Riders on the Storm
Last week we looked at John’s spiritual vision of the throne room and saw Jesus taking hold of the scroll; that is, taking control of history. Today we’re going to look at the seals on the scroll being opened.
The last song Jim Morrison of the Doors recorded in 1971 was the song Riders on the Storm.
The chorus goes…
Riders on the storm / Riders on the storm / Into this house we’re born / Into this world we’re thrown / Like a dog without a bone / An actor out on loan / Riders on the storm
The song is about being thrown into a chaotic and dangerous world in which there is a killer on the road. In a way, our passage says something similar.
But before I jump into it, I’d like you to think about going to the doctor…
Have you ever started tell the doctor about your issue, but then started to go deeper into background issues? Do you have any insight into what you were most afraid of, why you went there in your story?
A good doctor isn’t concerned with only the surface stuff. A good doctor says, “Sorry, we do need to go back and consider that other stuff. We have to have the problem full laid out so we can find the real solution.”
As we open the Bible to the 6th chapter of Revelation we’re getting a glance at full situation. We the four horsemen, the riders on the storm, an apocalyptic image of the way the world is right now: It’s a world under judgement, under the state of God’s disapproval
Now, we need to hear the chapter rightly. The horses and riders aren’t literal. You ought not expect to see the bests go galloping by some day. They’re already galloping, they are already a spiritual reality. The horses and riders are metaphors, images, pictures, windows into a world under judgement, a world in its denial of God. And God has made it thus that denial of himself wreaks havoc on the world—a world sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.
Turn to Revelation 6. I’m going to read the text in chunks and comment upon it as I go.
Revelation 6:1–2, ESV
Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.
The horse and rider come forth, called by the living-creature. They’re white, the rider has a crown, and they’re going out to conquer.
Now, many see the color white and the crown and think that this is Jesus. But the depiction of Jesus elsewhere in Revelation is with many crowns. The only similarity this image has with Jesus is actually the white horse.
What does a white horse stand for? It stands for victory and conquest.
So the reality symbolized here is rather simple. The white horse and rider symbolize human conquest. Kings that go about the world claiming crowns, claiming sovereignty, claiming power, claiming to be Christs/Messiahs/Saviors, but they’re all pretenders. They claim they are the solution, but they’re not.
I’ve been getting lots of mail over the last several weeks from one candidate or another trying to tell me that they are the real solution, so I should give them my vote. They aren’t the solution; I’m not fooled.
Revelation 6:3–4, ESV
When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.
What do you see in the world? Is there peace? What is it that world leaders promise over and over again? “Put me in power… and I’ll give you peace from war and peace from economic woe, and peace from this, and peace from that. “They offer superficial treatments for my people’s mortal wound,” says God through Jeremiah. “They give assurances of peace when there is no peace” (Jer 8:11, NLT). They promise to bring peace … just one more war, one more battle to get there, one more argument.
Ya know, that’s not just the case in world politics. That’s also the case sometimes in the relationship with our acquaintances, and friends, and family. Its often the case in our homes: “One more argument to set things right, then there’ll be peace.” The red rider is runs and tramples.
Do you see how this is working? The horses and riders are the consequences of life without God; the world under judgement.
Revelation 6:5–6, ESV
When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”
What is going on here? What do you see? What’s the permission given?
Economic oppression! It’s like 100% inflation, except the oil and wine aren’t touched, the good for the rich aren’t touched. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer.
And, I think you know this, economics lay at the heart of so many things, so many arguments. Arguments between nations, and arguments between people, arguments between spouses, arguments between children and parents.
How do economics add stress to your relationships?
Revelation 6:7–8, ESV
When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.
What do you see here? What’s the permission being given? It’s death. The rider on the storm, even in Morrison’s song, is a killer, death.
Death is the alternate threat of every tyrant, or calamity. The horse and rider are bringing a serious judgement: death.
But who are the actors, who is carrying out the judgment of rider on the pale horse? Humanity itself is the actors. In other words, the Bible explanation is that humanity is the mechanism of God’s judgment against humanity. He set the consequences for our actions, and those actions lead to the multiplication of egregious evils—death is the state of things at their worst.
God shows us these riders to show us the full effect of the covenant-breaking, rebellious hearts of humanity. This is the world created when the first commandment is broken: “You shall have no other god’s before me” (Exod 20:3), to include thinking of yourselves as gods.
