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The Fourth Seal Broken

Revelation 6:7-8
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, 'Come!' I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a quarter of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth. (NIVUK)

The three opened seals have so far revealed that there will be trouble for the world and the church from anti-Christ authorities with ambitions of global domination, warmongering leaders intent on disturbing local and global peaceful relationships and inciting groups of people to butcher each other, and economic uncertainty with inflation and high food prices. The fourth seal, when broken, led to a fourth seraph calling another drama onto the stage of John's vision. It reeked of death.

The horse was ghostly pale in colour: its rider was named, 'Death'. John saw that Hades was following closely behind. This is not death by war necessarily, as it includes death by plague as often happened as God's punishment of the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings (Exodus 32:35); and also during the dark days of the Divided Kingdom (1 Kings 8:33-39). It includes microbiological infections, 'natural' disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions; also massive food shortages, drying up of rivers and the poisoning of water supplies; also the effects of radiation. Many will die and go to Hades. The use of 'Hades' (the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew 'Sheol') indicates that this is the dark, God-forsaken place of the dead which is different from 'paradise' (Luke 23:43) or 'Abraham's bosom' (Luke 16:22-23). Hades is the place of the unrepentant, unsaved dead who are awaiting judgement when Christ returns.

The staggering statistic is that more than a quarter of the world will be affected. And yet three quarters would be spared in this initial sequence of apocalyptic events. The mercy of God is clear: He does not want people to perish but to come to a knowledge of the truth and live (2 Peter 3:9). The horsemen are limited in the devastation they can cause. But the Lord Jesus spoke clearly about the troubles to come (Matthew 24:7). And Ezekiel predicted the effects of four horsemen on Jerusalem (Ezekiel 14:21); and that certainly took place in AD70, almost 40 years after Israel rejected its Saviour.

What does this mean for the church and the world? As before, we should not be alarmed. Jesus knew all about what would happen and told His disciples plainly (Matthew 24:15-25). Our future is safe; the gates of Hades cannot resist the onward march of the church (Matthew 16:18). All who die in Christ are kept safe by Him (1 Thessalonians 4:16). But the unsaved face a very different and bleak future. That is why we need to explain God's message through the sufferings which will come on the world (Luke 13:1-5). There is a message for the world – repent! And there is a message for the church – wake up (Ephesians 5:14). In our proper compassion for those affected, we must never divorce the mercy and grace of the gospel with the merciful graciousness of aid programmes. The problem is not primarily that people suffer, but that we have all rebelled and we need a Saviour. As we get close to the time when Jesus will return, let us take His warnings as seriously as His love: may they both motivate us to be compassionate gospel bearers.

Father God, as we look out on a world already exhibiting some of Your warnings, I thank You for the salvation which is freely available in Jesus Christ. Forgive me if I either freeze in fear as I see the start of widespread death, or fail to be compassionate towards those who are suffering and sharing the gospel with them at the same time. Please give me new eyes to see what You are doing, and a new heart to engage with those who suffer. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams