Alfred Place Baptist Church

Revelation Chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7

These four chapters contain three of the most vivid and encouraging pictures of the triumph of Christ’s redemption to be found anywhere in Scripture.1. Chapter Four. The Throne in Heaven. P> Revelation chapter 4 brings before us a single great picture, and its whole message lies in the general impression which the picture makes on each of us. John begins the chapter by telling us that there was a door standing open in heaven. That is a door of revelation through which the apostle could see into paradise. What he sees is one great object, it is a throne set up in heaven with someone sitting on it. There is much more of course, but that is all secondary because the lessons of this chapter revolve around this particular throne. It is a chapter about the sovereign reigning God. Before we are told about the judgments that come upon the world and all the sufferings she endures the fact that our God is reigning is given to the church in this tremendous vision. All the woes and agonies and horrors which are contained in the seven seals have to be viewed from the perspective of the sovereignty of God. We are not allowed to look at the pestilences and plagues in their own light. There are evil powers that operate in human history, the beast and the false prophet and the dragon, but they have to be seen in the light of the throne of God and the Lamb.

In other words John is shown here, right at the beginning of Revelation, that supreme power does not lie with the United Nations nor with the prince of the power of the air. Supreme power is in heaven. Authority that is altogether invincible is not in the seals or plagues or in anything created. The supreme power is the throne. That is always the order. The commission of the prophet Isaiah comes from one who is high and lifted up. The Great Commission of Christ comes from the one who has all authority in heaven and earth, and it is absolutely crucial that we remember this or, like Job, we’ll start to crumble when our lives are in the crucible. Job was restored when he could say, “My eyes have seen you.” A sight of God’s Sovereignty keep us when we are in the storm. Knowledge of the Master of ocean and earth and sky supports us in our struggle. Before we look at the forces of organised evil, and all the unmovable problems and stupendous difficulties we have to fix our eyes on the throne.

Around the throne we are told of several concentric rings containing living creatures and 24 elders and hosts of angels. They all have their movements and functions and patterns of behaviour, but all of them are revolving around the throne, and we can apply that to our own situation. In John’s day there were the mighty forces of the Roman Empire, and the synagogue network very opposed to the church. Today we have the media, and Hollywood, and Islam, and materialism, and sensuality, political power and revolution, and we often imagine that our destiny is in the hands of those forces, as if human history is being managed and manipulated by these great personalities. Then we turn to Revelation 4 and we see that they are all trapped in a divine orbit. They have to respond to the dictates of the throne. The throne has a gravitational pull which supports them all. It is preserving and governing them. The throne of God restrains them. The throne sets bounds on them all. The great Manager of human history is the person who is sitting upon this throne, and he is exercising this power. All that happens occurs at his foreordination, and all the judgments in history mentioned in chapters 6 and 8 do not happen by chance, or because the Lamb has stepped down from the throne for a minute and chance and luck and the devil are taking it in turns to reign. It is not like that at all. It is the Lord who is in constant control.

Then you see in verse 5 that out of the throne come the flashing of lightning and the peals of thunder, and of course they are part of the general picture of the tremendousness and awe-inspiringness of God. You remember that the Son of God stood on Mount Sinai and gave the law there before he hung on Mount Golgotha where he bore the curse of that broken law. The thunder and lightning is more than that. It is the reaction of the throne to sin. It is a picture of the operations of the judgment of God. From time to time there are flashes of his wrath revealed against man’s ungodliness. There are the empires that rise and they seek to destroy the Kingdom of God and crush his people, and then God acts intermittently against human evil, not just at Nero, and Attila the Hun, and Hitler but at the Christian church too. Against Ananias and Sapphira God’s judgments erupt. Against those defiantly sinning church members in the Corinthian congregation who by an act of God fell asleep in death. Revelation 4 follows Revelation 2 and 3 and those chapters are full of such references as the sword the proceeds from God’s mouth, and the rod of his anger, and the threat to spew men out of his mouth. The moment we Christians begin to become presumptuous and to defy God’s chastening hand then we face the possibility of that throne erupting against us. It may not come very frequently, but do we ask ourselves when we are under God’s rod “Why is this happening? Are these mere accidents? Is this fate? Or is it part of the Lord’s chastening and discipline. Is this part of the process by which God prepares us for higher and better service?”

