“How Long, Lord?” This is one of the prayers recorded in Revelation 6. Prayer is a back and forth dialogue with God, and in that exchange, faith is produced. And not just ordinary faith, but what I call Maranatha faith. Maranatha or "Come, Lord Jesus." A faith that longs to see Jesus.
Revelation 5 is one chapter in particular that helps me to reorient myself spiritually. God is on the throne with the scroll, symbolizing human history, in his hand. And John is weeping because no one is worthy to open the scroll. Until a Lion turned Lamb appears. He alone is worthy to open the scroll because he was slain. Of course, this figure is Jesus whose death on the cross and resurrection provides the solution to God’s redemption plan which is what the scroll is all about in the first place.
And the resurrected Jesus is standing in the center of the throne and God is seated on that same throne and the Holy Spirit is encircling the throne. Surrounding this vision of the triune God are four living creatures (creation) and the 24 elders (12 tribes of Israel OT + 12 apostles NT) and they are on their knees in worship.
What a glorious picture! Wouldn’t it be nice if the story ended there? Worshipping God – that is the end goal. Whenever there is mention of God on the throne (21 times in 22 chapters of Rev), we read that every living creature and human is flat on their faces, prostrated before the Lord. Wouldn’t it be nice if that were a regular occurrence for us here on earth?
Sadly though, for many of us, it is not. Why? Because we live in this messy middle. If life were a book, we already know that the first chapter looks like – God is our Alpha, we know what the final chapter of the book looks like – God is our Omega and Jesus returning to make things right. But right now we are in the middle of the book asking, what is going on?
Things don’t quite feel right many times in our walk with the Lord as we live out our Christian faiths day to day. We know we ought to worship God, we know that the chief end of each of our lives is to glorify God, we know that worship is the main activity in heaven, and some of us even desperately want to worship God right now, but we find worship of God to be difficult, at least for me anyway.
Revelation 6 sheds a bit of light on why we have this tension of knowing what to do on the one hand, that is, worship, and our present every day experience on the other which, for the vast majority of us, can rarely be described as worshipful.
How would you describe your Christian life in one word? Would it be worshipful? Giving him the reverence, and honor and glory that He deserves through our devotion and commitment and surrender to him. This is worship. We know this intellectually, yet why does spiritual life often feel like an uphill battle? Quite simply, it is because of sin. We are fallen. Creation is fallen. I think sometimes we forget this basic fact about reality. We assume that we should be victorious and smiling every day, having fruitful ministries, all relational conflicts ending in tears and hugs of reconciliation, wonderful church life of sacrifice and bearing each others burdens, every day of our Christian lives filled with a sense of purpose, and under-girded by an unshakeable peace and joy.
Revelation gives us a fuller perspective on this quandary of why Christian life seems impossible. Jesus who was worthy to open the scroll because he was slain has the scroll in his hand now and he is ready to open it, but this scroll is unique in that it has 7 seals on it.
Scrolls typically were sealed to keep the contents confidential. But there is writing on the outside of this particular scroll so confidentiality doesn’t appear to be the main concern here.
An alternative explanation is that seals were like unique signatures. Seals indicate the author or sender of the scroll. 7 seals – 7, a number of completeness. 7 seals – a scroll that is completely owned and authored by God. Human history is God’s handwritten story. No twists and turns that God doesn’t know about, no surprises. He is in absolute control.
So 4 creatures cry, "Come." 4 creatures symbolize the entirety of creation. In other words, creation cries out, "Come" 4 times. Come is obviously directed toward Jesus as even creation is groaning under the effects of sin and looking for restoration. But instead of getting relief from God, there is mention of a horse and a rider. These four horsemen are personifications of various types of evil in our world.
After the first cry of "Come" from creation, a white horse bent on conquest appears. At first glance, this sounds like Jesus. But in this context, it is more likely a reference to Satan. Satan, who masquerades as an angel of light will deceive many because he looks, acts, even talks just like Jesus but he is a charlatan, a sham, a counterfeit.
After the second cry of Come, a fiery red horse with a rider who takes away peace and makes men slay each other appears. This form of evil depicts war. Much in the same way that Satan is disguised as a white horse, war is often disguised as patriotism or freedom and we often overlook many of the evil motivations for war.
After the third cry of Come, a black horse with a rider holding a pair of scales appears. On one side of the scale, you have two items – a quart of wheat and three quarts of barley. Each of these things cost a day’s wages. It is noteworthy that each of those items is barely enough to feed one person. So if a man works all day and only earns enough to feed himself, what about the rest of his family? You see the problem. People will starve.
Then on the other side of the scales, you have two items, oil and wine. In contrast to wheat and barley which are essential for survival, oil and wine are luxury items. Now the problem runs deeper. There is an imbalance of wealth and resources which is the real cause of starvation. This form of evil depicts famine and for the rich and affluent, the disguise is their justification, I’m not doing anything wrong, I am merely pursuing a higher standard of living. What’s wrong with that?
After the fourth cry of Come by creation, a pale horse with a rider named Death appears. From the name, we already know that this form of evil depicts death. There is an implication that those who encounter the other horsemen may suffer the ravages of war or famine but not suffer to the point of death. But with this horsemen, evil takes it one step further and inflicts the final mortal blow.
With the fifth seal, there is a departure from the previous pattern of the 4 Comes followed by the 4 horsemen. Instead, after this seal is broken, John sees under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and the testimony they had maintained. These are the martyrs of the faith. They died in the name of Christ. And from under the altar, they cry out, How Long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?
