Dr. Richard L. Strauss
January 7, 1979
We are studying God's program for the last days as it is revealed in the Book of the Revelation, His plan for triumphantly culminating human history in glory and praise for Himself and His Son, Jesus Christ. This necessitates destroying sin, defeating Satan and wresting the earth from his dominion, establishing His own kingdom of righteousness and peace on earth, and delivering the whole creation from its bondage to corruption.
This entire program is contained in a sealed scroll. Chapter 5 introduced us to the only One worthy to open that scroll and carry out God's program. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5), and Lamb that was slain (Revelation 5:6), the Lord Jesus Christ. When He takes the scroll, all heaven resounds with His praise. Now He is about to break the first seal and we are about to see God's plan unfold.
Keep in mind that while God is in control of all things and His Kingdom rules overall (Psalm 103:19; Daniel 4:17, 25, 35; 5:21), He has nevertheless permitted the earth to lie in Satan's domain. Generally speaking, and with very few exceptions, the kings of the earth have sold themselves out to Satan's program of opposing God. And as Satan senses God's impending triumph approaching his influence over man intensifies and their opposition to God increases. That is why lawlessness, Godlessness, iniquity, immorality, and Christless religiosity will abound more and more as the end times draw nearer. And it becomes more and more obvious to us that the first element in God's program of ultimate victory must be a decisive judgment on sin, and a conclusive victory over the Satanic-controlled kingdoms of this world. Every vestige of Satanic opposition must be totally subjugated preparatory to the establishment of Christ's kingdom of righteousness and peace.
Now project your mind into this future day for a moment. Satan is strengthening his hand and increasing his activity, trying to subject the whole world to his rule. Naturally, he is oppressing and persecuting everyone who refuses to bow to his sovereignty. Consequently, many from the nation Israel find themselves the object of new and unparalleled persecution and so God calls this "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jeremiah 30:7). It's a time when Jacob's descendants, the nation Israel, will be persecuted. All who put their trust in God through the witness of the Jewish nation and refuse to worship Satan's puppets will likewise suffer savage persecution and martyrdom of which there will be a great multitude (Revelation 7:9, 14).
In addition to all this Satanic inspired-, humanly-executed affliction, there will be the terrible judgments against sin that God Himself is pouring out upon the earth as He weakens the Satanic world system, and prepares the earth for the coming of His Son who will destroy sin and defeat Satan and his armies. When this whole picture is put together we understand why the Lord Jesus called this the time of great tribulation (Matthew 24:21) and why Daniel said it would be a time of trouble such as there never was before (Daniel 12:1). That's a strong statement. We've had some troublesome times throughout human history, but nothing that matches this. We understand why Zephaniah called it a day of wrath, trouble, distress, waste, desolation, darkness and gloominess (Zephaniah 1:15); and why Isaiah called it the day of vengeance of our God (Isaiah 61:2). This is the Great Tribulation.
Now before we look at the first seal, let us clarify our present point prophetically. Daniel predicted a future period of time seven years in length, which we call Daniel's Seventieth Week (Daniel 9:20-27). Sixty-nine of those years have passed. Then there's a break and one remains to be fulfilled. The first half of that week (3-1/2 years) will be marked by some sort of covenant (verse 27), presumably a covenant of peace between Satan's Antichrist and the Jewish nation, a covenant which is violated in the middle of the week when Antichrist invades the temple in Jerusalem and desecrates it by proclaiming himself the rightful object of worship. The Lord Jesus refers to that abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet in Matthew 24:15 and labels the period of time from that point on as the "Great Tribulation."
For the sake of simplicity, we call this entire seven year period the Great Tribulation. There will be problems during the first half and there will be tribulation during the first half, but there will at least be a measure of peace. But from the middle of that period of time to the end, Jesus says shall be "Great Tribulation." So technically, the "Great Tribulation" lasts three and a half years.
The Book of Revelation has something to say about the entire seven year period we call Daniel's Seventieth Week, or for the sake of simplicity, "The Tribulation." Most of it is concerned with the last three and a half years, which we shall call for the sake of accuracy and clarity, "The Great Tribulation." That 3-1/2-year period is referred to four times in the book, twice as 42 months (Revelation 11:2; 12:5) and twice as 1260 days (Revelation 11:3; 12:6). Both of them come to three and a half years.
