Chapter 8

The First Half Of The Tribulation


The fourth Chapter of the book of the Revelation begins with two often-quoted Greek words:

Meta tauta

which means "after these things." The authors join company with a good number of conservative Bible scholars who see these words as marking a major division in the last book of the Bible. John was told to

"Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now, and what will take place later." (Rev. 1:19)

Chapters 1 through 3 of Revelation accomplish the first two subjects. "What you have seen," referred to the visions of chapter one. "What is now" points to the contents of Chapters 2 and 3 which traces the progress of the church in its different forms and stages of history. Beginning with Chapter 4, verse one, the scene shifts to heaven and to events that are yet to come--future for John in the first Century, and for us as well in our day.

John sees in a vision a great worship scene of elders and angels around the throne of God the Father. They are engaged in worship and adoration of the Father and they sing a hymn of praise to the One who has created and who sustains the universe. The One seated on the throne holds a mysterious scroll, written on both sides--not one side as would be usual--and sealed with seven wax seals, instead of the usual one.

The seven-sealed scroll is a document of great importance and a search is made for a person worthy to receive this scroll from the Father's hand--for evidently the contents of the scroll contain delegated authority for the unfolding of the final chapters of this age. Some have called the scroll, "the title deed to the earth."

The only one found worthy to open the scroll is Christ Jesus, who is described here in symbols which combine the Old Testament figure of the Lion out of the Tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:8) and the New Testament figure of the submissive lamb who has been slain voluntarily for the sins of the world. (John 1:29). The Messiah, son of God, takes the scroll from His Father's hand.

Immediately the worship shifts to a new song of praise centered around Jesus. He is the one who has ransomed men "from every tribe and tongue and nation," and the only one worthy to receive such important delegated authority.

The unfolding of the fate of the earth is now totally in the hands of Jesus who proceeds to open the seven-sealed scroll, one seal at a time. The message of the scroll pertains to judgment about to fall upon an evil, unbelieving world, from which the true church has already been removed.

The First Four Seals

There are seven seals in all, describing major aspects and events of the Tribulation period. The first four are depicted as riders on four horses of different colors. Horses in the Bible often depict angelic activity (this images occurs in Zechariah for instance). Swift angelic messengers in the invisible spiritual realm rapidly carry out and bring into effect a series of world-wide changes in society on earth. The "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" have been universal portents of coming evil in art and literature down through all of history.

The First Seal - The Man of Sin revealed

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!"

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.
(Revelation 6:1-2)

The first significant event of the future Tribulation will be the emergence of Antichrist, symbolized here as the rider on a white horse. In the Bible, there is another rider on a white horse at the opposite end of the Tribulation. In the second case, Revelation 19:11-21, Jesus Christ is clearly the conquering hero on the white horse. But in this first instance, a human who is energized by Satan begins his campaign of world conquest. He does not appear as a horrible or evil monster, but as a benevolent dictator. He is seen as a messiah, who has come to solve the world's great problems.

It is possible that his authority to control the world will come into effect silently without open war. Ray Stedman writes,

He is given a bow, but no mention is made of arrows. This appears to be a bloodless conquest he launches. When you ask, "What is this describing?" I think it is clear that it suggests some kind of overpowering of the minds and wills of men, without physical destruction. How is that done? The answer is: by some form of deceit, by lying that misleads and deceives men and thus overcomes them without the shedding of blood. It is noteworthy that in Matthew 24, the first word Jesus speaks to his disciples is, "Watch out that no one deceives you." You will find references to the possibility of deception throughout that chapter.

We are bemused by delusions today. We are hardly aware of how much we are being deceived all the time. Turn on the television and fraudulent ideas, along with a mixture of truth, are immediately poured into your brain. Pick up a magazine or read a newspaper and you will find they make false claims that certain acquisitions will produce great blessing and liberty for you. But trying them will soon tell you that it is a lie. They do not work. We are constantly offered much of promise but which are totally unable to deliver....What this rider on the white horse tells us, however, is that the worst is yet to come. We are living amidst great deceit, it is true, but it is not as bad as it is going to be. There is coming an even greater lie."

The Second Seal - War

When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!"

Then 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.
(Revelation 6:3-4)

The second symbolic rider comes on a red horse. This speaks of the ravages of a great world-wide war. It is not likely that this war is started by Antichrist, since, as the previous verses indicate, he is seen as a messianic hero.

One possibility for this war was given by Ray Stedman in his message called "Four Terrible Horsemen:"

This rider is easy to recognize. It is war, of course, but not war between great armies--at least not at first. The word for "slay" is really the word "slaughter." It is a reference to civil war or civil anarchy where mobs of people group together to attack and destroy other peoples whom they do not like... We have had further examples of it in El Salvador, in Nicaragua, and in the gang wars raging in the streets of Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, and other places. It is a murderous slaying of others by people unrestrained by any control.

Another possibility is that this is the war of Ezekiel 38 and 39 which results in fiery destruction of the aggressors from the north when they try to conquer Israel. This could very possibly escalate to nuclear warfare which involves more than one of the present-day nuclear powers. Antichrist could take credit for the destruction of Israel's invaders, or at least take advantage of the situation, to bring about the seven-year peace treaty between himself and Israel which was prophesied by Daniel. If this is the case, this war would take place at the very beginning of the seven years of the Tribulation.

