In 1898, America was in the grips of the Spanish-American War, though its troops were decimated after the Civil War thirty years before. The United States Army enacted the “First United States Volunteer Cavalry” that history would remember as “Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.” President William McKinley called upon their 1,250 volunteers to fight in the Cuban war for independence. The Rough Riders were comprised of native Americans, college athletes, cowboys, and ranchers. One of the training exercises that Buffalo Billl used in his wild west show years later was attributed to Roosevelt and the Riders. The men were to form a line and charge on horseback over the barricade of the enemy lines, firing from their pistols in both directions. It had both the unnerving effect of collapsing a barricade wall and starling the men inside their fortification, causing them to scatter. The resulting dust and dirt, along with the confusion, often meant the enemy ended up shooting many of his own in friendly fire confusion. The men would approach at high speed, and just before breaking over the wall, they would cry out, according to some scholars, something like: “Incoming rider!”
Today, I want to move our eyes from Heaven to the earth, and charging the barricades of mankind, a wave of attacking “incoming riders” pummeled the earth. They were not sent by President McKinley – but by the Creator of the Universe. We begin to look at the period in the book Bible students call “The Great Tribulation”.
The writings of the Apostle John are structured in specific plans. His recorded Gospel included seven “I Am” statements of Jesus, along with seven “I Do” miracles of Jesus to give evidence to His Divine claim. In this book, their appear to be seven views of Heaven, along with seven views of earth and its activities. In the opening chapter of Revelation, we saw the first EARTH SHOT, with John on a penal colony island called Patmos, when Jesus appeared before him. The earthly view continued through chapters two and three – as John wrote down letters from Jesus to the seven churches of western Asia Minor, addressing them in the order of the ancient postal route.
By chapters four and five, our eyes were moved from the first view of Earth to our first view of Heaven. John was pulled into the magnificent throne room scene we have been reveling in for two lessons – one in Revelation 4 and one in Revelation 5. In that first HEAVEN SHOT, we saw seven personages in the almost indescribable throne room: 1. John; 2. Father on Throne; 3. 24 Elders: Representative, regal (stephanos), redeemed and resurrected; 4. Seven spirits; 5. Four seraphim; 6. Michael (5:2 cp. Dam 12:1) ; 7. Lion – lamb
Heaven froze for a moment when a great question pealed through the throne room: “Who has attained the right to open the scroll of the end?” John wept, and an elder corrected him for doing so. Gazing to one who stood before the believers near the throne, a wounded Lamb cames forth to open the scrolls and unfold the time of the three profound waves of judgment shared carefully in chapters 6-19. The scroll contained the three judgments of the Tribulation Period, called “The Seal Judgments” (Revelation 6:1-7:3 and 8:1), “The Trumpet Judgments” (Revelation 8:6-9:15 and 11:15) and finally “The Bowl or Vial Judgments” (Revelation 16).
Why did God tell us about the coming judgment in such detail? There are multiple reasons. First, God wanted people who pass into these events as witnesses, to have God’s Word as evidence of the events surrounding them to increase the effectiveness of their witness. Second, believers down through the ages – just like you and I – need the ability to keep the end in view.
Key Principle: God pulled back the curtain of the future to change the way we live in the lost world today.
Look at the story of the Seal judgments:
The First Seal—Dominator
6:1 Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.” 2 I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.
When the first seal was opened, the THUNDEROUS sound of one of the four living creatures peeled loudly – COME. One was being ordered out of the midst of all others. He was a Conqueror, but not the Rightful Righteous Lord of Creation. Both Jesus and this conqueror are introduced as garnering a white horse – Jesus (in Revelation 19:11) and this conqueror. It is as though this one WANTED to look like the Savior, but he was not. The details would not escape anyone in the Roman period, as the Roman populace was familiar with the POMPA Processions of Caesar after a conquest. In ancient Rome, the pompa circensis (“circus parade”) was the official procession to the ludi (“sponsored games”) held in the circus as part of religious festivals and commemorative occasions. Julius Caesar added to the imagery by joining the procession – usually in a chariot drawn by a white horse with a crown held above him and an archer beside (an addition to the simple rider on a white horse). The route of the procession was added to and adjusted over the next one hundred years, but by the time of John, such processions were commonplace and as well known as fireworks on the fourth of July. The procession meant a conquering hero, celebrated by the crowds for a new area brought under Roman rule. Here it is a conqueror, called out to destroy and take captives. He comes with a bow, but no arrows – suggesting he expanded his acquisitions without the use of force – by treaty.
