The Seals of the Book of Revelation
Having examined the good news of the kingdom of God and the millennial reign of Jesus Christ in Lesson 5, this lesson focuses on the troublesome times that lie between now and that time. The increasingly turbulent state of the world is symptomatic of the storm that is gathering as we approach the more intense fulfillment of the first four seals of Revelation.
It is vital to recap some crucial scriptures that define the severity of those unprecedented times of trouble. The following verses refer to the time of the Great Tribulation—the fifth seal of Revelation.
Of these times, Christ stated, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21).
Also notice Mark 13:19: “For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be.”
In Daniel 12:1, we read about the coming Tribulation: “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which stands for the children of your people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time your people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.”
Finally, in Jeremiah 30:5, 7: “For thus says the Lord; We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace…Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble…”
This lesson focuses on these times of unparalleled trouble, suffering and destruction described in Revelation 6. Chapter 1 shows that the revelation is not that of “St. John the Divine,” but rather, as verse 1 plainly reads, the Revelation of Jesus Christ. The word “Revelation” derives from the Greek word apokalupsis (the Anglicized version is apocalypse), which means “a clear manifestation” or—more precisely—“revelation.” This scripture further shows that God the Father gave this revelation “unto [Christ], to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass” (vs. 1). An angel delivered this vision to the apostle John, who recorded what he saw.
John addressed this message to the seven churches in Asia Minor, typified by seven cities on a mail route, which represented the seven eras of the Church of God from its inception in A.D. 31 until the end of this age. In these visions, John witnessed events at the end of the age, including the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. John saw the glorified Christ, who commanded him to record what he witnessed. Chapters 2 and 3 included the seven messages to the seven eras of the Church of God. (A later lesson will cover these chapters in great detail.)
The setting of chapters 4 and 5 is God’s throne in heaven. Here, John discusses the countenance of God the Father, the twenty-four elders, the sea of glass and the powerful angelic beings present at God’s throne. Then, chapter 5 introduces the subject of the seals. In His right hand, God had a scroll sealed with seven seals. None were found worthy to open the seals except the one described as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David and the Lamb—Jesus Christ. He is the only one worthy to open these seals and interpret their meaning. He alone shows the meaning of the book of Revelation. As the lesson proceeds, we will find that He interprets the meaning of each of these seals.
The First Four Seals—The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
(1) What was revealed when Christ—the Lamb—opened the First Seal? Revelation 6:1-2.
Comment: Most of professing Christianity believes that the rider of this white horse is Jesus Christ. Their confusion of this rider’s identity typifies their confusion concerning most every aspect of the truth. Jesus Christ, as the rider of the white horse of Revelation 19 was not wielding a bow, as was the rider in Revelation 6:2. In contrast, Christ had a sharp sword proceeding out of His mouth (Rev. 19:15). The rider in Revelation 6:2 wore a crown, whereas Christ wore many crowns (19:12)—symbolizing many lesser offices He held in addition to kingship over the earth.
Upon closer inspection, we find that the rider of the First Seal in Revelation 6:2 represents a counterfeit of Christ that has subtly deceived professing Christianity. Even writers of most Bible commentaries think that this counterfeit represents the real Christ!
(2) Does Christ interpret the meaning of the First Seal? Matthew 24:4-5.
Comment: The prophetic overview Christ gave in Matthew 24 covered all the seals listed in the book of Revelation, and in the same order as in Revelation 6.
The First Seal was deception from false Christs. It is vital to understand that the rider of this white horse does not represent all false religion, but specifically counterfeit Christianity—a counterfeit Christ. Since the rider in the First Seal is a counterfeit, there have to be close similarities. For example, both ride white horses and go forth to conquer.
Only at His Return, will Christ conquer the nations in a quick and decisive way. Yet the counterfeit Christ has been conquering nations since the first century A.D. Closer examination shows that the rider of Revelation 6:2 and the rider of Revelation 19:11 are significantly different in a number of ways—they ride two different horses, at separate times in history.
(3) What was revealed when Christ opened the Second Seal? Revelation 6:3-4.
Comment: All of the first four seals represent trends that were to intensify from the first century, until the time of the end. The Second Seal, representing warfare—the absence of peace—certainly has intensified for the last nearly 2,000 years. Technology has contributed to make modern weaponry more lethal than ever.
