Making sense of our times – Revelation 6-16

Lots of people have been scratching their heads making sense of our times. Brexit led to amazing divisions, two changes in Prime Minister, and ongoing discontent that will rumble for years. Two years ago we had our first online services caused by the pandemic lockdown. Just as we start to feel like we’re emerging (which is actually dubious), one European nation actually invades another – threatening a world war that will engulf us all.

Revelation is what it says on the tin: It’s a revelation. It reveals what’s going on throughout the church age and makes it crystal clear how you are to respond.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

7 seals – you’re secure (6:1-8:5)

We’re going to look at chapters 6 to 16. There are four clear divisions – 7 seals, 7 trumpets, 7 visions, and 7 bowls. We’re seeing Revelation as a huge, vivid picture. The palette is the Old Testament, so OT texts guide our understanding throughout. We’re not looking at individual brush strokes, but rather looking here and there to try to help us understand the overall image.

Chapter 6 begins with seals being taken off a scroll. It’s the scroll that God held in his right hand and that Jesus took. Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb that was slain but is now alive. Only he was worthy to begin the next part of God’s dealings with humanity – precisely because he has saved his people.

So the scroll is God’s plan for humanity for the time after Jesus’ ascension – these days that we’re in, until Jesus’ return.

The four horsemen of the apocalypse!

There are 7 seals.

  • The first four seals are an obvious group – the four horsemen of the Revelation (apocalypse).
  • The first rider (white horse) is a bit like an image of Jesus in Revelation 19. He’s a parody; he’s false religions.
  • The second rider (red horse) is war.
  • The third rider (black horse) holds scales – a sign of famine, and he highlights injustice and social imbalances.
  • The fourth rider (pale horse) is death.

They’re not sequential – they all ride out across the world today, and always have, and always will.

Worse, as they pick up on Old Testament imagery in Ezekiel 9 and Leviticus 26, you’re to recognise them as God’s judgments.

Other seals

  • The 5th seal reveals believers in heaven, under the altar, in God’s presence and under his protection.
  • The 6th seal introduces final judgments and the devastating question: “Who is able to survive?”

The answer to that question is given: God’s people, kept secure by him. Read Revelation 7:15-17.

  • The 7th seal briefly reveals a final judgment on the world.

The summary is simple: Bad things have always happened and always will. Often, they are actually judgments from God. But Christians will be eternally kept; eternal life has begun.

If you’re a Christian, you’re secure – whatever happens. If you’re not, “Who is able to survive?” No-one.

So what are we to make of Covid? What about war in Europe (and elsewhere)? Are they judgments from God? We’re not ready to answer that yet. Next:

7 trumpets – Keep witnessing (8:6-11:19)

Straight after the 7 seals we get 7 trumpets.

It becomes clear that we’re actually looking at the same time and events as the seals, but from a different angle. When someone scores a goal in a match on TV, they replay it over and over from every angle – always something different to see. That’s what Revelation does.

Why trumpets? The Old Testament clue is clear: Jericho. The Israelites marched round Jericho for 6 days blowing trumpets. Time for the inhabitants to surrender, to repent. Warning of judgment coming and opportunity to repent.

So warning and repentance mark Revelation’s trumpets. Like with the 4 horsemen, the first 4 trumpets go together. Read Revelation 8:7-9 [first two only].

The imagery picks up the language of the plagues of Egypt.

  • The first four trumpets bring devastation to land, sea, fresh water, and sky – all creation.
  • Trumpets 5, 6, and 7 are dramatic and introduced by an eagle crying out “Woe, woe, woe” / “Terror, terror, terror” (Revelation 8:13).

The imagery for what happens when those trumpets sound is absolutely awful.

  • The 5th trumpet shows the hopelessness and despair for people who don’t know God. The world is hostile, dangerous, confusing – and hopeless.
  • The 6th trumpet shows the pain and danger that is across the whole world today, and always.

But these things are sent by God with a clear purpose.

Calls to repentance

They are calls to repentance, for people to cry out to God for mercy and forgiveness, turning to worship him, turning from sin. But read Revelation 9:20-21.

Now, what about Covid? What about war in Europe? What about all the hatred and bitterness and injustice in the world?

  • Are they judgments, as the 7 seals suggest?
  • Or are they calls to repentance, as per the trumpets?
  • You can’t tell; you can’t know. Sometimes they’re the same (certainly seen at Egypt’s plagues).

But Christians are left with a clear mission. After the 6th trumpet, a mighty angel brings a little scroll. This is God’s word to the world (rather like Ezekiel’s scroll).

Read Revelation 11:1-6.

  • We have truth, the testimony of two witnesses.
  • Fire from their mouth, like Jeremiah preaching God’s words of judgment and repentance (Jeremiah 5:14).
  • Two olive trees and lampstands recalls a Zechariah vision, and brings to mind this is the Good News of Christ, through God’s people, enlivened by the Holy Spirit.
  • So they preach and they pray effectively under God.