It’s counter-intuitive – creation calls out for Jesus because of its fallenness as well as the martyrs who suffered at the hands of evil. But oddly, instead of things getting easier, things get harder. Evil appears to be spreading.
What is going on? If you read the rest of Revelation, you see a clash of 2 kingdoms – the kingdom of God battling the kingdom of rebellious humanity and Satan. And as God’s kingdom is advancing in this world, the antagonism and hostility from the kingdom of Satan also intensifies.
I don’t know about you, but I get depressed when I read the news. Starvation, wars, natural disasters, senseless crimes, children being neglected – these are so commonplace. And you read about those things and you have to wonder, where is God?
How long before all suffering ceases in the world? How long before you intervene and stop ev
l? How long do I personally have to struggle in the wilderness? At times, why do you seem so silent, even absent? What does the end of our Christian journey look like? Where are we headed? What kind of church pleases God? And so on.
We demand answers to these question right away. And when the answers don’t come, we assume God is absent or uncaring. But in Rev 6:9-11, God does give an answer – and the answer is wait a little longer.
Wait – what kind of wimpy answer is that? It’s like when I ask some college students, do you want to have dinner? And their answer is wait, uh, I’m not sure, maybe, let me get back to you. Wimpy, wimpy, wimpy. God, give me a yes or a no. Even no is better because at least I can move on. But wait?
Wait seems like the worst answer because it feels like we are reaching for God and we’re just grasping at air. From our perspective, wait seems like God is not listening, that he doesn’t care, that our prayers are simply shots in the dark. Where are you, God?
Creation’s cry of "Come" or the martyr’s cry of "How long" – these are desperate, heart wrenching prayers born out of suffering. And God’s answer is wait a little longer.
Sometimes, Timo asks me a question, Do you want to wrestle? And maybe I just came home, or maybe I am eating, or maybe I am busy doing something, and sometimes when I am being a bad father, my answer to him is wait. That’s a loaded answer and could mean a lot of things. It could be wait because I am busy at the moment, ask me again later please. Or wait, I don’t really want to wrestle because I am tired but I don’t want to disappoint you right now so maybe by postponing the answer, Timo will forget. Or wait, yes, I will wrestle you later for sure but not now. Our answer, Wait, can be very complicated.
But God is different. When God says wait, it is not a postponement of an answer. Whether we like it or not, Wait is in fact an answer. And it is a very deliberate answer. What is God’s purpose in making us wait?
Revelation 8 offers one explanation. Read Revelation 8:1-4.
Right after the seventh and final seal is broken and the scroll of human history is finally unraveled and we see where we are all headed, there is a thunderous silence. God hits the pause button and the entire universe stops. And the silence lasts a half an hour. Not a passing moment, but certainly not long enough to get comfortable.
A 30 minute, deliberate period of silence. We won’t get into this, but Ch 8 is when God’s judgment against evil begins. And just prior to the issuing of this judgment, God makes a deliberate point to listen to the prayers of his saints.
30 minutes of silence. God listens. God knows our situation. He sees our confusion, and pain, and suffering. But God deliberately tells us to wait. Why?
Here is the picture that I see. From earth, Creation crying out "Come" and God’s people crying out "How long," straining for God, reaching for God, wanting desperately to hear a response. And from heaven, we know from the Bible that God is also reaching down to us, continually extending his hand to us, where are you Adam, Come, let us reason together, Come to me all you who are weary. Interestingly, both sides are saying the same thing, Come. There is a kind of two-way longing for one another. So why does God say Wait?
Because in the waiting, in the delay, God is forging a people who can have maranatha faith.
We have all prayed these prayers and gotten discouraged when there was seemingly no answer from God. So after a while, what happens, we stop praying. And all these thoughts swirl around in our minds and hearts. Thought patterns regarding the same complaints, the same frustrations, the same issues. The problem is not that we have such thoughts, but the problem is that they stay there, in our mind, in our hearts. And in the process, we kill our spirits.
I speak from personal experience. That’s what happens and it is so hard to break that cycle and think our way out of ourselves. Our minds can be like quicksand, the harder we try to think our way out, the deeper we sink.
Revelation teaches us that it is okay to have such thoughts, but in light of the fact that God is one who listens, I urge you to take the extra step and bring all your thoughts to God in prayer. That simple step of directing your thoughts to God will make all the difference. I guarantee it.
I believe strongly that prayer is one form of worship because in essence prayer is the process of shifting our self-oriented thought patterns and reorienting our thoughts on God and allowing Him to be the center, not us. In prayer, we claim His sovereignty, his love, his compassion, despite all the mounting evidence otherwise. And this kind of prayer when God says wait will make us long to see Jesus that much more. That is maranatha faith.
1 Cor 13 says that on this side of eternity, we see in a mirror dimly. But some day, God will make our vision crystal clear.
It would be great if every time we prayed, God answered every single prayer. How wonderful and I pray we can experience some of those seasons in our spiritual journeys. The good news is that God’s answer of wait is not a closed door, done deal. He didn’t say wait and forget about it. God said, wait, but ONLY a little longer. The hour is coming when a final answer will come, if not in this lifetime, certainly in the next.
I pray for myself and for all of us, when God says wait that we will be able to accept His answer and continue to worship God and grow in our longing to see him. That’s Maranatha faith. "Come Lord, Jesus."