Thursday, January 4, 2018

Revelation 6:9-17 Fifth Seal: Great Tribulation


KEY TEXT: Revelation 6:9-11 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 you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on 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 brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. 

KEY THOT: When it comes to the Great Tribulation, there are basically two views--you either don't have to go through it (so don't worry) and you will have to go through it (so watch and pray). But looking at church history, both present and past, the Church of Jesus Christ has always suffered persecution for their testimony. In fact, the Syriac-Aramaic speaking Church of the East (from Mesopotamia eastwards across the Middle-east all the way to India and China), was almost entirely wiped out by the 13th century by systematic pogroms and genocides. Even in the present days, Christians and Jews continued to be targeted in Islamic countries for systematic murders. To tell Christians in these regions that they would escape the Great Tribulation sounds like wishful thinking. Jesus himself has said in Matthew 24:9, "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake." 

Between the first four seals (birth-pains) and the fifth seal (tribulation), there is no "rapture" of the church as taught by Jesus in the Gospels (see Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-19). The only basis for such escape-theology is Rev. 4:1 where Jesus told John to "come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this". This is a reference to John himself, not the church and John remained on the island of Patmos despite this "come up here" command. To use this as argument for pre-tribulation rapture is to stretch it too far and take this text out of its context of visionary revelation to John concerning the future events.

The only place where the rapture of the church is mentioned is in Paul's letter to the Thessalonians: "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up (raptured) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Notice that this event takes place at the sound of the trumpet (we will come to that in the seventh seal) and it takes place at the same moment of Christ's visible and open descent from heaven. There is no "secret" coming to snatch the church away.  The "rapture" (more like resurrection of the dead, including those who are still alive) and the Second Coming are simultaneous events.

So, the Church has gone through many tribulations in its 2,000 years history. But there will be one coming that will be global in its scope, and that's why it is called the Great Tribulation. Jesus said in Matthew 24:14 that another event will take place during this period of global persecution of believers: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." But if the church is already raptured, who will be around to proclaim the gospel to all nations?

Coming back to the fifth seal in Revelation 6:9-11, we see that this takes place before the sixth seal (a no-brainer!). But what is the sixth seal: it refers to a period of convulsion in nature, both terrestrial and celestial: "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" (vv.12-13).

We will discuss the sixth seal in the next blog.

Abba-Father, prepare our hearts to be faithful to You to the end. While we thank You that many Christians live without fear of persecution and martyrdom, the days will be coming where none will be spared. May Your Holy Spirit revive Your church that it may not be found sleeping when it happens. For Christ's sake, Amen.

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