John that he will be shown in this vision, “what must take place after this” (v.4:1) Which leads us to the challenging question about the timing of the events in revelation. When is "after." When do we think these things were supposed to have occurred. This is an essential part of our understanding of church history, but it is offers a very difficult interpretive challenge.
As you might imagine, there are a bunch of different ways of reading this next section. I will try to write more about this in another post for those that are interested. But there are a few really important things that we can see which are not controversial to interpret and can be seen in the text without too much trouble.
First, Jesus is the one who opens the scroll. In Revelation chapter 4 we are invited into a visionary depiction of the throne room of heaven. It is full of worship and God is central. But, chapter five introduces a problem. There is a very important scroll and no one can be found to open it. The picture of a scroll is a common prophetic device to show “divine revelation associated with judgment” The fact that it is sealed shows that this revelation is concealed. But, it also seems to show that the events are prevented from happening. If the sealed scroll represents God’s redemptive plan for the world, it is not only concealed, but we seem to be waiting for something to trigger them and bring them into effect. (Notice how the breaking of each seal seems to cause something to happen.) The good news in all of this is that Jesus is worthy to open the scroll. The lamb who was slain is worthy and God’s plan of redemption will roll forward with Jesus as the center of the plan!
Second, this is about justice. This can be confusing for us, because we think of judgment mostly as negative. But the world is a messed up and broken place. Every time we say, “why did God let that happen?” we are essentially saying that we want God’s judgment to break in. Notice how the souls of the martyrs (v.6:9) are asking for this justice, “How long before you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Because Jesus died for the sins of his people, we can be spared from that judgment. But events which unfold in chapters 6-20 are essentially about justice being enacted on the earth. That is a warning to those who oppose God, but it is good news for his people, and for those who are oppressed and downtrodden.
Third, we can all agree that the end of Revelation is about the final judgment and the end of history. The broad middle section of Revelation (6-20) is about God’s judgment in history. There is vast disagreement about when this judgment occurs. Some say it all happened in the past, some say that it will all happen in the future, some say that it is a picture of the judgment that is generally happening in the church age. (I hold that view, personally.) But one thing that everyone can agree on is that chapter twenty shows a final battle (v.20:7-10) in which Satan is defeated and Jesus gets the final victory. Then, the dead are raised and stand before God in a final judgment (v.20:11-15.) Then God renews everything! (chaps 21-22) We will explore those themes more in coming posts, and for those who want the details about the interpretations of Rev 6:1-20:6 look for a separate blog post titled “Excurses on Revelation and History.”
Reflect: One day we will all give account for what we have said and done. Though God often allows evil people to do evil things, they will be accountable in the end. This is both an encouragement to us and a warning.
Connect: Paul spoke of the final judgment to the Greek Philosophers on Mars Hill.
Acts 17:30-31 "[God] commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
 Greg Beale, The Book of Revelation (The New International Greek Testament Commentary). See Ezekiel 2:10, and especially Isaiah 29:11 and Daniel 12:4 for scrolls that are sealed.
This blog is part of the ministry of City Reformed Presbyterian Church. Unless otherwise noted, the entries are written by Matt Koerber. This is part of a project that our church is doing as we read through the narrative sections of Scripture between early January and Easter 2020. New entries will be scheduled to drop automatically at 5:00 am on the scheduled day.