Here are my teaching notes from last night’s KALEO study of Revelation 6.
Introduction: Recently Katrina and I watched 2012, a global-disaster movie. As I understood the premise of the film, according to ancient Mayan prophecies the sun experienced a series of unprecedented solar flares that acted as a microwave to heat up the earth’s core. This resulted in a massive shifting of the earth’s crust leading to worldwide cataclysm, out of which only a few people were saved on arks. While watching, I couldn’t help thinking of the book of Revelation and the real end of the world. Revelation is our authoritative source of information on this subject.
The outline of Revelation as given in 1:9 is clear.
- Chapter 1 – The things that you have seen. This is the opening vision of the reigning Christ.
- Chapters 2-3 –The things that are. These two chapters are addressed to churches during the current church age.
- Chapters 4-22 – The things that are to come. Here the future unfolds throughout the rest of the book.
This breaks down as follows:
- Chapters 4-5 – The scene in heaven at the beginning of the Great Tribulation
- Chapters 6-18 – The scene on earth during the Tribulation.
- Chapters 19-22 – The return of Christ leading to the New Heavens and the New Earth
The key to understanding the Tribulation in chapters 6-18 is in three series of disasters symbolized by seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls or wrath.
- Seven Seals in chapter 6
- Seven Trumpets in chapters 8-9
- Seven Bowls of Wrath in chapters 16
This provides the scaffolding for the book of Revelation. The Seals commence the Great Tribulation; the trumpets flow out of that; and the bowls conclude the Great Tribulation. Everything else in chapters 6-18 is supplemental. We have a lot of parenthetical (though important) material given to us, but the framework of the Tribulation is in these three series of sevens.
These three series may be chronological or they may be concurrent. Most commentators say they are chronological, and I’m accepting that for now. The seven trumpets follow the seventh seal; and the seven bowls of wrath follow the seventh trumpet. That seems to make sense and we can follow that through the book. But I still have the nagging feeling they may be concurrent or partially concurrent, for three reasons:
- The book of Revelation corresponds closely to the book of Daniel, and in the book of Daniel the visions are definitely concurrent. You have the opening vision in Daniel 2 that gives us the entire sweep of history from the days of Babylon until Christ comes. Then in chapter 7, we have the vision of the four beasts which covers the same ground but uses different imagery and overlays the material with greater detail. Then we have the vision of the ram and the goat, and that overspreads the material already presented, and so forth. The book of Revelation is the New Testament is the New Testament parallel to Daniel. It could be that each of the three visions is like another layer of information being superimposed on the whole picture.
- The second reason is because all three series of visions seem to end up at the same place—with the cataclysmic finale of history, with the giant earthquake and the collapsing of the stellar heavens, setting the stage for the dramatic return of Christ.
- The first series (the seven seals) is general in nature. The subsequent visions grow in specificity and detail. That again reminds us of the book of Daniel and would argue for the visions being concurrent.
But whether they are chorological or concurrent doesn’t affect the fact that these symbols represent definite historical events that are going to unfold in the Tribulation. The events open with the seven seals, and these are remarkably easy to interpret (which again tells us that the book of Revelation isn’t as difficult as we sometimes imagine).
Verses 1-2: The first four seals are the unleashing of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” The first of these represents the rise of the antichrist. He was riding a white horse with a bow and crown, bent on conquest. He’s determined to take over the whole world.
Verses 3-4: The second horseman represents the world war that will engulf the planet.
Verses 5-6: The third horseman represents the famine that so often follows war.
Verses 7-8: The fourth horse obviously represents death. Millions or billions of people (one-fourth of the world’s population) will die on earth due to the antichrist and the war and famine that follows in his wake. Those are the four horsemen who are unleashed with the opening of the first four seals.
Verses 9-11: The fifth seal are the martyrs of the Tribulation—people who come to Christ during the Great Tribulation and who are hunted down and killed.
Verses 12-17: The sixth seal represents the physical collapse of the world and of parts of the sky. If these are chronological, this scene describes a frightening partial rumbling of the universe that will occur at some point in the first half of the Great Tribulation period. If the visions are concurrent and represent the whole sweep of the Great Tribulation, this brings us to the very moment of the return of Christ as all the universe convulses.
Conclusion: Notice that the Great Tribulation begins and ends with a Rider on a White Horse. It begins with the antichrist (the imitator) being so described in chapter 6; it ends with the real Rider on the White Horse (Christ Himself) coming back to this planet in chapter 19. The first white-horsed rider will begin it, and the second will finish it.