So you have this great throne around which everything revolves and erupts and then there is something else so marvellous and moving and it is this, that encircling the throne is a rainbow (v.3). And we know that there is no rainbow without sunlight, somewhere there has to be a break in the clouds. “Westward, look, the sky is bright.” There is a break in this great picture of the tremendousness and aweinspiringness of God. There is a light shining on the throne. John is taking us right back to the time of Noah and the first vast judgment that this throne sent to the earth. You will remember afterwards God set in the heaven a rainbow as a symbol of his peace with man. Here is a throne not only of absolute sovereignty and coruscating judgments but it is throne that says, “This Sovereign has made peace with the earth.”

The God who reigns both in heaven and on earth is One with whom we may make peace. There is an offer of reconciliation with him, peace between the church and this King, and peace extended to you and this great Sovereign. The rainbow sign spoke of forgiveness and pardon and it is saying, “You can come near to him too, and you can know a peace by the blood of the covenant.” None of you has a right to leave this place today with the conviction that he is a horrific God, awe-inspiring and fearful. See the rainbow around the throne and it is there for sinners’ encouragement. It is saying, “Make your peace with God through the blood of the covenant.”

Then there is one more detail and it is the fact of the sea that stretches out before the throne (v.6), and it looked like a sea of glass. It is an absolutely vast sea so enormous that at one point in the book the whole assembled church of God are able to sit around its perimeter. Now what does it mean, this sea? It may be a reminder to John of the immense distance between him and the throne. John has seen the door opened into heaven and no one has ever been so near to heaven or seen it as clearly as John and yet at that high point he still knows how great is the distance between himself and God. How little he is before the infinite God, and with whatever accuracy and insight he has he is still standing before an unfathomable and undefinable being.

We are told to look at the throne but John gives us no help in describing the one who sits there, his size, shape, form or clothing. We have a mere impressionistic picture; we are told of the impression that this scene made upon him. However close we get to invisible and infinite omnipotence that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit there is still a vast ocean separating us. He is the Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime, and we are specks of dust. There is no way that we are gong to be able to analyse and confine the glory of this Lord. We are utterly incapable of fitting him into our human categories.

Or let me turn it this way, that there is another place where we meet the sea in Scripture and it is in the temple. It is a brazen sea, a kind of bath near the great altar. There every day the bloodied priests cleansed themselves. So much of John’s symbolism in this book is borrowed from the temple, but John is not content simply to borrow; John elaborates. This sea he describes is not bronze it is made of crystal, magnificently transparent, utterly spotless and pure and holy. You see the point? That before us sinners and the throne of God there is this great symbol of cleansing and everyone who approaches God has to pass through it, the fountain opened up on Calvary for cleansing, the washing of regeneration, being immersed in these pure waters and being absolutely clean.

Then there are also some being he sees around the throne, “four living creatures” and they are described in the next verses, one like an lion, the next like an ox, the third had a face like a man and the fourth like a flying eagle. They all had wings and flew. Now what do all these details mean? They are echoes of the cherubim given by the prophet Ezekiel, and this is what Ezekiel saw. We know very little of what these cherubim were but they are certainly symbols of the holiness of God. We meet them first in Genesis 3 where they guard the entrance to the Garden of Eden with flaming swords that turn every way. Then we meet them again in the tabernacle above the mercy -seat where they look down into the ark of the covenant and at the tables of the broken law. Their fierce righteous gaze is interrupted by the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat, and they are protecting the way to the throne. The only way is by the Lamb of God.

Then again we meet them in Isaiah 6 where we see a vision of God in the temple and before him the seraphim cover their eyes and feet, and you will see what they sing, “Holy, holy, holy,” is the same description as we find here in verse 8. They remind us of the absolutely integrity of the sovereignty of God. God will be as righteous, as righteous can be. That is their message.

Then John sees 24 elders in verse 4 and 10, and again this is a echo of the Old Testament. There were 24 courses of Aaron’s priests – they are all named in I Chronicles 25. They all serve in the temple; they are all from the people and they come to God on behalf of the people, and they all do what John did on Patmos, they fall down and worship the one who sits on the throne and give him glory, and honour and power.

2. Chapter 5. The Scroll and the Lamb.

At the right hand side of the throne is an ancient book, a scroll, and that scroll is a symbol of God’s plan for the world. The scroll contains God’s entire plan for your life and the life of this congregation. His plan for the future of Wales and Europe is all there in that scroll. From the fall of a sparrow to the invasion of Iraq – everything is there on that scroll. Today’s storm in Cardigan Bay and last December’s tsunami in the Indian Ocean are both there. Every tiny virus as well as the mighty galaxies are all there in that scroll. Nothing is missing.

