Forum Class for March 20th
Notes from Donald Grey Barnhouse:
The First Horseman CHAPTER 6:1-2. And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living ones saying as with a voice of thunder, 'Come.' And I saw and behold a white horse, and the one silting on him having a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. (Free Translation)
At some time in every commentary on the Book of Revelation, it is necessary to go back to the Book of Daniel and to the great prophetic utterance of our Lord in His last discourse on the Mount of Olives, a few days before His death. The events in the breaking of the seals are pictures which need to be framed, and the framework is to be found in the passages we have indicated. [See http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/daniel, and http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/olivet].
Daniel had a vision which concerned certain periods of time. Just as John wept when he thought that there was no one worthy to open the scroll, so Daniel received his prophetic knowledge after definitely setting his face unto the Lord God "to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes" (Dan. 9:3). The humiliation of the soul of the prophet was preparation for divine revelation, and no one can lay hold of prophetic truth who is not willing to pass by the same low road. His final prayer was for the sanctuary at Jerusalem, the Holy of Holies, symbol of the presence of God on earth among His people. "Now, therefore, our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord's sake Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken, and do; defer not" (Dan. 9:17,19).
It was in the midst of this plea that Gabriel was sent from Heaven to talk with Daniel and to inform him. "I am now come forth," he said, "to give thee skill and understanding." Daniel was then informed that seventy periods of time were determined upon Israel and upon Jerusalem. In the English translation, the phrase has been rendered "seventy weeks." The Hebrew word which is translated "week" is one which means a seven. The new Revised Standard Version rightly translates it, "weeks of years." Just as the period of ten years is called a decade, so We could well translate this word "heptad," a period of seven years. If we do this, the meaning of the passage becomes clear. "Seventy heptads are determined upon Thy people and upon Thy holy city." Within this period of four hundred and ninety years, certain things were to be accomplished. This time was determined "to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy" (Dan. 9:24). Now it is readily seen that some of these points have been fulfilled, and that others have not, although far more than four hundred and ninety years have passed. When the Messiah came forth to die, He did make reconciliation for iniquity, but everlasting righteousness was certainly not brought in at that time.
Only two explanations are possible. All that was prophesied did not take place in four hundred and ninety years. Therefore, the prophecy is false; or, the years are not consecutive, and a gap is to be sought somewhere. The latter interpretation is immediately seen to be the correct one. Gabriel was very specific. The period of seventy heptads, seventy weeks of years, was to be divided into three sections: forty-nine years plus four hundred and thirty-four years, plus seven years. Let us read more closely. "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven heptads and sixty-two heptads" (Dan. 9:25). The beginning of the time measure was the royal decree promulgated by Artaxerxes [Longimanus] in the twentieth year of his reign, and recorded in the second chapter of Nehemiah. After seven heptads the city had been restored in the midst of great troubles. From this time, the sixty-two heptads run. Daniel's narrative continues, "And after sixty-two heptads shall Messiah be cut off but not for himself." Here, of course, is a very definite date, the crucifixion of Christ as a substitute for the sins of Israel. We do not need to go into the details of the chronology. Sir Robert Anderson, former head of the Criminal Investigation Department of Great Britain (Scotland Yard), and well-known student of the Old Testament, has done this admirably in his book, The Coming Prince.
Following this tragedy there was to be a judgment upon Jerusalem. "The people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined" (Dan. 9:26). Now we know historically that it was the Roman people who destroyed the city and the sanctuary under Titus. This identifies "the prince that shall come" as being one who shall become the head of the Roman Empire. The argument has been set forth many times and by many writers: It fits all the circumstances perfectly and accords with the definite statements of Christ, the prophecies of Paul and the visions of John in the book of Revelation.
Sixty-nine heptads have thus been accounted for. One remains, seven years which we declare to be future, to begin after. a great lapse of time between the death of Christ and the events which shall set this seventieth heptad in its course. We ourselves are living in this parenthesis between the sixty-ninth and seventieth periods.
When the disciples came to the Lord on the Mount of Olives during the last week before the crucifixion, they asked Him certain prophetic questions. They wanted to know the sign of His coming and the end of the age. They knew nothing of the Church age. It was at that time a mystery hid with God "which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men" (Eph. 3:5). The age concerning which they inquired was the age of God's dealings with Israel, the age covered by Daniel's prophecy with which we are concerned. How did the Lord answer? He began to recount a series of events: false Christs. wars, and rumors of wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes. And He announced that these were but the beginning of sorrows (Matt. 24:5-8). One most significant prophecy then occurs by which we are able to tie the prophetic utterances together in their proper sequence. "When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place, whoever reads, let him understand" (Matt. 24:15).
According to the Lord Jesus Christ, an event spoken of by Daniel is the key to the understanding of the events at the end of the age. It is when they shall see something which He calls "the abomination of desolation" standing in the Holy of Holies in the sanctuary at Jerusalem.
Let us go back to Daniel's prophecy to discover the meaning. He has spoken of this sinister figure, the prince that will come, one whose people would destroy Jerusalem. We read, "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one heptad: and in the midst of the heptad he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate" (Dan. 9:27).
The prince that shall come is the Antichrist. Our Lord said, "1 am come in my Father's name, and you receive me not: if another comes in his own name, him you will receive" (John 5:43).
The picture now becomes clear. The Antichrist will make a treaty with the majority of the Jews for seven years. They will immediately begin the Levitical sacrifices. When the period has run half its course, that is after three and a half years, the Antichrist will order the sacrifices to cease and then will perform some act which our Lord calls "the abomination of desolation." A concordance will quickly reveal to us that idolatry is frequently called an abomination to the Lord, but we have a more definite description in the second epistle to the Thessalonians (2:1-8) of what the Antichrist will do.
In this chapter Paul had taught personally that Christ was to come at any moment to take the believers out of the world. Following this rapture there would be a time of great tribulation upon the earth. When the first persecutions came, there were some who thought that Paul's prophecy was being fulfilled and that, therefore, somehow they have been left behind in the rapture. Satan desired to foster this false doctrine in order to increase spiritual confusion. The New Testament had not been written, and spiritual truth was communicated in supernatural ways and was beginning to be communicated by the inspired epistles of Paul. When Thessalonian believers came to him with the problem, he wrote, "Now we beg you, brothers, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together to him, that you be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit [Satanic spirit}, nor by word [someone speaking a false word in the meeting], nor by letter as from us [someone had undoubtedly stooped to counterfeit Paul's epistle] to the effect that the day of the Lord is now at hand" (II Thess. 2:1-2). No false doctrine should be believed. The Scripture definitely pointed out that God's great judgments could not take place until certain things occurred. So he goes on to explain, "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition" (II Thess. 2:3). Here is the announcement that the Antichrist must come, and there follows a definite description of the act of which Daniel hints and which the Lord announced to be the fixed point from which prophetic events were to be understood. What does this Antichrist do when he comes?
"He opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he, as God, sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (II Thess. 2:4). This is "the abomination of desolation" spoken of by Daniel and then again by Jesus Christ.
Paul reminds them that this was precisely what he had preached about when he had visited the church in Thessalonica. He then went on to complete the teaching. The Antichrist may not be manifest until another great event takes place. "And now you know what withholds that he might be revealed in his time: for the mystery of iniquity does already work: only he [the Holy Spirit] who now lets [allows] will let, until he be taken out of the way" (II Thess. 2:6-7). The Holy Spirit came down into the world at Pentecost in a special sense in which He had never been in the world, to dwell in the Church, the body of believers which is called the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19). When all believers are removed to Heaven according to the promise made to the church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:10), and which we have seen prophetically accomplished in the vision of the elders around the throne of God, the Holy Spirit goes out of the world in the sense that He came into it at Pentecost. When, therefore, "he is taken out of the way, then shall that Wicked [One] be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming" (II Thess. 2:7-8).
Putting all of these prophecies together, we see that there is a seven-year period marked by a treaty between the Antichrist and Israel, the central point of which will be the betrayal of Israel by the Antichrist and the setting up of his statue in the Holy of Holies as though he were God. The Lord Jesus Christ divides the events in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew by this point. It should be noted that we have no way of tying this event into the dates by which we now count time. There is no connection between events of the twentieth century and these prophetic outlines. In the future, however, believers of the last seven-year period will be able to mark their calendars day by day and know the course of events by means of the prophecies which are spread before us.
Today this explanation must be understood if we are to arrive at a true understanding of the book of Revelation. From the opening of the first seal when the first earthly event in this seven-year period takes place, and up to the nineteenth chapter of Revelation, is the detailed history of earth events after the Church has been removed to Heaven and while Satan is making his last bold bid for earth control.
