We will begin a study of the events that lead directly to the return of Jesus, when He stands on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:1-5). This event will follow the rapture of the church, when Jesus returns in the air and catches up to heaven the believers of all times, whether they are alive or dead (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, 1 Corinthians 15:50-53). Mac Arthur, Ryrie, and Holman Christian Standard Study Bibles (HCSB). The term, “caught up,” from 1 Thes 4:17, which refers to “rapture,” is taken from the Greek word, “harpazo,” which means to catch up or snatch up.
For the purposes of giving proper credit to source material, I will do so in the area that I will be writing. For my own comments, I will leave such areas blank.
We will begin this series by considering the rapture of the church.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 King James Version (KJV)
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
4:16 the dead in Christ will rise first. For Paul, those “in Christ” constitute a subcategory of those “in Adam” (the whole human race), and comprise all who participate in the salvation of Christ (1 Cor. 15:22, 23), whether they lived before or after Christ. Therefore, this rising of the “dead in Christ” is a resurrection of all the righteous dead, and not merely of New Testament believers, at the time of Christ’s return. Reformation Study Bible (RSB).
1 Corinthians 15:50-53 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
15:51 mystery. We shall not all sleep. Paul recognizes that many Christians will not die but will be alive at the time of Christ’s return. Though these Christians will not be raised from death, they too will be transformed and receive imperishable and immortal bodies (1 Thess. 4:13–18 and notes). RSB.
After the rapture of the church has taken place those who have been left behind can expect horrible things to happen in this world. They will be worse than has ever been experienced by any of God’s created people since the creation of the world.
Matthew 24:21 New King James Version (NKJV)
21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.
Jesus paid the debt for sin when He was died on the cross. With the beginning of the time of tribulation Jesus will begin His judgment on sin. It is important for us to consider who the people are who will be left behind to experience the judgment that will take place on the earth. It is also necessary to understand why they are being left behind. Consider the words of Revelation 3:10.
Revelation 3:10 New King James Version (NKJV)
10 Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.
Consider the phrase, “those who dwell on the earth.” It is a designation for mankind in hostility to God. They are “dwellers on the earth” who are set over against the army of the holy ones. In 11:10 they are those who rejoice over the death of the two witnesses. In chapter 13 they are pictured as worshiping the beast (vs 8, 12), and in chapter 17 as drunk and with the wine of fornication of the great harlot (vs 2). Their names are not written in the book of life (17:8), and they are subject to the coming hour of trial (3:10; 8:13). TNIC
Revelation 8:13 New King James Version (NKJV)
13 And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!”
God does not have a problem with the redeemed believers of the world, those who have been born again. Their sin has been removed by Jesus (John 1:29). They have been taken out of the world to be with God prior to the tribulation (1Thes 4:16-17). Those who have not been born again, and have not been redeemed by “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” will be in the world when God’s judgment begins.” The ones who have been “left behind” can still accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. However, they will be present during the acts of judgment and will also be persecuted by the forces of the Antichrist, even to the point of death (Rev 13:15).
After the catching up of the saints, and before the moment that Jesus actually stands on the Mount of Olives, various acts of Judgement are taken by God, who is Jesus, The Lamb Of God/The Lion Of Judah, against the forces of the Antichrist who remain on earth and are planning their assault on Jerusalem, Israel, and the Jews, which will take place at Armageddon. Jesus the Messiah, is the only one who is competent and worthy to break the seven seals and open the scroll that will release the plagues of judgment upon the earth that will soon follow. (Ryrie, Revelation Chapters 4 and 5.) Revelation 6:1 begins the first of three series of judgements (seals, Chapter 6; trumpets, Chapters 8-9; bows, Chapter 16). Most likely the three series are consecutive, with each succeeding one following the preceding one (Ryrie).
Consider the following discussion that is provided by the Reformation Study Bible (RSB).
