Six Seals; One Savior

Posted: December 19, 2010 in Revelation

Revelation 6:1-17, “Six Seals & One Savior”

Reading Revelation 6, it can be pretty sobering – if not downright terrifying.  And yet at the same time we know it’s only Ch SIX; just the very beginning of the description of the judgments of God upon a rebellious world.  So why look at this at all?  Why not keep the description of Jesus to the little Babe in the manger, or at least the loving servant of the 4 Gospels?   Simply put: because the Bible doesn’t.  Jesus is the Suffering Servant who came & suffered the wrath of God for our sin, and offers us forgiveness & eternal life through His resurrection…amen.  But that’s not ALL Jesus has to do.  In His 1st coming, He came to seek & save the lost; in His 2nd coming, He’ll come to judge the quick & the dead.

This may not be how we prefer to look at Christ – but this IS our Lord Jesus Christ.  This is simply who He is.  He’s not just the Son of God who died for mankind; He’s also God the Son, fully holy & righteous & just.  God MUST judge sin if He is truly good – and that’s exactly what the bulk of the rest of Revelation shows: the just judgment of our good & holy God.

It all begins with the 7 seals, 6 of which are shown in this chapter.  Remember our context to this point… …

Revelation 6 (NKJV)
1 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 see.” 2 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.

  1. Vs 1 sets up the pattern for the other seals to follow. (1) Jesus opens the seal, (2) one of the four creatures in turn announces it, (3) John goes to look.
    1. Jesus opens the seal: Keep in mind, this very act is significant.  The major point of Ch 5 was that in all of creation, there was no one worthy to open the seals other than the Lord Jesus; now He’s following through on this.  Everything that follows is a result of His work & will – which is why the people on the earth recognize it as “the wrath of the Lamb” (vs. 17).
    2. The announcement: Each one of the four living creatures (the cherubim) take a turn in announcing the seal – which happens for the 1st four seals only.  There’s a bit of textual debate whether or not the creatures say “Come & see” or merely “Come.”  If it’s “Come,” then the cherubim could be talking to each one of the 4 horsemen, sending them forth on their mission.  The majority of manuscripts do include “…and see,” which would mean they were giving instructions to John (though very loud instructions!).
    3. John looks: Keep in mind these are all visions for John.  He definitely writes what it is that he sees, and he uses very literal language to describe it – though there’s certainly some symbolism that takes place.  (Ex: how exactly does the realm of Hades ride a horse?)  Yet this is what Jesus revealed to John, and he is absolutely faithful to his witness.  Thus there’s no reason to write off what he says as being purely symbolic.
  2. The 1st horseman. The debate has raged here.  Who is this: Christ or Antichrist?  Those who interpret Revelation from a historical standpoint argue that this is Christ going forth to conquer the world with the gospel.  After all, Jesus later appears on a white horse in Rev 19, which would provide some consistency. There are a few problems with that:
    1. The horseman is given the power to conquer; yet we cannot say that the gospel has yet conquered the world.  It certainly has gone out into the world, but true born-again Christians have always been a minority among the nations & this would make Jesus’ kingdom pretty small.
    2. Although this horseman has the power to conquer, any peace he brings with him is very temporary, which is illustrated by the other horsemen.  When Jesus comes to rule, His kingdom will usher in a lasting peace.
    3. Even granting a white horse, there still is not consistency in the vision because every other time Jesus is seen with a weapon of some sort, it’s been a sword; not a bow (Rev 1:16, 2:12, 2:16, 19:15, 19:21).  The bow is only mentioned once (and significantly, no arrows are mentioned with it).
    4. Practically speaking, how can Jesus ride forth if He’s still got 6 more seals to open in addition to the other judgments of trumpets & bowls?
  3. Thus the 1st horsemen cannot be the Lord Jesus; this is Antichrist released under the sovereign authority of God to fulfill prophecy.  Question: “Isn’t the Antichrist an enemy of God?  Why would Jesus release him?” Yes – the Devil & Antichrist are enemies of God; but Jesus still has all authority over all of creation.  Just as when God allowed Satan to afflict Job, but limited what Satan could do – so does Jesus allow Antichrist to go forth.  Even here, we see Antichrist’s limitations in that he cannot proceed until Jesus opens the 1st seal & he cannot do anything until he’s given the power to conquer.  (Never let anyone tell you Satan is the equal opposite of God!  There’s no comparison!)
    1. Why the white horse?  Because the enemy always attempts to imitate the things of God.  Because Jesus has a white horse, the enemy has a white horse & Antichrist will fool many people into thinking he is actually the Christ…which is exactly what Jesus warned the disciples about, Matthew 24:5  For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. []

                                                                          i.      Matt 24 (and Mark 13 & Luke 21) comprise what’s known as the “Olivet Discourse” & in it Jesus teaches what will happen during the Great Tribulation (and in Matthew, goes on to talk about some of the judgment in Matt 25).  There are many parallels between that teaching & Revelation – especially the 1st several seals.  What we see in the seals is what Jesus referred to as “the beginning of sorrows” (Mt 24:8) – the beginnings of what is known as the Great Tribulation.