From the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, certain conclusions must be drawn from our Lord's teaching. A series of events is described up to the fourteenth verse. The abomination of desolation is announced in the fifteenth verse. Following this, a second series of events is described, including the phrase, "for then shall be great tribulation," which term has frequently been extended to cover the whole of the seven-year period. For the sake of harmony with all Biblical utterances we shall not use the term Great Tribulation of the whole seven-year period but only the last half of the period, and shall call the whole time by the phrase "the seventieth heptad" or "the seventieth week" or, more briefly, "the seven years." There is absolute parallelism between the events as described by Christ in His prophecy of this period and the detailed prophecies of the Apocalypse.
When the Lord Jesus began to answer the questions of the disciples, He said, "Take heed that no man deceives you. For many shall come in my name, saying, 'I am Christ'; and shall deceive many" (Matt. 24:4, 5). The first earth event then of the seven years is a special manifestation of the power of Satan counterfeiting the return of Christ.
With this announcement we are ready to see the first seal removed by the Lord. "And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, "Come. And I saw, and behold a white horse; and the one sitting on him having a bow; and a crown was given to him and he went forth conquering and to conquer."
It is strange that more commentators have not detected the counterfeit. But just as many people are deceived by counterfeit coins, for if they were not, no one would go to the trouble of making them, so many have been deceived by this counterfeit Christ who rides forth as soon as He who hinders is taken out of the way. Many have looked upon this rider of the white horse as being Christ.
If we wish to see Christ coming forth as a conqueror, we must turn to the nineteenth chapter of the book of Revelation. "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. And his name is called the Word of God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS" (Rev. 19:11,16).
The Antichrist is a counterfeit Christ. He has no power to create. He is going to imitate. He is going to seek to fulfill the world's idea of what the Messiah should be, since the world has rejected God's Word as to what the Messiah must be. We have only to look at the details of the prophecy to see how far removed this is from the Lord Jesus Christ of the Scriptures. The counterfeit is revealed by a detailed comparison of the two riders. The One whose name is the Word of God has on His head "many crowns." The symbol is of all royalty and majesty. The Greek word is diadema. The horseman of the first seal wears no diadem. The false crown is the stephanos. Its diamonds are paste. It is the shop girl adorned with jewelry from the ten-cent counter imitating the lady born and bred who wears the rich jewels of her inheritance. All is not gold that glitters. No amount of gaudy trappings can deceive the spiritual eye. Clothes do not make the man in spite of the proverb.
The weapon of this rider is the bow [but no arrows]. The Lord of glory is quite differently armed. He carries "a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations" (Rev. 19: 15). Thus is the Faithful and True armed. But this Don Quixote moves forth with a weapon that strikes terror only to the uninitiated, for those who are marked out as God's own carry the shield of faith with which they shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Eph. 6:16). No, this is not the Christ, though he may be dressed up to look like Him. On the walls of the great museums are masterpieces of painting. Before these, easels, are the copies of students. It takes no very practiced eye to distinguish between genius and what often amounts to caricature.
Commentators who have attempted to interpret this rider as being the Lord Jesus have been hard put to it to explain the riders which follow, scourge upon scourge, especially when they have tried to fit these prophecies into some event of Church history. The best they have been able to imagine is that the wrath of God was moving in the little chastisements that have come upon the earth through the years. But how could these, which are at the most rehearsals, be called a tribulation greater than any that ever was or ever shall be?
It has been rightfully said that nothing but hopeless confusion "can result from the attempt to show that a future event has already been fulfilled. It is no wonder that the book has remained sealed to many, simply because they will not admit that all this is future. The facts of history together with the plain language of revelation, have been strained to the last limit to produce an agreement; and the many tongues of interpretation testify to the hopelessness of the effort. Nothing has ever transpired in history to fill up the measure demanded by the majestic language of this part of Revelation. Let us remember that God has purposes yet to be fulfilled, and we shall escape from the bewildering confusion of the historical interpreters, and, at the same time, rescue the Book from the dishonor put upon it,"
The Train of the Antichrist: Verses 3-8: "And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, 'Come.' And there came forth another, a red horse; and it was given to the one that sat on him to take the peace from the earth, in order that they might kill each other; and there was given unto him a great sword. And when he opened the third seal heard the third living creature saying, 'Come,' and I saw, and behold a black horse; and the one who sat on him had a balance in his hand. 6 And I heard as it were a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, a measure of wheat for a denarius and three measures of barley for a denarius; and hurt thou not the oil and the wine. 'And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, 'Come.' And I saw, and behold a livid horse, and the one sitting on him is named Death, and Hades followed with him. And authority was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth to kill with sword, and with famine, and with death, and by the wild beasts of the earth." (Rev. 6:3-8, Free Translation)
The world in its moment of greatest need will turn to a man who goes forth with a plan for peace. Our Lord stated when He was here on earth, "I am come in my Father's name and you receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him you will receive" (John 5: 43). This is the rider on the white horse. His true character is not long hidden. When he takes possession of the power over the nations, he is swiftly followed by the judgment of God. After the white horse there comes forth the red, the black and the livid. No sooner do these appear than war is unloosed, famine breaks forth and death stalks the earth. It is not without reason that the Holy Spirit calls the Antichrist "The Beast." He comes out of the abyss (Rev. 17:8), his character is that of a beast (13:2, 3), his power, his throne and his authority are from Satan, (13:2). And finally, God deals with him as a beast (19:19,20).
From him we see the nature and the character of this rider of the white horse, for at first the world will take him to be Christ, the Messiah. He is, however, the counterfeit Christ, the anti-Messiah.
The order of events follows closely that which was announced by our Lord in answer to the disciples' questions on the Mount of Olives, "For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many" (Matt. 24:5). This is the white horse. "And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars for nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom" (24:6,7). This is the red horse of war. There are some who apply this passage to our day, thinking that the wars which trouble this age are those spoken of in prophecy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The wars of our day are but rehearsals, but the wars which Christ prophesied take place after the believers are removed from the earth, after the man of sin has been revealed (II Thess. 2:3). These campaigns are described in the book of Daniel.
There is a well-known type of biblical narrative in the Old Testament in which the Holy Spirit leads a prophet to consider some event that is taking place before the gaze of the world at that moment. The inspired writer presents some of the details of what is to him contemporaneous history. Then, suddenly, without so much as a break in the paragraph, the Holy Spirit carries the writer forward more than two thousand years to the time of the end and speaks of prophetic events which have some similarity with those taking place before the eye of the prophet. We might liken this type of prophecy to the stereopticon slide. Take it in your hands and examine it and dimly you see certain lines and patches of light and shade. Place it in the projector with the proper light shining through it and on the screen in proper focus and you see the great image clear and distinct. So it is with prophecies in the Word of God, for Isaiah brings a message of comfort to Jerusalem because of some armistice that has ended a local warfare (Isa. 40: 1,2). The next verse carries us on to John the Baptist comforting the nation because the final peace has been proclaimed. Ezekiel rebukes the king of Tyre because of pride that lifted him lip to the place where he accepted worship from his subjects and is carried on into the spiritual realm to describe the fall of Lucifer who through pride turned the worship of creation away from God toward himself (Ezek. 28).
The Word of God enables us to trace some of the movements of Antichrist after his first rise to power. We see from the verses that are under discussion in the Revelation that the rider of the second horse is permitted to take peace from the earth. Christ tells us that following the manifestations of false christs come wars and rumors of war. It is Daniel who describes the campaign. The details of the beginning are not given to us. They do not concern the land of Israel, but suddenly we see two kings pushing against the Antichrist (Dan. 11:40). His army is first seen marching forward in the neighborhood of Asia Minor and Syria. "He shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over" (vs. 40). Perhaps in the light of other scriptures this might be taken to describe the campaign that united the former Roman Empire. At any rate, we next see him enter Palestine, "He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown" (vs. 41). Knowing our geography it is easy to follow the narrative when he comes from Syria into Palestine. Will he turn to scale the terrible ramparts that protect Jordan? Daniel shows us that the situation in Egypt is evidently urgent. He does not have time for a thrust against the Arab people. "These shall escape out of his hand, even Edom and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon" (vs. 41). He reaches Egypt and conquers it. Some of his forces break over Ethiopia (vs. 42, 43). But it is a wave that has dashed itself too high upon the shore and must break and recede, "Tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him; therefore he shall go forth [out of Africa] with great fury to destroy, and utterly annihilate many" (vs. 44). His headquarters were established in Palestine, "Between the seas in the glorious holy mountain" (vs. 45).
Now the stage is set for later events of the seven year period. The conquest of Palestine and the rehabilitation of the Roman empire are by no means the climax of the defeats and disasters of the time of the end. In fact, our Lord said--and what a word of comfort this will be to those who have the true nature of the Antichrist and whose hearts have turned in repentance toward the true Christ--see that you be not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet" (Matt. 24:6).
