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If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness that You may be feared. Give us the fear that comes from Your forgiveness, that we may be set free from the fear that comes from Your wrath. Give us humble hearts and good ears that we might hear Your Word, and being hearers, that we would turn from our sin and turn to Christ. In His name we pray. Amen.
Our text this morning comes from the last book of the Bible, Revelation, chapter 6. We’ve been working through Revelation for several weeks now. It’s a book that is an apocalypse, meaning a book of showing. It’s a type of genre. It’s a book that gives to us God’s plan for the world in verbal pictures, in images, in symbols. It’s not only an apocalypse, it’s a prophecy, and it’s a letter. So it was a letter to seven real churches in Asia Minor in the first century, so it made sense to them and it spoke into their world, and by prophecy not only foretelling those things that would come, but also speaking in to their lives as Christians and the sort of experiences we all have as Christians.
In chapter 5 there is a scroll with seven seals, and the only one who is found worthy to open the scroll is the Lamb who was slain, that is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then in chapter 6 the Lamb has each seal opened, one after another, and this morning we come to the sixth of the seven seals.
Verse 12, Revelation 6.
“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?””
Let me clear from the very beginning about the purpose and the aim of this sermon. The aim is very direct, very simple. I want you, and me, to flee from the wrath of the Lamb now while we still have time so that you and I do not have to flee from the wrath of the Lamb later when it is too late. That’s the purpose of this sermon, that’s the prayer for the sermon, is that we would flee from the wrath of the Lamb now while there is time, that we would not flee from the wrath of the Lamb later when it is too late.
Now already you may be thinking, “I don’t know if that’s the kind of sermon I was looking for this morning. Isn’t that one of those fire and brimstone sermons? I didn’t sign up for Jonathan Edwards, sinners in the hands of an angry God kind of message. Who does that anymore? What are you trying to do? Scare people, Pastor?”
It’s a valid concern, I suppose. Maybe in the history of the Church at times preachers have let the imagination run away with them, and yet that is scarcely the danger in our age. Our danger is just the opposite, that we would not even deal with a text like this. And if you say, “Well, you shouldn’t be trying to scare people,” well, listen to Jesus. Matthew 10:28 – Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Lots of ways that the body may die – old age, heart disease, cancer, evil people, wars. Jesus said, “I don’t want you to be afraid of that. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” That wasn’t one of the Puritans, that wasn’t someone run off with a medieval imagination, that was the Lord Jesus Christ.
So this sermon, not meaning to be melodramatic or sensational any more than the Bible is, but I want, and more importantly God wants, you to flee now from the wrath that is to come.
That means that in this sermon I want to speak more directly than I may often speak to those of you who are not following, worshiping, or trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. And when I speak of those who are not following, worshiping or trusting the Lord Jesus, I have three kinds of people in mind.
One, those in mind who listening to this sermon, you know I’m not a Christian. In fact, I don’t want to be a Christian, I do not like Christianity, the Church, this whole thing, but somehow you’re here, I’m speaking to you.
Second, I have in mind those who do not consider themselves Christians but unlike the first group, you’re not antagonistic. You’re kind of vaguely pro-Jesus, but you know you’re not a Christian, you’re not ready to sign up for this thing, but you’re listening.
Then a third group I have in mind, and this is probably the largest of the these three groups in the room this morning, I’m thinking of any here who profess to be Christians. It may be as a 12-year-old, as a 92-year-old, who profess to be Christians, and you may even think yourself to be a Christian but truly if you were to know your heart and if you were to take a moment and be honest with yourself, you are not truly following, worshiping, or submitting to Christ. You may go to church, you may do some churchy sort of things, you may have a Bible, you may be even in a Bible study, but truly you are not following, worshiping, and trusting in Christ.
Everyone I hope listens, but in particular I want those three sorts of people to hear this message.
Why ought we to flee from the wrath to come? Or let’s put it in the negative. What are some reasons why you and I do not fear the day of judgment and therefore do not flee from the wrath to come? Why do we not? Why is this so unlikely and uncommon in our world?
Let me give you four reasons. That will be our outline. Four reasons why we do not fear and flee from the wrath of the Lamb.
Here’s reason number 1. If you are here and you do not fear such a day, it’s because quite plainly you may not think such a day is coming. You may not believe that there is such a day. Yet, if you’ve ever been to church that’s confessed the Apostles’ Creed, we say “I believe in Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into Hell. On the third day He rose again. He ascended into heaven where He sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to” do what? “To judge the living and the dead.”
