We are continuing our look at the end times. We’ve already looked at Matthew 24 and 1 and 2 Thessalonians. So, for a very quick review, here is what we saw from those books:
Order of Events – Matthew 24
- Beginning birth pains
- Abomination of desolation
- Great tribulation (persecution of God’s people)
- Apostasy/falling away
- Celestial disturbances
- Coming of the Son of Man
- Christ sends angels to gather God’s elect
Order of Events – 1 Thessalonians 4–5
- Christ himself comes on the clouds with the shout of the archangel and the trumpet of God
- Dead believers are resurrected
- Living believers are caught up
- The Day of the Lord brings sudden destruction
Order of Events – 2 Thessalonians 2–3
- Man of lawlessness (antichrist) is revealed
- When he takes seat in the temple of God
- And shows false signs & wonders
- Apostasy/falling away
- Tribulation (persecution of God’s people)
- Jesus comes on the clouds
- Believers are rescued, wicked are punished
I hope you can see the pattern that’s developing, and we’re going to continue to see the same order of events as we begin to look at the book of Revelation. In the last post, I introduced the book. We looked at some of the various interpretations of the book and at some of the major themes. This morning, we are going to study chapter 5 and begin to look at chapter 6.
The Seven-sealed Scroll
Revelation 5:1–5 1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.
Here we see God the Father sitting on his throne holding a scroll in his right hand. John sees that this scroll has writing on both sides of it, and it is sealed with seven seals.
What does this scroll represent? And what about the seals? Many commentators believe that this scroll is a forfeited property deed. Ancient property deeds, which had been forfeited, were often sealed with multiple seals. I believe this sealed scroll is the title deed to planet earth. You see, because of Adam’s sin, and because through Adam we are all sinners, we have forfeited our inheritance. We lost the right to rule and reign with God. Instead, Satan has taken control of this world, that’s why he’s called the god of this world. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Satan showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Man had been given dominion over God’s created realm; but his work of dominion had been spoiled because of sin. “Cursed is the ground because of you,” God told Adam (Genesis 3:17); and now the creation is “subjected to futility,” as it says in Romans 8. But God has always had a plan for the redemption of mankind—and of the entire created realm. And the fact that God holds that deed in his hand shows that he is now ready to bring that plan to completion.
This scroll represents our lost inheritance. And what happens throughout the book of Revelation is that God is reclaiming possession of the earth as the contents of the scroll are revealed, until he will finally cleanse and reclaim the earth, and then Christ and his bride will inherit it as their eternal inheritance.
This is what commentator WA Criswell wrote:
The book [scroll] represents a forfeited inheritance. The inheritance is what God created for us, for Adam’s seed. We lost it in sin and transgression. A usurper took it; sin, death, hell, Satan, iniquity, judgment, wrath, and the curse took away our inheritance as it is unto this day. An intruder, an alien, an enemy has taken it, and that book of redemption awaits a kinsman-redeemer, a worthy, qualified, and legal kinsman to buy it back and to restore it to its rightful owners. When that book of redemption is taken by one who is worthy, and those seals are opened, then that intruder, that alien, that enemy is to be cast out; and finally the whole purchased possession is to be redeemed, and sin, hell, death, and Satan are to be cast into the lake of fire, forever destroyed.
Next, a strong angel asks, “who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no created being was found worthy. No one could even look into the scroll. Just think! No human being—not in heaven above, nor on the earth below, nor under the earth beneath—indeed no creature at all was found untainted by the fall and thus worthy to take and open the scroll. At this, John begins to weep; not because he was disappointed at not getting to know the scroll’s contents, but because since the fall of man, all creation has been longing for that forfeited deed to be reclaimed—and we’re waiting still. As Paul put it in Romans 8, “the whole creation groans and labors with birth pains together until now” waiting for its redemption. There’s the scroll in the right hand of God; they are searching for someone from among humanity to take it, but no one is found worthy. But there is one who is worthy!
