The Revelation: Part Seven

ALTHOUGH THERE IS MUCH meaning in what we have studied so far, it has all been leading up to the opening of the seven seals and the great tribulation period. Ultimately, we await the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We know that just before the seals are broken and the book is open, the twenty-four elders sing a song of affirmation: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Then they sang, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (5:12).

The seals closely parallel signs of the approaching end times described by Jesus in Matthew 24. These events fall into three distinct periods: (i) the period of false christs, wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, and death called “the beginning of birth pains” (Matt. 24:8); (ii) the period of the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21); and (iii) the period “immediately after the distress of those days” when the sun, moon, and stars will be affected and Christ will return (Matt. 24:29-30). Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives reveals that the tribulation period will be kicked off by the rise of “false Christs and false prophets” (Matt. 24:24).

Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” (Rev. 6:1).

John MacArthur writes, “The appearance of the Lamb as He moves to take the scroll causes praise to break out from everywhere in the universe.”(1) This outburst of worship comes from the realization that the defeat of sin and death is at hand. Satan will finally be put in his place. The curse of original sin will be reversed and all will be restored to the Father. The church will reign with Christ forever. Further to my comment in Part Six regarding scrolls that served as deeds, the scroll held by Christ contains the “deed” to the earth. MacArthur said, “Unlike normal deeds, it [does] not contain a description of Christ’s inheritance, but details of how He will reclaim what is rightfully His.”(2)

MacArthur notes, “The seals encompass the entire tribulation (3:10), ending with the return of Christ.”(3) Revelation 3:10 says, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” As noted in The Revelation: Part Five, the seven-year period of tribulation will begin immediately following Christ’s calling up of the church, which is typically called “the Rapture.” God will not allow His children, joint-heirs with Christ, to experience the horror and pain that will take place on earth during the tribulation.

Each of the seven seals which Christ opens will initiate a particular aspect of divine judgment to be poured out on earth. The first four seals represent the first half of the tribulation period. Marilyn Hickey says, “The actual term tribulation is used only a handful of times in the Bible in referring to [the] final episode of world history.”(4) Scripture also calls the great tribulation “punishment” (Isa. 24:20-23), “trouble” (Jer. 30:7), “destruction” (Joel 1:15), and “darkness” (Joel 2:2). “Tribulation” in the original Greek is thlipsis (θλῖψις) from thlibo, meaning “oppression, affliction, tribulation, distress, straits.” During this half of the tribulation, there will be a false sense of worldwide peace. The second half, the period referred to as the Great Tribulation, will be a vexing experience. The Antichrist will break his covenant of peace. As a result, Hickey describes “…colossal scenes of trouble and turmoil in a magnitude never before experienced on earth.”(5)

The First Seal

Jesus opens the first seal and one of the four living creatures encircling the throne says, in a thundering voice, “Come!” This emphatic call is similar to charioteers in a first-century amphitheater being summoned into the arena. John writes, “And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.” The bow is connected with the enemy of God’s people. This is the first of the four horsemen. These four horsemen portray four disastrous occurrences that will take place before the second coming of Jesus Christ. Some scholars argue that the rider of the white horse is Jesus Christ, but this does not fit the narrative.

The Bible uses horses to represent triumph, majesty, power, and conquest. The first horse is white because that is what a conquering king would ride into an area he has successfully defeated. This king wears a special crown; he carries a bow without arrows, symbolizing that he is a warrior. He will conquer not through force, but by the promise of world peace. The Antichrist will make a peace treaty with Israel, but it is a “false peace” he uses to ensnare the world. After a short time, that peace is shattered. Daniel discusses this: “By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind he shall become great. Without warning he shall destroy many. And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes, and he shall be broken—but by no human hand” (Dan. 8:25). Paul writes, “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thes. 5:3).

I believe the rider is the Antichrist, bent on conquering the earth through a false peace. The Antichrist tries to confuse the world by mimicking works of the Messiah. For example, he will perform miracles. Paul expounds on the second coming of Christ in 2 Thessalonians, chapter 2. He opens with, “…concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him…” (2:1) and writes “…the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders” (2:8-9).

The Second Seal

The second seal is broken and another of the four living creatures calls on the second horseman. He rides on a “fiery red” steed whose color symbolizes war and slaughter. He carries a large sword because of the exceedingly great carnage he will bring. MacArthur writes, “The world’s attitude of peace will be shattered as the second horse and rider appear on the scene.”(6) As a result, many wars break out. The Antichrist will play a key role in all the wars that follow as he sets up the abomination of desolation (see Dan. 11:31). Remember, Jesus told the disciples, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matt. 24:6-8).

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way” (2 Thes. 2:3-4, 6-7).

All believers are called up with Christ (see Rev. 4:1) prior to the appearance of the four horsemen. Some biblical scholars teach that the Holy Spirit leaves the earth at this time. This is likely not true. The Holy Spirit is eternal. He has always been, and will always be, everywhere because He is God.  His specific ministries change at times. For example, after the rapture He no longer dampens the evil one (see 2 Thes. 2:7). As a result, there is an outpouring of great lust for blood and power from all sides. With salt and light (the church) gone, the true nature of mankind comes forth without restraint. Man’s depravity and bloodthirsty desires run rampant throughout the world. MacArthur does not believe the judgments of the tribulation reflect the wrath of man or the wrath of Satan. He writes, “They express God’s wrath poured out on the world.”(7) This is not unlike God’s wrath against Israel when He withdrew His presence and protection due to their murmurings and disobedience (see Num. 14:1-4).

We will discuss the third and fourth horsemen in The Revelation: Part 8.

Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theological Studies

Unless otherwise specified, all Scripture references contained herein are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

(1) John MacArthur, Because the Time is Near (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007), 122.
(2) Ibid., 125.
(3) Ibid.
(4) Marilyn Hickey, The Final Hour: Understanding What the Bible Has to Say About the End Times (Shippensburg, PA: Harrison House Publishers, 2016). 167.
(5) Ibid., 168.
(6) MacArthur, Ibid., 128.
(7) Ibid.

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