We think that we are living in a day of war and rumors of war,
but all that we have seen is nothing compared with what shall
be when the second horseman of the Apocalypse rides forth. We
see just enough to know the great outline of what will come to
pass. What will it not take of marching armies and Satan's flying
air squadrons to bring the nations into the alliances that face
each other at Armageddon? Russia leading her forces and those
of the Germans she has absorbed; Persia turned from other influences
and swinging into line with the great northern confederacy; the
Arab peoples uniting to join with them; republics turning to kingdoms;
western Europe, in dismay at the power of the coalition that rises
in the north and east, melts together under the rule of the Antichrist.
The historian, trained in research, faces a problem of history with delight; but here lying before us in a prophetic word and even visible on the not too distant horizon of world events is the greatest cataclysm of all time. God in His own inscrutable purpose takes His restraining hand from the world and permits Satan to have his way. Yet He in His omniscience knows how Satan's force will move and has written down the outline in His Word.
So clear is this picture that it is almost a pity to turn aside to answer false interpretations. To us it is almost incredible that serious interpreters of the Bible record should go so far from the truth, yet we have before us a commentary accepted by many which makes of the first horseman the Lord Jesus and the red horse to be that strife or variance that comes from the preaching of the Gospel. Quoting as a parallel Christ's words, "Think not that I have come to send peace to the earth; I came not to send peace ace, but a sword" (Matt. 10:34), it seems almost childish to speak of persecutions and wars that have followed the spread of Christianity as the fulfillment of this prophecy. Such interpretation comes from a low view of God's wrath against sin. There is no realization of the meaning of "Great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matt. 24:21). If it be said that the words we are discussing cannot apply to the last days, for there will be then no peace to be taken away from the earth, we must realize that it is as a man of peace that the false christ will be able to get his hold on a tired world. Mankind, refusing the substance that is in Christ, takes the "peace" that the Antichrist offers but finds that the white horse is followed by the red scourge of war.
The third horse is black. In the sequence of events given by Christ it is famine which follows the war and rumors of war. Here we have great scarcity indicated. The climax where men die of hunger comes with the fourth horseman. The black horse, however, does bring great scarcity. He carries the balance indicating that food must be weighed carefully. Ezekiel prophesies that the children of Israel in the midst of their desperation will know this scarcity. "And thy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from time to time shalt thou eat it. Thou shalt drink also water by measure. Behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem; and they shall cot bread by weight, and with care" (Ezek. 4:10, 11, 16). This is part fulfillment of the judgment announced in Leviticus, "When I have broken the staff of your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver your bread again by weight; and you shall cat, and not be satisfied" (Lev. 26:26).
It will be seen as we continue our study of the Revelation that following the greatest strokes of suffering there are breathing spells as though to test humanity. Will they turn to God or will He be forced to bring forth greater and heavier artillery of punishment? From the midst of the four living creatures comes a voice commanding the rider of the black horse. The voice speaks of the measurement of wheat and barley and gives command to protect the oil and the wine. The measure spoken of here is the Greek measure of capacity of very ancient usage, the choenix. As early as the time of Homer it was indicated as the amount of wage given to a workman for a full day's work (Odyssey XIX:XXVIII). Herodotus also gives this as the measure of wheat consumed by each soldier in the army of Xerxes (VIII:CLXXXVII). The coin was the denarius, the amount of wages given to a day laborer (Matt. 20:2). If the poor barley grain were consumed, it was found to be three times cheaper than the wheat. The prices are certainly high. A man would be giving all of his income for the bare necessities of life, but he could scrape through. Some have seen in this passage nothing but famine. Rather, we believe, must the contrast with luxury be seen. "Hurt thou not the oil and the wine," the voice commands. The poor are getting poorer; the rich are still able to retain their luxuries.
Just after World War I, I spent a few days in Vienna at the time when misery was very great. The British commissioner had just reported in the London Times that it was not uncommon to see the streets of the capital blocked by funerals of which three out of four were children. There was a shortage of coal and the police had ordered everyone off the streets by nine o'clock. The city was filled with wealthy refugees from Russia and other countries. Walking along the boulevard one afternoon as the crowds were coming out of the opera which began early to conform with the curfew regulations, I saw men with bare feet in the snow, their skeletons covered with rags, their ribs seen through the holes in the cloths with which they attempted to cover their bodies. From time to time there was blood on the snow from their feet. Out of the opera came men escorting women with fortunes in jewels upon them. Never have I seen more wonderful displays in any of the capitals of the earth. The beggars blocked the way to the fine limousines that came for the rich. I saw the men striking the beggars with their canes to clear the way for the women. Poor girls not clad in the gaudy finery of prostitutes, but with poor clothing and in wooden shoes, clattered about clutching at the passerby and offering to sell themselves for a coin which at that moment could be purchased for one-five hundredth part of a dollar. Mark well, there was no famine in Vienna. There was scarcity in the midst of plenty, but there was no hurt to the luxuries.
One of the great criticisms of the present time is that there is scarcity in the midst of plenty. This is the situation which will be accentuated a thousand fold when the Antichrist begins his reign. It is a social maladjustment.
Yet there is no repentance. Nations do not turn to God, but go on their way without Him. Bengel has said, "The balances of this rider serve as a sign, that all the fruits of the ground, and consequently all Heaven with its progressive influences, all the seasons of the year and the course of events, with their manifold changes and vicissitudes, are subject to Christ." All the happenings of earth, the movements of crops, the order of events are in answer to His Word, yet men will not believe. There is, of course, a spiritual interpretation of these symbols. There are other verses in the Bible where bread and oil and wine are mentioned together. "He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that makes glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengthens man's heart" (Ps. 104:14,15). Can it be that in the midst of famine for the bread of God, where it will be impossible for the Bible to be circulated, where every precious copy will be protected as in the days of great persecution, that the people will nevertheless have the wine of gladness and the anointing of the Spirit of God? The Holy Spirit indeed will have left the earth when the Lord withdraws the Church at the rapture. But He will have left only as the One who indwells the heart of man. He will yet be here as He was in Old Testament times, pouring Himself forth upon those who believe and making glad their hearts in the midst of spiritual lack.
At the opening of the fourth seal, the last horse is seen. The color of this horse in the Revised Standard Version is given as pale. The Greek word is very interesting. It is chloros, from which the name of chlorine gas is taken. The same word is found elsewhere in the New Testament and is translated "green" (Mark 6:39 and Rev. 8:7; 9:4). The rider of this horse is named. He is none other than death. Hades follows with him as though to gather up the victims, which are mowed down by the sickle of death.
The devil is the one who had the power of death (Heb. 2:14). We see him exercising it upon the family of Job, the moment he has the permission of God. What he does now is definitely by the command of Christ. John saw in the first chapter, the One who said, "Behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of Hades and of death" (Rev. 1:18). As we behold the four horsemen ride forth, we must not forget that they come at the express command of the One who opens the seals. What comfort for us today and what comfort for the persecuted ones of the future, to know that no movement of Satan is apart from the knowledge of the will of God.
There are two possible explanations of what follows. We can look upon these symbols as describing something literal and something spiritual. I am inclined to think that both explanations are true. Christ included it in His list of events; false christs, wars, rumors of wars to be followed by famines and pestilence and earthquakes in divers places. Here we see the rider of the greenish horse going forth with power over the fourth part of the earth. "Kill with sword and with hunger and death and by the beasts of the earth." It is very simple to give the material explanation. Modern methods of war in this age of atom bombs and hydrogen bombs [ed: and WMDs such as chemical and biological weapons] have made it possible. One-fourth of the earth's population, if taken in the large sense, or one-fourth of the population of the Holy Land, if taken in the small sense, could be destroyed in a very brief time. Today the great armies have the means to make ruthless war against the civil population of a possible enemy. This includes war by gas, war by bombs from the air, and worst of all, bacteriological warfare by test-tubes filled with germs to be dropped into the water supply of the enemy. A very few months would suffice to do away with one-fourth part of the earth's population.
Spiritually, however, following the rise of Antichrist, there comes war, together with social unrest and great scarcity. If the symbols describing the character and actions of the fourth rider are spiritual, our task again is not difficult. The devil, who is the power of death is also called "a liar and the father of it" (John 8:44). His desire to kill is also seen in this same verse, "He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him," Here he goes forth to kill with his sword. "The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God" (Eph. 6:17). The weapon of Satan (not the same Greek word) is, of course, counterfeit. It would represent the spiritual lie as opposed to the truth of God. God's truth makes alive; Satan's lie kills. There particularly is a reference to this in Paul's great prophecy concerning the Antichrist. "the man whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie" (II Thess. 2:9-11). In the Greek it is "that they should believe the lie" as though some specific lie were in view. As we proceed we shall see that demons are sent to the earth to propagate false doctrines. Here is the beginning of something that is as yet in the shadows, but which certainly will take definite form after the man of sin is revealed. There have been lies before, but this is the climax as though Satan had held back the ace of trump to play in the last desperate moment of his game.
