Tuesday, August 24, 2021

28. The Revelation: the Tribulation's Seal Judgments; The First Seal (Rev. 6:1-2)


In Revelation 5:1–7, Christ received a scroll sealed with seven seals. The scroll contained the title deed to the earth. Unlike normal title deeds, it did not contain a description of Christ’s inheritance, but details of how He will reclaim what is rightfully His. Beginning in chapter 6, the scroll is unrolled and its seals broken. The unrolling of the scroll marks the beginning of God’s judgment.

Each of the scroll’s seven seals represents a specific divine judgment that will be poured out sequentially on earth. The seals encompass the entire tribulation (3:10), ending with the return of Christ. It seems best to understand the first four seals as taking place during the first half of the tribulation, the fifth stretching from the first into the second half, the “great tribulation” in 7:14, and the sixth and seventh taking place during that “great tribulation.” Apparently the seventh seal contains the seven trumpet judgments (8:1–11:19) and the seventh trumpet (11:15) contains the seven bowl judgments (16:1–21). The seven seals contain all the judgments until the end, when Jesus Christ returns.

The unfolding of the seven seals parallels our Lord’s chronology of tribulation events found in His own message in Matthew 24. (See the chart “The Coming Seven Seal Judgments.”)

Just as a mother’s birth pains increase in frequency and intensity as the time to give birth approaches, so the judgments will intensify throughout the tribulation until the arrival of Christ in judgment glory. The first four seals cover the period Jesus described as “the beginning of birth pangs” (Matthew 24:8). As terrible as those four judgments are, they are but the preliminary outpouring of God’s final wrath in the last three seals.



"Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer." (Rev. 6:1–2)

Chapters 4–5 described the praise offered in heaven to the Father and Jesus. As the seals begin to be opened in chapter 6, the praise ceases in anticipation of the coming judgment. The scene now shifts from heaven to earth, the focus of events through the return of Christ in chapter 19 and His earthly kingdom in chapter 20.

Having received from His Father the title deed to the earth (5:7), the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals. As each seal is broken in the vision, what is written on the scroll is not read, but acted out. Immediately, John heard one of the four living creatures saying with a powerful voice of thunder, “Come.” In response to the angelic summons, a white horse came forth bearing its rider.

The first four seals involve horses and riders, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Horses in Scripture are associated with triumph, majesty, power, and conquest (19:11, 14; Job 39:19–25; Proverbs 21:31).

Some, seeing a parallel with 19:11, identify the one who sat on the white horse as Christ. But since Christ opens the sealed scroll, He cannot be the rider. Further, this rider wears a crown won as a prize. In 19:12 Christ wears many royal crowns. Unlike this rider, who carries a bow, Christ carries a sword (19:15). Finally, Christ returns at the end of the tribulation, not at its beginning.

Others identify the rider as Antichrist. But since the other three riders represent impersonal forces (war, famine, and death), it is best to view the first one as a force as well. That force is best defined as a worldwide peace, shattered during the second seal by the second rider (6:4).

So before the terrors of the tribulation break loose and lead to the battle of Armageddon, there will come a period of world peace. But it will be a deceptive peace, as the world is lulled into a false sense of security followed by war, famine, and death. The world’s desperate desire for international peace will serve as the bait for the satanic trap. That longing for security and safety will play into the hands of Antichrist, Satan’s ruler, who will convince the world that he can provide them.

That the rider had a bow but no arrows, and that he was honored with a crown that was freely given to him, reveals that his conquering will involve bloodless victories. His crown is a winner’s crown. He is not a real king, but has won a crown from the world for his triumphant achievements leading to world peace. He will not conquer by military force, but by deceit (2 Thessalonians 2:9–11). His conquest will be a peace won by agreement, not conflict (Daniel 9:24–27). Even as the final doom of the world approaches, Antichrist will promise a golden age of peace and prosperity. In gratitude, the world will honor him and elevate him to the position of supreme leadership. Yet his promises and the peace will be short-lived.