Revelation 6:1-8

Sermon preached on September 9, 2012 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Walter Cronkite was probably the most famous and respected newscaster of the 20
th century. From 1962 to 1981 he was the anchorman of the CBS Evening News. He covered the major news events of those times and many people saw him announce the death of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. He was also heavily involved in covering the space program and many people watched his coverage of the landing of the first men on the moon in 1969. He was often voted the most trusted man in America in the 60's and 70's. He often ended his newscasts with the phrase, "And that's the way it is…" followed by the date of the broadcast.

In his book, "North by Northeast" Cronkite tells an interesting story about the pitfalls of fame's egotism, how fame can go to your head. He said one day he and his wife were sailing down the Mystic River in Connecticut and following the channel's tricky turns. A boatload of young people sped past Cronkite's boat, with the young people shouting and waving their arms. Walter waved back a cheery greeting and just continued sailing. His wife looked at him in amazement and said,

"Do you know what they were shouting?" "Why, it was 'Hello, Walter,' I replied. 'No,' she said. 'They were shouting, 'Low water, Low water.' "

With Cronkite, it was all about him. He thought the kids recognized him and were waving and shouting because they were excited to see him. But in actual fact, the young kids didn't recognize him at all. They didn't care who he was. They were warning him that he was in danger of hitting bottom.

Our society today is like that. It's proud and it has its head in the cloud and it's not listening to the warnings from God. They don't get it at all. They have no fear of God. They despise His rules. And His warnings of judgment, they scoff at them. Like the wicked people of ancient times, they say, (Psalm 10:11)

"God has forgotten;
he covers his face and never sees."

Our text is a wake up call to anyone with ears. It has great lessons for us, lessons all should take to heart.

The first thing we should understand about the seven seals, and in particular this morning, the four horsemen, is that

the Lamb sends the horsemen out.

Jesus unleashes them. He opens the seals and the result, in most, if not all case, is dreadful for those who live on earth. These bad things that happen aren't accidents. They aren't the result of bad luck, of pure chance or anything like that. No. These things happen under the direction of the Lamb. The horsemen do God's bidding as His agents.

Our text is very closely related to chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation. It describes one of the great effects of Christ's death and resurrection. He has triumphed. In fulfillment of Daniel 7 Christ has defeated the powers of evil. Therefore, what we see in our text is that Jesus has begun to fulfill Daniel's prophecy of the Son's exaltation over evil, and the beastly kingdoms. (Beale, p. 388)

One of the roles that Jesus now fulfills is that of judge. In John 5:22 Jesus said,

"Moreover, the Father judges no one,
but has entrusted all judgment to the Son,"

A few verses later Jesus said that the Father has given him, (verse 27)

"authority to judge because he is the Son of Man."

Revelation 19:11 speaks about Jesus and says,

"With justice he judges and makes war."

Now we know that when Jesus comes again He is going to judge the world. In Matthew 25:31–33 Jesus said,

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.
All the nations will be gathered before him,
and he will separate the people one
from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left."

2 Thessalonians 1:6–10 also talks about,

"when the Lord Jesus
is revealed from heaven in blazing fire
with his powerful angels.
He will punish those who do not know God
and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
They will be punished with everlasting
destruction and shut out
from the presence of the Lord
and from the majesty of his power
on the day he comes to be glorified
in his holy people and to be marveled at
among all those who have believed."

When Jesus comes again, He is going to judge.

But what we should also understand is that Jesus rules now. He reigns now. He judges now. He sends the horsemen on their way.

These judgments are not just future. They started with Christ's death and resurrection. These judgments, are, in part, (Osborne, p. 271)

"God response to the imprecatory prayers of the saints for justice and vengeance. (Revelation 5:8; 6:9-11; 8:3-5)"

Christ is exercising His authority over the peoples of the earth. He is going to establish a new heaven and a new earth. In doing this, (Osborne, p. 271)

"There is a progressive dismantling of creation, as the created order is shaken in the seals (6:12-14), then in the trumpets and bowls first one-third and then the whole of this created world are virtually overthrown. This prepares for the final consummation when this world order will be destroyed (20:11); 21:1)."

The Lamb judges. Woes come upon the earth. Their purpose is, (Beale, p. 388)

"to refine the faith of believers and to punish unbelievers."

Thus one of the great lessons our text teaches us is that

we need to see God's hand in the tragedies that strike the world.

Jesus reigns. He controls wars, plagues, famine. They come from Him. They are warnings, yes, but much more than that. He is dismantling the old created order. He is going to destroy it and bring something new, something righteous out of it.

The Black Plague struck Europe in 1347 and over the next five years approximately a third of the population of Europe died. One in three people. Can you imagine? Back then one of the common beliefs regarding the reason for the plague was that God was punishing mankind for its sins. That idea is scoffed at today. People today want to view such things in terms of sanitation, in terms of ignorance, in medical terms. Yes, there was poor sanitation, yes there was ignorance. Yes, it was the fleas. But more importantly, God was involved. The people of the 14
th century had it right—it was God who was doing it. God was punishing sin. The Lamb is unleashing the seals.

