Of Oligarchs and Chiliarchs
Rev. 6:12 ¶ When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood,
Rev. 6:13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a gale.
Rev. 6:14 The sky vanished like a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
Rev. 6:15 Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains,
Rev. 6:16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb;
Rev. 6:17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
For centuries there have been those who have tried to explain exactly what John's Revelation was saying to us, and specifically have tried to nail down the timing of the events about which he speaks. While popular culture would like to believe that it speaks of the end times of humanity, most scholars would agree that it spoke of events nearer to the time of the recipients of John's Revelation. Therefore most agree that this is either an indictment on the Jewish leaders and the fall of Jerusalem, or the eventual fall of the Roman Empire as Christianity continued to expand within her borders. Either way it becomes a statement against those who were trying to rule the world in their own way.
If we go back into the Old Testament and we remember Joseph -- the boy with the coat of many colors -- we remember that he had dreams. In these dreams God was revealing to him that his brothers would one day serve him. In Genesis 37:9 we read, "Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. 'Listen,' he said, 'I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.'" These "celestial" signs were not uncommon and if we look at the sixth seal we see an earthquake and the falling of the celestial signs. Could it be that it was the sign of a political overthrow -- an earthquake at the very foundation of a political system and those who had been the political leaders would be shaken from their very positions. Life was going to change.
In verse fifteen we discover the people who have been dependent upon themselves. These are the rich and powerful who have determined that they don't need God but can, instead, survive on their own power and authority. During this period of tumult they realize that the things on which they have depended are no longer a solid foundation. Everything they owned, all the positions they held, it has all been destroyed and the destruction continues to come at them with lightening speed. They try to find places to hide, anything to protect them from the changes -- any way to meld back into the woodwork as an ordinary citizen so that no one will suspect that they were a part of a regime which is now crumbling.
If this was truly a premonition of the changes that would occur within the Roman Empire -- just imagine that fourth century of dramatic change! The Empire shifted from the persecution of Christians to the adoption of Christianity. People converted in droves! Why? Probably not because they were overcome with the presence of the Lord, but for self-preservation. From the top of the Empire to the very bottom it became necessary to become a Christian or suffer exclusion from the very ranks of power. The shift was coming. Christianity would overthrow the greatest Empire on the face of the earth -- from the bottom up. The Lamb of God would empower his people to stand strong and firm in their faith so that nothing could shake them. For three centuries they refused to give ground. They were burned at the stake, eaten by lions, and tortured -- but they stood firm -- and finally the Lamb who sits in the throne was indignant with the arrogance of those who thought they had power -- and they lost it all to the martyrs and the servants of God.
When the Soviet Union began to fall apart there were those who were positioned to wrestle great power and wealth from the former giant. Those who had been factory managers were suddenly factory owners and leaders over great monopolies. Those who found themselves over the major industries of the nation realized that they were asset wealthy beyond their imaginations and a handful of ridiculously wealthy young men became known as the Oligarchs. They had money, power, and authority and as the new Russia began to develop they tried to see just how far they could push the limits of their new-found role. The problem was that as they pushed they ran into another power source -- the government. Some pushed too far and they were found dead -- others in prison. Others learned that it was safer to keep your mouth shut -- appreciate what you had and just go on with life. Others had to flee the nation for safety. Such was the plight of the rich and powerful when the earthquake hit like a tsunami and tore down the iron curtain.
In John's time there were powerful people as well who were wrestling for control. Here we find another type of wealthy individual, a Chiliarch. This is a word that you find in verse fifteen, the "generals." The actual word means someone who is a leader over ranks of individuals -- at least thousands of them! In other word, a person with great power and authority over many individuals.
We may not personally be an Oligarch or a Chiliarch because there are very few of those people in the world -- but we may be our own personal mini version of an Oligarch or a Chiliarch. We may be happy with the power and the authority which we have garnered during our lifetime. We have our own personal little sphere of control and we enjoy being in control! This is where we have to be careful for there will be times when our world will be rocked. We will experience an earthquake. It may be in the form of a physical earthquake or natural disaster; it may be in the form of illness; it may be in the form of disappointment; it may be in the form of losing a job or position; it may be in the loss of a child; or it may be in the loss of a spouse. All of these will rock our world! And our life as an Oligarch or a Chiligarch may be ended.
Now we have a choice in terms of our response. Those who never wanted to submit to God's authority and leadership were completely distraught. They sought out places to hide -- literally wanting rocks to fall over them so that they could not be found. How could they melt into the woodwork of life and not have to face the reality of a living God? Surely we can go on with life and God won't notice us! Surely there would never have to be accountability for the things we have done!
But for those who sought out the Lamb of God -- for those who never wanted earthly power, there would be the joy and victory of being an overcomer. Victory is not about being an Oligarch or a Chiliarch. True victory is found in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. No matter what era in which you live there will be earthquakes which will rock the world. Those who have placed their feet firmly on the things of this world will be shaken, but we are invited in the already of the Kingdom of God to join with the Lamb, serving the new kingdom which will reign forever and ever. No need for Oligarch or Chiliarchs -- God will take care of it all. He just needs humble servants who will serve him and through him will be victorious.
Lord, thank you for your beautiful power and strength which leads us every day. Amen.