Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Seals of the Scroll (Rev. 6)

Most of us have experienced disillusionment as the result of false promises of help. Perhaps this is one reason why the whole Charlie Brown and Lucy scenario strikes such a cord with audiences: you know, the one where she promises to hold the football this time but then snatches it away at the last moment? Perhaps you are the Lucy in the scenario, but I think a lot of us have found ourselves laying on the ground mad that we fell for that ploy yet again.

Perhaps one of our greatest temptations is to grab hold of premature promises of deliverance from suffering, whether that suffering is physical suffering, or suffering from injustice, or whatever the tragedy might be. This is the perennial allure of political parties. Now I’m not against political parties or political affiliations – they are necessary in our system of government. But if history has shown us anything, it is that our political leaders will always end up disappointing us. And yet so many people stake their hopes on the next election, as if that will change everything for the better. Well, sometimes political change is necessary, and sometimes things do change for the better. But politics will never usher in utopia and those who promise that will always end up with something that does not and cannot last. Even worse, the 20th century has shown us (via Nazism and Communism) that such efforts often end up with a lot of the population in prison camps in order to achieve the utopia promised.

Or there is the hope that people are given with the latest medical innovation. Again, medical innovation is real and can lead to real breakthroughs that cure serious diseases. We’re thankful for whatever help can be gotten for cancer and other types of diseases. But if your hope is in the next pill to be approved by the FDA, then your hopes are falsely placed. Because even if your heart disease is cured, you are going to end up dying eventually, one way or another. No one gets to escape death. Everyone’s body will break down sooner or later.

Or there is the hope that the next self-help guru will help us to finally get a grip on the worries and the failures that seem to beset us. Once again, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to improve our lot in this world. But at the end of the day, we all know that some of the saddest people in the world are some of the most successful. The idea that success can buy happiness is another false hope. I remember watching the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, about the millionaire Chris Gardner (played by Will Smith). In it we watch a man go from being homeless to becoming very rich. At the very end of the movie, when he describes the moment he broke out of poverty, he says something along the lines of, “In that moment, I was happy.” Well, I don’t doubt that money and wealth and success can bring you happiness. But it won’t last if that’s all you’ve got. You might have it for a moment, but you won’t have it forever. It’s a false hope.

And yet we keep believing them. Richard Dawkins the atheist likes to define religious faith as believing something to be true even though there isn’t any evidence for it. Now that’s a bogus definition. But the irony is that lots of irreligious and religious people alike have this kind of faith, because we believe – apart from any real evidence – that the next political leader or the next pill or the next self-help book will bring us true and lasting happiness. But it won’t. It’s a form of gullibility and we are all susceptible to it.

If you are a Christian, this is especially dangerous. Because it is easy to wed our faith in Christ to these other hopes and to baptize them in the name of Jesus. This is what the entire edifice of the health-wealth- prosperity gospel is built upon. They say that if you just have enough faith in Jesus, your life can get better in terms of health and in terms of wealth. But the Lord has not promised us anything like this and those who believe these lies are vulnerable to disillusionment with the gospel.

The Meaning of the Seals

Why am I saying all this? I’m saying it because I think in a real sense Revelation chapter 6 is here to warn us against this kind of disillusionment. It is meant, I think at least partly, to function as a warning against expecting too much of this world. It is meant to keep us from placing our hopes in people or programs that promise heaven on earth. It is meant, to put it a bit more bluntly, to keep us from following the multitude of false prophets and false apostles who promise you something right now when the Bible tells us to wait for it.

This is what our Lord was doing in the Olivet Discourse. Many Biblical scholars have noted the strong similarities between Revelation 6 and the Olivet Discourse, which is related in the Synoptic Gospels (Mt. 24-25; Mk. 13; Luke 21). For example, here is what our Lord says, as it is recorded for us in Matthew 24:

And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. (Mt. 24:6-9)

Notice the things our Lord warns his disciples about: conquest, war, famine, pestilence, and persecution, “the beginning of sorrows.” Guess what we see in the seals as they are unloosed in Revelation 6? You see conquest (seal 1), war (seal 2), famine (seal 3), pestilence (seal 4), and persecution (seal 5).

Now why was our Lord telling his disciples about that? He was telling them that because they expected the end to come very soon. They were in expectation that Jesus was going to bring the kingdom in during his earthly ministry. They still didn’t think he was going to die; they didn’t understand the necessity of his sacrifice on the cross. They were still thinking in terms of an earthly kingdom that would demolish all Israel’s enemies. That is why his prediction about the destruction of Jerusalem was so shocking to them. Here is what had just happened:

And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? (Mt. 24:1-3).

Do you see how the minds of the disciples were working? The questions they are asking come out of this expectation of the immediate coming of Christ’s earthly kingdom, and they couldn’t square that with the destruction of the temple. For them, the temple was the earthly expression of God’s rule on the earth, and for it to be destroyed by God’s enemies didn’t make sense when the Messiah who was supposed to conquer all God’s enemies was there present on earth! And so our Lord responds to this mistaken notion that the kingdom was going to come immediately. Instead, he is telling them to expect all these things to happen (like wars and rumours of wars, etc.), and that these will be just the beginning of sorrows. His coming to set up his kingdom on earth wasn’t going to happen right away.

It is important to understand that our Lord’s teaching here is not meant merely to correct a misunderstanding of eschatology; he is doing so to prevent this misunderstanding from causing them to abandon the faith for false Christs. Hear how he frames his teaching: “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Mt. 24:4-5). This concern is what is driving everything that follows. Our Lord is concerned that, hoping in an immediate manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth, but experiencing a delay in its realization, his disciples will abandon him for false Christs. And so one of the things he does is to teach them that the kingdom will not come before these other things happen, and that the occurrence of wars and pestilence and famine is not a proof that the promise of the kingdom is an empty promise. He has in fact promised both and that far from being an argument against the coming kingdom, the sorrows of war and famine and so on are like birth pangs that in God’s plan will give birth to God’s kingdom in God’s good time.

And so I think the banner that is waved over Revelation 6 is the same banner that is waved over Matthew 24: “Take heed that no man deceive you.” He is saying to us: Be careful so that you don’t become disillusioned by the presence of sorrows and end up as a result of that disillusionment abandoning Biblical hope for cheap substitutes that give you fleeting pleasures and temporary success in the place of “solid joys and lasting treasure.”

Revelation 6, like Matthew 24 and Mark 13 and Luke 21, helps us to keep the presence of sorrow and the absence of the kingdom from causing us to abandon the faith. It does it by teaching us things: that present sufferings have an origin, a purpose, and an end. First, an origin: it shows us that the sorrows we experience in the absence of the kingdom come from God. They are not random, purposeless events. They come as Jesus breaks the seals.

Second, the purpose they serve is to remind the world that it stands under the judgment of God. The seals are all judgments, just like the trumpets and the bowls later on. Famine, pestilence, and war do have their “innocent victims.” But the reality is that we live in a broken world that is broken precisely because of sin. That doesn’t mean that if we are suffering it is because of a particular sin. But it does mean that all human suffering comes from sin in some ultimate sense. You cannot live in a fallen world without experiencing suffering. And I think one of the reasons it is this way is because if God were to take away all suffering before taking away sin (which will happen in the kingdom to come), people wouldn’t have any reason to think that sin was such a bad thing. But it is a bad thing, and sorrow and suffering reminds us that it is.

Third, the seals remind us that there will be an end to suffering. Suffering will not be ended by the universe itself when it dies from heat death in some distant future. Rather, it will come to an end by God and Christ, who will end the sorrows by bringing in his kingdom. We need to remember this. However bad things are now, they will not last forever. And it is not just that we die and that’s it. It is that those who belong to Christ will be raised to reign with him as a kingdom of priests forever.

The Place of the Seals in the Narrative of Revelation

Before we go further, I want to help us to understand how the narrative of “the things which must be hereafter” (4:1) is unfolding in the pages of the Revelation and where chapter 6 fits into this. We argued that the scroll represents God’s plan for the judgment of his enemies and the salvation of his people. Now I think that the burden of this plan rests in the coming of Jesus to make all things new. And so the writing of the scroll, I think, is primarily concerned with the events that lead to a new heavens and a new earth and the destruction of death and of all evil. And remember that in order for the contents of a scroll to be enacted, the seals had to be broken. So how does the breaking of the seals fit into the narrative of events being related for us in Revelation?

