Bible Prophecy in Chronology series (post #7)
If I asked one hundred people to name the Bible’s hardest book to study, my guess is the majority of people would name The Revelation. The irony of that choice is that The Revelation is probably the easiest book in the entire Bible to outline. That doesn’t mean that everything about the book is easy to interpret, but, speaking as a preacher, an easy-to-divide outline always helps. Once you get to chapter 6, the book basically becomes a chronological walk through the events of the tribulation period and beyond. Is this chronology in perfect precision order? No. Is there some overlap to the events? Absolutely. This doesn’t detract, though, from the fundamental event-by-event timeline that is presented. So, with this post, we’ll begin taking our walk through those events.
To set the stage for the walk, I need to explain Revelation chapter 5. The apostle John, who has just experienced what we might call a “Revelation rapture” (Revelation 4:1-2), watches as Jesus – symbolically depicted as “the Lamb” – takes a certain scroll from the hand of God the Father (Revelation 5:1-7). The mere transfer of this scroll from the hand of God the Father to the hand of Jesus prompts a great heavenly worship scene (Revelation 5:8-14). The ones doing the worshiping are the four living creatures (most likely cherub angels) that surround God’s throne, the 24 elders (a group that symbolically represents the entirety of the church), and many other angels. Clearly, this scroll is a big deal, and Jesus now having it is an even bigger deal.
And so what is this scroll? In the ancient world, such parchment scrolls served as the title deeds in land purchases (Jeremiah 32:6-15). Therefore, this scroll has been called the title deed to the earth. The scroll has writing not only inside it but also on its back, and it is sealed with seven seals (Revelation 5:1). In such scrolls, the writing on the back was a summary of the writing found inside the document, and the writing on the inside contained the details of the transaction. The seals all had to be broken before the entire scroll could be read.
As for the scroll that Jesus takes in hand, the way it works is simple: Whenever Jesus breaks one of the seven seals, a corresponding event takes place down on earth. These events are commonly called “the seal judgments.” At the beginning of chapter 6, Jesus starts breaking the seals, and thus begins The Revelation’s record of the tribulation period. The breaking of the first four seals produce the riders that are known as “the four horsemen of the apocalypse.” These riders will be our subject for this post.
Seal #1 (Revelation 6:1-2): The Rider on the White Horse
Christ’s breaking of the scroll’s first seal causes a rider on a white horse to ride out “conquering and to conquer.” This rider is the Antichrist. In the symbolic imagery, he carries a bow but no arrows. This shows that he will initially play the role of a man of peace. I have explained in previous posts how he will come to power by overthrowing three of the kings of an alliance of ten kings that will constitute a revived Roman empire in the end times (Daniel 7:8,24). Following that coup, the other seven kings will give their power and authority over to him (Revelation 17:12-13), which will give him complete control of the entire empire.
At some point very shortly after the Antichrist comes to power, he will sign a seven-year treaty with Israel (Daniel 9:27). These seven years will be the tribulation period, the last “week” of “The 70 Weeks Prophecy” (Daniel 9:20-27). While it can be argued that the clock on the tribulation period starts ticking at the moment of the Rapture, the better understanding is that it starts ticking the moment the Antichrist signs that treaty. What the Bible doesn’t tell us is how much time elapses between the Rapture and the signing of that treaty. Clearly, though, it can’t be long. My guess is a few days or a few weeks at the most.
Christ’s most extensive teaching on the end times is called the Olivet Discourse because He gave it while He was on the Mount of Olives. The teaching is found in Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Mark 13:3-37, and Luke 21:5-38. It is noteworthy that Jesus opens the teaching by saying, “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5). We can easily imagine that as He spoke to His apostles in general terms about false messiahs, He had in mind the ultimate false messiah that would one day come. It isn’t a coincidence that the Antichrist is depicted as riding a white horse. In Revelation 19:11-21, we find the account of Jesus returning to this earth for His second coming, and that account puts Jesus on a white horse as well.
Seal #2 (Revelation 6:3-4): The Rider on the Red Horse
With Christ’s breaking of the scroll’s second seal, a rider on a fiery red horse heads out to “take peace from the earth.” This rider is the symbolic embodiment of war. So, at this point in the early days of the tribulation period, peace is taken from the earth and the killing begins. Jesus, in the Olivet Discourse, described it this way: “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…” (Matthew 24:6-7)
A good question to ask, though, is, “Why does warfare break out at this particular time?” After all, if the Antichrist comes in as a man of peace, he won’t be the one stirring up this hostility. What then is the trigger that starts it? The Bible doesn’t give us that answer, but by reading between the lines a bit we can come up with a couple of possibilities.