Secondly, our text shows us clearly that

sin has consequences—very bad consequences.

One of the great truths that the Bible teaches is that sin leads to suffering, misery, destruction and death. That's what sin produces—destruction and death.

Those things may not come right away. There is a very famous story about atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair going out in a thunderstorm and cursing God and daring him to strike her dead with lightning. God didn't strike her with lightning and she said that proved that there isn't a God.

But that didn't prove her point. All it proved is that often God doesn't punish sin right away.

But He does punish sin. Sin promises good things. People sometimes sin because they think they'll be better off by sinning. But it's a lie. Sin has terrible consequences.

Consider the four horsemen described here, the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Perhaps I should only talk about horsemen 2, 3 and 4. I'm not sure that the first horseman is bad. He's on a white horse and in Revelation 19:1-14 we see that Christ, whose name is Faithful and True is on a white horse and He goes forth to conquer His enemies. So I'm of the opinion that the first horseman is Jesus and that it represents Him going forth with the gospel saving people.

But having said that I recognize that most commentators today see the first horseman as a bad figure. Some see him as the anti-Christ. Others see him representing the lust of some human beings for conquest.

They think first horseman is bad for a number of reasons. One has to do with they think this vision relates to the four horses in the Old Testament prophecy of Zechariah—and the horses there are all bad. Not only that, but Satan often masquerades as an angel of light—so to have him or his agents riding a white horse, appearing to be good, would not be unheard of. Thirdly, in Revelation we see certain parallels between the first four seals, the first four trumpets and the first four bowls. Since the first four trumpets and bowls represent horrible judgments, the same is probably true of all the horsemen. Not only that, but some see a relationship between the four horsemen and the four evil kingdoms in Daniel.

Those are the two views. But it really doesn't matter very much which view you take. It really doesn't make much difference if 3 or 4 of the horsemen are bad. What is said about the 2
nd, 3rd and 4th horsemen are enough to show great truths that are here.

But let's assume that they're all bad. What horrors does it show us about the consequences of sin?

The first horseman has much to teach us in this regard.

If he is a negative figure, the point here is that this represents a spirit of conquest, militarism. In this country we don't know about foreign invaders. But if you read histories of China in the 1930's, Poland in 1939, western Russia in 1941—you'll understand how bad it was for the people of an invaded land. Conquerors like the Nazis under Hitler were incredibly cruel.

My mother has a cousin who was in the Ukrainian resistance during the war. He told me a story where he actually saw a German soldier go into a house, come out with a little baby and take the baby and throw her to her death into a nearby river, all while the mother was pleading for her baby's life. Now if you take that and multiply it by millions, you'll get some idea of how bad military conquest can be.

A couple of years ago I read some of Richard J. Evan's book, "The Third Reich at War". Parts of it were very difficult to read because the way the Nazis treated conquered people in the east was absolutely barbaric. Evans reports that in the first part of the war the German invaders were shooting so many of the conquered civilians, including women and children, that it was having a detrimental effect on some of the German soldiers. Evans wrote about reports that were being received by the Task Force leaders, those responsible for carrying out the executions, (p. 256)

"complaints were coming in from the Task Force leaders that continual mass shootings of defenceless women and children were placing an intolerable strain on their men. As Rudolf Höss, a senior SS officer, later recalled, 'I always shuddered at the prospect of carrying out exterminations by shooting, when I thought of the vast numbers concerned, and of the women and children.' Many members of the Task Forces, 'unable to endure wading through blood any longer, had committed suicide. Some had even gone mad. Most… had to rely on alcohol when carrying out their horrible work."

That presented a problem for the Nazis leaders. So what were they going to do? Order a stop to the killings? No. Rather than stopping the killing, they decided that they had to find more efficient, less personal ways of killing people. That lead to the death camps.

Human conquest often has such a dark side. People are killed indiscriminately. There is such horror—so much suffering and misery, so much death.

It's because of sin. When those things happens it means that God is punishing sin. That's what the first horseman teaches us.

The second horseman also teaches us about the punishment of sin.

This is a fiery red horse. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. He was given a large sword.

Some think the first horseman referred to invasion from a foreign power. They see this second horseman as referring to internal strife, civil war and the like. The short sword that is referenced would be appropriate for such warfare. The great point is that his mission is to remove peace from the earth and allow people to turn their destructive natures against each other. Zechariah 14:13 describes the final warfare that will take place before Jesus comes.

"On that day men will be stricken
by the Lord with great panic.
Each man will seize the hand of another,
and they will attack each other."

And in Isaiah 19:2 God says,

"I will stir up Egyptian against Egyptian—
brother will fight against brother,
neighbor against neighbor, city against city,
kingdom against kingdom."

The Civil War in our country involved brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor. In Iraq for the past few years there has been such internal trouble, car bombings, suicide bombings. These things are the punishment of sin.

The third seal also shows how God punishes sin.

The third seal shows a black horse with a pair of scales in his hand. It represents famine and scarcity. A man would work all day and not have enough to feed himself, let alone take care of his family and his other needs.

