GRACE FOR THE JOURNEY
We are continuing our series of studies through the Book of Revelation. We are going verse-by-verse and we are now in what could accurately be called the last third of the Book. Back in Chapter one, verse 16, John was given threefold instruction about recording this revelation, this unveiling of the Lord Jesus Christ and God’s plan and program through Jesus Christ. John was told to write down three things: “The things which he had seen” (the contents of chapter one) … “The things which are” (this had to do with the current status of the seven churches in Asia Minor, we covered that in chapters two and three) … Then John is told to write down the things “which will take place after this,” (future events). In chapters 4 and 5 John is called up into heaven and he tells us what he sees there as he gazes upon the glory and splendor of the Lord on His throne. Now, from this point forward, John tells us of things to happen in the future.
In chapter 5, we were introduced to a scroll that is sealed seven times. It has seven seals on it. These seals signify the judgment of God. Now, in chapter 6, when each seal is opened in heaven, John gets a glimpse of future judgment to come upon the earth. We will learn this today what is going to happen as the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, opens each of these seals.
Not long ago, ABC News will broadcast a special 2-hour edition of “20/20” entitled, “Last Days on Earth.” The program featured some of the world’s top scientists who conjectured about the different ways the earth could end. They sought to answer questions such as how likely each scenario is to occur, and what would actually happen if these catastrophic events actually happened, could the human race survive, and so forth. For centuries upon centuries, the Bible has addressed the topic of the last days on earth. We read in the Bible the things that will happen on what is often called “the day of judgment” or “the day of the Lord,” or sometimes just, “the Day,” and in the last verse of today’s text it is described as, “The Great Day of God’s Wrath.” But rather than conjecture, the Bible gives us concrete truths about what the time will be like.
The concept of the day of wrath or the day of judgment is deeply rooted in the Old Testament. For example:
Isaiah 13:9-10, “Behold, the day of the LORD comes, Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, To lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, And the moon will not cause its light to shine.”
Joel 2:10-11, “The earthquakes before them, the heavens tremble; the sun and moon grow dark, and the stars diminish their brightness. The LORD gives voice before His army, for His camp is very great; for strong is the One who executes His word. For the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; Who can endure it?”
In the Gospels, Jesus teaches about the future coming of the day of judgment:
Matthew 24:29-30, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
Our text this morning in Revelation, chapter 6, addresses future events that will transpire just prior to the Lord’s return. The time of these events coincides with what is often referred to as “The Tribulation” period, or Daniel’s 70th week. That is what the opening of these six seals reveals to us, the time of tribulation upon the earth, the unveiling of the time period preceding the great day of God’s wrath. The first eight verses we will be studying today seem to happen during the first part of the tribulation, the first 3 ½ years prior to the “great Day.”
Let’s learn some lessons about this great day of God’s wrath day . . .
I. It Comes As The Result Of The Condition Of Sin: Verses 1-8.
What I mean by this is that the day of God’s wrath ultimately follows as the natural result of our sinful nature, our human depravity. Many of the events of the tribulation period are just the natural outworking of our own sin. Apart from God’s grace, as God just leaves us to our own devices, we bring tribulation upon ourselves.
We are going to see that in the opening of the first four seals. Now this is important. Our hearts desire should be to understand the Book of Revelation. I really want each of us to understand this Book. God promises a blessing if we learn from it. However, if you want a lot of fanciful interpretations about the book of Revelation, you are going to be disappointed. We do not want to read into the text things that are not there. I heard it said from someone, “If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense.”
When we read about these first four seals, often called “the four horsemen of the Apocalypse,” we are not going to try to read into these four horsemen things that are not there, silly things such as mass murderer Charles Manson’s speculation that the four horsemen are the Beatles, and this kind of thing.
What many commentators and preachers often overlook in the opening of the first four seals is that we simply have man left to his own devices. Each horse represents an aspect of man’s depravity. Let me show you what I mean …
Verses 1 and 2 tells us, “Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures (remember from previous studies that the four living creatures are celestial beings, angelic beings near the throne of God in heaven) saying with a voice like thunder, ‘Come and see.’ And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” In this vision John sees a white horse. The one who sat on the horse had a bow and a crown “was given to him” and he went out to conquer. We have here a man on a horse going out to conquer. This first seal represents man’s desire, or lust for conquest. Left to his own devices, man desires to conquer.
