Chapter 8

The Seven Seals, the Second Coming and the Reward: an Overview

INTRODUCTION

The Lamb has been found worthy to open this very important scroll. While we aren't told what the scroll is, the events that mark its opening are very significant. Note the orderly progression of events as each seal is opened. This series of events culminates with the second coming of Christ, the saints' triumphant celebration and a moment of silence.

SCRIPTURE

The four creatures call forth horsemen

Rev. 6:1 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!" 2I 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.

3When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" 4Then 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.

5When 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. 6Then 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!"

7When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" 8I 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.

9When 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. 10They 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?" 11Then 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.

12I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

15Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"

A look ahead towards the harvest of the earth

Rev. 14:14 I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one "like a son of man" with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, "Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe." 16So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.

17Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, "Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth's vine, because its grapes are ripe." 19The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God's wrath. 20They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses' bridles [about 5 feet high] for a distance of 1,600 stadia [about 180 miles].

Rev. 7:9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice:

"Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb."

11All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12saying:

"Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!"

13Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes --who are they, and where did they come from?"

14I answered, "Sir, you know."

And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore,

"they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple;

and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.

16Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.

The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.

17For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Rev. 8:1 When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

COMMENTARY

The account of the opening of the seven seals I see as very much paralleling the vision that God gave to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel chapter 2. In the vision, God showed Nebuchadnezzar an overview of all the major empires of the world through to the establishment of God's eternal kingdom.

The rest of the visions recorded in the book of Daniel, provide additional detail into various segments of this overview.

In a very similar sense, the vision of the opening of the seven seals provides an overview into a series of events beginning at some point in history and culminating with the setting up of God's eternal kingdom.

Let's first look at the events of the seven seals that have more obvious interpretations, and then at the more obscure elements.

As Christ the lamb begins opening the seals, the four living creatures call out "Come!' And as each does, an event occurs of great significance. Before we look at the events brought about by the appearance of the riders, let's look at what the horses and riders might symbolize and more particularly, the first horse and rider.

At first we see a rider on a white horse riding out to conquer. He is successful. There are several views commonly held here. One view held by some evangelicals is that this rider is the antichrist. However this view doesn't really fit with the rest of the pictures of riders of white horses riding out to conquer.

During the night I had a vision --and there before me was a man riding a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses. I asked, "What are these, my lord?" The angel who was talking with me answered, "I will show you what they are." Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, "They are the ones the LORD has sent to go throughout the earth." And they reported to the angel of the LORD, who was standing among the myrtle trees, "We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace." (Zech. 1:8-11)

I looked up again --and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains --mountains of bronze! The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled --all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, "What are these, my lord?" The angel answered me, "These are the four spirits of heaven [perhaps the four living creatures?-cherubim], going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south." When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, "Go throughout the earth!" So they went throughout the earth. Then he called to me, "Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north." (Zech. 6:1-8)

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. (Rev. 6:2)

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. . . . The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. (Rev. 19:11, 14)

If indeed the seven churches represent seven periods of time, than the "after this" referred to in Rev. 4:1 would indicate that the opening of the seals would take place after the messages to the seven churches had done their intended work.

Thus the opening of the seven seals most likely commences soon after Jesus throws down the censor (Rev. 8:3-5) and ends his intercessory ministry on behalf of the world. It also is coincident in time with the beginning of the events described in Daniel 12:1.

Dan. 12:1-3 "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people --everyone whose name is found written in the book --will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

We'll look at them in greater detail later. Let's see if this timing works.

The First Seal

Rev. 6:1 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!" 2I 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.

Note the similarity between this text and Rev 19:11, 14 quoted above. The rider, Jesus (Faithful and True) rides out to wage war, as a conqueror bent on conquest. The next horse, the result of war and conquest is obvious.

The Second Seal

3When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" 4Then 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.

It would make good sense that once Christ leaves the Most Holy place and removes his restraining power over the evil one, and authorizes the four angels holding back the four winds of trouble and strife, that there will be incredible wars fought.

Additionally, in a later chapter we'll see how God turns the wicked nations of the world, (which were arrayed for battle against His people) against each other.

Rev. 17:16 The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God's words are fulfilled.

We will look at this in more detail when we get to that chapter.

The Third Seal

5When 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. 6Then 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!"

There are 38 texts in the Bible mentioning oil and wine together, and 22 that mention grain, oil and wine, but there is only one place where wheat, barley, oil and wine are mentioned together and that is also in the context of wages when Solomon was getting ready to build the temple.

