Revelation 15 ended surprisingly quick, so now it is time to move on to Revelation 16. As I looked at verse one, I was immediately confronted with the confusion I encounter almost every time I try to progress through this book.
While most of Revelation is clear to me, all this wrath gets a little confusing. I suppose as a follower of Christ I should not be concerned, especially since I consider myself to be a believer in a Pre-Tribulation rapture. I always feel the need to clarify this title “tribulation”. First, tribulation is a guaranteed way of life for the believer. It comes in many forms and from many venues; much of will come from the various religious zealots that you will encounter as you walk through life. Becoming a masterful apologist, like Ravi Zacharias, may help put those people in their place, but the Apostle Paul, a man who essentially had his doctorate in the Torah and Tenach, in effect had a contract out on his life, ordered by religious zealots who withstood him.
So, what we are dealing with here is not so much a time of tribulation as it is a time of God's wrath being poured out on the earth. Thinking this way tends to eliminate some confusion, as you attempt to understand the arguments of those who angrily proclaim that followers of Christ can only be caught away as a mid-tribulation, or a post-tribulation church.
There are also those who think all we are doing is looking for a way to escape the everyday pains of life. Get serious, we here in America do not yet know what tribulation feels like. We have yet to experience being trapped inside our churches only to have the doors sealed as we inside are fire bombed, merely because we are of a differing religion.
Since I am more of a visual learner, I need to build pictures in my mind. If I can visualize it the concept will stay with me for a long time.
A scroll sealed with seven seals. I got it. I can almost see the Lamb striding up and taking the scrolls. He pauses, looks around and nods his acknowledgment that it is time and pops the first one open.
With each seal, something new hits the earth. Let's see if we can break this down and make it clearer.
The events associated with the seals begins in Revelation chapter six, verse 1, and continues through Revelation 8:1.
The First seal:
Then I saw the Lamb break open the first of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice that sounded like thunder, "Come!" (Revelation 6:1 GNB)
This unleashes riders upon colored horses, and with them comes great grief.
“And I looked, and saw there a white horse whose rider carried a bow. And a crown was given him, and he rode forth conquering and to conquer.” (Revelation 6:2 AMP)
This particular rider is understood by many to represent false peace. He wears a crown which indicates some authority or leadership.
As with most everything we see in Revelation, the Jewish believers would have an immediate recognition of these colored horses. Predominantly found in Zechariah 1:8, and Zechariah 6:1-3.
I have my opinions and I believe that this rider is Islamic. Islam proclaims itself to be the religion of peace. Sadly, that only works if you belong to the sect of the moment.
The Second Seal:
When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" (4) And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword. (Revelation 6:3-4 ESV)
“Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another,” How much more violence does it take for us to understand that this is happening. Have you been watching the less than mainstream news? You should, because the government controlled, mainstream news won't talk about how Muslims staged a fairly coordinated attack upon property and women, in multiple large cities across Europe on New Years eve. Doesn't that seem convenient; the streets filled with people and targets, in this case, women, and many were raped.
Set all that aside for a moment. What about the rising violence against anyone outside of Islam in Northern Africa? Or, let's bring it home. What in the world is happening to the streets of America? Have we lost our minds?
These are the kind of things that make me believe that we are operating under, at least, the first two seals of Revelation 6.
Yeah, I know, that freaks many of you out; me too, and here is why.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 ESV (9) For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
The time we are reading about is the time of wrath. It will only get worse and that is what Jesus tells us in Matthew 24:21.
The Third Seal:
When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be 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 wine!" (Revelation 6:5-6 ESV)
A pair of scales in his hand? There was a time that money was based upon weight. A balanced scale indicated that you had paid enough. Somehow, I do not think things have been equitable for some time now. The Amplified bible says, a quart of wheat for a days wages. Are we there yet? Not quite, but it will only take one calamity and we will be.
You are probably aware that January of 2016 North Korea announced that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. While the experts say no, some are saying that what they may have tested was a successful EMP blast. That would do it.