The key phrase there is the phrase “was given.” Grammatically we refer to this phrase as a “Divine passive.” The man on the horse was given a crown, a crown representing victory of conquest. The point is that God does not actively kill people through the rider of this horse. God does not command evil. The man on the horse will do that himself. God simply allows the man to have a crown, a crown was given to him and then, “he went out conquering and to conquer.”
You see this divine passive twice again in the opening of the second seal in verses 3-4, “When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.’ Again, man is left to his own devices. Man is given the power to “take peace from the earth” and that is exactly what he does. The result is civil war as “people kill one another.” The white horse represents man’s lust for conquest and the red horse represents the conquest itself, war, killing of people with the sword. John’s vision tells us that these things will take place in the future.
It is interesting to note the Old Testament background for these four horseman. You can jot down a couple of references: Zechariah 1:8-15 and Ezekiel 14:12-23. More significantly, however, we know that our Lord Jesus taught this as well during His earthly ministry. In Mark 13:7-8, for example where He said to His disciples, “But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows.”
These things must happen. They are the “beginnings of sorrows.” They have, to a great degree, already been happening. There seems to be an intensification of these things just prior to the Lord’s return. We have wars and civil wars. Jesus also mentions “famines.” You have that signified next in verses 5 and 6, “When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come and see.’ So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.’” The black horse represents famine. The voice that John hears says, “a quart of wheat for a denarius and three quarts of barley for a denarius.” A quart of wheat and three quarts of barley was the daily food required for the average man. A denarius was what the average man earned for a day of work. The coming famine is so severe that a man will work all day just to feed himself, not to mention his family. The phrase “and do not harm the oil and the wine” is probably an indication that God is limiting the famine in some way. We have the white horse representing man’s lust for conquest, the red horse representing war, and the black horse representing famine.
Verses 7 and 8 tells us, “When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.” The opening of the fourth seal represents the fourth horse, a pale horse. The Greek word there is the word “chloros,” from which we get “chlorophyll.” Here it is a pale-green color, the color of a corpse, the color of death. The word translated “death” here is a word commonly used to refer to a pestilence. We have a pestilence with Hades following it. Hades is the term for the place of the dead.
Note the divine passive again: power “was given” to Death and Hades, power over a fourth of the earth. The result of Death and Hades encompasses the effects of the previous three horsemen – killing with the sword, with hunger, with death – and then we read the phrase “by the beasts of the earth.” This seems to suggest that weak, famine and pestilence-plagued people will be the prey of wild animals.
Again . . .
All of these effects are the result
Of man’s natural depravity.
God does not command the evil;
He merely permits it.
He allows man to
Have his own way.
Someone said, “When man gets what he wants, he will not want what he gets.” The Great Day of our Lord’s wrath comes as the result of the condition of sin.
These first four seals represent the first three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation period. What happens beginning in verse 12 will reveals the events that take place during the last three-and-a-half years period know as “The Great Tribulation.” The Bible tells us in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken I mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is retraining, that he may be revealed I his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He wo now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.”
Secondly, when the great day of God’s wrath comes . . .
II. In Response To The Cry Of The Saints: Verses 9-11.
Verse 9 says, “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.” These are Christians, the saints of God, who have died for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They are Christians who have died a martyr’s death. John sees their souls “under the altar” which refers to their dying a sacrificial death. When a Jew sacrificed a lamb at the altar, the blood of the animal as poured underneath the altar. John sees under the altar, the souls of those who died for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He hears them cry out in verse 10, “And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’”
The souls of the saints cry out a question: “How long, O Lord . . . until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” The phrase “those who dwell on the earth” is a phrase that occurs 13 times in the Book of Revelation with reference to unbelievers. Here it specifically refers to the unbelievers who killed these Christians.
They cry out not
For personal revenge,
But for public justice.
It is not a question
Of “whether” God will
Avenge their death,
The answer follows in verse 11, “Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” The “white robe” signifies “victory and overcoming,” was given to each of them. Then it was said to them that they should “rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” In His sovereignty, God knows the exact number of those who will die a martyr’s death. He tells them to rest a little while longer. Be patient. Justice will come.
There is an application there for you when you undergo persecution. God does allow persecution and He sometimes calls for Christians to die for their faith. John the Baptist died for His faith; Stephen died; James died; Paul died; Peter died; and there have been martyrs throughout history, even this very day, dying for their faith in Christ. It may be that you are persecuted in other ways. When you are persecuted for your faith in Christ, whether it is someone making fun of you at school, or the denial of a promotion at work, or ridicule from unbelieving family members, be patient. Justice will come. Be like Jesus, in 1 Peter 2:23, where it says, “Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself To Him who judges righteously.” Let God avenge you. He will. It is not a question of “whether” He will, but “when” He will.
