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Worthy is The Lamb: The Beginning of Woes

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The Christ of the Scriptures is Lord over history—even the evil that occurs in history is under His control.

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Text: Revelation 6:1-14
Date: 02/25/18 File name: Revelation_14.wpd ID: Number:
Theme: The Christ of the Scriptures is Lord over history—even the evil that occurs in history is under His control.
In chapter five, the Apostle John is given a sneak-peak into heaven, and he see the glorious worship that takes place. The Lion of Judah, who is also the Lamb slain since before the foundation of the earth, is found by the entire created order, to be worthy to open the seven-sealed scroll that God holds. The scroll details God’s final redemption of His Elect, His judgment of rebellious men and nations, the Millennial reign of our Christ, and the establishment of God’s eternal Kingdom.
But before all of that begins, Jesus must break the seals that guard the contents of the scroll, and as each seal is broken, they each unleash a series of events that must take place before the end comes.
Today’s readers of Revelation must remember that the message was given to Christians at the end of the 1st century, many of whom were beginning to feel the heavy hand of persecution by the State. They needed reassurance, and Jesus gives it to them in this revelation. As mysterious as some of this book is, it is—above all—a reminder that the Christ of the Scriptures is Lord over history. Even the evil that occurs in history is under His control. While evil people and evil systems appear to dominate, Christ unfolds a future in which he will triumph over every enemy. “They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”” (Revelation 17:14, NIV84). For Christians, it’s meant to be a comforting revelation, not a frightening revelation. It’s a book that encourages us to remain faithful in our daily walk, and to defend the faith delivered to the saints.
The question of the hour is, “What do these seals represent, and how do we interpret them?” Let me tell you plainly what I think. The breaking of the seals is preliminary to the actual opening of the scroll. They picture forces and events that are operative throughout history as the Church waits for the consummation of God’s Kingdom. They do not describe the Great Tribulation—as so many believe—put are preparatory to it. The first five have already been broken open—the horsemen are loose upon the earth even now. It is only when the sixth seal is broken that the peoples of the earth find themselves on the threshold of the end, facing a terrible tribulation.

I. THE SUMMONS — COME!

“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!”” (Revelation 6:1, NIV84)
1. in chapter four there is lamentation in heaven because no one is found worthy to open the seven-sealed scroll that God holds in His right hand
a. but then the Lion of the tribe of Judah steps forward, takes the scroll, and all of heaven breaks out in rapturous worship
2. Jesus breaks the first seal and immediately the Apostle John hears a booming voice, that he compares to thunder, call out, “Come!”
a. this will happen with each of the first four seals
b. the most natural interpretation is that each Living Creature—one of God’s Cherubim—is summoning forth the four horsemen to do the bidding of God
ILLUS. When you hear thunder, you know that a storm is coming. And here in chapter six the spiritual barometer is beginning to drop. Storm clouds are beginning to roll in, and there’s distant thunder. It means the storm is almost upon us.
3. the New Testament clearly points out that we are living the Last Days of God’s created order
a. these Last Days began with the redemptive work of Jesus, his resurrection and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the Church
“ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17, NIV84)
1) this promise took place on the Day of Pentecost shortly after the resurrection of our Savior
2) we’ve been in the Last Days ever since
b. the Apostle Peter clearly tells us that the end is near and our redemption draweth neigh
“The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (1 Peter 4:7, NIV84)
1) yes, you’re correct, that was two thousand years ago and the Church is still waiting for the end of all things
2) don’t be dismayed that we are still waiting for the Lord to come!
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8–9, NIV84)
ILLUS. In June of 2017, well-known physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking theorized that humans may only have 100 years left on earth before facing extinction. He warned that humankind faces extinction from a slew of threats ranging from climate change to destruction from nuclear war and genetically engineered viruses. His solution? We all need to move ... off the planet! He suggests that we seriously think about colonizing the moon by 2020, and Mars by 2025—as if they’re such lush and lovely places.
4. Hawking is right about one thing, the end of the earth as we know it is coming, but the demise of earth won’t transpire because of its waning ability to sustain life; instead, the end will come with the long-awaited return of Jesus Christ
a. the clear, and loud, and distinctive command “Come!” is an angelic summons to four horsemen to begin their long journey