First, the effect of millions of people suddenly vanishing off the face of the earth in the Rapture really can’t be overstated. Think about the confusion. Think about the chaos. Think about the news reports. Think about the fear. Think about the paranoia. Think about the attempted explanations. Think about the world’s leaders panicking. Think about the different nations accusing each other of being behind the disappearances. That is a setting ripe for countries to go to war. It’s also ripe for individuals to perpetrate violence on other individuals, which might also be a part of the words “that people should kill one another” (Revelation 6:2).
Second, remember that 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 teaches that a great “falling away” will accompany the revealing of the Antichrist. This makes perfect sense in the wake of the Rapture. You see, the Rapture will remove all the authentic Christians from the world’s churches. This will leave only fake Christians and spiritually lost church members to carry on the services of organized religion. And how long will it take for the attendees to realize the hollowness of the post-Rapture “churches”? Not very long. Rather than provide people with answers for the current state of things, these spiritually bereft “churches” will help escalate people’s tensions, anxieties, and fears. Think of it this way: If the world has known the warfare that it has known with Christians here playing the role of salt and light, what kind of a powder keg will it become when they are gone?
But does the Bible name any specific war that might break out in the earliest days of the tribulation period? It would seem so. Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 describe a war that will take place in the “latter days” (Ezekiel 38:16). For this war, the nation “Magog” will head a coalition force that comes into the land of Israel “like a cloud” (Ezekiel 38:16) and goes to war against Israel. “Magog” will be led by a prince identified as “Gog,” which literally means “ruler.” According to Ezekiel 38:5-6, the other countries in the coalition will be Persia (Iran, east of Israel), Ethiopia (south of Israel), Libya (southwest of Israel), Gomer (Germany, northwest of Israel), and Togarmah (Turkey, north of Israel). What’s most impressive about this coalition is that it’s far flung enough in scope for the locations of these nations to form a clockwise ring around Israel. The only gap in the ring is the Mediterranean Sea to Israel’s immediate west.
Since the leader “Gog” is described as coming from a place “far north” of Israel (Ezekiel 38:14-15, 39:1-2), most commentators identify him as the leader of that land we now call Russia. This goes along with the Jewish historian Josephus, who identified Magog as the land of the Scythians, which was located in what is now Russia. For that matter, “Magog” is the translation of the Hebrew word Rosh, and according to Wilhelm Gesenius, a famous expert in Hebrew, Rosh should actually be translated as Russia.
And how will this war go for Russia and her allies? Fatally. For starters, God will strike the land of Israel with a mighty earthquake that will throw the coalition forces into confusion (Ezekiel 38:18-20). That earthquake will then be followed by “pestilence” as well as “flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone” (Ezekiel 38:22) as God slays every last soldier of the coalition forces (Ezekiel 39:1-5). The slaughter will be so great that it will take the people of Israel seven months to bury the bodies of all the dead foreigners (Ezekiel 39:11-16). In addition to all this burying, the people of Israel will gather up the weapons from the slain armies and somehow use those weapons as fuel for their fires for seven years (Ezekiel 39:9-10).
Okay, so when will this infamous invasion of Israel take place? It will occur at a time when Israel will be dwelling in safety and peace in its own land and operating with its guard down (Ezekiel 38:10-15). I promise you that none of that applies to Israel’s current state, and so we must be dealing with a future event. And what could cause Israel to feel safe enough to uncharacteristically drop its guard this way? I would suggest that it’s that peace treaty Israel signs with the Antichrist and his revived Roman empire. If this interpretation is correct, it means that very, very shortly after the signing of that treaty, Russia’s coalition army will roll into Israel and quickly meet its doom. This would explain how the people of Israel could use that weaponry as fuel for seven years (the seven years of the tribulation period), with the number seven being only slightly rounded up and used generally. Then again, it’s also possible that Israel using those weapons as fuel for seven years might extend into the time of Christ’s Millennial Reign upon the earth, which will begin with His Second Coming at the conclusion of the tribulation period.
