If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.
The last four sections of the Bible in a Year blog, covering the whole of the Book of Revelation, are being uploaded together (just because I was without Internet access this week).
29 December. Revelation chapters 6-11
The book of Revelation famously includes all kinds of fantastic scenes involving heaven and hell, angels, demons, imaginary beasts, plagues, natural disasters and divine punishments. Few people would take it all literally, but among all these visions there is clearly a message to be found. I think we need to look at those verses that refer to ordinary humans, for the overall aim of the revelation seems to be to encourage people to see God at work in otherwise unbearable circumstances.
Within today’s reading the first clear reference to the people of the earth is in 6:15-17, where “the kings of the earth, the princes, generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains”. In other words, the plagues affected all people equally, and neither wealth nor status could have protected people from them. The other clear reference to life on earth is this : “The rest of mankind who were not killed by plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands: they did not stop worshipping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood … nor did they repent of their murders, magic arts, sexual immorality or thefts” (9:20-21). That word “still” implies that the plagues, torture and other forms of suffering were intended as signs to persuade people to repent; signs that were ignored.
In these passages we see nothing different from the message of much of the Bible: that in God’s eyes, everyone is equal, whether powerful or slave, rich or poor; and that idolatry, theft, murder and sexual immorality (generally meaning adultery and promiscuity) are the sins that particularly incur God’s wrath. These are among the sins condemned in the Ten Commandments, and therefore there is no new theology here.
The visions in Revelation might be taken either as referring to some future calamity that is yet to occur, or to events that happened nearer the writer’s time in the Roman empire, but either way, there is clearly intended to be a connection between these events and the lives of ordinary people. High or low, rich or poor, the word of God comes to us equally: when sin becomes so rampant that God has to intervene, everyone suffers, but those who come out of the suffering with God’s favour are those who kept his commandments and suffered innocently. It is a message for all time.