The Opening of the Seals (Revelation 6)

It has been a great joy for me this past year to build a relationship with Pastor Gary and his family. We have spent a lot of time talking of the things of the Lord and in prayer for his church. We have a lot in common. We share similar views on the Scripture, ministry philosophy and pastoral theology. And although we have a tremendous amount in common, we have one huge difference. I am a huge Chicago Cubs fan. Gary and the whole Huddleston family are huge Los Angeles Dodger fans. This past baseball season the Chicago Cubs faced off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. The series was the first real test to our friendship. The Dodgers beat my Cubs. And after the series was over, Pastor Gary said to me, “We are still friends, right?”

            Revelation 6 begins the first real test of our theological friendship. At the end of this series, I will look at many of you and say, “We are still friends, right?” Chapters 6-16 make up the largest section of Revelation. I will not have the time to teach on every possible interpretation of the various texts, but will teach what I believe the passages are saying. I believe it is wise when approaching apocalyptic literature, like Revelation, to hold your interpretation with conviction, but with an open hand. Pastors are generalists. We are the family doctors of the medical field. Family Doctors must know little about a lot of things. They normally can answer your questions about your health, but occasionally will send you to a specialist. I hope to answer your questions about the text, but may have to refer you to a specialist for deeper study.

            As we begin to dive into the heart of the book, it would be a good time to remember God’s promise at the beginning of the book, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” My prayer is that you would be blessed as you hear and keep the commands of that are written in this book.

The Purification and Punishment of the Seals

            John has shared the great vision of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Root of David, as Lamb of God who was slain to take away the sins of the world. Only he is worthy to open the seals. It was because of his death and his resurrection that the seals of the scroll are opened. The pivotal event in human history was the crucifixion of the Son of God. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection began the end of the age. I believe that Revelation 6 is connected to Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24. The first 5 seals are a description of the last days or the era of the church.

Many people look around at what is happening in the world and say, “The end is near.” This is true, but not in the way that they mean it. The events described in the first five seals have been happening over the last 2,000 years. One of the most important points in the discussion of the seals is that they are all under God’s sovereign control. Only the Lamb has authority to open the seals and only the Lamb has authority to send the four horsemen of the apocalypse throughout the earth. Revelation 6:1-2, “Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.” The Lamb opened the seals and one of the four living creatures who serve the Lamb said, “Come!” The movement of the horses are controlled from the throne.

The imperial cult worship is a prominent theme throughout Revelation. The seven churches of Asia (that this book is written to) are facing increasing pressure to bow down to the Caesar. As we have seen in the seven letters, the church will face intense persecution from the Romans as they stand for Christ. Rome was a mighty nation and defeated almost everyone in battle except for the Parthians. The Parthians defeated the Roman army twice in 55 B.C. and 62 A.D. and were famous for their cavalry who mastered shooting arrows with precision at full speed. The white horse came with a rider and a bow. He came out conquering and to conquer. The only other one who was pictured riding a white horse is the Lord Jesus in Revelation 19:11, “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and true and in righteous he judges and makes war.”

After the resurrection and ascension of Christ, Jesus sends his Spirit throughout the earth to conquer men’s hearts with the gospel. Nothing can stop the gospel! This is connected to Jesus Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24. The disciples asked Jesus to tell them of signs of the end of the age. Matthew 24:12-14, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The gospel will be preached to and believed by people from every tribe, language and nation. Paul was bound in prison but proclaimed, “the word of God is not bound!” Nothing can stop the gospel.

Jesus warns us that the love of many will grow cold like the church in Ephesus who lost their first love. We want to endure in our first love and share that love with a lost and hurting world. This should give us great confidence as believers. We can always share the gospel confidently because we know some will believe. The power of the gospel can melt even the hardest heart. Do we share the gospel believing that nothing can stop it by accomplishing its purpose? Too many us believe our gospel to be a water pistol attempting to distinguish a forest fire not knowing it is more of a fire hose shooting at a candle. Nothing can stop the gospel.

As persecutions and trials rise among the earth, we must always remember that our gospel as conquered and is conquering the hearts of man. How many of us have been conquered by that gospel? We were running headlong into sin, before we were arrested by the truth of Christ. Have you been conquered? Has your love grown cold? Friend, we all are sinners and only saved by the blood of the Lamb. Jesus died to pay for our sins for all who would trust in Him. Allow Jesus and the beauty of his gospel to conquer your heart. Turn to Him and live.

Jesus has inaugurated the last days. The last days will be filled with war and bloodshed and disease and death. Revelation 6:3, “When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” and out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.” Similarly, in Matthew 24:6-8, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of birth pains.” Isn’t this what the last 2,000 plus years have looked like? War and bloodshed have filled the earth. The Lamb has allowed it. He has put human depravity on full display so that people would turn to God for hope.

War has become far more brutal. The development of gas in World War 1 to the atomic bomb in World War 2 to daily drone strikes today. War is part of world. Today, many of our troops know the daily pressure of war while many of us forget that the conflict rages. There is war throughout our world. Every generation believes that their times are the most challenging, but friends wars will always be there until the end comes. Jesus said, “All these are but the beginning of birth pains.” As a mother longs to see her new baby, war should create longing in our hearts for the peace of the new heaven and the new earth. The only true peace we can experience now is the peace of the blood of Christ. God has made peace with us through his blood. Endless war is a byproduct of human depravity. We can endure war through the peace of cross.

After war, comes famine. Revelation 6:5-6,

When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be 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 wine!”