It’s right there in the Apostles’ Creed that Christians at all times and in all places have believed that Jesus Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead. It’s part of what it means to be a Christian is to believe that. Well, it’s not just because the Apostles’ Creed says it. Jesus in John 5:27 declared, “He,” meaning the Father, “has given Him,” the Son, “authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.” So Jesus understood that He was coming again to judge the living and the dead. There is day coming at the end of the world where Christ will judge all those on it.
Now look at Revelation 6. One of the questions with this passage is just what this sixth seal is describing. As I’ve been arguing, many of these seals, in fact all five up to this point, are describing events that happen throughout history. The four horsemen of the apocalypse, those are the first four seals. Those sorts of things have been happening all over the world. There’s war and conquest and famine and death. This fifth seal was martyrdom. Well, that’s happened in every century of the Church.
But here with the sixth seal I think we’ve hit the fast forward button and now we are to the end of the age. Now why do we think that this is describing the end of history? After all, this language, this cataclysmic language of the moon turning to blood and the sky rolling up, some of this imagery is used to describe temporal judgments, that this language sounds, well, obviously, the whole world is blowing up like the Death Star being obliterated. But it’s apocalyptic imagery and it occurs in the Old Testament for judgment on Edom, for judgments on Babylon, so the language itself doesn’t mean it has to be the end of the world.
Yet here in Revelation 6 it’s different. This sixth seal unveils God’s end time judgment. Why do I think that?
A few reasons. One, because there’s no hint that the judgment is limited. Remember in some of the other judgments it says they were given power to harm a fourth of the earth or a third of the earth. Throughout Revelation when you have that language, it’s saying that it’s limited; it’s not yet the end. But we don’t have that language here.
A second reason. This judgment scene is so similar to another judgment scene in chapter 16, which is like the final judgment scene in chapter 20. Remember Revelation is not giving us a straight chronology that you can just map out from say chapter 4 or chapter 6 through the end of the book and just go around the room and just have a big timeline and then it just happens one after another. But rather these scenes happen, as the language is called, by recapitulation.
So it’s like seeing different portraits in an art gallery, and you stare at one and you say, “Here’s what’s going on in the world, salvation and judgment. Interesting. Here’s another one, looks like salvation and judgment.” Or one of our musicians reminded me, very appropriately, that one of the best ways to think about this is musically. A musical score will have a theme that repeats and you hear this in great music and you’ll hear the theme, the melody line, and then they’ll do some other things and then it’ll come back again. But it’s not exactly the same, it has maybe a little different cadence or a time signature or it has some different instruments. Well, that’s what’s happening. A recapitulation of the same musical theme.
So we have the end of the world in chapter 6, we’ll have another end of the world in chapter 16, and another one in chapter 20, because Revelation is showing that’s what it looks like, now let’s back up and let’s see it again from a different angle.
Another reason why I think this is the end judgment is because of the language of wrath, the wrath of the Lamb. When wrath, or another word “fury,” when those words are used in Revelation, we’re not speaking of preliminary judgments or warnings or discipline or chastisement, what we’re talking about the end.
Then finally, because the sixth seal follows the fifth seal. Well, you say that’s obvious, six comes after five, but here’s what I mean. Remember in the fifth seal, verse 10, the martyrs under the throne cry out, “O sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood?” They’re given a little longer until the number of the martyrs is brought in. There is a set number of martyrs that God has appointed and until the number of the martyrs is completed, the end of the world will not come. So that’s the cry at the fifth seal, which means the sixth seal is the answer to their cry. How long, O Lord? Well, here’s what it will look like. At the end of the age, when the full number of the martyrs has been brought in and we are at the end of history, this will be the final judgment upon the earth. The day is coming, in other words, when the sky will be rolled up and the mountains and hills will crumble and all people will fear for the wrath of the Lamb.
I think I’ve mentioned before the language of Ezekiel chapter 3, the watchmen on the walls. Paul refers to it in his sermon in Acts chapter 20, that he says to the Ephesian elders there, “I’m innocent of the blood of you all because I have declared to you the whole counsel of God.” It’s an allusion to Ezekiel. In the ancient world you would have somebody who’s standing on the walls because that’s your defense. You don’t have a missile defense, you don’t have bombers, you have a wall and a guardian there stands out and he can see when the army is approaching and that’s when he is to sound the trumpet to warn the people, “Get to your battle stations or flee for the hills. The enemy is approaching.”
