Rev.6 — THE CHARACTER OF GOD IN JUDGMENT
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on May 17th, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Rev 6.
The background image of the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse comes from Zech.1:7-17, as a picture of comfort. Zechariah is a Post-Exile Prophet. He lived and wrote in a time when the people of Israel had returned to their homeland from Exile in Babylon, and were surrounded by enemies who did not want them in the land – and who had stopped them from rebuilding the Temple.
The four horsemen are scouts who go throughout the earth scouting for God. When they find the world at peace and rest, God is angry. The nations of the earth are at peace and there is no witness of God in the world – no Temple where God is worshipped. However, in his anger, God – rather than bringing destruction down on the nations – tells his people to rebuild the Temple and promises to draw the nations to his Temple and make them part of his holy people.
Even Now God Is Bringing Judgment on the Earth.
The first four seals are opened and the four horsemen are revealed – called forth by the four living creatures around the throne. They reveal – not future events, but what is already happening. Their presence speaks directly to the problem of evil – How can God allow evil things to happen? They give the true perspective – what we consider to be evil and intrusive in our comfortable lives is, in fact, ongoing judgment – the result of the curse.
The White Horse of Conquest: “Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.”
The First Horseman is sent forth to enforce the curse of man’s power struggling (Gen.3:16, Gen.4). This curse is the result of man’s fall. It is not as though, God drops this curse on innocent people – the curses of Genesis describe what man has chosen – and what God has rejected and hates. Man chooses to strive for power to rule and be like a god – the cause and effect consequence is destruction and war.
Man, having lost his glory and standing in the presence of God through the fall, runs after power – not God given – but of his own making – his will to dominate others. God allows men to see just what they will create by their lust to power (Nazi Germany, Colombian Drug Cartels, Manifest Destiny and Slavery, Rwanda).
The Fiery Red Horse of Conflict: “3When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.”
The Second Horseman is sent forth to enforce the curse of the more personal expression of man’s power – conflict. This is the curse of the breakdown of peace – between husband and wife – between neighbors – fellow workers. Man in his refusal to submit himself to God enters into this accursed state in which submission as a beautiful service is rejected. Instead men force one another to submit – an ugly corruption and distortion of what submission was meant to be.
Again, not only does God permit this but he removes peace – the natural by product of submission – and allows men to see what they will produce in their families and in society by rejecting submission to him (murder, rape, divorce, estrangement of family and friends).
The Black Horse of Scarcity: “ 5When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages , and do not damage the oil and the wine!’”
The Third Horseman comes forth to enforce God’s curse on the earth so that it does not produce in abundance -Gen.3:17-19. In eating from the Tree of Knowledge, man disregards God’s provision and takes what he wants. We need to see both the cause and effect of man rejecting God’s provision of food and reaching out to take what is not given to him – rebelling against God.
Now God allows man to see the consequence of this accursed situation in which he provides for himself. Man is surrounded by God’s good creation – but is affected by hunger and want because of the curse.
The Pale Horse of Death: “ 7When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. ”
The Forth Horse Comes forth to enforce the curse of mortality (Gen.2:17, Gen.3:19). Man experiences the cause and effect result of life apart from God. Death is the natural result of man being separated from God – our bodies break down because God is literally our life. This accursed state is both the accursed effect of the Fall and God’s judgment.
God Limits Judgment: But notice that the horsemen are given power only over a quarter of the earth. The limit of their power suggests that God is restraining the curse.
God Hears Our Cry for Justice and Waits to Show Mercy.
How Long Will God Wait Before He Brings Judgment and Justice? “They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ ”
Martyrs are witnesses to Jesus Christ who have been put to death for their testimony. Note, specifically the Martyrs are under the altar – those who have given their lives to bring the Gospel to the lost. They stand under the altar, the place where the incense would be burned to offer prayer, and cry out to God – “How Long… until you judge?” They pressure God to bring about justice because God is righteous and hates evil.
God Will Wait Until His Grace is Utterly Rejected: God gives them white robes and tells them to wait. Why? Because God will show mercy to the uttermost! God will continue to send his servants to the lost until the last one is rejected and killed. God chooses the cross rather than vengeance. God is more merciful than the martyrs who are icons of mercy (who gave their lives to bring God’s mercy). But the mercy of the martyrs is only a reflection of the the author of mercy.
How amazing is God’s grace? This picture of God’s patience changes the image of the four horsemen from a terrifying image of judgment into a picture of God, pushing people out of self-contented sin – towards grace and repentance. And this is what the horsemen do both for the lost and for the redeemed – the consequence and curse of sin pushes us towards repentance. God does not desire the death of sinners.
God WIll Finally Judge Completely.
God Will Unmake the Earth: “12I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.”
The cursed and broken earth is finally dismantled. These images are very final images of the “unmaking” of the earth. The earthquake breaks up the foundations of the earth – the plates – break apart – The heavens fall apart – The dry land disappears. The Creator dismantles Creation – judges the fallen world and all that is fallen about it – in order to remake it new later on.
Men Will Continue to Hide: When this judgment comes, it will come with the assurance that not one who was willing to repent was left behind. Those who are caught in the judgment are those who try to hide from the Lamb and the One who Sits on the Throne. Their hiding from God is not a new behavior – but it is what they continue to do right up until the day of judgment. Men hide from God – they pretend that he does not exist, or that he did not create them, or that he has nothing to do with their lives. Men hide from the reality that they were made for the glory of God – and that they are not their own. Ironically, they ask, in their accusatory way, “Who can stand?” But they have rejected the Lamb who could make them stand.
Be encouraged then. God is able to hear our cry for justice – for judgment on sin – and to temper it with greater mercy than we can understand. That mercy is being offered to all men to the uttermost – and is ours in Jesus Christ.