Just in case you were not with us last Sunday… Revelation 5 is a pivotal passage in the flow of the book because of what John has just witnessed take place in heaven. Revelation 5:6-7, “And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.”
In this future scene, John witnesses the very moment when the time had come to initiate the final act of God’s will for planet earth. A plan conceived before the foundations of this world but sealed up by God in this scroll was about to come to its ultimate fruition.
With the Church now removed from the earth and safe in heaven, God’s attention will turn towards finishing His dealings with Israel, judging the world of her sin and rebellion, and in the end ushering in a new Kingdom of peace and tranquility with Jesus at the helm.
Beginning in Revelation 6 and continuing all the way into chapter 19, John will document a future period of seven years known as Daniel’s 70th Week, Jacob’s Time of Trouble, the End Times, or the Great Tribulation. According to Daniel 9, we know these seven years begin with the Antichrist signing a false peace with Israel and will conclude with the 2nd Coming of Jesus and the Battle of Armageddon. At the halfway mark, we also know the Antichrist will enter the Temple and commit what’s known as the Abomination of Desolation.
Between these bookends, John will describe for us a series of three judgments being initiated by specific occurrences in heaven. Jesus will lose the seven seals to this scroll, then with the seventh seal angels will blow seven different trumpets, and with the seventh trumpet seven more angels will pour out seven bowls. With each of these actions in heaven, John will record for us the reciprocating, cataclysmic event that coincides on earth.
As we work our way through the next 14 chapters, please keep a few things in mind… While there is a chronology to the events John witnesses in the throne room of heaven, the truth is his sense of time is much different than ours. Not only will John go back and forth from heaven to earth watching these things play out over a seven-year time period, but at various points in the narrative, he will take a break in the action in order to go back and add additional details or to elaborate on the more significant developments.
Not only is it entirely possible for a series of chronological events occurring in heaven to play out and even overlap in non-chronological ways on earth, I believe it’s likely! Yes, there is a chronology to John’s revelation, but the chronology is three dimensional and not linear.
Before we dive into the 6th chapter, it’s also important you know one of the great aids when it comes to understanding much of what John is witnessing is to read it all within the context of a sermon on the End Times Jesus gave known as the Olivet Discourse. You’ll find this sermon recorded in Matthew 24, Luke 21, and Mark 13.
What’s noteworthy is that, in this discourse, Jesus establishes for us an outline for the way things will play out during these final seven years. It’s not a coincidence that John’s revelation and specifically the seal judgments of chapter 6 will perfectly follow suit.
Consistent with what the prophecies of Daniel document, Jesus affirms this final act of God’s plan for this world will begin with a great deception by an even greater deceiver. The Antichrist will come upon the world stage promising to bring about a lasting peace. And, in turn, he will be seen by the Jewish people as being their long-awaited Messiah.
Revelation 6:1-2, “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.’ (Again, a seal is opened by Jesus and John will be taken to earth to see what ends up happening as a result.) 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.”
The first thing John notices of the Antichrist is that he rode upon “a white horse.” Tragically, some scholars mistakenly believe this to be a reference to Jesus because He’ll also ride a white horse without understanding that’s the entire point. You see this man is an Antichrist not because he’s antithetical to Jesus, but presents himself as a replacement to Jesus.
In response to the disciple's question, “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Jesus began the Olivet Discourse warning Israel, “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and ‘The time has drawn near’ and will deceive many. Therefore, do not go after them.” Sadly, in response to their continued rejection of Jesus as their Messiah, the day will come when God allows the Children of Israel to accept as their Savior an imposter, a poser, the Antichrist!
Keep in mind, only hero’s ride white horses — the good guys and never the villains! For example, the Lone Ranger rode a brilliant white stallion named Silver. You see the purpose behind John’s description of the Antichrist riding on a white horse was to emphasize the reality he will stride upon the world stage as a star! His popularity will be off-the-charts.
This man will be brilliant. He’ll be dynamic, eloquent, and his character unassailable. He’ll be the leader the world has been waiting for and he’ll present and market himself as such. Regarding the Antichrist, there will be an irresistible magnetism to his personality. He’ll have such charisma and charm the entire world will endear themselves to him.
