The End: The Seven Seals

Good morning.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here at Journey, and I’d like to welcome you today.  If this is your first day to Journey, or perhaps you are relatively new – I want to tell you that we are glad you are here, and that wherever you might be on your spiritual journey, you are welcome here.

We say we are a church for people who don’t usually like church.  This room is filled with people who were or are skeptical about the existence of God or cynical about the church; people who are just starting or maybe cautiously restarting their faith journey – so wherever you are on your spiritual journey – we are gad you are here.

We have come to understand that people have valid obstacles to believing in God, and we respect that.  We will do our best to try to convince you of the goodness of God, and the nearness of Him and of his willingness to gently and lovingly and wisely govern the days of your life if you let him, but we will not try to pressure you into doing anything you aren’t ready to do, deal?

Now this morning we are in our third week of talking about the end times.  Da da dahh!  Sounds ominous, doesn’t it?  Well the deal is that currently, 100% of humanity has had to come to terms with the reality that someday we will die.  But the Bible claims that’s not the end of us!  In fact, death will be a rather small blip on the eternal timeline of our life – and when we place our faith in Jesus – we have absolutely nothing to fear at all – because to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.  We talked in depth two weeks ago about what happens after you die.  And if you are curious to hear it or read it we have all of our sermons online at JourneychurchNE.org.

Last week we looked at another promise from the Bible – the promise that Jesus will someday return.  One time Jesus’ friends asked him what the signs would be of his return, and Jesus gave them an answer – and you can read what he said about “the end times” in the book of Matthew chapter 24.

We tried to figure out if we are in those last days now. And walked away understanding that Jesus’ intention was to make sure we are ready at any time to see him.

Are we in the end times?  I am rather skeptical – in fact I think we might have another thousand years or two before Jesus comes back.  Others think that we are at the cusp of something beginning right now – and I understand why.  The truth is that it doesn’t really matter – because the end result is the same – we both live our lives ready to meet the Lord at any minute.  We live as the Salt and Light of the World, as agents of God’s grace and love.  We live meaningful and significant lives of love to all God brings into the sphere of our world.

Today I want to take a flyover of the book of Revelation.  The book of Revelation is the last book of the bible.  It was written by the Apostle John very late in John’s life, he’s probably 90 plus years old.

Did you know that John was the only one of the twelve disciples who died of old age?  All the others – besides Judas, of course, were martyred for their faith.  They all died claiming that Jesus really did die, really did come back to life three days later.

You might be skeptical that Jesus really did rise from the dead, but you will have to explain why ten otherwise normal men would willingly lay down their lives for something if they knew it to be untrue.

But John lived to be a very old man.  It’s now 60 years after Jesus lived – and christianity is growing at a rapid rate.  So rapid, in fact, that the Roman authorities find it alarming.

Well John is writing this letter during a time of intense persecution of Christians.  He is writing during the reign of Domitian – a Roman Caesar who ruthlessly persecuted Christians. Domitian was the first emperor to establish the cult of emperor worship.

According to the historian Suetonius,  Domitian took the title “lord and god” and ordered people to confess he was “lord and god” as a test of loyalty (Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, Book 8: Domitian13).  

If people refused to offer sacrifices to Caesar and declare him to be Lord and god, then they would be guilty of sedition – an enemy of Caesar and would be killed.

It was a particularly difficult time for Christians because, by now, Rome had figured out that Christianity was NOT just some sect of Judaism.  Even though it was born out of Judaism, they came to understand that Christianity was it’s own thing.

Why does it matter?  Well the Romans knew that the Jews would never declare Caesar to be Lord and God – every time they tried something like that the Jews revolted and people died.  So they gave the Jews a pass.   And Christians were afforded the same protection at first because the Romans considered Christians to be sectarian jews.

But as time went on – they saw that Christianity was gathering people from all walks of life – from every economic background, of all races and nations, slave and free  -and all of them were pledging their lives to this Jesus.  It scared the Romans.