The Lion & the Lamb
Revelation 5:5–7 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
At this point, we are expecting to read that John sees a great Lion come and take the scroll. Right? But, instead, what does he see?
6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.
John is told that it is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who has conquered so that he can break the seals and open the scroll. But when John looks, he sees not a lion as we would expect, but a Lamb standing in the center of the scene. And this Lamb looks as though he has been slain. “Slaughtered” is a better translation of this Greek word. John sees a slaughtered lamb.
This Lamb has seven horns representing his great power and authority; and he has seven eyes, representing the seven spirits of God and his perfect omniscience.
He steps forward to take the scroll out of the right hand of God the Father, as the Redeemer of fallen humanity who has “conquered” by dying and being raised again; and who alone is worthy and has the right to reclaim the lost inheritance.
Revelation 5:8–10 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
Because of his shed blood, Jesus is the only one in the entire universe who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll. He is our Kinsman-Redeemer. He has ransomed by his blood people from every tribe and language and people and nation. He is the one who can meet the conditions to break the seals, to open the scroll, and to take rule of the earth once again, where we will reign with him as his co-heirs forever.
The Breaking of the Seals
Jesus, the slaughtered Lamb, has taken the scroll from God the Father, and he begins to break the seals, one by one. The fact that he is breaking these seals tells us that he is in control. There are some horrible events about to be unleashed on the world, but we can know that all of them are under God’s control, within his plan, overseen by Jesus himself. He remains the Ruler over this most dreadful of times.
Revelation 6:1–2 1 Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.
One of the four living creatures summons a rider on a white horse. He has a bow, an instrument of war, and a crown, a symbol of rule and authority. And his purpose it to conquer.
Most commentators believe that this horseman represents the coming of the antichrist, the man of lawlessness. Why? Because each of the descriptions of this rider reflect the activity of the antichrist. First, he is riding a white horse. This is compared to the Lord who rides a white horse when he comes at Armageddon as descried in Revelation 19. But this is not Jesus coming yet. The white horse tells us that the rider is an imposter, an imitator of Christ, a false Christ. Secondly, the rider has a bow—an ancient instrument of war. Third, the rider is described as wearing a crown. A crown denotes rule or authority. And finally, we are told that “he went out conquering and to conquer.” To rule over others by conquest is the goal of this rider. All of these are descriptions of the man of lawlessness, the antichrist, the beast of Revelation chapter 13.
Revelation 6:3–4 3 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.
The second living creature summons a rider on a red horse. He is holding a great sword. And he takes peace from the earth. Literally, it says he takes “the peace” from the earth. Many believe that this rider symbolizes the breaking of a peace covenant that was established by the antichrist, which launches the Great Tribulation.
Revelation 6:5–6 5 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. 6 And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”
The third living creatures summons a rider on a black horse. He is holding a pair of scales. A voice calls out, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!” A day’s wage for a quart of wheat or three quarts of barley represents highly inflated prices. These abnormally high prices reflect either natural famine as a result of the wars, or more likely economic control by the antichrist, as he begins to control the buying and selling of goods, as Revelation 13 tells us.
Revelation 6:7–8 7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.
Now, the final rider is summoned by the fourth living creature, and he is riding a pale horse. We are told that he is Death, and Hades is close behind. These two are given authority to kill a fourth of the earth. We don’t know if that’s geographically one-fourth, or if it’s one-fourth of the population. And it does not say that they killed a fourth of the earth, but only that they have authority to kill. How do they kill? It says with sword, famine, pestilence, and by wild beasts. This is clearly the time of Great Tribulation of which Jesus spoke.
Matthew 24 Parallels?
Many people have seen parallels between Jesus’ teaching in the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and the order presented by the first four seals.
(First Four Seals)
|5 For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and they will lead many astray.||Seal 1: Rider on a white horse—false christs (the Antichrist)|
|6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. . . . 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom . . .||Seal 2: Rider on a red horse—wars.|
|. . . and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.||Seal 3: Rider on a black horse—famine|
|9 Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.||Seal 4: Rider on a pale horse—death|
Jesus spoke of false christs with corresponds with seal 1. Wars correspond with seal 2. Famine with seal 3. And tribulation and death with seal 4. Others don’t think those ideas are parallel. I haven’t made up my mind yet.
