September 20, 2020
Revelation – the end…or the beginning… Rev 6 – Horsemen of the Apocalypse
I think we can all agree that Summer is over and Fall is underway-and it always just sneaks up on me and happens. I realize that Labor Day weekend is sort of like the unofficial end to summer-but it’s always hot and I still imagine it’s going to be hot for awhile. We’ll still be swimming in the pool and gong to the beach. So when the weather changes and the leaves start turning color it really catches me off-guard. I have a hard time switching wardrobes and going from shorts and t-shirts to jeans and t-shirts. Anybody else share this struggle? Quite honestly my favorite combo is shorts and a fleece. But one night this week I had shorts on and was outside after dinner thinking-What is this feeling-I’m cold? This is strange. And this time of year 55 degrees feels cold-bundle up-while in the spring 55 degrees feels like a heatwave-put on the shorts! Obviously we know that Fall is going to happen-no matter how much we might long for it endless Summer still hasn’t occurred. The season of Autumn is a reality, Fall is a fact we can count on, but every year it catches me off-guard, it’s a disruption to my summer routine that I’ve gotten used to. And that’s the nature of the new sermon series we’ll be starting this Fall-it’s about a known fact that’s an unexpected disruption to life that will catch people off-guard.
I’ll explain more later on-but you might ask-New sermon series-I thought we were continuing in Revelation? That is correct-we are. But initially we were just looking at the 7 letters to the 7 churches-and then wrapping the series up with that grand and glorious scene from God’s Throne room in Rev 4-5. Realizing that last week we left-off in chapter 5 with Jesus-the Lion and the Lamb-holding the scroll that reveals and unleashes the ending of the world-it seemed awfully hard not to keep going into chapter 6. That if Jesus is the only one who’s worthy to open the scroll and break its seals-we need to see what happens when He does! The times we’re living in are very uncertain and unprecedented. I don’t know about you but I’ve heard that word a lot lately-unprecedented-it should be the word of 2020. But it’s true-we’re in unique, unprecedented times where studying the ending of our world and what’s to come is more relevant than ever before. It’s sort of like reading a book or watching a tv series-you have to know how it ends. Anybody ever given up on the ending of a book or series? You read the beginning but said who cares about the ending? Probably not too often. If you’ve stayed with a book or series for awhile you’ve got to see how it ends. I can remember being so gripped for the ending of that tv series Lost-and I’m still not sure what it meant after I saw it-I think I got lost in trying to understand it-but I was bound to see the ending. Or when I was reading Moby Dick I was dedicated to finishing that great novel and getting to the end-even though the chapters about harpoons and whale blubber and blowholes seemed to go on forever-but the ending was worth it! And that’s the case in Revelation-the ending is worth it because its an ending that’s literally in the Lord’s hands and He opens the scroll. So as you can see we’ve entitled this new series-which is sort of a continuation of our previous series-Revelation…the end…or the beginning…
That’s the question I want us to keep in mind as we dive into the rest of this book. Is Revelation just about the end of the world as we know it? Is it just about doom and gloom and destruction? Or does it tell us about the beginning of something extraordinary? It depends on how you look at it. Let me ask-who made it to Montauk this summer? Sad to say we didn’t-not sure why-unprecedented year to say the least! I really wanted to get my summer lobster roll in Montauk. I got it in Maine so that was great-not complaining. But for everyone who gets out to Montauk who doesn’t grab one of these stickers-The End. Who has one of these stickers or t-shirts that says this? You see them all the time on cars. I love it-it’s so final-you came to the end of Long Island-nowhere further-this is it-as far as you can go. Although it depends on how you look at it-depends on where you’re coming from-because I also saw this sticker-The Beginning. And who’s to say that isn’t correct? Why is Montauk considered the end and not the beginning? If you’re a guy on a boat sailing across the Atlantic from Ireland Montauk is a great beginning-it leads you onward to the rest of America. Perspective changes everything-and that’s what we want to encounter in our new but slightly not new series-Revelation…the end…or the beginning…
