The First Six Seals (Study # 5)
Study 5 – The First Six Seals
This chapter is related to the Seven Seals on the scroll that the Apostle John saw in Heaven. We saw in the previous study that this scroll was man’s title to his lost inheritance -- the inheritance of being a king and a priest. Our first parents lost this inheritance in the Garden of Eden by listening to Satan and disobeying their Creator.
The Seven Seals will extend, at the very least, throughout the seventieth week of Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27). The Seventieth Week, will commence when the Antichrist signs a peace treaty with the Jews of Israel and will finish with the coming of Jesus Christ. This will be studied in depth in chapter 11. Upon completion of the events described under the Seven Seals, Jesus will have established Himself as King over all the earth, and redeemed men will be in full possession of their inheritance as kings and priests.
I. The First Seal
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.
The rider mounted on the white horse cannot be Jesus Christ. This rider is carrying a bow, but there is no mention made of an arrow. That means that his armament is incomplete. Jesus, when He comes back to the earth to conquer the nations, will do so with the sharp sword that proceeds from his mouth (Rev. 19:15,21).
Under the Second Seal there is mention made of the peace that will be taken from the world. Taking into account that white, the color of the First Seal, has always been the symbol of peace, we can say that this seal is related to the efforts of man to bring about world peace. Never in any other epoch of world history has there been so much desire for, nor so many efforts to achieve peace as there has been during the 20th century. From the very beginning of the century, more than 200 peace treaties have been signed and broken.
It is calculated that during the more than 50 years that have passed since the end of World War II, there have only been four or five days without an armed conflict taking place in some part of the world. The rider mounted on the white horse goes out conquering and to conquer. Wicked men of this century, under the pretext of seeking peace, have spilled oceans of blood and have enslaved millions of other human beings through the worst tyrannies that this world has ever seen.
II. The Second Seal
3 When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see.”
4 And 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.
After the failure to achieve peace, there comes war. A glance at what has happened in the 20th century gives us a glimpse of what awaits us in the near future. The First World War was fought under the slogan, “This is the war to end all wars.” After that war, there was formed an organization called the League of Nations. Its purpose was to establish permanent world peace. Nevertheless, the world suffered a series of wars until the Second World War broke out.
In World War I, some ten million people died. Nobody can be absolutely sure, but it is estimated that during World War II between 24 and 50 million people perished -- and that was after the war that was going to put an end to all wars.
When the Second World War ended, the United Nations was formed. Politicians and statesmen said that now they would be able to establish lasting peace. But the history of the U.N. has been a history of failures. Just by listening to the current news programs on the radio and television, we can see and hear the most recent failures of that organization.
I remember an occasion from my childhood during the time that the United Nations was being formed. When my father read its official declaration, he commented to a friend: “There is something lacking here. There is no mention of the Almighty. The leaders of these countries are trying to secure peace without giving any place to the Prince of Peace, and they will fail!” My father did not pretend to have the gift of prophecy, but the truth is that if Jesus Christ, the only One who can bring peace to the human heart, is left out, there can be no peace in this world.
All the efforts of man to achieve peace are destined to failure. What we see under the Second Seal is confirmation of this. All students of Scripture are in agreement that here there is mention made of a great war. The rider mounted upon the fiery red horse goes out with a great sword to take peace from the earth.
! III. The Third Seal
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.”
As a consequence of this great war there will be famine throughout the earth. At the present time, we do not give much importance to a little bit of flour or a few grains of wheat; but the Bible speaks of a time when there will be such a scarcity of food stuffs that two pounds of wheat will cost a day’s wage. That is what a denarius was worth during the time of the Apostle John; it was the standard wage for a day laborer. In this future great scarcity of food, a man will receive for a day’s work only sufficient to sustain his own life, without mentioning his family and other needs.
In the 20th century, such conditions have come to be a reality in various parts of the world. During the years 1931 and 1932 in the Soviet Union, the communist authorities deliberately deprived the peasants of their foodstuffs in order to force them to accept the collectivization of their lands. In those years, the Soviet government exported wheat to other countries with the propaganda, “Look at the abundance of food that our system has produced.” Meanwhile, according to official Soviet reports, five million peasant families “disappeared.” Calculating that each peasant family had an average of five members, we have a shocking total of 25 million deaths by hunger in only two years!
