Under the Altar, the Rocks & the Wrath (Revelation 6:9-17)


Should we want to see God’s wrath?

On the one hand, no, we don’t.  Not if it means to be recipients of it.  But, in light of the evil and cruelty in this world, and in light of the righteousness and justice of God, our answer must be Yes, we want God to bring His wrath.  We want Him, the Judge of Heaven and Earth to execute His justice.  If we don’t enter into the Tribulation section of Revelation with that conviction, we will be greatly disturbed and confused by what we see God pouring out on the earth.  Man is morally wrong before a holy God.  His guilt is real.  On the one hand we must want the salvation of all, but, also we must be people of justice, wanting God to bring justice to this earth.  Yes God is love.  But, God is also just.  This I believe we must be persuaded of to fully understand and appreciate what we read here.


Last week we entered the Tribulation and studied the first 4 seals and the judgments associated with those seals:  1) False Peace, 2) War and Violence, 3) Famine, 4) War, Famine, Disease, and Wild Beasts.   


The Fifth Seal (v9-11)

In arriving at the 5th seal we come to the martyred souls.  Follow in verses 9-11 with me, “…”


Following in a long line of God’s great men of faith, these martyrs gave up their lives before they’d give up their faith.  Like the Hebrews 11 giants of the faith, like Stephen, the first Church martyr, like so many down through the centuries, each of these souls is a testimony of the worthiness of Jesus above all else in the world – even life itself.  


Can we notice first these are the souls of human beings?  Atheists, humanists, and materialists would have you believe that we are only physical beings, no souls, no spirits, no immaterial aspect to us at all.  But the Bible is clear that humans are not just upright computerized meat sticks.  We are made in God’s image, composed of flesh and bone and blood and soul and spirit.  And at death our immaterial part is severed from our physical part.  These souls under the altar were severed from their bodies by force, killed by their enemies.


But why were they killed?  Two reasons.  First, they were killed for their perseverance.  They persevered in their faith in Jesus Christ even when faced with death.  That’s who these people are:  they belong to Jesus Christ.  There are no suicide bombers in this group.  There are no 70 virgins waiting under this altar.  These are the souls of people who were killed because they held onto the word of God when their lives were put on the line.  They are like the Hebrews 11 greats who died for their faith as well.  Their fellowship is with Jesus in His sufferings (Php. 3:10).


But secondly, they were killed because it was God’s purpose. They are under the altar in heaven, indicating that their deaths are a sacrifice ordained by God.  Altars are where sacrifices are made, and immediately after their execution on earth their souls are collected under the altar.  Furthermore, we see that the number of those saints who will be martyred is determined by God, for they are told “to wait a little while longer until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.”  (v11).  Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of one of His saints (Psalm ____).  They are the privileged, having been granted the bonus of suffering for the name of Jesus (Php. 1:29).


This may seem hard to grasp or swallow for us today, but, God is sovereign over our lives.  We don’t belong to ourselves, we belong to Him.  These souls didn’t recant the name of Christ when the sword was at their necks.  They didn’t deny Him when they were on their knees with a pistol pressed to their forehead.  They didn’t count their lives to be their own, but, in total surrender to the Lord they submitted to whatever fate He ordained for them.  And if He chose that He would glorify Himself in their deaths, then as far as they were concerned “Glory be to God!”  The world is not worthy of them.  


I want  you to be impressed by what they’re saying.  In verse 10 we see them crying out to God for justice, “…”  When we see the evil in this world we respond in one of two ways.  Either we condemn God along with all the evil we see in the world – blaming Him for not stopping it when He is all-powerful and all-good – or, we maintain that He is just, holy, all-powerful and that there is a Day set All prayer begins by acknowledging God’s character.  Here they know God is holy, true, sovereign, and just.  


They don’t pray for their loved ones on earth, they don’t pray to get their new bodies, they don’t pray for a lot of things we might pray for.  They pray for God to avenge their blood.  They pray for justice.  They pray that their enemies would be brought to an end.  This is what their prayer meeting under the altar consists of:  that God would bring His just violence on those who brought unjust violence on them.


We learn here a lesson in patience.  Not patience in traffic or the check-out line or the drive-through.  But patience in the face of injustice.  When you see the word patience or endurance in Scripture it is actually used almost entirely in the context of persecution.  Remember how John opened this book in chapter 1 verse 9?  “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus…”  


What should be our response when we are treated unfairly?  There are some tips here in this text.  


First, we must Remember that God is just and will bring justice.  There is something cruel about a man who is deprived actual justice.  But, there is something even more cruel to tell a man there is no hope of the possibility of it.  But because God is there so too is His justice.  It is not a question of “if” God will bring justice.  It is not a question of whether God is “able” to bring justice.  He can and He will.  There is no doubt at all in these souls that God is going to bring judgment.  I suggest that the intensity of their desire for God to act comes out of their confidence.  In other words, they know God is just and therefore because justice is possible they want it.   


Second, we must accept His timing for when He will bring justice (“How long…?  Wait a little longer…”).  This is a hard reality here and now, but, not every injustice will be dealt with in this life.  This is where commands are born from, commands such as “Don’t take revenge, leave room for God’s wrath” and “Love your enemies and do good to them; pray for them


Third, our righteousness and integrity is a comfort (“to each of them was given a white robe…”).  Their righteousness is the reason they were persecuted, BUT, it is the reason why God will avenge them.  So it is with us, that if we are persecuted for our righteousness God will avenge us for that very same righteousness.  


