I wish my Bible had footnotes that matter. For example, I wish my Bible had a footnote that compared the events of the sixth seal to Jesus’ “apocalyptic discourse” in Luke 21 (and also Mark 13, Matthew 24). I wish my Bible had footnotes that referred back to Malachi’s “Great and Terrible Day of the Lord,” when God’s judgment would descend upon Israel and purify his people. Incidentally, those footnotes should probably be connected with Jesus’ predictions of the Temple’s destruction. And a really good Bible would have footnotes that reminded me that the Temple was destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans, roughly 25 years before John wrote the Revelation.
I don’t want to be greedy, but it would be cool to find a Bible with footnotes suggesting (at least) that the earth-shattering events of the Jewish War in 67-70AD would fit the colorful descriptions of cataclysm in chapter 6 verses 12-14. If that seems far-fetched, please try and remember that the Jewish Temple was more than a religious piece of architecture. It represented their people, their heritage, and its restoration was a down-deposit on God’s New Creation promise. When the Temple was destroyed, the Jewish people must have felt like the White House, the Vatican, the moon, and the Internet all came crashing down around them.
The sun turned black, figuratively, because there was no light of salvation any longer.
The moon became blood, figuratively, because judgment had been painted in the air.
The stars came falling down, representative of the sense of dissolution, that even the cosmos seemed to be coming unglued.
Flavius Josephus, a 1st century Jewish historian, wrote about this crazy Roman war on the Jewish rebels, saying that “horsemen leveled the road…and raised a bank over ten feet tall for defense.” Josephus continues, saying “the Romans slew all that appeared…searching the caves and hiding places underground.” Jesus predicted that that would happen, in Luke 23, in case you’re curious. I was, and—sorry to beat a dead horse—wish the footnotes in my Bible had mentioned that. Anyway, Josephus goes on to tell us that “famine widened its progress, devouring whole people and families…the city streets were clogged with the dead bodies of the aged. The children also and the young men wandered about the market places like shadows.” I wish my Bible had footnotes that hinted at the possibility that the four horsemen were reminders of what the Romans did (conquered, slaughtered, starved, killed) and that the events in chapter six had some historical reference that gave us a framework for understanding how God’s judgment works.
But my Bible doesn’t have those footnotes. Which, admittedly, is a shame. And it’s not that the editors of my Bibles are trying to keep my ignorant, it’s that there’s a surplus of meaning to these verses. Yes—they do correspond closely to historical events. But—also—those historical events are a type of judgment. They show us the manner of judgment. Evil men do evil things causing both the righteous and the unrighteous to suffer.
But that’s not the whole story. Revelation tells us that those who remained faithful to Christ have been preserved under the alter in heaven (see verses 9-11) Revelation tells us that tragedy can be transformed in the lives of the faithful.
And here’s the good news: my Bible doesn’t need footnotes to remind me of that.