So Domitian goes after these Christians and he knows the way to find them is to make people declare that Caesar is Lord.   He knew Christians wouldn’t do it.

It is to a persecuted church that John is writing.  A Church that is being hunted down and killed.

We can imagine, can’t we, the confusion inside the church.  “Hold on – I thought Jesus was going to be my protector and provider and yet we are being slaughtered for our faith.  What’s going on?  Has God lost control of this situation?

Had they been mistaken or worse, duped?   Is what is happening really supposed to be happening?  Where is God in the midst of all this pain and suffering?

These are the questions the early church is asking itself.  And Jesus is about to answer their questions through John.   How does Jesus answer their questions?

Well, he’s not going to write them a theological treatise.  The church isn’t in need of a theology lesson – the churches needed hope and assurance and encouragement that God is still in control.

And this is important to understand- this letter was meant to encourage the early church – not scare them!  Some people get freaked out – it sounds scary!  Well, the early church was encouraged by it and so should we.  There’s nothing to fear with God in control.

So Jesus visits John in a dream.  And what Jesus does here is really unique.  It appears in no other book in the NT, – Jesus takes John behind the cosmic curtain – into the spiritual world itself – to see what is happening behind the scenes on a spiritual level.

He also allows John to see into the future to see how this thing we call life on planet earth will finally be fixed and made healthy and whole again, when Jesus comes back to earth the second time.

So why would this letter be encouraging?  Because the bottom line truth about the book of Revelation is this.

Jesus holds all the power, and He is on our side.   He is for us.  And if Jesus is for us, who can ultimately stand against us? Real power rests with Jesus, not Domitian.   Jesus controls our destiny, and He is trustworthy and true.

In vision after vision John emphasizes that God is in control and supreme in bringing His purpose to pass in the lives of men.

So why is Revelation so confusing?  I’ll mention three reasons.

First, he is writing a dangerous letter in a dangerous time.  He must be careful to disguise any references about Domitian.  He does not want to write a letter that would be considered a death sentence to possess.

This admittedly makes it difficult for us, 2000 years removed from the first audience, to figure out exactly what applied to the initial readers, and what applies to us.  It makes is so difficult, in fact, that we must hold our views about Revelation with an open hand.

Secondly, he is trying to describe the indescribable.  He is seeing things that no one has ever seen.  And so, what can he do other than to compare the beauty of what he has seen to things like, streets of gold, and seas of glass and jewels of all kinds.  He is trying his best to describe something that is literally out of this world beautiful.

Third – it is surely the case that parts of it is intentionally blurry – in the same way that Jesus obscured the end times by telling us that no one knows the day or hour, and then goes on to say watch out for the signs of it.

In just about every age we have people trying to take apart the pieces of revelation and fitting into their timeline of their life.  This is, in my opinion, futile work.  Do you have any idea how many times in my life someone has tried to make a case that someone is the anti-christ?

I remember when I first became a follower of Jesus Ronald Reagan was president.  Well, I was shocked to discover that

  1. Ronald Wilson Reagan – three six letter names. 666.  Ronald Reagan was the Anti-christ.

It was only later that I discovered that all presidents are suspect.

  1. Obama! Anti-christ! 
  2. Donald Trump? Anti-Christ.

You don’t even have to win the election to be suspect.

  1. Hillary denies it. Whoever denies it supplies it.  Everyone knows that!

Then I learned that the anti-christ might not be a politician, but potentially a very famous influential person like Oprah Winfrey!  Anti_christ

No – Hold that – George Clooney?  Anti_christ

Five things you didn’t know about Julia Roberts?  Guess what’s number five?

Then I read something truly disturbing.  Tom Hanks???  Forest Gump is the Antichrist?  No!  He’s too nice, isn’t he?

Then I learned that no one is too innocent to escape suspicion.

Mr. Rogers! 

Mother Teresa!?

Mickey Mouse?  Et tu Mickey?

