Bible Study with Jairus —Revelation 6
The Beginning of Birth Pains
In Revelation 6, God reveals the first six of the seven seals. In Revelation 7, God gives John an encouraging vision that takes place between the sixth and the seventh seals. And in Revelation 8, the Lamb unveils the seventh seal and begins to reveal the seven trumpet judgments. The vision that takes place between the sixth and seventh seals encourages believers to notice the positive things that are going on in Heaven, despite their suffering on Earth. And the vision between the sixth and seventh trumpets encourages believers that they will be able to overcome these judgments and enter into their final victory.
In Matthew 24, the disciples ask Jesus, “What will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV) The Lord Jesus replies, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. These things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” (Matthew 24:6-8 ESV) What are these labor pains? They are the first four seals mentioned in Revelation 6! The first four seal judgments bring war, famine, pestilence and death, just like Jesus described in Matthew 24.
If these signs are the beginning of birth pains, what is being born? I believe the Bride of Christ and her victorious child are about to be born (see Revelation 12). The request of the martyred saints in the fifth seal is the appeal of Christ’s bride. God tells these saints that they must continue to endure until the number of martyred saints is completed. When the sixth seal is opened, an earthquake occurs, the sun turns black, the full moon becomes like blood, the stars fall from the sky, the heaven is rolled up like a scroll, and the mountains, seas, and islands are removed from their places. These are labor pains as well, because a new heaven and a new earth are about to be born. In the process, the old heaven and earth will shake violently and eventually pass away. Then God will create a new heaven and a new earth.
These birth pains remind us of a chick hatching from an egg. When the chick is ready to hatch, it pecks through the eggshell that once protected it and comes out of the shell. The old heaven and earth are like an eggshell that formerly housed the growing chick. Once this new life is ready to be revealed, the eggshell is no longer needed.
The Paradox of the Future and the Present
Does the book of Revelation reveal things that will happen in the future, or things that have already happened? On the one hand, it does reveal things that will happen in the future. Revelation 1:1 clearly says that one purpose of the book is “to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass.” This verse is clearly speaking about things that are going to happen in the future. But at the same time, we notice that the whole book of Revelation is written in past tense. Since time does not exist (or is limitless) in the spiritual realm, we must go beyond the limits of linear chronology when we try to understand the prophecies of Revelation. Even though there are events in Revelation that have not happened yet, we can still apply the timeless principles the book reveals.
This concept will help us to better understand the following question about Revelation 6: Does the opening of the seven seals represent a future event, or an event that has already happened? It is obvious that many of the events described in this passage are still future. The stars have not fallen from heaven, the great tribulation has not occurred, and heaven has not moved out of its place. However, I believe that Jesus has already opened the seven seals in the spiritual realm, and it just takes time for these events to unfold in the physical, earthly realm. Many interpretations of Revelation focus too much on assigning meaning to each of the seven seals by linking them to events and chronology. However, this often leads us astray. We are not God, and only God controls time. Jesus warned His disciples not to speculate about the time of the Lord’s second coming. If the angels and Jesus himself do not know when Jesus is coming back, how can we presume to know (Matthew 24:36)? Even though we can’t assign specific dates to these events, we can make sure we are always ready for His return, watching and praying, so that his return does not catch us off guard (Matthew 24:44). Therefore, the most important thing about Revelation 6 is not the timetable, but the principles that Jesus reveals. The Lord Jesus has commanded us to watch and pray, and this is our most important mission.
An Interactive and Dynamic Book
In Revelation 5, we began to discuss the seven seals. The scroll in God’s right hand is sealed tightly with seven seals. Only Jesus Christ is worthy to open them. As we read the accounts of the seven scrolls and related visions in Revelation 6, we must not forget that each seal is bringing us one step closer to seeing what is written inside the scroll. The scroll contains the ordained plan of God for man. Until the seven seals are opened, no one can see what is inside.
