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The Wrath of the Lamb

16 Jul
Wrath of God

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When the sixth seal was opened and the heavenly signs were seen, the kings of the earth and their nobility, the commanders of the military, the wealthy and the powerful men of society, both slave and free – all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains (Revelation 6:15). If this were literally true, it would indeed have been an event worthy headlining any newspaper or television newscast throughout the world. Nevertheless, the phraseology is simply a metaphor that pointed to the world’s response over Jesus’ judgment upon Jerusalem and the Temple.

The fact is this was exactly the manner in which a weaker army responded to an opposing force stronger than itself.

  1. 309 Meanwhile Antony stayed at Athens, while Ventidius called for Silo and Herod to come to the war against the Parthians, but ordered them first to settle the affairs of Judea. Herod willingly released Silo to go to Ventidius, but he himself led an army against the bandits in the caves. 310 These caves were in the precipices of craggy mountains and could not be got at from any side, since they had only some winding and very narrow pathways leading up to them, and the rock in front of them reared above valleys of huge depth and almost perpendicular slope. For a long time the king pondered what to do, because of the near impossibility of attacking the place, and finally came up with a hazardous plan. [1]

This was how war was waged in the first century AD, and often continues today in the form of guerrilla warfare. In any case the weaker army takes refuge where it is able in order to regroup and respond to the enemy’s victories. In the context of opening sixth seal, the stronger force turns out to be the forces of Christ, and the weaker forces are the nations of this world, including the Jews. They had been unable to destroy the Gospel, and the nations had underestimated its power, so they took refuge in their dens and in the strongholds of their worldly edifices in order that they might successfully address the power of the Gospel message.

When these men witnessed the heavenly signs, they understood it to be the judgment of Jesus (Revelation 6:15-17). The Gospel message included judgment upon Jerusalem, and, although Rome had no interest in destroying Jerusalem, they ended up doing exactly that—what they didn’t want to do. Although they didn’t fully understand the Gospel message about a Savior ruling from the grave (the world’s point of view), Rome was very aware of the Gospel message and its message of judgment against the Jews, as a result of rejecting Jesus as their king. This implication is understood in the Roman effort to discover whether or not Christians would side with the Jews, if war developed between the Jews and Rome during the reign of Gaius Caesar in the late 30s AD. This clandestine effort on the part of Rome is perceived in how the disciples of Christ received the name Christian (Acts 11:26).

In 38-39 AD Rome and Jerusalem were on the brink of war over Gaius’ intention to place a statue of himself (god) in the Temple at Jerusalem. If war broke out, could Rome expect Jews from all over the Empire to cause trouble for them, intercepting supplies for the war effort etc. When gentiles began believing in the Jewish God in comparatively large numbers at Antioch (Acts 11:21), could Rome expect gentiles there to support the Jewish effort?

The name Christ comes from the Greek Christos, meaning Anointed One, and corresponds to the Hebrew word we translate as Messiah. The ending of the word Christian is actually Latin and implies Roman influence in giving us that name. It represents a combination of the Greek and the Latin languages in the word Christianoi or its translation: Christian! An interesting parallel would be the Herodians who were “partisans, clients or even members of the extensive household of Herod the Great. Herodians were not only found in Judea, but were found in many places throughout the Empire, especially in Rome. Herod the Great and his family were considerably the most powerful family of client kings and princes in Syria and Asia Minor, and their political influence was frequently important in serving the cause of the Jews in their homeland.

Knowing this and the fact that Pilate, the Roman governor, had executed the founder of the Christian sect less than ten years prior to Gaius’ command to erect a statue of himself in the Temple at Jerusalem, the Roman officials in Antioch, the capital of the Syrian province, which included Judea, had a right to be concerned over the evangelical work occurring there. Up to now believers in Jesus had been considered politically innocuous, but Rome had to be certain their initial estimation of this new Jewish sect was still correct, given the precarious development in the then current Roman / Jewish relations. So, this is how Christians were given their name. It was undoubtedly politically motivated and probably not meant to be complimentary. We didn’t begin calling ourselves by this name until the second century AD.

In this context, then, we need to understand the attitudes of the kings, nobility, military giants, the wealthy, and the powerful both slave and free in Revelation 6:15-17. These people didn’t actually see Jesus sitting on his throne, but a defeated Jewish nation would be the sign that he was ruling from heaven (Matthew 24:29-30). The power of the Gospel had been grossly underestimated. How should these men react to that power, given the predicament the Jews got themselves into by rejecting Christ as their Savior? This is a worldly response to Jesus. They weren’t interested in submitting to Jesus, but they did want to know how they could retain their power and preserve their way of life in the context of the Christian presence (Joel 1:15; 2:1-2; Acts 2:20; Jude 1:6; Malachi 3:2; Nahum 1:6).

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[1] Josephus: Wars of the Jews; 1.16.4 (309-310).

 
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