There is a lot of disagreement here, and I’m not going to pretend that I think I know all the answers. Some of us probably know folks who really think they have all this figured out. Listen, you should be really suspicious of those who have this kind of attitude. So if you disagree with me on this, that’s okay. And in any case even if you do disagree with me, I hope that there are principles here upon which we can all agree. So I will give you my reasons for the positions I am taking and let you take it from there.

As far as the seals go, I think that the breaking of them represents all of history between the first and second comings of Jesus, just as in the Olivet Discourse our Lord is telling his disciples what will happen before he returns. There are certain things that must happen before the Lord returns, just as the seals of a scroll must be broken before the terms of the scroll can be enacted. The things mentioned in the first five seals are all things that are common to human history, not just to the end of history as we know it. But when you get to the sixth seal, you are at the end of history, and the seventh seal, which comes at the beginning of chapter 8, is silence, which I think represents the rest which follows the end of history and the judgment of all God’s enemies.

Thus, I think when all the seals are broken, the book of Revelation begins to give us what really are the events of the last days. Once the seals are broken, God’s plan for the end of history can be enacted. Now that doesn’t mean that these events come at us in a linear fashion. In fact, it appears that the next two cycles of judgment (trumpets and bowls) really do recapitulate the same basic events but from different perspectives.

So, to sum up, I think the breaking of the seals (Rev. 6-8:5) give us human history between the first and second comings of Jesus, and after 8:5 the apostle is going to go into more detail about the end of history and the culmination of all things in the judgment of God’s enemies and the renewal of all things as the kingdoms of the earth become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ.

The Breaking of the First Six Seals

Now let’s look at the seals more closely. Chapter 6 gives us the breaking of the first six seals on the scroll which is God’s plan for the end of history. The breaking of the seventh seal doesn’t happen until chapter 8, and in between (chapter 7) we have an intermission of sorts in which John tells us more about how God is going to take care of his people in the time between the first and second comings of Jesus.

Again, let’s remember the reason for these seals. They are here to remind us that though Jesus is enthroned and exalted and worthy, this does not mean that history would immediately come to an end once he rose from the dead. Rather, God has a plan for history in which he will gather in his elect over a long period of time. But during that time, the world is still fallen and under judgment and this judgment is being described here in terms of these seals.

The First Seal

“And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer” (Rev. 6:1-2). Notice who is opening the seal: the Lamb is. That was the point of chapter 5. So these judgments come from the throne of God because the Lamb has conquered and is setting in motion God’s plan for the future.

The first four seals are identified by a horse and a rider, which is very similar to a vision that the prophet Zechariah relates in Zech. 1:8-11 and 6:1-8. In Zechariah’s prophesy, the four horsemen represented “they whom the LORD has sent to patrol the earth.” (1:10, ESV). Now the thought in Revelation is a bit different, but the four horsemen part of the vision does seem to point the universality of the judgments. The color of the horses corresponds to the nature of the various judgments. In the first seal, the horse is white, and the rider is equipped with a bow who goes out conquering. The first seal thus represents conquest. In the first century, victorious generals were often given white horses to ride in victory parades. The reference to the bow would probably have reminded the original readers of Revelation of the Parthian armies. The Parthian empire was an empire on the eastern border of the Roman empire and which was a constant menace to the security of Romans there. They were well known for their use of the bow and arrow, and they had defeated the Roman army in AD 62. And so the possibility of conquest by this eastern foe was always in the minds of the inhabitants of the eastern part of the Roman empire (which the churches in Roman Asia would have been).

Nevertheless, we need not make a precise identification of the conqueror here: Beasley-Murray rightly warns that the “commentators’ lust for identification must be resisted.”1 The point is that throughout history the conquest of one nation by another is a feature of a world under the judgment of God. Empire- building is not seen here as a blessing but as a curse. One of the reasons for this surely is that many of the things that follow in the breaking of the next few seals is often a result of conquest.

The Second Seal

“And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword” (3-4). Red is the color of blood, and this therefore has to do with the shedding of blood. This follows the first seal as conquest and killing go together. It is rare that one nation capitulates to another without war. However, this is more general than war. Violence plagues even the most peaceful of countries. Hatred stirs up strife and anger often leads to murder. It is another feature of a fallen world under the judgment of God.

The Third Seal

“And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine” (5-6). If the first seal represents conquest and the second violence, the third represents famine, and the horse is appropriately colored black. The penny in verse 6 is the denarius which was the wages for one day’s work. A measure of wheat is a quart (ESV), which was considered the amount of food necessary for one man for one day. Barley was cheaper, but this would still have been exorbitantly expensive. One commentary says that the price here “reflects 800 percent inflation in grain prices.”2 How would a man feed his family if the entire income was enough only to feed one person? You can see how this would lead to hunger and famine.

On the other hand, we are told “see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.” This probably means either that the famine is limited, or that it doesn’t affect everyone the same way. (Wine and oil were the commodities of the wealthy who were less likely to be affected by famine than the poor.) In any case, it does underline that God sets limits to the judgments which he sends.

The Fourth Seal

“And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth” (7-8). The word death here in this context almost certainly means pestilence which kills. The Greek word for death translates the Hebrew word for death in the Septuagint, for example, in Ezek. 14:21 (“For thus saith the Lord God; How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast?”). This is especially illustrative because Ezekiel mentioned the same things John does, except that instead of the word pestilence John substitutes the word for death, showing they are surely synonymous words in this context. John himself uses the word death this way in Rev. 2:23 and 18:8.

“Pale” is the color of the horse, which is appropriate because this is “the color of a person in sickness as contrasted with his appearance in health,” a “pale greenish gray.”3

Hell, or Hades, follows pestilence. I think Beasley-Murray is right to imagine Death on the pale horse and Hades following after on foot to collect its victims. Hades was thought of as the world of the dead; in the Bible it is often synonymous with the grave. So the idea here is that pestilence kills and Hades collects the dead.

The fact that pestilence kills a fourth part of the earth is frightening but at the same time it again shows that there are limits that God has set to these judgments. This kind of mortality rate was in fact experienced by people in the Roman Empire in the mid-second century during the reign of Marcus Aurelius in what some medical experts think was the first outbreak of smallpox in the West.4 By the way, all these are often the very kinds of things that follow in the wake of war. War brings with it violence and famine and pestilence in its aftermath, as well as an increase in wild animals whose numbers are unchecked because of the chaos of war.

None of these things are peculiar to any part of human history; we have seen them take place in our world in our day. We can read about wars and rumours of wars in every age; about diseases and plagues two years ago or two hundred years ago. The believers in the first century and believers in the twenty-first century need to be reminded that the presence of conquest, war, famine, and pestilence are not signs that God has abandoned our planet but that this world will continue under the judgment of God as long as men continue in their rebellion again him. These are also the kinds of things that bring down human kingdoms and which would eventually spell the end of the Roman Empire. But though the nations of men may crumble, the Lamb who breaks the seals and sends these judgments is creating a kingdom which will never end.

The Fifth Seal

At this point, there are no more mention of horses and riders. Commentators have noted a 4-2-1 pattern in all three cycles of judgments, and we see that here. Here the focus is no longer on the earth, but we are taken into heaven: “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled” (Rev. 6:9-11).

This seal is a reminder that it is not just the unbelievers who experience suffering; believers suffer, and one of the ways they suffer is martyrdom. Here are people who “were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.” Jim Hamilton points out that the parallel between the Olivet Discourse and Revelation 6 indicates that the spread of the gospel happens at least in part through the death of martyrs. In the Olivet Discourse it is the spread of the gospel in all the world that presages the end (Mt. 24:14). In Rev. 6, it is the cry of the martyrs (fifth seal) that comes right before the return of Christ in judgment (sixth seal). So Hamilton writes, “I take this to mean that the gospel will go to the ends of the earth through the sacrifices of the martyrs, and the fact that there is an appointed number of martyrs in Revelation 6:11 means that their deaths are not accidental.”5

There is indeed a number to the martyrs. This means that, as Hamilton points out, their deaths are not accidental or purposeless. Their sacrifice for the cause of God and truth is one of the means that God uses to advance his kingdom. As Jesus told his disciples, “But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness” (Luke 21:12-13, ESV). We must not miss this: one of the themes of Revelation is that just as Jesus gained his victory through death, even so his followers will gain their victory through death.