  1. Aside from the imitation horse & the temporary kingdom, is there any other reason to believe this is a reference to Antichrist?  Yes.  Daniel received a prophecy that seems to speak of this very event: Daniel 9:26-27 (26) “And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the s6anctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined. (27) Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; But in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate.” []  The context here is a prophecy regarding 70 “weeks” – a “week” being a reference to a 7-year period of time.  When Daniel (and the rest of the Jews) were still in captivity in Babylon, the angel Gabriel told him that 70 weeks had been “determined” (planned) specifically for the Jews & citizens of Jerusalem.  From the time that a command was given rebuild Jerusalem (as King Artaxerxes of Persia did in Nehemiah 2), 69 weeks (7 weeks + 62 weeks) were given as a period of waiting before Messiah was revealed. (This is roughly 490 years, which brings us exactly to the point in history of Jesus’ earthly ministry – by some calculations, even to the very day that Jesus presented Himself in the Temple on Palm Sunday!)  Gabriel then tells him that in after the 69th week, Messiah is cut off (crucified, resurrected, ascended) & that another prince would come in & confirm a covenant with the Jews for 1 week.  That prophetic week has not yet taken place & that’s exactly what seems to be portrayed with the 1st horseman.  A prince imitating Christ goes forward with power to conquer – though he does not initially do so with force (arrow-less bow) & this week is given for a covenant with the Jews (and the rest of the world).
    1. It needs to be noted that Revelation itself never gives a specific timeframe for these events.  Though there are 7 years in Daniel’s prophetic week & half-way through we know that Antichrist will turn on the Jews & commit the abomination of desolations, we don’t know how long each of these seals will last.  The immediate tendency is to think that we have 7 years & 7 seals, so each seal = 1 year…but Scripture never tells us that.  Some believe that this 1st seal takes up the majority of the 1st 3.5 years & all of the rest of the seals (and trumpets & bowls) are compressed into the latter half.
  2. With all that said, is there any application here for the Christian?  Yes.  This is NOT the man you’re looking for. J  As born-again believers in Christ Jesus, we’re not looking for the arrival of Antichrist on the scene.  We know he’s coming (the Bible makes that clear), but we don’t need to spend a lot of time guessing his identity.  By the time Antichrist confirms this covenant, the Church will have been raptured; we’ll be with Jesus, worshipping God & witnessing all of this from Heaven.  So don’t worry about Antichrist; just keep looking for Jesus Christ!  Live for Him & His glory & be ready to see Him at any moment when He calls you home!

–          The other seals aren’t debated nearly as much…comparatively speaking. J

3 When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see.” 4 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.

  1. The 2nd horseman: violence & war.  Obviously whatever peace that Antichrist ushered in from his horse was short-lived.  War erupts on the earth & people devour one another in violence.  If we think the world is a violent place now, just imagine what it will be when the Restrainer is removed (the Holy Spirit’s presence through the Church – 2 Ths 2:7) & the world is left to its own devices.  We see war now (and Jesus said we would), but it will also lead to time of more worldwide violence as the 2nd seal is opened.  Matthew 24:6-7a (6) And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. (7) For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. []  War breaks out all over the earth, but the “end is not yet” – there is still the full wrath of God to be poured out during the rest of the Great Tribulation & the world will have to endure it.

5 When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” So 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 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.”

  1. The 3rd horseman: famine & economic collapse.  If red is often a color of war, black is often a color of mourning & death, which is exactly what comes in with the 3rd horseman.  The scales in his hand are a symbol of commerce (so much money to be exchanged for so much weight of something…), and apparently with this seal the world economic system collapses.  A denarius was a day’s wage & a “quart of wheat” is about a day’s worth of food.  Basically, one day’s average pay supposedly enough to feed a whole family & provide other sustenance is barely enough money to feed one person.  By some estimates, this is about 12X the normal price of food. 
    1. Our nation is still recovering from the financial crisis of 2008, when the housing bubble collapsed & the banks crashed.  Unemployment hit over 10% in Oct 2009, and is still around 9.8% as of Nov 2010.  Many of us felt the effects of the crisis in extremely personal ways.  Yet compared to opening of the 3rd seal, this crisis will feel like a walk in the park.
  2. We perhaps can understand the unleashing of Antichrist & war to help people look to Christ & repent, but why economic collapse?  Because few things affect people like a pull on their pocketbook.  People who rarely pray often try to seek God in two places: the hospital & the unemployment line (or wherever they pay their bills).  Keep in mind that although through these seals, God is beginning the time of the Great Tribulation, every day that passes by is still another opportunity for people to repent & put their faith in Christ!  True, the time for rapture has passed – but there is still time before the 2nd coming of Christ in judgment, and God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9).  He’s giving people every opportunity possible to turn from their sins & receive the forgiveness He offers in Christ.  God will do what it takes to get our attention – and if that includes allowing people to go through economic crisis, then so be it.  Our eternal soul is of far more value to God than our checking account.

