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Riders of Wrath [5-8-22]


Two observations before we do our best to understand Revelation 6:9-17. Perhaps these two initial points can serve as background to help us. First, I think we can all agree that people, historically, are really bad at predicting the future. I remember predicting, back in the early 1980s, that this singer, Madonna, was nothing more than a one-hit wonder. Having an opinion and being ignorant can lead to some really back predictions. Not to be outdone, here are a few more: Show Slides It is not unusual for people, thinking themselves astute at predicting future events, to use passages like Revelation 6 to paint an exact picture of how things are going to unfold. You know how it goes. People will assign current events and trends to how they think they were predicted in the Bible. Second, The Revelation to John was written during a time when persecution of Christians and their churches was on the rise. For almost three hundred years, Christianity grew in soil that was wet with the blood of martyrs. Around AD 100, persecution was widespread but not the official law of the empire. That all changed about a century later. From 249 AD - 251 AD Decius was emperor of the Roman Empire. In order to strengthen the Roman state and its religion, he led in the persecution of Christians. One of the things he did, which in various forms had been practiced since around 100 AD, a day was set aside when all inhabitants of the empire were required to make a sacrifice to ancestral gods for the safety of the empire. Upon completion, they were given a certificate testifying to their loyalty to emperor and empire. Prior to the writing of The Revelation to John, during the reign of Nero {50s-60s AD}, Christians were covered with skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished or were nailed to crosses or were doomed to the flames and burned to serve as nightly illumination in Nero's gardens {Roman historian Tacitus}. While this type of brutality wasn't yet written into Roman law, it was practiced and tolerated. Christians knew what could happen to them. So, here's what happened. Over the course of several hundred years, horror spread throughout congregations in the Roman empire. As it did, many renounced their faith when threatened. Many compromised with Roman authority. Some were very weak. They went along to get along. They compromised with the culture because they believed they had too much to lose. No doubt they said their own version of what people say today…don't want to be on the wrong side of history. Very weak. Yet, as persecution grew more and more intense, the devotion of followers of Jesus Christ and their power of resistance grew stronger and stronger. That's exactly why The Revelation to John was written. Not so much to predict the future but to strengthen the faith of those who are facing persecution. God knew hard times were at hand. And so Jesus shows John the big picture of a sovereign God whose purpose for history wins in the end. Remain in the faith, as the reward is great. As we'll see in the final verses of chapter six, martyrs had a special role to play in the health of the church. They modeled faithfulness. They kept the church vibrant and vital. They shut the mouths of the enemies of Christ. This is nothing less than a triumph for all who endure to the end by faith in God's all-sufficient grace and mercy. Amen? Let's now pick Revelation 6 up at verses 9 - 17: 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. 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?” What is the expectation of verse ten?