Friday, May 9, 2008

The Broken Seal in the Apocalypse

The key to understanding the Apocalypse is to read it with the assumption that it simply means what it says. If one imposes a very subjective symbolic template upon the text, meaning becomes whatever one wants it to be. By that approach the text ends up meaning nothing at all. The first sentence of the book states it’s purpose in rather straightforward language and grammar; needless to say, causing confusion is not why it was written.

The prophecy declares that it is about things which will take place soon (in relation to 95 A.D.), in fact, it behooves them to, they must. Therefore, any approach attempting to jam virtually all the events foretold in this book into the last 7 years of history is a fool's errand. Only chapters 8 through 18 deal with that period, the rest either deals with what's historical from our perspective or the millennium and eternity to come.

Some have suggested
the letters to the seven churches fulfill that purpose by describing, symbolically, seven epochs of the Church Age. Whereas that approach at least understands the historical implications of the prophecy, there's nothing in the text or context that demands interpreting it that way. These were churches extant at the time of writing, all at once in real time and were addressed for more transparent reasons, it seems to me, than as symbols for epochs unhinted at in the text.

A simpler (and thereby, generally bound to be better) approach is to take them as representing the totality of the church at any given time. The number seven is associated scripturally with completeness, or entirety, and today one will find churches existing together in the same space and time, which would fit rather neatly into the general categories limned out by those seven churches. I think that has always been true, and so take the overall effect of their mention to be symbolic of the church universal throughout time, facing the end of time, and representing the diversity in the character of its individual congregations.

So, that brings us to
the seven seals on the scroll only the Lamb could break open. The imagery comes right out of Roman testate law-- under that regimen, wills were sealed with seven wax seals only broken in the presence of the heir. The Lamb, being the first-born from among the dead, had earned the inheritance of creation and mankind: breaking the seals was the formality that had to occur to bring the will into ultimate enactment. Therefore, each broken seal represents a witness to the authority of the Son of Man and unfolds as an ongoing stage in history leading up to the coronation of the coming King.

In coming posts, each seal will be identified by its antecedent historical event!