Revelation 7 – Part 1

“And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.” Revelation 7:4

John received two new visions that corrected the possible impression that no one would survive the “beginning of birth-pangs” (Matthew 24:6-8) during the first half of the Tribulation judgments (Revelation 6:1-17). God will save two groups of people during the first half of the Tribulation (cf. Matthew 24:14): He will preserve 144,000 Israelites alive on the earth (7:1-8), and He will take to heaven a multitude of people from all nations who will die during that time (7:9-17). John saw both groups in chapter 7, which contrasts the panic of unbelievers described in Chapter 6 (“After these things”) and in answer to the question “Who is able to stand?” (6:17), with the security of believers during this time of unprecedented suffering (7:1a). 1

The mention of martyrs during the Tribulation (6:9-11) leads John to write about what will happen to those who become believers during that time. Though billions of unbelievers will die, many will come to faith in Christ and many of those will be martyred for their faith in Him. In wrath, God will remember mercy (cf. Hab 3:2). Even though this will be a time of trouble like never before, it will also be a time of salvation like never before—of both Jews (vv 1-8) and Gentiles (vv 9-17).” 2

As the hoofbeats of the four horsemen echoed into the distance and the cacophony of geological and cosmic upheavals stilled, John’s attention turned to the center of the earthly end-times drama: the land of Israel. Throughout their history, the people of Israel had been conquered, delivered, devastated, exiled, and restored over and over again as military threats bombarded them from every side. Yet at the beginning of John’s vision of the Tribulation, just as the land of Israel is about to endure the most devastating war in all of history, God’s intervention reminds us that He will keep His promises to Israel.” 3

In between the sixth and seventh seals of judgment, John writes, “After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree.” (Revelation 7:1). The apostle “saw four angels standing at the four corners.” The phrase “four corners of the earth, is an idiom for the four cardinal directions 4 – north, south, east, and west. 5

The four angels in John’s vision have the responsibility of restraining the judgment of God (pictured by “the four winds,” cf. Jeremiah 49:36-38; Daniel 7:2; Hosea 13:15) on nature (“the earth…the sea…any tree”). Most of the trumpet and bowl judgments involve God’s destruction of the earth’s environment in some way (cf. Revelation 8–9, 16). However, as Revelation 11:14 indicates, the first six trumpet judgments take place before the 144,000 go out to preach in the last half of the seven years. 6

Then John sees another angel in addition to the first four: “2 Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, 3 saying, ‘Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.’” (Revelation 7:2-3). “Another” [allon] angel” of the same kind as the first four angels ascended “from the east” (literally – “from the rising of the sun”). In the Bible, divine salvation often comes “from the east” (cf. Genesis 2:8; Ezekiel 43:2; Matthew 2:1; 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16). 7

This fifth angel had “the seal of the living God.” A “seal” was a symbol of ownership (2 Corinthians 1:22), authentication (John 6:27), and protection leading to final salvation (Ephesians 1:14; 4:30; cf. Genesis 4:15; Exodus 12:7). 8 This “seal” represents God’s intention to protect the twelve tribes of Israel that are mentioned in verses 4-8, much as He protected Noah from the Flood, Israel from the plagues of Egypt, and Rahab and her household in Jericho. 9

“In Ezekiel 9, a linen-clothed angel went forth and put a mark on a select group of people to set them apart from those on whom God’s judgment would fall. The same is true here. The purpose of this seal is to set apart those who will share the gospel in the last three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation and to protect them from the judgments that will be falling on unrepentant mankind (cf. 9:4).” 10

On earth during the Tribulation, the followers of the Beast will bear his mark on their right hand or forehead (Revelation 13:16). During this same time, the Lord will identify His people by placing a seal of ownership on their foreheads (Revelation 7:3). Revelation 7 and 13 use two different Greek words to distinguish these marks from each other. In Revelation 7, God seals the 144,000 on their “foreheads.” The word used there for the verb “sealed” is sphragizō, which symbolizes the spiritual sealing mentioned throughout the New Testament (John 3:33; 6:27; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30). But in Revelation 13, where followers of the Antichrist are given a “mark” (Revelation 13:16-17), the word used is charagma which refers to a literal brand, tattoo, or etching. 11

This angel commands the four angels to whom was given authority “to harm the earth and the sea” to withhold their judgment on the earth until he had finished sealing “the servants of our God on their foreheads” (7:3). God wants His servants set apart and ready before any of the judgments fall on the earth. 12 The “servants” in view are believers in Jesus Christ who are Jews (7:4-8). The sealing of God’s servants sets them apart as God’s redeemed people and guaranteed their physical safety while they preached the gospel during the last 3 ½ years of the Tribulation when the trumpet judgments take place (8:7-21; 11:15-18).