Of course this doesn’t mean that the only way the believer gains the victory is through martyrdom. There are other ways to die. God doesn’t call all of us to be martyrs. But he does call all of us to die to ourselves and to seek first the kingdom of God. It means that in every sphere of life, we live as a witness to the gospel. Our lives are to be flavored by the gospel, and our deaths are to be a sort of final amen to the truth about Christ. It means that the sacrifices God calls us to endure are an opportunity to bear witness to the robustness of the Christian faith. And surely we are all called to live that way and to die that way.

The martyrs are pictured here as “under the altar.” I think the reality this is meant to picture is that they are in the very presence of God. The altar of incense in the tabernacle and temple stood right in front of the Most Holy Place. They have sealed their testimony by their blood. The world has rejected them, but God has received them. He has given them white robes and rest from their labors.

In God’s presence they cry with a loud voice, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” Of course, the previous seals are symbols of God’s judgment. It’s not as if the world is not under the judgment of God. But what they are asking for is justice for the particular crimes committed against them in their deaths at the hand of wicked men. God does answer them, but it is interesting to note how he answers them: “and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.” This means, first, that retribution for the crimes committed against them would not happen right away. In fact, it would not happen “until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.” I take this to mean that not until the full number of the martyrs is fulfilled will God render justice. This takes us to the end of the world as we know it, and is another reminder that though we are to work for justice in this world, our ultimate hope is not in getting justice for ourselves or for others in this world, but to wait for it at the Final Judgment.

Second, it means that justice, though delayed, will happen. God doesn’t tell them that he won’t do it, just that they have to wait a little longer for it. God will repay (cf. Rom. 12:19). We don’t have to settle for imperfect justice or the failure of justice in this world, because we know that God will render in his good time perfect and complete and universal justice.

The Sixth Seal

“And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Rev. 6:12-17).

We’ve noted several times the similarity between Rev. 6 and the Olivet Discourse. One of the things the disciples asked Jesus was what would indicate the time of the end. Here is how our Lord describes it in Mt. 24:29-31:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

These are clearly parallel passages and describe in slightly different ways the same event. I take this to be a description of the Second Coming of our Lord. I know that some take this to mean the destruction of Jerusalem, because of the word “immediately” in verse 29 and what our Lord says about all these things happening to that generation then present in verse 34. But these are not insuperable difficulties, and they can be explained in a way that is consistent with taking this to refer to the visible, personal, glorious coming of our Lord to judge the wicked and resurrect the righteous.

Another reason people give for taking our Lord’s words in Mt. 24 to be a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem is that the cosmic language he uses is OT stock language for God’s judgments on the nations, whether Babylon (Isa. 13:9, ff.), or Egypt (Ezek. 32:7, ff), or Israel (Joel 2:10, 30, ff.). However, I wonder why it hasn’t occurred to some of these folks why God would use this type of language? They argue that we should look in retrospect to the OT passages to interpret Rev. 6 and Mt. 24, but that surely is taking it backwards. The OT passages should be interpreted in light of the NT ones. The reason for this type of language that portrays the destruction of nations and empires through the symbolism of cosmic disordering is because at the end of history this is precisely what will happen. All those events in the OT were simply prefiguring the final coming of the Lord, just like those were “days of the Lord” which pointed forward to the Day of the Lord in the Second Coming and Final Judgment.6

Both the sixth seal and Mt. 24:29-31 describe what happens when Jesus comes back, although our Lord in Mt. 24 focuses more on its redemptive aspects and Rev. 6 more in terms of judgment. The prayers of the martyrs are being answered. There will be a day when the wicked will be judged. There will be a day when all the prayers of the righteous for justice will be answered. There will be an end to all the suffering of the saints. Again, these seals tell us that present suffering has an origin for they come from God’s throne, a purpose for God has designed them to bring about his judgments upon a world in rebellion, and an end, for there will be an end. The world will not go on like this forever. It had its beginning in God’s will and it will come to an end according to God’s will.


Let me conclude by reminding you why we have this in our Bibles: it is to remind us that it is folly to abandon faith in Christ and to settle for premature promises of deliverance from present suffering by false Christs, whether they come to you in the form of religious authorities or political leaders or scientists or self-help gurus. Our Lord has told us to expect suffering in this world. He is telling us here to expect war and famine and pestilence in this world. But he is also telling us that it will come to an end, and that it will end in the Second Coming of Christ who will come to judge his enemies and rescue his people.

And that means that we are to order our lives now in light of the end. It will not matter how much power and influence and wealth you have in this world if you are not right with God. When Jesus returns, everyone who have refused to repent of their rebellion against him will be trying to hide from the wrath of the Lamb. They will recognize too late that they cannot hide and they cannot stand before him.

Where are you at? Are you one of those who are awaiting eagerly for the coming of Jesus? Or are you one of those who will be ashamed at his coming? Will you welcome him or hide from him?

It is a part of our humanness to long for justice and to hope for peace. But apart from the gospel, the world can at the end of the day guarantee neither justice nor peace. They can’t guarantee justice because evil men can and do escape justice. They can’t guarantee peace either: has not history demonstrated this over and over again? The grave ends all our hopes for peace and justice. Only someone who can reach beyond the grave could possibly give us either. And that is who Jesus is. He conquered death in his death and resurrection. And in conquering death for those who believe in him he guarantees that they will receive justice and eternal peace – peace with God and peace with a redeemed humanity in a new heaven and new earth. Don’t fall for false Christs: put your trust in Jesus Christ the only one who is worthy to break the seals and to open the scroll of God’s saving plan for this world.

G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation (Wipf & Stock: Eugene, 1981), p. 132, fn. 1.

Dennis Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation (P&R: Phillipsburg, 2001), p. 121. 

BAGD, and Loew and Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon, qtd. by Johnson, p. 123, fn. 11.

4 Ibid., p. 122, fn. 10.

James M. Hamilton, Jr., Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (Crossway: Wheaton, 2012), p. 166.

Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse in chapter 21 of his gospel helps us to see that the time period begun by the destruction of Jerusalem doesn’t end with the city’s overthrow by the Roman armies in AD 70 but continues “until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (ver. 24), which actually extends to the present day. So the time period described by the phrase, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days” in Mt. 24:29, doesn’t refer to AD 70 at all, but to the entire time period between the first and second comings of Jesus. Also, the problem that verse 34 poses really is not a difficulty either for “all these things” does not refer to the coming of Jesus itself but to the types of sufferings which precede his coming, all of which were to happen in that generation.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

God’s Saving Purpose in History (Rev. 5:1-14)

What is your fundamental attitude toward your circumstances?  Are you stuck with a sense of despair and hopelessness?  Have you been going through life with a weight of cynicism hanging upon your heart and mind?   Do you interpret everything or most everything through the lens of bitterness on account of losses and crosses? Are you in a place where you feel like you can never be happy again?  

If you feel like this, I don’t want you to think that this means that God doesn’t love you.  The fact of the matter is that many godly men and women throughout history have felt just this way at times. The Psalms are interspersed with laments. So for example one psalmist puts it this way: “Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.  I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God” (Ps. 69:1-3).  He goes on to say, “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (20).  

There are even some Psalms that don’t end on a note of hope, like Psalm 88, which opens with, “O lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee” (1), and ends with, “Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness” (18).  Why do you think God put psalms like that into the Bible?  I think one reason is that this is actually the experience of God’s people at times.  They are sometimes led to walk in darkness with no light (Isa. 50:10).  