Clearly the one was CALLED by the Living Creature, and the victor crown (stephanos) was given to him – God GAVE him authority. Why do I say “God gave it to him!” ? Look at Revelation 17:17 “For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.” God will directly or indirectly convince some of the the rulers of the world to give a pact of power to the conqueror. In my view, this one is the Antichrist – a figure familiar from both Daniel and 2 Thessalonians as well as Revelation 13, 17 and 18. We will take more time to investigate his workings in another study – he will take some time. For the moment, just remember this: When the church is removed, the trouble starts when the Antichrist makes an agreement and gains power. We’ll call him the “Dominator”.
The Second Seal—Division
6:3 When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.” 4 And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.
In the wake of the Dominator, comes the reaction of the world in Division, as the red horse was called and dispatched. Though the dominator comes with a covenant of peace, not everyone is content with that peace. In fact, the stirring of the world pot comes from on High. The RED HORSE is reminiscent of Mars, the god of war. Remember, the Romans called themselves “sons of Mars” since the War god was the mythical father of Romulus and Remus – the founders of Rome.
At the point that the Dominator makes a treaty, the church is already gone. The Biblical world view is all but a memory for most in power. The message of Jesus becomes totally passé – a relic of failed western powers. The work of the Spirit – the Comforter and Restrainer is no longer commonplace. Brutality and hatred become the order of the day. The family bonds disintegrate. There is confusion, chaos and conquest by sword – as the earth finds itself unable to work out problems peacefully.
The Third Seal—Depravation
6:5 When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. 6 And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”
The black horse is summoned to inflict the earth, as a blistering time of economic disaster and starvation spreads across the world. The ability to exchange, buy and sell represented in the scales of the Roman market show scarcity. A measure (khoy’-nix: less than a quart of dry measure) of wheat or three measures of barley will be measured against a Roman coin worth 53 grams of silver – a common designation for the standard day’s wage for a Roman soldier by the early first century. In essence, during the tribulation scarcity will force a full day’s labor just to cover the cost of that day’s bread. If that seems strange to you, more than one third of the world is living in this situation RIGHT NOW.
Great protection seems to be afforded the “oil and wine”. Whether these are LUXURIES or a reference to HEALING DRUGS is uncertain. What is certain is that the horseman was told not to be careless with these items.
The Fourth Seal—Death
6:7 When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” 8 I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.
The fourth horseman was summoned to break forth onto the earth. He was simply called DEATH. He was “pale” (“chloros” from Greek word that underlies both chlorine and chlorophyll today. It is a pallor of ghastly green … like a rotten and decaying body. At his arrival, one fourth of the world’s population will succumb to death. If it were today, that would be “one and three quarter billion” people. That would equal ALL of modern China PLUS all of the US. They will die of WAR, FAMINE and some of even “natural” means – like living beasts or organisms.
- Dr. Frank Holtman, Univ. of Tennessee’s bacteriological department said, “While the greater part of a city’s population could be destroyed by an atomic bomb, the bacteria method might easily wipe out the entire population of the earth within a week’s time.”
- George Borgstrom in Hungry Planet said, “It is sobering to realize that no part of the world, in the event of serious crop failure, is more than 1 year away from critical starvation. And even in the rich United States, with all it’s surpluses, we are not more than 2 years away.” (from Pastor Jerry Shirley at Sermon Central illustrations).
The Fifth Seal—Doubt
6:9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.
