Please read Revelation chapters 6 – 11 and 15 – 16.
The message in this issue of Bible Helps is based on the highlights of a number of chapters at the center of the Book of Revelation. Most of the Revelation (from chapter 4 on through chapter 22) deals not with things past or things present, but with things future. And one of the great truths about the future which the Bible emphasizes over and over again, is the fact that this age is not moving toward a paradise, in spite of the advances in science and technology. Instead, this world is heading toward final judgment because of man’s moral weakness and his refusal to repent.
It would certainly be foolish for anyone to try and forecast all the details of future events. There are so many things we don’t know and there are factors which our finite minds cannot comprehend. But in the Bible, God has given us a broad outline of certain major events to come.
One of the major lines of prophecy running throughout the Scriptures, is the teaching concerning what is sometimes called “The Great Tribulation.” This is described as a time when God’s wrath is poured out upon all the earth. Sometimes it is spoken of as “the seventieth week of Daniel” or “the time of Jacob’s trouble.” Other writers of the Bible speak of it as a day of wrath and indignation; still others speak of it as a time of destruction and of punishment.
The Great Tribulation as set forth in the Scriptures is a time of frightful judgment at the close of this age. It begins when our Lord comes in the first phase of His coming, and then continues for a number of years, corresponding to Daniel’s seventieth week (as recorded in Daniel 9). The Great Tribulation will be the darkest hour of this world’s history. Jesus spoke about it in Matthew 24:21 when He said, as He was speaking about His second coming, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world, to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved.” Daniel says, “There shall be a time of trouble such as there never was since there was a nation, even unto that same time” (Daniel 12:1). Isaiah says, “And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth for fear of the Lord, when he arises to shake terribly the earth” (Isaiah 2:19). And then in Isaiah 26, the prophet talks about the future time of judgment again, and goes on to give the reason for the pouring out of God’s wrath. He says in verse 21, “For behold the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity.”
Our generation talks about the great society and the brotherhood of man, and how we are all God’s children, and so forth. Thousands simply do not realize that this world is on the verge (on the very edge) of some of the most terrible judgments ever inflicted upon the human family.
One of the iniquities that is going to bring on the wrath of God is the widespread violence and lack of respect for human life. Some readers may have read about the hitchhiker in the state of Montana who shot a social worker in the back, cut off his head, and ate the heart of the victim while it was still warm. He told the police he worships the devil.
Another widespread iniquity of the times is the adultery and fornication and sexual perversion that abounds on every hand. Millions today are practicing perversions of the most base kind—homosexuality, lesbianism, incest, and now we have movies shown in commercial theaters that show women having sexual intercourse with animals. Sex relations have a proper place within the marriage bond, but the Bible says that “whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). The immodest dress and the sexual perversion that is common today, is not going to go unjudged. One of these days He who sits in the heavens shall laugh, and it will be a laughter of judgment.
The middle chapters of the Book of Revelation tell about three cycles of seven judgments each, all of which will come to pass upon the earth in the end times. The seven seal judgments are described in Revelation 6—7. The seven trumpet judgments are described in Revelation 8—11. The seven bowl judgments are described in Revelation 15—16. In each case, six of the judgments are poured out and then there’s a parenthesis (a parenthetical paragraph), and then the final seventh judgment follows. The trumpets, the vials, the seals—all these picture scenes that are going to actually take place right here on earth during the Great Tribulation.
1. The Seven Seal Judgments
Chapter 5 tells how our Lord will hold in His hand a scroll that is sealed with seven seals. The opening of the seals (described in chapter 6) will usher in a series of judgments which comprise part of the Tribulation Period.
The first seal was opened and John saw a white horse and a rider. The white horse is a symbol of peace and victory, a picture of the last efforts of man to bring about peace upon the earth. The rider on the white horse, I believe, corresponds to the Antichrist described in the Book of Daniel (and later in the Revelation). He will rule over the earth and bring peace to the troubled world, but that peace will be short-lived, only to be followed by warfare and famine and death.
The second seal is opened (6:3-4) and John sees another horse, described as red and bearing a rider to whom power is given to take peace from the earth and to cause men to kill one another. The peace promised by the white horse rider is followed by a series of wars and a great loss of life.
The third seal revealed a rider (6:5-6) on a black horse, holding a pair of balances in his hand. This is a symbol of scarcity and famine. As a result of the wars described in the second seal, there will be a scarcity of food and multitudes will die of starvation. This will not only take place in India and Africa, but this trial will come upon the entire earth (Rev. 3:10). The “denarius” was a day’s wages, and during the end-time judgment, things will become so bad that a man will have to spend a day’s wages for just a loaf of bread, with no money left to buy anything else.