Note that it says, do not harm the oil and wine. Have you ever wondered why? Maybe it is because people will have the need to numb themselves and therefore still have the need for some two-buck chuck.
The Fourth Seal:
So far the seals do not seem so bad, and, as I noted, we may be embroiled in it already and not even realize it.
When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:7-8 ESV)
This is where life on earth starts to get very intense. I tend to believe this is more toward the midpoint of this time period because of the carnage we see here.
Stop for a moment and think. Since what we are primarily considering is God's wrath being poured out, can we eliminate the violence man is capable of? The answer is no. Therefore, it is possible that what is being described here is God unleashing man's fury as well. If that concept bothers you; it bothered me too, but if you will consider things like Israel being taken into captivity. You know, the same captivity that brings Daniel the prophet to the forefront. In reality God: preserved his people; fulfilled his prophetic word; handled punishment for disobedience; established men like Daniel, and apparently, because of Daniel, established a school of wise men trained to ascertain the signs in the heavens, whom, because they were willing to compare those heavenly events with scripture, came to Bethlehem in search of the young child Jesus – something the religious leaders of Israel would not do. (Without reading a bible, you will not understand all the ramifications of the wise men's actions. We know from history that there was a large number of them, including entourage. When Herod became aware he was alarmed, as was all Israel. Isn't that odd? Herod questioned the chief priests and elders as to what might be going on, and they told him. They knew that the scriptures told of Jesus being born in Bethlehem, and apparently they had all seen the sign in the heavens. So, what I say is valid.)
“ And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts”
Who is the “they” in this scenario? My strongest assumption is fallen, angels. Balaam met an angel in the road as he traveled and it had a sword in his hand. So, it is possible. Again, we cannot eliminate the acts of man, and the religion of the sword is Islam.
One fourth of the earth's population is killed in this barrage. Don't expect this to happen overnight.
The Fifth Seal:
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 witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. (Revelation 6:9-11 ESV)
How appropriate. Consider that we have just witnessed, in a sense, the death of one-fourth of the earth's population, and now John is shown a large quantity of the martyred before the throne in heaven.
Note that they are saying, how long before you avenge our blood? Doesn't that tend to indicate that at least some of the previous violence was dealt out at the hand of man?
In an effort to get people thinking differently out about this time we are dealing with, I tell them to stop calling it the tribulation. Using the term that way, tends to make it sound like a problem coming against people from an external source - an enemy, when it is not. This grief is coming from God as punishment for unbelief, and, it is God's vengeance for man's cruelty. It is wrath. Spend enough time driving a Southern California freeway and you will think that is tribulation. In a sarcastic moment, I will point out that having to replace a broken propeller on your speed boat does not even come close to tribulation. Living under the constant threat of death, or the potential of having your young daughter taken at gunpoint to be raped or sold as a sex slave tends to define tribulations more accurately.
I say we, but cringe, when I say it, for many, have already died, and they had hope for the rapture to come and get them out of harms way, but that did not happen. It may not happen for us either. If that is the case, how will you handle it?
We have many examples of God sparing his people from the wrath that was to come. Two come quickly to mind:
- Lot – The angels said, we can do nothing until we get you out of here. So they grabbed him and his family, escorted them outside of the city and allowed them to escape to the town of Zoar. When the angels knew that Lot's family were safe the wrath from God rained down on those cities.
- Noah - Built an ark as he spoke to those who would listen about a wrath from God coming upon the whole earth. On that day, God himself put Noah and his family in the ark and closed the door. Nobody believed Noah and only the believers were spared from the wrath.
Note the response to their plea for vengeance: “ Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been”. Rest a little longer until the rest are killed. It only gets worse. There is no need to separate whether they die by God's hand or man's, for it is God's purpose that is being served.