6:1–8:1 Judgments from God’s throne unfold as the seven seals are opened one by one. The participation of the Lamb reminds us that such judgments are based on His unique qualifications and accomplishments (ch. 5). Each has an opening scene introducing the origin of the judgments (ch. 5; 8:2–6). Six judgments follow (ch. 6; 8:7–9:21). A dramatic interlude promises care for God’s people (ch. 7; 10:1–11:14). The seventh and climactic judgment follows the interlude (8:1; 11:15–19; Introduction: Outline). The seven judgments move forward toward the Second Coming, which occurs in 6:12–17 and 11:15–19. The four living creatures of 4:6 and the four horsemen of Zech. 1:8 are reflected in 6:1–8. The four major regions of the world (dry land, sea, fresh water, and sky) are considered in 8:7–12 RSB
Preview of first four seals: Conquest, War, Famine, and Death
6:1–8 The four horsemen represent conquest, war, famine, and death. These calamities characterize an indefinite period before the Second Coming (Mark 13:6–8). Such things occurred in the tumults of the Roman Empire, and may be expected to occur now and before the Second Coming. The seven churches were exhorted to put their confidence, not in the peace and prosperity supposedly achieved by Roman rule, but in God and His promises of a new world (2:17; 3:12; 21:4). When tumults occurred, they were assured that the Lamb was still in control—in fact, the tumults issued from His worthiness to break the seals and from the voice of the living creatures. Such judgments represented the chastening hand of God on a rebellious world (9:20, 21) RSB
First Seal – Conquest/Cold War – White Horse
Revelation 6:1-2 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
1 Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say, as with a voice of thunder, “Come!” 2 And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and its rider had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.
The white horse and rider are the Antichrist. His method of conquest does not indicate open warfare, since peace is not removed from the earth until the second seal is opened (vs 3). This relates to the description of the delusion in 1 Thes 5:3. Ryrie.
Christ is the rider of the white horse in Rev 19:11. The New International Commentary (TNIC)
With the Antichrist on the scene, the tribulation is beginning. The deception of the Antichrist will gain favor and strength. A peace treaty will be made with the Jews, and after three and a half years it will be broken by the Antichrist. The area of focus during the Tribulation is Israel. But, there will also be collateral damage occurring in all parts of the world.
The length of the Tribulation is seven years. The latter three and a half years are known as the Great Tribulation. Ryrie Study Bible, Rev 3:10 Note.
Second Seal – Open War – Red Horse
Revelation 6:3-4 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
3 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that men should slay one another; and he was given a great sword.
Everything about the second seal judgement indicates bloodshed, e.g., red horse, take peace from, sword. Ryrie
The second seal may refer to internal strife, to remove peace from the earth and allow men to turn their destructive instincts upon one another. See Zechariah 14:13. TNIC
13 On that day a great panic from the Lord will be among them, so that each will seize the hand of another, and the hand of one will rise against the other (HCSB)
Third Seal – Famine – Black Horse
Revelation 6:5-6 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
5 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I saw, and behold, a black horse, and its rider had a balance in his hand; 6 and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not harm oil and wine!”
6:6 A quart of wheat. Famine will come, so severe that a laborer’s entire wages will go merely for food. Families will have to buy barley, a lower quality of grain. RSB
The balance indicates a time of scarcity, with greatly inflated prices, that can be the normal result of warfare. TNIC
Fourth Seal – Death – Ashen Horse/Pale Horse
Revelation 6:7-8 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him; and they were given power over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.
Ashen relates to a sickly, yellowish-green; probably representing the inevitable result of disease that accompanies war and famine. Death claims the bodies, and Hades the souls and spirits of one-fourth of the world’s population in this single judgement. (cf 9:18). Ryrie.
The color of this horse is like that of a corpse. His rider is death, following behind is his inseparable companion, Hades. (cf 1:18; 20:13-14.) Authority is given to them over one-fourth of the earth. They bring about the deaths of one-fourth of mankind. Death by wild beasts would be expected in a land decimated by war and famine.