When the fourth seal was opened, a pale horse appeared and the rider was given the power to kill with the sword and with hunger. One fourth of the world’s population will be wiped out (the greatest destruction of human life ever recorded in man’s history). Even brute creation will lose its fear of man. The dog will seek to devour its owner, and the horse will run away with its rider.
The fifth seal (6:9-11) reveals the fact that some of God’s saints will die because of their faith. Chapter 7 tells about 144,000 Jews who will carry the gospel of the kingdom to those left on the earth. There are depths here which our finite minds cannot comprehend, but apparently some who had never heard, will believe and will be martyred, and will in some way share in the glories of Heaven.
The sixth seal (6:12-17) speaks of great convulsions that will shake the whole earth. It would be difficult to describe any scene more moving and terrible than the one described in these verses. There will be an earthquake; the sun will turn black; the moon will become like blood; the stars will fall from heaven; the islands will be moved out of their places; life will become so unbearable that men will cry for death to overtake them. This is not going to be “the end of the world”; it is only the beginning of still more intense judgments to come.
The modern pulpit and the new theology presents a God who is soft and easy. He wouldn’t think of pouring out vengeance and everlasting punishment. But the God of the Bible is a different kind of God than many think. Not only is He a God of love; He is also a God of wrath. 2 Thessalonians 1 describes the second coming of Christ by saying that “in flaming fire (he will) take vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And in that day when God’s judgments begin to fall, the Bible says that wicked men will call a great prayer meeting, and cry to the dumb rocks and deaf stones, and say, “Fall on us, and hide us from the wrath of the Lamb.”
After a parenthetical discussion in chapter 7, the seventh seal is described in the early verses of chapter 8. The last seal has within it the other two cycles of judgments still to come (the seven trumpets and the seven vials). In other words, each cycle of judgments seems to pour out from the cycle before it. And in light of the fact that two more series of judgments are still to come, there is silence in Heaven for about “half an hour.” That’s an unusual thing because Heaven is filled day and night with the worship and praise of the heavenly hosts. But it seems as if all the beings in heaven “hold their breath” so to speak, as they contemplate the awfulness of that which is still to come.
2. The Seven Trumpet Judgments
The trumpet plagues are more severe than those of the seals, and the final cycle of seven bowl judgments are the most severe of all.
When the first trumpet is announced (8:7), John sees a scene of desolation caused by hail and fire mingled with blood, and it spreads over one-third of the earth. The judgment is directed toward vegetation, and a third part of the trees and green grass are burned.
The second trumpet judgment (8:8-9) will affect the oceans. A large object compared to a great mountain burning with fire will be thrown into the sea, and a third of the oceans will turn to blood. A third of the creatures in the oceans will die, and a third of the ships in the waters will be destroyed.
The third trumpet reveals a great star (8:10-11), burning like a lamp, falling from heaven, and it pollutes one-third of the rivers and the fountains of water. It causes the waters to become bitter and many die.
The fourth trumpet judgment (8:12) will affect the lights in the heavens, and bring on a plague of darkness. When the fifth trumpet sounds (9:1-12), a heavenly being opens the bottomless pit, and vast hordes of demonic creatures (somewhat like locusts and in some ways like scorpions) are unleashed to torment mankind. These supernatural beings are terrifying in form and equipped to torture the bodies of wicked men. They have a sting like a scorpion, one of the most painful stings known to man. It affects the nerves; sets them on fire; and lasts for many days.
The sixth trumpet (9:13-21) describes an army of two hundred million riders upon horses. John says that fire and smoke and sulphur will issue from their mouths and destroy one-third of the human race. No wonder Jeremiah (when describing future judgment) says, “Wherefore, I see every man . . . as a woman in travail, and all faces turned unto paleness; alas for the day is great; it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:6-7).
These are all events that are going to take place right here on the earth, but in spite of the terrifying judgments inflicted upon men by the hand of God, still those who survive will refuse to repent (9:21). Such is the hardness of the human heart.
After an interlude in chapter ten, the latter part of chapter eleven describes the seventh trumpet judgment. When it sounds, John hears voices announcing that the kingdoms of this world are becoming the kingdom of Christ. The time is rapidly approaching when earthly rule will pass directly into the hands of God, and the affairs of earth will never again be under the control of man.
