Revelation Session 2
Last week I made a mistake. Inadvertently, in working through the numbers on the cracking the code sheet, I left out the number 3. And some of you were aware of that. And I am now confessing my sin before you, but I’ve made enough mistakes in my life to know how to make the best out of them. And so I’m going to make the best out of this mistake. The reason 3 is the number designated for God is because even in biblical times God was regarded as three-dimensional. You see that in various places in Scripture, but you see it very profoundly in the book of Revelation. Now, I will quickly tell you that there are a lot of biblical scholars, a lot of very serious people in the church who would be quick to tell you that this belief in the Trinity—the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit—this belief in the Trinity is something that was manufactured by the early church. It wasn’t actually in the Bible. It wasn’t a part of what the disciples believed and understood. It was something that the church developed later on, imposed it on the believers, and now we carry it on to this point.
Let me simply and with only a measure of respect say to you that they are not worthy of the intellect they profess. The truth of the matter is the Trinity can be found in the Bible. Sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly, but the Trinity appears multiple times on the pages of the book of Revelation. And the first place is in the 1st chapter of Revelation. I’m going to begin to read for you the end of the 4th verse and the 5th verse, “Grace and peace to you, from Him who is and who was and who is to come.” That is God the Father, the Creator God. Who was and is and is to come is a derivation on the name God gave Himself in speaking to Moses in the book of Exodus. He said to Moses, “I am who I am.” That is the name of God. And so John takes that name and gives it past, present and future dimension, giving us the indication that God the Creator existed before time, exists now, and will exist forever. The God who was, is, and is to come. That is God the Father, God the Creator.
Then you read on a little bit more. And from the seven spirits before His throne, we have talked about the fact that that is actually a poor translation of the original language that the better translation is the sevenfold spirit. That is the spirit which is perfect, total, whole, complete. In other words, the Holy Spirit, he is referring there to the Holy Spirit. So we have God the Father, God the spirit before His throne and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth. There is the Trinity: Father, spirit, son, right there in that one little place. Now, we’re going to move on from there to the 4th chapter. And the 4th and 5th chapters, in essence, have the Trinity once again spelled out. We will see in this passage, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is a basic biblical belief and it does help us to understand the massive amount of information that surrounds our belief in God and helps us to organize that belief to some extent.
What we’re going to do now is we’re going to look at the picture that we had up last week. And I want to focus now on this picture. Remember, we talked about God on his throne. There are three great visions in the book of Revelation. The risen Christ in chapter 1. God on his throne, the first glimpse of heaven, here in chapter 4 and 5. And then in 21 and 22, the vision of the Kingdom of Heaven itself. So those are the three great visions that are a part of the book of Revelation. But here you have the jewels. Remember jasper and carnelian and emerald? All of the jewels are represented around the throne. And then you have the 24 elders, that 12 thrones around the throne of God, the 12 Old Testament tribal chieftains, and the 12 disciples. Those are the representations of the old Israel and the new Israel. Now what I want you to grasp—we’re going to come back to this again shortly—what I want you to grasp is that John is handed by Jesus the picture of God on his throne in heaven, and he is surrounded by the representatives of both the old Israel and the new Israel. Do not lose sight of that fact. We will come back to it shortly.
Down in front of the throne are the four living creatures. And we are told there that each one has a different face. There is the face of a lion, the face of an ox, the face of a man, the face of an eagle. Each one of those four living creatures. What is the number 4 represent? It represents the earth or humankind. And so, therefore, we have the four living creatures representing humankind. And the faces make that clear. That it says in Revelation, they had a face like a lion, like an ox. It doesn’t mean they had that literal face. It was like that. And so the message is a lion is strong, noble, capable. An ox is diligent and hard-working. A man—the face of a man by the way even in art centuries later—the face of a man always represents wisdom and intellect. And then the final, the eagle represents the soaring quality of the human character. We are not pinned to one day and time and place. We have the ability—apart from all other creation, we have the ability to see the bigger picture, to see past, present and future. And so like the eagle soars above the earth, we have the ability to soar above life itself and to have a visionary capacity.
