Times of Tribulation (Revelation 6-11) >Seven Seals >Excursus on time and suffering (3)
In prophecy and visions one important element is "times and seasons which the Father has put under his own authority" (Acts 1:7). In connection with tribulations, the book of Revelation signifies a special time, a "little while", in which we are all involved. Our next few lessons will pay special attention to this.
¶“6The Lamb opened the fifth seal. Then I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10With a loud voice they cried, 'O Lord, holy and true, how long until you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?' 11Then they were each given a white robe. They were told to rest a little while longer. Their rest would last until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete. Those brethren were to be slain as they themselves had been.” (Revelation 6:9-11).
We will come back to this passage and this scene in a few lessons time. But we are now going to put its exposition on hold while we consider this critical topic of the time frame of the book of Revelation.
The souls under the altar had suffered tribulation and been "slain for the word of God" (Revelation 6:9) and their brethren were going to suffer likewise.
Tribulation during our lives on earth is a main theme in the visions. It is the common experience of all Christians that "through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).
Satan is dedicated to persecution, and what he did to Job he is quite ready to do to us, and we must persevere (James 5:8-11). This tribulation can take many forms.
For example, we can experience tribulation in "infirmities, reproaches, needs, persecutions, distresses, famine, nakedness, or sword" (2Corinthians 12:10, Romans 8:35-36).
Going back for a moment to the opening benediction of Revelation (Revelation 1:3), we find a time frame for the book expressed in the words, "because the time is near".
As we come to our present passage, we find another instance of this brevity of time, expressed in the words "a little while" (Revelation 6:10-11).
This short season will be a feature of certain visions in the latter half of the book of Revelation...
This short time is the main period in focus in the book of Revelation. It should be viewed not as a particular point in history (past or future) but as a time of personal experience.
Even when a vision does signify an actual point in history (as in Revelation 17:10) it should be regarded as a snapshot typical of what is experienced in almost any lifetime, because the spirit of antichrist is ubiquitous —everywhere in every age.
The book of Revelation is presenting the gospel, encouraging you to believe and obey it, and make yourself ready for the coming of Christ. This should be done without delay, not in the spirit that you will get around to it someday.
As the Hebrew writer points out, "The Holy Spirit says, 'Today if you will hear his voice harden not your hearts... exhort one another while it is called Today'" (Hebrews 3:7-15, Hebrews 4:7).
There is only one time to respond to the gospel and that is today. You cannot be sure of more time than that. James says, "What is your life? It is a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:13-14).
Yes, you are given a little time and it could be very little indeed.
Suppose Jesus does not come for ten thousand years. Does that give you ten thousand years to get ready? Of course not. To all intents and purposes, the time you have until Jesus comes is the lifetime you have left on this planet.
How long is that? Fifty years? One day? You may know your date of birth, but you most likely don't know your date of death. The actual date of Jesus’s second coming is irrelevant, because if you die before he comes, that's the end of time for you.
So for you and me, the second coming should be regarded as a soon coming.
The book of Revelation is not primarily concerned with the long span of history because "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2Peter 3:8-9).
Rather the concern is with the individual lifetimes of his saints. When the souls under the altar seemed to want God to hurry up with the last day, God explains the delay in terms of his concern with the lives of their brethren still living on earth (Revelation 6:10-11).
If you want to understand the book of Revelation properly, you need to be looking at the time of your life as the time that matters most in the visions.