If you’re new to this series, catch up @ https://polination.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/the-seven-churches-of-revelation-part-thirteen/
In Chapter One of the Book of Revelation (verses 10-11), John says a voice as loud as a trumpet told him to, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” After the last Letter, John says that he sees an open door to Heaven and again hears the voice like a trumpet inviting him to “come up here and I will show you what must happen afterwards.”
Since I’ve been exploring the idea that the seven Letters are about Church history from the Age of the Apostles to the End Times, I first thought “afterwards” meant “after the time of the last Letter.” E.g., Like maybe after the Rapture, something I hope happens BEFORE the Tribulation itself, especially if it’s soon enough that me and mine are still breathing air, since I’d way prefer we all get caught up together before the you know poo hits the you know fan.
Since I am trying to read the Scriptures to find out what they actually say, not read into them what I would prefer they say, but couldn’t make any headway with the last three Letters, I just kept reading those first four chapters over and over until I realized it makes more sense for “afterwards” to mean “after this vision is over” … which would put the beginning of the heavenly vision (i.e., the opening the Seven Seals) back at the time of the first Letter, when John wrote Revelation (mid-90s AD).
If this is a true interpretation, the opening of the first four Seals should mirror the time periods in the first four Letters we’ve already studied here. And maybe if that’s true, then the last three Seals will offer some insight into what the last three Letters mean. So, for the past few days, I’ve been studying those first four Seals. And, you know what? They DO mirror the first four Letters! Let’s look.
In the heavenly vision, John sees “four living creatures” around the throne, praising God day and night. [Rev 4:6-8] We know from Isaiah 6:1-2 that these creatures are Seraphim (or Seraphs, both are correct plurals for Seraph). In Rev 6:1-8, we watch Jesus break open the first four Seals and the four Seraphim call out the Four Horses of the Apocalypse.
Now, watch what happens when I link up my speculations about the first four Letters with the four Seraphim and the first four Seals.
Letter: Ephesus. Seraph: Lion. Seal: White, Bow, Crown, Victorious.
The Letter to Ephesus appears to be addressed to the faithful of the Apostolic Age and maybe also to those in later times when the political climate allowed Christians to teach and preach freely. This is mirrored by the symbolism of the First Seal.
Lion: Symbol of Jesus and the might and boldness of the righteous. See: Rev 5:5, Prov 30:30, Prov 28:1.
White: Symbol of Jesus at Transfiguration and the purity of those cleansed from sin. See: Matt 17:2, Psalm 51:7.
Bow: A bow and arrow is a powerful tool for military and hunting, with penetrating power and deadly accuracy even at a distance. But a bow is also likened to the tongue, which seems a more likely choice since the White Horseman has no arrows or quiver. See: Jer 9:3.
Crown: Symbol of victory. See: James 1:12.
“He rode forth victorious to further his victories.” This suggests the war has already been fought and won. In other words, Jesus is risen and now the Word of God goes forth to further victories.
Letter: Smyrna. Seraph: Calf. Seal: Red, Sword.
The Letter to Smyrna appears to be addressed to the faithful of the 200 years of Roman persecution (roughly 100 to 313 AD) and maybe also to those in later times when political powers again warred against and martyred God’s people for their faith.
Calf: The Greek word here means a young female (heifer) or male (bull) cow and is sometimes translated as ox. Sacrificing bovines was an important part of Hebrew rituals. See: Genesis 15 (God seals his covenant with Abram); Leviticus 1 (The Law of Burnt Offerings); Leviticus 4 (The Law of Sin Offerings), Numbers 19 (Ashes of Red Heifer for ritual cleansing). When Jesus came, “He entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” See Hebrews 9:11-14.
Red: Blood. “Why is your apparel red, and your garments like one who treads the wine press? … Their blood spurted on my garments, all my apparel I stained.” Psalm 63:2-3
Sword: “Its rider was given power to take peace away from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another.”
Letter: Pergamum. Seraph: Human Face. Seal: Black, Scale, Famine.
The Letter to Pergamum appears to be addressed to the faithful of the Early Middle Ages (roughly 313 to 1,000 AD) and maybe also to those in later times where poverty and famine were rampant.
Human Face: This one is kind of cryptic. The best I can figure is that famine is the most personal, up close and face-to-face of God’s “four evil punishments – sword, famine, wild beasts, and plague” [Ezek 14:21]. Wild beasts and disease are impersonal and there’s a frenzy and a heat to war that depersonalizes even hand-to-hand combat. But hunger is slow and very personal.
Black: In Lamentations 4:8-9, the color black is associated with famine. “Now their appearance is blacker than soot, they go unrecognized in the streets; Their skin has shrunk on their bones, and become dry as wood. Better for those pierced by the sword than for those pierced by hunger, Better for those who bleed from wounds than for those who lack food.”
Scale: A tool that measures stuff by weight. A voice tells the Black Horseman, “A ration of wheat costs a day’s pay, and three rations of barley cost a day’s pay.” In other words, during famine, food is sold at such an exorbitant price that one wage earner could barely keep himself alive, much less feed dependents.