This is an utterly comprehensive plan. The scroll is crammed with writing “on both sides” (v.1). There is no place for the addition of any other writing. There are no blank places and no human overwriting or crossings out are possible. It is crammed full; there are no gaps whatsoever. God’s purpose embraces every creature and every action. Every single thing is in the book. All of our human decisions are in the scroll; all our choices are provided for in that scroll. Whatever way we decided to jump is in the book. They are all part of God’s plan. There are no points at which God is uncertain; no blanks for man to fill in as he chooses – taking God by surprise. God knows what is going to happen on the next page. He knows what’s written on the last page. There is nothing omitted or unprovided for or unseen. There is no possibility of God twisting his hands in alarm at what is happening, or finding that he facing an emergency. It is all there in his book

Then again notice that the book is secret; it is completely and totally sealed with seven seals. Seven means perfectly sealed. John can see right into heaven but he can’t see what’s written in the scroll. And we pathetic men and women imagine that it can be different, that we can see into the future, that by inferences from the present or insights into human behaviour we can make assured predictions about the future, because our knowledge is so limited. We cannot say that such and such is the time of the second coming. All our tomorrows are in the hands of God, and it is only as the Lamb breaks the seals, and the events take place that the content of the book is revealed. So what is in the scroll is comprehensive and also secret.

Then we are told that no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the book or even look inside it (v.3). So nobody knew what was contained in the book. There was no advance to history at all. The point here is that the person who opens these seals has to execute God’s purpose. We are all sinners. We have forfeited the right to God’s guiding and leading, and so someone has to be found who can be the mediator. He will be the one who administers the advance of the kingdom of God. He is the one by whom providence takes its course. But at first they can find no one who will carry history forwards. The progress of God’s kingdom has not been left to angels, nor to men. The future, as John saw it, did not lie with the church’s leaders. Human history has not been placed in man’s hands. It is not a matter of might or power or human ability. Bring all the most brilliant men in human history to this scroll and there is not one who can open it or take even peep into it. Sin has made it impossible for them to do this.

So God’s purpose for his creation grinds to a halt. If things go on like this everything is sealed for ever. Who can open the book? It seems nobody can do it, and John says that he wept (v.4). The picture is like that shown in “Groundhog Day.” The story is of a man permanently locked in a time warp. Every day he wakes up is the same day in his life February 2. He is doomed to repeat endlessly the events of this particular “Groundhog Day”. He soon knows exactly what is going to happen, what his neighbour says. If in utter despair he ends his life in suicide then the next day the alarm goes off and he wakes up to the same Ground Hog day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and he is the weatherman giving the weather forecast on TV for that day.

John sees the scroll of the future, God’s decrees for the world, and there can be no advance because the world is in sin, and God simply doesn’t want to know. For lesser sins God consigned the angels to hell, and John weeps in despair. But one of the 24 elders sees this and says, “Don’t weep,” because someone has been found to open the scroll and advance the kingdom of God. A mediator and administrator has been found for God; Jesus Christ is going to open the scroll. How is he described?

He is a lion, a figure of immense power and majesty and strength, the Christ of the mighty works, and uncompromising holiness. This Christ needs to be so powerful because of the task before him. To lead the church through history and advance the kingdom of God he needs to triumph over every one of the enemies of his people, Satan, the world, the false prophet, death and the grave. Christ, of course, met them all throughout his life and overcame them all. On the cross he triumphed over Satan’s hosts, making a show of them. Where is this Lion? He is standing in the centre of the throne (v.6). He stands because the redemption of his people is not complete until all of them are glorified with him in heaven. He is sending forth his Spirit. He is building his church. He is ruling and active in the government of his Kingdom. He ever lives to make intercession for them and so he saves them to the uttermost. You have all these concentric circles of elders and living creatures and seraphim but at the very centre is the Lord Jesus Christ. John sees a Christocentric universe. Everything in our lives revolves around him. Everything in the church revolves around him. Everything in the whole universe revolves around him. The cherubim and the elders are always seeing him, utterly enthralled with him, seeing the sufferings of Christ and the glories that have followed.