Nevertheless, there is a difference – or there ought to be – between a Christian who is passing through the dark waters of spiritual depression and one who is not a Christian.  The difference is not in the amount or length of the suffering!  The difference is in the fundamental disposition of the soul towards God.  For the Christian, the fundamental disposition of the soul ought to be one of hope, even in the midst of sadness and joylessness and deep, deep grief.  You see this even in Psalm 88, because it is a prayer to God which is in itself an act of hope.  You see this in psalms like Psalm 42, where King David argues with himself in this way: " Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance” (Ps. 42:5).  For those who belong to Christ, there is always that yet.  “Yet I shall praise him.”  That is the hope.  It doesn’t mean you have to pretend your suffering isn’t real.  It doesn’t mean you have to say that relief is around the corner.  But it does mean that the bedrock of your soul rests upon God’s promise that he loves you, has a purpose for you in the suffering through which you are passing, and will in his good time grant you deliverance from it.  As the apostle Peter put it to suffering Christians in his day: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you” (1 Pet. 5:10).

But what is the basis for these hopes?  It is just about having a positive attitude and hoping the positive attitude itself is what will change our circumstances?  Is it about believing in ourselves?  Or is it all just so much pie-in-the-sky?  

The basis for the Christian hope does not lie in ourselves.  If it did, we would be fully justified in maintaining a sense of hopelessness.  We can have hope because the future does not lie in our hands or in the grip of cold, chaotic cosmic forces, but in the purpose of a sovereign and saving God.  What we saw in chapter 4 is that this sovereign God rules in heaven and on earth.  He has created all things and holds all things in existence.  What happens on this planet is not outside the plan and purpose of a holy God.  But what we will see in this chapter (5) is that God is not only the sovereign Creator and Sustainer; but that he is also the sovereign Savior through Jesus Christ.  And what we will see is that if we really believe that, the fundamental attitude of our lives ought not to be one of weeping but of worship.  So the question that we are faced with is this: will we weep or will we worship?  I’m not saying that we should never weep.  Of course we should.  There are times when it would be inappropriate not to weep.  I’m talking instead of our fundamental and basic attitude towards the future.  Is it one of despair and hopelessness or is it one of hope?

The fifth chapter of Revelation helps us out here.  It helps us to see that the future for those who belong to Christ is one that ought to inspire worship instead of weeping, hope instead of hopelessness.  In these verses, the apostle John describes four scenes in heaven which he sees.  First of all, he sees the book which tells us that God has a saving purpose in history (1).  Second, he sees the challenge to open the book and shows us that only God can achieve this saving purpose (2-5).  Third, he sees the Lamb who is Jesus Christ, the one through whom God achieves this saving purpose (6-10).  Finally, he sees the praise, the universal worship which is the only proper response to God’s saving purpose (11-14).

The Book (1)

“And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.”  What John sees in God’s hand is probably not a book per se, but a scroll.  Scrolls were often used for legal documents like contracts and wills.  In many cases, the terms of the contract or will would have been written on the scroll and then sealed with seven seals.  The seals would have to be broken in order for the terms of the legal document to be executed.  

But what is this scroll?  What is its purpose?  What does it contain?  Remember that our Lord promised John in 4:1 that he was going to show him things which must come to pass.  The scroll then is about the unveiling of the future.  Ostensibly the contents of the scroll are unveiled in chapters 6-22.  It is then, God’s plan for history, a history that includes both the judgment of his enemies (and the enemies of the church) as well as the salvation of his people.  

This scroll is written on both sides, an uncommon practice because of the way scrolls were made.  For papyrus scrolls, the fibers on the side normally written on were laid horizontally, but on the reverse side they were laid vertically, making it much more difficult to write on.  The fact that this scroll is written on both sides indicates the fullness of God’s plan for history.  But it is a future that God has a lot to say about!

What is interesting is that we are never told that the scroll is read; what seems to be of upmost importance is not so much its contents but the fact that it is sealed.  As we’ve already pointed out, this is significant because this means that the purpose of God for the future will not be put into effect unless the seals are broken.  Which means that the breaking of the seals is of the greatest importance.  

The scroll is in God’s hand; let us not miss that.  As we have already seen in the previous chapter, God holds history in his hand, and this in itself should help us to move from despair to hope, from weeping to worship.

The Challenge (2-5)

The next thing that John sees is “a strong angel.”  He writes, “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon” (2-3).  To ask who is worthy to open the book and to loose the seals of it is to ask who is worthy to carry out God’s plan for his glory in the destruction of his enemies and the salvation of his people?  If no one is able to do this, it will mean that there will be no justice to God’s people who have suffered so much injustice at the hands of their enemies.  It will mean that there is nothing better than what this world has to offer – and so no bright hope, no glorious future.  It will mean that Satan wins and God loses!  

And at first, this appears to be the case.  As the angel surveys the universe, calling out for anyone “worthy” to break the seals, his challenge is only met by silence.  No one was able – not angelic beings (those in heaven), no living man or woman (those on the earth), nor the dead (those under the earth) were able to rise to the challenge of breaking the seals.  Note that the challenge is not merely in terms of power but in terms of worthiness: “who is worthy?” is the question.  This is as much a matter of moral and ethical fitness as it is one of ability and power.

The silence to the angel’s challenge underscores the fact that we cannot save ourselves.  We cannot bring about God’s plan for justice and redemption for the world.  “With men it is impossible,” as our Lord put it, and if we try to take this burden upon ourselves, if we try to be our own saviors or the saviors of others, it will just be a burden around our necks that we cannot bear.  No mere mortal can break the seals.  The whole of human history is strewn with the wrecked hopes of people who have placed misguided trust in The Next Best Thing.  But we must not put our trust in men or in institutions made by men.

At this point, I want you to put yourself in John’s shoes.  What would be your response to this?  You see, the scroll is not just about the future in the sense of a better tomorrow.  This scroll is not just about having a better future in terms of a better life than I’ve had in the past.  John is not thinking here about the problems of poverty or addiction.  I’m not saying those things are not problems or that we shouldn’t care about them.  We should because we should love our neighbors as ourselves.  If we don’t, there is something wrong with us as Christians.  But the tragedy is that so many people can’t think beyond these sorts of problems.  What does it matter if you can put food on the table and drive your own car from point A to point B and hold a good job and so on, if you are alienated from God?  What does earth matter when heaven is lost?

And that is what is at stake here.  John knows that.  Eternity is at stake.  The glory of God is at stake.  The future happiness of God’s people in his presence forever is at stake.  If the seals cannot be unloosed, all that is lost.  Would you weep over that?  In other words, I’m asking you: are you more concerned about cycles of poverty that people are trapped in than you are about their eternity in the presence of God?  Are you more moved about your next pay raise than you are about heaven?  Are you more anxious over your physical condition this side of the grave than you are about your body and soul in the age to come?

Would you weep like John weeps?  Are you moved by the things that John is moved by?  “And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon” (4).  The Greek here indicates not only the amount of weeping (“much”) but also the volume of weeping (“loudly,” ESV).  This deeply moved John.  He was at this moment a living illustration of something the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:19).  John was miserable because for a moment it looked like the only kind of hope he could have was hope in this life.  And that made him weep – it made him miserable.

Now you might be thinking, “But I thought this was about moving from weeping to worship.  Why are you saying that we should weep like John weeps?”  Well, I’m saying that if it were the case that God’s plan for salvation could not be put into effect, then there would be grounds for weeping.  If we just have the hope that the world gives, then all that would be left would be weeping.

But this is not the end of the story.  At this point, “one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof” (5).  John is told to, “Weep not.”  There is good reason for this.  This is not about just keeping your chin up.  This is not about being bold in the face of despair.  This is not about thinking positively when you really have no reason to do so.  That is not what the Christian faith tells you to do.  No!  There is a wonderful and true reason not to weep.  

It is because there has been found someone to break the seals.  It is Jesus.  He has prevailed.  A better word would be conquered.  He is not only able, but he has also conquered.  He has won the victory.  He can do this because he is not just another human, though he is fully human.  He is not some angel.  He is not some departed spirit in the realm of the dead.  No, he is in a category all by himself, the God-Man, described here as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.”  This goes back to a prophesy that the patriarch Jacob made concerning Judah: “Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen. 49:9-10).  This is a prophesy about the Christ, who is described both in terms of a lion and then as a king with universal dominion.  What John is seeing in heaven is the fulfillment of that prophesy.  The Lion has come and he has conquered!