So you can begin by opening your Bible to Rev 6 or we’ll have it up on the screen-Rev 6:1. So the big question is what’s coming? Isn’t that the question for 2020! What’s coming? Or what’s coming next? But before we go any further in the text it’s important to set the context for a moment and be reminded of where this is historically. As we’ve already said, we finished up reading the 7 letters to the 7 churches in chapters 2-3 and then chapters 4-5 describe that amazing scene in heaven of God’s throne room and Jesus the Lamb next to the throne-so now here He is in chapter 6 opening the scroll that ushers in the end times. That’s Pt1:Opening the scroll: ushers in The End (7 years of Tribulation). That part is very cut and dry, very clear to understand. However, the book of Revelation is one of the most challenging books in the Bible to interpret so the big question is what about The Church, God’s people? This is where many Bible scholars believe the rapture of the church has taken place sometime before the opening of the scroll and its seals. That as chapter 3 ends with Jesus’ final instructions to the 7 churches and chapter 6 begins with His final judgement of 7 years upon the earth, so the church is taken up to heaven between that. And while the word rapture isn’t found in our Bibles, it’s a theological idea that’s been constructed to support what the Bible says and the timeline it presents. If you remember back a few weeks to the letter to the church in Philadelphia Jesus said-Rev 3:10. Many scholars believe that’s the Tribulation, those final 7 years of judgement that the book of Revelation describes from chapter 6 onward. It’s the time of wrath and suffering that the scroll unleashes upon the world to judge it in preparation for the return of Christ. It will reveal and expose people for who they are-that without Christ, left to ourselves mankind isn’t good but will end up fighting and nearly destroying itself. That’s why it’s called that hour of trial to test people. But notice it’s a defined period of time-that hour most likely refers to the 7 years of Tribulation. And notice how it’s a global event-it’s going to come upon the whole world. So this isn’t just a historical event from the early first century or something local to the region of these 7 churches-this extends far beyond the church in Philadelphia-promising that The Church will be delivered from this worldwide hour of Tribulation. Look at what it says about the Tribulation in 1 Thess 5:1-5. Jesus doesn’t want believers to fret or worry or be surprised about what’s to come-instead look at what He goes on to say-1 Thess 5:9. So we have salvation through Jesus when we trust in Him now-but in the context He’s also saying that believers won’t be here during this time of God’s wrath and judgement on the earth. Instead if you look at the previous chapter, it describes the deliverance of God’s people in the Rapture-1 Thess 4:16-17. And this is different from the day of the Lord which is that day when Jesus returns to earth at the end when His wrath and judgment are executed. That day happens at the end of Revelation, this is a time of joy when believers are taken up to heaven and forever reunited with the Lord. And mostly likely this event occurs prior to Jesus opening the scroll in Rev 6 where the judgement of the Tribulation begins. Back to Pt1. And that’s why you’ll hear the phrase Pre-Trib Rapture. It’s the idea that Jesus will rapture the church and take believers to be with Him prior to the start of the Tribulation.
Now as I said before, Revelation is a hard book to interpret. Theologians aren’t certain of every detail about the worlds’ end and the second coming of Christ, just as theologians weren’t certain about every detail of Christ’s first coming. It’s been famously said that while believers can have the hope of a Pre-Trib Rapture and not experience the suffering that will come upon the earth, we should still be prepared for a Post-Trib rapture in case that’s not correct and we will be here during those 7 years. Pray for Pre, but be prepared for Post! And as we make our way through the year 2020 many of us might be scratching our heads wondering if we’re already in it-and maybe. But God’s Word seems to describe a very clear-cut time of suffering and tribulation that is yet to come upon the world-so as we study the rest of Revelation, we’ll be operating with a Pre-Trib Rapture structure that seems to be the most logical fit for understanding Revelation.