Maybe the scroll was more than just words printed on paper with ink. Perhaps it was more like a multimedia presentation with moving images. This movie was not just a record of past events, but like a live broadcast happening in real-time. Perhaps it was like the multimedia presentations I often see in my prophetic dreams. Frequently, in a dream or vision, I first see a video playing on a big screen and then I go inside that video to participate in the events it is depicting. Later, I come back out to observe from the outside. For example, in one dream, I first found myself watching a TV program about Chinese people sent to Japan to preach the gospel. Then I entered the TV screen and joined this live event. In the dream, I was walking with the Chinese evangelists as they went from village to village, sharing the good news. In the dream, I saw that their testimony was initially rejected, yet they eventually gained traction and established a stronghold. At first, I was watching them up close and in person. Yet at the end of the dream, I was once again standing in front of the TV and watching the scene from the outside. As you can see, spiritual revelations are not limited by time and distance.
This prophetic dream is about a great future revival in China, after which numerous missionaries will be sent to Japan to bring about a great revival. This dream has not yet been fulfilled in the physical realm. But since God has ordained the revival to happen, it has already become a reality in a sense. God is not bound by time, so this event is already taking place in the spiritual realm. God used the dream to reveal His will to me so that I could prepare for it in the physical realm. Even though I have never been to Japan, I was able to interact with Japanese people and missionaries through my dream. For this reason, I am considering translating my Bible Studies into Japanese to prepare for this great revival.
The reason I am telling this story is that John must have experienced similar things. He could interact with and observe the events God was revealing in the scroll judgments. Although the events he was seeing were not happening in his physical world, he was able to vividly experience them (like watching a live show). This type of occurrence is very common in the spiritual realm because the Spirit is not limited by time and space.
The Meaning of Four Horses
One time, a Buddhist friend asked me how I understood the four horses. My answer was that many people believed the four horses were the representation of the gospel (white horse), war (red horse), famine (black horse), and death by pestilence (gray horse). There is a lot of agreement on these points. But are these horses referring to future events, present events, past events, or all of the above?
My personal understanding is the latter. John wrote Revelation about 90 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, when the Lamb won his final victory. Did the Lord Jesus Christ have to wait over 60 years after His crucifixion and resurrection to be worthy to open the scroll in God’s right hand? No! He was worthy the moment he was crucified and resurrected. Moreover, the Bible reveals that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). Christ was foreordained by God before the foundation of the world, but did not come to earth until much later (1 Peter 1:20). Therefore, Jesus Christ was worthy to open the seven seals of the scroll even before He was crucified by Pilate. He has been worthy since the beginning of time and from eternity past.
We must leave behind our limited, time-based perception so we can better understand the Book of Revelation. These events took place outside of time in the spiritual realm, which is why Revelation was written in past tense. They also are taking place within time at this very moment. And they will happen again in the future. In the spiritual realm, the four horses are always running. In the physical realm, these four horses’ running causes things that have happened, things that are happening, and things that will happen in the future.
Let’s talk more about these horses and the principles they represent. First of all, the white horse represents the gospel, which always brings conflict. The Lord Jesus says, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law” (Matthew 10:34-35). No person can have a neutral opinion about the gospel; they either accept or reject it. To some people, the Gospel is the “sweet savour of Christ,” but to other people, it is “the savour of death unto death” (2 Cor. 2:15-16). Those who reject the gospel have been influenced by Satan. They not only reject the gospel, but they also oppose those who have decided to accept it.
After my conversion, many spiritual battles took place in my family. For many years, I suffered spiritual warfare regarding my unbelieving family members, especially my unbelieving father and my mother who worshiped Bodhisattvas. It took more than ten years for them to be saved and baptized into the Lord. There are still other relatives who persecute us. These actions are motivated by Satan, for Satan does not want people to leave the realm of darkness and enter the kingdom of light—just as Pharaoh did not want the Israelites to be set free from Egypt.
So how does God respond to these objections? He sent famine, pestilence, and death to Pharaoh because he was being used by Satan and the evil spirits. God judged Egypt over and over again with famine, pestilence, and death before He eventually led the Israelites out of Egypt. Outwardly, these judgments were against Egypt, but spiritually speaking, they were against the hosts of spiritual wickedness in high places. Only after God struck down the firstborn did Pharaoh finally allow God’s people to leave Egypt. In the same way, famine, pestilence and subsequent death will bring people freedom from the kingdom of darkness. In an ongoing spiritual cycle, the gospel brings warfare, which in turn eliminates wicked people and the evil spirits behind them. Finally, through war, famine, and pestilence, people are released from the power of darkness into God’s glorious Kingdom. That is why the description of the saints under the altar follows directly after the description of the four horses.
