It has become almost a commonplace to view chapter 7 as an "interlude" or "parenthesis" in the progressive opening of the seals (for example, Wall 1991:115), as if John were able to step out of the sequence after 6:17 and back into it again in 8:1, when the seventh seal is opened. Perhaps the traditional chapter divisions have contributed to the popularity of this theory. But there is no evidence at all for such an interlude, nor even a hint of what an "interlude" might mean. Are we to imagine that the Lamb says to John, "Time out! I have something else to show you over here before we proceed"? The phrase after this in 7:1 does not signal a new vision or a change of scene at that point any more than it does when it is repeated in 7:9. Rather, the vision of the sixth seal continues.
What then does 6:12-17 contribute to chapter 7? In what sense can it be considered necessary background to the vision of the redeemed in that chapter? The simplest answer is that 6:12-17 describes in vivid detail the terrible judgment from which deliverance is promised in chapter 7. We might even argue that 6:12-17 is simply introductory to the vision proper, which comes in chapter 7. If the fifth seal dealt with the suffering people of God, looking toward the day when "the number of their fellow servants and brothers" would be completed (6:11), it is natural that the sixth seal should continue to focus on that group and mark the completion of that number (see 7:4).
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