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Revelation 6:1-17: The Great Day of their Wrath Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 April 2012

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Barry recently sent me an email asking a question about Revelation 13.  After our exchange about that passage I asked him if he wanted to preach it for me since he had already put some thought into understanding it.  With his permission, let me read his response: “Once you get past chapter five, I’m lost.”  I would daresay that many of us would agree with that statement, I know I sure feel that way sometimes (which will be clear over the next few weeks).  Yet, and I know Barry would agree, there is so much for us to learn from this portion of Scripture.  So then, with the help of the Spirit and with much humility, let’s move forward.

Chapters 6-16 of Revelation deal with the opening of the seven seals (6:1-8:1), which were introduced in chapter 5, the blowing of seven trumpets (8:2-11:19), and then after an extended interlude (12:1-14:20, possibly seven signs), the seven bowls of God’s wrath (15:1-16:21).  They are similar in their construction and content, as we will see.  Yet, two main difficulties arise in trying to understand these passages.  First, it is difficult to always know ‘what’ is being described.  John uses apocalyptic language to describe these events and it is not always what is being referenced.  Second, it is difficult to know the ‘when’ of these events.  My approach, along with others, is to see these events as cyclical and repetitious, all ending with the final judgment.  There is some overlap in the events and it seems as if they are escalating each time.  Thus, they offer us various perspectives about end-time events without being necessarily chronological. 

This morning we are looking at the opening of the first six seals in chapter 6.  After the interlude of chapter 7, the seventh seal will be opened in 8:1.  We saw in chapter 5 that Jesus is worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, thus beginning the culmination of redemptive history.  The opening of the seals then refers to events leading up to the final days, or the preliminary judgments before the final judgment.  So then, how are these judgments described?

The Four Horsemen (v. 1-8)

The opening of the first four seals is similar.  They each involve a living creature, a particularly colored horse, a description of the rider, and an explanation of the judgment that he is bringing.  So then, look at verses 1-2.  John is given the vision of Christ opening the first seal, which leads to one of the living creatures calling for the horseman to ‘come.’  The first horse is a white horse, which probably symbolizes victory.  The horseman is described as having bow and being given a crown.  He comes out conquering and to conquer, symbolizing military conquest. 

Look at verses 3-4.  Again, the living creature calls out and horse comes out.  This horse is bright red, symbolizing blood shed.  The rider is given a great sword and the judgment he brings is to take peace from the earth, so that men should slay one another, which represents civil war.  Look at verses 5-6.  The third horse is a black horse and the rider has a pair of scales in his hand.  The judgment that he brings is that of famine, which is symbolized by the high prices for wheat and barley.  Look at verses 7-8.  This horse is pale, or the color of death, which is the name of the rider and he brings with him the judgment of death and Hades, killing a fourth of the earth.

What does all of this symbolize?  First, we need to note who controls all of these judgments.  In verse 2 the rider is given a crown.  In verse 4 the rider is permitted to take peace and given a sword.  And in verse 8 the rider is given authority over a fourth of the earth.  These judgments are coming from the hand of God.  He is the One seated upon the throne and He is judging the earth, which would serve as encouragement to the struggling Churches in Asia.  Second, these judgments represent the spiraling out of control of human depravity.  Kingdoms conquer other Kingdoms.  Nations war within themselves.  Famine comes upon the greedy and lazy.  And all of this leads to death and more death.  We have seen this throughout history and will continue to see it leading up to Judgment Day. 

One commentator states: “God simply allows human sin to come full circle, turn in upon itself, and self-destruct.”   John’s vision reveals to us the ugliness and destructive nature of sin.  It is not to be trifled with.  Finally, as we will see over and over again in this book, God’s judgment is terrible and severe.  We must never minimize that truth.  Another commentator writes: “The four horsemen must surely be taken together, and they all indicate destruction, horror, terror.”   We must see the weight of these judgments.