And so when you put all four faces together, you have the truest qualities of humankind. Every one of those four are part of our makeup, our created makeup under God. It then says that each of the living creatures had six wings. Six is the imperfect number, and so it is clear that that is a representation of their humanity. They are not God-like. They are like human beings. And it says that they had eyes all around. Eyes are always the sign of knowing. The eye is how you see things and thus you know things. And so it is the eyes that become the symbol for our knowledge, our human knowledge. And so all of humanity is wrapped up in these four rather remarkable creatures there around the throne of God. Now, I want to get back to the text so that we can take a hard look. In the center were the four living creatures—we’ve talked about what each of those means—each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night, they never stopped saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, and who lives forever and ever, the 24 elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever. We’ve talked about the fact that the book of Revelation is the hymnbook of the New Testament. So much great music has emanated out of the pages of the revelation of Jesus Christ to John, and you entered the room tonight to the strains of, “Holy, holy, holy, all the saints adore thee,” casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea. The picture is drawn straight from the 4th chapter of the book of Revelation, the elders worshiping God before His throne. “You are worthy, our Lord and God.”—Let me stop there. “You are worthy, our Lord our God.”—That’s what they’re saying. “You are worthy, our Lord and God.” Remember, John is writing this during the time of Domitian, the cruel Roman Emperor, who demanded that people call him my Lord and my God. And so here John is running a terrible risk by putting this phrase into the mouths of those worshipping before God’s throne in heaven.
He is saying, “There is only one Lord and one God and that is Jesus Christ. Domitian is not my Lord and my God.” He is making an absolutely frontal attack on the Roman Emperor. Little wonder that he was so feared by the Roman authorities that they banished him to the Isle of Patmos. “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power for you created all things and by your will they were created and have their being. Then I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne, a scroll with writing on both sides, sealed with seven seals.” We keep running into the number seven, the number of perfection. A scroll was very important, and the people in Asia Minor would have been very much aware of the importance of the scroll. You see, the Roman Emperor in those days delivered pronouncements, decisions, and rulings by writing those things on a scroll. The scroll was then carried out to the far reaches of the empire. The people were gathered and the scroll was read, and thus they received the directives from the Emperor.
And so in essence, what we are seeing and saying here in the Revelation is that there is a scroll greater than any scroll ever mentioned or delivered by the great Domitian. This scroll is absolute and perfect in its authority. It has seven seals. The Roman Emperor’s scroll always just had one seal—the seal of the Emperor himself. And so in essence, what John is saying to the people at Asia Minor is, “Domitian does not control your destiny. No matter what rules he may make, no matter what power he may possess, no matter what punishments he may exact, you are under the direction of Almighty God and you are accountable and answerable to no one else. This is the Supreme scroll, and it is meant for all of God’s people. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll? No one in heaven on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.” This scroll is so overpowering in its message that no one, no normal human being is worthy of opening it. “I wept,” John says.
“Here I thought I was going to get this incredible message from God, and the scroll couldn’t be opened. I wept in response—wept because no one was found who was worthy to open that scroll or look inside it. Then one of the elders—one of the 24—one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. See.'”—Remember, when you see, see or saw—direct revelation.—”See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” He is referring there to Jesus. If he had simply written the name Jesus, Domitian would have known who he was talking about. And the people who were reading the revelation in those seven churches would have been under threat, maybe even under the threat of death. And so for their protection, he resorts to Old Testament language and imagery as part of the code. If you look in Genesis 49, you will see there that the Messiah is referred to as the “Lion of Judah”. Now all of those people in the churches of Asia Minor would have known the Old Testament.