“Evidently God will give these 144,000 believers special protection in the last half of the Tribulation, because its calamities will be much more severe than those in the first half. Antichrist will also mark his followers in a similar way (13:16-18; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20).” 13

Next John writes, “And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.” (Revelation 7:4). When God’s Word says, “all the tribes of the children of Israel,” He means it. Unfortunately, “most posttribulationists and amillennialists believe the 144,000 are members of ‘spiritual Israel,’ a title of theirs for the church. 14 “Many interpreters take the number 144,000 as symbolic of all God’s servants in the Tribulation.” 15

Swindoll writes, Many Christians today are convinced that God’s plan for ethnic Israel has come to an end. Some believe that the promises of a glorious nation and blessing in the Holy Land have been abolished because of Israel’s past unfaithfulness. Others have determined that these promises were fulfilled in a spiritual sense through Christ in the church. Some theologians propose that Israel has been replaced by the church and that ethnic Jews have been divorced by God, without a future in God’s plan.

“However, the New Testament assures us that God plans to bring about the fulfillment of those promises through Jesus Christ. Although most ethnic Jews have been in a state of unbelief since the time of Jesus, God will one day bring a remnant to faith in Christ and restore them to the land promised to their forefathers (Genesis 13:15). Jesus Himself promised the apostles, ‘In the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Matthew 19:28). Before Christ’s ascension, the disciples eagerly inquired about the timing of that earthly kingdom when they asked, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ (Acts 1:6). It is significant that Jesus didn’t reject their literal interpretation and expectation of a future fulfillment of these earthly promises. Instead, He told them that they would not know the timing of this restoration (Acts 1:7-8). 

Years later, the apostle Paul addressed the problem of Israel’s unbelief by declaring that this rebellion would one day be reversed: ‘A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved’ (Romans 11:25-26). In other words, when God has accomplished His purposes through the church, He will again turn His attention to the nation of Israel and bring them to faith in Christ. We can see the beginnings of this future for Israel with the sealing of the 144,000 in Revelation 7:1-8.

“Why is the restoration of Israel so important? Because God’s very reputation as a Promise Keeper is at stake! With explicit reference to the calling of Israel, Paul said, ‘For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable’ (Romans 11:29). It’s as simple as this: If we cannot trust God to keep His promises to Israel (Jeremiah 31:35-37), how can we trust Him to keep His promises to us (Romans 8:35-39)? Never doubt it: God will do what He says He will do!” 16

That God is referring to ethnic Israel is underscored by the fact that John heard the names of twelve tribes of Israel with 12,000 from each tribe “sealed” and thus protected: 5 of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand were sealed; 6 of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand were sealed; 7 of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed; 8 of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed.” (Revelation 7:5-8). Nothing in this text suggests a symbolic understanding. The fact that specific “tribes” were named “and specific numbers from each tribe were indicated would seem to remove this from the symbolic and to justify literal interpretation. If God intended these verses to represent Israel literally, He would have used this means. Nowhere else in the Bible do a dozen references to the 12 tribes mean the church. Obviously, Israel will be in the Tribulation, and though men do not know the identification of each tribe today, certainly God knows.” 17

The number of sealed servants of God, with specific numbers from each tribe in contrast with the indefinite number of 7:9, underscores the literal understanding of these verses. “If it is taken symbolically, no number in the book can be taken literally.” 18

Hitchcock gives several reasons why the church cannot represent Israel in Revelation 7:1-8: “Why would the Holy Spirit begin to mix the church and Israel in the book of Revelation, the final book in the New Testament, when He has so carefully distinguished the two groups in the previous twenty-six books of the New Testament? Why begin to identify the church as the true, spiritual Israel at this late point in the New Testament? It does not make good sense and is inconsistent.

“Second, if one holds to the pre-Tribulation timing for the Rapture, the church is already in heaven as pictured by the twenty-four elders in Revelation 4–5. Thus, it doesn’t make sense that the group in Revelation 7, which is on earth, would be the church. The church has already been raptured.