Paul said, “I would be guilty and your blood would be upon my head and my hands if I did not warn you.” So I would not be a faithful shepherd, there would not be faithful preaching from this pulpit, if we never speak about the day of judgment, even if it’s not popular, even if that’s not what people think they want when they come to church.
You’ve heard me say this before, I’ll say it again, may it never be the case that anyone from Christ Covenant Church could stand before God on that last day and say, “No one ever told me there would be a judgment.”
You have heard, and so you hear again this morning, there will be a final judgment, and it’s described here in Revelation chapter 6. If I am to be faithful shepherd, a watchman on the walls, I must warn you of it.
Number two. So the first reason that many people do not fear is they simply do not think that such a day exists. Second reason is because you have not considered what the day will be like.
The scene described here in Revelation is a scene of panic. The cry is going up like those in the garden of Eden. Zach alluded to that as he introduced the pastoral prayer, trying to hide our sin just as Adam and Eve did, sewing fig leaves together when they realized that they were naked. That’s why the people of the earth are hiding themselves, covering among the rocks and the mountains. Just like Adam and Eve had their eyes opened, they see their shame and they try to cover themselves with fig leaves, in both cases in the garden at the beginning and here at the end, sinners have been exposed. I can’t face the One who sits on the throne and the Lamb, I cannot see them, so hide for the mountains, run to the hills, flee to the caves, fall on us. It’s the cry of those whose sins have been exposed.
Have you ever had the dream, you probably have, where you show up to school or at work and you didn’t put clothes on? Now don’t think too much about the dream right now. Or you’re in your undergarments. I’ve had that dream many times. It’s a bad dream. I’ve had it so many times I can tell myself in the dream, “it’s just a dream,” and yet the voice comes back, “This time you really did it.” You’re talking to yourself and I’m sure there’s all sorts of freudian analysis about what that says.
But there’s some fear that we all have as human beings of being exposed. It doesn’t take Freud to tell us, that’s something what that dream is about. Might it be that one day everything about us is stripped away and our worst nightmares and our worst behaviors and thoughts are there for everyone to see. It’s a horrible, horrible feeling.
That’s what they’re feeling here on the day of judgment. They’ve been exposed as sinners.
The scene here in the sixth seal is a picture of massive, cataclysmic judgment. Though the image may seem strange to us, it would have been familiar to John’s readers because it’s Old Testament imagery.
Isaiah 34:4 – all the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll, all the starry host will fall like the withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.
Joel 2:31 – the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
Ezekiel 38 – in My zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. The fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, every creature that moves along the ground, all the people of the face of the earth, will tremble at My presence.
So this is heaping up Old Testament imagery. There’s an earthquake and stars are falling and the sun is going and the moon has turned to blood. It’s a description of God’s judgment.
Now is this literally what will happen? I don’t think we have to take it exactly literally. Why? Because you’ll notice that the people on the earth are running to the mountains. Well, didn’t we already see in an earlier verse that the mountains and the islands have been obliterated? Wait, I thought the mountains were gone. Now you’re running into the mountains and the caves and crying out for the mountains to fall on you. So I don’t think we have to understand that everything is exactly like this. It’s not going to be a Death Star complete obliteration, but the imagery is here to tell us that it’s cataclysmic, that it’s massive, that it’s final, and that it’s frightening.
Think of the earthquake. It is a common occurrence in Scripture, from Mount Sinai all the way through Revelation, that creation shakes when its Creator is revealed. That’s why there’s earthquakes at various moments, of thiophenes, God appearing, or thunder and lightning when the pyrotechnics start to happen.
So here there is depicted, whether it’s literal or not, a great earthquake across the earth. Why? Because the glory of the transcendence of God on the throne and His Son, the Lamb, are being displayed as never before. What other response could the creation give to the revealing of the glory of the Creator but to tremble? But to shake?
Whatever the end of history will be like, no one will miss that it is happening. You don’t have to wonder did it already happen. No one will miss that it is happening, that the wrath of the Lamb has been exposed.
So many people do not fear this day because they do not believe there is a day. Number two, they don’t consider what the day is like.
Number three, perhaps you have figured that someone like yourself will be safe on this day.