7 When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.” 8 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.

  1. The 4th horseman: death.  Even his horse looks ghastly.  The pale color actually refers to a pale green…the color that a corpse would get over time.  Death is personified here, as is Hades, who either rides with him or follows close behind.  Note that the Greek does specify “Hades” here, as opposed to “Hell” as the KJV translates.  What follows Death on the horse is not the lake of fire or place of eternal punishment; it’s the general realm of the dead.  Death will affect not only those who are under the wrath of God, but those who come to Christ will experience great persecution & likely genocide (as seen by the multitude of martyrs).  Massive death will take place, as this horseman has the power to kill one quarter of the world’s population.  (Another argument for the futuristic interpretation of Revelation…at what point in time as death claimed ¼ of the earth worldwide?  It must be a reference to a future event.)
  2. Jesus warned of this as well – speaking of both the 3rd & 4th seal in the Olivet Discourse.  Matthew 24:7b  And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. []  We look at these words & mourn for what the world will endure – who among us wants to see that kind of bloodshed?  The good news is that this time won’t last forever.  Death (at this point) may seem to run rampant, but we see what happens to Death & Hades later on when both of them are cast into the lake of fire at the end of the Millennium (Rev 19:14).  Jesus is completely victorious over death, and one day even Death itself will die!

9 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. 10 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?”

  1. The 5th seal: the martyrs.  The horsemen are all released & John’s attention is brought again to Heaven.  As the 5th seal is opened, he sees a group of martyrs under the altar of God.  Who exactly are these martyrs?  Likely they are people who have come to faith in Christ after the rapture of the Church & in the beginning throes of the Tribulation time.  How so?  (1) We’ve already seen representatives of the Church worshiping God through the 24 elders.  (2) The people who have persecuted these martyrs are obviously still alive on the earth, in order for God to exact His righteous vengeance on them.  Certainly they can be representative of all of those who have been killed for their faith in Christ through the centuries, but this specific group of people seem to be those who will be killed at the beginning of the Tribulation & will be joined in Ch 7 by many more who are martyred for their faith.
  2. Jesus spoke of this as well: Matthew 24:9-10 (9) “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. (10) And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. []  Obviously what Jesus said is true of all Christians throughout history – but in the context of the Great Tribulation, it proves to be especially true.  There will be many who come to saving faith in those days – and it will cost them their lives.
  3. Question: “Why do the martyrs cry out for vengeance?  Wouldn’t it be better to pray for their persecutor’s forgiveness & repentance?”  One doesn’t necessarily exclude the other.  Both Jesus & Stephen prayed that God would not hold the sin against the people who killed them – but yet at the same time we know that all sin will be judged righteously by our Righteous God.  That doesn’t mean that Jesus’ & Stephen’s prayers weren’t answered; it simply means that all of their persecutors had more time to repent.  For God to be truly good, He MUST judge sin.  A good God cannot look the other way when a child is murdered or genocide takes place.  That sin MUST be judged; otherwise God is not good…He’d be incompetent. (Perish the thought!)  Praise the Lord that all sin IS judged – either upon the Cross or at the Judgment.  God will not allow even the sin during the Great Tribulation go without answer.  Vengeance belongs to God, and our righteous God will take it.

11 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.

  1. The white robe is symbolic of the righteousness of Christ – they had been clothed by Him & told to rest.  God would continue to pour out His wrath during the remainder of the Great Tribulation & until the day Jesus set foot on the earth, there was still time for people to repent & place their faith in Christ.  For God to avenge the martyrs sooner than the appointed time would mean that Jesus’ 2nd coming would happen sooner, and not as many people would be saved.  God, though He is perfectly righteous, is also perfectly merciful & loving – He will wait for the full number of those to be saved to actually be saved.
    1. Aren’t you glad?  We ache for Jesus to sound the trumpet & call us home in the rapture (which will set off all these events) – but when Jesus does wait, it simply means that there are more people to be saved prior to the beginning of the Great Tribulation.  Aren’t you glad Jesus waited for you?
    2. If you’re here today & still haven’t put your faith in Christ as Savior & Lord, this ought to ring especially true for you.  You have the opportunity NOW; don’t waste it.  So far, Jesus has withheld the calling of His Church…take the opportunity now to become part of it, turning from your sin & submitting your life to Christ as Lord. 