“Third, it is interesting that Jews and Gentiles are clearly distinguished from one another in Revelation 7. The 144,000 Jews are listed in 7:1-8 while 7:9-17 presents an innumerable host of ‘every nation and tribe and people and language.’ Merging these two groups does not do justice to the distinctions that Revelation 7 makes:

“Jews from twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 7:1-8), Gentiles from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9-17); numbered—144,000 (Revelation 7:1-8), not numbered—“a great multitude which no one could count” (Revelation 7:9-17); standing on earth (Revelation 7:1-8), standing before God’s throne (Revelation 7:9-17); sealed for protection (Revelation 7:1-8), ascended after persecution (Revelation 7:9-17).

Furthermore, Revelation 7 clearly distinguishes between Jews and Gentiles, but this distinction is inconsistent with the New Testament picture of the church—Jews and Gentiles are seen as one in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:27-28; Ephesians 3:6). Since Galatians 3 and Ephesians 3 unite Jews and Gentiles as one and since Revelation 7 does not reflect that unity, the Rapture must reinstitute a division between Jews and Gentiles. Revelation 7 reflects that division.

So then, who are these 144,000 servants of God? If the Scriptures are interpreted literally, then the 144,000 are a literal group of 144,000 Jewish men—12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel—raised up by God during the Tribulation to serve Him. They are not spiritual Israel (the church), but actual Israel.” 19

The most important fact taught here is that God continues to watch over Israel even in the time of Israel’s great distress. There is no justification whatever for spiritualizing either the number or the names of the tribes in this passage, to make them represent the church.” 20

In conclusion, God’s faithfulness to His promises is seen in the fact that ethnic Israel will retain her national identity before God during the Tribulation period, and He will resume dealing with them again as His chosen people during this time (7:1-8; cf. Daniel 9:24-27). Jehovah Witnesses or any other Gentiles who claim to be a part of this group fail to accept the final authority of God’s Word which clearly states that these 144,000 servants of God will be physical descendants of the twelve Israelite tribes. When they are sealed (7:1-8), they will know their tribal roots, and their sealing will take place after the Rapture of the Church (4:1-4).

How can we apply this to our lives today? Just as God prepared the 144,000 Jewish servants for service by giving them His seal (7:2-8), so God has prepared us for His service by giving us the Holy Spirit to empower us to be His witnesses to the entire world (Acts 1:8). We are not alone when it comes to sharing the gospel with a lost world. God the Holy Spirit indwells us (John 14:16-17) and will give us the boldness (Acts 4:29-31) and words to speak to those who need Christ in their lives (Matthew 10:19-20).

The 144,000 Jewish servants will boldly proclaim the gospel of Christ’s coming Kingdom during the Tribulation period. There appears to be a cause-and-effect relationship in Revelation 7 between the 144,000 Jewish believers (7:1-8) and the innumerable crowd of Gentile believers in heaven from all nations (7:9-17). The preaching of the gospel by these 144,000 Jewish evangelists during the last half of the Tribulation period will results in an innumerable number of people being saved. They will be the greatest evangelists the world has ever seen. These sealed servants of God will fulfill Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” Revelation 7 provides a panorama of God’s saving work during the Tribulation. The 144,000 reveal God’s passion to save people even amid the unspeakable judgments of the Tribulation. To the very end, our Savior will graciously continue “to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10). 21

Does our passion for the lost reflect that of our Savior Who desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2:3-4)? I am convinced that the closer we grow to the heart of the Lord Jesus, the more our hearts for the lost will reflect His. Christ promises that if we follow Him, He will make us fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). Do you feel inadequate to evangelize the lost? Do you ever think that you do not know enough to share the gospel with non-Christians? Ask the Lord Jesus to help you follow Him daily and He will teach you all you need to know about evangelism. The best way to learn to talk to unbelievers is to walk and talk with Jesus.

Swindoll reminds us that this interlude between the sixth and seventh seal judgments in Revelation 7 teaches us several things: “To reaffirm Christ’s central position, remind us of God’s great plan of redemption, and reassure us that God’s wrath isn’t without mercy. John needed that interlude. So do we. In fact, it might be wise for us to follow God’s example and work interludes into our own lives.

“Interludes do at least three things for us—all of them essential in a world filled with relentless stress, hardship, busyness, and drama.

“First, interludes reaffirm for us who’s first… Interludes strengthen the centrality and preeminence of Christ. When we are alone for even a short period of time, we get a desperately needed opportunity to focus on Him. Strive to make this ‘time with God’ a daily appointment. Consider not only setting aside a few hours on Sunday morning to remember who’s first but also devoting the whole Lord’s Day to Christ-centered activities.