When in the book of Revelation this mid-point occurs and the Great Tribulation actually begins is the subject of much controversy, and we shall mention it later. Suffice it to say here, when the first seal opens, we are in Daniel's Seventieth Week, a future period of time. No past events in human history adequately explain these phenomena.
"Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, 'Come.' And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer" (Revelation 6:1-2).
The Lamb opens the first seal and the noise of thunder leads us to believe that the scene before us is one of judgment. One of the four seraphim before the throne of God calls "Come," evidently to the rider of the horse we see in the next verse. (The King James says "come and see," but those words "and see" are not found in the best manuscripts.) The final chapter in God's plan of the ages is now under way. John sees a white horse, the rider holds a bow and wears a victor's crown, "and he went forth conquering and to conquer." The rider is the first of the four horsemen of the apocalypse (apocalypse being another word for the revelation or the unveiling). Who is this rider on a white horse?
Some have contended that this is the Lord Jesus Himself. But it hardly seems plausible that He should be at the same time the Lamb who opens the seal and the rider called forth by the living creature. While the Lord Jesus is pictured riding a white horse at His return in Chapter 19, there are distinct differences from this rider. The Lord Jesus has on His head many crowns, and they are the crowns of the sovereign (diadem) rather than the crown of the victor (stephanos). His weapon is not a bow, but a sharp sword with which He shall smite the nations and rule them. Christ returns at the end of the Tribulation, not the beginning. Chronologically it is impossible to identify this rider with the Lord Jesus. Furthermore, this rider should in some way parallel the three who follow him, and they are identified clearly in the text. The Lord Jesus has little in common with war, famine and death. It would not make sense for the Lord Jesus Christ to conquer, and then have war, famine, and death follow that conquering. So this rider is not Christ.
But this rider on a white horse does conquer. Victorious military leaders frequently rode through the streets in triumph on white horses, for they were a symbol of conquest. His bow and his crown likewise symbolize conquest. Who conquers the earth before the final conquest of Christ Himself? It is none other than Satan's christ, Antichrist, the man of sin (2 Thessalonians 2:3), the beast out of the sea (Revelation 13), "the prince that shall come" (Daniel 9:26). The book of Daniel describes his conquests (Daniel 8:24-25). Revelation 13 describes his world-wide rule, however shaky it may be. He will present himself as the man who can unify the kingdoms of the world in peace. People will say that at last the Middle East crisis has been solved. This is why Israel accepts his covenant of peace. This is why the peoples of a war-ravaged world dare to say for a brief moment, "Peace and safety" (1 Thessalonians 5:3). They will be firmly convinced that their deliverer has come.
Many believe the Antichrist is alive in this world today. They don't know. I don't know. Only God knows. But I am convinced that the events of this world seem to be shaping up to bring us to these last days.
2. The Second Seal
But that peace will be short lived (1 Thessalonians 5:3); it's a false peace.
"When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, 'Come.' Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword" (Revelation 6:3-4).
When the second seal is opened and the second living creature calls "Come," there went out a second horse which was red. The rider of this horse has received power to take peace from the earth and cause men to kill one another. Both the color of his horse and the great sword he carries are symbolic of bloody warfare. The ambitions of power hungry men will not permit the rule of the Antichrist to go unchallenged. Even as he forces the whole earth to receive his mark (Revelation 13:16-17), men are plotting revolt against him. In Matthew 24:5 Jesus spoke of the antichrists who should come, which in some measure parallels the first seal of Revelation 6. And is it not more than coincidental that in the very next verse He says, "And he shall hear of wars and rumors of wars," an unusual parallel to the second seal. Daniel 11 describes the pockets of rebellion which he must squelch in order to maintain his authority.
3. The Third Seal
"When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, 'Come.' So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard 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 the wine.'"
Wars inevitably result in famine, and when the third seal is opened and the third living creature cries, "Come," a rider appears on a black horse. Black is the color of mourning, and in the Scripture it is particularly related to mourning over lack of food. In Jeremiah 14:1-2, the prophet laments the dearth, "Judah mourns, and its gates languish; they are black unto the ground." Black symbolizes famine. In Lamentations 5:10, Jeremiah says, "Our skin was black like an oven, because of the terrible famine."
