Preach on Revelation 6 from TRINITY church, June 2018
as always this is a bit notey so apologies for lack of links/typos etc
We are continuing in our series on Revelation. Today in chapter 6 – featuring the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse – in movie speak!
Buckle yourselves in because this is a tough one!
In the previous chapter we see God on the throne with a scroll sealed with 7 seals.
An angel asks who is worthy to open the scroll and at first no one can be found, but then Jesus appears,as the slain lamb;
and the elders, angels and living creatures fall down singing that he IS worthy…
So as we begin Chapter 6 as the lamb (Jesus) opens the first seal.
Then we see 6 of the seals opened, revealing 4 horses, the souls of the faithful under the altar and a great earthquake. All of which seem to point to great hardship, pain and unrest upon the earth,often depicted as ‘’the end times” – apocalyptic scenes of God unleashing his vengeance on a rebellious world.
It’s quite something isn’t it?! Not surprising it has been featured in many movies! Makes for great imagery!
(Now, as Tom Wright says, all answers to do with Revelation, are partial and puzzling: this is a book designed to go on making you ponder and pray, not one designed to answer everything to your satisfaction!
Indeed. but we shall try this morning!
Now Ian Paul (you’ll remember I recommended his book previously) Ian Paul reminds us that we must let go of trying to make sense literally of all these things but instead, try and make sense of John’s imagery through Scripture, and through the context of the first century. As well as for ourselves now.
So for 1st C readers or hearers, these are scenes that to some extent would have described the world around them: there was much war and the overpowering rule of the Romans, there was famine and shortage, chronic disease, early death, earthquakes and the like.But here in Revelation they are depicted all together as the worst things they might experience,andall at the same time
Yet it also strikes a chord today, perhaps in more contemporary terms, I mean in the West we are largely protected from some of these things but they are apparent across the world…
Perhaps war in a different form, with renewed threats of nuclear bombing for example; or planes dropping bombs in far flung corners of the world, or terrorism,
All that we see in our news feeds and on TV every day;
There’s new diseases that sweep across nations like Ebola for example, faster than we can treat them, cancers that we can’t find cures for…. Many of the same concerns are with us now too.
So we could ask: is this a picture of what the future holds or is this the now?
But despite all this death and destruction, actually the overwhelming theme – of not just this passage but of Revelation as a whole – is that God IS sovereign,THE sovereign. That’s what we need to take away from this, he is sovereign and the ONLY one who can bring in peace and prosperity, real, true, lasting, peace…
I wonder do you ever play board games ?
ever have family arguments over them?
What about Monopoly? Groan…
Now I hate monopoly for so many reasons – because it goes on so long, it causes arguments, it encourages people to be selfish and probably because I like to buy the cheap properties so I never win!
I just don’t enjoy it. I think it brings out the worst in people, it makes people angry!
And there was one occasion when I remember the board being swept from the table in a flounce of anger with paper money going flying and to be honest I don’t think we every found the silver dog again after that!
(that wasn’t me just for the record!)
I tell you this because I think there is a temptation to read Revelation a bit like this, almost assuming that God has got so fed up, not just of the evils of the world but perhaps with ustoo, that he is just going to sweep the whole lot to one side in anger, dramatically and painfully – losing more than a silver dog along the way…
And in fact that might be a welcome answer to some, I mean if this world is so broken, wouldn’t it be better to just go to somewhere new – a new heaven – all shiny and nice – and get away from all this darkness and hatred?
In a way, that is what God is doing, BUT he gives us, humanity, as long as possible, to turn to him before the final day comes and then he redeems creation just as he redeems us.
The scroll here in chapter 6 reveals both judgement andredemption – and we see in the next chapter, the multitude of the faithful waiting before the throne worshipping the Lord – these are those who made it through the tribulation and get to stand before the Lord, to be in his presence, redeemed.
As we read this passage with these 4 horsemen, we have just celebrated in Ch 5 the magnificent scene in the throne room, with the whole of creation singing a glorious, thunderous hymn of praise to the creator God and to the slaughtered lamb. We have celebrated the fact that Jesus has already won the victory:nowGod’s plan to rescue the whole world can go ahead! TW (some changed)
But God’s plan is much much deeper than we can imagine – how often that is the way!
Whilst Jesus has the ultimate victory,we must not forget that- there is stuff still to be sorted out.