II. THE SEALS — BROKEN!

1. the dominant interpretation of this chapter is that the seals remain as yet unbroken
a. their breaking will commence shortly after the rapture of the Church, and their breaking begins a period of world history the bible calls The Tribulation
2. I think that’s a faulty interpretation of the text
a. the breaking of the first five seals has already taken place, and they are the birth pangs that Jesus referred to in Matthew 24:8
“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. 9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:3–14, NIV84)
3. what you’re going to notice as I go through the breaking of the seals is a remarkable similarity between what Jesus says in Matthew 24 and what John sees in Revelation 6

A. THE FIRST SEAL—A RIDER ON A WHITE HORSE

“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.” (Revelation 6:2, NIV84)
“And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.” (Mark 13:10, NIV84)
1. let me begin by saying that the identities of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th horsemen are not debated
a. the second is war, the third is scarcity, and the forth is death
b. but the identity of this 1st horseman is widely disputed
1) some believe the rider is Christ, himself
a) the 2nd century theologian Irenaeus taught this
b) in Rev. 19:11 we see a rider on a white horse whose name is called Faithful and True—it is obviously our Christ
c) Irenaeus identifies them as the same and many Christians agree with him
2) some believe he rider is the Holy Spirit
a) the first Horseman represents the sending of the Holy Spirit by Jesus
3) some believe the rider is pestilence and infectious disease
ILLUS. This view was popularized by Spanish novelist Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, in his 1916 novel The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that was subsequently turned into two motion pictures. Ibanez writes, "The horseman on the white horse was clad in a showy and barbarous attire. [...] While his horse continued galloping, he was bending his bow in order to spread pestilence abroad. At his back swung the brass quiver filled with poisoned arrows, containing the germs of all diseases."
4) some believe that the rider represents the conquest of the Roman empire that reached its height by the end of the first century
ILLUS. Edward Bishop Elliott, an 19th century English Baptist preacher, and highly respected New Testament scholar and theologian believed and taught this. His book Hours of the Apocalypse was considered the ‘go to’ commentary on the Book of Revelation by several generations of Baptists. Elliot held to the view of eschatology that the book of Revelation covers history from the time of the apostle John up to the second advent of Christ.
5) some believe that the rider is the Antichrist—the personification of everything evil and opposed to God
a) Billy Graham and a large percentage of Evangelicals in general, and Baptists in particular, believe this
ILLUS. If you ever read the book The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey published in 1970, or the 16-book series Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, this view is their position. Lindsey’s book was the No. 1 non-fictional best-selling book for a decade, and sold 28 million copies between 1970-1990. The Left Behind series were novels based on a dispensational interpretation of the Book of Revelation. The series, to date, has sold and astonishing 68 million books.
b) I tell you this to tell you that the interpretation of the 1st rider as the Antichrist is the predominant view among Christians in the West
2. I don’t believe any of those five views are correct
a. I am persuaded that the first horseman symbolizes the proclamation of the Gospel going out into all the world to conquer
1) the gospel will be preached effectively in all the world
2) in spite of an evil, and hostile environment characterized by human hatred, strife, and opposition, the gospel will make its way victoriously into all the world
3) it will be so penetrating, so victorious that peoples from every tribe, and language, and people, and nation will hear it, and their hearts and souls and minds will be conquered by its message

B. THE SECOND SEAL—A RIDER ON A RED HORSE

“When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.” (Revelation 6:3–4, NIV84)
“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. ... .” (Mark 13:7–8, NIV84)
1. virtually everyone agrees that the second horseman represents warfare, mayhem and bloodshed
a. interestingly enough, in the late first century when the Apostle John wrote these words, the Roman Empire was experiencing a lengthy time of piece and prosperity
b. the reason is simple Roman military might had crushed any effective resistance so that peace reigned from Armenia to Spain
1) it was known as the Pax Romana—the Peace of Rome
2) the peace of the Mediterranean basin rested on military might
2. for the last two-thousand years, Pax Romana has been the exception and not the rule
3. throughout the centuries the prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 24:7 has continued to attain fulfilment: nation after nation, and kingdom after kingdom have indeed risen against each other
ILLUS. It is estimated that in the last three hundred years, in Europe alone, there have been last three hundred wars. And these wars are increasing in intensity. Most of you are aware that the 20th century was the bloodiest century in history with men slaughtering each other in unprecedented numbers.
a. if ever there was a period in the history of mankind where peace was taken away from the earth, and people were made to slay each other, it was the last century
b. Jesus says that such things must happen, but the end shall not be yet