The fifth seal was broken and this time no horseman roared forth. No Living Creature thundered. All that was heard was a loud group of voices asking in harmony a single question. They were found beneath the altar in the Heavenly Temple – a place where ashes fell in a sacrifice. They wanted to understand something about God’s plan. They wanted to know HOW LONG it would be until their cruel martyrdoms were remembered! They were affirmed when they were given white robes – a representation of their judgment as “righteous” and then told to be still for yet a little while – the killing fields were not yet full. We will be looking at these dear future brothers and sisters in our next study, but let me only remind you of this one truth: God values the eternal life of the lost of the earth more than He values the comfort of the saved. If that were not true, Christianity would lack not only martyrs – but missionaries. He has asked you to GIVE YOUR LIFE for the Gospel, whether in service or in sacrifice. That is not a theory – that’s in daily choices of our obedience.
The Sixth Seal—Destruction
6:12 I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. 14 The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
The sixth seal seems to unleash at least three types of destruction: first, the earth’s crust is moving; second, the sky is darkened with particles that block the sun and discolor the moon’s glow; third, a pummeling from the heavens of what appear to be heavenly bodies. This may be atomic war and its reaction, or a God ordained natural phenomenon – there is no way to really tell. What is clear is that it causes DREAD and people seek SHELTERS below ground – consistent with either scenario. The destruction appears to FOLLOW the mass death of the fourth seal, and may add to that fraction of one fourth.
Before the seventh seal, there was a regressive look at some people God wanted to protect in chapter 7– His holy witnesses – but we will look at more thoroughly in our next study. For now, keep reading and we will see the seventh seal emerge
The Seventh Seal – Distribution
Revelation 8:1 When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
The last seal was opened and SILENCE fell upon Heaven. No more stars were cast to the earth. There was a time of calm. All heaven awaited God’s next move. Seven trumpets were handed out – they were to be the next round of devastating judgment – worse than what we have just seen.
The second EARTH SHOT that began in Heaven as the scrolls were opened and judgments leapt to the earth in the form of “Incoming Riders” – ended in a massive physical and environmental disruption that caused men to move to shelters below ground. By that time the church was already removed from earth, and the restraining influence she had before was removed from the ethical debates, the political parties and the educational tenets. God’s representatives on the earth were removed in a moment – leaving a Christ-less world to imagine its own moral standards.
Jesus warned in Matthew 24:21 “Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world, unto this time, no, nor ever shall be.”
Think of all the pictures and videos of wars you have ever seen! Peel open books on the trenches of the WWI. Look at the Time photo series of the aftermath of death camps and bombing blitzes of WWII. Gaze into burned out tanks in the Iraqi desert and look at the destroyed bits of an Afghani cave. Follow the images of swollen bellied children and the leveled earth in a tsunami aftermath. Think of human atrocities that have become part of human history from the time of Adam and Eve until today…and Jesus said none of it compares to what the world is about to experience in The Great Tribulation.
What is the unbeliever’s response to this message? Consider this: God takes no delight in pummeling His Creation. He will violently take back what has defected away in self centered mutiny. At the same time, you should know the truth – God is not WEAK and He is not UNENGAGED with your affairs. He knows you and I. He knows what we are doing. Let me say it plainly: The purpose of history is for God to tell HIS STORY – Who He really is – and He is not the “mamby pamby” harmless chaplain “do gooder” above that He has been played out to be – an emasculated and harmless dotty old man in the sky.
He is the God of the Prophet Nahum:
Nahum 1:7 The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him. 8 But with an overflowing flood He will make a complete end of its site, and will pursue His enemies into darkness. 9 Whatever men devise against the LORD, He will make a complete end of it. Distress will not rise up twice.
Why does God tell us this? Because of His nature… Nahum 1:3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, and clouds are the dust beneath His feet.
But that is not the only person that needs to hear about the end. What about the believer? As we look over the edge and peer into the end, what is the believer’s response to the end times prophecy that we are looking at? First, we should be able to identify both the descent into paganism of our world. Second, we should be able to spot the apostasy of the church around the world. We must be able to pick out the changes from the small to the great. We must be vigilant but not caustic and negative. We are not the people of NO!
How do we keep from such negativity?