Second, interludes remind us of what’s important. In the fast pace of modern life, we frequently get our priorities jumbled up. The nonessentials of life tend to bleed over into the essentials—and vice versa. When we pause, step back, and gather our thoughts, we give ourselves a chance to reorder our priorities. Such occasions to ‘regroup’ can be monthly getaways or annual retreats. Each of us is different, but all of us need a chance to reconsider priorities, set things straight, and form a plan to keep life’s essentials on top. Consider dedicating a portion of a vacation to thinking and praying through your priorities. What a difference it will make for the rest of the year!

Third, interludes refresh us with why it’s all worth it. In the depths of despair, in the thick of tragedy, in the throes of suffering, we need interludes in order to recharge spiritually with the faith and fortitude to carry on. Interludes can help us endure suffering, loss, disappointment, and the death of dreams. They massage us back to a fresh new start. We reenter the fray with a new perspective, centered on God’s goodness and on His plan and purpose. Sometimes we just need a shelter from the storm.

“It’s easy to lose sight of God’s goodness, grace, and mercy in the midst of the daily turmoil of life in this fallen world. Only during interludes of reflection are we able to evaluate our priorities and passions in light of the central position of Jesus Christ, which equips us with a new sense of purpose as we place our trust in Him.” 22

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for this amazing interlude in heaven between the sixth and seventh seal judgments which underscores that Your wrath is accompanied by Your mercy. Only You can give us security amid a world that is spinning out of control. Your judgments can awaken people for their need for Your mercy through the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank You for remaining faithful to Your promises to Israel and to those of us who are Gentiles. We can trust You to keep Your promises no matter how difficult life becomes. Please show us how to work interludes into our own lives that enable us to renew our commitment to Christ. We need to detach from this hostile world and renew our love relationship with Jesus. Make us more like You, Lord Jesus, so Your love for the lost becomes ours. Use us to proclaim Your message of grace through faith to a world that is perishing without You. Protect us from the evil one and equip us with a renewed sense of purpose as we place our trust in You. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 94.

2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1524-1525.

3. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 162-163.

4. Ibid., pg. 163.

5.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2382.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1525. Regarding Revelation 11:14, Vacendak says, Since the death of the two witnesses and the subsequent earthquake occur after the first and second ‘woe’ (i.e., trumpet judgments five and six), one may conclude that the first six trumpet judgments occur during the first three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation” (pp. 1538-1539).

7. Constable, pg. 95.

8. Ibid.

9. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1525.

11. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 290.

12. Vacendak, pg. 1525.  

13. Constable, pg. 96.

14. Ibid., cites as examples William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible series 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 30; Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), pg. 168; Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John, Tyndale New Testament Commentary series, Reprint ed. (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), pg. 175; George Raymond Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, New Century Bible Commentary series, Revised ed. (London: Morgan & Scott, 1974; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1983), pg. 140; George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John, 1972 reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985), pp. 114 116; Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John. 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907), pg. 99; James Moffatt, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” In The Expositor’s Greek Testament Vol. 5 (1910), 4th ed. Edited by W. Robertson Nicoll 5 Vols. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1900-12), pg. 395; Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and Carlisle, England: Paternoster Press, 1999), pg. 413; David E. Aune, Revelation 6—16, Word Biblical Commentary series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), pg. 447.  

15. Ibid., cites as examples Alan Johnson, “Revelation,” In Hebrews-Revelation Vol. 12 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary 12 vols., Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), pp. 463 and 481; Ladd, pg. 117.

16. Swindoll, pp. 156-157.

17. Walvoord, pg. 164.

18. Constable, pg. 96 cites Thomas, Revelation 1—7, p. 474.

19. Hitchcock, pp. 288-289.

20. Walvoord, pg. 164.

21. Adapted from Hitchcock, pp. 291-292.

22. Swindoll, pp. 168-169.

Revelation 6 – Part 3

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!’” Revelation 6:15-16

The first four seal-judgments involving four horsemen depicted utter destruction of the world in general from the Lamb in heaven (6:1-8). These first four seals are “the beginning” (Matthew 24:8) of a series of judgments that take during the first half of the seven-year Tribulation period. They will be followed by a period of persecution (6:9-11), after which the earth-shattering judgments of the sixth seal will take place (6:12-17). This is exactly what the Lord Jesus predicted in His Olivet Discourse:

1. Wars, famines, pestilences (Matthew 24:6-8).

2. Persecutions (Matthew 24:9-14a).

3. Then the end will come (Matthew 24:14b). 1

In anticipation of this persecution, John writes, “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.” (Revelation 6:9). When Jesus “opened the fifth seal,” John “saw under the altar” in heaven “the souls of” believers “who had been slain for” their commitment to “the word of God and for the testimony which they held” during the reign of the World Ruler or Beast of Revelation (cf. Revelation 13:1-7; Matthew 24:9-22). This verse makes it clear that people will be saved during the Tribulation period, but many of them will be martyred. More will be said of these martyrs in Revelation 7.  2

“Some Amillennialists believe these martyrs are all Christians who die for their faith during the entire Church Age, which, according to their view, are all the believers who will have died from Christ’s ascension to His Second Coming.” 3  “Preterists view these people as Christians who died in the first century of the church’s history.” 4

But in the context of Revelation 6:9, a literal understanding places these martyrs in the future Tribulation period. Since the church is already pictured in heaven as represented by the twenty-four elders (Revelation 4-5), these people in verse 9 must be those who died after the Rapture, since all Christians living at the time of the Rapture will experience bodily resurrection and go directly into Jesus Christ’s presence to escape the coming wrath of the coming Tribulation (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 4:15-17). The people John describes in verse 9 are those who come to faith in Christ after the Rapture (cf. Matthew 24:9; Luke 21:12). They had become believers during the first half of the Tribulation through the preaching of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:1-10), and then had suffered martyrdom for their faith. John saw their “souls” in heaven, not their resurrected bodies, because God had not resurrected them yet. The resurrection of Tribulation saints will not occur until the end of that seven-year period of judgments on the earth (cf. Revelation 20:4). 5

“Obviously, then, people will come to faith in Jesus following the rapture because believers of the church age all will have been removed from earth. Notably, this is the first seal in which God’s judgment comes in response to the cries of people.” 6

In the last three-and-a-half years, as the Beast assumes worldwide authority (cf. 13:3), he will set out to rid the world of the witnesses of Christ who are spreading out all over the earth to share the gospel and will succeed in killing multitudes (cf. Matt 24:9, 14; Rev 12:17).” 7

These martyred Tribulation saints 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?’” (Revelation 6:10). These believers “cried with a loud voice” asking the Lord Who is “holy and true,” how long they would have to wait until He would “judge” their murderers.

Compare the prayers of Jesus (Luke 23:34) and Stephen (Acts 7:60), in which they asked God to be merciful to their murderers, with the prayers of these Tribulation martyrs.  The difference is that, for the martyrs’ murderers, the time of God’s longsuffering had now ended, and He had begun to pour out His wrath on rebellious humanity. 8

“This plea to God for justice and vengeance finds its roots in the Old Testament imprecatory psalms—prayers calling God to take His stand against the enemies of righteousness. Psalm 94:1-5 provides a perfect example of this sentiment.

“O LORD, God of vengeance,

God of vengeance, shine forth!

Rise up, O Judge of the earth,

Render recompense to the proud.

How long shall the wicked, O LORD,

 How long shall the wicked exult?

They pour forth words,

they speak arrogantly.

All who do wickedness vaunt themselves.

They crush Your people, O LORD,

And afflict Your heritage.

“This prayer for judgment and vindication acknowledges several important theological truths. God is a God of justice, holiness, and truth who will keep His promises of salvation for His people and retribution against His enemies. But the psalmist, like the saints under the altar in Revelation 6, acknowledges that such vengeance is a strictly divine prerogative. Paul exhorted the Romans, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay’” (Rom. 12:19, quoting Deut. 32:35). Though the martyred saints will have to wait a little longer while their fellow Tribulation martyrs join them (Rev. 6:11), the Lord will keep His promise to avenge the murder of His saints (2 Thes. 1:6-8). In fact, the sixth seal portrays the fulfillment of this promise of vengeance against the enemies of God’s people.” 9

One important question about the fifth seal is, how will the deaths of believers be a judgment for the world? Remember, the seals are divine judgments. The death of God’s people brings judgment in two ways. First, the removal of God’s people, the salt and light of the world, will allow darkness and corruption to overrun the earth unchecked. It will be a case of the blind leading the blind. Second, as the enemies of God murder His people, they are unknowingly heaping more judgment upon themselves. Also, God will answer these martyrs’ prayers for vindication when He pours out His wrath on His enemies.” 10

Next John writes, “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.” (Revelation 6:11). Each martyr was given “a white robe” and told to “rest a little while longer until” the full number of martyrs “was completed.”