The spiritual hunger is readily understood where there is no feeding on the Word of God. This famine is always sore. We must not forget the definite prophecy that in the last days there shall be a famine of the Word of God (Amos 8: II).
Spiritual death follows spiritual hunger. The lie spreads like a pestilence carrying its awful toll of victims to Hades which follows, holding them until they shall be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14). And this propagation of the lie shall be done officially. Governments will connive to support Satan's thrust. Evangelically-minded nations, notably Germany, Scandinavia, Holland and Great Britain--all have done much to spread the truth. Their benevolent attitude was once a great factor in the preaching of the Gospel. But all of the governments, "the wild beasts of the earth," will follow the lead of the rider of the deathlike horse. And the lie will spread with its famine and death.
Well may the heart that is out of Christ tremble at the thought of so much judgment. But, well may the heart of every believer rest in our Lord. He said, "See that you be not troubled." The reason for such a statement is that He knows the end from the beginning and that we are in Him.
Confusion, Martyrdom and Vindication: Verses 9-11: And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the testimony which they held. And they cried with a great voice saying, How long, O Sovereign Lord, the holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood all them that dwell all the earth? And to each one was given a white robe, and it was said unto them that they should rest yet a little time, until the number of their fellow-bondslaves and their brethren that are about to be killed, even as they also had been, should be complete. (Rev. 6:9-11 Free Translation)
With rapid pace the four horsemen have ridden forth to open earth's most momentous years. At the time these seals are broken, earth is practically as it is today. Before seven years will have passed, the kingdoms of this world will have become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. The prince of this world will have had his power wrested from him. The god of this age will have lost all claim to divinity. But now these seven years lie before us. The Antichrist, followed by the other horsemen, has come forth.
With the opening of the fifth seal, a cry is heard, the cry of the martyrs slain for their faithfulness to the Word of God, and for their testimony to His truth.
This again follows exactly along the line of our Lord's prophecy on the Mount of Olives; "An these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and you shall be hated of an nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another" (Matt. 24:8-10). We can better understand the religious confusion of tomorrow if we see that of today. It is also true that we shall understand our own times better if we realize what is just in the future. When the body of true believers is caught away from the world, an of unbelieving ecclesiasticism will be left in control of the organization. There will be some people who will see immediately after the rapture that the Word of God is true, that there has been gigantic and Satanic deception in the midst of Christendom. Though these people will not be indwell by the Holy Spirit, since the day of the Church will then be over, they will nevertheless bear testimony to the truth of God's Word. For this they shall die.
The foundation work for this bigotry and intolerance is laid today in the fanaticism of many liberals today. Those who make a shibboleth of liberalism are the most intolerant. In seeking to be abreast of the times, they have adopted the oldest errors with the most recent masks. The main creed of those who fight creeds can be expressed in language as old as the human race. "Yea, hath God said?" is the question of Satan to the woman in the Garden of Eden, and it is the question of the apostates of our day. The credulous and the skeptical of our day are united with Cain in their hatred of a sacrifice of blood. The one who glories in being a freethinker is bound in the slavery of all who have hated God's truth in His revelation. Even those who have kept the outward form of Christianity have diluted the content of faith until salvation is taught by some watery gospel of works while a hopeless confusion of the Church and the kingdom releases its dark mist in the minds of men.
The causes of this situation are not far to seek. The church organization has abandoned its unique position as the channel of God's salvation in favor of a more popular activity of dispensing words not always weighty on the social and political problems of the day. The bride of the Lord has become the mistress of the world. This is the inner significance of apostasy. The surface study of the Bible is responsible. Men have been unwilling to pay the price necessary for a true understanding of God's Word and way. A young doctor told us that he had been in great confusion. We recommended a certain pamphlet to him, telling him that it contained all of the basic essentials for a knowledge of the Word of God. His face fell when we showed him the pamphlet. With some shame, he confessed that his mother had been attempting to have him study that very booklet for almost ten years.
It is the lack of knowledge of the Word of God that leads men into confusion. They do not know God's ways and so they do not know Satan's ways. They do not know God's righteousness and fail to see Satan's righteousness. Of this one writer has said, "As God sends ministers to proclaim His righteousness, so Satan employs ministers to proclaim his, the imitation. We have to question the very common thought that Satan's effort is to make good men bad, and bad men worse, as they appear in the sight of their fellowmen. His desire is the very opposite: he wishes to make men good, not only in the sight of other men but also in their own sight. Satan urges men to do good, to be governed by a high moral code, to support all movements for the betterment of the race, to support ecclesiasticism, to be exercised about morals of the community. His ministers make much of civic and social righteousness, of national and international righteousness, but have no word to say concerning 'the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ.' Their appeal is to 'make something good of the world,' to 'scatter sunshine.'"
Anyone can see the width of this river of thought in our day. In the future, all restraint is removed at the coming of Christ for His saints, and these forces of "righteousness" will kill those who stand for the Word of God and His testimony in the final seven years.
The reason men hate the Bible is that it is the written Word of God and reveals to us Christ, the living Word of God. "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7). Men do not hate the world's idea of God. They hate the Christ in God. This points us to the age-old conflict which God announced in the Garden of Eden. "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Gen. 3: 15). The hatred that was announced on the day of the fall has manifested itself unceasingly through the ages, and will not change its nature when restraint is removed from it.
This section of Scripture is the first intimation that the reign of Antichrist is to witness the greatest revival that the world has ever seen. More millions will be saved under the preaching of God's witnesses in these seven years than in many times that period in this present age. These seven years are the time of God's wrath upon the world because of its rejection of His Christ and His truth. Yet even in the midst of tribulation He will send His witnesses into the world insisting upon His claim. "Woe unto them!" This is the true meaning of "the gospel of the kingdom" which "shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations" (Matt. 24:14). Today we preach the Gospel of grace. It is the free offer of salvation to all who rest in Christ, with the promise that God Himself will come to dwell in the heart the moment we have turned to Him. The Gospel of the kingdom includes all the Gospel of grace but contains also the proclamation that God is about to overthrow and condemn all man has done in order to establish by force of the rod of iron, the kingdom of God's rule upon the earth, with Israel the central human factor of the government, and Christ the divine center of it all. Righteousness for which the world has so long waited is about to come upon the earth. The Lord Himself is about to appear. This is an announcement of hope for those who are willing to bow their hearts before God, but it is a cry of doom to those who know not God and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These fall upon the witnesses of this truth with great wrath, and the result is seen immediately. The witnesses are broken on the first turn of the wheel of persecution. John now sees their souls in Heaven.
It should be noticed that these souls are conscious and speaking. This is one more blow to the idea of soul-sleeping. There are those who are led astray by the use of the word "sleep" in connection with the death of the body into the belief that the souls also sleep. The truth can be seen by the teaching of the Word of God concerning the resurrection. It is said of the same body of believers that they "rise" and also that God will "bring" them with Christ when He comes (I Thess. 4:14-16). How can they both rise from the earth and be brought from Heaven? In finding this answer, the whole question of soul-sleeping is settled forever, and the truth about our dead is revealed. Sleep is applied only to the body of the believer, and never to the soul. When death comes to a believer, there is the departure of the soul from the body and the immediate entrance of that conscious soul into the presence of Christ. Thus "to be absent from the body" is "to be present with the Lord" (II Cor. 5:8). It is "to depart, and be with Christ, which is far better" (Phil. 1:23).
This great truth outlasts the present age of the Church which is the body of Christ. Here it is definitely taught that the tribulation saints also are in the presence of God.
These souls are said to be "under the altar." We are not to think that John had a vision of an altar with souls peeping out from underneath. The whole teaching of the Old Testament is that the altar was the place of the sacrifice of blood. To be "under the altar" is to be covered in the sight of God by that merit which Jesus Christ provided in dying on the cross. It is a figure that speaks of justification. It is practically the equivalent of David's cry, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Ps. 51:7). Hyssop was that small Palestinian plant which hung beside the altar and, according to Levitical prescription, was used by the priests who dipped it into the blood and sprinkled the people with it. When, therefore, David cried out to be purged with hyssop, we, are not to think of the absurdities of an ancient commentator who spoke of the purgative qualities of the plant when taken internally. It is one of the countless pageants of the cross to be found portrayed in Scripture. These martyred witnesses are covered by the work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14). Adam and Eve were covered with coats of skins obtained by the shedding of the first blood upon this earth. This replaced the fig leaves of their own good works which, in turn, had been an attempt to replace the light of innocence which had undoubtedly clothed them before the fall. Little by little all that is lost in Genesis is regained in Revelation.