When the Great Day of God’s wrath comes, it will come as the result of the condition of sin and it will come as the response to the cry of the saints. Thirdly, when the Great Day of God’s wrath comes . . .
III. It Comes With The Reality Of Cataclysmic Signs: Verses 12-17.
In the 5th and 6th seal we move into the second 3½years of the tribulation period and we get a glimpse of how much a horrible this time will be. Notice . . .
In the first four seals the things going on were taking place on earth. As the fifth seal is opened, the things taken place are back in Heaven, as we read about “the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held …” They appeal to God on the basis that He is “holy and true.” Their prayer is a desire for God’s name that was despised and hated, as revealed in their death, to be vindicated. They were martyred, not because they were despicable or terrible people. They were slain because of Who they knew and were associated with – the Lord! These prayers are the expression of their heart to see His name glorified and vindicated on the earth.
When the 6th seal is opened, we come back to the earth. This is the time when God wrath begins to be poured out on those who have rejected, mocked, and blasphemed Him on earth. Once again, we hear people praying. But . . .
Instead of praying to the Redeemer,
We see them praying to the rocks.
Instead of turning to God,
We see them running from God.
What happens when the 6th seal is opened is summarized in verse 17, “For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” For a world that is destined for God’s judgment, that hour has now arrived. It is the “great Day” of His wrath. There is no longer mercy, but wrath and judgment. We have now moved into the second 3 ½ years.
Verses 12 to 14 say, “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casts her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.”
Here we see . . .
The Horrifying Effects God’s Wrath Brings.
Verse 15 tells us, “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains.” Here we read of the opening of the sixth seal. The events that unfold here are the events immediately after the revealing of the antichrist. Remember, the antichrist will proclaim his power and position as God over mankind and the earth. These events reveal that the antichrist is not who he says he is and that apart from the real Christ, man is doomed to severe judgment.
Verse 12 says, “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood.” Cataclysmic signs in heaven and on earth will occur – An earthquake, the sun becoming as black as the sackcloth people used in their day, and the moon became like blood.
Verse 13 goes on to tell us, “And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind.” The word “stars” translates a word to refer to any heavenly body in the sky. It could be, for example, that an asteroid or meteor shower is in view.
Verse 14 states, “Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.” The people of John’s day were familiar with what a scroll looked like when you cut it in half. Maybe you have done this before with a rolled-up piece of paper. You cut it in the middle and the two halves roll up violently.
Verse 15 tells us the unbelieving world responds to these cataclysmic signs immediately preceding the Lord’s return, “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains.” Vance Havner said that, “This will be the period of time when the most expensive piece of real estate will be a hole in the ground.” Caves and holes in the ground have long been the hiding place of man, even today in the middle east. Saddam Hussein was found hiding in a hole. Osama Bin Laden was believed to be hiding in a cave. In the great day of God’s wrath, all the unbelievers – regardless of rank and social condition – will hide themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains.
And what will they cry out? Verse 16 tells us, “And said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’” It is really remarkable, isn’t it? They pray, they cry out to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!” They want to be protected from the wrath of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Many have noted they are
Crying out to the rocks of nature,
But not to the rock of Ages,
The rock of Christ.
They place their faith
In the inanimate objects,
Instead of in the One
Who can save them.
Verse 17 states, “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” Answer: no one. No one is able to stand. You see here the humbling effects of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. No man can stand. A man and his wife were hiking around a mountain called Brasstown Bald in North Georgia. Unbeknownst to them there was an airfield nearby where the military practiced flying big jets. They were out there in nature just enjoying everything and then all of the sudden, there was a loud bang out of nowhere as these jets just appeared and flew over their heads. When they heard that sudden sound they fell to their knees. It is a natural reaction when you encounter a force far greater than yourself. It has a way of immediately humbling you.
I think that effect is a bit of a foretaste for the unbeliever when the Lord comes again. He will be going about his business, expecting nothing really. And suddenly, bang! The great day of God’s wrath will come, “and who is able to stand?”
Due to our sin, we are objects of God’s wrath. God’s anger is not directed at us. It is directed at our sin. We have a choice. Jesus died to satisfy the wrath of God. We have a choice. We can remain objects of God’s wrath, or we can live for the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible says in John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Accept Jesus as Savior and Lord now so that you can escape this dreadful time.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!