You see, in a moment, the Lion has been transformed into a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain. With one glance he is a Lion, the next that he is a Lamb; then the next and he is a fierce destroying Lion and the next he is a slaughtered Lamb. He is Irresistible Might and he is Atoning Mercy. All the living creatures and the twenty-four elders know why he’s been slaughtered. They cry aloud to him, “with your blood you purchased men for God” (v.9). Every time they see him they know this, and then they are surrounded by an innumerable company of angels, and they too know why Jesus was slain and they sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” (v.12). They don’t look in pity on the slain lamb; they are singing with a loud voice (v.12)

So what does this Lion-Lamb do? He takes the scroll from the hand of him who sat on the throne to open it. He is worthy. He can break the seals. He knows what’s in the scroll. He knows what is revealed there. He can execute everything that God has planned, and what is the response of everyone in heaven? They fall down before him and they sing a new song, because this is so fresh and vital and spontaneous. The cherubim and the angels and the living creatures and the whole ransomed church of God are all praising him. Someone has been found to exercise God’s decree, and that Person is so magnificent, a Lion and a Lamb who is right in the midst of the throne of the divine omnipotence. He is in control, and spontaneously the whole universe rejoices because of the comfort that involves.

Don’t weep! Why art thou cast down O my soul? I am not going to weep for the cause of God. I am not going to cry about the church. I shall not tremble for the ark of God because Christ is turning over the pages of my life and our congregation’s life. He knows what he is doing. He challenges Mary saying, “Why are you weeping? What are you looking for? A dead body?” She did not know that Jesus her Lord was magnificently alive, and that he was already putting her broken life together. Don’t weep. Christ is in charge of our lives, working all things together for our good.

So let the troubles come, none comes without our Saviour’s decree.

3. Chapters 6 and 7. The Seals and the Sealed.

Every chapter of this book is sealed – it is like an old book whose pages have to be cut and you need to get a paperknife and cut and open the pages – unseal each chapter so that you can read it. This scroll has seven such sections all sealed. What is the purpose of chapter 6? The first thing to bear in mind is that it does not represent seven different stages in human history. It is not seven successive eras each with its own distinctive characteristics. The message of these chapters is not some kind of history before the events. It is not a kind of blueprint for the successive centuries. It is not that we must face the possibility of an age of imperial domination – Chapter One The White Horse; then an age of war – Chapter Two, The Fiery Red Horse, then an age of economic hardship – the Black Horse, and then an age of plague, famine and death – the Pale Horse. And so on . . .

It is very much simpler. The seven seals represent the great
characteristics of the whole Christian era, not features of particular periods within the Christian era. The number seven stands for completeness. John and the church are being told, “You are now living in the Christian age. This is the age of the Lamb and this era is going to be characterised in all its phases by all these features.” The message is simply a colourful commentary on Mark 13. The message is not first this horse, and then the next horse, but that this chapter draws together the whole herd of enemies and trials that will characterise the Christian era.

We can summarise the teaching of these chapters under a few headings. We are told first of all that the Christian era is one in which the Lord Jesus Christ goes forth to conquer. That is the first great reality, and the second is this that the Christian age is one in which the church is going to meet manifold trials. The third lesson is in chapter 7 where we are shown a vast multitude of people are going conquer with Christ and stand before the throne of the Lamb crying, “Salvation belongs to our God.” That is no oversimplification. These are the three lessons of these chapters. One: the Lord of glory is going forth on his mission of invincible conquest. Two: the people of God will live in a crucible of affliction. Three: through Christ all God’s great multitude will safely arrive in heaven.

i] In the Christian age Christ Goes Forth to Conquer.

The sixth chapter begins dramatically with Christ on his White Horse eagerly waiting at the starting line. He has accomplished redemption, and now he is going to apply it. The same one who accomplishes applies. It is not that he accomplished and we apply. He does both. He goes forth on the day of Pentecost and then he rides throughout the book of Acts, through Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and out and out to the ends of the earth. He is longing to build his church and save his people, and responds immediately once God gives the command, “Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, ‘Come!’. I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest” (Rev. 6:1&2).

Before any of the other horsemen of the apocalypse ride forth he sets out first of all. The Redeemer is riding out to deliver his people from their sin, and we must remember this because we Christians are so inclined to live lives of despondency. We look around our own creeks so pessimistically and talk constantly of the day of small things and magnify all the difficulties. We are conscious of the other Horsemen, the enemy, the opposition, the trials, our own lack of success, all the weakness of the churches, our failures and ineffectiveness. We are so inclined to say, “Labour in the Lord is in vain. The struggle does not avail.” These were the pressures being brought to bear on John’s own church. “Have you heard what they’ve done to John? They sent him to Patmos prison isle. No one is now safe. Who next? The church is in great danger.” And John’s response is not to turn a blind eye to the weakness and error in the professing church. All that is catalogued in the seven letters. We see it in our own day, the spread of humanism through education and the media, the growing anti-Christian opposition in our civilisation, the growth of the sects and the constant decline of the Christian community. For years men have prayed to the Lord for revival and no revival has come. So we say to ourselves that the whole tide is against us. We focus on the reversals. I have a friend who will always ask when he calls me, “Well, what is the good news from Wales?”

