Good evening. Great to be with you this evening.
Have you ever asked yourself? 'Why was Islamic State allowed to conquer 40,000 sqm of the middle east? Why did God let the banks crash in 2008?
Why are we facing Covid-19?' 'Why is the world the way it is?' Well, Revelation 6 gives us the answer. Because it shows us that Jesus is bringing judgement on the human race right now by allowing us to experience some (though not all!) of what it’s like to live without him. It’s a sobering message. So, let’s ask God for his help.
Father, please show us this evening the reality of your judgement on our world and how you’re in control of it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
1. Know We Experience Judgement Now
The first thing the picture language of Revelation 6 teaches us is: know we experience judgement now. So, reading verses 1 to 2:
"Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, 'Come!' And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer."
As we saw last week, the lamb is the risen Lord Jesus and he’s opening the seals on the script of the future of our world and everyone in it. And out of the first seal comes the white horseman of conquest. History is littered with examples: The Roman Empire, Hitler’s Germany, to more recent times. And it’s also the terrorist attacks on our own streets – from London to Manchester, from Glasgow to Belfast. The desire to conquer is a consequence of humans choosing to live without God – seeking to advance our agenda over God’s and everyone else’s.
And this is a foretaste of what is to come. In Matthew 24 Jesus called them "birth pains" – i.e. signs of something much bigger as Jesus brings complete and final judgement. We live in a world of conquerors, but one day Jesus will bring in his Kingdom, for his people. And all nations will fall away.
But we’ve more horsemen of judgement, here’s the next, verse 3:
"When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, 'Come!' And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword."
A rider who takes peace "from the earth". We read this and we think 'that’s Mugabe'. But it’s also Stalin, and Idi Amin and Gaddafi. There’s been endless evil leaders, determined to snatch peace. This means war. But also, murderous killing: genocide, civil wars, religious persecutions and killings. World War I was meant to be the "war that ends all wars". Except it wasn’t. There are 45 active conflicts in the world right now.
All consequences of ignoring God and failing to see human life (except perhaps our own country, or race) as anything special or worth protecting.
On to verse 5:
"When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, 'Come!' And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, 'A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!'"
This black horseman is carrying scales – the type used for measuring grain.
Verse 6 literally means 'one day's wages for one day’s food'. Food is hard to come by. And it’s hideously overpriced. 'Do not harm the oil and the wine' could mean luxuries are still available. The rich can still get their champagne and caviar. It’s the poor who are most affected.
This is a picture of economic instability.
It’s, quite literally, our world right now, isn’t it? As COVID-19 ravages national economies. What will the future hold? Primark was making over £600 million a month, now its chief executive says, absolutely nothing. Some of us face uncertainty in our careers. We’re furloughed for now, but what will the future hold? Better, as things slowly return to normal? Or worse, if our company doesn’t survive, or has to make cuts?
Our world ignores God, the giver of everything, yet expects an uninterrupted supply of gifts. But as a consequence of its rejection of God, can’t.
Yet, there’s worse, verse 7:
"When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, 'Come!' And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a quarter of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth."
A pale horse. The horse of death. As humans we kill each other. Or, we starve to death – whether through our own injustices, or disasters like the locust plague currently ravaging East Africa. Or we’re hit by pestilence – verse 8. That’s literally, plague, or 'epidemic disease'. I.e. COVID-19.
Death is all around us as in this world. Again, this is a foretaste of something greater, life here is temporary, death lies ahead for us all and that Bible says that’s a consequence of trying to hold on to control of our lives, whilst keeping God out of them.
If you’re anything like me, it seems that these horsemen jump out from the pages of the Bible. We can see their effects in our world. The Bible is God’s living word. So, it explains our reality. What else does?
The world says, 'everything is more or less stable, and under our control. Things like COVID-19 are just glitches'.