They would have known Genesis 49. They would have known what he was saying. And then he goes on with a double acclamation at that point and speaks of the Root of David. If you look in Isaiah 11, the passage we so often read at Christmas time, “Out of the stump of Jesse and the Root of David, there shall come forth the Promised Messiah.” And so we have this double acclamation of Jesus Christ. There is only one who is worthy to open the supreme revelation of God, and that is Jesus Christ. “Then I saw a lamb.” Here, again, a reference to Christ. It’s very important for you to hear this because here he is delivering a significant change. He is saying Jesus is more than just the Old Testament Messiah. You’ve seen the phrases from the Old Testament. Now in essence, John is saying, “I’m going to give you the New Testament phrase for the Messiah.” The word, lamb, applied to Jesus occurs in the New Testament only in two places.
One—John the Baptist. When Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized, the word from God is, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Right there is where Jesus is called the Lamb. The Lamb appears again in the book of Revelation, not once, not twice—26 times Jesus is called the Lamb in the book of Revelation. The message John is delivering is that Jesus is not an Old Testament Messiah only. He is not some conquering hero who is militaristically going to take control of the earth. He is a lamb. He is a sacrificial lamb. The power of Christ is greater than any military force because it is the power of sacrificial love. Jesus Christ gives his life in order to save the whole world. All of that is captured in that marvelous little word lamb. “I saw a lamb looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne and circled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes.” Once again, perfection, total, complete.
The horn is the sign of power. That is always true in ancient times and in Greek mythology. The horn is the sign of power. The eye is the sign of knowledge. Perfect power, perfect knowledge. He is declaring that Jesus Christ is both all-powerful and all-knowing, which are the seven spirits. That is the sevenfold Spirit, the Holy Spirit, God sent out into all the earth. “He came and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the 4 living creatures and 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense.” Those are elements of worship, which are the prayers of the saints. They sang a new song. “You are worthy to take the scroll to open its seals because you were slain. With your blood, you purchased men for God from every tribe, language, people and nation. For every tribe, language, people and nation.” Has to do with the earth, all of the people of the earth. Four words, always the same. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God. You have called the people of the earth to become the church, the new Israel, and they will reign on the earth. Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands.” Remember, we said 10,000 is a number that was just almost more than they could—that was the limit of their understanding. And what does he do here? He says 10,000 times 10,000. An absolutely incredible number in the Hebrew mind.
“They encircled the throne, the living creatures, and the elders. In a loud voice, they sang, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and praise.'”—Seven elements. God is always deserving of the seven great elements of worship. “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them singing.” This is the worship of the earth. “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise, honor, glory and power.” Four elements. That’s the worship that goes up from the earth. The worship in heaven is all of the seven elements of worship. The four living creatures said Amen, and the elders fell down and worshipped.
Now, we are getting ready to move to the seals. Let me have just a quick review for you from the code sheet. Remember that the revelation unfolds in these several dimensions or visions or elements, whatever you choose to call them. There is a pattern to each one. The first four elements in the element or the vision. The first four elements are always as things are perceived from the earth, as we as human beings see things. The next three: five, six, and seven, are always from the perspective of God.
Now, between the sixth and the seventh, there is always an interlude. There’s only one exception to that in the successive elements of the revelation. But in general, there is always an interlude. And the interlude is the direct word from Jesus Christ to the church, what Christ wants us in the church to hear and to know and to understand. And then after the interlude, you come back with the seventh element in that particular sequence, and that is the transition to the next series. So the seven seals lead to the seven trumpets, which lead to the seven characters, which leads to the seven bowls, which lead to the seven I saws. So there are five of these cycles that we will go through in the book of Revelation. Technically, you ought to take them all at once because they all hang together—that transition piece holds them together—but we don’t have the time to do that here unless you want to stay all night. So we’re just going to stop tonight at the seals, but we are going to take the seals. Now, I want us to look at the elements that are contained in this dimension of the seals. We have the four seals from the earthly perspective. The four horsemen with the colors—we’ll come to that in a moment. The two seals from the divine perspective—martyrs and plagues. The interlude at chapter 7:1-17 that is Christ’s message to the church. And then the seventh seal, which is the transition to the trumpets.