So back to our main text-Rev 6:1. So here’s the beginning of the end-and it starts with a horse and its rider-Rev 6:2. As the beginning of the Tribulation gets underway with the first of the 7 seals being opened what emerges are the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Here’s a 19th century painting by a Russian artist that shows all 4 horsemen-there’s the white horse, the red horse, the black horse and the pale horse-and they don’t look too friendly. Each of them have their weapons that Revelation describes. There’s destruction all around them-but what I want you to notice at the top is the Lamb with the scroll opened up. And that’s a good visual for reminding us that as the Tribulation unfolds, as the these seals are broken and the horsemen literally leap off the page bringing this devastation and destruction to earth, the Lord is still firmly and completely in control in heaven. It’s not Satan who’s opened up the scroll and started causing mayhem. No doubt this type of destruction is the medium in which he operates and does his work-but the Lord is still sovereign. One author said-Whether these judgements are enacted through natural disasters or through depraved, disobedient human beings, God never compromises His sovereignty…the initial action bringing judgement originates in heaven. God is the one allowing these horsemen to ride out across the earth.
So back to the first horseman-Rev 6:2. Now it’s important to note that these 4 horsemen don’t represent specific individuals who will come, but rather specific forces that will be released on the earth. And as far as first one-it’s the force of conquest and deception. So the next point-and we’ll build on this-Pt2:Unleashing the Horsemen: results in (1) conquest and deception. This first horse is the most challenging to interpret, but most likely it represents a bloodless conquest that begins with a deceptive peace and counterfeit spirituality. This first horsemen in white looks to be safe, he’s on a regal horse wearing a crown-and that image makes us think of Jesus who will one day return on a white horse as the King of kings who will forever conquer sin and death. This white rider represents false messiahs and false religion that will conquer people and lead them astray. There’s a close connection between this vision in Revelation to what Jesus said in His last sermon on the Mt of Olives-Matt 24:3-5. That’s this first horsemen. From the start of the Tribulation many will be led astray-and Jesus is already warning us to not let that happen. Don’t be mislead or lured into wrong teaching-they’re aren’t many Christ’s, they’re aren’t many roads to heaven-there’s only one way because there’s only one Christ.
So while this false spirituality on the earth is creating a false sense of peace, it’s quickly shattered by the second horsemen-Rev 6:3-4. That red color symbolizes the fire and blood of war, instead of just holding a bow this rider is armed with a sword. And the Greek word for sword here isn’t the sword of justice that Jesus has, rather this is a sharp dagger used for cutting and slicing and the nitty-gritty of close up warfare. And that’s the next part-Pt2:Unleashing the Horsemen: results in (1) conquest and deception, (2) warfare. And we can certainly think back to the wars our world has had to endure-but this red horsemen takes it to the next level as people slay each other. One particular commentary described it in a very chilling and relevant way-Exposition, 135. This was written in 2016 but it sounds like the news of 2020! I can picture the events we’ve been seeing! Maybe we’re there now-or maybe this is just a foreshadowing of what’s to come! Either way we know the horrible effects of war-and Jesus said to expect it in the last days. Back to His last sermon-Matt 24:6-8. This is going to happen-nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom-but what’s Jesus’ encouragement-Don’t be alarmed. Don’t think things have erupted and spiraled out of control-this must happen. This is just the beginning. His sovereign control is unmistakeable. Jesus said these things 2,000 years ago-and immediately we see the famine he speaks of in the next horse in Rev 6:5-6. No doubt famine is the logical result of warfare. The scales in the rider’s hands indicate rationing and food lines. The currency spoken of, the denarius, is roughly the equivalent of a day’s wage. So that means a person will work all day for a quart of wheat and three quarts of barley-hardly enough to keep a family alive and bake some bread. And not harming the oil and wine suggests that staples like that will become luxury items long sought after. Imagine working all day just for bread and the thought of dipping that bread into some olive oil would be considered fancy! This is describing a worldwide famine. And then of course we come to 4th Horsemen who describes worldwide death-Rev 6:7-8. This horse is the ashen-green color of a decomposing corpse-try to picture that disgusting pale, half-dead horse-and it’s rider is named Death. And the Greek name for Death used here in Rev 6 is Thanatos. So yes you heard it right-Thanatos. So if you’ve watched The Avengers here he is the big purple guy with a glove-Thanos-the Greek god of death. And he’s showing up on a pale horse ready to wipe out a fourth of the earth’s population-not unlike how he wiped out half the population in Avengers. But instead of people just evaporating into thin air like in the movie-this destruction takes place through sword, famine, pestilence and wild beasts. It’s as though the entire planet is erupting in death; that death is running rampant however it wants If you do the math, a fourth of the planet’s population is around 1.75 billion people-that some serious death and destruction. So back to Pt2:Unleashing the Horsemen: results in (1) conquest and deception, (2) warfare, (3) famine, (4) death. And what’s most interesting about this is that it’s a known fact-we’re reading about it this morning-people have been reading the book of Revelation for 2,000 years. This is a known fact-yet it arrives as an unexpected disruption to life that catches people off-guard.