He is also described as “the Root of David,” which shows that our Lord fulfills another prophesy, this one by Isaiah.   Our Lord descends from Judah, and he descends from David.  He is the Davidic king foretold by the prophet: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots” (11:1).  Because of Israel’s sins, and the deportation to Babylon, it looked like the Davidic monarchy was finished.  It looked as if the tree of David was cut down.  But Isaiah is saying that though it is cut down, it will begin to grow again.  A Branch will grow out of his roots.  He then goes on to write that “with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked” (4).  The verses that follow are clearly a description of a new heaven and new earth (6-9).  This is a king who will wield universal power and will usher in an age of unprecedented peace and justice.  John is seeing the fulfillment of that prophesy before his very eyes.  

We can, like John, move from weeping to worship because someone is able to break the seals of the scroll.  The Lion has come and won the victory.  But that is not all the apostle sees.

The Lamb (6-10)

The Lion has been announced.  John turns to see this Lion, but instead he sees a Lamb!  “And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth” (Rev. 5:6).  This must have been unexpected.  Was the elder who told John about the Lion of the tribe of Judah wrong?  Did he get the description of the Seal-Breaker wrong?

No, of course not.  Jesus is both a Lion and a Lamb.   Of course, this is not just any kind of Lamb.  This is a Lamb with seven horns, which indicates strength.  And since the number is seven, this is the perfection of strength.  He also has seven eyes, which is identified with “the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth,” a reference to the one Spirit of God in the perfection of all his power, sent into the earth to mediate the presence of the risen Christ.

We are told that what John sees next is that “he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne” (7).  God the Father gives the scroll to his Son because he is worthy and able to break the seals and to set God’s plan for his glory and the good of his people into action.

Why and how he is able to do this as the Lion-Lamb who was slain is now revealed to us in the praises of the four beasts and twenty-four elders who fall down before the Lamb and worship him.  This is one of those great proofs for the divinity of Jesus.  God is the only one who is worshiped.  Not angels, who are fellow servants of God (cf. 22:9).  Since Jesus is worshiped here – right before the throne of God! – we can take it for certain that the Father is God and the Son is God, both worthy of the same worship.  The Father is worthy (4:11) and now we will see Jesus proclaimed as worthy (5:9, 12) in the same way.

Here is what happens next: “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (8-10).  Here we see how the Lamb has conquered and the significance of his sacrifice.  We are told that his sacrifice and blood-letting and resurrection (for he has not only been slain but stands risen in the presence of the Father) led to people being redeemed to God, a people from every people group, and that the result of this redemption was the making of the redeemed kings and priest who will reign with Christ in his kingdom.

A kingdom of priests

To understand what the Lamb has accomplished and how he did it and why he did it this way, let’s work our way backward here, starting with the end result. The redeemed are made a kingdom of priests who will reign with Christ in the age to come (note the future tense).  This is the hope, a hope which is held out to the churches for those who overcome.  This is the blessed hope of the Christian.  Despite the fact that they are persecuted now, despised now, suffering now, the time will come when they will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  There is no suffering now whose shadow will forever darken the hearts of the saints.  The night will end and the morning will come.  Their kingdom is coming and they will reign.  They will enjoy perfect and unencumbered access to God and to Jesus forever.  What was promised to Israel on Mount Sinai is fulfilled perfectly in the congregation of the redeemed in the age to come.

We need to stop here and ask ourselves: do we really believe this?  Is this just a theological truth to say we believe?  Brothers and sisters, if this is true, can we not hold on?  Can we not endure to the end?  I don’t know what kind of suffering you are enduring right now.  But I know this, that if this is true, then there is no reason to walk away from Jesus out of bitterness.  There is no sorrow that heaven will not heal, and heaven is what God has promised you.  Be faithful to the end, and he will give you the crown of life.

Redeemed to God

Those who are made a kingdom of priests are precisely those who are redeemed.  To be redeemed means to be ransomed, to be bought back.  It points to the debt we are under because of our sins.  Unfortunately, a lot of us live under the impression that God owes us a good life and we get mad at him because he doesn’t deliver it.  But this is mistaken.  God is God and we are not.  He is your King and Sovereign.  He is your Creator.  He is your Lawgiver.  And you know what?  We have all rebelled against our King.  We have lived as if there is not Creator, as if we get to define our own reality.  We have lived as if we get to make our own laws.  We have lived as if we were self-sovereign.  And so we have not loved God with all our hearts and minds and strength.  We have not been thankful to him for his gifts.  We have lived in ways that are obnoxious to him: in sexual immorality, in deceitfulness, in slander, in hatred and anger and abuse.  We have lived in pride instead of humility, in selfishness instead of worship, in worldliness instead of godliness.  And we think that God owes us something?  He doesn’t owe us anything except judgment.  That is the debt we owe to God: a debt of judgment because of our sins.

But the amazing thing is that the gospel of the kingdom of God is not first and foremost news of future judgment.  It is news of redemption from sins to those who receive it by faith and repentance.  To say that a person is redeemed in the sense here means that their debt of sin before God has been erased.  It means that their sins, all of them, have been forgiven.  However, it doesn’t just mean that our debts are not cancelled and that’s it, but that in releasing men and women from their debt of sin against him, God at the same time draws them to himself.  To be redeemed is amazing.  To be redeemed to God is mind-blowing.  It means that God is our God.  It means that God is eternally for us for our good.  It means that God is our refuge and strength forever.  It means that he loves us and cares for us.  It means that as a father pities his children, so he pities those who are his.  

By his blood

Now the question is, how in the world can God do this?  He has been declared as three times holy in 4:8. How can a holy God overlook sins and release us from our debts?  Must not the Judge of all the earth do right?  But it would not be right for God to not punish sins!  

This is where the sacrificial nature of our Lord’s work becomes absolutely critical for understanding how God can save sinners.  Their sins must be punished if God is to remain just and holy.  But we cannot purge our own sins.  Sins against God are infinitely heinous.  We are like a gambler on minimum wage who has gambled his way into a trillion-dollar debt.  We are responsible to pay it, but we cannot.  

How then can redemption happen?  The Biblical answer to this question is the death of Jesus Christ.  He didn’t just die as an example of righteous suffering.  He didn’t just die as a martyr for the truth.  The gospels tell us that he died as a substitutionary sacrifice for sins.  He paid the price that we couldn’t pay.  He absorbed the sin debt by taking the punishment due to our sins.  This is the point of the Lamb imagery.  John the Baptist understood this.  He proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  The lamb in the sacrifices appointed by the Law of Moses functioned in this way.  They were substituted for the sinner and their death was meant to take away the sin of the offeror.

This of course goes back to the Passover, when every Israelite family had to sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on the doorpost in order to avert the death of the firstborn.  It also points us to another prophesy in Isaiah.  He prophesied of the Servant of the Lord who would shed his blood for Israel:

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. . .. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.  (Isa. 53:4-7,10-11)

We all understand what it means for someone to step in and pay a debt we cannot.  Now some people say that this can’t apply to moral debts – that it can’t apply to sins.  But in God’s moral government of this world, he has made it so that it does apply.  And so by his death on the cross, Jesus paid the sin debt for all who believe in him: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16).  

In redeeming a people to God, Jesus has overcome the reversal that sin brought into the world.  Sin brought brokenness and death.  Sin brought alienation from God.  By redeeming a people for himself, Jesus Christ Gods’ Son has reversed all this.  Thus, as the Lamb of God, Jesus has died for his people and by doing so he has won the victory and is creating a new people with new hearts who will one day be raised in new bodies in a new heavens and new earth – and hence the appropriateness of singing a “new song” (9).

Who are these people for whom the Lamb died?  They are described as those “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (9).  This excludes universalism for they are out of every kindred, tongue, people, and nation.  However, though the atonement does not bring salvation for all without exception, it does bring salvation for all without distinction.  God’s people will be found in every corner of the globe, in every people group.  This should encourage the church in its mission to obey the Great Commission, to go into all the world.  It should encourage us to be willing to go or to support those who go into all the world to reach those who have never heard the gospel.  The Lamb will have the price of his blood.  Our efforts therefore to bring the gospel to all the ends of the world are therefore not futile.  It doesn’t matter how enraged the devil is, or how opposed the world is to the church.  We need to have a commitment to gospel proclamation, not because we think God can’t get it done without us, but because we have absolute confidence that because God is sovereign and the atonement is effective, the Lord Jesus will get it done in his way and in his time through us.