(4) How is the interpretation of this seal expanded? Matthew 24:6-7 (only the first part of verse 7).
Comment: Not since World War I—the “war to end all wars”—has the specter of “wars and rumors of wars” played so prominent a role in world events. After a short interlude of two decades, World War II reflected quantum leaps in new weaponry in such a short time. Since then, the dynamics of world politics has been in turmoil. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 did not bring about the “new world order” of peace and advancement that many predicted. The Soviet nuclear arsenal and advanced missile delivery systems are still in place and still aimed at the U.S. in particular, along with other targets in the western world. These problems are compounded by the threat of terrorism.
The traditional alliance of non-communist western Europe with the Anglo-Saxon countries (U.S., Britain and former British Commonwealth nations) has diminished with the emergence of the European Union, led by Germany. At best, relations with her Anglo-Saxon allies have become neutral and increasingly competitive and hostile.
(5) How is the Third Seal represented? Revelation 6:5-6.
Comment: Just as the case with the red horse, the description of this seal is so explicit that even professing Christianity dares not to alter the meaning. Thus, it is commonly understood that this prophetic trend of famine is to worsen as we approach the ultimate fulfillment of this seal.
World population has exploded within the last century. Mankind’s ability to support such demand has become more tenuous. The threat of famine has always existed, but it has quietly been expanding, although rarely making headlines. Most often, famine follows in the wake of war, just as given by the order of the second and third seals. But sometimes, the burden of overpopulation reaches such levels that drought, flooding and other adverse weather conditions can precipitate famine. These times are unprecedented, with such problems increasing in number and complexity.
(6) Did Christ indicate that famines would follow after war? Matthew 24:7 (first part).
Comment: Christ’s words, “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines,” clearly show famines following in the wake of war.
(7) How is the Fourth Seal (the fourth horseman) represented? Revelation 6:7-8.
Comment: The name of the rider of the fourth horse, this pale horse, is personified as “Death, and Hell followed with him.” The Greek word translated “hell” is hades, which means “the grave.” (The confusion that prevails about the false concept of hell will be addressed in a future lesson.) This verse continues by showing that 25 percent of humanity will die from them—the personification of death (the rider) and hell (the grave). It shows that this fourth part of humanity would die by the “sword” (warfare), with “hunger” (famine), with “death” (Greek: thanatos, meaning “death or deadly influences,” such as Malaria, Dengue Fever, West Nile virus, etc.) and by the beasts of the earth (wild animal attacks).
(8) What is the specific meaning of this pale horse, since Revelation 6:8 seemed to recap elements of the two previous seals? Matthew 24:7.
Comment: Here, Christ said, “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places.” This seal focuses upon pestilences. The Greek word here is loimos, which means “plague from diseases or pestilence.” One definition of pestilence is a “fatal epidemic disease,” such as the Bubonic Plague.
The Fourth Seal follows in the wake of famine, which follows in the wake of warfare as we saw reiterated in Revelation 6:8. The order of the first four seals (Rev. 6:1-8) agrees fully with the order given in Matthew 24:4-7.
(Some may ponder Matthew 24:7 and ask, “Then why are earthquakes not the Fifth Seal?” Earthquakes are not classified as a particular seal, or trumpet plague. However, earthquakes are very prominent in the final trumpet plague and on certain occasions as the demarcation between separate seals and trumpet plagues, as we will see in the next lesson.)
The Fifth Seal—The Great Tribulation
(1) How is the Fifth Seal described, and what does it represent? Revelation 6:9-11.
Comment: This end-time event will erupt suddenly with such resounding shock and intensity that it is described as the worst time of trouble to ever befall mankind! In fact, the first four seals began to be fulfilled at the beginning of the Christian era and have steadily worsened, building toward this most horrible time in man’s history.
Verse 9 portrays martyred saints awaiting the First Resurrection. Actually, those saints are “asleep in Christ” (I Cor. 15:18) at this time, but personified in this vision as asking how long it would be before their blood was avenged (vs. 10). They were told to wait until their fellow servants and brethren were killed (vs. 11). This portrayal clearly points to a time of martyrdom of the saints.
(2) How does Christ describe the Fifth Seal in Matthew 24? Matthew 24:8-9.
Comment: After describing the first four seals and increasing earthquakes, He states that all these things were merely the “beginning of sorrows.” Verse 9 shows that they shall deliver “you” up to be afflicted and shall kill “you,” being “hated of all nations for My name’s sake.”