Victor Kravchenko, a Russian diplomat who was able to escape to the West, had been present during that forced famine. He wrote in his book, I Chose Freedom, that the peasants were reduced to cooking grass and horse manure to eat. Such was the scarcity of food for a period of time in the Soviet Union that the theft of two potatoes could bring a sentence of ten years in a forced labor camp.
During the Second World War, there was such a terrible scarcity of food in Europe and in China that food was sold at prices as high as those that are mentioned here in Revelation. The city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) endured a siege of 872 days, surrounded by the German army. Known by the Russians as the 900 Day Siege, it lasted from September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944. Almost a million inhabitants of the city died during that siege. Such was the scarcity of foodstuffs that there were even cases of cannibalism. The cannibals were easily recognized because they were the only people who appeared strong and healthy. They not only helped themselves to the dead bodies that were stacked on the street corners, but some cases they enticed their victims to their homes and there killed and ate them.
When the communists rose to power in China in 1949, they put plans in operation that caused the deaths of millions of their subjects. For example, the Red leaders decided that the sparrows were eating too much of the harvest. It was therefore ordered that all Chinese were to spend whole days in the open air, beating pots to scare away the birds until they feel dead from exhaustion. The plan was successful; great numbers of sparrows died. Then the insects greatly increased since there were few birds to eat them. The insects ate a large part of the harvest, and many Chinese died in the resulting famine.
The following is another example of the disaster caused by the desire of the Chinese Communists to play God. They implemented a plan called “The Great Leap Forward.” All Chinese had to construct smelting furnaces in the courtyards of their homes to make steel. In those furnaces they were required to melt down their cooking and eating utensils and even the tools they needed for agriculture and industry. While the Chinese were occupied in that destruction which produced only useless iron, they were not cultivating their fields. Again, the result was famine and death for millions more Chinese. These are historical facts.
In more recent times, the world has seen via television scenes of great famines in Biafra, Ehiopia, Somalia, Sudan, etc. All this loss of life, as terrible as it has been, will seem small in comparison to that caused by the massive famine which will take place in many parts of the world during the time of the Third Seal.
IV. The Fourth Seal
7 When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.”
8 And 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.
Mention is made here of the death of a fourth of the world’s population. As of October, 1999, there are 6 billion people in the world. So verse 8 predicts the deaths of a billion and a half people. In Chapter 9 we read about a war that will take place in the future in which a third part of the earth’s population will die. Commencing with a fourth part, and then a third part of those who are left, there is predicted the death of half the world’s population. It has been said that during the First World War about five percent of the casualties were civilians. This increased to 48 percent in the Second World War, and came to be 80 percent in the Korean War. Ninety percent of those who died in Viet Nam were civilians. It is estimated that in a nuclear conflict, at least 90 percent of the casualties will also be civilians.
The power of nuclear arms is measured in megatons. The explosion of an atomic bomb of only ten megatons can set over 5,000 square miles on fire, which is about the area of the state of Connecticut. A ten megaton bomb is small in comparison with the 100 megaton bombs that now exist. Thus we see that the destruction which the Apostle John predicted in the time of the Fourth Seal is even now a real possibility.
Jesus referred to the horrendous events mentioned under the Fourth Seal in His discourse concerning the time of the end in Matthew 24:6-8: “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. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.”
In light of what is now happening, could we not be living in that period of time which Jesus called “the beginning of sorrows”? Concerning the present time, Jesus has explained what should be the attitude of those who are His in Luke 21:28: Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near. Instead of causing fear, these events should produce hope within every Christian because they indicate that the Victory of Jesus Christ is very near.
V. The Fifth Seal
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?”
11 And 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.
When the Fifth Seal was opened, John saw the souls of the redeemed saints under the altar in Heaven. This
means that they had not yet received their immortal bodies. Therefore we see two things here: one is that when a believer in Christ Jesus dies, he goes directly to be with the Lord in a conscious state. And this agrees with what we read in II Corinthians 5:8, that upon being absent from the body, we are present with the Lord.
Also, the ninth verse of Revelation 6 tells us that until the time of the Fifth Seal, a time very advanced in the Great Tribulation, there will not have taken place the Rapture of the saints. The confirmation of this truth is seen in other portions of Revelation. This is contrary to what is taught in many churches. From childhood, I learned concerning the Second Coming of Jesus Christ -- and for me it is a glorious hope, the great hope of our faith! But I had always heard it taught that before the Tribulation, Jesus would come for His saints and take them out of the world. I preached and taught thus for many years. But upon studying the Word of God for myself, especially the Book of Revelation, I had to change my viewpoint. I had to accept the fact that there was a great probability that the Church of Jesus Christ would have to pass through most of the Tribulation.
