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Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries

 

Seven Seals - Persecution and Vindication audio (9MB)

Rev 6:1-7:17

<video - Handel:Why Do The Nations?>

It’s a question that people still ask today: “Why doesn’t God do something about the state of the world?” “Why doesn’t God do something about the state of my life. In fact it’s a cry that’s been going up to the Lord for 3000 years and still we wait for an answer. In the words of Psalm 13: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Just last year we had a woman here from Nigeria who told of the terrible atrocities inflicted on Christians in the towns near where she lives. When she returned there was a real danger that she might not make it home from the airport. So people ask “Why is life for the Christian so unjust?” “Why doesn’t God do something to stop the suffering of his people in this world?”
That of course was the question that concerned John and the Christians of the late first century. Why hasn’t Jesus returned? We thought he was coming back in our life time and nothing’s happened. Did we get it wrong?
But now John is given an answer as he watches the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah begin to unseal the scroll that’ll determine the destiny of the world. As bad as things may appear, God is still in control and his servants will be vindicated. But it’s not a pretty picture is it? At first the future appears very bleak.

Seal 1: A White Horse - Crowns and Conquest

The first seal is removed, one of the living creatures peaks in a voice like thunder “Come!” And what does he see? A white horse. Its rider carries a bow and is given a crown and he comes to conquer. White here symbolises conquest, not righteousness, as it does in ch19, even if most conquerors would claim to be acting righteously as they fight their enemies.
Jesus, in Luke 21, warns that before the end time comes you will hear of wars and insurrections. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. This is the history of the world, is it not? And still it goes on. Totalitarian regimes seek to control nations. Peoples rebel and replace them, often with equally corrupt governments, and the cycle continues. Is this perhaps part of God’s judgment on a fallen humanity, that he lets people suffer because of their own willingness to put up with unjust governments - even to vote for them?

Seal 2: A Red Horse - Hatred & Bloodshed

The second seal is opened and the voice of the second living creature cries “Come!” This time it’s a fiery red horse. Red, the colour of blood. The rider’s given a large sword and the power to take peace from the earth.
Not only is our history plagued by kingdoms and empires rising and falling, but at the local level we see hatred, fighting, bloodshed. In that same passage Jesus said “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.” Elsewhere he said “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” (Mat 10:21) This is the nature of the world we live in: a fallen world where relationships are messed up, where things are turned on their head, where people perpetrate evils against one another that we can’t even imagine someone in their right mind doing.

Seal 3: A Black Horse - Economic injustice

Next comes a black horse with the rider holding a set of scales in his hand. These aren’t the scales of justice, they’re the scales of commerce. And what does the voice from the midst of the four living creatures say? “A quart of wheat for a day's pay, and three quarts of barley for a day's pay, but do not damage the olive oil and the wine!” The picture is of food being doled out at rip-off prices - prices that no-one can sustain - a days work just to earn enough to buy your daily ration of wheat or barley. Yet oil and wine aren’t affected. Does this mean that for the rich there’s no shortage? Is this a statement about economic injustice? I’m reminded of Marie Antoinette supposedly saying of the starving peasants in France “If they have no bread, let them eat cake.”

Seal 4: A Green Horse - war, famine, plague and natural disaster

Next there’s a pale green horse, or perhaps more accurately a sickly green horse, and its name is Death, and Hades follows him. If the previous three seals heralded 3 types of calamity that fall on people over and over again, this fourth seal reveals an all-pervasive suffering. Death and Hades are given authority over a fourth of the earth - not a geographical fourth but a limited portion - and they’re allowed to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth. What kingdoms and murder and economic injustice haven’t destroyed are now subject to all the other forms of pestilence that human history has known: war, famine, plague and natural disaster.
Are you getting depressed yet? It’s a terrible series of pictures isn’t it? And there’s worse to come.

Seal 5: God’s Persecuted people - robed in white but told to wait for their vindication

The next seal is opened and instead of a horse he sees an altar. And under the altar are the souls of those Christians who have been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they’ve given. Not only do people die from the natural results of the fall: wars and famine, plague, etc., but here are those who’ve been killed because of the righteous lives they’ve lived. “What is God doing?” you might ask.
Why are the righteous caught up in this series of disasters and what’s God doing about it?  That certainly is what they want to know: “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” And what’s his answer?
“They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed.” The white robe is a sign that their righteousness has been recognised. But the time hasn’t yet come this persecution to end and for God to judge the earth, so they have to remain patient.
When Peter writes his second letter to the churches of Asia he addresses the same question: He says ‘I know people are asking "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!"’ But then he reminds them that God’s timetable is different from ours. He may appear to be delayed but in fact “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:4-9)
This is the hard answer to those who plead with God to bring about his final judgement. There are still those on earth who need to hear the gospel; for whom God’s final judgement would be the end, if it came too soon.
From our point of view the answer to this delay is to get on with the task of sharing the gospel with as many as possible so the full number of the elect might be saved.

Seal 6: Earthquake, cosmic disaster, as God comes to judge the earth

The reason for that is seen as the next seal is opened.
As he looks he sees the judgement of God being played out across the earth. “There came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14The sky vanished like a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.”
I saw the preview of a new movie called “Battle Los Angeles” the other day. It’s your typical aliens vs the USA disaster movie. Fairly scary stuff if you took it seriously I guess. But really, it has nothing on what we read here. 
Here’s a picture of terrifying disaster on a cosmic scale. The sun blackened, the stars falling to earth like fruit in a gale, the sky rolling itself up into a scroll. (remember back then the sky, like the earth, was thought to be flat.) And look at how the strong men of earth respond: “Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, [in fact] everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’” Heb 10:31: “What a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God.”
And, of course, this is exactly what Jesus, in Luke 23, predicted would happen when God came to judge.

Seal 7: The seal of the Living God

But this judgment hasn’t happened yet and we hear that it’s delayed for a short time. The opening of the seventh seal, the seal that will finally enable God’s plan to be finished is held up.  And in fact we won’t read about it until next time.
Four angels are placed at the four corners of the earth, to hold back the four winds - providing a moment of calm. Then another angel, ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God, calls with a loud voice to these four angels: "Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads." Here is another seal, this time a seal of ownership, a makers mark, like a signet ring, not on a scroll but about to be placed on the foreheads of the servants of God.
I’m sure you’ll remember the first passover when the door posts and lintels were marked with the blood of a lamb to ensure that God’s angel would pass over the house and the eldest sons would be spared. Here it’s the seal of the living God that’s placed on his servants to protect them from the ordeal that’s to come.
So who are these servants of God. We’re told in the next few verses  aren’t we? There’s 144,000 of them, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel. 12 times 12 times 1000. The complete number of the people of God.
But in case you thought the 144,000 was meant to be literal he     looks up and what does he see? A multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne. Remember this is moving pictures. What was 144,000 from the tribes of Israel is suddenly an uncountable multitude and not from the nation of Israel but from every tribe and people and language.
Then we’re told these are those who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Yes, history continues to provide ample evidence that we live in a fallen world. Yes, Christians continue to suffer for their faith. But here is an image of vindication and protection. God has us in his sights. He’s watching over us. As Psalm 23 says: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.” 
And then this part of the vision finishes with this promise, again echoing Ps 23: “...the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The seventh seal hasn’t yet been opened. That’ll happen next time and will usher in a whole new set of images of the last days. But for now what we see is God’s plan  slowly being worked out. In the midst of the suffering and misery of this fallen world God is in control. He knows those who are his, and is watching over them. Those who die in his name will be honored. Those who remain will be protected from the final judgement. And in the end he’ll care for us like the good shepherd that he is.

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Phone: 0422187127
 
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