Why can we move from weeping to worship?  We can do so because Christ didn’t just conquer his enemies, but as the Lamb of God he died for sinners so that their sins might be forgiven and brought them to God as a kingdom of priests who will share in his reign in the age to come.  God who was once our enemy because of our unrighteousness is now our Father and friend because of Christ’s righteousness.  Our prayers are brought into the very presence of the Father (8).  He doesn’t despise our prayers, but they rise as incense in the very throne room of God.

You may ask, “But how does a person know they are redeemed?  How do they know they are one of those among every people group and language?”  The answer is not that you are good enough.  You don’t look inside yourself for reasons to have this hope.  You look to Christ.  You trust in him.  You receive him as Lord and Savior, and the Bible says that those who do will never be ashamed.  He rose from the dead so that those who believe in him will also rise from the dead.  Do you believe that?  Then you too can go from weeping to worship.  You too can join the living creatures and the elders as they worship the Lamb.

The Praise (11-14)

But the praise doesn’t stop in verse 10.  It continues in the following verses and swells to include the whole of God’s universe: “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.”

There are a number of things about this worship scene in heaven that ought to grab our attention.  First, the same worship which was given to the Father in chapter 4 is now given to the Lamb in verses 11-12, and then to the Father and the Lamb together in verses 13-14.  The fact that they are praised together with the same blessings is another pointer to the true divinity of Jesus Christ.  It is unthinkable to imagine that this kind of worship would be given to a creature, or that God would share his glory with one of his creatures (cf. Isa. 42:8).  

Second, one the emphases of these verses is the number of those who are praising God the Father and God the Son.  The point of “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” is not to get a precise figure of the heavenly host through multiplication.  The point is that this number of angelic beings is simply innumerable.  This would have been an encouraging reminder to believers who live in the first century Roman world.  In that world, they were definitely outnumbered.  In that world, they were marginalized and persecuted.  But John is reminding them that they are surrounded by an innumerable host of angels (Heb. 12:22) who praise God with them. This is another reminder that despite their present circumstances, they are on the winning side.  It is a reminder that it is of the utmost folly to abandon the faith for a paganism that cannot persist past the grave.  The God of the Bible alone lives for ever and ever.  The gods of the heathen are dead, and their followers will die with them.  And in our day, when a new paganism is rising again and the faith is again being surrounded and besieged, we need to keep the reality of the heavenly hosts in our minds and hearts as well.

Third, in verse 13 the angelic hosts are joined by “every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them.”  As the psalmist put it, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).  The God who created all things is the God who will bring in the new creation through Jesus Christ.  The redemption purchased by Christ does not just save the soul; it renovates the universe.  And therefore it is just that the whole creation joins in the praise of God and of the Lamb in verse 13.  

Now what is your response to this?  God and the Lamb are alone the only ones in the universe who are truly worthy to receive riches and power and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing (12-13).  This is not saying that we are giving these things to God in the sense that God needs them from us.  What we offer to God we first receive from him (cf. Rom. 11:35; 1 Chron. 29:10-14).  No, the point is that God alone is the fountain of everything good.  All power and riches and wisdom ultimately derive from him.  And so all honor and glory and blessing ultimately belong to him.

What this means is that God did not create us or anything else out of lack.  He didn’t make the world because he needed the world to fulfill some need in him.  The point of worship is not to meet some need that God has.  No!  God created, not out of lack, but out of abundance.  The world and everything in it is the overflow of the fulness of God’s abundance and delight in himself.  The point of creation is to share this.  And the point of salvation is to share this.  God doesn’t need to, and he doesn’t have to.  But he does out of his grace and generosity and mercy and love.  

Which means that there is nothing and no one in the universe who can meet the needs of your soul at the deepest level and in a lasting way, other than God through Jesus Christ.  To substitute earthly power and privilege for the power of God is a cheap substitute.  The same goes with earthly riches and wisdom.  To substitute earthly blessings for God is not only idolatry and sinful, but it is also spiritual suicide.  We need God, which is why the promise of the gospel to not only cancel our debt through the atonement of Jesus, but also it bring us to God who is the fountain of all blessing, is the very best of news.  It also means that to turn from it is wicked and foolish.

My friend, the gospel call to trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is a call to embrace a redemption that brings us to God.  The only appropriate response to that call is worship.  Will you come to Jesus Christ in this way?  If you do not, if you reject the worship of the Lamb, I can tell you on the authority of God’s word that you will end up some day weeping.  For these are, at the end of the day, the only two options.  You may be oblivious now, but at the judgment seat of the One who sits on the throne, there will only be two possible responses: one of weeping and gnashing of teeth for those who rejected the gospel and the other of worship for those who through the Spirit embraced the gospel by faith in Jesus.  My prayer is that you will see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and that seeing you will embrace him with a worshiping faith.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

God’s Sovereign Purpose in History (Rev. 4:1-11)

Do you know why the book of Revelation was written?  It wasn’t written to give you a road map for the future.  It wasn’t given to satisfy people’s idle curiosity about the End Times.  To help us see why it was written, we need to remind ourselves to whom this book was first given.  The book of Revelation was written to encourage embattled and beleaguered Christians at the end of the first century in the Roman Empire.  It was written to people who were persecuted and harassed and who were suffering and in some cases being killed.  It was written to people who had little to no political power to wield against their persecutors, and very little material wealth to buy them off or to pad their lives on this earth with comforts and ease.  

Now I’m a futurist overall in my approach to Revelation, so I’m not saying it doesn’t have anything to say about the future.  But I don’t think that Revelation was meant primarily – or even secondarily – to enlighten people about the future by giving them a blow-by-blow, linear program of the events preceding the Second Coming of our Lord to the earth.  It was, beginning in the first century and then in every age after that until the Lord comes, given to help Christians be faithful in the midst of very difficult circumstances.  

How does the Lord provide that help?  How does the book of Revelation function to encourage and give hope to embattled believers?  In some sense it does it the way all the Bible does it.  It does it by pointing our eyes away from a merely earthly perspective to a heavenly one.  It helps us to look at all of life and history through the reality of the sovereignty of God over all things.  

You see, one of our problems is that we tend to think of God as “up there” in heaven, and we’re “down here” on the earth, and never the twain shall meet.  Heaven and God’s throne is in some other realm, and we’re stuck down here just trying to make it to heaven.  We may not say it, but practically speaking sometimes God doesn’t have a lot to do with our lives on a day-to-day basis.

Do you know how you can tell that?  Just look at your prayer life.  Do you pray about things or do you just try to take care of the difficulties of life on your own?  Do you lift them to God in prayer?  Do you regularly come to the throne of grace?  Do you in every circumstance with prayer and supplication make your requests known to God?  And then add this consideration: do you pray with expectation that God is hearing you?  Do you really believe that?  Or are you just praying because you know you’re supposed to?

Another question to ask is this: where is my hope?  Is my hope in God or in something else?  Or have I become so discouraged that I’ve given up on God?  

There are a million ways we can become disconnected from the reality that we live every day and every hour and every moment under the universal Lordship of Christ over all the universe, and that as his people he takes particular interest and concern over us.  We can become hopeless, paralyzed by fear – fear of man, fear of the unknown – and embittered by the suffering of this life.  And it is at least partly due to the fact that we have lost sight of the twin facts that God is good and great, that he is loving and Lord, that he is sufficient and sovereign.  

The book of Revelation helps us to understand God and history in a Biblical way.  It helps us to understand that God is sovereign over history – past, present, and future – and that he is moving history for his own glory and the good of his people.  And that is why the Lord gives John this vision that begins here in chapter 4.  John (and all of us) needs to understand that the future depends ultimately on God.  And so instead of jumping to the events of the future (the “things which must be hereafter,” verse 1), he first brings John into the throne-room of God.