Then I discovered the most disturbing truth of all – something I suspected deep down all along.  Jim Warren is the AntiChrist! You had you suspicions too, didn’t you?

All that to say – there’s a lot going on the book of Revelation that is intentionally obscure.   Be careful anytime you hear someone tell you that they’ve figured out what all the symbols mean in the book of revelation.

The bottom line is that John doesn’t want us to lose track of the fact that – even when it appears all hell is breaking loose in our world – or in yours, that Jesus holds all the power, and he is on our side.  If Jesus is for us, then who can stand against us?

I don’t know what might be going on in your life today.  Maybe you are in the middle of a difficult season in your life.  And perhaps you too are wondering if what you’re going through is really part of God’s plan?  Is he really bringing his purpose to pass through your life?

If so, then I think you’re the kind of person John, no Jesus, wrote this letter for…  He wants to give you and me a peek behind the curtain too – and he wants you and me to know that true power rests with Jesus.  And he is using his power to bring His purpose to pass in the affairs of man.

So what do we find in the book of Revelation?  The first three chapters are letters to specific churches in specific cities.  Some of these churches are encouraged.  Others are warned to be on the guard, others are challenged and corrected.  But all of these letters help the initial audience see that Jesus in in charge of those churches and cares about what’s going on.

The last three chapters in Revelation talk about the return of Jesus.  Revelation 19 talks about the return of Jesus.  It’s over at that point.  The end of the end.  And the beginning of a new beginning.

So what is happening between chapters 3 and 19.  Let me try my best to explain what I think is happening.  And many people might challenge me and we’re all speculating but I think I’m spot on.

In Chapter 4 John is whisked up into this vision.  He begins to tell us what he sees in chapter 5.  And he sees a scroll.  A scroll is rolled up and sealed with seven seals.  A Seal is wax put over the crease of the scroll to keep it locked up.  We would use, scotch tape.  We don’t want it to unroll, so we seal it with tape.  They use wax seals.  In this case seven of them.

And the cry goes up – “Who is worthy to open these seals?”  And then John clearly, without question, tells us Jesus steps up as the only one worthy of opening these seals.  And it’s a big deal.  Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Everything that happens between Revelation 5 and 19 happens as a result of these seals being opened.  The seals on the scroll act as a countdown to the last day.  The final countdown.  When the seven seal is broken – Jesus returns.  Revelation 19 describes the last seal being popped open.

The other six seals describe events that will occur or have occurred – mile markers, if you will on the way to the last seal being opened.

So what happens when the first seal is broken?  Well, really the first four are opened in quick succession.  We call them the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  And you can read about them in Revelation 6.  But I’m going to condense them for the sake of time.

Rev 6:1 1 As I watched, the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals on the scroll.  

And we read about a rider who is bent on Conquest!

The second seal.   3 When the Lamb broke the second seal…  another horse appeared, a red one. And there was war and slaughter everywhere.

The first horse brings conquest.  The second brings war.

The third seal is broken….

 5 When the Lamb broke the third seal…  I looked up and saw a black horse, and its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand6 And I heard a voice from among the four living beings say, “A loaf of wheat bread will cost a day’s pay.”

Okay, so I don’t know what you make after an entire days work, but hopefully you’re making more than enough to buy one loaf of bread.  The third rider brings with him Famine.

 7 When the Lamb broke the fourth seal…  The last rider is pestilence, or disease. 

Now before we move onto the fifth seal, we need to press the pause button and ask ourselves a question.  The question is:  Have these things already happened?  Currently happening?  Or yet to come?

Some would say that none of what we just read about has yet happened.  But

I am going to propose to you that these four seals have already been opened.  As well, I might add, as the fifth seal that we will read about in a moment.

In my opinion, I believe that John was describing to his audience events of the world that were already happening all around them, two thousand years ago!   That one of the results of our fallen nature is a desire for world conquest. The desire for conquest, brings war and famine and disease.