Wars and rumors of wars is considered one of the "Signs of the Times." Matthew 24:6 states,

"You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come."

The parallel passage in Mark 13:7 warns,

"When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come."

People of all ages have been subjected to the horrors of war, but in our generation we have had an almost constant pre-occupation with either war, or "rumors of war"--such as the Cold War with the former Soviet Union. There are usually several wars going on at various places in the world at the same time. There have been as many as forty at one time in our lifetime.

World War I was called "The War to end all war." It did not end war, it only taught us more about how to fight in a more deadly way, using the air to deliver death from the sky.

World War II brought the world to the brink of nuclear destruction, introducing the first use of the atomic bomb. The Korean War and The Vietnam War were very disheartening because of the great loss of life without gaining a definite victory. The Vietnam War was especially frustrating to Americans causing great internal strife at home as well as the loss of lives abroad.

Cold War has also been a sad reality in our generation. In 1985 a full page ad in the newspapers compared all the bombs of World War II, (a total of 3 megatons) with the nuclear firepower the United States and Soviet Union had. The two nations, it was reported in 1985, by then had enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world 56 times!

The Persian Gulf War brought us the ability to "be there" as an audience in the thick of the battle by way of television--even as bombs were dropped. This war also introduced us to "smart weapons" that could find their way to the exact buildings great distances away for which they were programmed.

Even now there are wars and skirmishes in many parts of the globe, including those in Bosnia, Israel, Haiti, Ireland, Somalia, and the Sudan.

Instability is increased in the Middle East by constant acts of terrorism, especially by Hamas, the militant Moslem group which is trying to destroy the steps toward peace that have been taken in the area.

Russia and the former Soviet countries continue to be very unstable. According to Chuck Missler, President Clinton has said no Russian missiles are aimed at us. But it only takes few seconds to re-aim, and only 30 minutes to attack. We no longer have the infrastructure to tool up for sudden war.

Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union our defense policy was called MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction), meaning that we did not have anything that could actually destroy incoming missiles with atomic warheads, but were counting on the fact that no one would attack us since they would be destroyed in retaliation. Today there are 13 countries with nuclear capability, and 23 countries with Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles. Our strategic deterrent is our Trident submarine, but the Russians have a silent, superior submarine, the Typhoon, with 20 tubes. Each tube can launch a missile with 10 independently tractable warheads. This means that one Typhoon submarine can hold 200 cities hostage!

Terrorism has been spreading all over the world. The Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 was a wake-up call to our own country that it can happen here as well. Chemical warfare and biological warfare are always lurking in the background as a threat in the hands of terrorists. The nerve gas Saran was used in the subways of Japan to kill many innocent passengers in 1995. Several countries know how to use deadly strains of biological killers in bombs, including Anthrax, cholera, salmonella, and botulism.

We have never had a time in our generation when we have been free from war. We have all been held hostage by the threat of nuclear war and the possibility that a madman might "push the button."

War has been more common down through history than we might at first suppose. One popular quote describes it this way:

"The Norwegian Academy of Sciences has determined
that since 3600 BC there have been 14,531 wars
and only 292 years of peace.
This is approximately 2.6 wars per year,
and one year of 'peace' out of every two decades,
or a little over 36 hours of peace per month,
or about a minute of peace every four hours."

When the seals are opened God will release, step by step, the last restraints holding back the evil that already exists in men's hearts. Even now in our violent age bad men, as well as good, enjoy "common grace" from God--and a great deal of protection every day of our lives, all from God's benevolent hand. We ought to be thankful every day for this restraining hand of God which allows us to live in comfort most of the time. But the end time is a season in which evil is allowed to run its full course, unchecked and unimpeded--except for God's final intervention.

The Third Seal - Famine

When 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.

Then 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!"
(Revelation 6:5-6)

This third seal and third rider appears on a black horse which symbolizes terrible famine, probably as a result of the previous world-wide warfare. Famine results from war directly when crops are destroyed by the warfare, and indirectly when the process of farming and distribution of food is disrupted by blockades and the diversion of manpower and resources for the war effort.

The result is an extensive and ruinous famine. The price of food will be prohibitive. The economic impact of this famine will undoubtedly prepare the people of the world to be willing to have a benevolent dictator.

Matthew 24:7, Mark 13:8 and Luke 21:11 all mention famines and plagues (pestilence) as factors that would characterize the end times.

Famine is usually the result of changes in weather patterns or of war. Both of these are characteristic of our times. For most of our generation there have been great numbers of deaths, especially of the young because of famine. At times this problem reaches staggering proportions: 40,000 babies starve to death every day.

Ray Stedman suggests another type of shortage. The shortage of all necessities which comes as a result of runaway inflation.

