Revelation 6–8:5. Act II. Scene I. Seven Seals.
Key Notes: The Four Horsemen. 144,000 special servants.The seventh seal opens the next phase.
Revelation 6–16 is one of the most difficult texts in the Bible and it is our task to try to make it clear. The Seven Seals that bind the Scroll are apparently not the Scroll itself, the content of God's judgments on the earth. They are the events that must precede them. If that is true, then the Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls are not the same set of crises seen from different points of view. Further, the Seven Bowls are introduced with the words "...with them the wrath of God is ended." suggesting that with the Seven Trumpets, the wrath of God is not ended. So a beginning and an end of the judgment is indicated. However, we will find overlaps of the Trumpets with the Bowls. Moreover, it appears that in the middle, Rev.12–14 is not part of the sequence, but contains different and more global visions, in a kind of intermission.
6:1–2 A rider with a bow on a white horse was called up and sent forth to conquer. We often make heroes of the conquerors--hence the white horse-- such as William the Conqueror, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, or Genghis Khan. However, the people who are conquered are more likely to think of them as wanton murderers.
6:3–4 The second horse was red and its rider was given permission to take peace from the earth. This suggests civil wars as opposed to international conflicts, often following major conquests. The division of the Greek Empire into four competing units after Alexander the Great's conquests is an example.
6:5–6 The third rider was on a black horse and a cryptic voice from among the four living creatures gave a riddle suggesting famine to follow.
6:7–8 The fourth rider was named Death, and Hades followed him to destroy a fourth of the earth with famine, pestilence and wild beasts.
Comment. These four seals suggest a cascade. Conquest is followed by civil war, famine and social disintegration, leading to death of masses of people. Such waves of disaster have swept over the earth since earliest times. It is likely that such cascades will come with increasing intensity and loss of life toward the end of the age. For example, in the Peloponnesian Wars, there were usually less than a thousand solders in an engagement, whereas hundreds of thousands of men were involved in the battles of WWII and there were millions--more than ten million-- of casualties.
6:9–11 The fifth seal is a vision of martyrs crying out for vengeance against their oppressors. They are under the altar, suggesting that their lives have been sacrificed, as Paul said his would be. (IITim.4:6). They are consoled, and told that many more are coming before their number is complete. Martyrdom has been with us since Abel (Cf. Jesus' words in Matt.23:35-). However, some believe that there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in all the ages previously.
6:12–17 A catastrophic disturbance of the earth and sky causes panic among human beings who beg for the rocks to hide them. No one can stand against the wrath of God. This disturbance is so massive that it reminds us of the descriptions of terminal disasters which bring in the Day of the Lord. (Matt.24:29, Joel 3:15, Isa.13:10, Jer.4:23–8.) In Jesus' discourse, such an event comes just before His Second Coming. But here, life unaccountably goes on. We believe that it is an example of the "telescoping of prophecy" in which the prophet who lives a great while before the realization, cannot make the time spaces apparent. The events of Rev. 8–16 may occur during an indeterminate time between this massive cosmic disaster and the return of Christ as described in Matt.24.
Is prophetic telescoping to be found in Revelation? Since the prophecies are "soon to take place", perhaps not. But we will see in several instances that the announcement of an event precedes the event by some time. We can only say that chapters 6–21 have a beginning, a middle and an ending, with a fair amount of evidence for a sequence.
7:1–8 Four angels are to hold back the four winds until 144,000 servants of God are sealed from the twelve tribes of Israel. Note that the order of the tribes is different from Gen.49. Dan and Ephraim are omitted; Joseph and Manasseh (father and son) were originally members of the same tribe.
In Rev.14:1–5 the same number of men are described as redeemed from earth, male, celibate, first fruits for God, spotless before Him. The 144,000 have been variously thought to be Gentile Christians, saved Jews, members of Jehovah's Witnesses or "British Israelites". Although most commentators favor Gentile Christians on the basis that the Church is the Israel of God (Gal.6:16), it seems unlikely that the twelve tribes would be listed by their Hebrew names if that were true. We know that the number of Jews in this generation already in the Kingdom exceeds 200,000. My understanding is that these men are saved and specially consecrated Jews.
7:9–17 John has a vision of millions of believers coming out of the Great Tribulation from all over the world standing before the Throne, in a state of blissful rejoicing, and receiving the blessings of God's care. The question of whether the Great Tribulation has already been completed when this vision is given, and whether the Rapture has also occurred cannot be answered with certainty. If we are consistent, it must have. . The Rapture of the Church is not described as such in Revelation. Rev.13:7 describes the Beast making war on the saints and conquering them but thi part of the text (Rev.12–13) is generally believed to incorporate global scenarios without historic progression. On the other hand, there is nothing in Scripture to lead us to believe that all believers will have been removed from the earth during the Great Tribulation. There is further discussion of this puzzling question in the supplementary lesson entitled "Tribulation".
8:1–5 The seventh seal appears to consist of the Seven Trumpets. Then the seventh seal permits the beginning of the wrath of God visited on the earth.
In summary, six phenomena precede the final judgment of God upon the earth. They describe the general judgment of God--war, civil upheavals, famine, pestilence and death. A fifth phenomenon is the accumulation of sacrificed believers, victims of persecution. They provoke the wrath of God, rather than being a consequence of it. It appears that the sixth seal has not been opened upon the earth. No cataclysm of the kind described here has yet occurred on earth. So we believe that these following events are yet future.
How should we react to prophecy of God's judgment?
"Seeing all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness..."(IIPet.3:11).