C. THE THIRD SEAL—A RIDER ON A BLACK HORSE

“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. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!”” (Revelation 6:5–6, NIV84)
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.” (Mark 13:8, NIV84)
1. the third horseman represents scarcity, and famine
a. grain was the primary source of sustenance in the ancient world, and in most of the third world of our day, it still is
1) an average man would consume a quart of grain a day in either a porridge or bread
2) the wealthy ate wheat, and the poor ate barley
b. John writes that it takes a day’s wage to purchase just enough grain to survive
1) this remains true in many parts of the world today
2. this third horseman represents scarcity
ILLUS. In the history of the world, famine has been one of the great blights upon mankind. Between 108 BC and 1911 AD, there were no fewer than 1,828 major famines in China alone. More than 70 million people died in famines in the twentieth century. The Soviet Famine of 1932-1933 left 10 million dead—mostly in the Ukraine where I’ll be headed later this week. The Great Chinese Famine of 1932-1933 killed 43 million people. Today famine continues to be a problem in Somalia, Nigeria, and Yemen. But it’s not because there is not enough food in the world to go around, but because governments use food as a weapon of war.

D. THE FORTH SEAL—A RIDER ON A PALE HORSE

“When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 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.” (Revelation 6:7–8, NIV84)
““Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.” (Mark 13:12, NIV84)
1. the word pale in this passage means pale gray or ashen—it represents the color of death
a. death is the forth horseman and he has the power to take life in a variety of ways—sword, famine, plague, and even wild beasts
2. death is the natural outcome of war, mayhem, murder, and famine
a. in vs. 8 plague is added to the mix
ILLUS. If you go to the internet and simply ‘Google’ world-wide pandemics you’ll find scores of pages listing all of the great plagues and pandemics that have afflicted mankind over the course of history. Cholera, Influenza, Typhus, Smallpox, Measles, Tuberculosis, Malaria, Yellow fever, and now the Ebola virus are responsible for billions of deaths over the millennia.

E. THE FIFTH SEAL—THE MARTYRDOM OF THE RIGHTEOUS

“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. 10 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?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.” (Revelation 6:9–11, NIV84)
““Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” (Matthew 24:9, NIV84)
1. we know from the Scriptures, and early Roman historians that the church experienced regular persecution
a. we know that the early disciples actually rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer for the sake of their Savior
“ ... They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:40–41, NIV84)
2. throughout the centuries countless believers have been martyred for their faith
ILLUS. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, an academic research center that monitors worldwide demographic trends in Christianity, estimates that between the years 2005 and 2015, 900,000 Christians were martyred — an average of 90,000 Christians each year. Researcher David B Barrett, puts the number of Christians martyred since the time of Jesus at 70 million.

III. APPLICATION

1. in chapter 4 of the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John hears a voice summon him,
“Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this”
a. John is going to receive a two-fold vision
1) he is going to get a sneak-peak at what is taking place in heaven—that’s chapter 5, and what a glorious vision of worship he receives
2) he is also going to see a panoramic vision of the course of world history symbolically represented by the four horsemen, and the martyrs
2. if you were paying attention, you noticed that along with the verses of Revelation 6 I also read companion verses from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark
a. those verses come from what we call the Olivet Discourse
1) this is the last sermon that Jesus preached to his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion
b. as you read the Olivet Discourse and chapters 6-8 of Revelation you will notice a striking similarity of events