Let me offer a related thought:  we are promised reward for what we suffer on earth for Jesus Christ.  We are told that if our property is taken from us, if we are deprived our rights, if we are jailed, if we are martyred even, then rejoice because great is our reward in heaven.  We are blessed of God when we are cursed by man, if it is for remaining firm in our faith that is.


The Sixth Seal (v12-17)

Next we come to the sixth seal in verses 12-17, “…”


This is the day of the Lord, the great day of God’s judgments unleashed against a rebellious world.  It is, as the people say in the text:  “the great day of their wrath”, meaning the wrath of the One who sits on the throne and of the Lamb.  Their day has come and no one will stand.  


The Day of the Lord, here referred to as the Day of their wrath, is a grand theme of Scripture.  It is a technical word, and very often when mentioned in Scripture refers to the end-time judgment that God will mete out against the earth.  It’s the


Now, the Day of the Lord, His wrath, doesn’t actually begin in seal 6.  It started with the 1st seal.  It’s just that in seal 6 man is now attributing the catastrophic events on earth to God and identifying Him as the source of it all.  In other words, they were afraid before, but, now the fear of God has struck them.  


Here we see a lot of things happening.  What’s going on here?  We’ve seen this before actually.  Not in history, but, earlier in the NT.  And not evreything described here, but, a portion of it.  Turn to Matthew 24:29-30 with me [Read].  I’ll tell you that these same statements by Jesus are recorded by Mark and Luke as well.  But all three Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark and Luke) only record a darkened sun, a red moon and falling stars.  In the 6th seal John describes for us those things plus things not mentioned in those Gospels:  a big earthquake, a receding sky, every mountain and island disappearing.


Now what was making me scratch my head was this:  if we are only in the 6th seal, and we still have the 7 trumpets and the 7 bowls to go during the Tribulation, how can this 6th seal be causing things that Jesus said would happen at the very end of the Tribulation?  In other words:  how can things that Jesus said would happen at the very end of the 7 year Tribulation now in the 6th seal be said to happen much earlier in the Tribulation?  It says right there in Revelation 6 a darkened sun, a red moon and falling stars and more.  But this is still pretty early on in the Tribulation.  There is still a lot to go.  How can these events be placed here?  I think this causes a struggle for scholars.  Some ignore it.  Some say these events are not like the ones Jesus described (but its word for word the same).  Some say that by the time the 6th seal happens it is at the end of the Tribulation (but that seems like a stretch – pun intended – because of how much is still left.  How can it take almost 7 years to get through 6 judgments but less than 6 months to get through 14 – 7 trumpets and bowls?)


I want to suggest an answer.  I believe it is possible that the package of disasters that the Lamb lets loose with seal 6 are what we could call:  continuous judgments.  What I mean by that is they don’t all happen at the moment seal 6 is broken by the Lamb, but, that they begin to happen with the breaking of seal 6.  They come from the 6th seal, they are ultimately going to occur because of the 6th seal, but they don’t necessarily happen instantly and simultaneously when the 6th seal is broken.  I think the 6th seal is a consolidated description of a series of disastrous events, and it may be that they begin to happen and continue to happen, perhaps in a sequence, throughout the rest of the Tribulation.  


Think about the compounding effect of devastation this will cause.  The judgments happen slow in the beginning, spaced out, but, progressing through the Tribulation they pick up speed and intensity.  One reason it will be more intense the further you go into the Tribulation is because judgments that began earlier are still having continuing effects, even while new judgments are subsequently being added.  


Illustration:  If you’ve ever been to see the fireworks in GH for either 4th of July or Coast Guard you will have a good analogy.  The fireworks start out spaced out, and less intense.  You have a big one here and there but not a lot early on.  But as the show goes on and presses towards the end the explosions happen more rapidly.  There’s less time between each firework.  Then the grand finale begins and it is firework on top of firework, big thundering explosions in rapid succession.  The sky is continuously lit with colorful lights.  The sound is like a war with bombs bursting in air as though a giant machine gun were firing away.


That’s like the Tribulation.  Slow and spaced out at first, but, it will pick up speed and intensity the further in you get.  And the show is not going to bring awe to mankind, but terror.  Look again at the text, verses 15-17, “…”  They are melting with fear.  When Adam sinned against God in the beginning it says that he was afraid of God so he hid among the trees from God.  He hid in nature.  Now, at the end, mankind – terrified of the Maker – is going to try to hide in nature from Him as well, “they hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  The great man will run and hide like the small man.  Money, weapons, might, organization, nothing will save in the day of the Lord.


Application:  There is nothing in all creation that is hidden from God.  He sees everything, in the dark, as well as in the light.  In the past as well as right now.  In your heart and mind as well as what you do outwardly.  What you do privately as well as publicly.  It will all be brought out.  It will all be brought into the light.  It will all give an account to the Judge of all the earth, the Judge of the living and the dead.  If this terrifies you then good!  Let your terror of God turn you towards Him for deliverance.  Revelation tells us that even though many know it is God doing these things they still refuse to repent (9:20-21).   He is not willing that you perish, but, that you are saved!  And He will save you if today you look to Him and call out to Him to save you.  

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