War inevitably destroys the land, the tools, and the manpower needed to produce food, and so starvation shall plague the earth during these early days of the Tribulation. The rider of the black horse carries in his hand a pair of balances, signifying that food will be weighed and rationed. A voice (verse 6) reveals that a measure of wheat, enough to provide one meal for one man, is selling for a denarius: one full day's wages for an unskilled laborer in the Roman world. If a man had a family to feed he would have to buy barley, which was normally fed only to the animals, for his denarius would buy three measures of barley. Oil and wine are the symbols of luxury, and while the oil and wine are available, most have no money left to purchase them. Human life will be reduced to the very barest necessities. Again, I think it is more than coincidental that the Lord says immediately after speaking of war in Matthew 24:7, "And there shall be famines." These two passages seem to be dealing with the same period of time.
4. The Fourth Seal
"When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, 'Come.' So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth" (Revelation 6:7-8).
The fourth seal calls for a fourth horse, this one pale or literally, pale green--the ghostly color of a lifeless corpse. And we are not surprised to learn that the rider's name is Death, and Hades, the unseen world of departed spirits, follows along to swallow up Death's victims. Power is given this rider to kill a fourth of the earth's population. Never has the earth experienced a destruction this terrible since the days of the flood. There are about 4 billion people on the earth today (1979). That would be one billion people who die as a result of this fourth horseman. Friends, that's trouble like the world has never seen. That's tribulation.
Notice that the death will be by sword (war), hunger (famine) and death, as well as by the beasts of the earth. Death by death seems somewhat redundant. The word can also refer to a certain kind of death, such as pestilence or plague. In fact, it is translated "pestilence" in the New American Standard Bible and "plague" by the New International Version. Now notice Matthew 24:7--"For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places." Immediately after famines, we read of pestilences. Again we seem to be in the same general period of time.
"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 testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, 'How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?' Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed" (Revelation 6:9-11).
When the fifth seal is opened, the scene turns from earth to heaven where John sees under the altar "the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held" (verse 9). While countless multitudes have lost their lives for the testimony of Jesus Christ through the ages the particular place of this scene in the narrative of the Revelation seems to indicate that they are tribulation martyrs. We learn here that some will trust Jesus Christ during the tribulation period, for they could hardly be martyrs of the present age, since their persecutors are still alive on earth (verse 10).
The rapture of the church will probably shock many people, and some will put their trust in the Lord, particularly will this be true of Israelites. But the evidence indicates that most of those who trust the Savior will die for their faith. The great multitude from all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues in Revelation 7:9-14 who come out of great tribulation reinforces this conclusion. The immediate death of all who will not worship the Antichrist (Revelation 13:15) would make this a virtual necessity. The prophet Daniel predicted this very thing when he told of the little horn, a future political leader, who would wear out the saints of the Most High (Revelation 7:25). The Lord Jesus speaks of the same thing found in this fifth seal in the verses immediately following those that parallel the fourth seal (Matthew 24:9-10).
Whether this constitutes a second chance for unbelievers to receive Christ or not, I cannot say. It's not a second chance for unbelievers after death, that's for sure. Lots of people get a second chance in life. Some catastrophe comes into their life and they get a second chance to see that God is real. So it's possible that those unbelievers living before the Rapture get a second chance to believe after the Rapture. That's possible. It's also possible that God will harden the hearts of those who have rejected Him in this age and that only those who have never heard the gospel in this age will be saved during the Tribulation. Only God knows for sure.
I do know this much, however: Most of those who trust Christ in that day will make the supreme sacrifice for their faith. When John sees them, they are under the altar. That's where the blood of the Old Testament sacrifices was poured (Exodus 29:12; Leviticus 4:7). And they are crying out to God to avenge their deaths, to speedily conclude this period of tribulation, and once and forever destroy sin and Satan by the return of His Son.
God's answer was that they must wait just a little longer, until other fellow believers join them in death. It is interesting to note that these are not resurrected beings. John sees souls. Yet they are given white robes. It seems inconceivable that a disembodied spirit could wear a robe, unless God has some sort of an intermediate body which souls who have entered heaven may enjoy the blessedness of that place, until their eternal resurrection body is provided them at Christ's return. I'm not dogmatic about that, but it certainly seems possible.