The Martyrs (v. 9-11)

The fifth seal is opened in verses 9-11.  Look at those verses with me.  John sees a vision of those who have been killed for their faithful witness to Christ.  They cry out a simple question to the Lord: ‘How long until justice is done?’  Some see this as not very Christian.  Yet, we must remember that they are not asking this out of a sense of personal vengeance, which would be sinful.  Rather, they look to the Sovereign Lord, the One who is holy and true, and ask Him how long it will be before He brings justice.  They are crying out for Him to deliver His people and to judge His enemies.  He responds by giving them a white robe (again symbolizing purity and victory) and telling them that they will only be waiting a little longer.  What are they waiting for?  They are waiting for the full number of martyr’s to be slain.  Again, we see in this God’s control of history.  He has a plan for His people and for many that includes dying for the cause of Christ.  Even now they are waiting and even now the number is getting closer to being fulfilled (as we saw with persecuted Churches in Iraq and India). 

As we continue through the book of Revelation, it is important to note the theme of justice.  The severe judgment that God is bringing will be a just judgment.  He will deal justly with all of humanity.  This is terrible new for the enemies of God.  They may think that they are ‘getting away’ with their sins and their persecution of God’s people, but that is not the case.  God will justly judge them.  At the same time, God’s promise of future justice gives persecuted Christians great hope and great peace.  Christians do not have to avenge themselves, for “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).  Justice may not be granted on this earth, but on that Day, the Lord will right all of the wrongs, He will bring justice.  We get a glimpse of what this will look like through John’s vision of the opening of the sixth seal.

The Great Day of wrath (v. 12-17)

The sixth seal is opened in verses 12-17.  In verses 12-14 we are given a description of the destruction of nature.  Look at those verses with me.  Obviously the destruction of nature will take place at the end of this age.  It is hard to know if the description here is to be taken literally or symbolically.  Either way, the picture is bleak: great earthquake, black sun, blood moon, stars falling, sky vanishing, mountains and islands removed.  It will be terrible.  And men will long to escape, but they will not be able to.  Look at verses 15-17.  They will try and hide themselves from the coming wrath, just as Adam and Eve did so long ago, but such efforts will be futile.  It will not matter how much power or authority you might think you have, all the enemies of God will be found on that day.  Kings and men of power will be found.  Free men will be found.  Slaves will be found.  No one will be able to hide and no one will be able to stand.  The days of rebellion are ending as the Day of justice approaches.

This event is called the great day of their wrath, meaning the wrath of the Father and the wrath of the Lamb.  This is serious.  So many of our friends and neighbors and family members think that God is too loving to be wrathful.  Yet, the truth is, God is too loving and too holy and too just to not be wrathful.  Sin must be punished.  All sin must be paid for.  And the enemies of God and the Lamb on that Day will pay for their sins by facing the great day of their wrath.

What lessons can we learn from John’s vision of these coming judgments?  Let me close with three.  First, the coming judgment will be severe.  Do not try and minimize the destruction that follows sin.  We act like sin is no big deal.  We think that we are strong enough to play with it and not get hurt.  We pretend like we have control over it.  I plead with you, repent of it and put it to death.  It will always and only wreak destruction and havoc in your life.  Don’t try and ignore it, don’t try and hide it, and don’t try and control it.  Kill it by confronting it, repenting of it, and nailing it to the cross of Christ. 

Second, the coming judgment will be just.  As Christians, we do not need to be seeking personal vengeance.  We do not have to take justice into our own hands.  Sure, we fight for those who cannot fight for themselves, but that fight is never for ourselves.  We value justice and we fight for justice for others, but we leave vengeance to the Lord.  He will right all of the wrongs and we can rest in that.  Instead of starting a crusade for personal vengeance, why not start one for grace that flows from the gospel of mercy?

Third, the coming judgment will not be escaped by the enemies of God.  I would daresay that most of us do not feel like the enemies of God this morning.  You might even say that you have never been God’s enemy.  Yet, the Bible tells us that all of us have sinned against God, thus becoming His enemy.  And the Bible tells us that on the final Day of judgment, all of God’s enemies will face severe judgment with no escape. 

Yet, I have good news for us this morning.  God has sent us His Lamb, Jesus Christ, who took on flesh, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross for our sins.  He took the judgment that we deserved.  He bore the wrath that our sins merited.  And so that we know that His payment was enough, that we do not have to fear the coming wrath, God raised Him from the dead.  The Lamb is worthy of everything we are because He took the wrath of God in our place.  So then, turn from your sins and trust in Jesus as your Savior.  Through faith in Him you can escape the great day of their wrath.  Do not delay.  Do not wait until that Day, for then it will be too late.  Rather, let today be the day of your salvation through faith in Christ.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 11 April 2012 )

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