Now these martyrs cry to God, "How long, O Sovereign Lord, the holy and true, do you not judge and avenge our blood on those that dwell on the earth?" This cry constitutes one more proof that we are no longer occupied with events taking place in the day of grace. This is clearly after the rapture. Contrast, for example, this cry for vengeance with that of Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts 7:60). Can it be considered for one instant that these souls who, of course, have left their old nature far behind, can be crying out for vengeance to God in Heaven in a time that is still in the age of grace? This is impossible. Rather this is in keeping with the cry of the Old Testament martyr who died saying, "The Lord look upon it and requite it" (2 Chron. 24:22). Though such a cry would have been out of order at any time during the centuries since Christ died, it is here quite in order, even as Stephen's pleading for grace is of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the day of grace. We must not forget that judgment from God is to fall upon this earth. David sings prophetically of the doings of Jehovah "when he makes inquisition for blood" (Ps. 9:12). This cry of the martyrs is almost the last that will be heard from God's saints, for soon after this God will bring the agony of His people to an eternal end.
God calls them to patience. He knows every cry of His children, but the hour of His judgment is fixed, and shall come upon the world in His own moment. All the stored-up cup of wrath is about to be poured upon the earth.
God's word is that they should rest for a little season. How long this is we know definitely from Revelation 20:4 where these souls are again brought into view. There John says, "And the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the Word of God lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." This passage also includes the remaining number of the tribulation saints who have not yet been killed at the time the fifth seal is opened. It should be pointed out, however, that there are two different words used in connection with the position of the tribulation saints during the millennium. In one place (7:15) it is said that they serve the Lord day and night in His temple, while in another passage (20:4) it says that they reign with Christ. These points will be considered when we come to the passages in question.
It is to be noted that the persecutions follow in seasons, or it might be said, using another figure, that they come in successive waves with intervals between until in the last half of the tribulation week, persecution shall be a veritable tide so that Christ had to say, "Unless those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened" (Matt. 24: 22).
The fifth seal shows us the first sheaf of these martyred ones crying out to God for vengeance which He will not be slow to send. Will this judgment bear fruit? Will those who have been fighting against God cease their enmity? This will not be the case. The carnal mind is enmity against God, and this enmity attaches itself to all those who stand for His Word. Just as the plagues of Egypt caused Pharaoh's heart to harden, and the tasks of God's people were made more grievous, so each persecution brings more judgment, and each judgment more persecution as the Holy Spirit takes out individuals from the world and as Satan hurls his power against them. The end will come only with the coming of the One who shall break them with a rod of iron and dash His enemies to pieces like a potter's vessel.
While the sixth seal brings a tremendous fright to the world, nevertheless the Scriptural division of the subject proves that the breaking of the seals is introductory in its character and demonstrates the truth of the Lord's words, "All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matt. 24:8). Even with the four horsemen and with the first martyrdoms, the Great Tribulation has not yet begun. All this is in the first half of the seven years. It is not until the middle of the period, when the abomination of desolation is seen, that the Great Tribulation really begins. This must be realized, especially in view of the fact that many people speak of the Great Tribulation as the seven-year period, while in reality it is the last three and a half years of the seven-year period.
Even in the midst of this story of bloodshed and judgment, there is a word of wonderful comfort for the believer. These martyrs are told that their waiting for judgment upon their enemies is only "until the number of their fellow-bondslaves and their brethren that are about to be killed, even as they also had been, should be complete." This shows in advance that God has ordained the details. The One who numbers the hairs of our heads also has numbered the host of the martyrs. What God in effect is saying to the first martyrs of the tribulation week is this: You have been martyred, but do not be impatient. I have the affair well in hand. I chose you before the foundation of the world for the very purpose you have just seen realized in your suffering bodies. You have been horribly treated, but I look upon it as having been suffered for the name of My Son, and I shall bless you for it forever. You are only the first of those whom I have thus chosen to die for My name. There are many others. I have marked them out for this purpose. I know all about them and about you. You may rest in peace.
All this teaches in a very beautiful way that nothing can ever touch the believer unless it has passed through the will of God. There is a definite plan for the life of everyone of God's children. One of our favorite verses was spoken by the devil, for when you can get the father of lies to tell the truth, you may be sure that he is forced into such a narrow corner that there is no hope for him. Thus when God points out to Satan that Job is upright, Satan replies, "Hast not thou made a hedge about him?" (Job 1:10). Thus the enemy confesses: It is not my fault that Job is righteous. I would have gotten at him if I could. Face all of your problems in the light of this truth.
Black Sun and Bloody Moon: Verses 12-17: And I saw when he opened the sixth seal and a great earthquake came to pass; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair; and the full moon became as blood; 13 and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when it is shaken by a great wind; and the heaven was rent asunder as a scroll rolling itself up and every mountain and island were removed out of their places. And the kings of the earth and the great and the military commanders and the rich and the strong and every bondman and freeman hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they said to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall upon us and hide us from the presence of the one that sits upon the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.' Because the great day of His wrath has come; and who is able to stand? (Free Translation)
One of the most vivid experiences of my boyhood was the rude awakening on the morning of the San Francisco earthquake: fires, destroyed buildings, restless people, atmosphere tense with expectation of further disaster a glow in the sky that enabled us to read at midnight by the light of the burning city, wild stories running from person to person with imagination fattening upon rumor.
Earthquakes were not unknown in Bible lands. Amos (1:1) dated his prophecy by an earthquake. Zechariah described the night of the people before an earthquake in the time of King Uzziah (Zech. 14:5). It is this figure of speech that God now uses to describe the cataclysmic upheaval which is to take place when the Lord Himself breaks the sixth seal.
If some people wish to see in this passage a real earthquake, we have no criticism to offer. We believe, however, that the Holy Spirit is pointing to something far more significant than a mere seismological disturbance. The first time that the Greek word is used in the New Testament is in the story of the storm that arose when the Lord was asleep in the ship and the disciples were afraid. It is in the phrase, ''There arose a great tempest in the sea" (Matt. 8:24). Still more striking, however, is the classical use of this word. Plato uses it of disturbances, disorders and commotion. In the light of the context and the references in the Old Testament, we believe that the passage before us indicates the shaking of all political and ecclesiastical institutions.
Isaiah, in one of his great chapters, [the "Little Apocalypse"] speaks of the confusion that shall come upon the earth. "Behold, the Lord makes the earth empty, and makes it waste, and turns it upside down and scatters abroad the inhabitants thereof. The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled the earth mourns and fades away the earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again" (Isa. 24:1, 3, 4, 19, 20). Again immediately following this, as in our passage in Revelation we read, "Then the moon shall be confounded and the sun ashamed" (vs. 23).
A further passage that is most evidently parallel with this paragraph in Revelation reads, "For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies; he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcasses, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll; and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falls off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree" (Isa. 34:2-4). The references to the heavens, to the scroll and to the falling figs are more than sufficient to bind this passage to the one upon which we are commenting.
The accompaniments of this great shaking are phenomena that concern the sun, the full moon and the stars. In the Bible the explanation of these symbols is referred to constantly as symbols of authority.
From the very first page of the Scripture, the sun was spoken of as the ruler of the day, the moon and the stars as the rulers of the night: If we see in the figures that are now presented to us a collapse of supreme authority, accompanied not only by a collapse of derived authority such as state, provincial and colonial authority--but also of local authority--we will begin to catch the picture of the great terrors that will, now come upon the earth. Lawlessness which has been. held in restraint through hundreds of years, will 'now', be permitted to break forth. And, how simple this is in the light of modern discovery. Perhaps me would not have thought of the destruction of so much central-government before the atomic era, but now of course a few bombs delivered in the right places and. central government would be destroyed; supreme authority would collapse. Central authority, itself, would be shaken, and perhaps there would be little more than local authority, and in many places this, too, would be broken down.
We are told in the great revelation given through St. Paul to the Thessalonian church that the day of the Lord would not come until there had first come an apostasy arid the man of sin, or rather the lawless one be revealed. The heart of the passage is "For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now lets, will let, until he be taken out of the way, and then shall that Wicked [One] [will] be revealed" (II Thess. 2;7, 8). A mystery in the Scriptures, as is well known, is not something that is mysterious in the modern sense of the word; but something which has been secret in the councils of God and which because of His good pleasure He makes known to His servants. The presence of the principle of lawlessness working as a ferment in the midst of the world, restrained by the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, breaking forth after He is taken out at the rapture in the sense in which He came at Pentecost, is one of the great truths of the New Testament revelation.
There is a general feeling that the stream of history is drawing near a cataract. There is everywhere in the social frame an outward unrest which as usual is the sign of a fundamental change within. Lecky in his great History of Rationalism states it clearly in saying, "It has long been a mere truism that we are passing through a state of chaos, of anarchy and of transition. During the last century the elements of dissolution have been multiplying all around us." And more recently Toynbee has spoken of our era today as the Post Christian Era--dismissing Christianity as Voltaire dismissed the Bible more than a century ago.
