Pastor Scott Andrews | September 11, 2022
In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John is drawing a sharp contrast between God and Satan, between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world, between followers of Jesus and followers of the beast – earth dwellers. And this is not meant to be a Venn Diagram with two overlapping circles – no, these are two separate circles, where never the two shall meet. Oh, I know what you’re thinking – both followers of Jesus and unbelievers, earth dwellers, are people. They both live on the earth for a time. They’re both created in the image of God. They both go to school, work jobs, maybe have families, live in houses, and eat pizza. There are lots of similarities.
So, in that sense, there is some overlap in the two circles. Our problem is, sometimes, the overlap is too great, such that, they cannot be distinguished. And the truth is, we kind of like it that way. We have somehow come to the place where you can call yourself a Christian, and no one can tell – they can’t tell you apart from the world – you look the same, you sound the same, you do the same, you believe the same.
One of the challenges in our religious culture today, in so-called progressive Christianity, is the move toward middle ground – trying to find points of agreement, where the circles merge, where we can all choose to just get along, and keep any differences between us in the background. Such differences need not divide us – they’re simply divergent beliefs – you’ve got your truth, I’ve got mine – let’s just live and let live.
But, are those beliefs the difference between right and wrong – indeed, heaven and hell? Some would have us believe not. And you may have been affected by such movement without even realizing it. Before you know it, you wake up, and find yourself totally immersed in non-Christian thinking. I’ve been in ministry for 38 years – if you would have told me 20 years ago the church would be where she is today, I never would have believed it.
You see, Arizona Christian University recently released the results of their annual American Worldview Inventory – a survey of people and their religious beliefs. The 2022 results were shocking – which I suppose should not surprise us – the circles are overlapping more and more. In fact, we’ve had people leave this church when I suggest the circles are distinct – that there is a biblical difference between right and wrong – and that it matters. That there are moral issues, which have been politicized, but nonetheless upon which we should take a stand, even if it flies in the face of culture. The church was never intended to be in the majority – and if that’s what we’re seeking, there may be a problem.
Well, back to the survey. In this particular survey, more than three dozen questions were asked of 1,000 senior pastors in churches across the country – in February and March of this year. The results found:
A third of senior pastors believe that people can earn a place in heaven simply by being a good person. There is so much wrong with that statement I could camp on it all day, but let me simply suggest, there is no such thing as a good person.
Further, one-third of those pastors believe the Holy Spirit is not a person but rather “a symbol of God’s power.” You understand, one-third of pastors denied the Trinity. That’s heretical and sub-Christian.
One-third also believe moral truth is subjective, sexual relations between two unmarried people is morally acceptable, and that biblical teaching on abortion is ambiguous. The results of the survey revealed, “that a shockingly large percentage [of pastors] reject biblical teaching on some of the most basic Christian beliefs.” Why? Again, many professing Christians and even Christian leaders do not want to be seen as opposing culture – out of lockstep – they want to blend in, the circles to merge, so they decide to be more accepting of behaviors the culture finds acceptable, albeit biblically reprehensible.
Lest you think the survey only included pastors from liberal churches which skewed the results, consider:
Thirty-nine percent of evangelical pastors surveyed said there is no absolute moral truth and that “each individual must determine their own truth.” Perhaps a little more Bible and a little less Oprah would be in order. I’ve been reading for some time that we need another name – that evangelical has become meaningless. It certainly seems so.
Thirty-eight percent did not answer in the affirmative when asked if “human life was sacred.”
Thirty-seven percent said that having faith is more important than in what faith is expressed – that is, the practice of faith is more important than the object of faith – meaning Jesus. You understand that you get to heaven not on the strength of your faith, but on the strength of the one believed.
Perhaps most startling is that thirty percent of evangelical pastors did not answer in the affirmative that their salvation was based on the forgiveness of sins and trusting Jesus as their Savior.
Why do I bring that up? The results are shocking and evidence of the fact that pastors and churches today are merging the circles – that there really isn’t that much difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world; that professing Christians and earth dwellers believe pretty much the same things, and do pretty much the same things, led by their pastors.