In the following chapter, John sees in a vision a great multitude of people coming into Heaven. One of the elders tells him that these are those that have come out of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7:14). It is very clear that many will be converted and will die for their faith during the Tribulation. It is better to be prepared for the Tribulation and have the Rapture take place before; than to assume that Jesus is going to take us away first, but instead find ourselves totally unprepared in the midst of the Tribulation.
The Book of Revelation was written especially for believers who would have to pass through the Tribulation so as to encourage them and console them during those horrible, sad days. This book serves to assure us that, in spite of everything, the Lord continues to maintain control over all that happens. Everything is going according to the plan which the Lord has prepared and there awaits for every faithful believer a glorious victory. Perhaps we will have to suffer and even die, but according to the Word of God we will not lose anything.
In the second study of this series, there is mentioned the book entitled The Apocalypse, by a Reverend Seiss who preached his messages on Revelation over 100 years ago. Seiss, a Lutheran minister, interpreted the prophecies of Revelation so literally that his writings have more value today than when he penned them! Reverend Seiss tells in one of his sermons about the visit he made to Jerusalem when Palestine was still under the power of the Turks. There he visited the Mosque of Omar, the second most important temple for the Moslems. It stands in the same place where the Temple of Israel had once stood. In that place there is a great cavern where the Jews of antiquity were accustomed to empty the blood of the animals they had sacrificed.
When Reverend Seiss visited Jerusalem, the cavern was covered over by a block of marble. Upon stomping on it with his foot, he discovered that there was a great empty space below. He comments that the Moslems have a superstition in which they believe that the spirits of the dead go to stay in that cavern. This explains why the Moslems consider the Mosque of Omar to be the second most important place after Mecca. It also explains why present day Arabs have such a strong desire to retake Jerusalem. But, what a contrast there is between that belief of the Moslems and what we see here in John’s vision. Instead of a dark, gloomy cavern, John saw the faithful dead under the altar in Heaven already enjoying the Lord’s special care, even though they had not fully entered into their inheritance of being kings and priests.
! VI. The Sixth Seal
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.
A little before His crucifixion, Jesus, in His discourse on the Mount of Olives, referred to the same time and the same events. We read in Matthew 24:29: “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.” Jesus and John both saw the light of the sun and the moon darkened.
We can understand this vision of the stars falling like figs, by something that took place in the first part of the 1970’s. A meteorite appeared over the western part of the United States and disappeared over Canada. Some scientists, who photographed it, calculated that its size was about 20 by 40 feet, and it weighed some 20,000 tons. The meteorite passed above the earth at a distance of scarcely 30 miles. Scientists said that if it had fallen, the meteorite would have had an impact like that of a nuclear bomb. These portions of Scripture indicate that there will be many such incidents during the end-time. One can scarcely imagine the panic, the terror, and the devastation that there will be on the earth by the impact of the great meteorites.
14 Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.
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?”
The prophecy of the Sixth Seal describes the coming of Jesus Christ to the world. At that time, the kings, the great and the small of the earth will be praying to the mountains and the rocks to cover them from the wrath of God, because they had refused to call upon Jesus Christ to make peace with Him when there had been an opportunity.
In the same discourse of our Lord in Matthew, there is mention made of the panic among the impious and unbelievers: “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. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt. 24:30-31). At the same time when Jesus comes and there is panic among the wicked, all Christians will be taken up and out of the world. This will happen immediately after the Tribulation of those days (Matt 24:29). Because of these, and other prophecies which are equally explicit, there is ample reason to believe that the Church will pass through most of the Tribulation and will only be “raptured,” in the last part of it.
There is something about which we need to be clear. While believers will have to suffer persecution which the Antichrist will bring upon them, we will see in the next chapter and other portions of this book that they will be sealed and kept from the wrath of God. His wrath is to be discharged only upon the evil doers. It will be a thousand times better to suffer the wrath of man -- though that man be the Antichrist -- than to suffer the wrath of the Almighty. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).
Everyone has to choose. He can make peace with Jesus now by asking of Him pardon for his sins; or he will be reduced to the ridiculous extreme of calling upon the mountains and the rocks when Jesus returns in glorious power. If we accept the challenge of following the Great Sovereign, cost what it will, we have this sure promise from God’s Word: This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. In we endure, we shall also reign with him. If we deny him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself (II Timothy 2:11,12). Amen!