So, in Revelation, chapter 4, we start getting into the nitty-gritty of John's vision. (One of my friends says that she's not sure what John was smoking, and yes, what he sees is strange, but....) Please note that the vision begins in heaven, not earth. When we think of the book of Revelation and its visions of destruction, it's important to remember that there are other, alternating visions as well: visions of worship, visions of the throne of the Lamb. Those visions are just as important as the other ones (perhaps more so).
So the scene opens with the throne of God (and seven of all sorts of things again). If you can close your eyes and imagine, it's not only strange, but awesome, with a rainbow like an emerald, and a sea of glass. There are worshipping creatures around the throne, and they are singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" (sound familiar?) Many of our hymns come from the book of Revelation.
In chapter 5 there is a scroll to be opened, and no one worthy to open it. John weeps. But wait! There is one who is found worthy to open the scroll! The "Lion of Judah, the Root of David" (hint: Jesus) is worthy because he has been victorious. And the Lion, the Root, steps forward, and guess what? It is a Lamb.
Hey! Here's a nice aside: There are twenty-four elders, each holding a golden bowl of incense, and the bowls represent the prayers of the saints. Somehow I like that, but I like metaphors. "Let my prayer rise before you as incense..."
Anyway, at seeing the Lamb, everyone breaks into song again, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain..." (again, sound familiar?)
And then the Lamb opens the seven seals ..... and then, literally, "all hell breaks loose." With each seal comes a new plague. (Have you ever heard of "the four horsemen of the apocalypse?" Here's where they cone from. The first horseman is on a white horse, so some people think he represents goodness, but most believe that since, the other four are all negative, that first horseman represents false messiahs. The other horsemen are war, famine and death. Some people think that these represent special forces let loose at the end times. But others (and I am one of them) would like to point out that all of these things: false messiahs, famine, war and death, exist in every time and place.
So, a whole bunch of bad stuff is happening. Six of the seven seals have been opened.
And then we switch, and again we see visions of heaven. There are the 144,000 (okay, this is not a literal number, but it is 12 X 12 X 1,000, which is a way of saying the fullness of those who will be saved -- and remember that !2 is the number of the tribes of Israel and of the disciples).
And again, there is worshipping. Especially the people who are worshipping are those who have come through persecution.
Chapter seven closes with a promise: "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Some people say that the only people who can really understand the book of Revelation are those who are being persecuted,* because the book was written for Christians who were being persecuted. It was written to remind them that no matter how bad things are, no matter how bad things get, God is still in charge, will protect and vindicate them. The one who rose from the dead is still victorious.
If we cut through the strange visions and just look for the core, "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" comes up more than once.
*and by persecution, I don't mean having to listen to people say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas. I don't mean not being able to pray in school, or having atheists make fun of your faith, although I'm not taking that lightly. I'm reserving persecution to mean "persecution" -- being imprisoned, tortured, abused, oppressed for confessing and living your faith.