These Tribulation martyrs are reminded that even though God’s justice is delayed at times, it always comes. God misses nothing and eventually He will bring complete justice in response to every wrong committed. 11

The sixth seal will provide God’s answer to the cries of these Tribulation martyrs. “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.” (Revelation 6:12). After Jesus “opened the sixth seal” John saw a “great earthquake” occur as the Beast and his armies gather to make war against Christ (cf. Revelation 19:19). 12 This earthquake resulted in “the sun” becoming “black as sackcloth of hair,” which is likely because of volcanoes erupting and discharging ash that blocks the sunlight. 13  In addition, “the moon” will become red “like blood” (6:12a).

Next, John observes, 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. 14 Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.” (Revelation 6:13-14). Meteor-like “stars of heaven” will fall “to the earth” and “the sky” will recede “as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island” will be moved “out of its place” perhaps due to the great earthquake and meteorites (6:13-14). The universe will seem to be imploding before the eyes of all who dwell on the earth. 14

All kinds of people all over the world without Jesus will panic and seek to protect themselves instead of turning to the Lord for mercy and deliverance. 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!’” (Revelation 6:15-16). Without Jesus as their Savior, they would rather have “the mountains and rocks” fall on them and kill them than face “the wrath of the Lamb.” This indicates that the unbelieving people’s perception of God (“Him who sits on the throne”), and the “wrath of the Lamb,” in heaven, will be far more terrifying to them than the physical consequences of this judgment. Whereas the martyrs cry, “Avenge us!” (6:10), these unbelievers cry, “Hide us!” 15

“What sinners dread most is not death but having to stand before a holy and righteous God.” 16

Those who refuse to trust in Jesus during this unprecedented time of worldwide suffering will say, “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:17). “The splitting of the sky and shaking of the earth that is occurring is so unprecedented that the followers of the Beast clearly recognize their guilt and culpability before God and His Son. They have not one ounce of hope.” 16

This sixth seal “reveals the horror of unbelievers who must face the full wrath of God and His appointed Judge, Jesus Christ. The absolute panic experienced  by these wicked people doesn’t grip them because God is unjust, but because they know He will give them exactly what they deserve!” 17

Oh, my dear friends, as you read this portion of the Word of God, please understand that this is not some science fiction novel or symbolic description of various troubles that have already taken place on earth. This is a literal description of an unprecedented time of worldwide suffering that will take place in the future on earth. Everyone on earth at that time will not only know it is God’s judgment, but they will act like it by seeking death to escape from God’s wrath. You do not have to go through this terrible period of unprecedented suffering. God has provided a way of escape.

Jesus Christ said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24).  Have you heard Jesus’ promise of eternal life?Do you believe or trust Him alone for eternal life?

If you heard and believed Jesus’ promise, Christ guarantees that you now have everlasting life which is a forever personal relationship with the true God (John 17:3) which can never be lost (John 6:37; 10:28-29). If you could lose eternal life, Jesus just told a lie in John 5:24. Jesus is qualified to give you eternal life because He is God (John 1:1; I John 5:20) and He paid for this free gift (Romans 6:23b) when He died on the Cross for all of our sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-8).

Jesus promises that you “shall not come into judgment.” You will not be judged for your sins because you have everlasting life. You have complete forgiveness (Colossians 2:13-14). You are now God’s child forever (John 1:12). You are completely covered by His love without a single fault (Ephesians 1:4; cf. Romans 8:31-34).

You have “passed from death into life.” You never have to be afraid of dying because you now have everlasting life which means you will live with Jesus forever in His Father’s house in heaven (cf. Matthew 6:9; John 14:1-3; Revelation 21-22) after you die or are raptured from the earth (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23; I Thessalonians 4:15-17), whichever takes place first.

Those who refuse to believe in Jesus for eternal life are promised not to “see life, but the wrath of God abides on” them both now (John 3:36), during the Tribulation on earth if they are alive then (Revelation 6), and in the lake of fire for eternity (Revelation 20:15).   

The Bible promises to remove believers in Jesus from the earth to live with Him in heaven forever in the third heaven or Paradise before this great outpouring of God’s wrath takes place on the earth (2 Corinthians 12:1-4; I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-18). Knowing this should comfort and encourage us to live for Christ until we see Him face to face (I Thessalonians 5:6-11).

