"Seven Seals: A Gospel Word against Evil"
Scripture Reading: Revelation 6 & 7
Our reading last week finished in Revelation 5 with exuberant sounds of praise. In the throne room of God, John sees and hears words of praise to the Creator and Redeemer of all things. We learned that the Lamb at the center of the throne is worthy to open the scroll and unleash the Word of God which is the plan of God for the salvation of the world. And so, in our reading today, the seven seals of the scroll are opened. However, good things do not happen. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. As the first six seals are opened, it’s a nightmare of evil pictures and symbols. It begins with four horsemen who bring War, Violence, Famine, and Death. This is followed by the cries of those who have died for their testimony and faith. And then there is the unraveling of Creation itself. Six seals opened. Six horrors revealed. This is the word in Revelation 6.
Revelation 6 and 7 is a challenging text that shows us a “Gospel Word against Evil”. Such a thing exists and we can thank God for it. Only when we can look evil straight on and name it for what it is, will we have the intellectual integrity to proclaim a better Word and Vision that conquers it. If the Gospel is better than the pious platitudes of secular minds; if it is truer than what you read on social media and hear on the networks of the world, then you had better be prepared to look evil in the eye, name it, and know the solution to the problem.
In the book of Revelation, who sits on the throne of the universe?
Who is worthy to open the scroll?
Who is the Creator-Redeemer of all things?
In Revelation 6:1-8 the first four seals are opened and we see the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. Some people interpret the first rider on the white horse as Christ himself. He wears a crown and is first on the scene of the battle between good and evil. Others suggest that it is unlikely we should see Christ in the company of the other riders: the rider of the fiery red horse who takes away peace, the rider of the black horse who carries the scales, and the rider on the pale horse who represents death. It’s gruesome company and our Lord does not fit in with them. In the end, it’s important that we recognize these riders do not represent new kinds of evil and trials that are still to come – they are already here! Ever since humanity fell into sin, the effects of sin have been with us. War, violence, famine, pandemic, injustice – wherever you look, there is a terrifying wholeness to the effects of sin.
When the seals are opened, bad things happen. What is our hope in the midst of evil?
The final question in Revelation 6 is, “Who can stand?” How is this question answered?
In the face of Evil, God will preserve his people and bring them through to the End. Revelation 7 is a gospel Word against the power of evil. John is giving us a revelation picture that shows what happens to people who live by faith in this world and who persevere in the promise of God to bring salvation to all.
We see this in those who are “sealed” by God. The number “144,000” in Revelation 7:4 is symbolic of the absolute, complete number of those who are called and redeemed by God. It’s not a mathematical statistic. Pictures and symbols are given to depict a greater reality. To that end, the tribes of Israel listed in verses 5-8 are not a reference to an ethnic group that is still to be saved. Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church are one and the same in Christ, who is the true Israelite. In him God has rescued us from the power of Evil and brought us into the Kingdom of his Son. The picture in our text is of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual Church of all times and in all places. If you belong to God in Christ then you are sealed into this great hope. How so? You are sealed in baptism in the Name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
What do we hear in the hymn of salvation in Revelation 7:10?
What does it mean to be “washed in the blood of the Lamb”?
How is the Lamb also like a shepherd? (see Revelation 7:17)
Revelation 6 asks, “Who can stand?” The answer is, “You can”. We have been given a Gospel Word that triumphs over Evil. The Lamb is our Shepherd who leads us and wipes every tear from our eyes. In the midst of a world and society where there is so much that is wrong, there is even more that is right. The One who sits on the throne is with us. He is Immanuel. God in Jesus Christ is with us to love us and lead us. He will cause you to stand in victory. Amen.