"I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and 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 His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?'" (Revelation 6:12-17).
When the sixth seal is opened, we see the world-wide catastrophic judgment of God in all its fury. There is a great earthquake (verse 12) which affects every mountain and island (verse 14). The heavens are affected as the sun becomes black, the moon turns blood-red, stars of the heavens fall to the earth (probably in the form of meteorite showers), and the heavens depart as a scroll that is rolled together. Some Bible teachers maintain that this is figurative language speaking of political upheavals, but the language can hardly be stretched to that degree. The first readers of this book surely understood the words to mean catastrophic physical disturbances, the same kind as those spoken of by the prophet Joel (Joel 2:10, 30-31), and by Isaiah (Isaiah 34:4), and by the Lord Jesus Himself (Luke 21:25-26).
No man shall escape the effects of God's judgment against sin. Everyone is affected. Men of all stations in life are seeking refuge from the wrath of God, kings, great men, rich men, chief captains, mighty men, slaves and freemen (verse 15), hiding in dens and in the rocks of the mountains, crying out to the mountains and rocks to fall on them and hide them from the face of God and from the wrath of the Lamb (verse 16). The wrath of the Lamb. The lamb is one of the meekest animals known to man, but this Lamb is filled with righteous indignation and anger. "For the great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?" (verse 17).
Now I don't know when the middle of the week passed, but I would like to submit to you that the middle of Daniel's Seventieth Week has now passed, and the scene before us is nothing else than the Great Tribulation. Could the phrase, "the great day of His wrath" mean anything else? Look again at Matthew 24, again I believe that just as 4-14 refers to the first half of the tribulation, so the first five seals refer to the first half of the tribulation. Just as the catastrophic events which send the inhabitants of Judea scurrying to the mountains signals the second half of the tribulation (Matthew 24:15-21), so the same events in Revelation 6:12-17 terrify every earth dweller and signal the commencement of the great day of God's wrath. I'm not dogmatic about it, but maybe the middle of the Week occurs between the fifth and the sixth seal. I'm not sure. I am dogmatic, however, about this: With the breaking of the sixth seal, the Great Tribulation has begun.
Look at the foolish reaction of the population of the earth as we close this message today. They are running and hiding and crying out. They are praying to the rocks and the mountains to fall on them. How foolish. God is gracious. God is loving. God has offered to receive all those who will put their trust in Him. But these people won't trust him; they're just trying to hide from His wrath.
They can't hide from God's wrath! Ephesians 2:3 says they are children of wrath and there is no way they can escape the wrath of God. They themselves say, "Who shall be able to stand?" The answer to that question is "no one"--except those who have acknowledged their sin and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin. John 3:36 says, "He that believes in Him shall have eternal life, and he that does not believe shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." Children of wrath.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Unfortunately, there are many people today who are trying to hide from God. I mean, we're not even in this period of time. We haven't even seen anything like what will be in that day as far as trouble and tribulation is concerned, and yet there are people running and trying to hide from God. "I don't need God; I don't want God." But God is reaching out in love. He's saying, "Trust My Son. Receive from My hand the gift of eternal life." We can open our hearts to the Savior and receive eternal life, or we can reject Him and be the recipients of God's wrath. It's our choice. That's your choice.
If you came today to find out what the book of Revelation was all about and you've never trusted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, it's quite clear that there is a great day of wrath coming. You don't need to be a part of it. The Apostle Paul wrote, "For God is not appointed us to wrath"--he's talking to believers--"but to obtain deliverance through our Lord Jesus Christ." You can be a child of God. You can be delivered from the wrath to come if you'll trust the Lord Jesus as your Savior. Let's bow in prayer.
Heavenly Father, we pray that those who have never trusted Christ will heed the warning of the Word: the prediction of judgment, the certainty of wrath. Lord, it's not the only theme in Your Word but it's certainly there. Help us to honestly confront it. And God, we pray again that some who have never done so before would be willing even in these moments to acknowledge their sin and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and His shed blood on Calvary's cross in their place, and be born anew. We ask it in the precious name of our glorious Savior, our soon-returning King, even Jesus Christ. Amen.
Continue to RV-07A: Triumph in Tribulation