All of these tendencies, so clear to the great thinkers of yesterday and today, move onward toward the moment when human authority shall break up, when national, provincial and local governments. will disappear.
The disappearance of central authority: is not of great primary importance so long as local authority, continues, but the stars, the symbols of local authority fail like unseasonal fruit. In the warm climate of Palestine, the fig trees, after the harvest of the autumn crop, bud again in the winter. From these buds come fruit that remains: small, and hard--the growth checked by the intermittent cold of winter. When the warmth of spring finally comes and the sap begins to flow in the trees, all of this unseasonable fruit drops off in a shower. Within a few days the trees are cleared to make ready for the true crop that follows.
This is the picture that our Lord uses. A great wind would of course, hasten the fall of it came at the propitious moment. It is said of our Lord that His winnowing fan is in His hand, His winds of judgment will blow according to His desire. and local government will fall like the wind-blown false fruits. The wind is frequently the symbol, of such a judgment. It was a wind that blasted the seven lean ears in Egypt (Gen. 41:6,23) and the ungodly "are like the chaff which the wind drives away" (Ps. 1:4).
Where shall people turn for authority? The next phrase says that the Heaven "was rent asunder as a scroll rolling itself up" (Free Translation).
Does this mean that no vestige of ecclesiastical power remains? The true Church will. have disappeared from the earth before these troubles come upon the waiting world. It is hard to believe that men who have so much contempt and so little reverence for an ecclesiasticism which yet contains a mass of true believers, will retain respect for a Satanic ecclesiasticism of which all will be clouds "without water, carried about of winds, trees whose fruit withers, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever" (Jude 12,13).
Take from the bottom of some drawer a diploma which has been tightly roiled for years. Open it out and then release it. See how it snaps back into the form it has taken through the years. As quickly will the hold of ecclesiasticism over the hearts and minds of men be broken, as a scroll rolls up with a snap, so organization will disappear from this earth.
Every mountain is overthrown and every island is cast into the sea. The mountain is the symbol of government. From the time that Satan desired to "sit also upon the mount of the congregation, I will be like the most High" (Isa. 14:13,14) until the time when the stone cut out without hands shall become a great mountain and fill the whole earth (Dan. 2:35) the mountain will have this significance. The islands are symbolic of smaller powers. All will be affected, there will be no stability, no permanence.
All this prepares us for the final picture. Conditions become so terrible that men think that the famous "end of the. world" has come; from time to time even today we hear people speak of some catastrophe in a hysteria that includes such a phrase as, "I thought the end of the world had come." We who know the Scripture .know of course that many things must come to pass before the last great and' terrible day of the Lord. Previous judgments have reached some classes of people, but there have always been those "who through the advantage of wealth or fortuitous circumstance have been able to find some refuge. But now every class is reached, from kings to slaves. The vast disruption, of all authority, accompanied no doubt by natural phenomena, fills every heart with dismay. Men have known of the prophecies of Scripture and they have scoffed at them even as the world scoffed at Noah's prophecies of impending judgment. Now the chaotic conditions that reach every sphere recall the prophecies, and the population is seized by a premonition of coming judgment. Yet there is no repentance, no prayer to God, no cry for mercy. There is nothing but terror and a frenzied desire to escape from the just judgment of God. The greatest prayer meeting that the earth has ever seen now takes place, but like most prayers that have been offered throughout the ages by fallen humanity these are not addressed in the right way. Whoever calls upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved, but there is no promise made to those who call upon the rocks and the mountains. And there are many people, too, who address 'O God, O God' without coming to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and recognizing that access is only by the finished work of the Savior.
But even this world horror is premature. We must not be confused by the false theology of this frantic population. Though they say, "the great day of his wrath has come," this is not true. Christ said, "All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matt. 24:8). Little do they know that all they have seen and experienced is no more than a shadow of the terrors which must yet come. These are but the judgments that precede the great day of His wrath. The day itself has not yet dawned, for the tribulation, which has the distinction of being called the Great Tribulation, does not begin until after the abomination of desolation.
It is significant to note that men are seeking refuge from the wrath of the Lamb. This proves, of course, that they know about the Lamb, that they know the mercy. which has been offered for so long must be withdrawn and that wrath must take its place. Now "every shaft of judgment is barbed by the memory of slighted grace" which is proof that "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Rom. 8;7). The hearts that cried, "We will not have this man to reign over us" (Luke 19:14), will run to the desolate places of the earth to escape from His wrath just as they ran to every expediency of excess to escape His grace. Thus the unregenerate heart of man will act even after the millennial reign of Christ (Rev. 22:11) and one of the chief characteristics of eternal punishment is that the conscience of man will never be stilled. "Their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched" (Isa. 66:24).
At the time of the New York World's Fair, [1939?] I saw a very interesting cartoon. It was one of these pictures without a caption. It showed the sketch of General Electric's exhibit at the New York World's Fair. Across the outside was the great sign, "Come in and see the man made lightning." Those of us who had been at the World's Fair, and who had entered that building will never forget how bolts of lightning were shot from machine to machine, bolts that would jump 20 or 30 feet in space between the poles that had been made for it. But the point of the cartoon, "Come in and see the man-made lightning," was in the fact that the people who were running for refuge in the building, were running away from a storm, and from bolts of lightning that were falling from Heaven. Is it not true that men will go even to man-made lightning to escape from the God-made lightning? I remember reading that the destruction that was caused by the earthquake in the southern part of Japan three or four years after the destruction of Hiroshima has caused far more damage than the atomic bomb itself. Then our picture is almost as though men say "Oh, Dear God, please, please send us atomic bombs. We would rather deal with such things than with Thee. Thy judgments are too terrible. We cannot stand them." And men will pray to the inanimate objects, cry to the rocks and the mountains, and ask that these fall upon them to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. Today the door of mercy is still open, and these great apocalyptic stories are great calls to evangelism--calls to those outside of Christ that they might come and build their hope in Christ alone.
(Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation: An Expositional Commentary, Zondervan, 1971)
FOUR TERRIBLE HORSEMEN, by Ray C. Stedman
The sixth chapter of Revelation brings us to the beginning of the judgments of the wrath of God. It is not an easy passage to preach on, but it is part of the content of blessing promised to those who read and keep the prophecies of this book (1:3). I grew up on the Great Plains of Montana, and during the summer months we often experienced sudden thunderstorms. Often before the storm there would be strange calm, a sense of foreboding in the air. One could almost feel the violent storm that was about to break. This is what we experience frequently in today's world. There is a keen sense of an approaching crisis in the affairs of earth. Many secular writers of our day reflect this. To change the metaphor, it is as if we are floating down the stream of time and we sense that a great cataract is thundering ahead and we are about to plunge over the abyss.
The Bible has long predicted a crisis of that nature. One of the proofs that the Bible is from God is the fact that in the Old Testament the book of Daniel corresponds closely to the book of Revelation. Daniel saw many of the same things that John records here, although Daniel lived 500 years before John wrote. In the ninth chapter of his prophecy Daniel is given a great calendar that would outline history to its final days. There was marked out a period of 70 "weeks," which means weeks of years. Seventy "weeks" times seven years is 490, so there would be 490 years that were to be fulfilled from the beginning of the building of the wall of Jerusalem in the days of Nehemiah, to the end of the age. 483 of those years would end on the day when the Messiah would be presented to Israel as her King. Sir Robert Anderson, head of Scotland Yard in Britain during the first part of this century, has carefully worked this out for us. On the precise day when 483 years had run their course, Jesus rode down the Mount of Olives on a donkey and was presented to the nation as their King.
Just a few days later he was rejected and crucified, for the prophecy of Daniel had said that Messiah would be "cut off and have nothing," which is surely a reference to the crucifixion. After that there is an indeterminate, long-running period of time during which the prophet was told "wars and desolations were determined," (Daniel 9:26 KJV). It is during that indeterminate length of time that the church comes into being, starting on the Day of Pentecost when God began to call out a special people for his name, made up of both Jews and Gentiles. That church began almost 2,000 years ago, and perhaps is almost completed now, but it is still on earth today. The prophet is then told of certain other events that were to occur during the last seven years of that 490-year period. Those events have not yet happened! Many commentators have thus understood that this seven-year period is still unfulfilled and when it begins it will be largely and closely associated with the nation Israel.
Those seven years are referred to by Jesus himself in his great prophetic passage in Matthew 24. Before his crucifixion, as he sat on the Mount of Olives, he explained to the disciples what must come to pass. In that passage he refers several times to "the end of the age," or more simply, "the end." That end is the seven-year period of Daniel's prophecy that will run its course when Israel is once again brought into prominence among the nations. It is that same period of seven years, which Revelation 6 through 19 covers, we are looking at the events to occur in that period. The four Gospels tell the story of the life of Christ, but one-third of the gospels focus upon the last week of our Lord, the seven days before the crucifixion. So also in Revelation, 13 out of the 22 chapters of this book relate to the seven-year period of time which constitutes the end of the history of this age.