A bit like post war even though a victory has been declared, things need to be cleared up – troops need to be returned to their homes, prisoners of war released, some to face the crimes they committed in combat. Like we’ve seen in the recent past, war criminals being brought to justice from crimes committed in WW2 which finished over 70 years ago. Just last year 96 year old Nazi war criminal was sent to prison in Germany having been convicted in just 2015 of being an accessory to murder with 300, 000 counts having worked in Auschwitz. Justice being served finally.
God seeks to expose all the darkness and evil so they can be served justice. Tom Wright likens it to pastoral counselling – sometimes we need to dig through memories of hurt and pain in our souls in order to receive healing.
Revelation is, as it were, a cosmic version of the tough pastoral struggle over the deeply wounded soul of the world, of humanity.
“The soul of the world is aware of immediate problems and pains; but unless we look deeper, to the ancient patterns of conquest, violence, oppression and death itself we shall not begin to understand what needs to be done if the world is to be healed, really healed rather than merely patched together for a few more years.” TW
So… we’d better get back to those 4 horses. They are a bit like some kind of horror version of my little ponies aren’t they?
And John often refers to biblical imagery and here seems to use the four horses which are also referenced in Zechariah 1 – but there they symbolised a false peace, and here the completely opposite – global calamity.
And as I’ve touched upon, this is not just a future scenario, for those reading it back then, it would have been familiar themes or scenes, and for us too..
So the first seal is opened and we see The first horse – white – represents conquest – either through warfare or though false religion,
Then the second, fiery red – warfare itself – the means by which the conquest happens and bloodshed – the result of it. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword.
Thirdly, the black horse,
Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “Two pounds[a] of wheat for a day’s wages,[b] and six pounds[c] of barley for a day’s wages,[d] and do not damage the oil and the wine!
The black horse representing famine, and economic instability which are so often associated with war and violence;
and finally the pale green horse, (sometimes translated just as pale)
Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
So this one clearly signifies death…
These 4 represent the basic evils that humanity inflicts on each other.
And off these horses go to do their awful work, and it seems they must be allowed to do this in order thatthe saving message of the scroll can have its full effect. Tom Wright suggests that humanity, even the church, has tried to tackle these things head on and yet we don’t look deep enough, we patch over surface wounds, our peace is only superficial, we don’t actually deal with the dark forces at work and that is what God is going to do.
‘if God’s new creation is to be brought to birth, the deepest ills of the old one must be exposed, allowed to come out, and be dealt with.’ TW
And these are exactly the kinds of things the devil uses today to impact our world.
In conflict– Causing difference and diversity to grow into anger and misunderstanding, to threats and then escalates into warfare and conquest. Do our peace processes actually bring peace and change or do they simply stick a band aid over a festering wound until it explodes again?
And economic instability –
Those figures used related to the black horse – the weights of wheat and barley – illustrate this inequality – because the figures used here for wages are significantly lower than would have been expected at the time, 16 quarts of wheat would have been the norm – enough to feed a family, one quartwould provide for one person only.
And yet the oil and wine – often symbols of the rich, are to be left unharmed, useful to invaders but would also allow the economic imbalance to continue and increase. Ordinary commodities, the staple diet of poor people, shoot up in price; luxury items, oil and wine, stay the same, allowing the rich once more to get richer at the expense of the poor.
And how we see the gap between the rich and the poor increasing in our age too.I don’t really want to get into politics (though I will!) but the welfare reforms we have seen in recent years are frankly appalling. Even if you accept that there aresome who flout the system, there are many MANY who are hugely suffering as a direct result of cuts and changes, not just to our benefit system but in many areas.
All whilst huge corporations get away without paying any tax in this country, or the uber wealthy & not necessarily skilled) flit from one role to another. You know I’ve heard several stories (which I can’t repeat sadly) of those in big business who have done a bad job, effectively been given the sack but end up with a huge pay off and walk straight into another job or role. How is that right?
We might well think: Why doesn’t God DO SOMETHING??!!
Well he is doing something,but he’s playing the long game, biding his time until the right moment. Because if judgement comes, it comes for us all.
We might ask – are we ready for that?
You know in the OT we see time and again the Israelites falling away from God until some disastrous thing happens and then they cry out to God again, oh Lord help us, oh Lord, how long?
