Revelation 6: 1-6
I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come!’ Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword.
When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, ‘A kilogram of wheat for a day’s wages, and three kilograms of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!’
In chapter 6 of Revelation, each seal on the scroll is opened and what we see isn’t pleasant or pretty.
It’s called the Tribulation, some of you might have heard that word – the Great Tribulation. The word Tribulation in the original Greek simply means intense pressure. Almost the sense of being hemmed in, crushed in the middle of two things.
That’s really what’s happening here. This pressure, this tribulation, comes from the clash of two opposing Kingdoms – God’s Kingdom coming and the Kingdoms of this world under Satan’s rule opposing God. And when these 2 Kingdoms clash, God’s people are caught in the middle of it.
It reminds me of what I learned in Geography back in school about the earth’s crust being made up of these huge tectonic plates. They are constantly moving ever so slowly, and occasionally 2 plates clash against each other, and the pressure becomes so intense that we have an earthquake.
The seals being opened on the scroll show what happens when two opposing Kingdoms clash, pressure builds, and the result, like an earthquake, is devastating.
So what does John see as the seals are opened, as these Kingdoms clash?
John sees a vision of 4 men on horses being released. These 4 horsemen represent what creation looks like in its total rejection of God. They represent the world as it is in rebellion against God’s authority and moral order. They represent what kind of world we human beings create when we live apart from God.
Look at what we see: killing and conquest, injustice and oppression, famine and plague, persecution and martyrdom, natural disasters and creation in chaos.
These visions of the seals being opened don’t so much describe what will take place in the future – they describe what always takes place. When man rejects God, and tries to be god, this is the sort of world we create for ourselves.
This is the world we’ve created by our lust for power and our rebellion against our creator.
Look at the injustice:
“When the Lamb opened the third seal…there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, ‘A kilogram of wheat for a day’s wages, and three kilograms of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!’” (5-6)
In other words, the poor can barely survive, they spend all they can on having just enough to eat, but the rich – they get the oil and wine. They feast on luxury and excess – while the rest of the world basically starves.
We may shake our fist at God and ask why there’s so much injustice and suffering in the world. And yet the reality is that most of the suffering in the world is caused by our sin and our rebellion and our rejection of God and our greed and our lust for power.
John knew what that was like. Two thirds of our world today know what that is like. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
You know, there’s some people who believe and teach that God’s people escape this tribulation in the end times. That God will rapture us all out of it. You may hold that view and if you do, we can still be friends. But as I study scripture, I don’t see that. I don’t see that God takes his people out of pain and hardship and persecution and suffering – I see that God brings them through it. He uses them in it.
The Apostle John didn’t escape it. And neither do we. And as I’ve said, I think these verses about the Tribulation don’t so much describe the way things will be at the very end, in the last days if you like – they describe how life is today. We live in the last days because when the Bible talks about the last days it means the period of time between Jesus first coming and his second coming. John lives in it and so do we. With the coming of Jesus, God’s Kingdom started coming, and so we have this clash of two kingdoms. This pressure. John experienced it, and the church has experienced it for the past 2000 years. You might be experiencing it yourself today. Take courage.