If you have read ahead a little in Revelation you will have noticed three series of events that occupy this last week of years. The first series is the seven seals, six of which we will look at today. Included in the seals are seven trumpets that must yet sound, and seven bowls of wrath which are to be poured out upon the earth. Each of these series divides into four things and then three things: Four events that are outward, visible and easy to recognize, and then three revelations of what is going on behind the scenes, as it were, by the activity of angelic agencies, both for good and evil. Now let us look at the opening of the seven-sealed scroll which is held in the hands of the Lamb who was slain. John describes it in Verses 1-2:
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. (Revelation 6:1-2 RSV)
There is much dispute as to what this rider on the white horse represents. Some identify him as Jesus, because in Chapter 19 Jesus appears on a white horse, wearing a crown (a different kind of crown, however) and bringing to an end all the terrible series of judgments that have come upon the earth. But it is a mistake to identify these two because the context is entirely different. Here we are looking at the beginning of the judgments of God, and in Chapter 19 we see the end of them. The rider of Chapter 6 is summoned by one of the living creatures, but it would be unthinkable for a creature to summon the conquering Christ of Chapter 19. But it is significant that this rider on the white horse here bears some resemblance to the appearance of Jesus on a great white horse in Chapter 19. They both ride a white horse; they both wear crowns; and both are bent on conquest. It suggests that this rider is someone who is like Christ, but is not Christ.
Many of you are already anticipating what I am going to say: This is doubtless the long predicted antichrist, whom Scripture speaks of in various places, who is yet to appear in the last days. The "Man of Sin" (2 Thessalonians 2:3 KJV) the Apostle Paul calls him, also "the Lawless One" (2 Thessalonians 2:8 NIV) who is yet to appear and offer himself as though he were God's Christ. Jesus himself said to the Jews of his day, "I have come in my Father's name and you do not accept me, but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him," (John 5:43 (NIV)). This rider comes like Christ, but in his own name. He is given a bow, but no mention is made of arrows. This appears to be a bloodless conquest he launches. When you ask, "What is this describing?" I think it is clear that it suggests some kind of overpowering of the minds and wills of men, without physical destruction. How is that done? The answer is -- by some form of deceit, by lying that misleads and deceives men and thus overcomes them without the shedding of blood. It is noteworthy that in Matthew 24, the first word Jesus speaks to his disciples is, "Watch out that no one deceives you," (Matthew 24:4 NIV). You will find references to the possibility of deception throughout that chapter.
We are bemused by delusions today. We are hardly aware of how much we are being deceived all the time. Turn on the television and fraudulent ideas, along with a mixture of truth, are immediately poured into your brain. Pick up a magazine or read a newspaper and you will find they make false claims that certain acquisitions will produce great blessing and liberty for you. But trying them will soon tell you that it is a lie. They do not work. We are constantly offered much of promise but which are totally unable to deliver. Drugs deceive! Millions of people, young and old, are being deceived by the flush of euphoria that a drug produces for a time. Cigarettes deceive! Thousands have died because they have felt that smoking a cigarette makes them feel sophisticated and mature. Many young people, especially, have been led into that trap. Perfume ads deceive! They offer outlandish, extravagant promises of rapture and romance that will follow if you merely douse yourself with something from a bottle. The New Age deceives! This week I thumbed through a magazine produced by New Age and found it filled from cover to cover with lies. It claims that men and women have secret powers, hidden abilities within, which if you discover them will enable you to rule people, to manipulate them and run the world to suit yourself. These ideas are constantly being fed into the human mind. We have even learned this week that Oat Bran does not work like its cracked up to be! We have all been fed a line on that! It is no better at lowering cholesterol than anything else. We are obviously living in a very deceitful age. What this rider on the white horse tells us, however, is that the worst is yet to come. We are living amidst great deceit, it is true, but it is not as bad as it is going to be. There is coming an even greater lie. Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul in his second Thessalonian letter:
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 NIV)
That makes it crystal clear, does it not? This first conquest by evil in the last days is set in motion when God takes off the reins and lets deceit have its way among men until it reaches a climax of delusion. We will learn many more details of that as the book proceeds. Now the second seal is opened:
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 men slay each other. To him was given a large sword. (Revelation 6:3-4 NIV)
This rider is easy to recognize. It is war, of course, but not war between great armies -- at least not at first. The word for slay is really the word "slaughter." It is a reference to civil war or civil anarchy where mobs of people group together to attack and destroy other peoples whom they do not like. We are seeing a demonstration of this today in what is going on in Azerbaijan at this very time. Even the Soviet army is unable to bring peace or to prevent this slaughter. We have had further examples of it in El Salvador, in Nicaragua, and in the gang wars raging in the streets of Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, and other places. It is a murderous slaying of others by people unrestrained by any control.
But that will lead to what is mentioned in the last sentence, "to him was given a large sword." In the days when John wrote they obviously did not have megabombs, missiles, tanks, or any of the modern weapons of warfare. Such weapons of destruction had to be put in terms that people would understand in that day, so the major weapon of destruction then was a sword. But this is a "great" sword, a powerful weapon of destruction. It is with good reason that many commentators have seen this as a picture of the awesome power of a nuclear bomb, something that destroys enormous numbers of people. If you read the 38th and 39th chapters of Ezekiel you will find a vivid description of such warfare, where armies come down out of the north into the Holy Land and are decimated by what appears to be radiation sickness. It is powerfully portrayed for us in those accounts. Then we have the third seal opened, in Verses 5 and 6:
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, "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 NIV)
Most scholars take this to be a reference to widespread famine on the earth. They say that the scales symbolize food being weighed out carefully. It is in such short supply that it must be rationed. Even then no one can get very much because it takes a day's wages to earn a single quart of wheat or, because it is cheaper, three quarts of barley. This would only be enough food for one person for a day. You would work all day long and all you would be able to earn at best would be enough for your own physical needs. There would be nothing for your family or for anyone else. But the luxuries, the oil and the wine, are left untouched.
But perhaps this is not referring to famine because in the next seal, as we will see, famine is specifically mentioned as part of that judgment. What else causes terrible shortages and creates high prices so that people cannot buy adequate amounts of food? It is inflation; economics out of control; panic in the marketplace! During the days of the Weimar Republic in Germany after World War I, I remember as a boy hearing accounts of people taking ten thousand German marks bills, loading them into wheelbarrows, and taking them to market to buy a single loaf of bread. That is what runaway inflation does. It makes money worthless. That in turn becomes an excuse for the rigid controls over buying and selling which we find in Chapter 13 when, under the reign of antichrist, the whole world is subjected to enormously restrictive controls so that "no one can buy or sell without the mark of the beast," (Revelation 13:17). That brings us to the fourth seal, in Verse 7:
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! [The word actually is chloros, from which we get the word chlorine, a pale green horse, like chlorine in color.] 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 NIV)
This rider is named "Death"; and floating along behind, was a figure that is identified as "Hades," or Hell. Death takes the body and Hades takes the soul. As someone has put it, "Death rides the horse, but Hades follows with the hearse." There are four forms of death that are related to this attack. First, the sword, which here is not war but murder; individual assault upon one another. It is people taking the law into their own hands and murdering other people without regard to justice or law. With murder comes famine and widespread starvation. We are all familiar with the terrible pictures of famine areas, largely in Africa, and the swollen, distended bellies of little children with spindly legs as the flesh of their bodies disappears and they die a terrible death from starvation. Jesus spoke of such famines in Matthew 24. There would be on earth, he said, earthquakes, famines and plagues. These plagues are endemic diseases. When civilization begins to crumble, the defenses of mankind against diseases are lost as well. Whole populations are decimated by such plagues. There may be a reference here to biological warfare, the willful spreading of diseases among people so that they are wiped out en masse. It covers also the appearance of previously unknown diseases. We have a foreshadowing of these in the terrible plague of AIDS in our own day.
Fourth, the wild beasts of the earth multiply, and humans are subject to attack by these predators. The account says that a "fourth of the earth" is given over to the four attacks. It is difficult to know whether that is a geographic or demagogic division of earth. If it is geographic, then a fourth of the globe is decimated by these terrible plagues. If it is demagogic, it means a fourth of the population is taken. There are approximately four billion people on earth today and that would mean that one billion people, equivalent to the entire population of China, would be decimated by diseases. It is a picture of a desolated earth caused by man's hatred and barbarity.
