This sermon is from the series UNDERSTANDING REVELATION and was preached on Sunday, June 29, 2014 at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia by Pastor Paul Mims. You can hear this sermon at www.csbccl.org
Revelation 6 – 7All of us have philosophical questions about life for which we have not yet found all the answers. My wife, Janice, encountered two young Frenchmen who had been in America only seven days. They had come to Georgia to study agriculture. After talking with them for a while she asked if they had faith in God. One of the young men said, “No.” And then she asked, “Why?” And he said, “That is a very hard question to answer. She then said, “I want to give you the greatest truth that has ever come to the mind of man.” They listened intently and she said, “Jesus loves you!” Immediately, the young man responded, “Then why are there so many people suffering and being killed all over the earth?” He felt that he could not believe in God who allowed such human suffering. This is one of the great dilemmas in the minds of people today. If God is truly on his throne, if he rules the affairs of men, why do we see such bloodshed and suffering?
The scripture we study today deals with that. But it is important that we get the big picture first. Chapters 6 – 18 deal with the seven year period that we know as the “great tribulation.” Although some of the conditions were present in the first century and are so in our day, the major emphasis is centered in a seven year period.
It is also important to understand that faithful Christians have various interpretations of the Revelation. There are four major interpretations and several variations within each of these. First, the preterist, or past, interpretation sees the events described in Revelation as happened in the first century under the Roman Empire. Second, is the historical, which sees Revelation as a panoramic view of church history from the time of the early church to the end of time. Third, is the idealist approach which sees revelation as just the cosmic struggle between good and evil and is not really actual historical or prophetic events. Fourth, is the futurist approach which sees Chapters 1-5 as historical and 6-22 as future. This is the approach we shall take in this study.
In the series VISIONS OF CHRIST, we have already considered chapters 4 and 5. Today, we come to chapter 6. There are four things I want you to see about this passage. You remember the setting. The Apostle John is exiled on the Island of Patmos. On the Lord’s Day he is given a vision most awesome. He is invited to see the throne of God with thousands upon thousands of angels giving praise to God. He sees the twenty-four elders seated around the throne. He sees the Lamb go and take the scroll out of the hand of the One who sits on the throne. The scroll is sealed with seven seals. The scroll is the unveiling of the prophecies of what will happen at the end of time.
Where we take up today, the Lamb of God, Jesus, has the scroll in his hand and all of heaven and creation is saying to him, “You are worthy to open the seals and show us God’s judgments on the earth.” These are known as the “Seal Judgments.”
I. THE FOUR HORSEMEN
“Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come!” I looked, and behold a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” (vv.1-2)
This IS the beginning of the seven Seal judgments followed by the Seven Trumpet judgments and the Seven Bowl judgments. These judgments will cover chapters 6 -16.
As the Lamb holds the scroll in his hands he will break the seals and the first four deal with the problem of human suffering. It is told why there is suffering in the earth. The reason is that unregenerate man desires conquest and it is unfolded by the four horsemen. John saw first the white horse of conquest riding across history. The bow was the symbol of the Parthians who ruled the area outside the Roman Empire which is now Iran. These were the people that the Romans feared. Today, we see the desire for conquest by the militant Islamist who want to spread their control over Syria and Iraq, all of the middle East, Africa, and eventually over the whole world.
The second seal is opened and a rider on a red horse is seen riding across history.
“When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come!” And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another, and a great sword was given to him.” (vv.3-4)
War has always brought great suffering to people. Studies has shown that since 3600 B.C., there have been only 292 years of world peace. There have been almost 15,000 wars in which over four billion people have been killed. It is estimated that current wars are costing the world economies over $1 million per minute.
You can see that as the white and red horsemen of conquest and war ride across history that great suffering is caused.
“Most of the Psalms were born in difficulty. Most of the Epistles were written in prisons. Most of the greatest thoughts of the greatest thinkers of all time had to pass through the fire. Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress from jail. Florence Nightingale, too ill to move from her bed, reorganized the hospitals of England. Semiparalyzed and under the constant menace of apoplexy, Pasteur was tireless in his attack on disease. During the greater part of his life, American historian Francis Parkman suffered so acutely that he could not work for more than five minutes as a time. His eyesight was so wretched that he could scrawl only a few gigantic words on a manuscript, yet he contrived to write twenty magnificent volumes of history.
Sometimes it seems that when God is about to make preeminent use of a man, he puts him through the fire.” Tim Hansel, You Gotta Keep Dancing. And then another horseman comes.
“When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying “Come!” I looked and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.” (vv.5-6)
This a picture of famine. A denarius was the wage for a full day’s work.
A man would have to work a full day for a loaf of bread. Famine always follows war and conquest. Now who is causing human suffering? It is the evil in the hearts of mankind. Why doesn’t God put a stop to it? He will – when the judgments for man’s sin are completed.
And there is a fourth horseman.
“When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come!” I looked and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.” (vv.7-8)
These horsemen are riding today, but not like a time that is coming. It is going to get far worse than anything we can imagine who have lived in freedom in the greatest nation on earth. And God will stop it when all of the judgments are complete. But people cannot see that even today these conflicts are God’s judgments on human sin.
Someone asked C.S. Lewis, “Why do the righteous suffer?” “Why not?” he replied. “They’re the only ones who can take it.”
II. THE MARTYRED SAINTS
“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and their testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will you refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on earth? And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been would be completed also.” (vv.9-12)
Let’s try to get perspective. When John was given this vision in about 95 A.D., it had been less than twenty-five years since the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Josephus, the Jewish historian, said that over one million and one hundred thousand people were killed. Nero lit up his gardens with burning saints. Domitian and other rulers gave the crowds a cheap thrill on their Roman Holidays by crucifying Christians in the Coliseum or feeding them to the lions. The Apostle Paul, the champion missionary of the early church had been beheaded. Peter, the Apostle to the Jews had been crucified. Most of the other Apostles had been martyred. They cried out to the Lord, “Why don’t you stop it?” And God said, “I will make everything right when the judgments are complete.”
Christians are being martyred at an increased pace in some parts of the world today. Wherever militant Islam goes they believe that it is a service to God to kill Christians. Everything is not going to be alright for a while. Christians will suffer until sin has had its day. Then God will answer the question of human suffering.
The sixth seal is broken and John said, “I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood…Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (v.12, vv15-17)
The sixth seal is the same as Mathew 24 as Jesus told his disciples: “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (v.29)
Just before the death of actor W.C. Fields, a friend visited Fields’ hospital room and was surprised to find him thumbing through a Bible. Asked what he was doing with a Bible, Fields replied, “I’m looking for loopholes.”
III. THE GATHERING OF THE REDEEMED
There is an interlude between the sixth and seventh seals. This is when the true believers of Israel and the multitude of Gentiles are taken to be with the Lord before the severe Trumpet and Bowl judgments are put into effect. The 144,000 which is twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes which is a way of saying all who are redeemed will be sealed for service during this period. This is when it seems the rapture of the church occurs – between the sixth and seventh seal. Christian believers will go through the first part of the tribulation but will be taken to heaven before the severe wrath of God is poured out on evil in the final judgments which is known as “The Day of The Lord.”
Notice the glorious hope of the redeemed. John expresses it this way: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fall on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in white robes, who are they and where have they come from?” I said to him, “MY Lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (7:9-17)
PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!