But the Apostle John tells a different story in the book of Revelation. You understand that the book is about His wrath on unbelievers and the rescue of His own. We have begun a major section – chapters 6-16 – which contain the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments which reveal God’s wrath poured out on earth dwellers. And in these chapters, we will see that followers of Jesus are not to be confused with those who dwell on the earth and worship the beast. And we’re also going to find there is coming a day when God says, enough is enough, and He will pour out His wrath on the earth. He will not turn a blind eye to immorality and evil and false worship and rebellion any longer. Now, God’s wrath is already being poured out on rebellion – how do I know? Because you get sick and you die. Because of sin that is rampant in the world – that’s part of God’s judgment. Because of natural disasters and things like pandemics. This world does not work rightly – God’s judgment.
We have found that one of the primary purposes of this book is not to set timelines and figure out how it will all end – but that it will all end. You see, the church in John’s day, and the true church in our own day, will face tribulation, persecution and opposition. As such, it will seem that evil has the upper hand. But John’s message to us is that God is still on His throne, and the day of judgment is coming. He will make all things right. And God will differentiate between followers of Jesus and earth dwellers. So, the questions for today is, to whom do you belong? Are you a follower of Jesus, or do you find your home and place here? Are you merging the circles, just trying to fit in?
You come today, as perhaps you have many days, to a point of decision. Will you declare your allegiance to Jesus, come what may, or will you choose the kingdoms of this world – will you love this world, and perish with it? You see, you can always find someone to agree. Go to the internet, go to social media, go across town to another church – and you can find someone who will tell you what you want to hear. I want to tell you the truth of God’s Word – that only allegiance to Jesus matters.
Some weeks ago, we saw that Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, the slaughtered Lamb, was found worthy to take the scroll that God held in His right hand, and to open its seven seals. We found most suggest the book contains God’s purposes for His creation and the end to which it is headed. Without one found worthy to open the book, all would go miserably on since it has from the beginning. There would be no hope for humankind. But Jesus overcame by His death and resurrection – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And John sees Him take the book and begin opening its seals.
Lots of discussion about when this all happens – did it happen in the past, is it happening through the church age, or will it happen in the future? I suggested it is primarily future, although if you see it happening through the church age – as many godly and biblical scholars do – that’s fine. The fact is, God’s wrath against fallen humanity has begun. Because, God is a God of holiness – the four living creatures do not say, love, love, love – all we need is love. They say, holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty. Romans 1:18 tells us, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” What truth are they suppressing? Verses 19ff:
19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Paul then goes on to talk about how God gave people over to their sinful passions, their depraved minds, which is, in itself, a form of His judgment. God says, you want it, here it is. My point is, many today want to talk about God as a God of love – that the God of the NT is different from the God of the OT, with all that wrath and stuff. But both Romans and Revelation are NT – and John is revealing that God’s wrath is poised against rebellious humanity and judgment is coming.
Last time we were in the book together, we saw the Lamb open the first four seals – which were the so-called four horsemen of the Apocalypse. They corresponded to the evils of conquest and war and civil strife and famine and ultimately death. Which brings us to the fifth and sixth seals today. You see, the scene switches from earth to heaven in the fifth seal – we’re back in the throne room. But what I want you to notice are the significant differences between those who declare their allegiance to Jesus, and those who do not. Read it with me – Revelation 6:9-17.
Very simply, I want you to see the difference between the people of the fifth seal and the people of the sixth. There is a stark contrast. Here’s the outline of the text:
- The People of the Fifth Seal (9-11)
- The People of the Sixth Seal (12-17)
Verse 9 says, the Lamb – that is Jesus – broke the fifth seal, a John saw underneath the altar. Stop right there. We have seen that the tabernacle and later the temple were replicas or types of the true temple in heaven. Both Isaiah and John, when they describe the throne room, note the similarities. Here, we see an altar – which altar? There were two – the bronze altar for the burnt offerings where the sacrifices were offered, and the altar of incense. Lot of discussion about that. Some suggest the bronze altar, since the blood of the sacrifice was poured out at the base – hence, underneath. Here, we see the souls of those whose blood had been shed. So some suggest these souls offered themselves in sacrifice to God.
