I have a lot of baggage with a specific word, which is probably a little ironic because I “lead it,” and that word is “worship.” So as your Creative Arts Pastor normally I stand right here and I lead us in music because worship can be music and music can be worship. But worship can be a lot of different things, and it's not always singing. Yet I still know that when someone comes up to me at the end of a service and says, “Oh pastor the worship was wonderful this morning.” You're talking about the music. Or when someone says, “Oh I really connect with Jesus through worship.” You mean music; but I think most of us probably know that music is not the only part of worship.
The Bible is very concerned with making sure that we worship correctly and that we worship the right thing. For example, worship in the Bible is often connected to a bodily posture such as bowing down and worshiping something. It's also connected to animal sacrifice in the temple from the Old Testament law. There are Psalms that speak of singing in the same breath as worship, but worship in this context is often translated as “service,” or at least that's what the Hebrew word behind worship might also mean. Psalm 100 says, “worship” or “serve” the Lord with gladness, come before him with joyful songs.
What do you worship? Hopefully you worship Jesus, right? That's a desire on all our hearts, but I want you to think about something else that you might worship. Here's one example: Do you have an altar set up in your home to something that's not Jesus? I think if future excavators or future archaeologists would come and excavate our house, I think they might find that most Americans have an altar set up to our televisions because we have these rooms that have couches that are all arranged so you can see the screen. Now depending on your age that
might be reduced to a phone, but you get the idea. Are you worshiping that screen?
I think a good way to think of worship is anything that you give your time, attention, and allegiance to. So, if you spend three to four hours every night giving your time, attention,
and allegiance to a television, maybe you might be worshiping that a little bit, just maybe.
Here's another example: Are you more excited when your team wins than you are when we're in this room worshiping Jesus? Do you fist bump the air so you hit the ceiling when we're worshiping Jesus or do you only do that when your team wins? Now, I am a football fan but I know that we have to be careful of this.
So, what else do we worship? This is the question that we're going to explore today as we look at Revelation 6-7 because that passage is going to help us see that there is only one person that is truly worthy of our worship. Along the way we're going to discover that it would be silly for us to worship anything else because there's only one God who can save us from the evil of this world.
Context for the Book of Revelation
First, we need to understand that this was written to a specific group of people. We read about this in Revelation 2-3: that there are these seven churches. They're in Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey, and Jesus speaks to John, the author of Revelation, who then writes those things down and sends it to those churches. It was also meant to be understood by those people. There's a couple texts in Revelation that say, “blessed is the one who hears and obeys the words of this prophecy,” and how else are we going to obey unless we understand what's going on? How also those first century readers going to obey unless they understand?
Second, we have to work really hard to understand how the original audience would have viewed these symbols and these metaphors that we see in the Book of Revelation. That's going to be one of our biggest focuses because we're going to see the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. There's all kinds of popular culture stuff about four horsemen. Is there a Johnny Cash song or something like that? I think there's a song where they just talk about the four horsemen. It is all about what these things represent and we have to learn what they represent for them before we start to relate them to our world.
(Read Revelation 6:1-8)
Let's go through each of these horses and look at what they may have represented to the original audience, and then we'll reflect on what those might mean for us.
Horse Number One
The most important images here are that the horse is white, and the rider has a bow and a crown and that he's a conqueror. Now, white is a very important color in the Book of Revelation. It's often associated with holiness or godliness and used in connection with proximity to the throne of God: Saints usually are wearing white robes. Second, God's Throne is white. Third, Jesus appears in a white cloud. Fourth, and here's the big one as it relates to this first horse and his rider, in Revelation 19, Jesus is riding a white horse, he has many crowns, and he has a weapon, but it's not a bow, it's a sword. And the sword is coming out of his mouth which symbolizes the truth of his speech.
What we see here is that there's a comparison between this first horse and rider and Jesus. Jesus is riding a white horse, so is this rider. Jesus has many crowns, this one only has one crown. They both have a weapon, this one a sword, this one a bow. Also, Jesus conquers but he conquers by being killed himself not by killing others like this first rider does.
What we see here is that this first horse is actually a parody of Jesus. This rider is trying to set himself up as a god to be worshiped by imitating Jesus. This first horse and the rider represents false religion. Only God and the Lamb, that is Jesus, is worthy of our worship and it's this parody that is a sad imitation of Jesus. Anyone who would worship it would fall sadly short of the truth. There’s our first rider.
Horse Number Two
Horse number two is red, it's an ominous color, and its rider is given power to take peace from the Earth. Some of you may have heard of a Latin term called Pax Romana. Does that ring a bell? It's a Latin term that means, “Peace of Rome.” This was propaganda that was put out there by Rome in the first century that said, “Aren't you glad that we're here? Aren't you happy for the stability and security? What a wonderful empire Rome is. Aren't you glad?” But while you heard these things, you would see Roman guards marching through your city. You would know the Roman Garrison of hundreds of troops is just over that hill.