I want us to focus right now on the painting of the four horsemen. Now let me just simply say to you, I might as well throw this in as a parenthesis—Grantland Rice wrote about sports like no one ever has since—great sportswriter—Grantland Rice made the four horsemen famous in the modern era because you see, in October of 1924, Notre Dame beat Army on the football field—beat them very soundly. And Grantland Rice took the four backs—the four people in the backfield of Notre Dame—and he wrote a classic beginning to a sports story outlined against a blue-gray October sky, “The four horsemen roared again.” In the book of Revelation, they were called famine and death and destruction and pestilence. Those are just their aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. The backfield of the Notre Dame football team. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They are called that to this very day, and they carried that name with them into the Football Hall of Fame.
But we are dealing with a different set of four. What I want you to look at is the uniqueness of the four. You have the four horses, each a different color: white, red, black and pale or pale gray or pale green. Then you have each rider. And you will see that the appearance of each is different. One young, strong and vital. One fierce and ferocious. One looks to be starving. One just a skeleton. And then you have in the hands of each a weapon. Here, a bow. There, a sword. Here, a scale. And here in his hand, the fires of the land of the dead. Now I want you to retain that picture in your mind as we now dive back into the text because we are going to look at each one of the four horsemen of the book of Revelation. 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.” Interestingly enough, that’s another bad translation.
The word in Greek that is used there can be translated either come or go. Either way. It goes either way. If I were translating the Bible at this point, I would put go. I would translate that word go because I think, you see, each of the four living creatures here delivers one of the horsemen and the horse on which that person is riding. And it is the four living creatures, I think, who were saying, “Go, you are released. Spread throughout the earth.” And so even though when I read it, it says come, I’m going to be thinking in my mind go, may even say it by mistake. “Come. I looked and there before me was a white horse, its rider held a bow. He was given a crown and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” Remember the color white is for pure authority. Now here’s an important thing to remember, white can either be good or bad. Purity can either be good or bad. You can have pure goodness, or you can have pure evil. In this case, the white horse represents pure evil. Basically what John is saying to us is that pure evil has been unleashed on the earth. And he’s saying something else here by the use of the weapon. He says this horseman has a bow.
This is written in the time of Domitian, between the mid-80s and the late 90s. About 30 years before that, the Roman legions were attacked in Asia Minor by the army of the Parthians. They came from the east, they slaughtered the Roman legion in Asia Minor. Why? Because they used bows and arrows. The Romans had never encountered the use of bow and arrow in battle before. They were accustomed to fighting hand to hand with swords and spears. The arrows came in a huge fusillade and slaughtered them, they didn’t have protection, they couldn’t fight back. Interestingly enough, the Parthians—this was unique in the world in that time. The Parthians, on the battlefield, wore white robes. And so the people in Asia Minor would have known immediately what John was referring to in this part of the Revelation. The white robe Parthians came from the east, unleashing bows and arrows and slaughtered the Romans. He is in essence saying, “Just as the Romans were defenseless against the Parthians, you are defenseless against evil.” And isn’t that the truth, the evil that exists in our world even now, we cannot defend ourselves against it. It is all around us and it brings us down more times than we can count.
The only thing that stops evil is spiritual, supernatural power, the power of God. And if you do not have the power of God, then evil will win the battle for your life. That is, in essence, the message of the first of the four horsemen. “When the lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come,’ and then another horse came out. A fiery red one.” Red, the color of blood, the color of war. “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.” I love the way—this is really a wonderful translation, in fact, of the original Greek.—That phrase, “Take peace.” Think about that for a moment. He’s actually taking us back to the book of Genesis. You see, in the creation, after God created everything that was and is God declared it was good. Peace was the norm. The world was created for peace. It was a place of peace, and love, and harmony, a place where people could get along with each other and with the world around them. That’s the way God created it. Evil comes through the sin of human beings and takes peace, snatches peace from the world. And so the world naturally is bent toward peace, unnaturally bent toward war. To be sure, sometimes wars are necessary to fight against the evil that’s there. Later on in Revelation, we are going to see that very clearly. And John through the revelation is going to give us an understanding of when war is appropriate in fighting against evil. But war is not natural, not to this world, not to us. It cuts across the grain of who we are and how we were made. We were made for peace, and it is the red horse that takes peace away from the world.
“When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the living creature say, ‘Come.’ I looked, and there before me was a black horse.” Black: famine, drought. Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Those were the measuring balance scales that were used in the marketplace to measure the amount of food that you wanted to buy so that the price for that food could be set. And then you go on. “I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures saying, ‘A quarter 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.'” What in the world does that mean? It’s actually quite remarkable and quite simple.
What happens in time of famine or drought or economic depression? Goods and commodities become very scarce. Money is no longer as valuable as it once was. And so in essence, you see in this day and time in Asia Minor, one day’s wages would normally have purchased 15 quarts of wheat. Now he says, famine and drought, the pestilence of the horsemen is going to create a situation where one day’s wages will only get one quart of wheat. And then barley, three quarts of wheat for a day’s wages when normally that would be 45 quarts of wheat. And so you see, money is no longer as valuable as it was and the commodities that we need for life are in short supply. Oil and wine, those things are not required for nourishment. Those are luxury items. You’re not even going to get that. And so he paints this very grim picture. Now, here’s what I really want you to see. Notice the progression from the first horseman to the second to the third, and then we come to the fourth. The first horse—evil cut loose in the world. What happens when evil is loose in the world? People turn against one another and they begin to fight each other. And so you got the red horse, the horse of war.
And what happens in war? Young able-bodied people are carted off to go to war, and the lands that once were used to support crops are now battlefields, and so you can’t grow the basic stuff that’s necessary for life. Economic depression sets in and starvation becomes a reality. And so you move in a very logical progression from the white horse to the red horse to the black horse. You can see it happening even in our world in this very day. All of those three horses are very much loose in the world. For example, do you know that the red horse is still riding? World War I, World War II, those were referred to as the wars to end all wars. They didn’t end all wars, and exactly the opposite has taken place. In fact, from the end of the World War II to this very moment, more people have died by a multiple of three than died in both World War I and World War II together. We are living in the age of the red horse. And certainly, when you see the impact that those wars are having all over our world, the black horse is riding as well.
And when you take the progression, the next step when you have economic depression and starvation that reads, “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, its rider was named death. And Hades, the land of the dead, was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth.” Very important to hear the fraction there. This is a limited judgment. And this is not the judgment of God by the way, this is a self-inflicted judgment. These are things that we bring on ourselves. We yield to evil and we become hostile to one another. And then the result is depression and starvation, and then will lead to death. That is a self-inflicted judgment. God can’t be blamed for that. We have brought that judgment to ourselves. But it’s a limited judgment. It is not total and complete. Only one fourth, only a fraction, only a part of the human experience is going to stand under that limited judgment.
When he opened the fifth seal, now we’re moving from the perspective of the earth to the perspective of God. The fifth and sixth seals are quite extraordinary. “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.” Those are the martyrs of the faith, people who have been killed because of their belief, and because of their overt stating of that belief. These are the people whose blood has been shed through the centuries because they stood for The Lord, in their lives, and in their world.