As with Satan who presents and conceals himself as being an angel of light, you would be right in arguing not a soul living would have ever imagined the evil within this man.
John says, in turn, this man will be “given a crown.” In light of the prophecies of Daniel, we know this man will become the leader of a revived Roman Empire. A collection of what is likely to be ten European nations will grant to him incredible power and authority as illustrated by the “bow” in his hands. John says the Antichrist was not an idle man immediately using his power to go “out conquering and to conquer.” The idea is that he waged war to conquer those who failed to fall into line and in the end proved successful.
Let’s continue… Revelation 6:3-4, “When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ 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.”
Again, it’s important to keep in mind with each seal we find a judgment of God taking place on the earth. What happens occurs via the direct involvement of Jesus pulling the strings behind the scenes. Global war will not be a coincidence, but divine intervention.
Jesus would tell His disciples that during this time of what was to be peace “nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.” With the opening of the second seal, this reality is confirmed by what John witnesses. In spite of the Antichrist’s promise of peace, John records how “another horse went out” this time “fiery red” in color (red being symbolic of war) with “the one who sat on it granted” the authority to “take peace from the earth.”
While this man will be at the center of European dominance and will come to rule the world through four unique federations (again described by Daniel), his reign will face continual resistance and his alliances will prove fragile because God forbid peace from occurring. As such, we know these seven years will be characterized by wars and continual conflict.
It’s sobering to consider but to say our world sits upon a powder-keg would be an understatement. Following the second world war, the nations of our planet spend more on military budgets and weapons than virtually anything else! It’s been estimated that if we redirected this spending for only one year we could eliminate global hunger!
In 2019, 1.92 trillion dollars were spent globally on military development, with the United States accounting for roughly 38% of the total — 732 billion dollars. The second nation on the list was China having only spent 261 billion. It's worth pointing out that since 2010 military spending in the Asian Pacific has increased 165%, 94% in the Middle East and Africa, and 49% in Latin America. It seems the world is arming up for a conflict that John sees happening with the opening of the second seal.
Revelation 6:5-6, “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. (In Roman times scales were an economic tool you could use to practically measure out what something was worth.) 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.’”
In ancient times “a quart of wheat” was akin to a portion of food that could satisfy one man for one day. “Three quarts of barley” was normally the daily ration for a Roman citizen living in an area suffering under the weight of a famine. When you take into account “a denarius” was basically a day's wage, the global conditions John witnesses are bleak.
One of the great strategies envisioned and implemented by our elites following two world wars in the span of some 40 years was a lasting peace being achieved through mutual economic destruction. The reason we have a global economy intricately weaved together through a series of backroom deals governed by just a handful of multinational banks was to ensure every nation was both vested in the debts and holdings of everyone else. It’s why the crash of the Greek economy in 2008 almost led to a global depression!
As a consequence of war John witnesses occurring with the second seal, we can imagine the world would plunge into an economic collapse with a devastating famine being the natural byproduct. Now John sees in this third judgment a day's wage only able to buy you the ingredients to make one loaf of bread let alone pay for anything else. Whether this was the result of some type of hyper-inflation or currency de-evaluation or that the scarcity of food itself increased the price, we do know the basic necessities of life grow scant.
In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus says that following these wars “there will be famines” as well as what He calls “pestilences.” In the Greek, this word we have translated as “famines” literally means there will be a shortage in the harvests. Years ago as small farms transitioned from being family owned and operated to being run by large multinational operations, the type of seed used to grow our food started being genetically-modified and produced by companies like Monsanto to be more resistant to bugs, fungus, drought, and the like.
While that sounds nice and ensures an increase in production and minimization of risk, the tradeoff has been that the vast majority of the seed used today is sterile. What this means is one year's harvest is not able to lead to the following year's crop. Every year we all rely on massive corporations for our food supply who in turn have to purchase new seed from other massive conglomerates. You can imagine how global war could easily lead to global famine.
Aside from “famines” Jesus also said there would be “pestilences.” In Acts 24, this Greek word is actually translated as a “plague.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines this word as being a deadly, infectious disease. Considering we presently find ourselves living through a global pandemic wreaking havoc on the world’s economy with an infinitesimal fatality per infection rate, can you imagine what the effects would be if a similar, lab-created, highly infectious virus was released possessing a fatality rate north of 10%?