So right at the beginning of this scenario of the two thousand years of Christian history John hears the voice from heaven crying, “Come,” and Jesus in grace goes forth. He goes where God is already known in creation and conscience, but Christ brings his redeeming grace to favoured sinners in their multitudes. He takes to them the love of God. John is given a glimpse of great eternal realities that lie behind human history, and in that moment all despair is banished. Our histories are not a tale of sound and fury told by an idiot and signifying nothing. Our histories have a purpose. The supreme reality is the throne, that is, the sovereignty of God. In the midst of the throne is the Lamb. Christ is in control. He opens the books and he goes forth victoriously. He is not driven back to his throne to nurse his wounds. He goes out as a conqueror bent on conquest. It’s not that John has gone forth, or that witnesses have gone forth, or preachers have gone forth, or books and TV and radio have gone forth. Christ has gone forth! The Spirit of Christ is working in human history bearing testimony to the power of the One who sits on the throne. It is not that in the world today there is anti-Christian persecution and pestilence and war and death but that there is this active operation and agency of the Lamb of God. Christ is at work. Christ is saving his people and building his church.

The mission of the Lion-Lamb is absolutely triumphant. John is giving to us a tremendously optimistic view of history. The tide is not going against us; it is for us. There are occasional tsunamis that do terrible damage to the church, but the tide is on our side.

“For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
But westward, look, the land is bright!”

The Lion-Lamb is the conquering Christ. The Christian mission is an effective mission. The operations of Christ are victorious. Our labours in the Lord are never in vain. This vision is a great corrective to despondency and sadness. The vision proclaims that the forces of history are with the church because Christ is going forth; he is subduing souls to himself, and we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. He is going to bring to heaven “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9). He subdued every one of their proud hearts. They were under the influence of the false prophet, but he delivered them out of his power. He conquered the beast and the dragon.

John describes here in the four horsemen of the apocalypse those great forces in the world that are against Christ. The world’s commerce, and political and military strength, and religious life and one by one they enter the lists and they ride out to challenge the Lion-Lamb and he defeats everyone of these Horsemen. This book is not about mysterious numbers and complex symbols. Its theme is this, “All power in heaven and earth is given to Jesus Christ” and he does not go forth to do his best. He goes forth to victory. He himself is personally, effectively and invincibly grappling with all the forces that resist him. He is going to beat them all. Who thinks of Nero now? Who thinks of Hitler now? Christ has seen the rise and demise of countless ideologies. He has seen tyrants march up to the top of the hill and down they’ve marched again. He has seen cults and religions rise and fall. He is going to march right through this book and he is going to cast all his enemies into the lake of fire. Revelation is not a book of mysterious symbolism; it is a heroic narrative. It is the story of an invincible Redeemer. In the end all these Horsemen are on the outside. They are outside the cosmos; outside law and order; outside regularity and government. They are in the chaos of outer darkness. Nothing lasts but the City of God. In spite of every enemy there it is, founded and established and built by our blessed Lord.

ii] In the Christian age the Church Experiences Sufferings.

That is the context in which we have to live the lives of our brief pilgrimage. There is the white horse with its rider and he does not suffer. His sufferings are over. He stands alone, but all the other horsemen and seals represent suffering for the church – but for the world too. The scenes have a horror about them. “I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?'” (Rev. 6:12-17).

The church will not be immune from the common sufferings of mankind. Disease and bereavement and famine and warfare will affect us too. It has always been like this. The church does not have more of these things than other folk. There are very sad stories in every congregation, but we do not react with the bitterness and incomprehension of the world. We respond as Job responded. We suffer in submission to God’s will

The church also experiences special suffering connected with the gospel. That is made very plain here. There are Christians whom John sees and they have been murdered. Why? “Because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained” (Rev. 6:9). Men are gong to be killed for their testimony to the Bible. “For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are reckoned as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet what is their response to all these kinds of sufferings? The church, “called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?'” (Rev. 6:10). This is a cry of outraged justice. It is a cry of sympathy and suffering for a still suffering church. It is a longing for her deliverance and vindication. We don’t know a tenth of the sufferings which the Lord’s people are going through at this time. If we knew a tenth we would be lying on the floor incapacitated, but we know enough to cry.

