What does it say?

John sees the Lamb open the seven-sealed scroll, unleashing a series of disasters, including conquest, war, famine, disease and the martyrdom of believers (6:1-11). The sixth seal brings a vision of the final Day of Judgment and the end of the world as we now know (6:11-17). Before the seventh seal is broken, God temporarily holds back judgment to set apart those that belong to him (Rev 7).

Opening the seventh seal initiates a series of seven trumpets announcing even more intense judgments. The first four represent the classic realms of judgment: earth, sea, water and the heavens (Rev 8). The fourth and fifth trumpets open the supernatural world and paint a scene of demonic horror (Rev 9). Just as there is a pause before the seventh seal, there is a pause before the seventh trumpet as God gives John a bittersweet message for the world (Rev 10). Before the final trumpet, God sends two witnesses to minister, be martyred and rise again before the seventh trumpet sounds announcing the end of tribulation and the return of Christ and his kingdom (Rev 11).

What does it mean?

The judgments John sees are familiar to readers of the Hebrew prophets. The horsemen of Revelation 6 correspond to Zechariah’s vision. Prophecies not yet completed always invite a wide variety of interpretations, but the sealed scroll suggests a final understanding of the writings of the Old Testament prophets, and the seven trumpets are a call that warns of impending disaster. The terrible judgments of Revelation 8 are not total, God’s grace holding out a last opportunity to repent. The demonic images (Rev 9) make us aware of spiritual warfare and that God’s creation extends further than humans alone.

John’s bittersweet message borrows from Jeremiah 15:16 and Ezekiel 3:1-3. We rejoice in the Good News of the Gospel, but take no pleasure in those that face the final judgment. Believers are not promised a problem-free life, but God is faithful to spare his people from judgment, because Jesus Christ endured our judgment for us. The two witnesses are difficult to identify with absolute certainty, but the imagery is from Ezekiel 40-41 and Zechariah 4. Some see them as Moses and Elijah.

How will I respond?

I will never understand in this life all the symbolism and imagery of these chapters, but I can absolutely know that Jesus Christ is coming again. What is one practical application to my life today in light of Christ’s return?