The Opening of the Seals
This study will discover unto us those events which will particularly mark the beginning of sorrows.
There are four horse riders to be brought out, as the first four seals of the book are opened. The rider on the white horse Is the antichrist; the rider on the red horse is war; the rider on the black horse is famine; the rider on the pale horse is pestilence.
We wish merely to show that the breaking of the seals is indeed the delineation of the opening scenes of the tribulation. Turn in your Bibles to the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew and let us read together Revelation 6:5-7 . "For many shall come in My Name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: * * and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows."
It seems to us that our Lord is giving the order of events which will mark His Return to the Mount of Olives, and the ending of the age. He speaks of four things. (1) False christs these head up in the antichrist. (2) Wars and rumors of wars these have to do with the early battles of the. antichrist. (3) Famines. (4) Pestilences.
It is interesting to observe that the four horse riders follow the same order as given above. (1) Antichrist. (2) Wars. (3) Famines. (4) Pestilences. It is because of this analogy that we feel at liberty to write over the record of the four horse riders of Revelation six, the expression, The beginning of sorrows.
1. Joel tells us that the day of the Lord will be a day of destruction from the Almighty. It will be a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness. Joel goes on to describe a great army with a fire devouring before them, and a flame burning to their rereward; the land which was as the Garden of Eden before them is left behind them as a desolate wilderness. At that time, the earth shall quake, the heavens shall tremble, the sun and the moon shall be turned into darkness, and the Lord will come.
2. The Lord tells us that it will be a day of tribulation. The Tribulation will be such as there never has been upon the earth before, no, nor yet shall be. Christ said, "Except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved."
The Lord went on to tell us that, immediately after the Tribulation, the sun would be darkened and the moon would not give her light. Then He said, "Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven * * and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of Heaven."
3. Daniel described the day of wrath which immediately precedes the Lord's Return as the overspreading of abominations, which shall make desolate. The Holy Spirit, through Daniel, gives numerous graphic pictures of the end time. They are enough to startle every one who reads. For our part we believe that we are in the beginning of those very days.
4. Isaiah speaks of this period as the day of indignation. He describes, in chapter twenty-four, how the earth will be made empty and waste. How the land shall be utterly spoiled. The earth will mourn and fade away, while the earth peoples cry out in fear. He likewise tells us that that day will see the moon confounded and the sun ashamed, even when the Lord of Hosts shall reign in Mount Zion.
I. THE OPENING OF THE FIRST SEAL (Revelation 6:1-2 )
1. The Seven-sealed book. We now have before us the breaking of the seals of that remarkable book which John saw in the hands of God who was seated upon a throne set in the Heavens. That book caused great consternation, as John first saw it, because there was no one in Heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, who was able to open the book, or to look upon it. John wept much until the angel assured him that Christ had prevailed and He, Christ, would open the book.
We do not marvel that there was a great outburst of joy in Heaven as the Lamb took the book from the hand of the Father. That book held many portentious events, which are scheduled to happen when the day of judgment and of indignation shall come to this sad earth.
2. The white horse rider speaks of the antichrist. There is another rider on the white horse In the Book of Revelation, but that rider is Christ (Revelation 19:11 ).
The rider on the white horse here is the antichrist. He is called the "man of sin," "the man of the earth," "the idol shepherd," and many other names. He is coming to this earth, and he will inaugurate, under the guise of peace and promised prosperity, an era of demagoguery, and of autocratic despotism that will dominate the world.
This antichrist will magnify himself against God. His power will be mighty, but not of his own power, for he will be energized by Satan. He will destroy wonderfully and prosper and practice. He will prosper till the indignation be accomplished. No man will be able to buy or to sell without receiving his mark and number.
3. The white horse will go forth conquering and to conquer. His sway will be centered in the old Roman Empire, but it will be felt to the ends of the earth.
II. THE OPENING OF THE SECOND SEAL (Revelation 6:3-4 )
1. The placing of the red horse. We do not believe it is difficult for us to determine the interpretation of the symbolism of our verse. We read, "And there went out another horse that was red." Red always stands for blood and carnage. It is the danger sign. We speak of war as "Red War."
There is, however, an interpretation given us as to this horse in the description which follows. We read, "Power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword."
2. A world war to deluge the earth with blood. Our Bible says, "Unto the end wars are determined."
We cannot have peace until the Advent of the Prince of Peace. Instead of beating swords into ploughshares and spears into pruninghooks the world is following the opposite method now. It is not until Christ reigns that the nations will learn war no more.
3. The final great catastrophe. When the antichrist first appears he will sheath his sword and come as a heralder of peace. It will not be long, however, until, with sword in hand, he will go forth on a wild career. He will particularly center his assault against the holy people, and also against apostate Christendom. His reign will culminate in the great conflict described in Psalms 2:1-12 . This conflict will conclude with the Lord Jesus coming forth, riding on the white horse, as described in Revelation 19:1-21 .
The two white horse riders will meet in deadly combat. This battle is the culmination of the battle of Armageddon. When the Lord comes forth He will smite the antichrist with the breath of His mouth and the brightness of His coming.
III. THE OPENING OF THE THIRD SEAL (Revelation 6:5-6 )
1. The placing of the black horse and its rider. We now have a black horse coming forth. The rider which sat upon him had a pair of balances in his hand. One is heard to cry, as this rider goes forth, "A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou touch not the oil and the wine."
It. is not difficult to place the black horse rider as "famine." Famine usually follows war, but famine will grip the world in the last days. There will be two kinds of famine. There will be a famine of the natural man for food, and there will be a famine for the Word of God, which satisfies the spiritual man. Other Scriptures speak of the conditions which will prevail. Here is one: "There is a crying for wine in the streets; all joy is darkened, the mirth of the land is gone." "The curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate."