What I want you to see—I hate to tell you this—there is actually a pecking order in heaven. Not everybody’s on equal footing in heaven. No pure democracy in heaven. Those who are martyrs, those who have given their lives for the faith, have a special place. The way the revelation pictures it is under the altar. The altar is the centerpiece of worship. That’s true in most churches, but it’s certainly true in heaven as well because all of heaven worships God, and the altar is right before the throne of God. And so in essence, he is saying here that the martyrs have the chosen place, the special place, they are closest to God in the kingdom of heaven—that’s the message being delivered here—and the martyrs call out in a loud voice, “How long sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood? How long Lord? We gave our lives for the sake of Christ. When are you going to wring down the curtain on all of the evil that exists in this world? When are you going to bring the human journey to an end?” They are ready, they’re impatient. I love what follows next. Each of them was given a white robe. Here, pure good, the representation that they have been rendered completely pure and good by the blood of Jesus Christ. And they were told, I love this, “Wait a little longer.” God says, “Be patient. It’s going to happen. I’m in control, but it’s on my timetable, not yours.” All of us want everything right now. We want the world fixed now. We want our lives fixed now. We want things to happen immediately. And God says, “Wait a little longer.” Learning to wait on God, learning to be patient, under the direction of the Lord is a priceless discipline of the Holy Spirit. It is one against which I constantly fight. I don’t like waiting a little longer for anything. But nevertheless, the message of Revelation is “wait”. Wait until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. In other words, there are going to be more of you all. There have been a lot of martyrs through the ages. Here’s what I want you to grasp. In the last 25 years, beginning in 1980 to this moment, more people in our world have been put to death because of their Christian faith than the number put to death for their faith from 1980 back to the founding of the church. As I stand here and speak right now, Christians are being killed all over this world. The number of martyrs at the throne is increasing by the hour.
I wonder if you stop to think about who had to die and how many had to die in order for you to be able to sit here in church tonight, to be reading this book, this incredible book. I have to tell you, I never opened my Bible without remembering those who paid the ultimate price to give it to me. I think of John Wycliffe. He was the man who first had the realization that for the English-speaking world, the Bible needed to be in English. Too many of the common people in England did not know Hebrew and Greek or even Latin. They needed it in their own language. And so John Wycliffe set about to try to make that happen. In the process, he incurred the wrath of the authorities; the religious authorities of that day. Ultimately, it was a terribly costly thing that he did. It costs him first his health. Ultimately, it cost him his life. At his death, the religious authorities destroyed all of his papers and all of his work. Nothing of John Wycliffe’s mind and heart survived—nothing.
In addition to that, they dug up his body, what was left of it. It was just bones at this point. They took those bones and scattered them far and wide. John Wycliffe has no final resting place. If you ever get to London, go down into the crypt under St. Paul’s Cathedral. In that crypt, many wonderful people in history are buried. But I want you to look for it—you’ll have to look for it—because it’s actually tucked on a sidewall almost behind the door. There is a single plaque on the wall. It’s the only thing left of John Wycliffe. And the plaque says, “John Wycliffe, the Morningstar of the Reformation.” He died on December the 31st in 1386, more than 100 years before the Reformation, but it was his thinking that put in place the Reformation that followed. I never open my Bible without remembering John Wycliffe, nor do I open my Bible without remembering William Tyndale.
A number of years later, it was Tyndale who actually succeeded in giving life to Wycliffe’s vision. It was Tyndale who translated the Bible into English, and that was the real step that led the Bible to become the Bible of the common ordinary people. Tyndale was put to death. I suppose I should tell you how. Because he did what he did, the religious authorities went after him with a vengeance. First of all, they strangled him until his esophagus and windpipe were completely collapsed. He was left simply gasping for air. At that point, they poured oil over him and struck a match and burned him alive. His death occurred on October 6, 1536. October 6, a week from tomorrow. On October 6, will you take a few minutes and stop to thank God for the martyrdom of William Tyndale who’d help to give you this book?
“When 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. The stars in the sky fell to Earth as the 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.” Make a note in the margin of your Bible, Mark 13. That is where Jesus, near the end of his ministry, delivers to His disciples His picture of what is going to happen in the End Times. It is absolutely spellbinding to read it. And when you read it, then flip back over to this passage in the Revelation, because much of the imagery here is that that was contained in Mark 13. Remember, John was there in Mark 13 listening to Jesus talk about the signs of the coming of the end. And now he gets a repeat performance as Jesus delivers to him one more revelation of what is going to happen in the end. The kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, every slave, every free man hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us, 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?” The message is, and what a message of hope? Think about these people in those seven churches under persecution from Rome, wondering if they were going to die at any moment. And here, John delivers to them this powerful message, no human authority can stand against the power of God and the power of the church. They will all fall down and they will all plead, “Let us die. We can’t face this.”
