Whether it’s looking at the events of John’s day, the decades that were to follow or the whole span of human history, it’s clear as the scene unfolds before John’s eyes that things are changing, and painfully. The four horsemen ride out – but this doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re at the final end of things. war, death and famine haven’t exactly been strangers to the earth over the last 2000 years, after all. This could be a representation simply of the dark side of human history, with disasters happening time after time.
Then in John’s vision the sky is shaken and the stars fall. I don’t think this is meant to be taken literally, any more than is anything else that is to come. But it’s apparent that earthshaking events are indeed about to follow. But first God’s people must be safe.
And once again, we see the pattern I’ve seen afresh through this reading of the whole Bible. The numbering of the saints begins with the twelve tribes of Israel (ten long-gone before John’s day) and then explodes to the multitude of all nations, numbers beyond counting, who join with them before God’s throne. One last time, the nations are drawn through Jesus into the covenant of God and Israel which we have seen to be unfolding throughout history. Together they worship Israel’s God and his Messiah, joining their prayers to those of the angels.
In response to their praise, and to their lives of faith, the saints receive the beautiful promise,
For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Rev. 7:15-17)
For half an hour.
In a way I find that silence more awe-inspiring than all of the vivid imagery that surrounds it. Apart from anything, John is the evangelist of the ‘Word’, by whom God speaks all things into being and sustains creation. If there is silence, then the world is still as well. For half an hour, God does not speak.
What must that silence have been like?
The eternal song of praise is silenced. Then the prayers of the saints are heard. And the world changes.