3. The Seven Bowl Judgments
In chapters eleven through fourteen of the Revelation, John spends some time giving more detail about the persons active on earth during the end time. We will look at these personalities in a separate study in the next issue of Bible Helps.
And then very rapidly, the final cycle of judgments quickly takes place, and the Tribulation comes to an end. In chapter 15, John sees seven angels having the seven last plagues, and verse 1 of chapter sixteen says, “And I heard a great voice out of the temple, saying to the seven angels: Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.” These are direct visitations of God’s wrath upon the earth (15:1), and this series is the most severe of all.
The first judgment in the final series will be a physical affliction (16:2), a “grievous sore” upon those who worship the beast (the Antichrist). In spite of advancements in medical science and improvements in sanitation, this plague of boils will afflict people everywhere.
The second vial will be poured out upon the sea and the oceans will become as blood, a thick clotted mass of pollution. Navigation will become impossible. The fishing industry will be ruined. Life along the seashore will become unbearable.
When the third vial of God’s wrath is poured out (16:4-7), the rivers and fountains of water become blood. During the previous judgment, people still had drinking water, but now the springs and lakes and rivers become polluted, and men and women will go mad for thirst.
When the fourth vial is poured out (16:8-9), the sun will be touched by the hand of God and will increase in intensity, and men will be scorched with intense heat. Men and women (young and old) will find their arms and backs and faces a mass of blisters as they swelter under the terrible heat of the sun.
When the fifth vial of God’s wrath is poured out (16.10-11), absolute darkness will cover the entire kingdom of the Antichrist. Many of us have been in underground caves when the lights were turned out. One can’t see his own hands. Some of the people scream. Others become unusually nervous. It is hard to imagine what it will be like to experience a whole kingdom plunged into absolute darkness.
The sixth vial (16:12-16) causes the waters of the Euphrates to dry up. Israel will be invaded by a great army coming from beyond the Euphrates (known in the Bible as the forces of “the kings of the East”). When the sixth vial of God’s wrath is poured out, the waters of the Euphrates will become dry, and thus preparation will be made for the great Battle of Armageddon described more fully in Revelation 19.
The final bowl of God’s judgment will be poured into the air. There will be a great earthquake; mountains will disappear; hailstones each weighing nearly one hundred pounds will fall upon the earth. A summer storm with quarter-inch hailstones can cut up a crop and can even break windows. During the Tribulation Period, hailstones weighing a talent a piece, will break down the strongest houses and will destroy every living thing that is struck. What a horrible time it will be; confusion will fill the earth; everything that man has built up is going to collapse.
When the contents of the last vial of God’s wrath are poured out, a great voice from the throne (according to verse 17) is going to say “It is done.” God has poured out three series of seven judgments each, and now finally, the end is reached, and the dark years of the Tribulation are over!
It is difficult for us in this day of grace to even imagine such catastrophic judgments as we have seen described in these chapters. Yet God sent judgments somewhat like these, back in Egypt (the plagues)—and the Word of God is plain. These judgments are going to come whether we believe them or not. You can laugh at all this; you can view it with tears; you can say such teaching belongs to the Dark Ages. But here it is, all recorded in the Bible. All other predictions of the Bible have come true, and certainly these will come true likewise.
God has always played it fair with mankind. He has enumerated the blessings that would follow those who submit to His will. He has also described the judgments that will be poured out upon those who disregard Him. Down through the years, God’s Book and God’s Son and God’s righteousness have been snubbed and disregarded and rejected by the masses of men—and so there is plenty of reason for God’s wrath to be poured out.
We don’t know just when the events recorded in these chapters will take place, but we do know they will occur in the latter years. Jesus said in Luke 21:36, “Pray therefore that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass.” Jesus makes it clear that there are those who will escape the wrath of God which will be poured out at the time of the end. But even more important, the Bible spells out for us the one way to escape eternal punishment in the place of outer darkness. We must come to Jesus. We must seek to pattern our lives according to His Word. We must mortify the deeds of the body and walk after the Spirit. Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes unto the Father but by me.” If you will turn over your life to Him, He will forgive your sins, make you right with God, and take you into the Father’s house for the ages of eternity.
It is true that “tribulation” is our appointed lot here in this life, and that the Christian “through much tribulation” must enter the kingdom of God. But such tribulation usually comes from the enemies of God. The “Great Tribulation” is quite another matter. It comes from God himself and is poured out upon His enemies.