You may struggle to see this, but the Revelation also demonstrates God's mercy. Everything you see was intended to drive men toward him. Even if they come by meeting a brutal end, the result is the same, you get restored to live, oppression will cease, and you get to spend eternity with your Father. Scripture tells us that even the rocks cry out to be released from this destruction; what makes you think you are so different?
The Sixth Seal:
Revelation 6:12-17 ESV When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, (13) and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. (14) The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. (15) Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, (16) calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, (17) for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"
I want to show you something.
- “The sun became black as sackcloth.”
Is it possible that it can get worse? Absolutely.
- The Moon will turn to blood.There was a great earthquake
The Northridge California earthquake of 1994 was a 6.6. What is coming will be much greater.
- “the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale.”I cannot even imagine what that will look like.
- “The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up”This moves into science fiction imagery. Try to imagine the sky being rolled back like a carpet.
“every mountain and island was removed from its place.”
This is something we may have an easier time visualizing because we have memories and video of things like Mount Saint Helens in Washington state.
“Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Revelation 6:15-17 ESV)
I do not know about where you live, but there are not any caves around here to hide in. This opens the door to speculation. What if the caves are man-made?
The reality is that everyone is suffering during this time. The rich may have been able to escape some of man's violence by hiding in these bunkers, but then, why are they crying out for the mountains and rocks to fall on them to hide them from the face of God. Don't they realize that God is trying to drive them to him?
All this calamity and yet We are still only under the sixth seal.
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads." (Revelation 7:1-3 ESV)
“After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.”
A commentary by Joseph S. Exell, M.A., titled, The Biblical Illustrator, states that the explanation of the four winds comes down to two things:
1. Divine judgments. Wars, famine, pestilence, the overthrow of kingdoms, and the universal wreck of all earthly things. The particular judgments to which these winds refer are, I think, those mentioned in the sixth seal, at the close of the sixth chapter, and whose fearful operations are represented by the seven trumpets in the eighth chapter.
2. All events and influences unfavorable to the cause of Christ. The wind of persecution; the wind of false doctrine; the wind of delusion and wild fanaticism; the wind of temptation; the wind of infidelity; the wind of open profanity and blasphemy; the winds of affliction, adversity, and distress; by all of which the Church is frequently assailed. These things are called “winds,” because they produce agitation and commotion—breaking the branches, blasting the fruits, and uprooting the trees of God’s spiritual vineyard. They are called “four” winds, to show their universality, their wide-spreading desolation. They are called winds of the “earth,” because the earth is the scene of their operation—they are forever excluded from heaven; they are coming from the four cardinal points at once shows their violence, rage, and fury.
What if there is a third explanation: natural weather events. In a sense, the wind the pushes global events around. It also cools the earth. Withholding the wind will cause the surface temperature of the earth to raise.
“ Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads”
This terminology might be one of the main reasons authoritative speakers try to convince you that the 144,000 are entirely symbolic of the church. This idea does not seem feasible for several reasons:
First: The servants are explained in the next verses as being from the tribes of Israel, therefore making them Jews, but it does not close the door to them being what we consider to be believers.
Second: People from every nation, tribe and tongue will continue to come to the Lord. What do you think he will call them? Depending upon the translation, names like servant comes to mind.
The next scenario almost feels like a victory to me.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?" I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. "Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."” (Revelation 7:9-17 ESV)
This is different from what we saw in Revelation chapter six, for in chapter six they were crying out for vengeance and it was a countable number. With a scene in which one would assume that God is done, why not end it here? I do not have the answer to that, nor is it clear in my mind as yet. God is keenly aware of how many are going to come into the kingdom, just as he was aware of how many others would hear the message and get onto the ark that Noah was building. Regardless, he offers salvation to all who will listen.
Do you see the mercy? I realize that it is difficult when you are on the receiving end of wrath to comprehend it as an act of mercy, just as children may not realize what you are doing as you explosively snatch them out of the path of an oncoming car that does not see them. Yes, this destructive period is really a time of mercy, for everything is meant to point men to God. Do they listen? No, but some do, and it is more than we imagined.