Dear friends, think about it. In human history, whenever a secular government or authority has in essence opposed the church or tried to stifle the church or tried to limit the church, what has happened? Inevitably, that government has fallen. Inevitably, rulers who have struck out against the church, leaders who have struck out against the church, inevitably, they are taken out. This is the wrath of God directed toward those who stand against His church. You and I are a part of the church. Nothing can stop the church. The church is now the oldest institution on the face of this earth. And it will continue until time comes to an end. You and I are a part of an institution that will never ever die. Oh, it’s filled with sinful people. Look around you. Look up here. It’s filled with sinful people. It’s a sinful institution, but it belongs to God. It is God’s church, and nothing can stand against the power of God. And so His church will prevail. Not even the gates of hell can stand against the Church of Jesus Christ. What an immeasurable hope John is delivering to the Christians in Asia Minor, and perhaps, to the Christians here and now.
Then we come to the interlude, the direct word from Christ to the church. Direct word from Christ—”After this, I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or the sea or in any tree.”—Oh, it’s important for you to see this. Remember, we talk about the fact they believe the world was flat, and it was a square and it had four corners. And so when he says here he saw four angels standing at the four corners, they are standing at the diagonals. They are standing at the diagonals holding back the destructive winds. Let me put it in modern terms. Think about weather. It is absolutely a fact that in weather patterns, winds that blow from the due direction: due north, due south, due east, due west, are winds that blow good. They bring good. They are pleasant winds. It is when the winds blow from the diagonal: southeast, southwest, northeast, northwest. When they blow from the diagonal they become destructive. What do people in the New England call the fierce storms that strike New England? Nor’easters. What happened in Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita? Where did they go? If they didn’t go due west, they flopped around and then suddenly headed northwest, and then one of them actually turned northeast. The most destructive weather patterns come from the diagonal.
John understood that all that time ago. And so you have this image of the four angels standing there preventing God’s judgment from occurring on the earth, giving all of us more time—a little more time. “And then I saw another angel coming up from the east.” This is coming from due east. Having the Seal of the Living God, he called out a loud voice to the four angels who were given power to harm the land and the sea, “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until—” He’s asking for more time—”Until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” The Roman Emperor when he conquered people made them wear a seal—a seal of the Roman Empire. They belong to Him. The territories of the Roman Empire were marked by a seal. It belonged to the Roman Emperor. John is saying there is only one seal that matters. It is the seal of God, and we are going to put it right on the forehead, where it is plain for anyone to see. You are to wear your faith front and center, visible for the world to see. Every time I baptize a child, I always take a little extra water and with my finger, draw the sign of the cross on the forehead of that child, delivering to that child the seal of the cross. This child belongs to God, the seal of the cross is upon him or her.
That’s the vision that we have here, marking us as God’s people and therefore under his protection. “Then I heard the number of those who were sealed. 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.” Remember 144,000, multiple of 12. A number too big to count. And then he goes on. And he divides that number up among the 12 tribes of Israel. All the people of the Old Testament. He’s talking about all of the people of old Israel. He’s going to come to the new Israel in just a moment, but he outlines for you the Old Testament reality. It’s so important that you hear this. “Then after this, I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language.” The four things. The Gentile world, the rest of the world, everybody else, the old Israel, the new Israel. Let me tell you what the message is. God made his promise to the people of Israel, He does not go back on his promise. Therefore, we can say with assurance of John that the people of Israel, in ways we do not understand, ultimately will receive the seal of the Lamb. They will be in the kingdom of heaven with us. I don’t know how, I can’t explain it, but that’s the message of the Bible.
