Many Bible teachers believe chapters 6 – 19 describe the Great Tribulation to which Daniel referred in Daniel 9:24-27 and Daniel 12:1-2 and Jesus referred to in Matthew 24:25, Mark 13, and Luke 21.
We’ll read Revelation 6:1-8
I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword. When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!” When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creatures say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
John is invited to see the terrible judgements God’s wrath will inflict upon a rebellious and unrepentant world.
The First Seal Judgement
A Rider on a White Horse
Who is the rider on a white horse? The fact that the rider rides “a white horse” very likely suggests that this is a counterfeit Christ which Jesus has warned about in Matthew 24:4-5. Also see Matthew 24:23-27. In addition to being a counterfeit Christ, his authority and position was not earned but given as we can see from the fact that “ he was given a crown. “ That he has a bow speaks of military conquest. His motivation is to achieve military victory through his continual victories as the words “he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest” show us. This person will come at the scene of the time of the Great Tribulation as foretold by Daniel in Daniel 7, 9, 11 and the Apostle Paul mentions him in II Thessalonians 2. This person will therefore be a world leader who will deceive and convince people that he is a messiah. He will gradually rise to power and eventually become the dominant ruler in the world.
The Second Seal Judgement
A Rider on a Red Horse
The symbolism of a “fiery red” horse has been traditionally that of war and bloodshed. The coming world ruler will arise in an atmosphere of proclaiming peace but he will soon take it from the earth. At that time many people will be killed.
This ruler is given a large sword which indicates that he will have unusual powers to declare his authority and influence over the affairs of mankind.
The Third Seal Judgement
A Rider on a Black Horse
“A black horse “speaks of death resulting from famine and starvation. Famine usually follows war and bloodshed.
This horseman will bring the following tragic conditions:
1. Prices are going to change as the “pair of scales” suggests.
2. Food prices are going to rise dramatically. Inflation will cause food prices to rise so high that a whole day’s earning will be needed to purchase enough food for one meal for a family.
3. The quality of food will change because of the inflation. Barley is the food for animals but families will begin to eat it instead of wheat.
4. “Oil and wine” are items used by the rich and will not be affected by the
inflation,so the rich will continue to be rich while the poor will be poorer.
The Fourth Seal Judgement
A Rider on a Pale Horse
This horse is the colour of a corpse and goes well with the name of its rider – Death, the only horseman named. The rider is followed by Hades, the abode of all the sinful dead people, suggesting that this horse and its rider symbolise the tragedies that will come upon the unbelievers during the Tribulation period. This horse and its rider will have an impact on one fourth of the world’s population, which could be as much as 1½ billion people. This mass killing will take place in four ways: by the sword, famine, plague and wild beasts. These four horsemen reveal the horror of the coming tribulation that will affect mankind. Sadly there is much more to come.
The Fifth Seal Judgement
The Cry of the Martyrs
Let’s read Revelation 6:9-17
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How Long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow-servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. I watched as He opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned back like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and free man hid in cases and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
The opening of this seal reveals those who have lost their lives because of their faith. They are most likely the martyrs of throughout the centuries. No doubt, they have a special place in God’s heart and here they are honoured in a unique way. We are told that John saw them under the altar. This does not refer to the altar of incense but more likely refers to the altar of sacrifice. Their lives had been sacrificed much like the sacrificial animals were killed daily in the tabernacle and the temple. Since the text says that “they had been slain” it implies that they are not the ones who will be killed during the tribulation but had already been killed. They had been killed for the Word of God and for their testimony. They had not seen the fulfilment of the promises they had believed in. In light of what they suffered and the long delay in the fulfilment of God’s promises we can understand that they cried out to God for justice to be done. Life is filled with many injustices. It is only natural to want revenge. However, the bible is clear that vengeance and judgement belong to God as we can read in:
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.
The martyrs of the past simply cry out to God when He will do what He has promised and avenge their blood. These martyrs ask what many of us ask today about the injustices and the evils in society – How long, O Lord. We learn from this passage that these martyrs were able to cry out to God and express their concern for the fulfillment of what God had promised. Their white robes symbolise their righteousness before God. They are then told to wait a little longer, to rest a little longer. Afterwards their lives will be full of activity for they will be ruling and reigning with Christ in the Millennial Kingdom. They are furthermore told that others will join them who have been killed for their faith as well. Once the number of all the martyrs is full then this killing of believers will come to an end.
The Sixth Seal Judgement
When the sixth seal is opened, John sees some amazing events that were predicted by the prophets long ago, He talks about an event he calls “a great earthquake.” Now we have had many earthquakes but it seems this is an earthquake like no other we have ever experienced. In the heavens the sun, moon, stars and sky are affected by the earthquake. The prophets Isaiah, Joel and Amos predicted such an event in:
“Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like the destruction from the Almighty. Because of this, all hands will go limp, every man’s heart will melt. Terror will seize them, pain and anguish will grip them; they will writhe like a woman in labour, They will look aghast at each other, their faces aflame. See, the Day of the Lord is coming – a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger – to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless. I will make man scarcer than pure gold, more rare than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the Lord Almighty, in the day of His burning anger.
Come near, you nations, and listen; pay attention, you peoples! Let the earth hear and all that is in it, the world and all that comes out of it! The Lord is angry with all nations; His wrath is upon all their armies. He will totally destroy them, He will give them over to slaughter. Their slain will be thrown out, their dead bodies will send up a stench; the mountains will be soaked with their blood. All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shrivelled figs from the fig tree.
“I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your religious feasts into mourning and all your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads. I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like bitter day.”
Even though some people believe these events to be interpreted symbolically, many commentators believe these events are literal and will take place as described, but they disagree as to when they will occur. We will look at three different viewpoints.
Some believe that these passages refer to the earthquake which will occur at Christ’s return at the end of the tribulation. Those who hold this view usually point out that a great earthquake does happen at the pouring out of the seventh bowl of wrath, described as the final plague on the earth which we find mentioned in Revelation 16:17-21. Though there are similarities between chapters 6 and 16, we need to recognise the differences for in chapter 6 the great day of God’s wrath “has come” and in chapter 16 the great day of God’s wrath “is done.” The earthquake of chapter 6 begins the judgement of God and the earthquake in chapter 17 ends the judgement of God. Some believe this earthquake is the one predicted by Ezekiel in:
In My zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel.
However, the earthquake prophesied by Ezekiel will only happen in Israel while the earthquake in chapter 6 of Revelation is predicted to affect every mountain and island.
This earthquake will happen at the beginning of the tribulation as the words in Revelation 6:17 show us For the great day of Their wrath has come and who is able to stand?
World leaders will panic along with all the people of the world. They will realise this is not a normal earthquake but a demonstration of the wrath of God and “who is able to stand?” These words are similar to the words in:
But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.
Similarly, Jesus spoke of His coming day of judgement in:
There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.
Many will be shaken
Men and women, from the least to the greatest, realise that the judgement of God has come upon them and they cower in fear. However, they do not repent of their sins.