Seal #3 (Revelation 6:5-6): The Rider on the Black Horse
When Jesus breaks the scroll’s third seal, a rider on a black horse takes his ride. This rider is the symbolic embodiment of famine. Evidently the Russian coalition’s war against Israel will not be the only warfare that breaks out in the early days of the tribulation period. Keep in mind that Revelation 6:2 says the rider on the red horse was granted the power to take peace from the earth, not just a handful of nations. Well, history has proven that times of great warfare are often followed by food shortages because of the destruction of crops and the interruption of manufacturing. This in turn causes skyrocketing prices for the food that is available. Mix all these factors together and you come up with a time of famine. In Christ’s Olivet Discourse, the order is the same. His words, “And there will be famines” follow His words about warfare (Matthew 24:7).
In the symbolism involved with the rider on the black horse, the wildly inflated prices are vividly portrayed. First, the rider holds a set of measuring scales in his hands. The picture is that in those days food will be measured out as carefully as gold. Second, as the rider heads out carrying the scales, John, who is still experiencing heaven’s viewpoint of the events, hears a voice saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and wine.” It’s the math here that’s important. In Bible times, a denarius was the standard equivalent of one day’s pay (Matthew 20:2), and a quart of wheat or three quarts of barley were only enough to prepare one meal. This means that in the opening stages of the tribulation period, following the time of warfare, food will be so scarce and expensive that the average person will have to work a full day just to pay for one meal.
Please note, though, that I said the “average” person. Did you catch that other part about “do not harm the oil and the wine”? Even during this time of famine and incredible inflation, luxuries such as oil and wine (Psalm 104:15) will still be available to the rich. As is always the case in trying economic times, the rich will fare far better than the commoners and poor people in the tribulation period.
Seal #4 (Revelation 6:7-8): The Rider on the Pale Horse
The fourth horseman of the apocalypse rides out with Christ’s breaking of the fourth seal. This rider rides a pale horse and is the symbolic embodiment of death. Here again history points the way by showing us that times of warfare are often followed by times of famine, and those times typically produce death on a large scale. It’s a sad cycle.
And just how many people will die during the first year or two of the tribulation period? We’re told the death toll will equate to a full one fourth of the world’s population (Revelation 6:7-8). That’s incredible. Right now there are over 7 billion people on the earth and that number increases each year. 25% of 7 billion is almost 2 billion people!
You ask, “But how will all these people die?” Four causes of death are named in Revelation 6:8. First, people will die from the “sword.” This refers back to the various wars that will mark the beginning of the tribulation period. Second, people will die from “hunger.” This refers back to the famine that follows all that warfare. Third, people will die from “pestilence” (NASV). This matches up with the Olivet Discourse since Jesus listed “pestilences” right on the heels of “famines” (Matthew 27:7, Luke 21:11). Furthermore, it makes sense logically because poor people cannot afford proper medical care, and in that kind of a world diseases, plagues, and pestilences are allowed to flourish. Fourth, people will die “by the beasts of the earth.” The best way to interpret these beasts is to take them as literal. Just as the Rapture and the opening events of the tribulation period will bring chaos, confusion, and calamity to people, the world’s animal kingdom will be adversely affected as well as man will become the hunted rather than the hunter in many situations.
Still, though, as bad as 25% of the world’s population ending up dead is, it isn’t even the most tragic part of Christ’s breaking of the scroll’s first four seals. The most tragic part is that Death, the rider on the pale horse, won’t be riding by himself. According to Revelation 6:8, “and Hades followed with him.” I can’t take the time here to get into a thorough teaching on the Greek word Hades, but for the purposes of this post just know that it is that place we call “Hell.” The King James translation even translates Hades as “Hell.”
The point then is that the souls of all those people who die in the opening part of the tribulation period go straight to Hell, not to Heaven. You see, the fact that Hades (Hell) follows the rider on the pale horse is yet another piece of evidence that shows that every Christian will be removed from the earth by way of the Rapture before the beginning of the tribulation period. If this wasn’t the case, then Revelation 6:8 should read: “And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades and Heaven followed with him.” But that’s just not what the verse says, is it? And would you believe that at this point in the timeline that Jesus lays out in the Olivet Discourse, He actually adds in, “All these are the BEGINNING of sorrows” (Matthew 24:8)? Could things really get even worse as the tribulation period steamrolls forward? Unfortunately, the answer is, yes. For more on that, just stay tuned.