Maybe, but I don’t see them as sacrifices – not like the lambs, or the Lamb, who shed His blood. So, most others suggest this refers to the altar of incense. We remember incense was likened to the prayers of God’s people, which rise as a sweet aroma to God. That makes more sense to me – after all, the souls are crying out to God.
Which brings us to the second thing to notice – underneath the altar were the souls of those who had been slain. Souls speaks of the fact these are disembodied spirits – those who had gone to heaven, awaiting the future resurrection of their bodies, which doesn’t happen until Revelation 20. But notice, they are in heaven in the presence of God – because as Paul said, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
But these had been slain – it’s the same word used of Jesus in chapter 5 when John turned to see the Lion, and saw a lamb standing as it had been slain. Slaughtered is the idea. These people had been killed, slaughtered – why? Because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained – that they had kept. This refers to the truth of the Scripture as it points to Jesus and His gospel – they had believed and kept the gospel, they had maintained their testimony to the gospel, and it had cost them. They were killed – they were martyrs for their faith.
And so, they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” On these earth dwellers who killed us. There are several things to note. First, many are puzzled by the prayer of these people for vengeance, for their blood to be avenged. That sounds quite different from Jesus, when He prayed at His death, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” and the prayer of Stephen when he was martyred for his faith and prayed, “Father, do not hold this sin against them!” And of course, we remember the verses that tell us that we are to love our enemies, and do good to them. What is going on here?
Very simply this – there will come a time when God will avenge the persecution, even the blood, of the saints. Jesus did come that He might give His life for us. Martyrs have died through the centuries for their commitment to Christ and His gospel. It is why we are here – despite the persecution and opposition, even bloodshed and martyrdom, we believe the Word of God and maintain our testimony to it. It may cost us, even our lives. But know this, there is coming a time when all will be made right. Why? Because God’s name and His character is at stake.
Don’t miss the souls of the martyrs are praying for God to seek vengeance – because the Scripture tells us not to do so ourselves – vengeance is Mine, says the Lord. It is His to repay. And after all, it is His gospel and His Son and His people and ultimately His name and dominion which have been rebelled against. Ultimately, these people are calling for God to avenge Himself and His sovereign goodness and holiness.
That’s what God’s wrath is, by the way. People don’t like to consider a God of love as also a God of wrath. But I would suggest His love is most magnificently displayed against the backdrop of His wrath. You see, as a holy God, He must not, He cannot ignore our sin and rebellion. In His wrath, He could have rightly condemned us all and sent us all to eternal condemnation and punishment in hell. But as His attributes work together, His love induced Him to do something about His wrath – namely, provide a way of escape. And please know, the death of His own Son shows the magnitude of our sin. And it is only as we recognize the depths of our depravity that we are ready to receive the remedy.
And so, rightly defined, we see that wrath is a part of His holiness. So, let me define God’s wrath for you. Certainly, God’s anger is not capricious nor uncontrolled. Rather, God’s wrath speaks of Him being vigorously opposed to every evil. It is the settled, abiding and active opposition of God’s holy nature to everything that is evil. One said it this way, “Wrath is the holy revulsion of God’s being against that which is the contradiction of His holiness.” (John Murray)
Now notice God’s answer to their prayers for vengeance in verse 11. And there was given to each of them a white robe – we see that throughout the book – a white robe representing the holiness and righteousness they have received – notice, it was given to them – another divine passive. Chapter 7 says of them and others, “These are the ones who come out of great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
They are told to rest a little longer – how long, or Lord, holy and true, until you avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? Until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed. Interesting – it seems there is an allotted number of martyrs – and for that number to be completed – and then the end will come.
