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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.

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? The expectation is that God's wrath will be poured out on those who persecute His church. How long until God will avenge the death of those who kill His people? The phrase, those who dwell on the earth, refers to every person on the face of the earth who is in rebellion against God. How long until God's wrath is poured out upon them?

The Bible has a thing or two to say about the wrath of God. While we could spend the rest of our time going through all of them, let these samples suffice:

  • John 3:36 - "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever

does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God

remains on him."

  • Romans 1:18 - "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven

against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their

unrighteousness suppress the truth."

Jesus talked about wrath. Paul was instructed by Jesus' words. Scripture testifies to the wrath of God. It is real and it is a thing. God is love and grace and mercy. God forgives. God is patient. But God is also, as we've already seen, holy…holy…holy. Nothing unclean can stand in the presence of the One, True, and Holy God. So, as we talked about leading up to Good Friday, Jesus took God's wrath for our sin upon himself on the cross so we could, now washed in the blood of the Lamb of God, enter into His heavenly presence. God's Holiness demands payment for sin. Praise God that Jesus stood in our place, receiving God's wrath upon his perfect life for our sin. Amen?

Make no mistake. People often reimagine God is the form that pleases

them, which, more often than not, eliminates any notion of His wrath. But

here, in the middle of chapter six, God's vengeance comes into full focus.

So, what is vengeance? One of the things we know it's not, is vengeance

isn't about gloating or celebrating the decimation of evil people. While

waiting God's time, verse eleven describes how those who have already been martyred are in their glorified heavenly bodies. They are resting joyfully in the presence of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And they will be joined by many others who have remained true to the faith. What a glorious time that will be. Meanwhile, there is no sense triumphalism. They simply ask what oppressed and persecuted people have asked since the dawn of time:

O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?

- Psalm 94:3

Also, there's no need for us to try to figure out a timeline when all this will take place. Remember, our sovereign God exists outside our concepts of time and space. To paraphrase where it is written in many places of the Bible, vengeance is mine, says the Lord. It happens in His time, according to His plan. While there are many things we cannot know, we can be faithful in a lot. Are you with me on that?

Revelation 6 assures us that there is a day of vengeance coming. It's going

to happen. Those who have been in open rebellion with God will suffer under His wrath. The practical application for us is, because it will be a fearful day for the ungodly, we continue to reach out in love and compassion and mercy to those who are far away from Jesus.

Here's how Jesus describes the cost of rebellion against the holiness of God:

For many will come in my name, saying, "I am the Christ," and they will lead many astray. 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 the birth pains.

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. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 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.

For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, 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. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of

heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over

his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, "My master is delayed," and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

- Matthew 24 {Selections}

We are immediately reminded of the cry from 6:17 - "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 wrath has come, and who can stand?" That is the cry of the unsaved wicked.

Meanwhile, we don't carry around a message of vengeance. As we've

already see, vengeance is the Lord's domain, not ours. Hanging from the cross, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Stephen, when he was being stoned by the ungodly, said, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Also, in 2 Corinthians, Paul said, "It has been given to us by God the ministry of reconciliation, and we beg you be reconciled to God before this retribution falls." Finally, Ezekiel said, "As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?"

Over and over and over again, before all the seals are opened, our desire is to see many be added to the number of those who are saved. That's our faithful witness. That's our sacrificial love. That's why we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. The day is coming when grace and mercy are over and judgment falls. This is what is anticipated with the fifth seal.

Let's stop there. Next week, we'll pick things up with the opening of the sixth seal. Until then, let's pray:



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