Whereas, Revelation 6 is saying to all of us, 'no, your "glitches" are actually massive (things like death) – and symptoms of a world that’s ignoring its maker. So how will you respond?'.
Because the risen Jesus in his judgement has allowed all of us, Christian and not, to taste some of what it’s like to live without him.
Of course, not everyone accepts this. Here’s what Richard Dawkins thinks: In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.
Is that what you believe? Is that what you want to believe? That our experience of the world is a result of luck, and chance. With nothing bigger, or greater, out there to place your hope in?
Revelation 6 doesn’t make suffering easy. It doesn’t give us all the answers. But it wakes us up to the explanation for why our world is the way that it is. Which means that suffering isn’t utterly meaningless. It’s tough to swallow. But in God’s economy, it has a purpose.
And another reason Dawkins is wrong is that there is complete justice.
We know that God is just because Jesus took the just penalty our sins deserved on the cross – and then conquered death.
With God’s judgement always comes his mercy. If we trust in him, we’ll be with him for eternity. But if we don’t, we will face what we deserve – to be cut off from him forever.
Revelation 6 is designed to show us that the worst of what we can experience in this life is nothing in comparison to what it will be like if we're not trusting in Jesus as our saviour and our King on that final day.
So, the single biggest question in life is: do you trust him, or not?
If you’d like to think more about this, then ask a Christian you know. Or think about signing up to one of our Christianity Explored courses that run over Zoom. Those are great opportunities to think, ask questions, or just listen. You’ll hear more about them at the end of the service.
So, know we experience judgement now.
2. Know that God is In Control
But also, know that God is control. That’s one of the big, repeated, messages of Revelation.
It’s like watching football on TV (remember when that happened?!). There are replays and different camera angles. What we're seeing is the same, but each angle gives us a slightly different appreciation and perspective. So, verse 2:
"And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him."
And, also verse 4:
"And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword."
And, verse 8:
"And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a quarter of the earth…"
God gives the authority to these horsemen, they’re allowed to do what they’re doing, because God is letting them. In fact, they only come out of the seals because the heavenly creatures command them to! Even when a quarter of the earth is killed, when suffering is extensive, it’s limited. Yes, it could be worse.
God is ruling.
This doesn’t answer all the 'why' questions. We don’t know why people die in freak accidents. Why some of us suffer from depression, unemployment, or crippling anxiety. And it doesn’t answer why we’re all facing COVID-19, and why so many people are being taken by this illness. It doesn’t give all the answers. It doesn’t take away the pain, confusion, and anger that suffering causes.
But it does show us, that in the midst of the evil of our world, that God hasn’t fallen asleep at the wheel. Even when we feel helpless, like the world is free-wheeling, God is in control of it. Even the nasty bits.
And if that’s really true, then it’s perfectly logical that he can use it for some greater good. Which is what the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:28:
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…"
In hard times, we won’t always see God’s goodness quickly. And in some situations, we don’t see at all. And that’s especially difficult. But as one person said, if God is doing 10,000 things in our lives we may be aware of three of them. I think that’s a lot better than a world of blind luck and chance.
And one day God will right all wrongs, and this temporary world will be no more. Birth pains are painful, but lead to something new and fantastic.
So, fast forward to the end of Revelation and we read this in chapter 21:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.'"
That’s a beautiful picture of God’s new world and the end of the story for believers in Jesus (we’ll see more of it in a few weeks’ time). Jesus guarantees this for us. If we trust him, then he’ll get us there. Because this world isn’t as it should be. It’s in a mess of our own making, and we need to know that the risen Lord Jesus has judged it. But God is ruling. And he works for the good of those who love him. If we trust in King Jesus believers look forward to a better world to come.
Father, at this time, help us to see and accept that the risen Lord Jesus is judging our world and to trust him, and his explanation of why our world is the way that it is. We thank you that you are in control, and that if we trust in our saviour Jesus, life in this world, and death, is not the end. In Jesus’ name. Amen.