Almost no one fears God anymore. Proverbs tells us the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but nobody fears God really. Roughly 6 out of 10 Americans, this is true as recently as last year, I think saw this survey, roughly 6 out of 10 Americans believe in hell, and almost none of those Americans think they’re in any danger of going there. We scarcely believe in judgment. A strong majority, almost 60% of Americans, still believe yeah, there’s a hell, and if you follow it up, “And might you go there?” Obviously not, but we need someplace for the really, really bad people, mass murderers and tyrants and despots.
We kind of believe in an abstract way that, yeah, there’s got to be a judgment for really bad people, but I’m not in danger of it.
Why do we consider it so unlikely? Part of it is we think of unbelief as a trivial offense. When you talk about not believing in God or not believing in Christ, you think of it sort of like taking a test – well, there’s a lot of beliefs out there, a lot of different religions, there’s a lot of beliefs, and okay, you’re saying that Christianity is the right answer to the test. Okay, maybe. So I take the test and then I find out later, oh, I didn’t have the right beliefs, I believed the wrong things, and you think of it as little more than mental assent, just getting a theological quiz correct.
That’s now how the Bible understands unbelief. If Jesus is the most glorious, most exalted, most honorable, most worthy person, the God-man, then is not your disregard for Him a serious crime? If His glory is small, His excellency is meager, His person is insignificant, then you are right to esteem Him not. But what if He is supremely valuable? No one likes to have their worth and dignity demeaned.
Have you adults been walking by a park or through some public place and there’s a group of teenagers, probably boys, and there’s something, you don’t even know, I’ve had this, I don’t even know what it is, I don’t know what I was wearing, what I did wrong, what sort of not very cool factor, there could have been many things was screaming about me. I’ve had it before when I run by people, I like to not think it’s the length of my shorts, but somebody says something, and it’s not a “way to go,” it’s some sort of derision. Those few times that it happens, and maybe you’ve had it and somebody notices something you did wrong or you tripped up literally, you spilled something and people are laughing, especially if it’s people younger than you, doesn’t everything in you, [sound effect]. I find myself, “You teenagers! I pay taxes! I have nine children, I’ll have you know, you punks. I own a house, I go to work.” I didn’t treat adults like that when I was young. You just, “Who are you? You’re laughing at me? What about my worth, my dignity?” We take offense when it happens. It’s demeaning, it makes you angry. You think you should be looking up to me, not someone worthy of your laughter.
That’s the sin of unbelief. It’s not a slight mental error, it is an act of profound disrespect and dishonor for the Creator and the Lord of the universe.
We do not consider what Scripture tells us that we are enemies of God apart from Christ. Romans 5:10 says that before we were reconciled to the death of His Son we were God’s enemies. James 4:4 – friendship with the world is enmity with God.
You might think, “No, wait a minute. I’m maybe just not interested. I’m fine. You do your own thing. I’m not an enemy.”
But think about it. If you broke the laws of this land, if you ignored the governmental statues as if they were nothing, if you gave no thought to any fear of punishment, if you thought that the magistrate had no controlling authority or power over you, wouldn’t you eventually, as you broke law after law after law, be considered an enemy of the state?
If you cared nothing for the desires of your parents, you subverted their authority time and again, wouldn’t we be right in saying that you were opposed to your parents? Whatever you may have felt about them, you never wanted to listen to them, you never considered their authority something to be submitted to. For all practical purposes, you are treating them as an enemy, someone to be disregarded, to be disobeyed.
Or maybe we do not fear that day because we imagine that God will be a respecter of persons. You probably wouldn’t be so bold as to say it, but many of us can feel it – “But, I’m not really one of the bad guys. Don’t you know who I am? Or what I’m like?”
But look in Revelation. There is a deliberate sevenfold description in verse 15. Seven, we’ve seen before, the number of perfection or completion, just like seven days of the week, so seven is showing totality. Notice a sevenfold description of those who flee and fear. Then the kings of the earth, there great ones, the generals, the rich, the powerful, the slave, and the free. This list is meant to represent all of sinful, unbelieving humanity. That’s why it says right there in the middle of verse 15, in case you miss it, everyone.
You and I will not be spared the wrath of the Lamb because you called the shots here on earth. You cannot buy your way out of it. You cannot order someone else to take the wrath for you. You won’t be spared, listen, you won’t be spared because you were important here on earth, neither will you be spared because you were oppressed here on earth. Slave and free.
See, before you might just think, yeah, that’s right, the generals, the rich, the powerful, the nobles, the kings. But then it says everyone. Slave and free. You don’t get a free pass because you’re important and you don’t get a free pass because other people were more important than you. No. All people.