Famine: Because of the political chaos, general poverty, and lack of food storage technology during the Dark Ages, people were very dependent on what they could actually grow in a year. Obviously, a single bad harvest meant people went hungry. But the Black Horseman of Famine received the cryptic limitation to “not damage the olive oil or the wine.” Remember when I talked about how the hidden manna (Part 8) and the white amulet (Part 9) in the letter to Pergamum worked well as symbols of Baptism and Eucharist? And then again (Part 11) when I talked about how I believe the Holy Spirit protected the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, even as He permitted wicked popes to sin? I think this limitation might be part of that. Olive oil has been used as part of the Baptism ritual from very early on. And wine, of course, is used for Holy Eucharist.
Letter: Thyatira. Seraph: Eagle in Flight. Seal: Pale Green, Death and Hades.
I looked at a number of Pale Horse paintings that depicted Death and Hades in various frightening forms, but the one I found the most creepy was the one above, where we can’t see the enemy.
The Letter to Thyatira appears to be addressed to the faithful of the Late Middle Ages (roughly 1,000 – 1,500 AD) and maybe also to those in later times where political and religious corruption led to enormous loss of life due to war, famine, disease and “the beasts of the earth” … which I’m thinking could extend to geological- and weather-related “beasts.”
Eagle in Flight: Eagles are very far-sighted and search for prey from heights of 1,000 feet or more. In other words, you can’t really see them coming. When one spots a likely victim, it drops suddenly and slams into its prey with incredible force and precision. An eagle in flight is a truly terrifying metaphor for any kind of enemy!
Pale Green: The skin color of a dead person. It also gets translated as ashen, pale, pale-colored, sickly pale. Dan 10:8 “No strength remained in me; I turned the color of death and was powerless.”
Death and Hades: “Its rider was named Death, and Hades accompanied him. They were given authority over a quarter of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and plague, and by means of the beasts of the earth.”
I briefly discussed the wars and Black Plague in the Late Middle Ages, but only today came across an article at Wikipedia about a huge famine that killed millions all across Northern Europe in the first half of the fourteenth century. Oddly enough, the famine was partly due to global climate change. (That would be prior to the widespread use of fossil fuels, Mr. Gore.) As you can see on this traditionally accepted climate graph (the one the Gore-acles have replaced wherever possible with their faked up hockey stick thing), our climate became quite a lot warmer and more comfy for all God’s creatures for an extended period called the Medieval Warm Period.
During this time, fewer people died before bearing children, so there was a growth in population, if not in political stability or food storage technologies. When the climate began to cool again, harvests shrunk, putting the pinch on for society’s poor, who at that time occupied about 95% of the population. Bad weather led to universal crop failures in 1315, 1316 and 1317; millions died and Europe did not fully recover until 1322. It was a period marked by extreme levels of crime, disease, mass death and even cannibalism and infanticide. The Black Plague hit a few decades later killing millions more.
I don’t know much about any deaths due to the usual “beasts of the earth” … apart from the kind that carried the Plague germs. But I think this phrase can be legitimately stretched to include natural disasters, of which I found a bunch listed at Wikipedia:
1091: London experienced Britain’s earliest reported tornado, which only destroyed London Bridge and a bunch of churches, but also more than 600 homes.
1117: A powerful earthquake that destroyed most of the buildings in Verona, Italy, was felt all across northern Italy and even in Switzerland.
1138: The deadliest earthquake in recorded history (outside of China where the top two happened) hit Aleppo in northern Syria. Aleppo was really not a good place to be at that time, what with the Crusaders and the Muslims having at it and buildings falling down all around.
1170: A catastrophic flood in the Netherlands drowned an entire forest and turned a freshwater lake into the salt-water Zuiderzee.
1287: Two massive storms actually reworked the coastlines of England and The Netherlands, leaving some towns that had stood by the sea landlocked, while others that had been inland on the shore.
1343: A huge earthquake caused significant damage and loss of life around Naples, plus set off a tsunami that destroyed ports all along the Amalfi Coast.
1404: A catastrophic flood hit Flanders, Zeeland and Holland, washing away islands and wiping out entire towns.
1428: Probably the worst earthquake in the history of the Pyrenees struck Catalan. The fallout lasted well over a year and the event remains a point of reference for the study of seismic risk.
That’s just SOME of the list of natural disasters from the Late Middle Ages. And we thought we had stuff to gripe about.
I still have no idea what the last 3 Seals or the last 3 Letters have to do with anything. If I figure it out, I’ll get back to you. 🙂
Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity [Eerdmans Publishing, 1977]
The New Bible Dictionary [Eerdmans Publishing, 1962]
New American Bible online @ http://www.usccb.org/bible/
Various articles at Wikipedia (mostly to verify dates etc.)
White and Red Horses by Peter Olsen @ http://www.peterolsenart.com/
Unlabeled art by unknown artists
Sacramental Oils @ http://catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0422.html
Great Famine of 1315 @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_of_1315%E2%80%931317
South England flood of 1287 @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_England_flood_of_February_1287
Natural Disasters in the Middle Ages @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Medieval_natural_disasters