In any case, these first four seals usher in the end times and bring us to the time of the Great Tribulation that Jesus taught his disciples about. It’s the time of persecution and martyrdom that Paul told the Thessalonians about. And that’s exactly what we see as we look at the fifth seal.
Revelation 6:9–11 9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
At the fifth seal, John sees the results of the Great Tribulation that will occur before Christ returns—martyred souls in heaven. They had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cry out to the Lord for vengeance against their persecutors and murderers. And they are given a white robe and told to rest until the full number of martyrs is complete.
Describing this time, Jesus said:
Matthew 24:9-10 9 Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.
Matthew 24:21–22 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
This seal shows the results of Satan’s anger, his wrath poured out through the antichrist, directed against mankind and especially against God’s people. Revelation 12 gives a warning about this time period:
Revelation 12:12 Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.
These saints under the altar are martyrs—those who “had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.” Whether these are only martyrs of the Great Tribulation, or martyrs down through the ages, these are saints who held firmly to the testimony of Jesus and their faith in him. Under great pressure to deny him; they refused—even under the threat of their very lives.
Revelation 12:11 tells us that these martyrs “conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”
Do we love our lives? Are we willing to do anything to stay alive? Even deny our Lord? Jesus said that if we don’t hate our lives, we can’t be his disciple. He said that we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him—even if that leads to our death.
We’re told that these martyred souls under the altar cry out with a loud voice. It’s a cry that boldly and expectantly calls out for the hand of God to be moved toward justice on their behalf. Notice who it is that they cry out to—”the sovereign Lord.” The word here is not the normal word for Lord, but rather the Greek word despotes, from which we get the term “despot.” This word implies someone exercising unrestricted power and absolute dominion, having no limits or restraints. It has the idea of ownership, supremacy, and authority. The Lord is described as “holy” and “true”; so they are confident that his hand will mightily move to bring about justice.
In their loud cry, the martyrs ask the Lord how long it will be until he judges and avenges their blood on those who dwell on the earth. They are given a white robe and told to rest until the full number of martyrs is complete. Here we see that the martyrdom of God’s people is not the result of random, out-of-control evil. Rather it is something that is under God’s control and to his glory, and according to a definite number which he has set. Once the final martyr has been killed, then God will intervene.
We also see that at this point in the book of Revelation, God’s judgment has not begun. Many claim that the seals represent the Day of the Lord, and the wrath of God, and that the church will be delivered by rapture before this time. Well, the question of the martyrs and God’s answer put that idea to rest. They are told they must wait a little longer until their blood is avenged by God.
So, what is our take-away ? What does all of this have to do with you and me in 2017? Everything; it has everything to do with you and me.
Scripture is clear that a day of tribulation is coming when believers around the world will be hated and persecuted and killed. Jesus said that this time would be unlike any other time in history. It will be a time that will require faith and perseverance; it will be a time of witness and testimony and suffering and martyrdom.
Believers around the world and throughout history have already faced severe trials; believers, even in the last few years—our brothers and sisters—have been killed because they refused to deny their Lord. The “loved not their lives even unto death.”
Listen. If you don’t have something that’s worth dying for, then you don’t have anything that’s worth living for. Let me repeat that. If you don’t have something that’s worth dying for, then you don’t have anything that’s worth living for.
Jesus left the glories of heaven to become a man, to be abused and beaten and spit on and hated and ultimately killed. And he did that for you and for me. He took upon himself the punishment of sin that you and I deserve. He was obedient to his Father to the point of death, even death on a cross.
And he invites us to come and die—to die to ourselves—to our selfish, sinful, shallow lives—and to live for him—for his glory and his kingdom. When you come to Jesus, he doesn’t promise you a bed of luxury and an easy road. No, he promises you tribulation and persecution . . . and eternal life.
But he is worth it. Jesus is worth it.