The church was living in the time of the Romans.  The Romans were all about conquest.  And, you and I live in the same kind of world.  Can anyone argue that we live in a world of where the desire for conquest abounds, that brings with it war and famine and disease.

How many millions of people have died in the past hundred years alone because of a desire for conquest.  How long would we have to search a newspaper before we find a story about people starving, or diseased, or at war?

Now in the end times, we will probably see an intensification of these events, but I believe that these seals have already been opened, and they were opened long ago.  And, in essence, what God is doing is allowing the course of sinful humans to run it’s course.

In the absence of peace we war.  People starve, people get sick and die, and many times it’s because of our own choices as humans bent on conquest.

The first four seals portray the troubled times we currently live in that will most likely get worse as we approach the end times.

But now, when we come to the fifth seal – the action changes from events on earth, to events in heaven, as the fifth seal is snapped open.

 9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. 10 They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” 

John knows that there are people reading his letter who have had friends and family members murdered simply because of their faith in Jesus.  And let me tell you, John also knows that there are people reading his letter who will one day be martyred for their faith.

This fifth seal is theirs.  Jesus, wants those who have had friends and family martyred for their faith to know that God is taking good care of them.  Their souls were there under the altar, as if their untimely deaths on earth were, in God’s perspective, a sacrifice on the altar of heaven.

They are now in a place of safety – right next to God, close enough that they could talk to God directly.  It’s a place of privilege.

The Martyrs are asking a question; How much longer do we have to wait?  Now perhaps this question sounds strange to hear.  I mean, after all, didn’t Jesus pray, “Father forgive them?”  The Martyrs are already in heaven, why are they seeking revenge?

Well, in reality the martyrs seek justice, not person vengeance.  They are not looking to stick it to those evil doers.  Rather,  they want to be declared not guilty.  They want their name cleared of the offense that cost them their lives.   They want an acquittal.

How long, Lord, before you show the world we were right to place our faith in you?

The answer comes in verse 11.

11 Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them.

God in his grace and mercy is buying time for those who are not yet ready to place their faith in Him.  He is patient.  He will one day bring justice to those martyrs.  And while He waits he knows more are being added to their number.  But God is patient, and wants you to have the time you need to make up your mind.

And maybe you are thinking, why would I want to sign up for something that might get me killed?  To serve a God who would allow people to die for their faith?  And that’s a fair question that brings us back to the original ten disciples killed for their faith  And the answer should make you stop and think.

These martyrs gave up their lives because Jesus was worth it.  Jesus is worth it.  He is worth giving up everything to follow.  He is worth it!  He is great and near and good.  And he is worth giving up everything to follow.

And he and He alone has the power to transform us from the inside out into the kinds of humans we always hoped we could become.  People who love without fear.  Live without fear.  Die without fear.  For the Lord is our Good shepherd.  We lack nothing.  We fear nothing.  For the Lord is with us.  Both now and forever more.

These five seals, in my opinion have already been broken open.  And now comes the sixth seal.  A seal that is yet to be opened.  A seal, that when it is opened, will signal the end is very close at hand.

The sixth seal, once it has been broken open, is like the red lighted timer on the bomb in every movie, so we can conveniently see how much time is left before all heck breaks loose.

But in this case, the sixth seal, when it is broken open, starts the timer for when all heaven breaks loose.  And we’re going to have to save the sixth seal for next week.

But you don’t have to wait until that sixth seal is popped open for heaven to break loose in your life.  Right now, the kingdom of heaven is ridiculously available to anyone – anyone who wants to walk into it.  It comes simply by believing.  Entirely by faith alone.  And if you are ready, then today is the day of salvation for you.

For those who have placed our faith in Jesus – there is nothing terrifying about any of these seals- including the sixth one we will study next week.  Nothing to fear about the end of our life or the end of our world should Jesus come back today.

We live instead with joyous anticipation – as a child waits for Christmas morning – we await the coming of the Lord.

And so we finish this morning as John finished his letter.  Come, Lord Jesus!

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