This chapter unfolds roughly in three parts.  First of all, we have God’s appearance in verses 1-3.  Second, we have God’s attendants in verses 4-8a.  Third, we have God’s adoration in verses 8b-11.  All three parts together join in underlining the fact celebrated in verse 11: “Thou art worthy, O Lord.”  In this chapter, we not only meet God, but in meeting him, his audience, and his worship, we see again and again that he alone is worthy of worship and honor and praise.

John sets the stage for this vision of God in verses 1-2: “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.  And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.”  This begins the next great vision in the book of Revelation, the vision in heaven (chapters 4-16) which will center around three cycles of judgment (seals, 6:1-8:1; trumpets, 8:2-11:19; vials, 16:1-21).  John is “in the Spirit” indicating that this is a vision given to him by God.  In this vision, he is invited by the Lord Jesus Christ (who was “the first voice I heard,” see 1:10, ff) to come into the very throne room of heaven.  

The purpose of this vision is to “shew thee things which must be hereafter” (4:1).  Now that doesn’t mean that everything that Jesus is going to show John pertains only to the future.  But it does mean that burden of the following visions pertain to the future, a future which, as we will see, culminates in the final destruction of evil on the earth and the final victory of God in a new heaven and new earth.

What I want you to notice, though, is the word must and who is speaking it.  Jesus is saying, “I’m going to show you the future; it’s a future that must come to pass because it’s a future that I will bring to pass.”  In other words, our Lord is reminding John and us that he is sovereign over history.  What we’re going to see in chapters 6 and following is what that history will look like.  But in chapters 4-5, we are going to see why history takes the shape it does.  It takes the shape it does because of the wisdom and power and goodness and justice and holiness of God.  God is in control; that is the point.  The events of the following chapters don’t just happen; they happen because they emanate from the throne of God.

Chapter 4 is about the throne of God.  Chapter 5 is about the Lamb of God.  Chapter 4 tells us that God has a sovereign purpose in history.  Chapter 5 tells us that God has a saving purpose in history.  Today, we want to look at God’s sovereign purpose in history.  

That God’s sovereignty is highlighted here is obvious.  This whole chapter takes place in one room – God’s throne room.  The word throne is used 14 times in just 11 verses (about a third of its use in all the book of Revelation).  Most of these are a reference to God’s throne.  It’s true that there are other thrones here as well, but these other thrones, as exalted as they are, are still subservient to God’s throne.  Those who sit upon these thrones wear crowns, but in verse 10 these crowns are cast before the throne of God, showing that God’s rule is the ultimate rule in the universe.

Let me remind you what it means for God to be sovereign.  It means that God rules over all and exercises ultimate and final authority and power in the universe.  It means that God’s will is supreme.  A sovereign is a king.  But God is not just a king; he is King of kings and Lord of lords.  Or, as the Psalms put it, “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Ps. 115:3).  Or, “For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places” (Ps. 135:5-6).  Or, as Nebuchadnezzar put it, “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Dan. 4:35).  It means that from grubs to galaxies, God’s purpose and power is what finally matters.  When we say that God is sovereign, we are not just saying that he has the right to rule: we are saying that he does in fact exercise this rule from top to bottom, from the past to the present to the future.

How is God’s sovereignty displayed?  Well, it is displayed in these three movements of the chapter: God’s appearance, God’s attendants, and God’s adoration.

God’s appearance

Note first God’s appearance.  Now this is the language (that of appearance) that John himself uses here.  It is important to realize that John does not actually describe God’s essence for that is impossible.  Instead, he says that what he saw was “like” something.  Here is what he actually says: “. . . behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald” (Rev. 4:2b-3).  It would be blasphemous to say that this is a description of God’s essence.  No one can see God, who dwells in light inaccessible (1 Tim. 6:16).  But that is not what John is doing.  Rather, he is describing the effulgence of God’s glory as it appeared in the throne room of heaven.  

It’s hard to really visualize what John saw here.  John describes the glory of God in terms of precious stones, and he mentions three here: jasper, sardius, and an emerald.  According to Leon Morris, we can’t be sure exactly what these stones were because of the inexactness of ancient descriptions for the terms used for these stones (TNTC, p. 85).  However, what we can be sure about is that the function these precious stones have in this vision is to emphasize the beauty and the brilliance of the glory of God that John saw.  All three stones appear again as part of the foundation of the New Jerusalem (21:10-20). It’s clear that John was blown away by this amazing display of light shining as it were through these precious stones.  It is meant to help us feel just how awesome and glorious and full of majesty God is.

John’s vision is very much like the vision of God’s glory that Ezekiel had.  Here is the way the prophet described his vision of God: 

And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake (Ezek. 1:26-28).

Note again, Ezekiel saw “the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”  But even that was enough to send the prophet collapsing to the ground in awe and terror!

In addition to the description of God’s glory manifested as he sits upon his throne, there are a couple of other additional details about the throne room itself.  One is the rainbow about the throne.  Again, it is hard to know exactly what John saw here.  However, as in Ezekiel’s vision it seems to be, like the precious stones, a medium through which God’s glory shines in the area around the throne.

One other detail that is mentioned is in verse 5: “And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.”  We’ve already noted that “the seven Spirits of God” is a reference to the fullness of power and glory that belongs to the Holy Spirit.  But what I want to notice here is the lightening and the thunder and the voices that proceed from the throne.  You see these again at the conclusion of each series of judgments (8:5; 11:19; 16:18).  In other words, this is another reminder that the judgments which take place upon the earth originate in heaven and proceed ultimately from God’s throne.  They are acts of God in the truest sense of the word.

Finally, “before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal” (6).  There are a number of speculations as to what this was meant to signify, but I think it is just another detail that enhances the beauty and brilliance, the glory and greatness, of the throne room of God.

So we have the throne of God and the God who sits upon his throne.  It seems to me that what is prominent in the descriptions throughout this passage is light.  This is the point, I think, of the precious stones that John thinks of when he sees God seated on his throne..  The glory of God is displayed as light refracted through precious stones.  Note how it is put in chapter 21.  Speaking of the New Jerusalem, John writes that it came down out of heaven “having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal” (11).  Furthermore, light is shown in the rainbow around the throne and in the sea before the throne.  

In Scripture, one of the primary ways that God’s glory is manifested is through light.  When Moses came down off Mount Sinai his face shown because he had been in God’s presence.  When our Lord was transfigured, even his garments shone.  Now John is in heaven, and it is in heaven where God most fully manifests his presence to bless.  And so it should not surprise us to find the throne room full of light, brilliant and beautiful, revealing the glory of God in heaven.

Light is incorruptible, and this tells us something about God’s sovereign rule.  It tells us that God’s rule is holy (we will see this declared in verse 8) and it tells us that God’s rule is without defect.  There is no chance that God’s will is going to fall to the ground because there is nothing corruptible in God.  There is no defect in his knowledge, or his wisdom, or his power, or his holiness, or his goodness, or his justice, or his immutability, or his faithfulness, or his eternity.  He is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

So as we work our way through the book of Revelation and the judgments upon God’s enemies and the salvation of God’s people, we need to remind ourselves that the plan of God which is being revealed here will never be in danger of falling to the ground.  No, for it is founded in the eternal decree of the Sovereign Lord, the God who is light and who dwells in unapproachable light.

God’s attendants

It is interesting how much space John devotes to describing God’s attendants, who minister before him.  There is a parallel here to both Isaiah’s vision in Isa. 6 and Ezekiel’s vision in Ezek. 1.  Here, John sees two different types of attendants in the throne room of God.

The first are the twenty-four elders (4, 10).  Who are these guys and what is the significance of the number twenty-four?  One of the questions relating to their identity is whether these are angelic beings or human beings.  Well, I don’t think we can say for sure.  Some might point to 5:9 and argue that they are redeemed (“hast redeemed us to God”), and therefore are human. But they are joined in this praise with the living beasts, who are certainly not human.  In any case, although Jesus did not die for angels as an atonement for their sins, his death does have universal implications for angels as well as men (cf. Col. 1:20; 2:10).  

I think the best way to look at these elders is that, whether they are human or angelic beings, either way they function as representatives of God’s people with priestly functions (for example, they present the prayers of the saints to God in 5:8).  That they are twenty-four in number may then point to the 24 orders of the priests and Levites who ministered in the earthly temple of God and represented God’s people to God.  Even so, these elders minister in the presence of God on behalf of the people of God.