Which brings us quickly to the second point – the people of the sixth seal – stark contrast. And I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there were many cosmic disturbances:
- A great earthquake
- The sun became black as sackcloth made of goat’s hair
- The moon became like blood – don’t miss the word, like
- The stars of the sky fell to the earth – like unripe figs when shaken by the wind
- The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up
- Every mountain and island were moved from their places
This is standard apocalyptic language – we read it in several places throughout Scripture speaking of the last day – the Day of the Lord – the end of time. Let me give you some examples:
30 “I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth,
Blood, fire and columns of smoke.
31 “The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood
Before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.
32 “And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Will be delivered;
For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
There will be those who escape,
As the Lord has said,
Even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.
By the way, Peter quotes this passage in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Jesus uses the same language in the Olivet Discourse as He describes what will happen before His return. We read in Matthew 24:
29 “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
30 “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.
31 “And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
Again, this is standard apocalyptic imagery. Are we to see these things happen literally like this, or is Jesus and John describing something else – namely, the truth that at the coming of Christ, the creation order will be shaken to its core – it will be destroyed, and remade as He is making all things new.
Which brings us quickly to the people of the sixth seal – and here’s where I want you to see the contrast with the people of the fifth seal. You see, we’re back on earth now – with the earth dwellers – that’s the first contrast. They are still alive – but they are the ones who killed God’s people. And notice who they are. God’s people are described as souls whose blood had been shed – who simply had the word of God and the testimony they kept. That’s what made them rich.
These earth dwellers? They were kings of the earth, the great men, the commanders of the armies, the rich and the strong, meaning they were the powerful. These are the ones who focused on the things of this world, ascended the ladder of success and from a worldly perspective, they made it to the top. They loved this world and had everything everyone wants – prestige, power, wealth. Everyone looked up to and admired these – and aspired to be who they were and where they were. Who wants to be of the oppressed, persecuted, killed group of Christians – what do they have? White robes.
Lest you think it is only the rich and famous who are listed, John also saw every free man and every slave. It was everyone from every stratum of society. Your wealth and status will not save you, and nor will your poverty and lowliness of life.
By the way – let me stop right there and say, just because you’re at the top of the heap doesn’t mean you can’t follow Jesus. I’m reminded of the Elizabeth II, the Queen of England, who died this week and by all counts was a devoted follower of Jesus. She was quoted as once saying she could not wait to lay her crown at the feet of Jesus.
And these people – the implication is all of them – hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, and they cried out. Stop right there. What did the people of the fifth seal say? How long, O Lord, until You avenge our blood? Just a little while longer. Then comes the sixth seal – many see it as an answer to the prayer of the righteous souls under the altar.
But these who dwell on the earth – the earth dwellers – the ones wo perpetrated the evil against God’s people – the ones who did not wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb by simple faith in Jesus – those who loved the world more than Jesus – they cried out – fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand? And the implication is no one.
Several quick thoughts. First, they somehow knew these extreme cosmic disturbances signaled that the wrath of God and the wrath of the Lamb had come. Notice second how God and the Lamb are equated – seen as equals. Third, they would rather be crushed and die as face the wrath of our triune God. Fourth, notice that no one could withstand their wrath – there would be no escape. And fifth, most sadly, they did not seek repentance, but rather annihilation – as if that would work. Go to Revelation 20 and see if it works.
When faced with the wrath of God, they don’t fall on their knees and cry out, have mercy on me, a sinner. They continue in their rebellion and cry out, hide us from their wrath. It has been rightly suggested that hell is locked from the inside – as people continue to gnash their teeth in rebellion against their creator.
As I suggested at the beginning, you have a choice to make – one of many opportunities you have no doubt had. A decision to accept His grace and love – bow your knee at the feet of Jesus and declare your allegiance to Him. Oh, it’s going to cost you, but it’s worth it. Or you can continue in your stiff-necked rebellion, shaking your fist in His face. But you will then face His wrath. Would you please believe the gospel and trust Jesus, not only for this life, but for the life to come.