2. Famine is the natural result of war. When war pervades a nation the land is not tilled, the seed is not sown, the harvest is not gathered. The men who should do this work are off on the battlefield. The enemy delights in destroying such crops as are planted. When a world is under the throes of war, conditions are only augmented.
Following the last great war, which deluged many nations in bloodshed, there was a scarcity of food, with prices soaring on every hand. In many places of the earth there was famine, and thousands died for lack of food.
During the siege of Jerusalem in the years past, hunger reached such a stage that Josephus informs us that mothers slew their babes for food. That day is but an antitype of the days of the Tribulation. First of all, no man will be permitted to buy or sell without accepting the mark of the beast, and the number of his name. Then, even those who follow with the beast under the wrath of God will be cut off because of their own destructive ways, from their natural food.
The Bible describes the marching of the world's armies in those days, as leaving behind them a vast wilderness.
IV. THE OPENING OF THE FOURTH SEAL (Revelation 6:7-8 )
1. The placing of the pale horse. The rider on the pale horse is known by his name. His name was Death, and hell followed with him. Of this rider we read: "And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth."
We have before us pestilence in its worst form. On every hand there is death. Some are killed in battle; some are slain because of the famine, and some by the beasts of the earth. Man's power of resistance fails him; and, as man tinder famine weakens, the beasts of the earth become more ravenous.
2. The darkest picture of the Tribulation hour. Some of us have seen the photographs of famine-stricken China. We also have seen photographs where the bandits have passed through a town, leaving carnage and death in their wake. This will help us to visualize Tribulation events.
The Scriptures give a vision of the sad days which will surely come to men. There is a passage which describes the impossibility of burying the dead (Ezekiel 39:12-15 ).
After Armageddon is over, we read in Revelation 19:17-18 how God calls to the fowls that fly in the midst of the Heaven.
Let us remember that all of this carnage is brought upon man because of his rejection of the Son of God, and because he insists upon walking in the lusts of his flesh. As soon as the Lord sets up His Kingdom death and devastation will pass away.
V. THE OPENING OF THE FIFTH SEAL (Revelation 6:9-11 )
1. The vision of the martyrs. The four horse riders have come and gone, The Lord now is giving us another story of the days of Tribulation. This time He tells of the martyr of those who love the Word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ. We are passing now into the deepening shadows of the Tribulation, The antichrist has conquered. He is under Satan's authority, holding sway for a time, times, and a half a time.
We thank God that it will not be for long that he shall dominate the world. The last half of the period of the Tribulation runs only three years and a half, forty-two months, or twelve hundred and sixty days. During this time there will he many who are the slain of the Lord. They will love their Christ and refuse to follow the antichrist. As they are slain they give honor to God, and as their souls appear in Heaven they say with a loud voice, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?"
2. The reward of the martyrs. There are some who will ask, "From whence come these martyred saints?" Before the Tribulation has reached its climax, the slain of the Lord may be many. Even now, as we write, in some sections of the earth, particularly in Russia, there are many saints, we are told, who are being exiled, and some are dying for the faith. As the darkness deepens, the ravages against the faithful will more and more cover the whole earth. After the Rapture and the catching up of all saints, many others will turn to the Lord, There will be witnesses and warnings still given among men, and angels will play a large part in this ministry.
It is most encouraging to us, therefore, to read the Lord's reply to the cry of the martyrs. "And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also, and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."
VI. THE OPENING OF THE SIXTH SEAL (Revelation 6:12-17 )
1. The final great catastrophe and cataclysm. We are now passing into a vision which has its setting at the end of the Tribulation. The judgments of God are falling thick and fast. Let us mark some of the events which follow the opening of the sixth seal. (1) There was a great earthquake. (2) The sun became black as sackcloth of hair. (3) The moon became as blood. (4) The stars of heaven fell unto the earth. (5) The heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together. (6) Every mountain and island were moved out of their paces.
In the twenty-fourth of Matthew Christ said: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory."
In the light of our Lord's Word, we do not hesitate in placing the events itemized above at the close of the Tribulation, even at the coming of Christ to the Mount of Olives.
2. The results of God's judgments. Let us bring our attention now to the effects which the accumulated cataclysms of the last hour bring to men. Read Revelation 6:15-17 .
Some of you will Immediately ask, "Why did these men of earth not repent of their sins and cry to God as the judgments fell upon them?" "We reply that they had definitely aligned themselves to the antichrist. They had gone forth with him and against Christ In deadly combat. They had rejected every warning which God had sent.
Let us quote to you a verse of Scripture: "Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
We must remember that multitudes will be saved during the course of the Tribulation. This will be brought out in our next study. The Scripture, however, which we have quoted above is taken from II Thessalonians, chapter two. The chapter describes the revelation of the antichrist. It is with him that men have had collusion. They have been his followers. They have entered into his covenant.
These men who have rejected Christ, and followed the antichrist, when they see the sun turned to blackness and the moon to blood; when they feel the reeling of the earth, under the throes of a great earthquake: when they see the stars of heaven falling, and the heaven departing as a scroll, with mountains and islands being moved out of their places; then, instead of repenting they cry to the mountains and to the rocks to fall upon them.
We believe it was Dr. John McNeill who said to a group of ministers, that he once came upon a drunken man fast asleep between the railway tracks, and the midnight express was almost due. He said to the ministers: "What would you have done?" It did not take long to think. One said, "Man I would get him off the track. I would not be mild in dealing with him. I would, not invite him to get himself off. I would be rough, and seize him, and by main strength I would drag him off though I dropped exhausted by his side." "And," said the preacher, "that is the state of every unsaved soul asleep between, the tracks, and God's judgment express almost due." Serving and Waking.
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Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Revelation 6". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany