How would you describe the traumatic destruction of the twin towers on 11/9/01? How do the Ukrainians describe right now what it is like to come under the shelling of their enemy? What about natural disasters? How do you paint a picture of those when you are experiencing them at their worst? The terrible earthquakes in Afghanistan and Iran of this year? Or the fires across Europe this summer? Remember Boxing Day 2004 and the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean? How would you describe these events?
These Revelation churches were not alien to natural disasters. In AD17 a massive earthquake described as “the greatest earthquake in human memory” by a Roman author called Pliny the Elder would remain fresh in their memory for many a year. Actually Sardis never fully recovered as a city according to some historians.
These disasters have always been with us but they seem to be getting increasingly prevalent.
These ever-increasing moments around the world find people like us struggling for the words to describe the devastation. It is akin to John’s vision which turns nasty and leaves us and I’m sure him with feelings of hopelessness.
“I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide usfrom the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Revelation 6 v 12-17)
When you read this slowly then there’s nothing left is there?
We don’t have to take what John saw literally, there’s a lot of symbolism here. I’m not sure about the caves and the sky, the sun and the moon. It’s a vision. He is struggling to describe what he saw, he uses once again the word ‘like’.
But one thing is clear, whether you are the most powerful or the poorest you are facing what appears to be a natural disaster and yet is known as a judgment from God the Father and in fact the Lamb’s anger. This is not an earthquake in Turkey 2,000 years ago or in Afghanistan and Iran of this year, Tsunami’s in the ocean, neither are they the areas of the world suffering conflict either in Europe or terrorism in New York. No. This is the ‘earth’. This is ‘every mountain’ and ‘every island’. This is nuclear and maybe that is the right word to use! This is the ‘great day’ of God’s wrath upon the earth.
And at the end of this 6th seal we are simply left with the question of this: will we stand? It is what every follower of Jesus has asked when they are in the epicentre of a disaster.
If what John saw is the disaster of all disasters, let’s say it is an end-time disaster that eclipses all other disasters that ever have happened. Will we survive? Even today, if the U.S. or Russia, France, China, U.K. or Pakistan, India, Israel, Iran or North Korea pressed certain buttons, would we be okay? The rhetoric from leaders around the world can bring fear into many. What about the followers of Jesus? Are you equally afraid?
We are left wondering.
If this really happens and you and I are alive when it does, will we be alright? We need an answer to that.
Surely this is part of the gospel message isn’t it?
But will John find peace? Will he get the answer we all need? We shall find that out.