INDUCTIVE STUDIES ON REVELATION

The Three Cycles of God's Wrath

The Seven Seals
(Rev. 6:1-17)

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THE SCRIPTURES (6:1-17)

1 And I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, "Come." 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

3 And when He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, "Come." 4 And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men should slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.

5 And when He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, "Come." And 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 as it were a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine."

7 And when He broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come." 8 And I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. And authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.

9 And when He broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, should be completed also.

12 And I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. 14 And the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?"


INTRODUCTION

When Jesus speaks about His second coming, what passage or book in the OT does He direct us to (Matt. 24:15)?

According to this OT passage 7 years are critical at the end of history. We today call these 7 years "the Great Tribulation." What triggers these 7 years (Dan. 9:27)?

According to Dan. 9:27 what happens during the middle of the 7 years?

Daniel writes: "And on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction." Jesus combines the 2 words in Daniel 9 ("abominations" and "desolate") to create a new term "abomination of desolation." According to Jesus, this person does something so abominable in God's eyes that God pours out great desolation upon His enemies and the enemies of His people.

From all appearances it seems that the abominable act in Dan. 9 occurs halfway through the great tribulation. The great desolation God pours out upon His enemies then lasts 3 1/2 years. Moreover, it is only after the first 3 1/2 years that God releases the Antichrist and allows him to run rampant over God's people. For this reason, we are going to place the seals, trumpets, and bowls of wrath in the second half of the tribulation, starting after the Antichrist has committed the Abomination of Desolations.


THE FIRST SEAL (6:1-2)

What happens whenever the Lamb breaks the first seal?

This horse and its rider have basically been the focus of 2 major interpretations. The first claims that the rider is the Beast, the Antichrist. It is difficult to see how this interpretation comes from these verses; however, there just may be some support for this interpretation.

If the seals take place half-way through the tribulation, then they occur at the same time that the Antichrist is really turned loose. Second, the fact that the horse he is riding on is white may indicate that this rider is really a good "angel" sent from God or else an imitation of something God. The prefix "anti" in the word "Antichrist" can actually mean that he has come "in place" of Christ, that is, he is an imitation of Christ.

A safer, but not necessarily right, interpretation of these verses is that this rider simply represents "conquest." The rider actually to a large extent resembles the Parthian warrior (from modern-day Iran) who was viewed as the most terrifying menace to the Roman Empire on its eastern borders. The Parthians rode horses into war AND also wore crowns in battle. In this instance of wrath, God is unleashing Rome's most feared enemy upon her and the Antichrist, the Roman emperor. (One thing which really argues in favor of this interpretation is that God here is pouring out wrath upon the enemies of His people. The first interpretation does not account for this, whereas this second interpretation does.)


THE SECOND SEAL (6:3-4)

What happens when Jesus the Lamb breaks the second seal?

This second rider was permitted to take what from the earth?

What was given to this second rider?

Again, what does this symbol mean? It means that God has unleashed hostile forces against the Roman Emperor and the Roman empire.

We so much hear about the Pax Romana, the peace the Roman Empire was supposed to have brought upon the Mediterranean world at that time. Although the people living in the Empire to a large extent experienced peace (the peace slaves have with their masters), the Roman legions were constantly warding off attacks from those beyond the borders of the Roman empire: the Parthians to the east, the Germanic forces to the north (the movie Gladiator), the Picts to the northwest. Although for hundreds of years the Roman legions warded off these attacks, very few regions in the Empire were totally safe from sneak attacks from these hostile forces. These hostile forces were actually instruments of God's wrath against the Roman Emperor and his empire.


THE THIRD SEAL (6:5-6)

What happens whenever the Lamb breaks the third seal?

This seal probably symbolizes famine. A denarius was the regular wage for a day laborer. If a quart of wheat (used for bread) or 3 quarts of barley (used for the poor man's bread) costs everything a person makes in one day, then famine has hit the land. This famine would be a natural consequence of the first 2 seals: marauding armies would destroy crops which would lead to famine. The third seal then shows us that God is using famine to punish the enemies of His people.


THE FOURTH SEAL (6:7-8)

What happens when the Lamb breaks open the 4th seal?

Again, these punishments are natural consequences of the previous seals being broken. War leads to famine which leads to pestilence and death. The decimation of the population results in wild beasts being free to roam in the cities and create havoc, a sight the people in John's day would have been very familiar with during times of war.


THE FIFTH SEAL (6:9-11)

When the Lamb breaks open the fifth seal, whom does John see beneath the altar which is before God?

Keep this in mind because they will come in once more later in Revelation.

What do those beneath the altar request from God?

What are they told in response to their request?

The response given to the martyrs is quite chilling. According to verse 11, how long will the Great Tribulation last?

The Jews believed in what is called the "messianic sufferings." According to the Jews, the Messiah had to suffer a certain amount in order for Him to give birth to the new heavens and the new earth. Paul picks up on these messianic sufferings in Col. 1:24. It seems that Paul is saying that although Jesus the Messiah has suffered to the extent that our sins are paid for, all the messianic sufferings have not yet been experienced. Jesus continues to suffer through His people's sufferings. It takes the suffering of Christians to complete the messianic sufferings so that the new heaven and new earth can be created. John seems to be picking up on this concept in the fifth seal.

      If Paul and John are saying this, then you need to understand that your sufferings have significance. They are actually Christ experiencing the necessary amount of birth pangs so that the new heaven and the new earth can come into being. [It is only AFTER the tribulation that the new heaven and the new earth come into being (Rev. 21-22).]


THE SIXTH SEAL (6:12-17)

According to verses 12-14 what happens whenever the Lamb breaks upon the 6th seal?

What do non-Christians want the rocks and mountains to do to them?

Their cry shows you just how bad it is going to get in the tribulation. Many well-meaning Christians point to these verses to "prove" that Revelation can only refer to the future and not to the days of the Roman persecution of Christianity. Few laypersons realize, though, that the Roman Empire experienced natural disaster after natural disaster about this time. One of the most notable natural disasters was the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius which buried Pompeii and Herculaneum towards the end of the first century AD. The wild thing is that in many cases the Romans actually blamed Christians for these disasters, just like Nero had blamed them for the burning of Rome.


What question do the non-Christians ask at the very end of v. 17?

Since we have already studied chapter 7 (one of the interludes), we will not study it again. However, chapter 7 answers the question the non-Christians ask in v. 17: the 144,000 who were sealed on their foreheads with the brand of God will be able to stand during the day of God's wrath. Just like the Israelites were NOT harmed when God poured out His plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians, so God's people will NOT be harmed by God's plagues during the Great Tribulation. Christians will be severely persecuted by the Antichrist and his followers; however, they will not be harmed by God's wrath.