As you consider it is there anything stirring within you? What’s alive within you? Is there a desire, a yearning of a new creation? Well, we can’t have that until we awaken to what we do have.
But understand that even the consequences of evil is not outside of God’s control.
How do you live when you have no hope? Perhaps in a crazy, throw caution to the wind. “If the dead are not raised,” if there is no hope, then “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” wrote Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:32).
But when you have hope you have staying power, the capacity for faithfulness and loyalty.
Revelation 6:9–11, ESV
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
Do you know the three ways that you can stop playing the game of chess? Someone can reach the point of checkmate; the players can come to the point that they recognize the game is unwinnable and they can call it a draw; or someone can get frustrated/upset and flip the port over, knock the bases on the ground, and storm off.
A lot of people today feel that that is what the Lord should do; he should either sweep the chessboard clean and start over, or he’s not God at all, certainly not all-powerful and all-loving. There has been a long tradition that goes back into the opening pages of the book of Exodus where the people of God have cried out against injustice and have asked God to do something (see Exodus 2:23).
The 5th seal speak to us about God’s withholding of ultimate judgment on the situation present in the first 4 seals.
In the Old Testament temple, there were two alters. One outside where sacrifices were made, and one inside where incense was offered, symbolizing prayer. John’s vision combines these alters into one. Beneath the alter are the martyrs, those who’ve been sacrificed for the faith and there they are offering prayers.
These martyrs who know exactly what the situation is on earth cry out for justice, evil hasn’t been judged yet. They ask: “How long, O Lord?” Because vengeance belongs to him. And the answer they get is: “Wait and rest.”
What does it mean to rest your soul? It’s when you emotionally and psychologically experience the release of tension that comes by entrusting something truly to God’s care. It comes by yielding, by surrendering, by becoming undefended before God himself. It’s this which is deep faith. Zealousness and craziness in the name of Christ isn’t deep faith. Waiting and resting—it seems to simple, but so hard—that’s deep faith.
The matters have to wait until the full number of Christians come into the kingdom, for the gospel to reach the far ends of the earth. So, God’s not itching to kick over the chess board just yet. He’s playing the long game; he’s long-suffering. Waiting is part of God’s plan for total victory.
Revelation 6:12–17, ESV
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?”
Now, I think we need to be very clear about something…. Earthquakes, eclipses, blood red moons, the blacking out of stars, all of it has happened before; therefore, this passage isn’t saying the cosmos is going to disappear. If that was really happening, if the universe were ending—space, time, and matter ceased to exist—the rulers and the wealthy won’t bother hiding.
What’d really being pictured here is confrontation, just like God confronted Adam who hid because of his shame. The Lord confronts the self-centeredness, selfishness, self-sufficiency, and self-importance of the rulers and the rich their sin will be openly revealed, they will be shown to be what they are. And they will seek to hide from the holiness of God that exposes.
So, if the cosmic calamity isn’t the end of the physical universe, what then does it symbolize? Remember we’re reading apocalyptic literature; it’s filled with symbolism. And I think what we are looking at with this calamity is a radical upheaval, the world order being overturned and its political, military, and social structures shaken by God. The radical shift of the mindset that seems to capture the secular world. In John’s day the power was Rome; it was going to be shaken, it was going to fall apart; Christianity would become legal and dominate Europe where once Rome did.
I feel rather secure in my interpretation because
Hebrews 12:26–27 reads:
“‘At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.”
Here God shakes the heavens and earth, he shakes the ruling powers and principalities in the heavenly places, so that the kingdom of God maybe seen. Everything will crumble to reveal the kingdom, the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ.
As I end this morning, I think we need to realize that there is anger in this passage. But it is righteous anger. The Lord Jesus is angry and that which is unloved, that which has destroyed people, that which has ruined his wonderful world.
Jesus isn’t mad at you. You haven’t rejected him. You’ve come to him. You know your need for him. Your rely upon him, and so he is not your judge, but your savior. In his face you will see his mercy and grace and love and be utterly freed from fear.
The chapter today is a promise. It tells us what God understands so well. He sees all that is occurring in the world, none of it is lost on him, and he has a plan. A plan to vindicate those who are his and to reveal their faithfulness.
And so in telling us all of this, in articulating the state of the world, in sharing his plan with us, God is telling us the same thing he told the martyrs under the alter: “Wait and rest… Wait for my Son! He shall soon be the rider on the storm.”
Let the one who has an ear, hear what the Spirit says.