God’s judgment, in other words, is terribly and terrifyingly inclusive. It’s diverse, it’s equitable, and it’s inclusive. It is. He makes no exceptions for senators, no exceptions for congressmen or women, no exceptions for movie stars, wealthy entrepreneurs, movers and shakers, the strong and the influential, neither does he make exceptions for the poor and the lowly.
You know who will face judgment on that day? The rich men north of Richmond. You know who else will? The people who feel oppressed by the rich men north of Richmond.
Neither will get you out of it. It is appointed for every man once to die and then to face judgment. On that great day, God will not ask how much you have made or where you went to school or who your daddy was. He will say, “What did you do with Jesus? What did you make of the Lamb?”
Which brings us to our final point. Perhaps we do not flee because you and I have not thought rightly about the One who sits on the throne and the Lamb.
Is this not one of the most dramatic ironies in all the Bible and in all of recorded history? The princes, the generals, the mighty men, run scared to the hills on account of a sheep. It would be humorous were it not terrifying.
For my oldest son’s birthday this summer, he turned 20, I said, “What do you want?” What do you get a 20-year-old? Very practically, very smartly, he said, “I’d like a sheep.” A real sheep. He said, “Can I have a real sheep?” He had a chicken earlier that died. We have two cats, we have three bunnies, nine children. Yeah, we need a sheep. We did not get him a real sheep. I’m a bad enough parent, I did quite a bit of googling about it. It appears you need to get more than one sheep and you need a fence and a lot of things. We didn’t get a sheep. What we got was a very lovely, about this long, this high, a very, very cute stuffed animal sheep. Amazingly, he did not take it to college, but it’s there in our house. It’s just, I almost thought about bringing it, but that’d be so off-brand that I didn’t.
But that’s what you think of, a sheep. Ohh, a sheep, a little sheep. There’s meant to be a profound irony here. This is no ordinary lamb. Strange as it may sound, the world will quake when the fierce anger of the slain Lamb is unleashed. You can’t say, “Oh, this is the mean God of the Old Testament. This is the God of the medieval imagination. It’s the harsh God of the Puritans.” No, this is Jesus Christ, judging the earth, and on that great day of judgment, it will be more terrifying for sinners than it was in New York City on the 9/11. People running, terrified, fleeing.
Let us not be chummy with the Big Guy upstairs. God is not to be trifled with. Who can stand, who can withstand His fierce anger, the prophets asked over and over. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God as an unrepentant, unbelieving, careless, self-righteous sinner.
So chapter 6 ends with a cliffhanger. Who can stand? If this great God, the One who sits on the throne and the Lamb such that all people are crying out for mountains to crush them in that moment, who then can stand?
Well, you’ll have to come back next week for chapter 7, the answer to that question, but I cannot simply leave you wondering how you can stand. Chapter 7 will tell us that the ones who stand are those who had been sealed, those who had been set aside, those who had been marked, just like the blood on the doorposts and the doorframes in Pharaoh’s day would indicate to the avenger of judgment, “pass by because blood marks out these ones.”
So it is, we will see, that those and only those who had been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb can stand on that day.
So here is the irony. Here is the Gospel. The only way that you and I will not face the wrath of the Lamb on that day is to flee now to the Lamb that was slain, the same Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, slain, crucified for sinners. Those and only those who will stand are those in chapter 7, verse 10, who cry out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” That’s why they are not afraid on that day because they have cried out on the days before, “That One, in all of His transcendent glory and wrath, that One is my Savior.” So they sing, “Amen, praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
If you are to flee from the wrath of the Lamb before it is too late, you must seek your refuge in the blood of the Lamb so that marked and sealed and washed by that blood, God’s avenging judgment will pass over you on that great and dreadful day and you will shout hallelujah.
Let’s pray. Gracious heavenly Father, we thank You that You in your kindness have given us the Bible in a language we can understand. You have given us churches that believe the Bible. You have given us preachers who preach the Bible so we are not ignorant of these things, and now no longer ignorant of these things, we will be accountable for what we have heard. So work in our hearts, Lord. No preacher can do it, no earthly preacher, only a heavenly voice. The sheep here will know the voice of the Good Shepherd, so speak, speak now, speak throughout this week that You would call to Yourself Your people to repent, to turn, to be covered in the blood of the Lamb that we may not have to cry out to the mountains and the hills, “Cover us,” on the day of judgment. We pray, O Lord, giving thanks for Your great mercy in Jesus for sinners like us. In His name we pray. Amen.