Most scholars take this to be a reference to widespread famine on the earth. They say that the scales symbolize food being weighed out carefully. It is in such short supply that it must be rationed. Even then no one can get very much because it takes a day's wages to earn a single quart of wheat or, because it is cheaper, three quarts of barley. This would only be enough food for one person for a day. You would work all day long and all you would be able to earn at best would be enough for your own physical needs. There would be nothing for your family or for anyone else. But the luxuries, the oil and the wine, are left untouched.

But perhaps this is not referring to famine because in the next seal, as we will see, famine is specifically mentioned as part of that judgment. What else causes terrible shortages and creates high prices so that people cannot buy adequate amounts of food? It is inflation: economics out of control. That is what runaway inflation does. It makes money worthless. That in turn becomes an excuse for the rigid controls over buying and selling which we find in chapter 13 when, under the reign of Antichrist, the whole world is subjected to enormously restrictive controls so that "no one can buy or sell without the mark of the beast."

The Fourth Seal - Plagues and Death

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

I 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.
(Revelation 6:7-8)

The color of the fourth horse is translated many ways. Some Bible versions translate it as "pale," others as "ashen," or "pale green." The Greek word is chloros, "greenish." It is the root of the well known "chlorophyll", the tiny green chemical converters in the leaves of most plants. Chlorine gas was deadly in warfare during the first World War.

Chloros also suggests deadly chlorine gas which is pale green in color and quickly fatal to all who breath it. The intended picture here is a sickly pale green which symbolizes death as a result of the former terrors of war and famine and the added threats of plague and wild beasts. All of this is the result of a world becoming progressively damaged, corrupted and neglected.

Once again we consider Stedman's commentary on this section:

This rider is named "Death"; and floating along behind, was a figure that is identified as "Hades," or Hell. Death takes the body and Hades takes the soul. As someone has put it, "Death rides the horse, but Hades follows with the hearse." There are four forms of death that are related to this attack. First, the sword, which here is not war but murder; individual assault upon one another. It is people taking the law into their own hands and murdering other people without regard to justice or law.

Many people are fearful about the senseless violent crime of our days. Gang warfare, riots, carjackings, follow-home robberies, ATM muggings, and drive-by shootings have become commonplace. Just imagine the wanton looting and killing that could be ahead in a world already decimated by the events of the first three seals!

There have always been plagues, but they do seem to be increasing in our times. Cancer is an ever-growing threat, AIDS is a new disease or the most sobering proportions. So far there is no cure for this plague. Alzheimer's is a new, incurable ailment of the elderly. We are constantly hearing of serious outbreaks of such diseases as the Ebola Virus which can destroy whole towns. There have been recent outbreaks of a rare flesh-eating Strep disease which disfigures or even kills its victims in a matter of hours. Resistant strains of "conquered diseases," such as tuberculosis are now appearing. Some people are even wondering if some of these problems are the result of genetic engineering. Recent information about the rampant production of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction also help us picture the disastrous effects of these plagues.

A Seven Year Treaty With Israel

The seven year period following the parousia (the Rapture) and preceding the epiphaneia (the Second Coming in power and glory), is normally divided into two halves. The first three and a half years are characterized by some degree of apparent world peace as the false Messiah (Revelation 13:11-18, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10, Matthew 24:15) in Israel negotiates a favorable Middle Eastern peace treaty. That peace treaty, described by Isaiah as Israel's "covenant with death," will fail--and terrible war will break out in Israel. The second half of the tribulation period is usually called "The Great Tribulation" (Matthew 24:21) or "the Day of the Lord."

Jeremiah calls it "the time of Jacob's trouble," (Jeremiah 30-31, Daniel 12:1)

Trust in a counterfeit messiah

The Book of Daniel, chapter 9, tells of a future seven year period when "the ruler who will come" will confirm a covenant, presumably with Israel.

After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.

He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven.' In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him."
(Daniel 9:26-27)

This "ruler who will come" is the Man of Sin. As mentioned above, he will probably use the wars of the Second Seal as the occasion for instituting this treaty.

Jesus may have been alluding to this future event when He said, "I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him." (John 5:43)

The 144,000 Called

Revelation Chapter Seven describes the calling out of 144,000 select Jewish evangelists from the nation Israel at the beginning of the Tribulation period, probably soon after the Rapture of the church.

12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel

As you can see from the following passage, the 144,000 are specifically God's chosen people, 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel.

"Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God."

Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.

From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000,
from the tribe of Gad 12,000,

from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000,

from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000,

from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.
(Revelation 7:3-8)

Sealed - for what?

Immediately after the verses about the calling of the 144,000, this information is added. It depicts the result of the sealing of these people: the evangelization of multitudes of people.

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.

And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb."
(Revelation 7:9-10)

The 144,000 will vigorously evangelize Israel, completing the task begun by the disciples of Jesus, within Israel but also extending their field to all the nations. The result of their bold and fearless evangelism program will be hundreds of thousands of converts to Jesus Christ.

Next Chapter

 Index Page Prefatory  Chapter 1
  Chapter 2   Chapter 3   Chapter 4
  Chapter 5   Chapter 6   Chapter 7
  Chapter 8   Chapter 9   Chapter 10
 Chapter 11   Chapter 12   Chapter 13
 Chapter 14   Chapter 15  Appendices