This unknown “voice” that John “heard in the midst of the four living creatures” also instructed “he who sat on the black horse not to harm the oil and the wine.” While things were bad, the idea is that they could have been much worse. In an act of God’s grace, He supernaturally preserves the “oil and wine” from the effects of this severe, global famine.
Revelation 6:7-8, “When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ So I looked, and behold, a pale horse (actually a yellow-greenish color of sickness). And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades (literally Hell) 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.”
It would appear this “pale horse” carries forth the natural effects of the previous three judgments. Because of these wars, the world economy is brought to ruin, famine makes the necessities of life difficult to come by turning “beast” against master, and an infectious disease is unleashed on the planet. As a result, John tells us “a fourth of the earth” is killed.
Again, this is a future scenario so if we round up to 8 billion people, one-quarter would equate to an astounding 2 billion deaths. For a little context, this would be the equivalent of everyone in North, Central, and South America dying. There is no doubt the rider of this fourth horse has the name “Death” and “following him” came his buddy “Hades!”
What is really daunting about the effects of these four horsemen is that Jesus refers to these things as only being “the beginning of sorrows.” In fact, in Matthew 24:22, He will say of the great tribulation that would follow, “Unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved.” You see as bad as things are by this point, they are going to get much worse! Under the reign of the Antichrist, the world will be given a small taste of hell!
Revelation 6:9, “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.”
Instead of an invitation by one of these “four living creatures” to “come and see” what was happening on earth, with the opening of the fifth seal, John notices a brand new detail concerning the throne room of heaven he hadn’t seen before this moment in time. John says he sees “under the altar the souls of those who’d been slain.”
Now, in order to unpack what it is that John’s describing for us, it’s important to point out he will end up describing this same group at the end of chapter 7 as being “a great multitude which no one could number, standing before the throne of God, serving Him day and night.”
As such, we understand the reference of “souls” was a general way of referring to people and not a group of men and women awaiting a physical body. Additionally, the phrase “under the altar” should not to be taken literally as if there is an altar in heaven, but should be seen as a symbolical way of saying these people had sacrificially laid down their lives. The truth is that since Calvary there is no longer a purpose in there being an altar!
Broadly speaking, it’s safe to say these “souls” were the men and women who came to faith in Jesus Christ sometime after the Rapture of the Church and who find themselves being martyred during these seven years of Tribulation. While in chapter 6 John simply tells us they “had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held,” in chapter 7:14, we’re told explicitly, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation.”
John adds… Revelation 6:10-11, “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?’ 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.”
While we’ll talk about these martyred saints in greater detail next Sunday, please know their motivation for “crying out” was not to compel God to enact revenge on those who’d done them harm. Instead, their appeal seems to be motivated by a desire to see God put an end to this persecution out of a love for “their fellow brethren” still living on earth.
Notice God’s response to their petition… John says “a white robe was given to them.” While the fact this robe was “white” implying an inherent righteousness and purity God was clothing them in, the Greek word we have used for “robe” is absolutely fascinating. In fact, within the Book of Revelation, this particular “white robe” is reserved for only these martyred saints coming out of the Great Tribulation!
In the New Testament, this type of “robe” makes only four appearances. There are two occasions the word is used to describe the long, ornate robes warn by the scribes (Mark 12 and Luke 20). There is one instance when we’re told the angel sent to notify the women of Jesus’ resurrection in the Tomb was “clothed in a long white robe” (Mark 16). But it’s the fourth time this word is used I believe provides the greatest meaning…
In Luke 15 Jesus tells a story of a Prodigal Son who, after ruining his life, decides to come home… “And when the Prodigal Son arose and came to his father. When he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ ‘But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.”
Keep in mind, this group of men and women had been left behind. They had rejected Jesus, ignored the witness of their friends and family, and resisted the wooing of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Then one day the Rapture unexpectedly happens and to their great surprise, they found themselves being thrown into the midst of Great Tribulation.