12 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. 13 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. 14 Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.

  1. The 6th seal: natural & supernatural disasters.  Isaiah prophesied much the same thing: Isaiah 34:4  All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree. []  When God’s wrath begins to fall upon the world, all of creation feels the forces of it!  What exactly happens?  Both the sun & moon are darkened & give no light…  At least one truly huge earthquake shakes the planet (which CAN happen!  Indonesia Tsunami/Earthquake Dec 26, 2004)… Even meteors or asteroids fall from space (i.e. ‘shooting stars’) in great numbers…
  2. It’s impossible to escape the similarity with what Jesus taught about His 2nd coming in the Olivet discourse. Matthew 24:29-30 (29) “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (30) Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. [] Scholars debate how to pinpoint the exact timing of the 6th seal, but at the very least, this starts to usher in the events that climaxes directly in the moment every human being alive sees the Lord Jesus in His power & glory.
    1. There’s some good news here: in the midst of everything that will look to be chaos at the outset of the Great Tribulation, it all shows that the Lord Jesus will be coming back!  These are the very signs that precede His coming.  Though the outpouring of God’s wrath is truly terrible for those on planet earth to endure, they can be assured that the days of Tribulation are limited & Jesus will be coming back to rule & reign.  Keep in mind that there is every indication that people will be getting saved during the Tribulation (though the rest of the Church will have already been raptured); for them to know without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus won’t delay His coming will be VERY good news!

15 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, 16 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! 17 For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

  1. Everyone will experience it.  This isn’t a time of tribulation for the rich, nor for the poor – but everyone who to that point has rejected Christ & continued in rebellion against God.  People will run, but they won’t be able to hide…
  2. Note that people recognize Jesus in all of this.  Though many (perhaps the majority) still end up rejecting Christ until the end, they will still recognize that it is Jesus who is starting to pour out His wrath upon the earth.  We don’t often think of “lambs” being full of power & vengeance, yet that is exactly the case with Christ.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, but He is also the Lion of the Tribe of Judah with all the power, holiness, justice, and righteousness of Almighty God (because He IS God).
  3. Question: who CAN stand the wrath of God?  No one.  Only Jesus could bear the full brunt of the wrath of Almighty God (which is demonstrated through the resurrection & ascension – He’s the only person who could bear the full weight & live again).  No one outside of Christ has any chance of surviving. [] No other religion – no other good deeds – no positive “vibes”…only by being hidden in the grace of Christ Jesus & covered by His love can we stand in the sight of God.
    1. Keep in mind this is absolutely the promise we have in Christ.  The Bible explicitly tells us that Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10) & that we are not appointed to wrath (1 Thess 5:9).  Jesus took the wrath we deserved upon Himself in order that we would never have to experience it in our own body.

Conclusion:

As with many things in Revelation, be careful not to miss the forest for the trees here.  The tendency we have is to get caught up in the signs & supernatural, attempting to visualize it in our heads wondering how it would look on a huge movie screen.  But though the signs are given to attract attention; they’re not given to attract attention to themselves.  And those who will be left understand that.  The people experiencing all of this see exactly what the real issue is here.  The beginning of the Great Tribulation will be truly terrifying as these supernatural judgments start to take place – but what overshadows the 4 horsemen & earthquakes & signs is Christ Jesus Himself.  The Lamb of God is pouring out His righteous wrath upon the earth, and HE is the One whom the nations will fear (far more than things falling from the sky).

It may seem a bit strange looking at a passage like this just prior to Christmas.  After all, at Christmas, we get the Nativity scene with shepherd & angels, and things are so much more peaceful than what is portrayed in Revelation.  But keep in mind we’re talking about 2 different aspects of the same Savior.  In Bethlehem, Jesus came to suffer & die; in Revelation, Jesus comes as a righteous Judge. []  It’s because Jesus DID suffer & die for us bearing the wrath of God upon Himself that it is so just for Him to pour out the wrath of God upon those who reject Him.  To reject the forgiveness of Christ is to continue in sinful rebellion against Christ – and the only right thing for God to do is judge it (and be assured, He will – as the 6 seals begins to show).

But that’s the very reason Jesus died.  Jesus died on the cross & rose again to save us from that judgment.  At this point in Revelation, 6 of the 7 seals have been opened, but Jesus is still available as Savior.  He is Savior to all who call upon His name now; He will be Savior to all those who humble themselves to Him prior to His return.  Praise God for sending a Savior!  He had every right & every reason to let us perish within His wrath; yet He gave us a Deliverer – a Man through Whom we might escape that fate.  Praise God!  Christian, spend time today thanking God for your deliverance & your Deliverer.  Jesus is a righteous Judge, but He is also a wonderful Savior!

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