Famine is a terrible thing. We know nothing of it in our country. But the Bible contains descriptions of famine being so severe that unbelievable things will happen. In Deuteronomy 28 Moses described some of the horrors that would come on the children of Israel for disobedience. He wrote, (verses 56–57)

"The most gentle and sensitive woman among you—
so sensitive and gentle that she would
not venture to touch the ground
with the sole of her foot—
will begrudge the husband she loves
and her own son or daughter
the afterbirth from her womb and the children she bears.
For she intends to eat them secretly
during the siege and in the distress
that your enemy will inflict on you in your cities."

Things like that did come to came to pass in Israel's history. (2 Kings 6) Famine brings forth suffering and leads to violence, to cruelty, to death. One of the way that God punishes sin is through famine.

The fourth seal shows another way that God punishes sin.

The fourth seal shows a horse the color of a corpse. His rider is death. He is given power over a fourth part of the earth. He was to kill by sword, famine, wild beasts and plague.

The black plague that struck Europe in 1347 very quickly killed a third of the population. We think that 9/11 was a huge tragedy and it was. But it is inconsequential compared to what is coming.

The third thing we should understand about these first four seals is that

these judgments are preliminary. They are but previews of what is to come.

Some theologians make a distinction between the opening of the seals and the opening of the scroll. I'm not sure we should make such a distinction, as the scroll could be unraveled a little as each seal was opened. But whichever view you take, it's clear that the judgments here are preliminary, they are but precursors to much worse judgments that come later in Revelation.

Think of that. The wars, famine, plague, death, with death being able to claim up to a fourth of the earth—and these are just the beginnings of God's wrath.

The great wars and the atrocities of Hitler, Stalin and others—those were just the beginnings of woes. As Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 24:6–8,

"You will hear of wars and rumors of wars,
but see to it that you are not alarmed.
Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
All these are the beginning of birth pains."

Those horrible things are just the beginning. Things like 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Holocaust, the atrocities committed by the Japanese soldiers during World War II—these are the beginnings of birth pains.

Some of the lessons for us from this are the following.

First it means that

you need to repent of your sins.

Recognize that sin is not your friend, that it will not bring you happiness. Sin leads to destruction and death.

Our society makes up all sorts of excuses for sin to such an extent that it denies that sin is sin. They will tell you that certain behavior is genetic, that we have to behave like that because we're programmed to.

Their main message to people is—you don't have to change. You're fine the way you are. You shouldn't listen to the church, to the Bible, they're outdated. What they say isn't true and you have nothing to fear so live your life as you want to.

That is absolutely false. Judgment is coming. If you don't believe it, open your eyes to the precursors—to the horrors under Hitler, Stalin, 9/11. Read some history books about those eras. Much worse is coming.

You need to repent of your sins and find life in Jesus. If you don't your sins are going to bring you such misery that you won't be able comprehend it. According to the Bible it will be beyond anything you can imagine. The Bible's descriptions of hell, with weeping and gnashing of teeth, with fire that cannot be quenched and where the worm does not die—the lake of burning sulfur where people will be confined forever and ever—these things are so horrible that we don't like to think of them.

But know this—your sin will put you there unless you repent of them and go to Jesus. Only He can save you.

Secondly, for Christians this means

you should not set your heart on the this world or the things of this world.

This world is not your home. We are not to have our treasures here. 1 John 2:15–17 says,

"Do not love the world or anything in the world.
If anyone loves the world,
the love of the Father is not in him.
For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man,
the lust of his eyes and the boasting
of what he has and does—
comes not from the Father but from the world.
The world and its desires pass away,
but the man who does the will of God lives forever."

2 Peter 3:10–13 says,

"the day of the Lord will come like a thief.
The heavens will disappear with a roar;
the elements will be destroyed by fire,
and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way,
what kind of people ought you to be?
You ought to live holy and godly lives
as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.
That day will bring about
the destruction of the heavens by fire,
and the elements will melt in the heat.
But in keeping with his promise
we are looking forward to a new heaven
and a new earth, the home of righteousness."

Thirdly, this means that as a Christian

you need to be prepared for suffering, for horrible things.

Craig S. Keener says, (Revelation)

"Part of Revelation's message is that the warning that all Christians must be ready to suffer."

We live in the world. Christians are not immune to the bad things that will happen to the world. God's purpose with us is different though. They are meant to refine us, to purge us of our dross.

So use sufferings to draw closer to Jesus, to become more obedient to Him, to thank Him for preparing a heavenly home for you.


as a church must be prepared to warn our society.

Craig S. Keener writes, (Revelation)

"In the light of Revelation, we recognize that famine is a corporate judgment (on societies, not individuals), one of God's methods for waking up an unrepentant world."

Disasters are warnings, wakeup calls. Yesterday two tornados touched down in New York City. There was nothing in then news, or on the weather or in the newspapers about how this was a wake-up call for people to turn from their sins. If the church doesn't do it, no one will.

May God give us grace to do our duty.