And then the final trumpet marks the end of everything and again God’s people gather to praise him forever.

So, whether the mess in the world is a judgment from God or a call to repentance isn’t for you to know. But it is very much your business to testify about Jesus. But as you do that, you will discover the reality of the next part:

7 visions – Satanic opposition (12-15)

Revelation 12-15 paint a frightening image of spiritual warfare, but also give a clear message to all God’s people everywhere.

There are seven visions. The first three visions are all connected.

Vision 1 – the Dragon, Revelation 12:1-18. 

  • The dragon is Satan himself. Make no mistake.
  • But also remember that Satan is a creature whose boundaries are set by God, who sits on his throne.
  • Revelation 12 tells the long story of Satan’s attempt to destroy Christ by destroying Israel’s line, and then Satan’s enmity against the church once Jesus returned to heaven.
  • Satan is a dragon who roams the earth in utter hatred of Christ and his people. Your enemy is active.

Vision 2 – the beast from the sea, Revelation 13:1-10.

  • Using imagery from Daniel, it’s easy to see that this beast represents all governments, authorities, influencers and powers that exercise rule over a population.
  • The beast works for the Dragon; Satan pulls the strings.
  • That beast has authority over nations and peoples, which also includes Christians.
  • So read Revelation 13:8-10. Don’t miss v10b!

We know that it’s God’s common grace to us to have governments, but often those very governments will enact laws opposed to God and to his people. Expect it over and over.

Vision 3 – the beast from the earth, Revelation 13:11-18.

  • This beast is a deceiver who points everyone to follow the first beast.
  • He seals everyone with his own mark designed to exclude Christians – from the state, from certain jobs, from society.
  • He stands for things in society that “everyone” believes to be true and good, but that Christians stand against.
  • Abortion, euthanasia, humanism, unbiblical sexual ethics…
  • The Dragon, beast from the sea and beast from the earth are a parody trinity, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Vision 4 – A better mark

But the 4th vision (Revelation 14:1-5) makes it clear that all who follow the Lamb of God are also marked! Utterly secure, even in the face of overwhelming enemies in the world.

Vision 5 – Three shouting angels

There are 3 angels shouting in the 5th Vision (Revelation 14:6-13).

  • One shouts the Good News, the gospel: “Fear God… Give glory to him… Worship him who made [everything.]”
  • One shouts that Babylon has fallen. The world that you know is already doomed. Flee to God, not from him!
  • The third shouts that terrible judgment is coming on everyone who has the mark of the beast, instead of bearing the seal of Christ.

What on earth are you to do, in light of all this? Read Revelation 14:12. 

Visions 6 & 7

Because the 6th vision shows the separation of humanity that Jesus will perform (Revelation 14:14-20). Read Revelation 14:17-20.

Terrifying stuff. And a big contrast to the joyful bliss of God’s people in the 7th vision in Revelation 15:1-4.

So, keep stepping back to see the big picture.

  • Bad stuff will always happen in the world. No shock or surprise. Some are judgments, some are calls to repentance, all are under God’s control.
  • Satan hates you. He will steer governments, influencers and authorities against you (the beast from the sea). And he will establish cultural values to alienate you (the beast from the earth).


  1. You’re secure in Christ (if you’re a Christian). No ultimate harm can come.
  2. You’re to keep witnessing, hoping that some will heed the calls to repentance. Don’t shrink back; engage.
  3. And one more thing:

7 bowls – Be ready (15:5-16:21)

The bowls are like the seals and the trumpets, except that this time there’s no gap between the 6th and 7th. They are bowls of wrath – clear judgments from God on the world. There is a clear targeting towards those who worship the beast (non-Christians).

Some of the judgments sound almost the same as the trumpets. God can use the same event as a call to worship for one as a judgment for another – it’s unhelpful to second-guess which.

These bowls of wrath are poured out on unbelievers, on nature, and on the beast. They very much set us up for the end of the book as we approach the final judgment when Christ returns. And it’s the return of Christ that fires the final instruction for you.

Read Revelation 16:15.

Clothing? It’s standard Revelation (and Bible) imagery for righteousness, holy living. When Christ comes, he will transform you into the person you will be for eternity. You will be sinless, holy, perfect in love and joy.

  • So be ready for that.
  • When all the ungodly are swept away, it should be obvious to everyone why you’re not among them.
  • Your efforts for Christ will be vindicated; your witness of him will be shown to be true. 
  • So be ready; be godly; do right and put right wherever you can.

The world is a mess, but it won’t always be.

In the meantime:

  • Don’t try to analyse whether something is a judgment or a call to repentance.
  • Don’t waste time trying to work out if Christ is returning this year, next, or some other time.

Trust that God is on his throne and that you’re secure; keep witnessing to the perishing; be ready (be holy) for Christ’s return. Don’t be overwhelmed by the world; trust in God.