Let me go a step farther. Put this down in your heart and remember it. Antisemitism for a Christian is abomination. Antisemitism is an abomination. The people of Israel are united under the throne of God. With the new Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ. And in some miraculous way, ultimately, all of God’s people, old and new, will be brought together. And there you will see the 12 chieftains of the tribes and the 12 disciples on the thrones in the kingdom of heaven, and there we shall be together once, for all and forever. That is the great message delivered by this passage. Standing before the throne in front of the Lamb, wearing white robes, pure good, holding palm branches, eternal Palm Sunday, every day in heaven is Palm Sunday, waving the palm branches saying, “Hosanna, Here comes the king. Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” All the angels were standing around the throne around the elders. The four living creatures, they fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God saying, “Amen.” Amen, that literally means this is true. When you say amen on a prayer, you’re not just signing off. You are saying a prayer and then you are saying, “Amen, this is true.”
And that’s why some preachers really love to hear an occasional Amen. This is true. If you know it’s true, say it. Now, say it with some authority. When you pray your prayers, don’t just mumble out a little Amen. You get to the end of your prayers and you look up to heaven and say, “Amen. This is true.” Amen. Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength, seven elements of great worship, be to our God forever and ever. Amen. This is true. One of the elders asked me, “These in white robes. Who are they? Where do they come from?” I answered, “Oh, sir, you know.” And he said, “Yes. These are the ones who have come out of the Great Tribulation. They have emerged from the ordeal of life on this earth. They have had their roads washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.” Nothing else you wash in blood is going to be white. Blood was not meant to make things clean. There’s only one blood that makes anything clean, the blood of the Lamb. When you wash your life in the blood of the Lamb, then you become pure and white. Therefore, they are before the throne of God. They serve Him day and night in His temple. He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger. Never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them nor any scorching heat.
By the way, I want you to know how these words would have hit those people in Asia Minor. The way the forces of Domitian tortured the Christians in Asia Minor was to take them out into the desert, strip them naked, stake them down to the desert floor and let them cook under the sun. And so here, John says in heaven, never hunger, never thirst, no more sun beating upon them, nor any scorching heat. They would have risen up in hallelujah for the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd. He will lead them to springs of living water. And then best of all, God will wipe away every, every tear from their eyes. That’s your first glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven. And then we move to the seventh element which leads to the trumpets.
Let me finish with this. Over the years, I’ve had some unusual funerals. One which may have been the most unusual of all was the funeral of a man named Hoxie Tucker. Hoxie Tucker died in 1996. Hoxie Tucker owned the last traveling one-tent circus in the world—mammoth tent. Traveled all over the world. It was the last one of those kinds of circuses to appear on the earth. Now Hoxie Tucker’s circus was not like glitzy surfaces we have now that play in arenas, and it certainly wasn’t like Cirque de Soleil. The people in Hoxie Tucker’s circus were tough. And he was incredibly tough. There were clowns and there were roustabouts and there were animal trainers and there were sideshow freaks. Hoxie Tucker died, and I was to have his funeral. I knew that in the congregation would be the clowns and the roustabouts and the sideshow freaks and the animal trainers. Tough people who probably had little or no knowledge of the faith. People who had basically just seen the underbelly of life. And I wondered, “How in the world do I preach to people like that?” And so I prayed and I prayed and I prayed, and God answered the prayer.
And so I turned to the 7th chapter of the book of Revelation. And I preached on this verse. “They are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them. And when I said that, there was an audible gasp in the church. And from that moment on the service was in the hands of the angels. You see, it doesn’t matter who we are: sideshow freaks or distinguished citizens of Hilton Head Island. God is going to take care of all of us. God is going to spread his tent over all of us. And we will be there with that multitude that no one can number from every nation, every tribe, every people, every language. We will be there. And God will remove all of the painful and the agonizing aspects of life and all of the tear-inducing experiences will be gone. Finished forever. Amen. This is true.
Go in peace.