Those addressed as “you” in verse 9 are spiritual Israel—those God has called in this age—and also the descendants of physical Israel, especially, the modern recipients of the birthright passed from Abraham to the tribes of Joseph—Ephraim and Manasseh. Those of spiritual Israel who are destined to go through this time of tribulation will be required to endure martyrdom, while only one-tenth of physical Israel will survive this unparalleled time of trouble. (See Lesson 5.)
(3) How intense is this time of persecution and trouble? Matthew 24:21-22; Mark 13:19.
Comment: The Moffatt translation correctly renders the term “no flesh be saved,” in Matthew 24:22, as “not a soul would be saved alive.”
(4) Who is the one “behind the scenes” seeking the destruction of Israel during the time of tribulation? Revelation 12:13, 17.
(5) What does “the testimony of Jesus Christ” mean? Revelation 19:10.
Comment: Those who keep God’s commandments and understand the spirit of prophecy understand God’s truth. Those whom Satan persecutes (referenced in Revelation 12:17) are those not zealously holding fast to the truth.
(6) Does God allow this persecution upon spiritual Israel for His own purposes? Revelation 3:18-19.
Comment: In His mercy, God will require those in the final era of His Church to lose their physical lives through martyrdom, to redeem their spiritual lives—receiving eternal life.
(7) Are others of God’s Church to be protected during this time of tribulation and martyrdom? Revelation 3:10; Isaiah 26:20; Luke 21:35-36.
(8) How can we tell that these end-time events are near? Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10.
(9) Does God provide a signal for the time of flight from the impending tribulation? Matthew 24:15-16.
Comment: Read verses 17 to 20. This is a time of extreme urgency! After the sign of the abomination of desolation, the military assault upon physical Israel will quickly follow.
(10) Will Israel’s modern-day descendants be held accountable for the witness given to them? Amos 3:7, 1-2.
(11) Will it become necessary for God to execute vengeance upon these peoples by allowing their destruction during this time? Ezekiel 7:1-3, 10-11.
(12) Does God later show mercy to the remnant of the descendants of ancient Israel who survive the Tribulation? Isaiah 14:1; Jeremiah 46:28; Ezekiel 39:25.
(13) How long will the Great Tribulation last? Hosea 6:2.
Comment: The entire time of protection from the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord will be three and a half years according to Revelation 12:14. The Day of the Lord lasts for one full year, using the day-for-a-year principle of Ezekiel 4:6 and Numbers 14:34. This leaves two and a half years for the Tribulation, which agrees with Hosea 6:2: “after two days [years] will He revive us.” Being raised up in the “third day,” at the end of two and a half days (years), pertains to the remnant of physical Israelites being protected during the Day of the Lord.
The Sixth Seal—Signs in the Heavens
(1) What happens immediately after the Great Tribulation? Revelation 6:12-14; Matthew 24:29.
Comment: At the opening of the Sixth Seal, a great earthquake occurs, signaling the end of the Tribulation. At this time, thousands of saints will have been redeemed through martyrdom and the vast majority of Israel will have been killed. The earthquake, followed by an unprecedented display of signs in heaven, will strike fear into many. The sun becoming dark, the moon becoming red, and thousands of falling meteors will indicate the arrival of the time of God’s wrath upon the earth—the Day of the Lord.
Revelation 6:15-17 details this account. As the world’s inhabitants realize that the time of God’s wrath has arrived, many will wish that the mountains and rocks fall upon them to hide them.
Your review of the booklets recommended in this lesson will greatly broaden your perspective on the scope and impact of the first four seals. Finally, to better understand all that has been presented in this condensed lesson, read our booklet Revelation Explained at Last! (A chart shows an outline of the chapters of the book of Revelation, while another chart presents the clear story flow of Revelation.) This will give you a clear overview of this little-understood book.
The next lesson will continue with the Seventh Seal, which ushers in the Day of the Lord.
Lesson Seven: The Day of the Lord
In Lesson 6, we saw the point marking the end of the Great Tribulation (Satan’s wrath on God’s Church and the nations of physical Israel), and the beginning of the Day of the Lord (God’s intervention, and His justified wrath on the gentile nations).
In this lesson, we will cover each of the trumpet plagues, through the completion of the seven last plagues.
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