A. THE FIRST FIVE SEALS REPRESENT THE “BEGINNING OF BIRTH PANGS”

1. as Jesus and the disciples are leaving the Temple, Mark’s gospel says that one of the disciples commented on the impressive display of human engineering which was before them
Mark 13:1 "Teacher, behold what magnificent stones and what wonderful buildings!"
a. the word magnificent is an understatement when used to describe the Temple Complex that existed in Jesus’ day
1) based on eye-witness descriptions, you simply run out of superlatives to describe it
2) everything about the Temple was meant to impress and inspire awe
ILLUS. Josephus, a Jewish 1st century historian, tells us that much of the actual Temple building was plated in gold and silver and shone in the sun with such radiance that it would make one avert the eyes. What wasn’t covered in precious metal was highly polished white marble. Josephus writes: “To approaching strangers it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain, the reason being that whatever was not overlaid with gold was purest white.” The Altar of Burnt offerings which stood just outside the Temple measured 48 feet square at the base, and stood fifteen feet high. The outer courts of the Temple could accommodate an estimated 200,000 worshipers. Archeology has discovered that some of the stones in the retaining wall around the Temple Complex are 40 feet in length and weigh more than 100 tons each. To this day archeologists wonder how they did it.
b. a Jewish saying of the day said, “He who never saw Herod’s edifice has never in his life seen a beautiful building.”
c. no wonder the disciples were amazed at the wonderful stones and wonderful buildings
2. but Jesus put the temporary existence of material things in sharp focus by revealing that the Temple would be completely destroyed
"And Jesus said to him, 'Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another which will not be torn down.'" (Mark 13:2, NIV)
a. Jesus uses some hyperbole when He says that not one stone shall be left upon another
1) it signifies the totality of the destruction that will take place
b. his prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70 when Roman Legions destroyed the city of Jerusalem and burned the Temple
1) an estimated one millions Jews died during the siege
3. from the Temple Jesus and the disciples went to the Mount of Olives which is just across the valley from Jerusalem and overlooks it
a. it must have given a stunning view of the city and its temple
b. on the Mount of Olives, Jesus unveils future events for the Disciples
1) it is one of the most difficult passages in the entire New Testament to understand
4. Jesus gives us signs that are not signs, but they make us watch
ILLUS. A few of you might actually remember the old Burma Save advertisements that use to run along America’s highways. They were especially popular in the 1940s, but I can remember seeing them along old highways out west well into the 1970s. They were roadside rhymes that really weren’t signs per se but they made you watch. At the height of their popularity over 7,000 Burma Shave signs entertained travelers across the U.S. Remember how they were set up? You’d see a placard containing the first line of the rhyme, then another one hundred feet down the road was the next, and then the next and the next, until finally you’d see the real advertisement: Burma Shave! The rhymes were notoriously silly:
Within this vale
of toil and sin
You head grows bald
But not your chin
Burma Shave!
or
Henry the Eighth
Sure Had Troubles
Short on Wives
Long on Stubble
Burma Shave!
There were a total of 600 of these little ditties.
5. these roadside rhymes that were scattered across the county made travelers watch – anticipating what would come next
a. the Olivet Discourse is like that
1) Jesus tells the disciples that you’ll see many events taking place in the world, and they will make you think that the end is near, but it’s not
2) but they should encourage you to keep anticipating what will come next
6. in the Olivet Discourse, Jesus proceeds to give us several signs of the times that are really not signs of his coming at all
a. he tells his disciples that not everything that seems to be a sign of the end of the world is in reality such a sign
b. they are signs of a crumbling society and a degenerating world that—as they continually worsen—are a reminder that we need to be paying attention to spiritual matters
7. what are these non-signs that keep us looking?
a. we can group into four general categories
1) political upheavals and war
2) natural disasters, famine and plague
3) death on a massive scale at certain periods of history
4) increasing persecution of believers
5) the preaching of the gospel to all the world
b. we don’t have to wait for the first five seals to be opened and unleashed—they have been, and we’ve been experiencing them with increasing frequency and ferocity
c. but as bad as things can be, they are only the beginning of birth pains
As distressing as these days can be, they can be and will be worse. Jesus told his disciples in the Olivet Discourse that “ ... days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again,” are coming. It will be such a cataclysmic time, that, “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.” (Mark 13:14–20, NIV84)
Is there a possibility that I’ve got the order of event wrong? Absolutely! But the events will take place, and that’s what you need to remember! The question is, dear friend, are you ready for them?
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