As believers in Jesus, it is important for us to have Christ’s love for those who are lost, who will one day face this horrific future on earth and do what we can to tell the good news of the gospel of grace to those in need of Christ’s salvation and eternal life. Let us speak of the joy that could be theirs through faith alone in Jesus and His atoning sacrifice and warn of the wrath to come and the eternal suffering that awaits those who refuse to believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God for His gift of everlasting life. 18

Prayer: Holy and true God, thank You for revealing the horrific judgments which will take place in the future during the seven-year Tribulation on earth. Because You are holy, You cannot let any sin go unpunished. Millions of believers throughout history have suffered and died at the hands of Your enemies. Your message today underscores that You will severely repay those who have persecuted Your people. Thank You also for reminding us that those who believe in Jesus for eternal life are not appointed to this coming wrath on earth. Our future is free from Your wrath. Please give us Your heart for the lost so we may boldly and lovingly warn them of Your wrath to come on the earth and in eternity, so they may believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life and forgiveness of all their sins and escape Your wrath to come. In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1523. 

2. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 89 cites as an example Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and Carlisle, England: Paternoster Press, 1999) pg. 39.

4. Ibid., cites as an example Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John 2nd ed., (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907), pg. 92.

5. Ibid.

6. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2382.

7. Vacendak, pp. 1523-1524.

8. Constable, pg. 89.

9. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 153-154.

10. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 284.

11. Evans, pg. 2382.

12. Vacendak, pg. 1524.

13. Evans, pg 2382.

14. Vacendak, pg. 1524.

15. Constable, pg. 91.

16. Ibid., cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1—7: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 456; cf. Swete, pg. 94.

17. Swindoll, pg.  154. 

18. Adapted from Elizabeth Haworth’s daily verse entitled, “What Does Revelation 6:8 Mean?” at knowing-jesus.com.

Revelation 6 – Part 2

“So 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.” Revelation 6:8

In Revelation 6, after the church has been caught up to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven (Revelation 4-5; cf. I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-5:11), the seal judgments are opened by the Lamb, Jesus Christ, at the very beginning of the Tribulation (Revelation 6:1-2). 1 After the apostle John received the vision of the Lamb opening the first of seven seal judgments containing a Rider on a white horse representing the Lord Jesus Christ about to begin a series of long-range judgments using His bow from heaven against rebellious humankind on earth (6:1-2), he writes: “When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ ” (Revelation 6:3). After the second seal is opened, 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.” (Revelation 6:4).

This second seal judgment will “take peace from the earth.” As a result, murder, violence, and war run rampant as never before. 2 In His Olivet Discourse, the Lord Jesus revealed that during the initial stages of the seven-year Tribulation on earth, there will be “wars and rumors of wars.” (Matthew 24:6). He says, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” (Matthew 24:7). Christ points out that such things will be “the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:8).

Even though most commentators view the first half of the seven years as a time of peace, it is clear that ‘the beginning of sorrows’ includes a world completely given over to war and bloodshed. However terrible and destructive war is, the sorrows that follow are more catastrophic. The colossal bloodshed during these beginning stages is pictured by the fiery red horse and a great sword given to its rider.” 3

This worldwide conflict during the first half of the Tribulation period does not mean the Antichrist’s covenant of peace with Israel will be broken (cf. Daniel 9:27a). This will not happen until the middle of the Tribulation and the beginning of the Great Tribulation (cf. Daniel 9:27b; Matthew 24:15). 4

Next John writes, “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.” (Revelation 6:5). The opening of this third seal would usher in economic instability to the first half of the Tribulation period, a reality depicted by a “a black horse” with the rider holding a “pair of scales in his hand,” used to measure out basic commodity prices. 5

Then John 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.’” (Revelation 6:6). As a result of increasing warfare during the first half of the Tribulation period, there would be great famine and inflation (cf. Matthew 24:7), with food (“wheat… barley”) costing a day’s wages which was “a denarius” in Roman currency. 6In John’s day, a denarius would purchase eight to sixteen times as much food as what he said it will purchase in the future.” 7 Since war had caused food supplies to be greatly reduced, strict control was implemented (“do not harm [tamper] with the oil and the wine”) over prices (6:6; cf. Matthew 24:7).