2Chr. 2:1 Solomon gave orders to build a temple for the Name of the LORD and a royal palace for himself. 2 He conscripted seventy thousand men as carriers and eighty thousand as stonecutters in the hills and thirty-six hundred as foremen over them. 3 Solomon sent this message to Hiram king of Tyre: "Send me cedar logs as you did for my father David when you sent him cedar to build a palace to live in. 4 Now I am about to build a temple for the Name of the LORD my God . . . 10 I will give your servants, the woodsmen who cut the timber, twenty thousand cors of ground wheat, twenty thousand cors of barley, twenty thousand baths of wine and twenty thousand baths of olive oil." 11 Hiram king of Tyre replied by letter to Solomon: "Because the LORD loves his people, he has made you their king." 12 And Hiram added: "Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who made heaven and earth! He has given King David a wise son, endowed with intelligence and discernment, who will build a temple for the LORD and a palace for himself. . . . 15 "Now let my lord send his servants the wheat and barley and the olive oil and wine he promised, 16 and we will cut all the logs from Lebanon that you need and will float them in rafts by sea down to Joppa. You can then take them up to Jerusalem." 17 Solomon took a census of all the aliens who were in Israel, after the census his father David had taken; and they were found to be 153,600. 18 He assigned [conscripted/enslaved] 70,000 of them to be carriers and 80,000 to be stonecutters in the hills, with 3,600 foremen over them to keep the people working.

Another prophet mentioned that at the end of time, slavery would be back in force. Slaves are not paid much, just enough to sustain them and keep them productive. This conceivably could match the wages for a day's labor to something as small as several quarts of grain.

When we think of grain at the moment, we treat is almost as dust. It's very inexpensive and one day's wages will buy many pounds of flour. However, this text is indicates that food will be very scare relative to labor. Thus a day's labor only rewards a person with a small amount of grain.

In a day of the Lord scenario in Joel, the prophet records the following:

Joel 1:10-12 The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up; the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails. Despair, you farmers, wail, you vine growers; grieve for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field is destroyed. The vine is dried up and the fig tree is withered; the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree-- all the trees of the field --are dried up. Surely the joy of mankind is withered away.

The calling forth of this rider symbolizes the famine and most likely slavery that will be present at the end of time.

The Fourth Seal

7When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" 8I 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.

The fourth rider's name describes aptly what he symbolizes, namely prevalent death. Hades or the grave (not hell) follows closely behind death. Note that the death or killing comes from what are known as the four deadly judgments of God. In fact, the sword, plague and famine as a trio are mentioned 25 times in Scripture, nearly all stemming as judgments of God. Here are some examples:

1Chr. 21:11-14 So Gad went to David and said to him, "This is what the LORD says: `Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the LORD --days of plague in the land, with the angel of the LORD ravaging every part of Israel.' Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me." David said to Gad, "I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men." So the LORD sent a plague on Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead.

Jer. 14:11 Then the LORD said to me, "Do not pray for the well-being of this people. 12 Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague." 13 But I said, "Ah, Sovereign LORD, the prophets keep telling them, `You will not see the sword or suffer famine. Indeed, I will give you lasting peace in this place.'" 14 Then the LORD said to me, "The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.

The most telling passages on these four judgments are found in Ezekiel.

Ezek. 5:17 I will send famine and wild beasts against you, and they will leave you childless. Plague and bloodshed will sweep through you, and I will bring the sword against you. I the LORD have spoken."

Ezek. 14:12-21 The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its men and their animals, even if these three men --Noah, Daniel and Job --were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign LORD. "Or if I send wild beasts through that country and they leave it childless and it becomes desolate so that no one can pass through it because of the beasts, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, even if these three men were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved, but the land would be desolate. "Or if I bring a sword against that country and say, `Let the sword pass throughout the land,' and I kill its men and their animals, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, even if these three men were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved. "Or if I send a plague into that land and pour out my wrath upon it through bloodshed, killing its men and their animals, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, even if Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, they could save neither son nor daughter. They would save only themselves by their righteousness. "For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: How much worse will it be when I send against Jerusalem my four dreadful judgments --sword and famine and wild beasts and plague --to kill its men and their animals!

Need we say that these judgments are the seven-seal-vision version of the 7 trumpets and the 7 last plagues?

The Fifth Seal

Rev. 6:9 -11 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 [for Jesus] 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.

Who are these souls and what do they symbolize?

Later in Revelation we find some similar descriptive wording:

Rev. 20:4-6 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

We will study more about the mark of the beast later, but suffice to say, God's people, in going through the tribulation will suffer much at the hands of a rebellious world. Many, (nay most as we will see in a later chapter) will be persecuted, martyred and "beheaded" for maintaining "their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God" and refusing to "worship the beast or his image" or "receive his mark on their foreheads or their hands".

The world will blame the righteous for their problems and seek to kill them at every hand. It will definitely be a time of tribulation. There is a lesson we may learn from the tribulation that the Jewish people went through at the hands of the Seleucids and Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This is found in Daniel:

Dan. 11:33-35 "Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.

The message of Daniel continues on for our day at the end of time:

Dan. 12:1-3 "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people --everyone whose name is found written in the book --will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

The Sixth Seal

12I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

15Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"

The Sixth Seal obviously refers to the second coming of Jesus to this world. It is also known as the Day of the Lord, and is described in detail throughout scripture.

Isa. 13:9 -11 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.

Jesus said it in this fashion:

Luke 21:25-28 "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. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

While a time of great fear and stark terror for the wicked, the events represented by the sixth seal are met with rejoicing by the living righteous who remain. It is time for their rescue, their redemption, for being restored to their Creator and Redeemer and for receiving their reward. (For an extensive look at Judgment and the Day of the Lord, see the compilation by that name.)

We will look at the second coming in detail in a later chapter.

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