When one thinks of the book of Revelation, one naturally thinks of the second coming of Jesus. And rightfully so. The coming of our Lord Jesus brackets the entire book. In chapter 1:7 we read “Behold! He is coming.” In 3:11 Jesus promises, “I am coming soon.” In 22:7, Jesus says, “Behold! I am coming soon.” Again in 22:7, “Behold, I am coming soon!” The book ends with a declaration from Jesus, “Surely I am coming soon” and a prayer from the apostle John, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” In this John echoes the words of the Spirit of God and the Bride of the Lamb in 22:17 as they say, “Come!” And John says, “Let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’” This is a prayer that is often on the lips of His people in the midst of their afflictions -- “Lord, come!”
And so, as we approach Revelation 5, we hear this cry repeatedly from four living creatures that surround the throne of God as the seals on the scroll are broken -- “Come!”
The question arises, of course, “Who are or what are they calling?” Some say that the cry is for the four horsemen to come forth. Others say that they are calling for John to come and see. But it seems to me that the cry to “Come” is most consistently used in the book of Revelation to cry out to the Lamb to come and establish His kingdom. But when this happens, as we see in chapter six, the Lamb and His people encounter intense resistance and opposition.
Four times, the living creatures call out “Come!” Four times, a horseman rides out. The first is armed with a bow (a weapon frequently associated with the enemies of God in Scripture). He goes out conquering and to conquer, we read in verse 2. Ironically, when God’s enemies believe that they are conquering Him and His people (13:7), they are actually being conquered (17:14). The second horseman (v.3) is permitted the right to kill God’s people with the sword. Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:34 are likely being alluded to here when He says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” The third horseman (v.5) brings economic hardship upon those who follow the Lamb. They are forced to pay inflated prices or given restricted access to the basic necessities of life. This type of economic oppression is a common tactic of persecutors the world over and it grinds God’s people down. It is one thing to suffer hunger yourself but to watch your children suffer hunger and deprivation because of your faith can be demoralizing and make the temptation to deny Christ all the more attractive. Finally the fourth horseman rides out (v.7), bringing disease and death to the people of God. Deprived, oppressed, and mistreated, it would almost appear that the prayer to “Come” is disastrous to the people of God. But then the fifth seal is broken.
In verse 9, the scene shifts from the earth to heaven and we see an altar. Under the altar are the souls of those who have been slain as the first four seals were broken. We read that they were slain “for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.” Just as in the previous four seals, there is a prayer (v.10). “They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” This, too, is a prayer that bursts from the mouth of all persecuted believers during their darkest moments – a cry for God to intervene and to set things right. “How long, O Lord? How long will you tolerate this? Why don’t you simply assert your rule now?”
But force is not the way of the Lamb. The time for God’s perfect justice will come. His purposes will be achieved but it will be done His way, the way of sacrifice and suffering, even death. In 12:11 we read that “They conquered him . . . by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” You see, God does not fight to win people back to Himself; He will not use force. As Josif Ton notes,
From the beginning, Satan has used deception to win people to himself, and throughout history, he has relied on lies, hatred, brute force, torture, and death to keep people in bondage and slavery. But God cannot use the same methods. He must use methods consistent with His own nature. He could conceivably force His way to the nations of the world, but that would be against His own nature and character.[i]
And so we read in verse 11, “Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.” This is how God will accomplish His purposes; through those who sacrificially do His will even unto death.
Jesus will come back. The prayers of God’s people and the four living creatures will finally be answered. According to Revelation 6:11, it is when the last martyr has been killed; the last witness has been slain because of his/her testimony. Then God will say, “It is finished!” (16:17), the gates will be closed, heaven will be sealed, and Christ will return to judge the world. This is seen with the breaking of the sixth seal in 6:12-14. Notice that with this broken seal, as with the previous five, there are prayers being uttered, but this time the prayers ushered forth are from those who have participated in opposing God’s purposes. Rich and poor, powerful and powerless, slave and free, they, like Adam, attempt to hide from the One they opposed.[ii] As creation dissolves into chaos at His coming, they cry out “Who can stand in the day of God’s wrath?” The answer is found in the next chapter; only those who belong to the Lamb are able to stand (7:3)! While the Church may seem to be wounded and bleeding in this world, those wounds are, like those of the Lamb; evidence that Christ’s kingdom is, indeed, coming (Matt. 6:10).