I had this letter yesterday from a distinguished Christian in Turkey, not given to exaggeration. He said this, “We’ve returned back from England and Germany to find the battle raging in Turkey. The church and the situation here demand your prayers. The state has carefully nurtured the media to avoid criticism of the government and be unquestioningly obedient. The media has now, presumably with the unspoken support of the government, begun a relentless campaign against Christians and Christian workers. Official statistics for numbers of Christians and churches have been vastly overstated. The aim seems to be to instigate witch-hunts against Christians. They have been aided by a Turkish Protestant pastor who has renounced Christianity publicly on at least two TV shows and again, notably, vastly exaggerates the numbers of believers and believing churches. The old lie that Christians are trying to destroy the country and are traitors has been resurrected to arouse nationalistic feeling. The situation is very serious and the antipathy against Christians can be felt.”

I also saw a photograph this week of a Christian man from Pakistan, whom I had heard of for the last weeks, a young Christian shopkeeper in the Punjab province named Shahbaz Masih aged 22. He had his arm chopped off by a Muslim customer who became enraged during a disagreement over a TV rental. Shahbaz was approached last November 28 by a customer wanting to rent a television set from his video shop in Talwandi, a little village near Chak Jhumra in Faisalabad district. When he declined the request, his customer, a 26-year-old butcher named Ahmed Ali, became furious, declaring the Christian had insulted him. “How dare you, a poor Christian, refuse my request?” he reportedly shouted at Masih before he left the shop. Returning home, Ahmed Ali consulted with his father, Maqsood Ahmed, also a butcher. Shortly afterwards he went back searching for Masih, armed with a butcher’s ax. Ahmed Ali forced his way into Masih’s house and attacked the shop owner, chopping off his left arm near the elbow. He left the house threatening the victim and his widowed mother, Munawar Bibi, with even more “dire consequences” for the alleged insult he had endured. Later that same day, Masih was admitted for emergency treatment at the Allied Hospital in Faisalabad. After his discharge from the hospital four days later, the young man was forced to close his shop, take his mother and leave their village to go into hiding where he is as I say these words. “How long Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you avenge this blood?” He will most certainly avenge such wickedness in the day men will call on the rocks and hills to hide them from the face of him who sits on the throne of universal judgment. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?

iii] The Christian Age Will End with the Glorification of the Entire Church.

That is the great conclusion of chapter 7, the church secure and triumphant in its final condition. It is all arrayed in white robes (7:9), symbolic of its purity, its freedom from the guilt of sin, its deliverance from all the pollution and depravity of wickedness. This state has been achieved by one thing only, not that they lived pure lives in monasteries, and always did what was right, but that they had gone to the Lamb of God as sinners and asked him to make them clean. All their forgiveness they owe to Jesus. They have known a total cancellation of all their debts. They have known an unqualified remission of all their punishment, and it is only because of the blood of the Lamb. That is why there is no condemnation. That is why they are before the throne, and every time they look at the throne they see the Lamb in the midst looking as if he had been slain. They see the wounds of the cross; the marks of accomplished redemption. the whole church knows that it owes its status in heaven to Golgotha alone. Have we all washed our robes, cleaned up our lives by going to the Lamb of God?

Then you also see that this is a vast multitude from every nation. How different from our view of the church. We look around Wales and we see empty buildings and tiny congregations. John reminds us here that there is another side to this. The great promise of God to Abraham that his seed should be as the sand by the seashore, beyond calculation. They are all over the world, every kind of culture and personality are there, and they’ve all held fast to their confession, to the testimony to Jesus Christ. They have been through great tribulation, but they have still clung to Christ.

The final lesson is this, that wherever we are religiously, whatever our guilt or sin, we may come to the Lord Jesus Christ. You cannot say that you belong to an inferior race, or to the wrong culture. You cannot plead you have the wrong kind of temperament, your past is too sordid, your personality is too unstable, your sin too indelible, your record too foul because the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin. No matter where we are this Christ is being offered to us, and as you say to yourself that you could not fit into the people of God then this picture is set before you of a vast company, everyone of them a sinner, all of them once like you hesitating, but they came to Christ. He is a Christ for all men, for every kind of personality and age and temperament, and so for you too. Come to him and join this great crowd.

13th February 2005 GEOFF THOMAS