How did Rome come to conquer the entire region from modern day Iraq all the way to Spain, including Greece and North Africa? It was by war. I wouldn't say that Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, is a good peaceful thing. You always have reminders in front of you that they took this place by force. They had to defeat your military for them to promote this “peace."
Whereas the first rider represented false religion, the second rider represents false peace. It is not a true peace, even though Rome was trying to put that in front of you. A false religion goes together with false peace because there was actually a goddess of Rome called, “Roma,” who they would force the rest of the empire to worship her. She was a military figure, she had armor on, she had weapons, and that was part of the worship of the empire of Rome.
Yet remember, who has the power and authority to let these horses and riders come? It's the Lamb. He is the one who's in charge of letting these things happen. The Lamb and God, they are the only ones who are worthy of worship.
Horse Number Three
There's really one key image here: that he's holding a pair of scales. Now, these scales were a system of weights and measurements that were to be used in the marketplace. Say you need to go buy some wheat or buy some fruit for your meal. You have your drachmae or your gold and silver in your pocket and you go to this place and you're going to buy this much wheat and it costs this much. You're going to take out your coins, you’re going to put them on one side of the scale, and the merchant has a weight that he has predetermined the price of that amount and he puts it on the other side. These two balances must weigh out to make sure that your gold or your silver, whatever you got, is the right weight.
What's happening here is this rider is in control of the economic marketplace. And there's a voice that calls out and it's signaling a famine. It says over in verse six, “a quart of wheat for a day's wages.” Think about a quart: like a sandwich bag. That’s a quart, right? Barley was a little less quality, that's why you could buy more of it for a day’s wages. There's a famine going on.
Basic foods are scarce. But don't touch the oil and the wine.
In the Roman Empire, in the early 90s, there was a food shortage where the price of wheat and barley started to go up. But the luxuries, like oil and wine were readily available. That's because farmers knew that they could plant more olive groves to make oil and more vineyards to make wine and they would make more money off of that land than if they planted wheat or barley. Because Rome would buy it all. They wanted their luxuries. They had enough money to buy the bread and the luxuries, too. So if you're in the middle of Rome, you have bread you have oil and wine, you're thinking, What a prosperous life we're living! Whereas the Empire around you is starving because they can't buy bread.
This rider and his horse represents a false prosperity. You cannot survive on the luxuries. You can't survive on oil and wine. That luxurious life is an awful attention of your worship. If you know other people are starving, because once again we see that only the Lamb and God are worthy of our worship.
Horse Number Four
Now horse number four represents what happens when you give into a false religion, and a false peace, and a false prosperity. What you get is a false life.
When you buy into those things you are left with nothing in the end. This horse, the color is a sick, pale, yellow-green color. The Greek word there is chloros which is where we get the word chlorine. Chlorine in its natural state is this sickly, yellowish-green color. This is not a pleasant color for a horse. No breeder has ever tried to get this color from a horse before. Once you buy into all those falsehoods you’re left with nothing; it's sick, and it's death.
Death is on that horse and following close behind is the Underworld, represented by Hades. He comes and he cleans house of anyone who has worshiped those falsehoods, because once you give into those things, you don't have life. You’re living a lie. You're living a falsehood. And death takes you without any fight from you.
Falsehoods in Our Culture
So here's the question for us then: What do these things represent for us? What is our false religion? What is our false peace, and what is our false prosperity that when you buy into them they lead to a false life?
Now these first century readers had to be made aware of these types of things because they may not have even known of the evil that was behind the things that they were giving their worship and allegiance to. So if we're going to let Revelation speak into our context, right now in Denver in the 21st century, we're gonna have to take a step back. We’re going to have to admit that Jesus, and God, and the Holy Spirit are the only ones who are worthy of our worship and everything else we have to hold with an open hand. Then we have to ask him and let Jesus open our eyes to how we worship other things and fall short of worshiping him alone.
Here are a couple ways that these falsehoods are present in our culture.
Let's talk about false religion first, and there's a lot of different ways that I can go, but I'm going to talk about one that I think digs down a little deeper. It gets at more of a root cause that we have these other symptoms and that is worship of ourselves.
Our culture has really taken this to the extreme, because of the idea of independence. Independence: being able to pull myself up by my own bootstraps. We use phrases like, “You can be whatever you want to be when you grow up. You can be whoever you want to be.” Or how about this: “Be true to yourself.” Or I've put it succinctly: "You do you."
Have you said these phrases? I certainly have said these phrases. I'm probably going to say to Evangeline [my daughter], “Hey you can be whatever you want to when you grow up. You can choose whatever career you want.” And I think those are healthy types of things, but we have to be careful because here's what happens.
When we turn that hyper individualism up and we start to look inside ourselves for who we are, we don't like what we discover, because we're broken human beings. Once we turn inwards and we worship ourselves, we don't like what we find. Then we want to try and change who we are and now our culture around us has started to say, “Yeah that's fine you can be whoever you want to be." Literally you can be whoever and whatever you want to be, and that's a symptom of worshiping ourselves.