To their immense credit, a humbling occurred, and against incredible odds and a very real persecution these folks had not only accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior but had been willing to lay down their lives “for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.” How glorious that like the Prodigal, upon arriving home the Father greets them with a robe!
After clothing them in such a special garment for their faithfulness, John also records how “it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer.” The idea is that instead of worrying about the horrors “their brethren” still alive on this earth were facing, they needed to rest, enjoy heaven, and trust that God had everything under control.
Jesus then reassures them that He would indeed intervene, but He adds that He wouldn’t act before “the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” In your Bible, you will notice the words “the number of” are italicized meaning it was added by the translators in order to help provide clarity. It doesn’t!
In fact, if you remove these three words, the passage takes on a whole new level of significance. “They should rest a little while longer, until both their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” The purpose of Jesus’ waiting to act on their behalf had nothing to do with His predestination or foreknowledge, but the fact their present trial was actively making them into the people He intended them to be. Death doesn’t make a martyr. Death only reveals if you were ever a martyr to being with!
Revelation 6:12-14, “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake (in context it would seem this was a global rumbling of some kind); and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair (describing the dark color of the sun John literally says it was as black as a satchel made of hair — there was a common bag used by the Romans made from the black goat hair of Cilicia called a cilicium), and the moon became like blood (no doubt referring to the moon being a reddish color).
And the stars of heaven (from the vaulted expanse of the sky) fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind (late figs would be ready to fall on their own so a mighty wind would cause a large number of them to fall to the ground — I believe John is seeing a meteor shower, but one whereby the meteors actually crash into the earth). Then the sky receded (separated or severed) as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place (set into motion).”
Ultimately, there are two ways scholars interpret what John is seeing take place along with the opening of the sixth seal. There are some who read into the text assuming that John is witnessing some type of manmade, nuclear event. I tend to fall into the other camp that believes John is witnessing a very real, supernatural, cosmic disturbance on the earth.
In fact, the greatest proof of this is the response to what’s happening… Revelation 6:15-17, “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders (military men), the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 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! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’”
Whatever it is that is happening on earth from this sixth seal judgment, there is an awareness by everyone its origins are divine. Amazingly, while everyone irrespective of wealth or class realizes they are experiencing the “wrath of the Lamb,” their desire is avoidance, not repentance. Just as Adam and Eve in the Garden sought to hide from the presence of God, sinful man wants to avoid their destiny with Jesus.
In light of the fact “the great day of His wrath has come,” humanity cries out with a simple question… “Who is able to stand?” The answer is rather simple… Friend, the only reason any of us will ever be able to stand on such a day is that Jesus has already stood for us by taking upon Himself the wrath of God meant for our sin and transgressions!
In closing, I want to place this chapter into a much larger context. Again, these judgments of God are poured out onto this world because Jesus has taken the scroll and is opening its seals. Jesus, the Lamb who was unjustly slain, is the One judging the world of her sin and rebellion. It’s brutal and difficult to imagine, but it is the future destiny of this fallen world.
Sadly, in our desire to be friendly with the world, the Church fails to present this side of Jesus. Yes, He died to save the world from sin, but the day will come when He’ll judge the world of sin. In the end, your interaction with Jesus as either a Savior or a Judge will boil down to whether or not you’ve accepted what He did on Calvary. Either Jesus took the wrath of God upon Himself for your sins or you’ll stand in judgment experiencing God’s wrath on your own. It’s really your call!
You see all of these things are part of God’s will — they will happen; and yet, we know they are presently on hold — why? According to 2 Thessalonians 2, the only thing “restraining” the first seal and therefore the arrival of the Antichrist is the work of the Holy Spirit through the Church. Once the Church is removed from this earth, the first domino will be pushed setting into motion a chain reaction of events bringing about these final judgments.
It’s a shame, but we live in a day when our secular society is tolerant of everyone — with the one exception of Christians. In fact, people will argue the one group of people prohibiting progress towards a more equitable world are the followers of Jesus.
The truth is that there is a contingency of our fellow citizens who want Christians and Christian influence out of academia, corporate America, and politics. Well… I would suggest you be very careful about what you wish for! The day is coming when their wish will be granted! The day is coming when the Church and our influence will be removed from this world and the events recorded in Revelation 6 will be the result.
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