Ted Grimsrud—June 8, 2013
Revelation 5–7 has established several crucial things about the agenda of the book and its theological center. The One on the throne is confessed as Master of the universe, but the kind of power that best expresses this mastery is the power of persevering love. The Lamb is worshiped due to how the Lamb resists empire nonviolently even to the point of death. The Lamb’s resistance frees the multitude from the Powers and offers this worship, worship that finds its ultimate expression in these people following the Lamb wherever he goes.
In between the vision of the Lamb in chapter five and the vision of the multitude in chapter seven, two clearly parallel visions, we have the first of three sets of seven-fold plagues described. These plagues, we have seen, are not direct acts by God to punish rebellious creation. Rather, they are a creative way to assert that though the world we live in is full of wars and rumors of war, God’s will for healing remains active, and (according to the book of Revelation as a whole) this healing will come.
So, now we turn to another set of plagues, and their level of destruction expands from one-quarter to one-third destruction. Still—reinforced by the visions of healing in chapter seven—I believe we still must read the plague visions in light of the core affirmations Revelation has already made about God’s intentions, God’s power, the promise of God’s victory, and—importantly—the means by which the victory is achieved. What we don’t have here, contrary to many interpreters, is a picture of God Godself unleashing terrible destruction in order to push people to repentance. The plagues in chapter eight, though, cannot be understood apart what from what follows in chapters nine and ten. Hence, I will offer here only comments describing the plagues waiting for the following chapters to reflect more on their meaning.