“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (Seals one through four) represent the disasters that will come upon the earth. (TNIC)
Fifth Seal – Martyrdom
Revelation 6:9-11 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; 10 they cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
6:9–11 Martyred saints cry out for justice, not because of selfish desires, but in tune with the justice of God’s throne (v. 10). They desire to see God’s justice fully manifested. RSB
6:10 those . . . on the earth. Revelation shows that humanity consists of two groups: the people of God, whose citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), and, in opposition to them, the rebellious earth-dwellers (v. 15; 8:13; 11:10; 13:3, 8, 12, 14; 17:2, 8). RSB
9. the souls of those who had been slain. Evidently, the martyrs of the first months of the tribulation period. 11. rest for a little while longe, i.e., wait a little while. It is difficult for these martyrs to understand why God would allow their murderers to live; yet God asks these saints to trust Him. Ryrie.
10. Notice that the martyred saints are in the Presence of the Lord. “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” (2 Cor 5:8).
9. This verse causes some to question why saints are present during the tribulation. The rapture will have taken believers out of the world, so we may ask for the identity of the martyred believers in Christ. It is very clear that these saints were not taken up in the rapture, but came to faith in Christ after the rapture took place. Consider the following commentary.
9. the scene is now of the temple, incidentally another indication that Israel is in the force in these dealings with earth. The altar was the appointed place of sacrifice, because these martyrs had been slain as burnt offerings for the Word of God and their testimony. John on Patmos could understand something of their experience. The souls are the Jewish martyrs of that period. Liberty Commentary Bible, Liberty University.
In addition to Jewish martyrs, there will also be Gentiles, who will come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior and will be martyred.
10. Consider the phrase, “those who dwell on the earth.” It is a designation for mankind in hostility to God. They are “dwellers on the earth” who are set over against the army of the holy ones. In 11:10 they are those who rejoice over the death of the two witnesses. In chapter 13 they are pictured as worshiping the beast (vs 8, 12), and in chapter 17 as drunk and with the wine of fornication of the great harlot (vs 2). Their names are not written in the book of life (17:8), and they are subject to the coming hour of trial (3:10; 8:13). TNIC
The above note is a repeat of one above that was made following Revelation 3:10.
Sixth Seal – Physical disturbances
Revelation 6:12-17 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale; 14 the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the generals and the rich and the strong, and every one, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?”
12. these cosmic disturbances are predicted elsewhere in Scripture (Isa 34:4; Joel 2:30-31; Matt 24:29). Ryrie.
16-17.When the tribulation comes mankind will believe that the end of the world is at hand. They will plead for death rather than face the wrath of the Lamb. Isaiah writes that “every man’s heart shall melt … they will be in anguish like a woman in travail (Isa 13:7-8). Who can endure the day of His coming, for He is like a refiner’s fire,” (Malachi 3:2). There is no longer a place to hide. God will confront in judgment all of those who have rebelled against His sovereign authority. The wrath of God is a basic theme of NT teaching. It is the response of God’s holiness to persistent wickedness. TNIC
16 -17. We have probably heard the words in the song, “gentle Jesus meek and mild.” Only once in scripture do we find the words “the wrath of the Lamb,” (Mark 3:5). In this passage we see that The Lamb Of God is also the Lion of Judah.
Interlude: the redeemed of the Tribulation, Revelation 7:1-17.
The interlude will be discussed next. Then we will discuss the Seventh Seal in Chapter 8.
The coming in the air by Jesus to catch His church, His bride, away is a desire that believers have. We live in a fallen world. We can not look around and see, as God did in Genesis 1:31, that everything was “very good.” So, we say, “come Lord Jesus come and take your bride away.”
Let us enter into worship of our Lord Jesus as we are led by Terry Mac Almon.
Even So – Come Lord Jesus Come
Terry Mac Almon