Who can survive? (Rev. 6-7)

Publié le 13 octobre 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon preached by Pastor Vincent Bourrel on 12th September 2021

In chapter 5, we saw a scroll sealed in the hands of God. The scroll contains God’s plans for justice. To open the seals is to unleash the divine purposes of redemption and judgment. If the scroll remains sealed, God’s purposes will not be fulfilled. But Jesus, the slain Lamb, lives to do justice, and he is worthy to open the seals. 

Let’s read about the seven seals, and the seal of God in Revelation ch 6.1-17

« I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, ‘Come!’ I 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. When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come!’ Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. 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. When 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. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, ‘Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages,and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!’ When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! 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. When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 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?’ 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, were killed just as they had been. I 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, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?' »

This is the beginning of the end: 3 great series of 7 judgments will fall on the earth: the 7 seals, the 7 trumpets and the 7 plagues. The 7th seal triggers the series of the 7 trumpets, and the 7th trumpet triggers the series of the 7 plagues. The judgments will increase in intensity and in scope. 

The wrath of the Lamb:

God judges the earth by delivering it into the power of wicked men. In the first 4 seals, God delivers the earth to corrupt men. He uses 4 horsemen to accomplish this.

Remarks:
– Each time it is the Lamb who opens the seals, and thus triggers the events.

– For each seal, it is one of the living beings serving God who commands with a voice like thunder, « Come! » Then the rider mounted on a horse comes and the plague falls on the earth. 

Two points to emphasize:

– God remains in control of all the plagues. He directs human history and even uses his enemies to accomplish his judgments on earth.

– The Lamb who was slain is also the one who judges, who is angry. I know about the wrath of the dragon, of the tiger, or of the bear, but why « the wrath of the Lamb »? (v.16). That seems to be a contradiction. How can a lamb be angry? How can a loving God judge in that way?

A loving person can be angry precisely because of their love. If you love someone and see them destroying themselves because of foolish decisions, will you remain indifferent? You won’t! Anger is not the opposite of love whereas hatred and indifference are. God is angry at sin (and at sinners) because sin destroys the creatures he loves with all his heart.

If God were not angry at injustice and deception, and if he did not put a definitive end to violence when he has the power to do so, he would not be worthy of praise.

The horsemen look sinister. They are not individuals but impersonal forces. The first one is attractive, riding a white horse and wearing a crown and a bow. Some confuse him with Christ, but he represents the power and strength of men rejecting God, taking themselves for God. The other horsemen show how the rule and domination of men is a judgment of God. Peace has not lasted, and now men wage war, killing each other (v.3-4). The third horseman brings famine (an economic crisis affecting the basic needs of life), which is a usual consequence of wars (v.5-6). The last horseman represents death that strikes 1/4 of the earth. Men die from war, famine, epidemics, and wild beasts. These are the first judgments. The earth is given over to the domination of corrupt men, who oppose the Creator. The consequences are terrible.

Romans 1.20-24 says, « For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. »

As men refused to glorify God, God gave them over to their own folly, their impurities and lusts. When men consciously abandon God, God also abandons them to their own folly. This is God’s first judgment, to give us up to our own folly.

CS Lewis said, « There are only two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, ‘Thy will be done. The first is a blessing, the second is a judgment. » 

You think the world is corrupt, you hear about war and noise of war, attacks, famine, and disasters (earthquake, floods…). This is only the beginning. God delivers the world that rejects him into the hands of the mighty horsemen. This is the first judgment: to bear the consequences of our errant ways.

The Prayer of the Martyrs

The opening of the 5th seal is different. John sees the souls of the martyrs, those who were persecuted and put to death because of the Word of God and the testimony they gave. When men think they are God, they persecute Christians because Christians remind them that there is only one creator, worthy of worship.

In Matthew 24:4-8, Jesus speaks to his disciples about the end of the times, « Jesus answered them, ‘Watch out that no one misleads you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these things are the beginning of birth pains. » Jesus refers to the sequence of events of the first four seals. He continues in v.9, « Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name. » 

Hatred towards God and the Lord Jesus Christ always leads to persecuting believers.

The 5th seal, the 5th judgment on earth, is not about the persecution of the martyrs, but about their prayers that will be answered. They ask God to avenge those who killed them. They ask for justice from the holy and true Master. They cry to God that his justice be manifested. They are waiting for God’s reign of justice.