A denarius was an average day’s wage. A quart of wheat was enough food to feed one person for one day. A man’s entire wage could feed only himself and let alone his family. And remember there were few small families in the ancient world.

There have been great famines throughout history, but many live in daily famine-like conditions. Almost half the world, 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day. Over 80 % of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. As Westerners we look for the day when famines will come, but many people know famine now. Jesus said there would be famines at the end of the age. We are living in the last days.

            Revelation 6:7-8, “When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.” The fourth horse came bringing death to ¼ of the earth. It could be a symbolic number, or it could be a real number. Think about how many people have died in war. Over 30 million in World War 2 and the Mongol conquests, over 15 million in the Germanic Wars and World War 1, and over 5 million each in the Chinese and Russian civil war. The loss of life from war has declined over the last 40 years, but has been replaced by the loss of life through abortion. There have been about 60 million deaths by abortion in the last 50 years, and 1.4 billion deaths by abortion since 1980.

            There have been more deaths through famine and disease. The bubonic plague or Black death killed 30-60% of Europe total population. What I am getting at is that death is part of the end of the age? We may think our time is the worst in history, but there has been wars, famines and death through the age of the church. These numbers should create a deep longing for heaven in our hearts. It also should show us how desperate our world needs a Savior. All trials that face the saints should purify them. Trials are given to test and purify one’s faith. They also are meant to bring punishment on the wicked. The Lord gives people over to their desires allowing them to experience the consequences of sin.

            Beloved, let us hold fast to Christ so our love does not grow cold and we can endure to end.

The Prayer and Preciousness of the Saints

            It is important for us to think about endurance because the world hates the saints. Jesus told us that the world will hate us as it has hated him. Matthew 24:9-10, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” It is no surprise then when we come to the fifth seal and hear from those who have been slain for Christ. Revelation 6:9–11,

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 witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

The saints under the altar cry out for justice. They want justice for their blood. They ask God to avenge them.

            A few observations from this seal. First, martyrdom for the faith is a very real thing. We still have religious liberty in America so a Christian being killed for their faith here is a rare thing. We think of the tragedy in Charleston or Texas that targeted Christians. Those events shake our country to the core. And yet, Christians are martyred daily in our world. We should not be surprised that the world hates Christians and we should not be surprised when that hate grows to murder. There may be some here who will face death for their faith. It could be on a mission trip to a closed country or at the workplace by angry coworker. And we do not know what will happen in America in 50 years. Christians have been jailed in Canada for preaching the gospel. Businesses have been bankrupted in America for holding to convictions.

            Second observation, it is a godly thing to cry out for justice. The martyrs in Revelation are crying out for God to bring down his wrath upon the earth. When you see John reference “those who dwell on the earth” in Revelation it always refers to unbelievers. The saints are pleading for God to avenge their blood and we know from the sixth seal that he will. When we see wrong in our world, we should long for justice. If there is no justice, then it would be a cruel world indeed. God has promised to repay those who do evil. God does not say that he will not avenge the martyrs but merely to white. He gives them a white robe and tells them to rest a little longer.

            This brings me to the third observation, God is precious to his saints. He gives the martyrs a white robe. Offering clothing is act of grace. He tenderly speaks to them to rest a little longer for there are more martyrs coming. The full number has not arrived. The picture I get in my head is when I go into my kids’ room and I cover them with a blanket and tell them to sleep a little longer. God is tenderly caring for his precious saints until the end comes.

The Preview and Panic of the Shaking

            We do not have to wait long before we see God fulfill his promise to avenge his people. I believe the sixth seal is the end of history. The language in the text is common language in biblical apocalyptic language. The great earthquake in Revelation refers to the end of history. The Day of the Lord is common theme throughout the Scriptures especially in the prophets. The language is apocalyptic meaning it is symbolic, so we do not want to press the image too far. Revelation 6:12–17,

When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

This is a preview of the end of history. God will come in power. The powerful, the generals, the rich, the kinds and all the great leaders of the world, will cower in fear. Everyone will hide from the wrath of the Lamb. In that day, they would prefer death rather than face the wrath from the one seated on the throne and from the Lamb.

            The wrath will come from God the Father and the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Father and the Son are one. And on the great day of their wrath, who can stand? Can you stand on your wealth? Can you stand on your achievements? Can you stand on your church attendance or your church membership? Can you stand on your works? No. No one can stand against the wrath of the Lamb unless they are covered by the blood of the Lamb. The worthy one who opens the scroll is the lamb who was slain. God has made a way for sinners through the cross. He invites all people to, “Come!” Have you come to Christ? Will you come to Christ? On the Day of Wrath our only hope is to be in the Lamb for when he comes he will gather all his people to himself. They will be spared from the wrath of the Lamb by the blood of the Lamb and will become agents for the wrath of the Lamb when he comes to judge the earth.

            The birth of Jesus, the first coming of the Lamb, set in motion the end of history. Jesus has begun the end of the age. We are in the last days. Are you ready for the end? Remember, “Blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in this book, for the time is near.” We are all one breath away from eternity. And when your day comes or when the Day comes, will you be able to stand? Only if you are with the Lamb. He is our only hope today and on that day. The wrath of the Lamb will come. He will avenge his people. He will rebirth a perfect world. Praise God that we do not have to fear that day because we are in the Lamb. The Lamb of God has come to take away the sin of the world. If you are in the Lamb, your sin is done. And dear friend, if you are not, come to him today. Do not linger. There is fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains. Come to the Lamb so you can stand with him on the great and awesome day of the Lord.