These four seal-judgments are all references to forces that are already at work among us, but they will be carried to an unprecedented extreme in that day. Thus these four seals confirm God's announced method of making men face up to truth. How does he make us stop hiding our heads and refusing to face reality? By allowing evil to have its full head! Romans 1 declares that he "delivers men over" (Romans 1:24, 1:26, 1:28) to their own passions, their own evil, and allows it unrestricted manifestation. God teaches us to face up to unpleasant truth by giving us what we demand. If men want to believe a lie, then God will send the lie, the lie of the antichrist, the powerful delusion that Paul describes. If men seek to kill and destroy and refuse to see the evil of that, then God gives them widespread anarchy, mob rule, and, ultimately, nuclear destruction. If men want more and more luxury and higher standards of living, they are given what goes along with it -- high inflation, which finally makes money worthless. If men demand power and control, what they are given is intrigue, murder, disease, and desolation in the earth. These cannot be stopped, because they are inescapable consequences of the evil of mankind. We have three more seals to look at in the series, although only two of them appear in this chapter. In these two, no longer are natural forces allowed to have their head, but here is something quite different. We are shown supernatural activities; God working in the midst of the judgments of the four horsemen, both for good and evil. So we read of the opening of the fifth seal,
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 number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. (Revelation 6:9-11 NIV)
This is a difficult paragraph to understand because it is dealing with a phenomenon hard for us to grasp, i.e., how people can die over the course of a period of time and yet all arrive in heaven together. It marks the difference between time and eternity. The altar mentioned here has not appeared in this book before this. But it indicates, as will be confirmed by later references in this book, that we are viewing the great temple in heaven, the temple which Moses saw when he was on Mt. Sinai. He was shown a pattern which he was to copy in the tabernacle of old. He was ordered to copy it exactly as it was shown him. Thus the tabernacle contained a great brazen altar, and a laver in the outer court, a Holy Place with certain furniture, and a Holy of Holies, all reflecting the heavenly temple that Moses had seen.
We learn from other Scriptures that these symbolize the ultimate dwelling place of God which is man himself! Man is the dwelling place of God. When we come to the end of Revelation we will see that fulfilled. It is man who becomes the temple of God. These symbols are given to us as a tremendously significant explanation of the psychological makeup of our humanity -- body, soul and spirit -- just as the tabernacle consisted of an Outer Court, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies. (I do not have time to dwell on that.)
This group of martyrs is clearly identified with the great multitude in Chapter 7, which we will look at next week. John sees a great crowd which no man could number, from every tribe, nation, and language of earth, standing before the throne, all having been killed for their testimony. This group belongs to that multitude as well, for they are given a white robe and told to wait until their brethren would also be killed. This indicates that these martyrs and those killed later who make up the great multitude, all enter heaven at the same time. It is God's way of expressing the transference from time into the conditions of eternity, where past and future are eclipsed and only the present exists.
If you have had loved ones who have died in the past -- perhaps your father, mother, grandfather, or some godly friend that you know belongs to the Lord -- you tend to think of them now as waiting in heaven for you. You may think of them as sitting around playing harps, dressed in heavenly bathrobes, waiting for their bodies to be resurrected, and for you to join them in heaven. But all that is an accommodation of eternity to time conditions. We are locked into the idea that heaven is an eternal continuation of the conditions of earth; that future and past are as much to be experienced in heaven as they are on earth. But that is not so. Eternity is always now! In eternity events occur when people are ready for them, not in a certain prescribed sequence. I do not have time to enlarge on that but if you want more on this I would refer you to my book Authentic Christianity, where I have a chapter on "Tim of the and Eternity" that will explain this at greater length.
But notice the prayer these martyrs pray. It is a call for vengeance. That is quite different from the prayer Christians are expected to pray for their enemies, is it not? Jesus told us that we are to pray for those that despitefully use us and persecute us, and our prayer is to reflect the prayer that he prayed on the cross, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," (Luke 23:34 KJV). When Stephen, the first martyr, saw the Lord as he was being stoned, he said to him, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge," Acts 7:60). He is asking that his murderers be forgiven for they do not know what they are doing. That is to be the prayer of believers today for those who persecute them or take unfair advantage of them.
Last week I heard on the radio a very interesting interview with Rachel Saint, the sister of Nate Saint, one of the five men martyred in Ecuador in 1956 as they attempted to communicate with the Auca Indians. Later Rachel Saint and her companions went back to that tribe and lived among these killers. They served them, and loved them, and taught the gospel to them until they won to Christ the very man who had killed Rachel's brother. The interviewer asked her, "Why did you go back into this tribe?" She said, "Because in the Indian culture they lived for vengeance, but as a Christian, I knew that forgiveness is our message for those who injure us." Most of that tribe became Christians through the faithful ministry of these women. Someone told me today, however, that young people are leaving the tribe, and are caught up with the lies of the world around, and many of them are thus losing their Christian heritage.
But these martyrs under the fifth seal are not living in days when God patiently endures the injustices of men. These are days of judgment; days when wrong doers are being called to account, the time of vengeance. The prayers, then, of God's people reflect the mind of God at that time. Led of the Spirit, they pray for what God intends to do during the last days. Now we come to the sixth seal.
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 late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. (Revelation 6:12-14 NIV)
It is a vivid description of chaos in nature! The whole natural world goes on a rampage. Again, in Matthew 24 Jesus describes this same event, in Verses 29-30:
"Immediately after the distress of those days [He is talking about the great tribulation], 'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory." (Matthew 24:29-30 NIV)
These six seals have carried us almost to the very end of the whole seven-year period. We have been swiftly moving through this dramatic period. After the great tribulation, nature will be upset by some cosmic phenomenon. Perhaps it is the approach of an undetected heavenly body that will upset the gravity of the earth. Volcanoes will begin to spout lava; great earthquakes, much larger than the one we just experienced, will rumble through the earth; the stars will appear to be falling from the sky; the darkening of the sun and the moon will result from the ashes and dust caused by these phenomena. Listen also to Luke, in Chapter 21 of his Gospel, as he describes this same event:
"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." (Luke 21:25-27 NIV)
It will be a time of terror and anguish throughout the earth. What will be the effect of this on the people? John now sees the final scene under the sixth seal.
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man 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 stand?" (Revelation 6:15-17 NIV)
Who can stand? That is the question left hanging in the air. Of course, no one can stand. It is the end of civilization as we know it. All people who have not yet believed in Christ, who have refused his offer of grace, are the subjects of this terrible catastrophe and cry out in desperate fear. It is clearly the scene described in Isaiah 2, when "men shall go into the clefts of the rocks and cry for them to fall upon them," (Isaiah 2:21 KJV). Also, in Isaiah 26:10, the prophet says,
Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the Lord. (Isaiah 26:10 NIV)
In that day, those who refuse to believe have reached a stage where they cannot believe. They do not repent and pray to the Lord for salvation. Rather, they feel a terrible fear and pray to the rocks to destroy them. They will manifest openly and publicly what they feel privately and secretly today. It is a strange phenomenon, but it is easily confirmed, that every unbeliever is convinced in his own heart that death is somehow an escape into oblivion! Somehow they think they can escape the terrible consequences of their evil by dying. That is why people commit suicide. They believe they are escaping their problems, that there will be no consequences beyond death. But the Word of God assures us this is not true: "It is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgment," (Hebrews 9:27 KJV). Why are we told these terrible truths? If we belong to the Lord now and are members of his body, the true church, we will not be a part of this scene. This is the great promise we have heard several times in Revelation up to this point. This whole terrible scene is specifically sent to the seven churches of Asia to read and understand. Why? It is not only to make us earnest in our witness; it is also intended to show us where the forces and movements which surround us at the moment are going to end up. We are told this so we can recognize evil while it still looks good, and thus be able to judge what to give ourselves to and what to reject. One verse in John's Gospel, Chapter 3, Verse 36, tells us the whole story:
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:36 NIV)
Isaiah puts his finger on the reason for these judgments. It is, he says, that "the pride of men shall be humbled," (Isaiah 2:17 NIV). The pride of man -- this terrible lust within us to be in charge, to be in control of our lives and of other people's lives, to run everything, to be the center of our own little universe and to judge everything as to whether it pleases us or displeases us; that is the pride of man. Grace can humble it. The sight of God's Son dying in our place ought to make us see the evil of our hearts. But, if grace does not humble us, ultimately judgment must. Here we must leave this.
I do not like preaching on these passages. I much prefer the wonderful views of the throne of God in heaven, with the angels singing around the throne the song of the redeemed. But if we are faithful to the Scriptures we must recognize that there is coming a day when the wrath of God must be poured out upon the unrighteousness of men and it is to that day we have come. Let us be sure that there is in none of us an evil heart of unbelief. (http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/revelation/) (1990)
Cassette tapes or CDs of the class are available in the PBC DP book store at $3.50 each.
Audio mp3 and class notes are here: http://ldolphin.org/cleanpages/
March 9, 2005.