The four elders sit on thrones (called seats in the KJV, but the Greek word is throne), which are arranged around God’s throne.  Though the fact that they sit on thrones and wear crowns of gold and are clothed in white robes is an indication of their importance and authority, the position of their thrones with God’s at the center shows that their power and glory is delegated and derived.  They themselves show this by casting their crowns before God’s throne (10).  

The next of God’s attendants are the four beasts (6-8).  They seem to be immediately round the throne (“in the midst of the throne and round about the throne”).  We can think in concentric circles, with God at the center, immediately surrounded by these living creatures, and surrounding them are the twenty-four elders.

These are like the living creatures of Ezekiel 1 (who are later called cherubim in Ezek. 10).  As in Ezekiel, these creatures are full of eyes.  But there are differences.  First, each beast here only has one face (lion, calf – or ox, man, flying eagle), whereas in Ezekiel each cherub had four faces.  Also, in Ezekiel the cherubim have four wings; here they have six (like the seraphim in Isa. 6).  We must not make too much of these differences.  Some speculate that John is borrowing from these other visions and piecing them together to create his own vision.  I think that’s the wrong way to look at it.  Though I doubt we should be overly literalistic here, there is no doubt in my mind that there are real creatures like this in heaven.  

Why the different faces though?  Well, around AD 300, the Jewish Rabbi Abahu taught, “There are four mighty creatures.  The mightiest among the birds is the eagle, the mightiest among domestic animals is the ox, the mightiest among wild animals is the lion, the mightiest of them all is man; and God has taken all these and secured them to his throne.”   It’s doubtful that he is commenting on a Christian text here; so this is most likely an independent tradition that very likely goes back much earlier.  If that is the case, it could be that the function of each face rand each creature is to represent a part of God’s creation – from the birds, to the domestic animals, to the wild animals, to man.  As they praise the living God, they show that the purpose of all creation is to bring honor and glory to God.

One can tell a lot about the power of a king by looking at those who surround him.  These who surround the throne of God are clearly powerful beings, vested with authority and glory and majesty.  But they are not there to serve themselves. They are there to serve the living God.  They are not there to receive worship but to give it.  These attendants are powerful, but God is supremely powerful.  They are glorious but God is infinitely more glorious.  Theirs is a derived glory; God’s is underived, eternal, and unchanging. There is no sovereign in the universe that can compare with God.  Satan may have his minions, but they are nothing compared to those who serve God.  

God’s adoration

What are the attendants to God doing around his throne?  We are told in verses 8-11. They are worshipping and adoring and honoring the one who sits on the throne.

First, God is worshiped for his holiness: “And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come” (8).  Like the seraphim in Isa. 6, they proclaim a thrice holy God.  Do you remember what it means to say that God is holy?  Of course it means that he is without sin.  But it means much more than that.  Fundamentally, it means that God is utterly distinct and separate from all his creation.  It means that there is nothing and no one like God.  Though it is true that we can be like God in some ways, yet there are ways in which God cannot be imitated in any way.  

For example, we cannot be eternal or immortal like God is (“who only hath immortality,” 1 Tim. 6:16).  We may never stop existing, but it is only because God holds us up in continual exitance.  But God necessarily exists.  He never began to exist.  He will never cease to exist because it is impossible for him to cease to exist.  Thus the living creatures go on to say, “which was, and is, and is to come.”  God is the only being in the universe for whom this can be said.  There is no one like God!  

This aspect of God’s glory and holiness is repeated several times in this chapter alone.  He is called the one “who liveth for ever and ever” (9-10; cf. 5:14; 10:6; 15:7).  God’s life is an undying life.  His life is a necessary life.  This is mind-blowing if you stop and think about it.  We just have no categories for a being that never began to exist.  But that is who God is.

As such, he is truly the “Lord God Almighty.”  He is not just mighty, he is Almighty.  This not only means he is more powerful than anyone else; it also means that his power and dominion extend to the farthest reaches of the earth, and indeed, the universe.  The earth is full of his glory (Isa. 6:3).  He is sovereign over all.  He is not just the God over the Christians.  He is the God over the pagans and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and every other person on the face of the planet.  All will have to give an account to him.  He is their Lord and God.  If you are not serving him today, you are living in rebellion against the one who lives forever and ever, who is holy, who is the Lord God Almighty.  There is therefore no escaping his Lordship.  There is no running from him.  The only logical and right thing to do is to run to him in repentance and faith, asking for his mercy and receiving it by faith in Jesus Christ.

We are told that the living creatures “rest not day or night” in giving praise to God.  I saw a nature documentary the other day that said that the Mayfly literally dances in the air until it dies of exhaustion.  I don’t know what it is in the Mayfly that makes them do that.  But I do know what it is that makes these living creatures continue day and night in praise to God.  It is not some mechanical impulse that makes them do it.  It is not instinct.  Rather, it is the immediate awareness of the glory of God that awakens in them this unbroken worship.  Like the Mayfly, I don’t think they can help it.  But unlike the Mayfly, this is rational, willing praise to their Creator.  They aren’t forced to do it in an unwilling sense; but in another sense I don’t think they can keep from doing it either.

I think we need to reckon with this picture of worship in heaven.  Worship is not forced on those who are in heaven.  Worship is the genuine expression of delight in and reverence for the Lord God Almighty.  I think it’s like when you stand before some natural wonder and your breath is taken away – no one made you do that, it just happened; it was your response to the beauty and wonder of the natural world.  But God is the creator of this world.  He made the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains and the Redwood forests and the oceans.  To be in his presence is going to be more wonderful, more breathtaking, more awesome than anything you’ve ever seen or experienced here on this fallen and sin-cursed planet.  That is what these creatures and these elders were experiencing.

You see this in verses 10-11, “The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”  Do you see what they are saying?  “You are worthy, O Lord.”  You should not think they are saying this because they are supposed to say it!  They are saying it because they feel the reality of it – they see and feel that God and God alone is worthy of worship.  Do you feel that?  Have you tasted and seen that the Lord is good?  Or is worship something that has to be pried out of your heart because you’re really in love with other things rather than God?  

Brothers and sisters, God and God alone ought to be seen as worthy of glory and honor and power.  Nothing else in the world is more glorious or worthy of honor and power than God.  Everything else either has a borrowed glory or a stolen glory.  To replace God as the supreme object of our affection and therefore of our worship is the essence of idolatry and it is wicked.  We ought therefore to pray with all our might that God would more and more increase our love to him, and that we would all of us be keepers of the Great Commandment, to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and souls and minds.

The elders and living creatures end by extolling God as creator and sustainer of all things.  It is according to God’s will (KJV “pleasure”) that all things exist (“they are”) and were created to begin with (“and were created”).  This is the God who reigns.  He is holy and immortal and incomparably glorious.  He is the creator of all things.  It is by his will that they were brought into existence and are kept in existence.

Now the question is, What shall we do with this?  God has given us, with John, a glimpse into the glory of heaven, not to have our idle curiosity tickled but to have our perspective changed.  It is meant to change our perspective from one in which God has little to do with this world to one in which we see and know that God rules not only in the armies of heaven but also among the inhabitants of the earth.  

And we are to see that this sovereign God is worthy of worship.  Our worship!  To turn away from this God to find something else that we think is more worthy is blindness.  But it is not a blindness for which we are not culpable. This is a blameworthy blindness.  It is wicked.  It is idolatry, and we are to repent of such idols and turn with faith and repentance to the living God.

However, none of us have loved and worshiped God the way we should.  Calvin said that our hearts are like idol-factories, and that is true for the most mature and godly Christian.  Idolatry is something we will struggle with until the day we die.  But it is still sin.  So what do we do with this sin?  We don’t ignore it.  Instead, we confess it to God, agree with God about that sin, and then ask to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ from our sin.  And the Bible tells us that if we do so, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all iniquity.  

The Seals of the Scroll (Rev. 6)

Most of us have experienced disillusionment as the result of false promises of help. Perhaps this is one reason why the whole Charlie Brown ...