Even the souls under the altar here call out: (v10)
“How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters,[e] were killed just as they had been.
They too are awaiting that final day and the promise to come…
Right let’s take a short breather. It’s all quite full on isn’t it?!
So remember that Monopoly game?
You know one thing I do like about Monopoly is right at the start, because everyone gets given a set amount of money don’t they and it’s up to them what they do with it – it all starts equal and fair. It’s only in the playing of the game that things become imbalanced or we get cross or frustrated, or lose our way…
I think it’s a bit like that for us – we all start out with a choice in life, choices in fact. But it’s life that distracts us from making the right choices. Perhaps it’s that desire to own Mayfair and Park Lane or even Old Kent Road, that becomes our focus. We do anything we can to own them, charge exorbitant rents and refuse to negotiate (that might be a picture of a member of my family I can’t possibly say!).
What are the things that sway us from making the right choices?Because actually all this death and destruction comes from simple things like that. Humanity, us, making the wrong decisions. And one leads to another… ok we might not end up being actual war mongersbut some do, and in some sense we all have a part to play. Our choices and decisions affect those around us, often more than we know.
And you know this passage is interesting, because this chapter comes right after the letters to the 7 churches – they get their kick up the backside/judgement/advice right before this. It’s like they get one final chance to sort themselves out before judgment.
So is that what this is for us? A jolly big nudge, a reminder: are you right with God? Are you making the right choices? Are you going to join the faithful saints who are waiting for us?
We know, the bible tells us that Jesus will return for his bride – the church – he is the bridegroom. So, church, are we ready? I’m not sure that we are… (& I mean THE church, not just us TRINITY!)
And you know the church is not the buildings and the institution it is us the people – ekklesia – Greek – church means – the called out, the assembly – ie the people.
It is our job to help prepare the bride – we need to be ready ourselves, but also to help others to be ready.
Just as the Israelites turned back to him let’s turn back, humble ourselves before God and cry out to him for ourselves and our world.
Revelation 1:3 says:
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
And we read in the letters the promises of what is in store for those who listen to what Jesus says: to the one who is victorious – do you remember I mentioned them last time I was here. Who are the victorious? The one who is victorious is the one who turns to Jesus, who follows him, who knows him, who serves him, who brings glory to him – we have a fantastic future in store for us if we want it…
Look I think we can get a bit freaked out by Revelation and all it’s gory end times imagery and it isa reminder to us: which side do we want to be on? Are we sure of where we are going? But above all I think it’s a reminder of the vast sovereignty of God. It is a dichotomy.
He is over and above all things. In him all things exist and have their being and at the end of time he will make all things right. All those things we don’t understand, we get angry at God for not stepping in, the injustice in the world, the evil and darkness at work – God WILL sort it all out.
And we need to know that and believe it.
Jesus, we see here as the slain lamb, the one who has offered himself up as a sacrifice for us, to save us, he gives us life. If we want it.
In the same way he embodies the results of death and destruction, in suffering through his death but also embodies the truth of NEW life, of hope.
Much as some like to talk about ‘the end times’ the bible tells us, in Jesus own words we do not know the time.
And in my opinion it shouldn’t matter anyway.
But if I told you I knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow, how many of you would live today differently? Put things right you’d done wrong? Confess all your sins and seek forgiveness from God? Tell your loved ones how much you love them? Tell people who Jesus us and how he can save them from the coming judgement?
Well why not do that anyway!? We don’t know when he is coming, it might just be tomorrow we don’t know!
The truth of Jesus is the same, yesterday and forever.
If we lived our lives differently today because we knew he was coming back tomorrow to be honest we’d be total hypocrites…
Is this for us, as I said earlier:? A jolly big nudge, a reminder, are you right with God? Are you making the right choices? Are you going to join the faithful saints who are waiting for us?
So what is our take away response to this passage?
- Never play Monopoly 😉
- Revelation theories are partial and puzzling, sodon’t get bogged down in the craziness of this passage or this book – it’s always about Jesus, even when we don’t understand!
- Justice will come actually
- God is sovereign in all things
- And here’s the biggie think about whether you would act any differently if you knew Jesus were coming tomorrow? And maybe think about how that might change your behaviour. Now I’m not expecting you all to become perfect overnight but why not think of 1 thing you would do if that were the case, and do it now.