- We rely on the magnificent power of God! No church can defeat the enemy. No parent can fell him. No country can destroy him. God, and God alone has put the end of the evil one in His plan. When we are discouraged by his inroads and advances, we fall back into the arms of our God and remember that He is inside us and He is greater in power.
- We stand wholly on the absolute truth of the Word of God. It isn’t theory, it is God’s practical letter of what He wanted us to know. We learn it, memorize it, study it and measure all ideas and ethics against its timeless truths. We examine the message of naysayers, but don’t entertain their criticisms as equal to God’s Holy Word. We learn truth and answer compromise and deception with truth.
- We rest in the peace of the Holy Spirit – for God is not caught off guard in the rising tide of evil in our world. In the midst of sharply learning His Word, we don’t become ungracious or unduly aggressive. People are the object of God’s affection, not an argument to win or a project to be brought in line.
- We practice a circumspect faith – that is we look at what God is doing in many places, not just keep out eye on evil and its advance. The sun may be setting in some parts of the west, but God is raising that same sun in powerful ways in parts of the east. We look at the whole board – not just our part of it. When God raises Japanese believers by the hundreds to take the Gospel to the lost of Asia, we celebrate their valor and applaud their faithfulness.
- We practice a tough faith –one that is joyful (trusting God) and resilient rather than defensive and angry. We don’t try to argue people into the Kingdom – but that simply won’t work. We don’t gripe at every wave of immoral legislation that afflicts our once more Biblical founded country – we challenge false ideas with truth and live in such a winsome way that people desire to hear our answers.
- We make it our increasing priority to keep the end in front of us – shaking us out of the lulling influences of our own comfort. Jesus is coming soon. All pleasures of earth are fleeting. This devastating and deceptive idea that we should engage in every pleasure possible rather than sharing Jesus with others is challenged in our minds and hearts. Our lives are NOT just about our families – they are about a lost world and a coming Christ. Our work is NOT just about our provision – it is about sourcing God’s Kingdom.
- We face the reality that time is running out and plan to make a difference daily among unbelievers – showing love in practical ways, while learning and using new ways to make the Gospel plain. We don’t keep believing that we will do it when it seems convenient – because we know the master deceiver will always place an obstacle. We will open our mouths today for our Savior, for the eastern sky is gathering its clouds soon.
- We keep our eyes on the long view – the eternal perspective. We talk about Heaven, and share about the joys Jesus is preparing for us already. We know that it is a certainty of the next like, but we don’t try to make life HERE and NOW into Heaven. We KNOW that No election will stop the Gospel. No political move will change the sinfulness of men. We participate that we might be faithful to HIM, not that we may fix the problems with political solutions. We also know that some things won’t happen until we finally reach our homes. We fight injustice, but we know that it will not be defeated until the King clears it all away.
- We pray more and more for the work of God in our families, our church and our community. We know that God has called us to ask Him for His enabling. We cannot plan our way into growing a healthy church without praying all the way through each step of the plan. We don’t want to simply teach about prayer, admonish people about prayer, talk about prayer, share about prayer… we need to PRAY! Our families, our church, our community, our county, our State and our nation are our opportunity to collaborate with God’s Spirit and prayerfully and dependently push ahead in love.
- We spend more time practicing righteousness and supporting righteousness than complaining about unrighteous deeds of those around us in the world. The world doesn’t understand moral thinking and doesn’t care what we don’t agree with – they want to freedom to destroy marriage – though they lack the ability to pay the bill for broken homes and they lack to understand to deal with the tsunami of broken children coming from them. They want to freedom to destroy purity – though they have no idea how to cope with the devastating emotional fallout of the brutal families that emerge from the lust-fest. We MUST live differently, or we blunt our message and silence our advance.
In the end, We are God’s church. We are the Body of Christ – the hands and feet to this time and this place. We are called to worship deeply, surrender thoroughly, pray fervently, love sacrificially, and hope unflinchingly. We are God’s church – and He isn’t done with us until the door to Heaven opens. We cannot rest in the warmth of luxury while the neighbors home is consumed in blazing flames. We can do more, we must do more and we will do more… by God’s grace and in God’s power. God pulled back the curtain of the future to change the way we live in the lost world today.