Text: Revelation 6,7
Revelation has suffered at the hands of both its critics and its friends.
- Understand that everything is symbolic
- Realise that no one symbol paints the complete picture
- Compare scripture with scripture
- Appreciate its purpose:-
to strengthen God’s people, especially in times of adversity and persecution, and to reassure them of Christ’s ultimate victory and their ultimate safety.
Rev 4 – a vision of the throne
At the centre of the universe there is a throne. Our God reigns.
Rev 5 – a scroll with seven seals
In God’s hand is a scroll, v1. God’s master-plan for the world’s destiny.
But the scroll is sealed with seven seals. Who is worthy to break the seals, open the scroll and implement the plan?
The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has triumphed – the Lamb, who bears all the marks of having been slaughtered, and yet is alive.
Rev 6 – Seals 1-4, vv1-8
- the white horse of imperial conquest
- the red horse of violence and war
- the black horse of famine and hardship
- the pale horse of disease and death.
The four horsemen (of the apocalypse? no – of history). They were riding out in John’s day. They have been riding out ever since.
But they are under the sovereign control of the Lamb. They do not move an inch until they are commanded to ‘come’ (vv1,3,5,7). They are powerless until they have been given power (vv4,8). It is not that he calls these calamities into existence (they are largely self-inflicted), but rather that he bends them to his own purposes. As the Stricken Lamb, he knows well how to do so. On the cross God took the very worst evil that men could conceive and turned it into a triumph of grace.
We live in a world ravaged by calamity. There is no escaping either from the reality of this. Nor from our responsibilities in the face of it.
Seal 5, v9-11
In addition to the troubles that are common to all the human race, we have the sufferings of the persecuted church. The continuing persecution of Christians is one of the world’s most under-reported stories. More Christians were killed for their faith during the 20th century than during the previous 19 centuries together. And we hear, v10, the voices of the martyrs crying out, “How long?” Reply: wait (rest) a little longer.
Seal 6, v12ff
An apocalyptic vision. The sky darkens. The moon turns blood-red. The stars plummet to the ground. The earth shudders with a violent earthquake. No respecter of persons, v15 – ‘the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man.’ What terrifies them most of all of is seeing the face of God, and of encountering ‘the wrath of the Lamb!’ This is the ultimate tragedy.
‘Who can stand?’
‘The servants of God’ (v3), their foreheads marked with a seal, v3. 2 Tim 2:19 – ‘the Lord knows those who are his’.
Their number: exact, v4 – 144,000. But also vast, v9 – ‘a great multitude that no-one could count’. Contrast with:-
O thou that in the Heavens does dwell,
Wha, as it pleases best Thysel,
Sends ane to Heaven an’ ten to Hell
A’ for thy glory!
God promised to Abraham that his seed would be be as innumerable as the dust of the earth, the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore.
Their diversity, v9 – ‘from every nation, tribe, people and language’
Their victory, v9 – white robes and palm branches
Their purity, v14 – they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 1 Jn 3:3 ‘Everyone who has this hope purifies himself, just as he is pure.’
Their service, v15 – they are before the throne of God and serve him.
Their safety – winds of judgement do not touch them, vv1-3; v15, he who is on the throne will spread his tent over them
Their history, v14 – they have come out of the great tribulation. ‘The sufferings of this present time’, Rom 8:18
Their comfort – v16 – ‘never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.’
Their care – v17 – ‘For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ The Lamb as Shepherd! Almighty God as mother!
In the face of continued suffering and persecution, Christ’s martyrs cry out, ‘How long?’ We do not know how long they will be kept waiting. But we do know why they have been kept waiting. 2 Pet 3:9 – ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise…He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ We do not have unlimited time to tell the ungodly, and they do not have unlimited time in which to trust. We must hurry.