The Appeal of the Slain Saints
In the book of Acts, the story of Paul’s encounter with Jesus follows immediately after the account of Stephen’s martyrdom. As is often the case, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Martyrdom can bear much gospel fruit. Paul’s salvation was certainly the result of his encounter with Jesus, but it is also the direct result of Stephen’s testimony at his martyrdom. Stephen’s martyrdom was the seed that later blossomed into Paul’s salvation. When Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission sent Western missionaries to preach the gospel in mainland China, they arrived in the middle of the Boxer Rebellion. As a result, many of them were killed. Hudson was severely distressed by this fact, but what he didn’t realize at the time was that the blood of these missionaries would eventually bear beautiful flowers and gospel fruits. In one such story, the Boxers tied up a female missionary and brought her to the execution ground. A frightened Chinese man hid in the doorway and peeked in. He saw the Christian sister’s face glowing, just like Stephen’s did when he was martyred. This man was deeply touched by what he saw and eventually became an evangelist. At that time, there were only a few Christians in China. But now, just 100 years later, that number has increased to about 100 million. The blood of the martyrs has truly been the seed of the church. God loves us so much that besides giving up His only begotten Son, He also allows many to be martyred so the gospel of God and the message of His love for mankind can be spread to as many people as possible.
In the fifth seal, the martyrs cried “with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10) These saints knew that God was righteous and would surely judge those who shed their blood. They knew God would give them justice; they just did not know when. They were not blaming God for not giving them justice, but were asking Him when the “cycle of the four horses” would end. God comforted them by giving them white robes and letting them rest for “a little season until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled” (Revelation 6:11). God is the only one who knows what the total number of martyrs will be, and when it will be complete. Even though we are not omniscient like God, one thing we know for sure: that time is nearer than ever before.
The Conception and Birth of a New Heaven and a New Earth
A sister once asked me how to understand the catastrophic scenes in Revelation 6: the sun turning black, the moon turning to blood, the stars falling to earth, the heaven being rolled up like a scroll, and the mountains, hills, and islands being severely shaken (Revelation 6:12-13). I explained that this was a description of birth pains, like a chick hatching from an egg. Before it develops, an egg has three parts: the yolk, the white, and the shell. The yolk contains the life of the chick and provides food to the growing chick. The egg white provides a liquid medium for the growing chick, and the shell provides protection from outside dangers. A chick cannot hatch successfully if any of these parts is missing. By the time a chick is ready to come out, the yolk and the white are both fully absorbed by the chick and the chick begins to peck at its shell. After the chick breaks out of its shell, the shell can be discarded.
Like an eggshell, the old heaven and earth, with their cultures and physical supplies, provide for the material and spiritual needs of human existence. But they will pass away after the new heaven and new earth are born. As the new creation comes into being, the old creation, like an eggshell, will be violently cracked and shaken. Then we will be given a kingdom which cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28). These shakings remind us that the new heaven and earth are real and are about to arrive (Revelation 21:1).
(The chick analogy also reminds us of our new life in Christ. Just like a chick looks similar to a hen, we Christians are “little Christs.”)
At the end of Revelation 6, people will say “to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (16-17) It is time for God’s judgment to come to earth, in answer to the prayers of the martyrs. But God’s promise of judgment cannot be fulfilled without the birth of the new heaven and the new earth.
Paul says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). The old creation is a part of all things that work together for good. The old creation is the eggshell or egg white that supports the new chick as it grows. When the new creation is born, everything in the old creation is discarded like a scroll being rolled up (6:14). Why? Because we have turned a new leaf, and the old creation has passed away. We will enter a new creation. Revelation 6 mentions the scroll in the right hand of God. When this chapter ends, the we will turn over a new page and begin a new reality.