The causes of the famine were not extremely severe, since they killed only “the wheat” and “barley,” but not the vines (“wine”) and olive trees (“oil”) whose roots go deeper. 8 As the Tribulation grows worse, the wealthy as well as the poor will suffer, but at this early stage, the poor will suffer more than the rich. 9

At the middle of the Tribulation period, The Antichrist will be Satan’s CEO of the world’s economy. He will set interest rates, prices, stock values, and supply levels. Everything will be nationalized or internationalized and placed under his personal control. With the chaos created by the Rapture and the collapse of the world economy predicted in Revelation 6:5-6, people will be willing to give all power over to one man. Much like the Germans turned to Hitler after the runaway inflation in Weimar Germany, the world will turn to the man who seems to have answers for the crushing problems they’re facing. From the midpoint of the Tribulation until the second coming of Christ, no one will be able to buy or sell without the Antichrist’s permission (Revelation 13:16-17). People all over the world will be compelled to take his mark. His one-world economy will be run by his sidekick the false prophet (Revelation 13:11-18).” 10

Next John observes, 7 When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ 8 So 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.” (Revelation 6:7-8). After the Lamb “opened the fourth seal,” John saw “a pale horse” whose rider “was Death, and Hades followed with him.” This judgment will reduce earth’s population on an unprecedented level; one-fourth of humanity will die – nearly two billion people if it happened today. 11 “Hades,” the place unbelievers go immediately after death (Luke 16:22-23), follows the rider named “Death. “This image reveals that as Death rides forth like a harvester among the grain, he scoops up victims and casts them into Hades’ sack.” 12

Jesus gave these enemies the “power” to kill “a fourth of the” world’s population through war (“sword”), famine (“hunger”), disease (“death”), and attacks by ferocious “beasts [animals] of the earth” (6:8b).

I must admit, it’s hard to come to terms with the severity of these judgments. This stampede of deception, wars, pestilence, death, and destruction make every tragedy we’ve seen in world history pale in comparison! Only the emotionally numb could fail to wonder, ‘How could God allow such things to happen, much less decree them?’  Where in the world is our loving heavenly Father?

“In the midst of our concern about these judgments, we must never forget that God is absolutely just and fair in punishing evil. Wickedness deserves to be judged. Yet in His abundant grace, God continually tempers His wrath and demonstrates demonstrates mercy. In fact, Jesus taught that God will even put a limit on the days of the Tribulation (Mark 13:20). This may not seem significant until we realize that, if He does not impose that limit, everyone in the world will perish!

“We should also recognize that most of the judgments in Revelation come through the work of evil agents. God allows evil in the world, but He is not the author of evil.” 13

“One theologian writes, ‘Specifically, it will not do to accuse God of evil intentions or malevolent acts. He is sovereign, but not blameworthy, for He is righteous in all His deeds (Ps. 11:7; Dan. 9:14). He oversees all things in accord with His will, but He is not the source, the cause, or the author of sin.’” 14

The fact that God reveals far in advance, the seriousness and severity of His future judgments against unbelief and sin, reminds us that His judgments never occur prematurely or haphazardly. This also shows His grace in allowing people ample opportunity to heed the warning and look in faith, to His Son (cf. 2 Peter 3:3-9). 15

Prayer: Father God, thank You for recording these severe judgments ahead of time so we can prepare by believing in Your Son, Jesus Christ, for His gift of salvation. For those of us who already believed in Jesus, please help us to warn others of what is coming so they can trust in Christ alone for their salvation and escape the coming wrath that will overtake this world with unprecedented suffering. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 143.

2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1522.

3. Ibid.

4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 87.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2381.

6. Ibid.

7. Constable, pg. 87 cites Cicero, In Verrem 3.81.

8. Ibid., cites Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (New York: Macmillan, 1922), pg. 521.

9. Ibid.

10. Hitchcock, pp. 262-263.

11. Retrieved on November 24, 2021 from https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/ .

12. Vacendak, pg. 1523.

13. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 151-152.

14. Ibid., pg. 152 cites Robert A. Pyne, “Humanity and Sin,” Understanding Christian Theology, pg. 758.

15. Ibid., pg. 158.

A Look into the Future – Part 2 (Video)

This is the second in a series of videos about the future as recorded in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. This video focuses on the first half of the seven year Tribulation period after the Rapture of the Church. Please share this video with those you want to see in heaven.

The Revelation Art is used by permission of Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. To order art prints visit her “Revelation Illustrated” site, http://www.revelationillustrated.com. The music and movie scenes in this video are used with permission from the producers of the video entitled “The Free Gift.”