Have you ever thought a cookie was a chocolate chip cookie but you bit into it and it had raisins in it? This is the worst experience of my life (I’m exaggerating) but it's awful because I'm a chocolate chip lover, and I call them ninja raisins, because in the right light you think it's chocolate chips but then you pick it up and you bite it and you taste fruit and you want to throw that frisbee across the room because you were expecting chocolate.
When you look into yourself and you don't like what you find you want to throw yourself aside. But the thing is when we worship God alone and the Lamb who sits on his throne, and we allow him to define who we are, then everything falls into place. The brokenness inside of us is healed. When we worship God alone he comes into our life and he fixes that brokenness inside of us and yet our attention is still not on ourselves; it is on God and others.
That is the correction to worship of self. This false religion that is very prevalent in our society today.
False Peace/False Propserity
False peace goes hand in hand with false prosperity, at least the way I'm going to describe it. There’s another idea in our culture, that is, leading itself towards this progress, that we're going to get to a future utopia. A future peace where everything will be fine and that we're eventually going to get there.
Americans specifically have believed this for a very long time. It started during the Industrial Revolution where people thought quality of life was improving, eventually it's going to be perfect. If we allow the world wars to say anything about that, things are certainly getting worse. If we allow the scriptures to say anything about that, it's certainly getting worse.
In American politics there is this idea that we're progressing towards a future perfect society. But that's not true. And if we don't believe that well then we start to turn and look backward and say, “Well, we need to recapture the prosperity of the past, and if we can reclaim that, then everything will be good.” But that's a false prosperity. Yesterday has its own problems.
I was talking with a lot of you, and how when you were growing up, there was the Vietnam War, there was the hippie movement, a cultural revolution, but yesterday has its own problems. Today has its own problems. Tomorrow will also have its own problems. Both of these are also a false peace and false prosperity.
If we give into “me, myself, and I” being the one that we worship, in order for society to rid ourselves an evil we have to get to a future peace, or this prosperity of the past. If we give into any of that, what we're left with is a falsehood that leaves us with nothing in the present. And when death comes for us we cannot stand.
Our passage ends with a little bit of doom and gloom. In verse nine, the Lamb opens the fifth seal and we see that under the altar, there are souls who had maintained a testimony and that they were under this altar in heaven. These are martyrs who had maintained the faith and they're so desperate for Jesus. “You know what? Would you get rid of the rest of these seals? Would you just come now? What's going to happen if things are getting worse?” And Jesus says, “I know, but hold on.” They're given a white robe to wear, and they're told to be patient until it actually happens.
Then in verse 12, it happens. Verse 12 says, “I watch as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair. The moon turned blood red and the stars in the sky fell to the Earth.” This is creation caving in on itself. Genesis 1 being undone. This is the judgment of God showing up.
Verse 15 says, anyone who has worshiped something that was false, and any object of our worship that is not God and the Lamb is running for the hills. If we have given our allegiance, our worship, or our time, attention, to anything other than God and the Lamb, when God actually shows up to judge the Earth at the end of time, all of those objects are running for the hills and they're screaming and crying for death.
They want death. They want the mountains to fall on them. They ask this question: “Who can stand in the face of God and the lamb in his wrath?” Church, I'll tell you who can stand, it’s the people of God!
The next chapter John hears people getting sealed with the stamp of God. The number is 144,000. It's a square number. A square number represents the people of God in Revelation, and then he turns, and he looks, and he sees in Revelation 7:9, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could even count.” Oh wait I thought it was counted: it was 144,000. No, when John looks it's a vast number that is uncountable and where are they from? They're not just from Israel, they're from every nation, tribe, people, and language, and what are they doing? Standing.
The people of God in the day of God's judgment and wrath are standing. And then what happens? They worship. They do what they've been doing their entire life: worshiping God and the Lamb alone.
At the end of the day, here is what the author of Revelation has put before us. There are all kinds of things on this Earth that claim to be good and true, and they claim to bring peace and prosperity. But at the end of the day if we worship Jesus in the full knowledge that his life, death, and resurrection is our salvation, then we will be the ones who are standing in his presence at the end. Only God is worthy of our worship.
By the end of Revelation, we get this image where heaven is descending from the clouds coming down to Earth to be united with Earth, just like a bride walks down the aisle to be united with her husband in marriage. The people who witness that moment are those people of God who had stood on the Day of Judgment and worshiped him. They are gifted true life. Not a false life.
So I urge all of us, please be vigilant about what it is that you and I give our time, and our allegiance, and our attention to. What else do we worship that might detract from our worship of the Lamb?
I would love for each of us to sit down and ask God, “What do I give my time to? What do I spend my money on? What might I be doing that I really should turn over to God so that I can make sure that I am worshiping him?”
We seek to ally ourselves with the One who gives life. Those that bring death—those that worship those falsehoods—they will reap what they sow … death. But those who worship the true God will reap what he sows, which is eternal life.
Only God and the Lamb are worthy of our worship.
Darren Enns Darren is the Creative Arts Pastor at Forefront Church at Harvey Park in Denver, CO.