Summary: “Why doesn’t God do something about the state of the world?” John is given an answer as he watches the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah begin to unseal the scroll that’ll determine the destiny of the world.
It’s a question that people still ask today: “Why doesn’t God do something about the state of the world?” “Why doesn’t God do something about the state of my life. In fact it’s a cry that’s been going up to the Lord for 3000 years and still we wait for an answer. In the words of Psalm 13: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Just last year we had a woman here from Nigeria who told of the terrible atrocities inflicted on Christians in the towns near where she lives. When she returned there was a real danger that she might not make it home from the airport. So people ask “Why is life for the Christian so unjust?” “Why doesn’t God do something to stop the suffering of his people in this world?”
That of course was the question that concerned John and the Christians of the late first century. Why hasn’t Jesus returned? We thought he was coming back in our life time and nothing’s happened. Did we get it wrong?
But now John is given an answer as he watches the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah begin to unseal the scroll that’ll determine the destiny of the world. As bad as things may appear, God is still in control and his servants will be vindicated. But it’s not a pretty picture is it? At first the future appears very bleak.
Seal 1: A White Horse - Crowns and Conquest
The first seal is removed, one of the living creatures peaks in a voice like thunder “Come!” And what does he see? A white horse. Its rider carries a bow and is given a crown and he comes to conquer. White here symbolises conquest, not righteousness, as it does in ch19, even if most conquerors would claim to be acting righteously as they fight their enemies.
Jesus, in Luke 21, warns that before the end time comes you will hear of wars and insurrections. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. This is the history of the world, is it not? And still it goes on. Totalitarian regimes seek to control nations. Peoples rebel and replace them, often with equally corrupt governments, and the cycle continues. Is this perhaps part of God’s judgment on a fallen humanity, that he lets people suffer because of their own willingness to put up with unjust governments - even to vote for them?
Seal 2: A Red Horse - Hatred & Bloodshed
The second seal is opened and the voice of the second living creature cries “Come!” This time it’s a fiery red horse. Red, the colour of blood. The rider’s given a large sword and the power to take peace from the earth.
Not only is our history plagued by kingdoms and empires rising and falling, but at the local level we see hatred, fighting, bloodshed. In that same passage Jesus said “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.” Elsewhere he said “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” (Mat 10:21) This is the nature of the world we live in: a fallen world where relationships are messed up, where things are turned on their head, where people perpetrate evils against one another that we can’t even imagine someone in their right mind doing.
Seal 3: A Black Horse - Economic injustice
Next comes a black horse with the rider holding a set of scales in his hand. These aren’t the scales of justice, they’re the scales of commerce. And what does the voice from the midst of the four living creatures say? “A quart of wheat for a day's pay, and three quarts of barley for a day's pay, but do not damage the olive oil and the wine!” The picture is of food being doled out at rip-off prices - prices that no-one can sustain - a days work just to earn enough to buy your daily ration of wheat or barley. Yet oil and wine aren’t affected. Does this mean that for the rich there’s no shortage? Is this a statement about economic injustice? I’m reminded of Marie Antoinette supposedly saying of the starving peasants in France “If they have no bread, let them eat cake.”
Seal 4: A Green Horse - war, famine, plague and natural disaster
Next there’s a pale green horse, or perhaps more accurately a sickly green horse, and its name is Death, and Hades follows him. If the previous three seals heralded 3 types of calamity that fall on people over and over again, this fourth seal reveals an all-pervasive suffering. Death and Hades are given authority over a fourth of the earth - not a geographical fourth but a limited portion - and they’re allowed to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth. What kingdoms and murder and economic injustice haven’t destroyed are now subject to all the other forms of pestilence that human history has known: war, famine, plague and natural disaster.