Deep down in our hearts, we all long for judgment. The absence of divine judgment would cause even more violence on earth. Desire to make perpetrators of violence pay for their crime is almost irrepressible. I have already had to fight a desire for revenge in my heart, when my wife was assaulted and when I was the victim of flagrant injustice. The only way to fight that desire was not to say to myself « Vincent, you know that violence will not solve anything, » but to remember that my hunger for justice will be satisfied by Jesus Christ the righteous.

Tim Keller says, « If I don’t believe that there is a God who will eventually make things right, I will take up the sword and get sucked into the endless vortex of retaliation. Only if I am sure that that there is a God who will right all wrongs and settle all accounts perfectly do I have the power to refrain. »

The trial of the Nov 13, 2015 attacks will start soon. The djihadist rampage killed 130 people (80 alone at the concert hall ‘Bataclan’) and left many people traumatized. 1,800 victims have filed civil suits, 300 lawyers are in charge of the case, and 20 people are in the dock, including Salah Abdeslam who shows no sign of repentance, regret or compassion for the families of the victims. This historic trial should last 9 months. Do you believe that it will perfectly right the wrongs? Of course not! Psalm 68.5 says, « He is a father to the fatherless and an advocate for widows. God rules from his holy dwelling place. »

But Revelation refers to his children who have been martyred for believing in Jesus the Savior. 

God will answer the prayer of all those who have suffered unjustly for the name of Christ, even if they have to wait a little longer (v.11, « Each of them was given a long white robe and they were told to rest for a little longer, until the full number was reached of both their fellow servants and their brothers who were going to be killed just as they had been. » God is more patient than believers, but his patience has limits. Sometimes we, like his martyrs, wish that God’s justice be immediate, but we must be patient. God acts according to his own wisdom, but in the meantime let us be assured that no suffering suffered for the sake of God’s kingdom (v.9, « … those who had been violently killed because of the word of God and because of the testimony they had given. ») is meaningless and unrewarding, or will it not be punished.

It is as if God said, « Don’t worry, you can rest, I will judge each one of your tormentors. I know what they have already done and what they will do to your brethren, and I will put an end to it, and judge them ». 

God has heard every prayer, and he will answer it. 

The terrifying sight of the angry Lamb

The fulfillment begins with the opening of the 6th seal (v.12), and this time it is God himself who shakes the earth v.12-14, « Then I looked when the Lamb opened the sixth seal, and a huge earthquake took place; the sun became as black as sackcloth made of hair, and the full moon became blood red; and the stars in the sky fell to the earth like a fig tree dropping its unripe figs when shaken by a fierce wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved from its place. »

Earthquakes in the Bible often announce the terrifying coming of the Lord in his glory.  But this time the sky is also shaken, the sun becomes black, and the red moon and cataclysmic events accompany the capsizing of all mountains and islands. 

The events are so terrifying and devastating that they can only be attributed to God. v.15, the mighty, the rich, and the rulers of this world have no more refuge than ordinary people. Nobody can escape the wrath of God. Panic-stricken, they no longer know where to take refuge. Speaking of rebellious Israel, God said through the mouth of the prophet Amos, in Amos. 9:2-3, « Even if they could dig down into the netherworld, my hand would pull them up from there. Even if they could climb up to heaven, I would drag them down from there. Even if they were to hide on the top of Mount Carmel, I would hunt them down and take them from there. Even if they tried to hide from me at the bottom of the sea, from there I would command the Sea Serpent to bite them. »

The mighty of this world often manage to escape disasters. They bribe people for a place on a lifeboat during a shipwreck, they have a bunker in case of nuclear attack, they have alternative solutions just in case, etc. But in this passage, no-one escapes. 

The scene ends with the question, « Who can survive? »

The Protection of the Lamb 

The opening of the 7th seal will take place in chapter 8.1, so chapter 7 is a kind of parenthesis that explains how God keeps believers from his judgment, from the wrath of the Lamb. Chapter 7:1-3 says, « After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so no wind could blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, who had the seal of the living God. He shouted out with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given permission to damage the earth and the sea: ‘Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees until we have put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.' »

It is about a seal, but here it is the seal of God. A seal on a document was used to identify and protect its content. In the same way, God puts his own seal on those who love him, showing that they belong to him, and that he will keep their souls. 