That’s Pt3:Unexpected Ending:disrupts life and catches us off-guard. And that’s where we started this morning in talking about something as simple as that transition from summer to fall. Catches me off-guard every year! What-I can’t keep wearing shorts and going to the beach? It disrupts my summer mode even though I know Fall is coming-it has every year. There hasn’t been a year in my existence where Fall hasn’t arrived. One day these Horsemen that Revelation speaks of will arrive too-and instead of simply disrupting our summer activities, they’ll disrupt life and bring this world to its end. The question is if we’ll be ready or not. Look one last time at what Jesus says in his sermon-Matt 24:36-39, 44. We’re reading Jesus’ words, we know what He says is true, the world’s end is coming, but it will come unexpectedly. One day everything is happy-go-lucky, the sun is shining, people are laughing and having a great time. The next thing we know it all changes, the sound of horsemen are on the horizon, and the beginning of the end has come. And I think we’ve all learned this lesson really well in 2020. We started off in January saying Happy New Year-and by March we were all caught off-guard at what happened. The world, our nation, seemed to gird to a halt in a moment and things haven’t been the same since. Might the Lord be giving us that preview, that glimpse, that warning about the need to be ready because the end of this world and return of Christ will come as an unexpected disruption?
And that’s our last Pt4:Warning in Love:allows us to turn to Jesus’ saving grace. Yes, one day God will hand Jesus the scroll, He’ll open it, and the beginning of the end will be ushered in, those 4 Horsemen will be set loose. It will happen in a moment-but the Lord has graciously and lovingly been telling us about that moment for a long time. I like the analogy from Chuck Swindoll, 118. That’s why the book of Revelation was written, that’s why God gave John this vision to write down and record so long ago. Yes, it’s to inform us of what’s going to happen in our world-but the purpose for knowing these things is that we would go to our knees in repentance and faith, turning to the saving grace of Jesus. Revelation was written so that our hearts would respond to Him. Have you done that? The end of this world is a known fact, it’s going to happen, the clock is ticking, it might very well be the 11th hour. But the cross of Christ is also a known fact-and it’s the most glorious fact, the greatest historical event in history! You can be saved from your sins, you can be saved from the wrath of God that your sins deserve-all because of Jesus who paid for them on your behalf when He died on the cross and rose again. When Jesus says to be ready for He’s coming when we don’t expect it, that readiness is defined by your repentance. It’s saying-Jesus, I need you to forgive me from my sins, I know I’ve messed up, there’s no way I can save myself, only you can save me and give me hope that extends far beyond this world which will one day end; that because of your love and grace poured out for me I can become a member of your family, a citizen of your eternal kingdom. Have you said that to the Lord before? Or maybe you said it a long time ago-but need to repeat to the Lord and remind yourself of the amazing truth of the gospel. Readiness is found in repentance! Readiness is responding to Jesus. This study in Revelation that we’re doing might describe the end of the world-but let it point you to the beginning of new life in Christ!