Ephesians 1:13-14 says, « And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)—when you believed in Christ—you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory. »

Those who are marked with the seal of God are called ‘servants of God’ and are 144,000 (v.4-8). The identity of these 144,000 is controversial. Some say they are Jews converted to Christ during the Tribulation period and that they are witnesses and martyrs of Christ on earth. Others identify them with the multitude found in the next verses. This could be compared with the moment in chapter 5 when John hears that the lion of Judah is worthy to open the book; yet he does not see a lion, but a Lamb. 

Either way, the 144,000 are part of those who are kept from the wrath of the Lamb. Besides, if the 144,000 are on earth at that moment, in chapter 14 they are before the throne where they celebrate and follow the Lamb like the multitude described in v.9 (Revelation 14:1-3a, « Then I looked, and here was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000, who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. I also heard a sound coming out of heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. Now the sound I heard was like that made by harpists playing their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. »

John sees this multitude before the throne and before the Lamb. They celebrate the salvation granted by God and the Lamb. They stand before the Lamb. The question, « Who can stand against the wrath of the Lamb? » is answered there, « Those who are sealed by God, those who stand before the Lamb ». 

The Lamb who will judge the earth, and also the one who saves. 

In the time of Moses, in Egypt, when the judgment of God, the 10th plague, falls, every household will lose its firstborn. Only the households that have applied the blood of the Passover Lamb on the doorpost of their houses are spared. The seal of the Lamb’s blood protects them. Since that day the Jews have celebrated the Passover to commemorate this episode when the blood of a lamb protected them.

In his gospel, the apostle John, who receives these revelations, has introduced Jesus « as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world » (quoting John the Baptist). Jesus is the Lamb of God who will offer his life as a sacrifice. He is the one who receives the wrath of God at the cross on the same night the people celebrate the Passover. We can be spared God’s wrath because his wrath fell on Jesus.

We can stand before the Lamb because we believe in Jesus. 

That is why all those who are found before the throne are amazed by this extraordinary truth, v.12. God is entirely worthy of praise, because he has worked out a glorious, wise, and powerful way of manifesting his goodness by bringing men and women like us –sinners who deserved judgment and death– before his throne of glory. They just put their trust in the blood of the Lamb, and are thus preserved from judgment. God is just and justifies (saves) the one who has faith in Jesus. 

A few more remarks about these people: 

– chapter 7 v.9, « from every nation, tribe, from every people, from every language ». They all sing with a loud voice, v.10 « Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb ». There is perfect unity among all these people groups. There is not the slightest trace of racism. What unites them so powerfully is not their passports, it is the Lamb. That means we can go to all peoples to proclaim the gospel. This means that the church today should actually look like what it will be one day: multicultural, not ethnic-specific (here for example, we are translating this service into English and Farci).

– chapter 7 v.9, « with palm branches in their hands ». In the Bible palm branches are associated with festivities, with joy (cf. the feast of tabernacles, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem). This crowd of people experience great joy.

– chapter 7 v.9, « dressed in long white robes », v.13-14 « These dressed in long white robes […] They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb! » Each person who stands before the throne of God has been washed clean of all defilement, has been forgiven of his sins by faith in the death of Christ (the blood of the Lamb). 

– chapter 7 v.15-17, « For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. They will never go hungry or be thirsty again, and the sun will not beat down on them, nor any burning heat, because the Lamb in the middle of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. »

They will live forever in the presence of God, they will no longer know the suffering and fear of their past life. They will be comforted forever; God will fully provide for all the needs of his children. This is a powerful encouragement for our Christian life here down on earth. You may be experiencing tears, pain, and worry today… But persevere in faith, remain faithful to the Lord as you look to your eternal destiny, and praise God for his redemptive plan.

Conclusion 

Don’t you want to be part of his people? 

In Chapter 7:1 and 3, John sees 4 angels holding back the winds of the storm, the wrath of God, until all the servants of God are marked with his seal. The final judgment is coming, but today is the day of salvation, today you are offered the opportunity to repent of your sins and place your trust in the Lamb sacrificed for you.